REVIEW: Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1 Turns on the Dark

variant from Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow #1

Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1 takes a chilling, violent, and sometimes grim (but always humor-leavened) look at a possible future for Peter Parker.  It’s ultimately a cautionary What If tale that asks what would have happened had Peter Parker bonded with the symbiote suit instead of Eddie Brock.

Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1

Pasqual Ferry (Art); Matt Hollingsworth (Colors); Chip Zdarsky (Writer)
Marvel Comics
April 14th, 2021

Variant Cover from Spider-Man: Spider's Shadow #1

Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow asks an interesting question of its readers: what if Peter Parker had kept the Symbiote suit which eventually turned Eddie Brock into Venom? This fascinating concept lands in Chip Zdarsky’s capable hands for this five-issue miniseries.

Peter is not in a good place when the comic opens. After dropping out of college, Aunt May has stopped speaking to him, and he’s caught in a messy love tangle with Mary Jane Watson and Black Cat. The death of Gwen Stacy hangs over his head, and has left him with some truly horrifying nightmares. Nightmares which, unbeknownst to him, have worsened due to his mental and physical link with the symbiote.

To combat his insomnia, he takes to nighttime web-slinging. He feels at his best when he’s in the suit and is happy that it seems to provide him an advantage in his crime-fighting. But it also allows him access to his darker side; namely, his feeling of helplessness and his anger at the slings and arrows life has thrown at him. The Symbiote continues to whisper suggestions of power and corruption into his ear, tempting him into doing acts which become increasingly aggressive. Peter eventually brings the outfit to Reed Richards, and he learns the suit is a living organism. He reasons that it sought him out because they were destined to protect one another. The end result is another shocking turn of events.

The issue is overall a wonderful experience. Zdarsky, who has honed a talent for writing humor and drama over his career, has a good feeling for Peter’s sarcasm and the dark, alluring pull of the symbiote. The issue’s quieter moments – especially a corner-turning and decisive talk with Aunt May – sing just as loudly as the action sequences. Peter is still motivated by responsibility and love, and haunted by what he’s lost. His need to protect others turns into an infecting lust for power and rage over the cruel hand fate – and supervillains like the Hobgoblin – has dealt him.

That means Peter’s friends have to stand aside and worry, at least at this stage. Zdarsky knows how to make the stakes feel real and the action consequential, but he lightens the mood by throwing in moments of snark and humor. He tries to give the villains reasonable motives but isn’t afraid to make them truly wicked. Appearances by the Hobgoblin, Mary Jane, Felicia Hardy, Reed Richards, and Johnny Storm are handled beautifully and evenhandedly.

There aren’t any flaws in Zdarsky’s writing, and there are none in the art. Pasqual Ferry’s extremely expressive work has a beautiful flow to it. Moody night skies, hellish dreamscapes and quiet bedroom confrontations are all given consideration, made sweeping and breathtaking. There is a particularly eerie panel I want to praise: Peter is pictured lying recumbent in the scanning bed at the Baxter Building, being looked over by Reed Richards. We peek under the suit and watch its tendrils penetrate beneath his skin, into his brain, influencing his dreams. It’s creepy and wonderfully unsettling to watch.

Hollingsworth’s fluid coloring adds to the thick, inky blackness of the suit’s malfeasance, but it also captures pale city lights, a freshly-lit fire, and the glimmer in Aunt May’s eyes as she sees her nephew for the first time in months.

The overall effect is a bleak but never turgid exploration of what it means to be overwhelmed, to be addicted – to heroism, justice – and to know catharsis through fighting the demons that have surrounded you. Peter Parker has always believed in duty and responsibility. At his core, he feels as if all of New York is riding on his shoulders. Spider-Man: Spider’s Shadow #1 shows what happens when he shrugs that responsibility off. The end result is a powerful, highly recommended read.