The Big Time and the Avenging Spider-Man

spider-man big time

The schedule for Amazing Spider-Man during the current Big Time era is a bit different from what we’ve had before. Production for this title is down to two books a month, with one writer (for the most part) working with a rotating team of artists. But there are also more spin-offs, one starring Peter Parker, in addition to three for characters who had prominent appearances in recent Spider-Man comics.

There was always the possibility that at one point Marvel would give the main book to an individual writer for a prolonged period of time with an increased production schedule. A few years ago, Marvel was willing to put Mark Millar on all three X‑Men books, a plan they later scrapped because Millar decided to do Fantastic Four and creator owned work. Now, it seems to have become a trend, with Bendis writing two X-books, Hickman writing a biweekly Avengers (taking over from Bendis, who wrote 2-3 Avengers titles in a given month), and Fraction writing both Fantastic Four and FF. With Amazing Spider-Man, this move was even easier post-Brand New Day, as the change to the publication was less significant than moving from a monthly title to twice a month. Instead, Marvel went from one unconventional format to another.

There are some clear advantages. Issue to issue continuity is much better, as you do get a sense that the writer is aware of events that had happened a few issues earlier. Dan Slott is able to seed future storylines, such as when he gave Silver Sable a prominent role in a time travel two-parter to set up her arc in Ends of the Earth. That’s tougher to pull off with rotating writers, as there are more restrictions on the schedule.

Things are still slightly imperfect with some of the comics written by guest writers. For example, Mark Waid’s characterization of Peter Parker after his break-up with Carlie Cooper seemed to contradict the end of the previous storyline in which the former couple was on much better terms. One reason there’s been a need for guest writers is that the increased production on Amazing Spider-Man is a great strain on its sole writer.

It is problematic for Spider‑Man fans who dislike Dan Slott, and fans of the writer who’d like to see more diversity from his work than two Spider‑Man books a month. The storytelling variety you get with one writer doing multiple series, and several different writers working on the stories of one character is diminished. Though as I like Dan Slott on Spider-Man and am happier getting 24 issues (give or take) an year than twelve issues an year. This could be more of a problem with a less versatile writer, though.

It’s unlikely that Marvel would ever put a single artist on the book, as I’m currently aware of only two comic artists who can handle two issues a month for a prolonged period of time: John Byrne and Chuck Austen. So, as long as they’re producing 24 issues ofAmazing Spider-Man an year, Marvel’s going to need several artists. That can bother readers hoping for a more consistent art style. Though it’s worth noting that few monthlies have one artist responsible for all the content any more.

For a little while, Amazing Spider-Man‘s page count went up to thirty pages of content per issue. That justified an increase in the price of the comic. So instead of paying the cover price of nine dollars a month for 66 pages, readers paid eight dollars a month for 60 pages. Sometimes the supplemental material set up later storylines, although it was often filler or an attempt to promote an upcoming Marvel title. Eventually, the extra feature was cancelled, except the comic remained a dollar more expensive per issue than during the BND era. With the reduction in content, Marvel introduced a new satellite title for Spider-Man.

The Avenging Spider-Man

Big Time

An obvious question is how long Avenging Spider-Man was going to last. Spider-Man satellite books haven’t had a long shelf life in recent years. Web of Spider-Manlasted twelve issues. FNSM lasted 24 issues. Marvel Knights Spider-Man lasted for 22 issues, before it became Sensational Spider-Man, which lasted for 19 issues. Spectacular Spider-Man had the most impressive record of the last few years at 27 issues.But Avenging Spider-Man does have a few things going for it.  The team-up novelty has worked in the past, and the new title is effective branding, even if it seems a little weird whenever Spider-Man doesn’t team-up with someone on the Avengers. It comes at a convenient time, as The Avengers overtook The Dark Knight as the top-grossing superhero film in the domestic box office.

It’s a satellite title that sells more than most satellite titles. And readers won’t expect changes to Peter Parker’s life in this title.  Focusing on simpler superhero team-ups also gives Dan Slott, or any future Amazing Spider-Man writer, greater flexibility, as they doesn’t have to worry about coordinating complex storylines with a satellite book.

Writer Zeb Wells left after five issues, and the book’s had assorted fill-ins, including part of a crossover with Daredevil and Punisher co-written by the guys in charge of those books. The concept is strong enough that the book can survive all these changes, though it can be problematic for the book’s image if the majority of the material is essentially filler. Still there’s a history of satellite titles surviving early creative team departures, especially if the concept is strong enough to allow someone else to take over.

Other Titles

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Since the Brand New Day era ended, Spider-Man has had a more active role in the outside Marvel Universe, joining the Future Foundation and headlining two events (Spider Island and Ends of the Earth) which guest starred other Marvel heroes. With one writer guiding the character on Amazing Spider-Man, the editorial work has to be a lot easier, now that there’s less concern about making sure that a team of writers are all on the same page. It’s easier to coordinate with the writers and editors of other titles without having to worry about whether something contradicts the work of one of the five writers on Amazing.

The Big Time era has also seen a few spinoff titles for Spider-Man related characters, whose new solo directions were seeded in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. Paul Tobin’s Spider-Girl was cancelled, although with the Spider Island mini series and giant sized special, there was a little over 14 issues worth of content, which is respectable as far as flops go. Venom and Scarlet Spider have been more successful, providing Marvel with two new heroes capable of supporting a solo title, something that is always a valuable commodity. With one guy writing Amazing Spider-Man, there’s more room to manage other closely related monthlies.

We’ll see how long the new schedule lasts, and what replaces it. The current structure is very much a departure from the norm, and it’s entirely possible that they’ll go with something different the next time around.

The Infinite Spider-Man is a series of mini-essays regarding Marvel’s options for the future of the best character in comics.

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About Thomas Mets

I’m a comic book fan, wannabe writer, politics buff and New Yorker. I don’t actually follow baseball. In the Estonian language, “Mets” simply means forest, or lousy sports team. Currently, I’m writing a few comic books about my grandparents’ experiences in Soviet Estonia for Grayhaven comics. You can email me at mistermets@gmail.com
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