It’s a recurrent problem for books with prestigious, big-name artists that the relationship between Marvel’s (sometimes optimistic) schedules and the artist’s capabilities tends to break down. In the last few months alone, we’ve seen Steve McNiven requiring assistance on “Captain America”, Carlos Pacheco getting help on “Uncanny X-Men”, and Marc Silvestri needing support “Incredible Hulk”.
So, credit where it’s due: the third issue of “Avenging Spider-Man” is drawn, in its entirety, by Joe Madureira. Released on time, it looks fantastic.
It’s clear that this isn’t a book with depth on its mind. Effectively a stealth "Marvel Team-Up" book, Wells wisely uses broad strokes in his characterization and plotting, allowing for the entire arc to act as a three issue set piece. It’s clear that Madureira is enjoying it; his Spider-Man is lithe and expressive, his Red Hulk the very embodiment of rage, and even the most generic moloids are imbued with character and pathos.
In addition to looking good, “Avenging Spider-Man” distinguishes itself from the core series with a strong focus on costumed-action, and all the quipping that implies. It’s laugh-out-loud funny, and there’s little time here for the morose, woe-is-me side of Peter Parker. In that sense, it deviates from the Spider-Man formula, but it remains true to the character. The story’s resolution makes it clear that this isn’t a book that takes itself too seriously. It could have fallen flat, but Wells knows how to balance the comedy with the drama, tempering the book’s tone just enough to allow such a twist to work.
If there’s any concern, it’s that the setting isn’t all that interesting in itself. Three issues set entirely underground, featuring near-identical moloid foes with only the most cursory character traits (i.e. carries a sword/is female/is a child) can’t help but get a bit same-y. The art has never looked as good as in the first issue, much of which took place above ground, and the writing is at its best when Spider-Man interacts with Jameson and the Red Hulk, which makes you crave a wider cast. That's to say nothing of the tantalizing glimpses we get at Madureira’s Spider-Woman and Steve Rogers.
Still, that’s little more than nitpicking. In terms of pure entertainment, it’s tough to beat this book: consistently funny, good-looking, built on classic relationships. It’s superhero comics in their purest form. If you don’t enjoy this book then it’s entirely possible that you’re in the wrong genre. The first arc of this series has undoubtedly been a success, and the letters page makes it clear that Madureira is planning to return for an Elektra team-up in the future. That, alone, is enough to make me keep an eye on this series.