Cor, what’s with all the ’90s Spidey nostalgia at the moment? Not content with retelling the Clone Saga and bringing Kaine back into the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, we now get the dusting-off of an old series title for what is, essentially, a rebranding of Amazing Spider-Man Family with the “world expansion” elements of Amazing Spider-Man Extra thrown in. But if it’s designed to be something to help keep up the Spidey momentum in the main title’s “off” weeks, then sadly it stalls somewhat.
The obvious draw for the relaunch is a lead story featuring… yup, that man again, Kaine. Written by J.M. deMatteis, the man who did the most with the character back in the day, there’s consequently a bit of a Lost Years feel as it rattles through the clone’s history and psyche. The problem, though, is that a Kaine story is only ever really going to be of interest to readers who were around the first time – and this one feels more obviously aimed at newer readers, as it’s little more than a primer explaining who he is. It’s not bad, it’s just not particularly useful or essential (especially in the age of Wikipedia).
If the first third of the issue is designed to draw the attention (and four dollars) of Clone Saga fans, then the second story is an even more blatant marketing exercise. Yup, this book is the new home of Spider-Girl – a series with a fiercely loyal and dedicated fanbase that unfortunately happens to be too small to actually sustain a monthly title of its own. Despite having mildly enjoyed the series back in its early days, however, I find it difficult to get into nowadays – few of the characters from those days seem to be around, and while it’s mildly ironic that it’s doing a “clone saga” of its own in the present circumstances, it’s just not hugely interesting.
The final segment seems to be the slot for writers to do fun little one-shot Spidey stories that don’t really fit elsewhere – sort of like an American version of the playpen for UK-based writers known as the Panini family of younger readers’ titles. As it happens, Sean McKeever’s “Frog-Man” short is pretty good fun, although with its tongue firmly in cheek and some very stylised, cutesy artwork from Stephanie Buscema, you suspect it would be better-suited to the pages of Strange Tales. Funny as it is, though, it’s very throwaway – essentially just a one-joke “gag strip” sort of thing – and you’d need four or five of these to actually make a book feel in any way substantial.
And this is the thing – it’s not that the stories contained here are bad, it’s just that they don’t add up to a satisfying package (certainly not a four-dollar one), and neither do any of them jump out as making it worth buying for themselves alone. While I can fully applaud the idea of anthology titles (especially ones that serve as both a trying ground for new creators, and as universe expension), and will them to succeed – the main air surrounding this is, disappointingly, one of inconsequence.