Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Review: Spider-Girl, #0 - #100

I first picked up the Spider-Girl comic written by Tom DeFalco almost six years ago right at the end of its 100-issue run, and have followed it ever since as it morphed into a 30-issue run as Amazing Spider-Girl and has then bumped around a few other joint titles and mini-series in the last year or two. In many ways the comic has been by far my favorite of the many Spider-Man comics on the market. It has a great lead character, May "Mayday" Parker, the daughter of Spider-Man; a deep and interesting cast of supporting characters; and is written and drawn with a sensibility that reminds me very much of the best comics that I enjoyed back in the 1980s. With so many grimly dark comics or books that take two-dozen issues to tell a brief tale, it's nice to still be able to pick up a comic that will reliably give me a good story and a fun read.

So, I figured going back and reading the original 100-isssue run would be a fun stop in my ongoing effort to get my money's worth out of a year-long subscription to the Marvel Digital Comics platform.

It was.

The character of Spider-Girl herself lives in an alternate Marvel Universe based on an issue of What-If (#105) that essentially the question "What if Peter Parker and Mary Jane had a teenage daughter?"

The real-world answer? The comic book series that had the longest continual run of any Marvel comic with a female lead. That's right. Step aside She-Hulk, Red Sonja, Phoenix, Black Widow, Elektra, Scarlet Witch, and everybody else. Marvel Comics all-time female champion superhero is a teenage basketball-team dropout with babysitting duties and hand-me-down web shooters.

I won't go into detail about the cast of characters and Spider-Girl's rogues gallery. Suffice it to say that her family includes Peter Parker, now middle-aged and retired from his run as Spider-Man; her mother, Mary-Jane Watson Parker; and -- about halfway through the run -- her baby brother Ben. She has a deep cast of assorted high-school friends and fights an assortment of villains that includes original villains, some second-generation Spidey villains, and even a few old Spider-Man classic villains who are still around and up to no good.

Reading the 100-issue (well, 102-issues, including #0 and an annual) run all in one fell swoop was a lot of fun. Ron Frenz was the artist who co-created the character with DeFalco in the original What-If issue, but he was replaced by Pat Oliffe for the first 50 issues of Spider-Girl. Interestingly, I thought the book improved when Frenz returned for the second half of the run. That surprised me because Oliffe is a really good artist who provided lots of good art, but DeFalco and Frenz seem to have a chemistry that translates better on the page for some reason. The narrative of the stories with Oliffe as artist sometimes felt a smidge stiff and forced, whereas the ones with Frenz have a fun and freewheeling feel that makes them especially fun to read.

Interestingly, I had the opportunity to talk with DeFalco and Frenz briefly at the Motor City Comic-Con last year, and was struck by the good chemistry they seemed to have away from the page, too. They just seem to be having fun making comic books, and that comes through on the page. I've picked up some of the original Ron Frenz pages inked by Sal Buscema, and they're among my favorite pieces in my entire comics art collection.

Many of Spider-Girl's exploits are available in graphic novel collections of individual issues. I'd recommend them for anybody looking for a family friendly comic-book read for a youngster. And I'd recommend the whole run of Spider-Girl -- especially issues #50-#100 -- for any comics fan looking for a fun read.

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