***Warning Spoilers Ahead For Savage Spider-Man #1***
Savage Spider-Man Issue One sees the return of writer Joe Kelly for another limited series on the web-head. Alongside penciler Gerardo Sandoval, inker Victor Nava, and colorist Chris Sotomayor this new story acts as a continuation from Kelly’s 2021 series Non-Stop Spider-Man. The Non-Stop Spider-Man series saw Peter Parker, Spider-Man, is attempting to solve a mystery surrounding the death of several university students caused by a mysterious new performance-enhancing drug ‘A-Plus’. Peter deciphers that it was Hydra leader Baron Zemo who is working with a cabal named the Immaculatum to ensure humanity’s purity.
The series comes to a head when Spider-Man confronts Zemo and the Immaculatum on a private jet. Peter is injected with the A-Plus virus and almost immediately is incapable of thinking clearly, battling his own spider-sense, and develops severe aphasia. The leader of the Immaculatum, Wülf, betrays Zemo due to his seeking of racial purity over genetic purity and causes both Spider-Man and Zemo to fall out of the plane and onto the shores of a remote island. Zemo mustered the strength to end Spider-Man for good when a sudden urge to kill Zemo washes over Peter.
In a shocking twist, the A-Plus virus merges with Peter’s spider physiology and morphs him into a grotesque man-spider hybrid. Savage Spider-Man issue one kicks off with Zemo trapped on the island with this monstrous Spider-Man hunting him down, however, it appears that the Immaculatum has dumped their other genetic experiments on this island as well; Zemo and Peter have landed on ‘The Island of the Damned’. Whilst Savage Spider-Man seeks to become the top of the food chain and Zemo fights for survival, the Immaculatum continues their plans for genetic purity by commencing Operation: Global.
Aside from its continued plotline, Savage Spider-Man takes after the Non-Stop limited series in its fast-paced, action pact issues. The issue places a great emphasis on the brutality of the monsters scattered across the island and therefore prioritizes movement rather than dialogue. Whilst there are instances of dialogue they are limited to the characters who have to talk out of necessity, mainly to deliver exposition or when it works for their character, such as Baron Zemo referring to himself in the third person.
In regards to Zemo, Kelly makes a strange choice with his dialogue by giving Zemo almost comedic lines in some instances. Now a majority of Marvel villains can be written as sources of comedy, in fact, a majority of Spider-Man’s rogues are known for their quips and one-liners, however, Zemo’s history does not lend itself to this characterization; characters such as Zemo are not necessarily deserving of developing a banter with their superhero counterpart.
This is especially odd since Zemo’s political and ideological alignments were the reasons behind Wülf’s betrayal from Non-Stop Spider-Man Issue Five, and due to the minimal dialogue, the out-of-place comedy is fairly obvious. Though Zemo poses a slight dilemma for the wrong reasons, the writing of the Immacultam’s desires offers a dilemma for the right reasons. Although the group is clearly highlighted as seeking to establish themselves as the head of a fascist regime, the group makes a note about their leadership bringing about the stopping of the global warming process, showing that they possess a level of regard for the world and humanity.
However the villains are nowhere near the highlight of this issue’s writing, that title goes to the characterization of the titular Savage Spider-Man. Whilst this monstrous version of Peter is able to verbally communicate, his story is mainly told through thoughts. His thoughts are displayed differently, however, appearing as bright red, jagged texts, and rather than an inner monologue, Peter only thinks in blunt, short sentences as if it were his animal instinct superseding any form of complex thought.
This animalistic transformation allows Joe Kelly to expand on the abilities available to Peter, with him now being able to produce a red webbing from his throat that controls others to align themselves with him. Whilst this allows Peter to amass a force of monsters to take on the Immaculatum, it links back to an earlier piece of dialogue within the issue in which Peter reflects that he is alone and feels something is missing.
At the same time, whilst Peter is webbing his enemies with this mind-controlling fluid, his instincts are telling him to dominate and become the alpha of the monsters and the island, therefore creating a clear struggle between the emotions of Peter Parker and the instincts of Savage Spider-Man.
This focus on the shifting emotions of the Savage Spider-Man has been placed at the center of the plot by this issue, with Peter being able to access a memory belonging to someone connected to Wülf and the Immaculatum, planting seeds to further the mystery surrounding the A-Plus drug, Peter’s spider physiology and they are connected to the early days of Immaculatum.
Fans of the 90’s Spider-Man stories may find a sense of familiarity with Peter transforming into a creature more spider than man, calling back to characters such as doppelganger or the animated series in which Peter became Man-Spider. It appears Gerardo Sandoval, Victor Nava, and Chris Sotomayor were aware of similarities with the 90’s stories. The creative team appears to be leaning into it in the character designs, placing an emphasis on prominent musculature, harsh shadows, and bold and vibrant colors.
This 90’s style is no more prevalent than with Spider-Man himself, appearing to visually take from Todd Macfarlane’s design for Spider-Man, with large and jagged eyes, a lean but strong silhouette, and extreme posing, along with his webbing being depicted as a swirling, layered mess of string. However, the failings of the 90’s comic book art styles are attached to this art style as well, with unmasked characters being depicted with oddly proportioned facial features and repeating facial structures, leading to them feeling bland and not discernible from one another.
The story and art of this story come together best on the issue’s second splash page, in which Savage Spider-Man unleashes the red, mind-controlling web fluid from his float and webs up all of the island’s monsters surrounding him. Within the center of the page are Spider-Man’s lenses, in which we can see the reflection of all the mind-controlled monsters with the red webbing covering their faces, whilst surrounding Spider-Man’s head is the imagery of him attacking and webbing up the monsters into submission.
This splash page demonstrates the juxtaposition between the feelings of loneliness that Savage Spider-Man experiences and his brutal nature, with the imagery of Spider-Man looking on into the crowd of red-faced monsters showcasing that he is finally not alone in this form, having formed a makeshift tribe, and the surrounding imagery of him collecting his followers presenting that his instincts only offer a skewed view of this new reality.
Savage Spider-Man Issue One presents a strong opening for this new Spider-Man tale, whilst providing a satisfying continuation from the cliffhanger that Non-Stop Spider-Man left off on. The issue holds the Non-Stop Spider-Man series’ focus on action-packed, fast-paced storytelling but similarly doesn’t skimp on setting up a clear path Peter Parker’s story will follow. The Immaculatum’s goal presents an interesting moral dilemma for the readers and Peter to sink their teeth into, and the mystery surrounding Peter’s viewing of other people’s memories offers an opportunity to set up an engaging mystery regarding Peter’s physiology and the A-Plus drug.
Although Zemo is presented in an oddly charming light, his circumstances of being trapped on the island with a monstrous Spider-Man controlling an army of monsters working to hunt him down provides a solid cliff-hanger for the issue and leaves the reader intrigued to see how Zemo will be able to develop some form of alliance with the blood-thirsty Savage Spider-Man.
Savage Spider-Man #1 is now available on digital and in your local comic book shop!
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