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Surprise Surprise: Graeme’s favorite book of 6/6.

Graeme McMillan

Okay, so ever since I started doing these reviews semi-daily, I’ve kind of drifted away from the whole PICK OF THE WEEK/PICK OF THE WEAK thing. It’s mostly because, well, who really wants to wait until Tuesday for me to tell you what I thought the worst book that came out the previous Wednesday had been? But my favorite book this week is so out of left field, so surprising, that I really had to share. This week’s PICK OF THE WEEK, people? SPIDER-MAN FAMILY #3.

No, really.

It’s not because of the Spider-Man J strip, I have to admit (For those who haven’t seen Spider-Man J, it’s this weird little manga version of Spider-Man that bears little resemblence to the original Spider-Man outside of his costume and the names of the characters. It’s charming enough on its own, but nonetheless, somewhat weird when included in an anthology like this). Nor is it anything to do with the Scorpion back-up strip, where Fred Van Lente’s new version of the character fights the new Venom, who used to be the old Scorpion, back when the old Venom was still the one that’s in the new movie. Or whatever (Although, again, that strip is fine enough). It’s not even – despite my secret love for the strip – the Mini Marvels strip that closes out the issue.

No, there are three reasons why I found myself unexpectedly falling in love with this comic.

The first is that it reprints What If… #1, which I have a really strong nostalgic bond with, having read possibly six pages of it at most reprinted in a Marvel UK comic when I was a kid. Luckily, the story itself stands up to such strong critical scrutiny and actually surpasses it, being surprisingly good – Roy Thomas using his continuity powers for good entertainment, if not the good of the world in general, in a story that pretty much boils all of the fun and potential of the entire What If series into one shot (Especially fun is the care that the Watcher takes to explain the concept so that even the dumbest reader ever could get it: “One of your mortal poets, Robert Frost, has spoken beautifully of the ‘road not taken‘ – – the chance missed, the decision deferred“).

The second is that, let’s face it, 104 pages for $4.99 is a pretty good deal in anyone’s eyes. Especially when there isn’t an actively bad strip in there at all.

But the third reason is the main reason: The cover feature, which teams movie franchises Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four up again, is really, really amazing. It’s not so much the writing of Paul Tobin (although that manages to keep things both simple and moving nicely; it feels as if it’s written not for comic book fans but just casual readers, which is rather refreshing) but the stunningly beautiful artwork of Pierre Alary and Jean Paul Fernandez, both of whose names I’m completely unfamiliar with, that makes the story so memorable. The art is cartoony in a European style unlike anything else in American mainstream comics right now, and it’s a style that completely suits the characters as much as it amuses and surprises the eye; the characters seem individual and full of life in a way that the regular books miss for the most part (It has, in a way, the sensibilities of a genetic mix of Bruce Timm and Fabio Moon, if that makes sense). I have no idea where this team came from or where they’re going to appear again, but their much-too-short take on the characters in this issue is something that elevates the entire book to a Very Good for me. People who like to see some really nice art, who don’t care too much about continuity and who like dumb old reprints – This book is for you. Trust me, I know.

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