Review by Ian Keogh
Stan Lee introduced Peter Parker as an orphan, only several years later considering to tell the story of his parents, revealing them to be government agents who died in the line of duty. It’s a matter that’s remained relatively cut and dried within the Spider-Man canon, not revisited for decades, but Family Business does just that.
Peter Parker is approached by a sister he never knew he had, a plot device that might induce a groan of disbelief, but also one that writers James Robinson and Mark Waid handle with a knowing delicacy. Before her introduction we’ve seen the Kingpin retrieving another often used Marvel villain, and those who know Mentallo can predict elements of the plot up to a point. This is very much an atypical Spider-Man adventure, anchored by the spy career of his parents and placing Peter Parker in obvious James Bond style scenarios with the Spider-Man costume relatively sparsely used.
A compact tidiness characterises the artwork, which features Gabrielle Dell’Otto’s painting over the pencilled layouts of Walter Dell’Edera, their collaboration bringing to mind the painting of British great John Burns. There’s the same dynamic precision about the layouts, which often use panels separated by diagonal borders, and running horizontally across the page. Dell’Otto’s colour scheme is also reminiscent of Burns, and there’s the same attention to detail when it comes to cars and locations. With the exception of Alex Ross, representational painted superheroes haven’t always been a creative success, but Dell’Edera and Dell’Otto deliver a credible Spider-Man in action, successfully conveying motion. As seen on the cover, they also provide a great Kingpin in a bright red patterned shirt.
There’s an oblique ending that leaves matters open for a sequel, but the time elapsed since publication probably discounts that. We’re left with a change of pace page-turner that does it’s job well. It intrigues, it leads smoothly into the action sequences and it entertains.
Bonus pages are all process from pencils to painted art, selecting from throughout the book, but there’s a suspicion they’re present to bulk it out as much as anything. Family Business is a tidy graphic novel, one that has a good reason for being isolated from the standard continuity, and the art is excellent. However, the original list price of $25 for the printed version was a major misjudgement for less than eighty pages of story. To discover that the end of the book also has house ads is plain insulting at the price. Copies are now available online for as little as a tenth of that plus postage, and that’s a bargain.