Review by Ian Keogh
Spidey: First Day is a continuity implant taking Peter Parker back to his high school days. Depending on age, those who have history with Marvel will recognise their high school version as originally provided by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko and John Romita in the 1960s, Kurt Busiek and Patrick Ollife in the 1990s, or Brian Michael Bendis and Mark Bagley in the first Ultimate Spider-Man series. Just as Bendis and Bagley did to start the 21st century, Robbie Thompson and Nick Bradshaw update Spider-Man’s youth to an era compatible with technology and society 2015’s young readers would recognise. Spider-Man posts his villain captures online, and lives in a far more multicultural world than his predecessors, even if the supporting cast remain Harry Osborn, Aunt May, Gwen Stacey and Flash Thompson. Thompson the writer doesn’t stray far when it comes to enemies either, featuring Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Lizard, the Green Goblin and the Vulture. The only surprise over the first half of the book is Doctor Doom, which is where Thompson begins to grade ahead of the curve. The stories beforehand are decent enough Spider-Man, with superhero battles and viable use of the supporting cast, but they don’t offer anything new to regular Spider-Man readers. While conceding that’s probably not the target audience, and that material would therefore be ranked higher by anyone relatively new to Spider-Man, the Doom encounter has some originality to it.
Art duties are split between Bradshaw, André Lima Araújo (sample spread left) and Nathan Stockman (sample right), and while they’re all good, Araújo is the one whose style doesn’t really mesh with the mood. He’s imaginative, and his civilian scenes work, but his superhero figures lack the necessary impact. This can be seen when comparing the guest appearances of the Black Panther, whose imperial stature is absent under Araújo with Stockman emphasising Captain America’s timeless heroism. Stockman’s weakness is exaggerating facial expressions, and while Bradshaw is great, it’s easy to see how time consuming each page must be, given the detail he includes.
Thompson tends to bookend Spider-Man’s superhero action with Peter Parker’s civilian life, which means not a lot of time is spent developing the supporting cast. Harry Osborn’s use is clumsy, only needed in the entire book as a way into a Green Goblin story, and Aunt May is barely seen, although features in one memorable scene. The same applies to J. Jonah Jameson, although Thompson’s use of him is more interesting. It leaves Gwen Stacey and Flash Thompson to carry the weight, and school learning problems the focus as the classic will they or won’t they romance is set up. To Thompson’s credit, though, this is resolved by the end of Freshman Year. With a few slight mis-steps, most of Spidey is fun, presenting crowd pleasing stories, the villains we want to see and some neat art.
This slightly smaller than standard trade paperback covering an entire school year combines the conventional sized First Day and After School Special. At a bargain cover price (never mind after discount) it’s definitely the better purchase.