PUBLISHER: MARVEL (2001)
WRITERS: GARTH ENNIS, GREG RUCKA, PETER MILLIGAN
ARTISTS: JOEL McCREA, EDUARDO RISSO, DUNCAN FEGREDO
Spider-Man's Tangled Web was another part of Joe Quesada's attempt to court trendy, groovy writers from the likes of Vertigo to improve Marvel's flagging street cred, the idea being to make short anthology-style stories for the long-running character with a less conventional outlook. The creators wouldn't be bound by long runs and thus able to keep up their day jobs while the stories themselves wouldn't affect the more conventional adventures Spidey was still having in his other titles.
Most of the stories were only an issue or so long and often concentrated more on the impact Spider-Man caused on various characters' lives than Spider-Man himself, who often barely appeared. The opening arc - "The Thousand" however goes against this ethos, being a three-parter that actually features the webslinger in a substantial appearance. The headline writer was Garth Ennis, fresh from finishing off modern classics Hitman and Preacher and just beginning to size up revitalising The Punisher, with Hitman partner Joel McCrea providing art duties. The story concerns an envious former classmate of Peter Parker's who knows of his identity and attempts to replicate the accident that gave him powers - instead becoming a hivemind named the Thousand spread across presumably the same amount of spiders which can take over people's bodies from the inside and control their skin. Considering some of the writing Ennis has done about superheroes it's a bit tame but touches on a couple of interesting themes - Parker's historical moaning about a life that's better than those of others, for instance. McCrea brings up some squirm-inducing images of the Thousand ploughing down people's throats and later of the body-twisting it's capable of but overall it's merely a respectable and surprisingly conventional Spider-Man story ultimately of little consequence.
Next up is one of the issues that meant the title was always worth a go and a much better advert for the format, even if it probably would have been commercial suicide. "Severance Package", written by DC 'Big Three' regular Greg Rucka. It concerns a well-placed man within the Kingpin's empire who has an operation blown by Spider-Man, who appears in a single frame but haunts the story. It would be easy to make Tom Cochrane a nice ordinary guy and play off that; the charm here is that Rucka's clearly not the nicest man in the world even if he does love his family. Instead the story focuses on his acceptance of the reality of his life and his respect for the Kingpin despite his impending death; even the latter doesn't appear until the closing pages. It's compelling and different, a fine little issue.
The first collection is rounded off by Peter Milligan's "Flowers for Rhino", a look at the world from the point of view of the titular serial loser. It does a good job of getting inside the head of a dumb guy with a stupid power and a tiny success rate but then takes a bit of a bum steer with a daft second part when he gets his intelligence augmented; not only is the leaden "turns out being smarter won't make you happier" lesson lifted from that Simpsons episode where Homer finds a crayon in his brain but the idea that the Rhino could build a criminal empire and then give it all up only to never, ever have anyone mention it ever again pushes the envelope of a slightly off-beat title to breaking point.
As a collection it's uneven, with neither the Ennis or Milligan stories particularly outstanding even as Spider-Man stories let alone fresh comics; both could easily lose an issue off their length and become leaner, more focused comics. "Severance Package" however is a superb little piece, though really you're better off finding the back issue.