(Panini Books)

WHAT is it that makes Peter Parker special? Is it the fact that he has the proportionate strength of a spider, can climb walls and spin webs? Or is it the fact he realises that with great power comes great responsibility?

This conundrum is answered neatly during the course of the epic Spider-Island, when the entire population of Manhattan suddenly receives spider-powers, thanks to the machinations of the diabolical Jackal.

With his friends, foes and members of the public suddenly crawling walls and “thwipping” webs around him, Peter’s initial reaction is to try and help his fellow superheroes in tackling the ensuing chaos, only for the Avengers to order him out of the fight because they are unable to distinguish him from assorted spidery hooligans.

Inspired by former girlfriend Mary-Jane, Peter poses as another random spider-powered citizen to motivate the ordinary citizens of New York to help restore order to the city, before heading off to investigate the cause of the outbreak at one of the Jackal’s old secret bases…

While Peter’s colleagues in Horizon Labs work alongside the Fantastic Four’s genius leader Reed Richards to try and discover a cure to the spider virus, those people who were first infected begin mutating into giant spider-creatures.

With the military-controlled Venom and his diametric opposite, the symbiotic Anti-Venom, also caught up in the rapidly escalating events, Spidey is forced to seek out unlikely allies in order to uncover the mysterious mastermind orchestrating events from behind the scenes.

Their ultimate foe is the so-called Spider-Queen, originally the first female marine in combat during WWII, who was mutated into an insect human hybrid during experiments at Bikini Atol. By transforming ordinary humans into spider-creatures she gains complete control over their actions, and is empowered as some twisted form of Spider-Goddess which looms above the ravaged streets of Manhattan...

It has been a long time since I have read any of Marvel’s Spider-Man series, my feelings towards the franchise soured by the events of One More Day, when a deal with the demonic Mephisto to save the life of his Aunt May resulted in Peter’s marriage to Mary Jane being wiped from continuity.

However, I have kept one eye on what’s been going on in Spidey’s world over the last few years, as various creators shaped his new status quo and restored all that was great about the character which had been lost over the course of time. The arrival of writer Dan Slott was heralded as the start of a new golden age for the web-slinger, and so it was with enthusiastic caution that I plunged into the events of this volume.

Sure, there have been changes to Parker’s world – former newspaper publisher J Jonah Jameson is now NY Mayor, Peter works for scientific research outfit Horizon Labs and dates forensic police officer Carlie Cooper – but the old staples of the Spider-Man series are still very much prevalent.

The foundations of the character are as they have always been – a physically unremarkable but intellectually-gifted young man is blessed (or cursed) with spider-powers, and uses these in the service of humanity, despite frequent opposition and obstruction from forces in authority.

What Spider-Island achieves so very well is answering the questions I posed at the start of this review, by highlighting Peter Parker’s passionate desire to do the right thing against all the odds, his brilliant mind and his dogged determination to fight for his loved ones. It doesn’t matter that the rest of Manhattan also have spider-powers, as far as the reader is concerned, there is only one true Spider-Man.

A first-rate crossover which is completely accessible to new readers or those returning to the series after some time away, Spider-Island is a casebook example of the crossover done exactly right. Highly recommended.