The 1990s are called the Dark Ages of Comics and rightly so. Characters were senselessly killed off or made darker and grittier. The art was awful. And many plots made little sense, even for comic books. Many believe the worst instance of this was Spider-man, exemplified by the now universally reviled storyline, The Clone Saga, from which the character arguably didn’t recover until the mid-2000s in a different controversial storyline, The Other. You might think combining two of Spider-Man’s three worst story arcs would be a fatal mistake for the character and a boneheaded move by Marvel Comics. You would be dead wrong. Spider Island combines the classic Spider-man origin story with the clones from the 90s with the altered Spider Totem power set from the mid-2000s. What does that all add up to? Everyone on the island of Manhattan, from Mayor J. Jonah Jameson to Mary Jane Watson, gets some version of Spider-man’s powers.
The story starts with a recap of Spider-man’s history, an overview of the current status quo, and some foreshadowing of events to come. We then see the spread of the spider virus as it empowers all non-powered New Yorkers. One of the central themes of Spider-man has always been the balance of power and responsibility. While the real Spider-man has always been scrupulously responsible with his power, we get to see what happens when your average citizen is given the powers of an Avenger. As you might expect, it’s total chaos. People are trying to commit crime, people with no hero experience are trying to stop them, thus adding to the confusion, and everyone is web-slinging their way to work. Things invariably go from bad to worse. The whole island has to be quarantined when people start mutating into giant, mindless, super-powered spiders. This all culminates with the Avengers and Spider-man having a massive, final battle in Central Park with the true villain behind this whole scheme, while the lives of all New Yorkers hang in the balance.
The art in this book is superb. The artist brilliantly captures the chaos of all of New York having superpowers, the horror inherent in all of them turning into giant bugs, and the grand cinematic finish. While there’s some comic book violence in this book, it’s not terribly gory. (Also if you have a bug related phobia I’d give this a wide berth.) But otherwise it’s suitable for all ages.
This book gets major kudos, not simply because it’s a good story, but because it’s a good story that took elements from awful stories and made them awesome. That takes some real skill and for that alone it deserves to be read.