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Back in June, Marvel Comics announced that J.J. Abrams and his son Henry would team up to write a new Spider-Man miniseries in collaboration with artist Sara Pichelli. In true J.J. Abrams fashion, what exactly will happen in the new series has remained tucked inside a mystery box ever since, which suits Marvel just fine since the allure of Abrams alone is enough to hook a great many readers. Now the first issue is finally here, and it turns out there was another major reason to keep the plot under wraps: This story is reshaping Spider-Man from almost the very first page.
**SPOILER WARNING! There are spoilers ahead for Spider-Man #1**
One of the few concrete things we've known about this new Spider-Man #1 for some time is that it would introduce a new villain called Cadaverous, who's been billed by editor Nick Lowe as one of the scariest villains Spidey and his crew have ever faced. Well, Cadaverous lives up to that billing right away, because the issue opens in the middle of his reign of terror.
As the story begins, Mary Jane Watson is searching for Peter Parker as he's engaged in battle with Cadaverous on a ruined city street. They find each other, but Spider-Man is overwhelmed by Cadaverous' Xenomorph-like minions, and he tells Mary Jane to run. In a tragic moment that features visual echoes of Gwen Stacy's death, Cadaverous impales Mary Jane on one of his bladed appendages and throws her off a bridge. We'll hopefully get more context surrounding this in later issues (hopefully she's more than just a motivator for male heroes), but within the first six pages of this story, Mary Jane Watson is dead.
That development alone is a paradigm shift for the world in which this story takes place, but much as Avengers: Endgame decided to take a big leap forward after its early major death, Spider-Man #1 then shifts the status quo again by introducing a 12-year time jump. In this timeline, more than a decade after MJ's death, Peter Parker is an amputee after his right hand was mangled by Cadaverous, and he's given up life as Spider-Man. Instead, he's jetting around the world with a civilian job (he describes himself as "on assignment," which suggests he's still a photojournalist) while his son with MJ, Ben Parker, is living with Aunt May and discovering in his teen years that he has certain ... abilities. He overpowers bullies by barely touching them, his hands are sticking to doorknobs for no apparent reason, and he wakes up from a nightmare to find himself crawling on the ceiling.
It's here that Aunt May, still the stalwart source of stability in the lives of the Parker men, steps forward. She sends Ben up to the attic, where he finds an artifact of his father's glory days. It's there, on the edge of yet another paradigm shift, that the first issue leaves us.
This is, of course, a lot to take in, but it reads very much like a classic J.J. Abrams high concept, remixing the elements of Spider-Man we've grown to know and love in the hope that it can say something new about the character down the line. Yes, MJ is dead, and we've yet to fully unpack that, but the idea that Aunt May has now become the keeper of the Spider-Man lore, much as she did in the Ultimate universe, is intriguing. With Peter retreating into his grief to become an absentee father, she's the one who has to remember the lessons of the great responsibility that comes with great power, which in some ways means she's the one holding the power now. Yes, Ben Parker learning how to be Spider-Man 2.0 is going to be a fascinating thing to watch, but depending on how the series progresses, Aunt May's role in this could be just as rewarding.
As for Cadaverous, his true motives aren't exactly clear yet, but we do get one last glimpse at him living in solitude years later, with a mysterious woman in some kind of containment tank waiting for a revival of some kind. Who is she, and what, if anything, does she have to do with the Parker family? The mystery box has only opened a crack. We'll know more when Spider-Man #2 hits stores Oct. 16.