By: Dan Slott (writer), Humberto Ramos (pencils), Carlos Cuevas (inks), Edgar Delgado (colors), Joe Caramanga (letters) & Stephen Wacker (editor)

Spider-Girl back-up by: Paul Tobin (writer), Clayton Henry (art), Chris Sotomayor (colors), Joe Caramanga (letters) & Nathan Crosby (editor)

The Story: Spidey enters the Big Time with Avengers action that was better than anything that has been in the actual Avengers comics, science prowess, love and a new job.

What’s Good: This is the perfect Marvel comic book.  It has everything: Iconic character?  Check.  Big action?  Check.  Guest stars that make sense for the story?  Check.  Good characterization?  Check.  Creative use of classic villains?  Check.  Outstanding art?  Check.  Friendly to a new reader while not dumbing it down for long-timers?  Check.   Absence of decompressed storytelling and endless talking heads?  Check.  And this is the biggie…  Feels tied into today’s Marvel Universe?  BIG CHECK.

This comic really has it all.  What makes Spider-Man special are the contrasts.  In this issue we see him function as an Avenger, issuing orders (in typical “aw shucks” mode) to Thor and Iron-Man and using his genius-level brain to solve a problem that is befuddling Reed Richards and Tony Stark.  But, after this reminder of what a powerful hero Spider-Man is, we see that Peter Parker is broke and has nowhere to sleep.  Not even his friends really want to let him crash because he’s gone to the well too often.

What makes Peter special is that he COULD be Tony Stark and have the riches and women, but his sense of responsibility to be Spider-Man requires him to make sacrifices that make his private life so painful.  When is the last time that Tony Stark stood up a dinner date because he was beating up muggers?  This is why we cheer for Peter Parker and love it when things occasionally go right for him.  And they do start to swing his way in this issue….in a big way.  Not that it’ll last, but we can enjoy the moment.  As we transition from the Spidey “brain trust” of rotating writers to Dan Slott doing all the writing, it is so nice to see how clearly Slott understands why Spidey is special.

Humberto Ramos’ art is up to the task of telling this story with Slott.  Between he and Cuevas (on inks) they have made a really nice looking comic.  The characters are very nicely drawn in a cartooning style that works so much better for superheroes than any sort of photorealism.  There is great variety of line thickness, perspective, panel and layouts.  It is also very nice how they do the little things like not abusing splash pages and breaking panel borders in effective ways.  Bravo.

But what really sets this issue apart is that it happens NOW.  The story references daylight savings time (which happened last weekend).  It references recent story lines in Avengers, FF and Doomwar.  It references material from earlier issues of ASM and has copious editorial boxes referencing earlier issues.  Among the many things killing single issue comics is that they do not feel like they’re happening now or even in the same universe.  Kudos to Slott and the editorial staff for making an effort to be current with other Marvel stories and connecting the dots!  That’s especially important as Marvel seems to be sticking with a $3.99 price, because they need to make their comics better.  Better means a more coherent universe and less decompressed storytelling.

Finally, the Spider-Girl back-up is in no way dwarfed by the excellence of the main story.  That seems a tough task, but if you’ve read Tobin’s work on the Marvel Adventures book, you know he is a very good story teller.  Make sure to check out that title when it debuts next week.

What’s Not So Good: Not much.  It’s a shame to seem Michelle (the roommate) exit stage left.  And why didn’t Norah have a tie on?  Thought that was her trademark?  Those are the biggest quibbles with this issue. 🙂

Conclusion: Perfect comic book.  For those bitching about $3.99 comics, you won’t mind if they are all this good.

Grade: A

– Dean Stell