I’m not quite sure what Marvel expected to happen when Peter Parker returned to the Spider-Man books in the fall of 1996. Yes, it’s easy to make the case that the majority of fans wanted the Clone Saga over and Peter reinstated as Spider-Man (even though Ben Reilly turned out to have a more dedicated fanbase than anyone could’ve predicted), but Marvel’s approach to the return seemed strangely low-key. There wasn’t a new title with a fresh #1 issue. No multi-title crossover to herald his first month back. No cover gimmicks. No variant covers that I’m aware of. Heck, the creative teams even stayed basically the same. The only new addition was J. M. DeMatteis on Spectacular Spider-Man, and by “new” I mean “back after a year away.” Marvel’s assumption seemed to be that by simply giving the fans what they claimed to want, all eyes would return to Spider-Man and things would work out okay.
Looking back, I wonder now if Marvel was reluctant to give the Spider-Man titles a large marketing push so soon after the launch of the “Heroes Reborn” books. Perhaps someone thought that pushing a new Spidey #1 just a month or so after Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America received new #1s would’ve been too much for the market to bear. That doesn’t really sound like Marvel, though, does it? Also, “Heroes Reborn” was famously hated within the halls of Marvel’s offices (due to the titles being farmed out to Image creators), so it’s hard to imagine Marvel making a conscious effort to downplay one of their brightest properties in order to appease creators that were still viewed as the competition. Honestly, I think it’s entirely possible that Marvel believed that a quick sweep under the rug of any clone silliness was all the books really need at the time.
So, by late 1996, the Spider-Man line consisted of Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Peter Parker: Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man, Spider-Man Unlimited, Spider-Man Team-Up, and one title set in the past, Untold Tales of Spider-Man. In addition to this rather lengthy list, Marvel also published a monthly series of Venom miniseries, and numerous one-shots featuring Spider-Man. The only real marketing push I can remember for the post-clone titles were a few blurbs in the Bullpen Bulletins, boasting that the titles would have more of a “classic” feel, with Peter and MJ returning to college and new supporting cast members like the Stacy family possibly creating some fresh conflicts.
Did it work? I’ll continue the retrospective in my next post, concluding my Spider-Man review series (which stretches all the way back to, geez, 1985!)