It's only issue three, but already this book is packed to bursting. The recap blurb from the beginning of the issue says all that needs to be said:
"Greg Willis was just an everyday teenager until a mysterious 'accident' bestowed upon him the power to control the force of gravity. Deciding to become a super hero, Greg trades his rural Wisconsin life for the fast-paced world of New York city, attending NYU while moonlighting as his heroic alter- ego, Gravity.
"Unfortunately, Greg's first day in the city doesn't go so well. His room-mate is an ADD-addled, know-it-all partier named Frog; he takes the wrong side in a super-powered slugfest, helping the villainous Black Death escape; he unwittingly helps a man steal a car; and his super heroing is met with scorn by those whose wallets and lives he's saved. The only bright spot comes when Lauren Singh, a fellow freshman, picks up Greg's spirits with a friendly race to class.
"Things are looking good when Gravity defeats the Rhino, getting a mention in the paper, and Greg and Lauren become closer friends, despite their philosophical divide regarding super heroes (Lauren isn't much of a fan). But things seem to be going his way when Gravity meets a fellow hero, The Greenwich Guardian, self-proclaimed protector of Greenwich Village (the area including NYU).
"Eager to team up with his newfound super-pal, Greg finds himself passing up opportunities to spend time with Lauren in order to don his costume, hit the rooftops and learn from the more experienced Guardian. Despite being otherwise tight-lipped about himself, and getting a bit too rough with common thugs, the Guardian seems to develop a real rapport with the younger hero.
"Unfortunately, all that teamwork and brotherhood doesn't ready him for a sudden sneak attack by none other than Black Death...!"
Gravity is groggy and in a world of trouble. The Greenwich Guardian has disappeared, and the sinister Black Death is bearing down upon him. The Black Death has just murdered a man in front of our hero, and if Gravity doesn't do something then he is next!
Unfortunately for Greg, his utter inexperience puts him at a severe disadvantage. The Black Death quickly overpowers Gravity, despite Greg's valiant efforts. It is only by shear luck that Greg manages to escape his murderous enemy by crawling into a ventilation duct and fleeing. As the Black Death vows to finish Gravity off next time, Greg is angry with himself and ashamed of his actions.
In the library the following day, Greg isn't even listening to Lauren as she goes through their English notes, but he should. The loss of innocence, such an important theme in The Catcher in the Rye, has deep resonance in his own life. Greg is unhappy, jaded and is growing increasingly cynical. He also looks like he's been dropped into a meat-grinder, leading Lauren to believe that he was mugged.
She attempts to empathise with him, reveals that she was mugged once and that he should carry on for his own sake, and not to give whoever did this to him the satisfaction of wrecking his life. This girl really likes Greg, but at present he is too bitter to see it. As Gravity he has met with nothing but abuse and censure from everyone, and he has had enough. What's the point?
Back in his room, Greg has to suffer Frog recounting the disastrous exploits of Gravity to him from the Internet. This starts an argument, and Greg ends up insulting his friend. Restless, and not knowing what to do next, Greg dons his costume and flies to the building where he normally meets the Greenwich Guardian. But there is no sign of his partner.
Greg's set-backs and disasters are too much for him. As a super-hero, he was a complete failure and he's not making much of a success of the rest of his life. He locks his costume away, stops attending his classes, and continues to alienate Frog. He misses Wisconsin, but as the phone messages from concerned relatives mount Greg further retreats into himself. He can't raise his head outside his bedroom and looks set to stay that way indefinitely, until Lauren comes to call.
During a day on the town she raises Greg's spirits and drags him out of his depression. By the evening the pair of them at back in Lauren's room (she lives with her parents). One thing leads to another and the pair move to embrace. Suddenly the moment is broken by an altercation from outside: it's Spider-Man fighting Jack O'Lantern!
Greg is wild with the idea of getting his costume and heading out there to help Spider-Man! He begins to make plans about how he will make his excuses and race to get his costume. Then he sees Lauren's face and makes his decision. He closes the blinds, and returns to the matter at hand, leaving Spidey to his roof-top fight.
Marvel could publish Sean McKeever's laundry list and it'd be worth reading. Despite the cameo, this title has no direct connection with Spider-Man but, if you're a fan of Spidey, if you fondly remember those days when Pete was in college, when he couldn't catch a break and when everything in his life went wrong then you'll love this title. If you preferred the unsuccessful Peter Parker before he got a career, married a super-model and moved in with the Avengers then you'll love Greg Willis.
This is a very good comic-book, indeed. It's not only enormous fun to read, but you sense that Sean McKeever and Mike Norton had enormous fun writing it as well. They've invested themselves in the adventures of Greg Willis and it shows. The script is crisp and funny, the art is top-notch and suits the story perfectly.
What we have is a superior super hero story, that doesn't do anything new but uses the old formula so well, and executes it so perfectly, that you are desperate to keep reading. It's not that we doubt what is going to happen next - we know that Greg will go back to being Gravity - but we need to know how it's going to happen. And that is the sign of some top-notch storytelling.
By keeping the main characters in the book down to two (only Greg and Lauren can realistically claim that title), McKeever is able to devote a fair amount of time to developing and rounding their personalities. Both Greg and Lauren are fully realised three-dimensional characters. After less than three issues you care what happens to both of them. That's something that certain other titles in the Marvel Next imprint haven't managed after nearly two years.
This particular issue is the middle of a five-issue limited series and is therefore probably not the best jumping on point. However, unlike many recent titles, the story that McKeever is telling in this opening arc is a story that actually needs five issues to tell. It's well paced, and leaves you hungry for more.
If you're not already reading Gravity, then you should be. This deserves to be an ongoing title, more than anything Marvel has published in the last year. The fact it is selling so poorly is one of the greatest travesties of modern times. If you don't want to hunt out the back issues then buy the digest (it's out in December), but read this book. You won't regret that you did.
I was going to give the issue four and a half webs out of principle. Then I read it again, and I couldn't think of anything that would make me dock half a web. This may not be The Watchmen, but in terms of fun and exuberance super hero comics don't get much better than this. Five webs.