Monday, January 7, 2013

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #0 - January 1996


The Ultimate Commitment
Credits:  Dan Jurgens (story/pencils), Klaus Janson (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Richard Starkings and Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Ben Reilly starts his life over in New York, deciding to reclaim the mantle of Spider-Man.  He uses chemicals from the drug store to create a crude web fluid, then takes leftover fragment scraps from Centennial University’s fashion department to sew a new costume.  Nearby, Armada steals the Digital Imagery Transmission Chip from its creator, Professor Ramirez.  Spider-Man defeats Armada and saves Ramirez’s life, but is unable to stop one of Armada’s orbs from carrying the chip away.  The orb takes the chip to Mysterio.

The Subplots:  Ben runs into Anna Watson at Aunt May and Uncle Ben’s gravesite.  Her reaction to his scruffy appearance inspires him to change his look.  Later, inside CU’s fashion department, he cuts his hair and dyes it blond.  While readjusting to life in New York, Ben meets The Daily Grind's owner and her son, and fashion student Desiree Winthrop.  Ben’s offered a job at The Daily Grind by the owner (whose name we later discover is Shirley Washington).  As he webslings in his new costume, mystery characters Wendall and Jessica notice him.  Jessica has an unspecified grudge against Spider-Man that will be revealed in future issues.

Web of Continuity:  Mysterio’s new, fishbowl-less look debuts this issue.  And, clearly, we’re still knee-deep in the Clone Saga.

*See _________ For Details:  The story of Peter and MJ’s quiet, “retired” life is explored in the Spider-Man: The Final Adventure miniseries.


Forever Young:  Ben reflects on how long it’s been since he designed his original costume in his high school days.

Gimmicks:  This issue is double-sized, on glossy paper, with a cardstock cover and a 3D "holocard".  The cover price is $4.95.  You could also argue that simply being a #0 issue is a gimmick.

Creative Differences:  As Glenn Greenberg reveals in the Life of Reilly, Ben’s blond hair was the brainchild of new group editor Bob Budinasky, and wasn’t particularly popular amongst anyone who actually worked on the books.  The gimmick cover of this issue was also considered something of a dud amongst the spider-office, I believe.

Review:  Sensational Spider-Man was really Web of Spider-Man with a new name and higher production values, so I guess I’ll continue to review it under the same rules I established for Web.  The first year of this book is quite a mess, perhaps even messier than Web’s early issues, with Dan Jurgens leaving by issue number six, and the entire clone storyline being retconned a few issues later.  The marketing hook for this title, aside from a new number zero and number one (and shiny paper), was Dan Jurgens.  Jurgens was considered the main creator on the Superman titles at the time, and his addition to the Spider-Man titles made him one of the few freelancers to have worked on both Superman and Spider-Man, and the only creator to work on both franchises simultaneously.  

I’m not saying this to diminish Dan Jurgens’ work at all, but I’ve never quite understood why Marvel felt this was such a powerful marketing hook.  The Superman titles were decent sellers at the time, but I’m certain that even the controversial Clone Saga Spider-Man books were outselling them.  And if we’re talking Wizard approved hot artists, I’m not sure where Jurgens ranked on that list.  He’s one of the better mainstream superhero artists of this era, yes, but he has a very traditional, restrained style.  His work is barely flashy by early ‘80s standards; by late 1995 this style was practically quaint.  Again, I personally like it, and I’m sure 90% of Marvel’s output at the time would’ve benefited by having Jurgens replace Deodato Studios or Generic Fake Manga Artist, but is he really what Marvel’s target audience wanted?  Is Dan Jurgens that much more of a draw than Ron Frenz…or even Alex Saviuk, who was stuck drawing adaptations of the Spider-Man cartoon at the time?

As for Jurgens’ writing -- I suppose his major claim to fame is killing off Superman, right?  Not exactly the best resumé item when you’re stepping on to a franchise that’s already steeped in controversy.  I remember people speculating that Jurgens was being brought in to place the “hit” on Peter Parker – an inane theory, yes, but the core audience was already infuriated by this storyline.  They didn’t want someone to bring more stunts into the comic.  Personally, I've never had strong feelings toward Jurgens’ writing work.  This issue exhibits his ability to tightly plot a one-issue introductory story, but the dialogue is occasionally corny and I don’t think anyone is going to consider Armada a classic villain.  His gimmick, aside from having little gizmos that fly around him, is that he has an emotional attachment to his doodads, and even gives them female names.  I can easily see a writer today deceiving himself into thinking he’s edgy by making this a sexual fascination, but it’s played here as just a quirk.  And as a defining character trait, that’s barely anything to go on.  He has about as much depth as any of the villains that attempted to steal Hostess Fruit Pies back in the ‘70s.  

So, the story’s on the level of Tom DeFalco’s work from this era.  There are no noticeable holes to pick in the plot, but there's very little to draw the reader in.  The art is helped a bit by Janson’s inks, but like I said before, this is competent but not quite extraordinary work.  This is a five-dollar comic meant to launch a new era of the franchise (the “Spider-Renaissance” as it’s called in the hype page) …I don’t think it did the job.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I've always liked Jurgens' art, to me he was the closest thing DC had to a Jim Lee in the 90s because of his detail and skill. Also, he does seem to come from that John Byrne mold, and you can also see Byrne in Lee's early 90s work too (plus Art Adams and manga). You're in for a treat if you stick with this book, though; I think issue 7 starts Ringo's run on the book :)

Anonymous said...

Jurgens writing is completely unmemorable. Always. Not exciting, not boring. Not good, not bad (except Team Titans). He is unmemorable, period, not even solid.

Kabe

Teebore said...

Personally, I've never had strong feelings toward Jurgens’ writing work.

Yeah, I've always felt that way about both his writing and his art - not bad, not great, hard to get worked up over either way.

Which is all well and good, and comics needs creators like that. Like you say, a fair number of titles at both Marvel and DC in early 90s could have benefited from a guy like Jurgens. But he definitely seems like an odd creator to use as a selling point.

(Incidentally, Jurgens lives locally to me, in the Twin Cities area. He's attended all the local cons, every year, for as long as I've been attending/working them, and he's a tremendously nice guy. Which always makes me wish I loved his work more).

Matt said...

Hooray, more Spider-Man reviews! I haven't read Sensational in a long time, so I look forward to these. Especially when you get to the DeZago/Wieringo run.

Though I have to say:

"...the core audience was already infuriated by this storyline."

Not all of us. I was a lifelong Spider-Man fan and still totally on board with the whole thing (in fact as I've noted before, I was never not on board with it).

I would've been 17 when this issue came out and I think I had realized by now that they were making it up as they went along, and I'm pretty sure that I recognized the whole thing as a gimmick and assumed that Ben would not stay Spider-Man, but I was enjoying the heck out of the ride.

As far as Dan Jurgens goes, I recall enjoying his work on Captain America in the late 90's, but that's about the only extended run of his that I've ever read. I keep meaning to get to his Thor someday, though, if only for the Romita Jr. artwork.

Teebore said...

@Matt: I keep meaning to get to his Thor someday, though, if only for the Romita Jr. artwork.

For what it's worth, I liked his Cap run as well, but really enjoyed his Thor run, especially the latter half (oddly enough, after JRjr left), which was essentially one long continuous story at a time when everyone was doing self-contained six issue arc.

Harry Sewalski said...

Please tell me that you're reviewing the entirety of Sensational Spider-Man? The only issues I have are part of the Identity Crisis arc, but it's a good, fun story. If memory serves, the Sensational issues were the ones in which Peter takes on the Hornet identity.