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.