Tuesday, January 15, 2013
SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #4 - May 1996
Credits: Dan Jurgens (story/pencils), Klaus Janson (finishes), Gregory Wright w/Malibu’s Hues (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Jessica explains to Ben why she hates Spider-Man, but he has to abruptly abandon the conversation and stop a jewelry store robbery. After saving the final hostage from a gunman, he goes into the alleys to change. After he notices Jessica taking his picture from a nearby rooftop, he tries to explain that Spider-Man did not kill her father. She refuses to listen and runs into the building.
The Subplots: Peter sells Jameson a photo of Spider-Man carrying the stolen skeleton, but learns that having the photo isn’t enough to extinguish Jameson’s interest in the story. Later, Peter and Ben bury the skeleton in a corner of a Queens cemetery. They discuss the tests that confirmed Peter is the clone, a result Peter now disputes. Angry that Ben is defending Seward Trainer, Peter abruptly leaves, vowing to do his own investigation.
Web of Continuity: Ben’s boss, Shirley, complains that she’s having a hard time verifying Ben’s Social Security number. Ben questions why this wasn’t fixed by Seward Trainer during his adventure in cyberspace.
*See _________ For Details: The burglar, Jessica’s father, died of a heart attack in Amazing Spider-Man #200. Jessica’s convinced herself that Spider-Man strangled him instead. Spectacular Spider-Man #226 is the infamous issue that “confirmed” Peter Parker was a clone. Shockingly, it’s about to be retconned.
Review: This begins “Blood Brothers,” the crossover that was setting the stage for the end of the Clone Saga…before Bob Harras became editor-in-chief and ordered that Ben remain Spider-Man until the “Onslaught” crossover finished, and that Norman Osborn be revived and named the mastermind behind the events. So, essentially, we’re wasting more time here. It is somewhat gratifying to see Peter Parker reflect the audience’s reaction to Seward Trainer’s test results and finally question if this man he doesn’t know at all could be trusted to tell the truth, but even this scene is forced and unconvincing. It reads as if someone in editorial has decided that Peter and Ben should turn against each other at this point, so that’s what Peter dutifully does.
Another awkward plot element in this issue is the introduction of Ben Reilly’s false identity problems, an issue that was pretty obviously dealt with during the horrid issues that set up Ben’s reclamation of the Spider-Man role. If the point of sending Seward Trainer into cyberspace wasn’t to set up a new false identity for Ben, then why did the readers have to suffer through that crap? Even Jurgens has Ben question why the false identity Trainer created isn’t holding up. I don’t know if this subplot was ever resolved in the other titles, but I’m guessing it’s here to hint that maybe Trainer wasn’t all he claimed to be? It’s a necessary step in invalidating the test results that labeled Peter a clone, but it’s an obvious copout. Clearly the creators intended Trainer to be a credible source of information, or they wouldn’t have used him to validate the identity of the “real” Spider-Man.
Finally, the Jessica subplot continues along the most obvious path imaginable. Jurgens probably knew at this point that he only had an issue or two left, so he’s moving the storyline up to the point that Jessica discovers that Ben is (oh, no!) Spider-Man. The execution is noticeably weak, as Ben idiotically ignores his spider-sense and unmasks in public, just as Jessica takes a photo of his naked face. There is precedent for this kind of plot convenience, such as Nick Katzenberg discovering Peter’s secret ID in a similar fashion in an earlier issue of Web, but that’s no excuse. (And at least the letter column at the time acknowledged the screw-up.) Maybe this subplot could’ve worked with more time to properly develop, but so far it’s added little to a book that’s already something of a mess.