A New Day Dawning
Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), John Stanisci (inks), John Kalisz w/GCW (colors), Richard Starkings and Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Spider-Man swings through the city, reflecting on the second chance he’s been given. He stops by J. Jonah Jameson’s office and advises him not to work so hard. Meanwhile, the Chameleon retreats into insanity after learning he’s been scheduled to leave Ravencroft for federal custody. Later that night, he wakes in Ravencroft’s basement and sees Dr. Ashley Kafka. She reveals she isn’t ready to remand him to the authorities.
The Subplots: Mad Jack, a new incarnation of obscure villain Jack O’Lantern, spies on Jameson’s office. Meanwhile, MJ discusses losing the baby with her aunt Anna. Later, Peter takes MJ web-slinging and they watch the sunrise together.
Web of Continuity:
- This story is set in early December, placing it over a month after the Halloween setting of “Revelations.”
- Since the previous issue, Ben Reilly has been revealed as the clone…and killed. (By a resurrected Norman Osborn, no less.) The Parkers’ daughter has also had a vague death scene, although the books will hint for months that the baby is still alive and in Osborn’s possession. Also, Aunt Anna has apparently moved into Aunt May’s old home with Peter and MJ.
- Peter promises MJ that they’ll move out of Aunt May’s old house soon. I think this idea is totally dropped until the Mackie/Byrne relaunch that happens almost two years later.
Miscellaneous Note: Marvel used “Revelations” as an excuse to debut new Spider-Man logos, which ran through most of the titles. It wasn’t long, I believe just one or two issues in some cases, before the books reverted to the ‘90s “spikey” logo, however. Oddly enough, this logo design did resurface over ten years later on the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series.
Review: I’ve mentioned before that I am not a fan of the post-Clone Saga era of Spider-Man, and was actually kind of surprised to discover that this period of the titles has its supporters. This was largely an ignorant opinion, I admit, gleaned from a handful of comics from late 1996 to early 1997. I tried a few issues of Amazing and Spectacular, an issue or two of Sensational, and steered clear of Spider-Man after being burned so badly by Howard Mackie on X-Factor. Over the years, I’ve compiled most of the books from this era, and I have to acknowledge that my initial opinion of the books was mostly wrong. Mostly. There is absolutely some good stuff here, and since this remains a largely overlooked period in the character’s history, I’ve decided to expand my Sensational reviews to include the rest of the Spider-canon until we get to the 1998 relaunch. After that...no. I'm not touching Chapter One, or The Next Chapter, as the present-day books have been retroactively labeled. No.
Of the four monthly Spider-Man titles, the one written by J. M. DeMatteis would seem to be the obvious contender for the best of the pack. And it usually is, even though he’s oddly matched with Luke Ross on the book. This issue, J. M. DeMatteis takes the order the writers have been given (Peter and MJ must move on), and makes this a story about…moving on. You get all of the DeMatteis classics: silent panels, repeating images, introspective narration, and touching moments between Peter and MJ. I say that Luke Ross is an odd match if only because his style is, out of all of the artists on the books at the time, the least reminiscent of DeMatteis’ traditional Spider-partner, Sal Buscema; so seeing pages that are just begging to be Buscema pages drawn by someone with a polar-opposite style is a little disconcerting.
Still, Ross doesn’t stand in the way of the emotion of the story, and as unpleasant as the prospect of a “Spider-Man and wife deal with miscarriage” story could be, this is as unobjectionable a delivery as you’re going to get. Regarding the superhero storylines, I think the reintroduction of Jack O’Lantern in a new form is a solid idea, even though time will show this is not one of comics’ greatest mysteries. Regarding Ashley Kafka and the Chameleon, I don’t care for the mentally unstable Chameleon, nor do I find Ashley Kafka as sympathetic as DeMatteis seems to. She’s certainly more tolerable when written by DeMatteis, but her actions in this storyline will make her even more incompetent, and frustrating, than we’ve ever seen her before.
Luke Ross is coming off a series of mediocre fill-ins for the X-office at this point, and given that his major deficit is his inability to draw convincing human features (especially his females, with their weird cat faces and tiny noses), he doesn’t seem like an obvious choice to draw a book that relies heavily on a supporting cast. To his credit, this issue shows that he’s come a long way from those X-Man fill-ins. His human characters have an attractive, cartoony style that rivals what McFarlane was doing on his best days. In fact, Ross is clearly far ahead of McFarlane’s early work; it took McFarlane a few years to work his style into the book so well. And Ross’ interpretation of Spider-Man in costume is also hard to dismiss. That opening splash page of the character gazing over the edge of a roof is powerful (I’ve noticed that it still shows up in some of Marvel’s merchandising).
Unfortunately, that shot just might be the best Spider-Man drawing Ross produces during his entire run. After the first half of the comic, the quality declines noticeably. Spider-Man’s eyes, and the shape of his head, are inconsistent from panel to panel, and the web-slinging shots become much less energetic. The anatomy also starts to get shakier, and some of the faces begin to revert to his previous (almost inhuman) look. Plus, when the story requires him to draw an inspiring cityscape under the morning sun at the story’s climax, he chooses an odd time to skimp on the buildings. I don’t want to unfairly pick on Ross, it’s obvious that he’s quite good even at this point, but the inconsistency is frustrating. I’m assuming some deadline problems were involved, since the quality begins to drop off in the second half of the issue, and the inking is also less dynamic in the later pages. (When John Stanisci is on, though, he’s amazing. His inking of the opening splash page, and Mad Jack’s giant reveal panel, look like something McFarlane would’ve inked before his obsession with scratchiness sunk in.)
So, perhaps not the greatest beginning of a brand new direction, but the issue accomplishes what it needs to. Peter and MJ's decision to move on feels organic, even if it was an editorial directive, and the title’s in a position to go forward without any clone baggage. This is the only quiet, introspective issue to follow the deaths of Ben and baby May, and it’s clear the story was assigned to the proper writer. And even if the art is spotty in places, Luke Ross produces some McFarlane-style Spidey that rivals even McFarlane’s better work. Now, can any of the other titles match Spectacular in their post-clone first issues?