Friday, October 17, 2014

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #23 - January 1998


The Spirit is Willing; the Flesh…
Credits:  Todd Dezago (plot/script), Mike Wieringo (plot/pencils), Richard Case (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  Dr. Strange defeats the gremlyns sent by Buel, then sends his Astral self back inside the Aleister Building to guide Spider-Man.  After traveling through various realities, they eventually locate the Sphere of Sara-Kath.  Dr. Strange physically enters the building and battles Buel, while Spider-Man fights his overwhelming attraction to a white light and carries the Sphere to the Babylon Portal.  When he throws the Sphere into the Portal, the rip in reality is healed and Buel disappears.  Before leaving, Dr. Strange lets Spider-Man visit the dimension he was drawn to earlier.  He senses a familiar presence; Spider-Man thanks Dr. Strange for the experience and they part.


The Subplots:  None.


Miscellaneous Notes:  The date listed in the indicia is January 1997, but it should be January 1998.  The Statement of Ownership lists the average number of copies sold in the past year to be 117,969, with the most recent issue selling 103,165 copies.


Review:  The previous chapters of this arc didn’t particularly feel like Spider-Man stories, but there is more of an effort this issue to connect the story with more familiar Spidey territory.  The first moment is when Dr. Strange dissuades Spider-Man from following the white light by reminding him of his responsibility to stop the reality rift and complete his mission.  That leads to a quickie flashback to his origin, which could’ve easily been a dull recap of something everyone knows, but there’s more of an impact this time.  Partially because Dezago keeps it brief and chooses his words carefully, but also because Wieringo’s art evokes an unexpected somber tone that sells the moment perfectly.  


The sudden remembrance of Uncle Ben is likely a setup for the issue’s schmaltzy ending, which has Peter touching the presence of a loved one in “an in-between place -- inhabited by thoughts and dreams and hopes…and the essences of ones that were…”  In a sane world, there shouldn’t be any doubt that Peter’s reconnecting with Uncle Ben for a final time.  Unfortunately, I think the standard belief amongst fandom turned into “Ben Reilly’s in that dimension!  He’s not really dead….that’s how he’s coming back!”  I can understand why Dezago left the identity vague, and I guess there’s nothing wrong with a hardcore Ben Reilly fan holding on to a naive hope, but geez…how could anyone think that scene works better with Ben Reilly instead of Uncle Ben?!


In retrospect, this really is the strongest chapter of the storyline.  Buel, whose personality is that of a snotty teenager, actually has some decent lines this issue; as opposed to just being obnoxious, he’s obnoxious but kind of funny this time.  Dr. Strange has a solid character moment, prompted by Spider-Man calling him out on his arrogance when he refuses to give him access to the strange white light.  Strange reconsiders, reflecting on the arrogance that destroyed his previous life, and gives Spider-Man his little happy ending.  And the art is fantastic, which isn’t much of a surprise.  There’s a two-page spread of Spider-Man and Strange traveling through various realities that is simply beautiful.


I haven’t gotten soft, though.  This overall arc is still too long, too unfocused, and just an odd way to spend three months of this title.  The first issue gives the Technomancers a grand introduction, only to have the characters almost entirely fall out of the story in place of Buel.  When the two Technomancers that received the most attention in the first chapter return this issue, they play a small part in helping Strange fight Buel, but their appearance feels rushed and unsatisfying.  The idea, apparently, is that they’ve learned a lesson about manipulating the mystic arts, redeeming themselves at the end somewhat, but it never comes across as a convincing character arc.  The Technomancers’ basic gimmick sounds fairly generic, and even if a writer found a way to make them work, it’s hard to imagine them becoming serious players in Spider-Man’s little corner of the world.  The subplots have also been pretty disappointing during these three issues, when they appeared at all.  The art arguably makes up for many of these flaws, and ‘Ringo does have some amazing moments, but it's hard to view this arc as one deserving of three issues.

1 comment:

Matt said...

I forgot about the Ben thing, but now that you're brought it up, I do recall a number of people believing it was Ben who Peter sensed in that scene. I think they even ran some letters to that effect. I was a fan of Ben, but at no point did I think this was anything other than a reference to Uncle Ben. Believing it to be Ben Reilly is stretching for something that's just not there.