Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #31 - September 1998


More than a Feelin’
Credits:  Todd Dezago (writer), Mike Wieringo (penciler), Richard Case (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  The Rhino launches into a rampage, destroying everything in sight.  Spider-Man attempts to stop him, and discovers that Rhino is only doing this in order to provoke the police into hurting him.  Due to the body armor bonded to his skin, he feels no sensation.  Rhino is desperate to feel anything.  During the chaos, the Lothridge School for the Deaf’s bus is trapped in front of downed power cables.  Using the sign for “friend,” Spider-Man calms Hope and her classmates and helps them escape.  He then uses the power cables to knock Rhino unconscious.

The Subplots:  Billy stops by the Parkers’ home and apologizes for being rude to Peter earlier at the Daily Grind.  Billy explains that he’s moving out of New York City to spend time with his sick mother.

Web of Continuity:  
  • This story is based on the premise that the Rhino can’t remove his armor, even though it’s been removed and replaced a few times over the years.  
  • Billy reveals details of his past to Peter.  Billy was an only child, his parents divorced when he was young, and he feels as if his mother blamed him for the divorce.  He’s left the Bugle and is moving back to Port Jervis to be with her.

I Love the ‘90s:  Doing repairs around the house, Peter compares himself to Bob Villa.  MJ counters that he’s more like Tim Allen.

We Get Letters:  The next issue blurb in the letter column lists Mike Wieringo as next issue’s penciler, even though a brief goodbye note for ‘Ringo was published just one page earlier.
Original art from this issue, as seen on http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1039380

Review:  Todd Dezago sticks around for one more issue (a chapter of the not-fondly-remembered “Gathering of the Five” crossover), but this issue marks his final Sensational collaboration with Mike Wieringo.  I wish I had something poignant to say about their run together, but there aren’t too many ways to say “it’s a fun, lighthearted superhero adventure with nice art.”  There is a bit of historical significance to their run, simply because this style of art was still rare in a mainstream comic of the era, and the emphasis on back-to-basics superheroics makes it an early entry in the neo-Silver Age revival of the late ‘90s.  It’s also worth remembering that the Dezago/Wieringo run had its own cult following, and at least a few fans were adamant that Sensational was the best Spider-Man book of this era and didn’t deserve cancellation.

I wouldn’t say Sensational was the highlight of the post-clone days, but more often than not it was an entertaining read.  I think the title often coasted on Wieringo’s art, making any of the fill-in issues feel a bit shallow, and that the dearth of ongoing character subplots ultimately worked to the book’s disadvantage.  The two major subplots from the Dezago/Wieringo run are resolved this issue, and it’s a bit telling that both of them involve new characters that have yet to be properly fleshed out as strong supporting cast members.  I liked the idea behind Hope’s story and think she and her mother had potential as recurring cast members, but even after several appearances, all we really know about Hope is that she’s a cute kid who happens to be deaf.  Her scene with Spider-Man this issue is great, and a nice payoff to a subplot that began several issues ago, but it’s hard to argue that Hope really needs to appear again.  And Billy Walters…did a real point ever emerge out of this?  Billy’s best scenes were the ones that hammered some guilt into Peter for consistently ditching Billy, but was Billy himself that interesting?  Billy’s arc consists of him being overly friendly, getting his feelings hurt, then making up with Peter before going back home to be with his mother.  A mother, we discover this issue, that seems to be emotionally abusive, or darned close to it.  What kind of an ending is that?  Even if Dezago’s ideas weren’t cut short by the reboot, I have to wonder if Billy would ever evolve past his status as the Daily Bugle’s Jimmy Olsen and stand out as a character in his own right.  

It’s a shame that this title never quite struck the balance between the Spider-Man action and the supporting cast.  With more subplots, and a bit more pathos, this potentially could’ve been a classic run.  As it stands, it’s a pretty good run that shouldn’t be forgotten.  If you’re a Spider-Man fan, I would say it’s worth tracking down.

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