Friday, July 31, 2015

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #33 - November 1998

The Gathering of Five - Part Five: Gifts
Credits:  Todd Dezago (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Al Milgrom (inks), Tom Smith (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  While Aura lays near-death in the hospital, Override decides she needs a nest egg if he dies during the Gathering of Five ceremony.  He robs a bank and is eventually caught by Spider-Man, who’s swung past the panic he’s caused in the streets.  The police are unable to hold Override, however, and he quickly retrieves the hidden money and returns to the hospital.

The Subplots:  MJ talks to Peter about quitting college, but he refuses to believe that she values modeling more than her degree.  After selling the photos of his fight with Override, Peter is able to buy the expensive textbooks MJ needed.  When he hands her the books, MJ confesses that she withdrew from college earlier today.  Peter realizes that MJ needs to be happy and tells her that he supports her decision.

Web of Continuity:  MJ is still undecided about returning to modeling this chapter, even though she visited the agency and signed a contract in the previous chapter.

I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man sings the lyrics to the Fastball song “The Way” while pursuing Override.

Production Note:  This issue is forty pages, as opposed to the standard thirty-two.  You might assume that some extra pages are thrown in because this is the last issue of Sensational, but that’s not the case.  The story runs twenty-three pages, and there’s one page of letters.  The rest of the pages are ads.

Miscellaneous Note:  The Statement of Ownership has the average sales for the year at 94,643 copies, with the most recent issue selling 89,299.

Review:  It’s hard to argue that as a cohesive storyline, “The Gathering of Five” has been a success.  The various chapters contradict one another, plot threads disappear at random, and the only real conclusion to any arc is to a subplot involving MJ’s career choices.  I doubt this did an awful lot to build excitement for the new direction; knowing that the weakest chapter of the crossover was written by the main writer of the upcoming relaunch had to give many readers pause.  And labeling this the “conclusion” of the storyline, when it seems as if the previous chapter actually takes place after it, is just typical of the lax oversight the titles seemed to have during this era.

Todd Dezago probably could’ve hacked out anything as the final chapter, given that this is also the title’s last issue and it doesn’t seem as if there’s much of an emphasis on quality control anyway.  Thankfully, he once again produces a solid issue that stands on its own, putting to shame some of the other chapters of this storyline.  The Override fight isn’t that compelling, Spider-Man even stumbles upon the villain the exact same way he did last issue, but Dezago excels at the human element.  Not only do Peter and MJ feel like fully realized characters, but even Override and Aura are treated with genuine care.  I’ve never given a second thought to these Clone Saga leftovers before, but Dezago manages to make them feel real for the first time.  Aura, living in constant pain, wishing to end it all but not knowing how to tell her husband…Override, racked with guilt over what he’s done to keep Aura alive, unable to let her go while there’s still a shred of hope.  These aren’t easy scenes to execute, but Dezago handles them extremely well.  The Peter and MJ scenes are also among Dezago’s best work on the title.  Both characters feel real, neither is allowed to turn into a caricature of the nag or the screw-up, and the drama and resolution don’t feel forced.  Yes, MJ’s returning to modeling as a part of the “back to basics” edict, but the script does a decent job of selling this as a legitimate choice for MJ to be making.  And that bit with the textbooks is classic Spidey.

Sensational Spider-Man was created as a replacement for the rather superfluous Web of Spider-Man series, but two and half years later, it’s also cancelled due to its own perceived redundancy.  With four monthly titles, it was always hard for the title to stand out, and it seems that the focus on lighthearted adventure just added to the perception that it was a book that didn’t “count.”  Amongst diehard Spider-Man fans, however, Sensational was regarded as one of the highlights of the franchise during this era, and I don’t disagree.  My major complaint about the series was that it often seemed too light for its own good, but this issue shows that Dezago certainly does posses a talent for writing rather complex characterizations and significant emotional dilemmas.  Who knows what a Todd Dezago/Mike Wieringo run on Amazing Spider-Man could’ve been if Marvel had given them a chance?

1 comment:

Matt said...

I think it was discussed in comments some time back as to why Mackie got the job writing both books with the relaunch, but I sometimes wonder what things would have been like if that job had gone to one of the others. I feel like a DeFalco relaunch would've been a bit too plain and boring, as much of his AMAZING run was at this time -- and DeMatteis, while he'd proved he could do lighthearted, probably would've been too dark and psychological. And of course we know what the Mackie relaunch looked like.

A DeZago relaunch, on the other hand...! That would've been great.

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