It’s still the 90s, so that’s a lenticular cover that doesn’t actually work. Any gimmick was a good gimmick to comics in the 90s. As we have seen, back in the late 80s, Spider-Man got married. This made a lot of people very angry and has been widely regarded as a bad move. No one wanted to do it, and once it was done, everyone wanted to find a way to undo it. But how? People seemed to agree: The only thing worse than a married Peter Parker would be a divorced Peter Parker, because Peter Parker is supposed to represent youth.
I respectfully take issue with that entire premise. Peter Parker doesn’t represent “youth.” He started out doing so, sure. The first teen hero starring in a book and all. That didn’t last very long, as Peter would age more or less in real time well into the 70s before someone went “Hang on a sec…” A whole lot of great, great comic creators, from then through today, seem to hold this view, though, that Spider-Man is a comic about youth. This conveniently ignores the fact that he hasn’t been a teenager in over half a century. He’s a college graduate. He’s been to grad school. He’s been a high school teacher and a scientist working at Stark Industries. Some of the very people who say he has to represent youth have also done stories where he’s the Tony Stark-like head of an international corporation. This notion of him HAVING to represent youth is quixotic. Peter graduated from high school in 1965, 379 issues before this one, that ship sailed when my dad was still a child, and I’m 40.
But what do I know, I just read the things, so a plan was hatched to solve this problem in a ridiculous and convoluted way that would allow them to have a single Spider-Man who didn’t get divorced (And not for the last time, either!). As we’ve seen, they brought back Spider-Man’s clone from the 70s, revealing he’s been alive the whole time. This shocking development proved a huge sales success, and it was the kind of success that’s a curse. What was intended to be a relatively short story by the creatives was now made to go on for years by editorial, with the plan changing constantly behind the scenes. No one really knew what the endgame was from day to day. Soon they revealed it was Peter, not Ben, who was the clone. That the Spider-Man people had been reading about for 20 years was fake. And with THAT utterly insane revelation/betrayal of the reading public out of the way, they could quietly start moving toward an insane goal: Peter & MJ go off to live happily ever after, while Ben becomes the one and only Spider-Man. At one point, the plan was even for him to just start calling himself Peter Parker again.
I know. They really thought people would buy into this.
But, of course, that wasn’t always the plan, and it wasn’t the plan for long, either. There’s an exhaustive resource on this topic if you’re interested in the behind-the-scenes madness of The Clone Saga called the Life of Reilly by Andrew Goletz. Working with Spider-Man editorial staffer Glenn Greenburg, Ben Reilly superfan Goletz reconstructs the whole sorry affair with insights from the people who were there. It’s a fascinating read. It was done on a now-defunct comics website back in the day. Andrew and I were members of the same comics message board community, so I knew about it and eagerly read every installment. He later published it as a book. I have found this odd sort of fan remix of the original posts including art from the books that wasn’t in the original, if you’re interested: http://www.benreillytribute.x10host.com/LifeofReilly1.html
It also seems worth noting that this whole clone debacle was Terry Kavanagh’s idea. I mean, all the writers and editors and whatnot are responsible for it, and Kavanagh never could have predicted just how long, drawn out, and stupid it would be, but he apparently started it. Let the record show.
At any rate, all that brings us to this issue. Web of Spider-Man has been retired, and in its place springs up Sensational Spider-Man (SSM hereafter). They’d used “Sensational” a couple of times on reprints in the past, might as well make it official. To be fair, “Web of” didn’t really fit the name scheme. The Parkers have just ridden off into the sunset. After a gratuitous “event” where all the Spidey titles were replaced by Scarlet Spider titles (Amazing Scarlet Spider, Spectacular Scarlet Spider, etc) for 2 months in a blatant and foolish attempt to get some of that Age of Apocalypse hype The X-Men were enjoying, the real books return this month, and Ben Reilly is now Spider-Man. Forever. Or for about 12 months. Same difference, right? We’ll see that transition eventually, but now, there’s a new/old Spider-Man on the block. Or… there’s about to be.
So now it’s 1995. The bottom is falling out of the comics market. The childish grim-dark ultraviolence is beginning to peter out. And a new Spider-Man is here to usher in a new age. This issue is the Marvel Comics debut of Dan Jurgens, the man who killed Superman. So, indirectly and unintentionally, all that insufferable “I am The Spider” garbage from the last block was sort of his fault. He is a writer/artist, and launches Sensational Spider-Man in that capacity. He would go on from Spidey to long runs as writer on Thor & Captain America before heading back over to DC. As you can see, he’s paired with Klaus Janson, famously the inker of most of Frank Miller’s work and one of the better partners for John Romita, Jr., among other credits. I’m not sure he’s the right fit for Jurgens’ John Byrne-esque approach. Gregory Wright is on colors. I guess this is also the blog debut of the horrible new “Spider-Man” logo. So much edgier!
Awkward computer lettering has joined awkward computer coloring by now. Look at those garish font treatments. Sheesh. A now-bemulleted Ben Reilly is visiting Uncle Ben’s grave, recapping Spider-Man’s origin like it’s his, since it’s been revealed he’s the real Peter (for now).
Mullets were cool in 90s comics. Dan Jurgens also gave Superman one, though this one is John Romita, Jr.’s fault, as far as I know. I don’t feel like mullets were cool in REAL LIFE, though. Maybe in the 80s, but… I never understood this. Anyway. He stops the thief, and then…
(We’ll get to that other book) He keeps it short and polite and jumps on a bus to escape before things get too weird. He recaps how he came to not be Peter Parker for 5 years (They put that on the line. It’s been 5 years since 1975. Putting a number out there is always going to come back to haunt the book as the sliding time scale endlessly compresses the character’s history) and wound up back here. Elsewhere, a guy in a classic hat-and-coat disguise uses a little voice-controlled flying robot to break into a closed movie theater, saying he’ll have to double his price for the creepiness.
Any story revolving around technology is usually embarrassing in the 90s. And was at the time, too, wait’ll you see some of the insane comics that took place “in cyberspace.” Meanwhile, Ben Reilly is spending almost all the money he has on household items he can use to make web fluid. He goes back to his crappy hotel he’s living in with $5 to his name, and wonders why “the guy in the blue suit and red cape doesn’t have these problems,” because, guys, Dan Jurgens just came here from Superman, GET IT?
He proceeds to waste a bunch of it testing it in various ways and talking to himself. He really is Peter Parker. Then he decides to go find some food with his less-than-$5. In Manhattan. He goes near Centennial University and finds The Daily Grind coffee shop.
This Desiree Winthrop person says he’s sitting at her table, and everyone knows it’s her table, and very nicely says he should move. He just leaves. Her mentioning the fashion department has given him an idea. If you’re assuming this introduction to The Daily Grind, its proprietor, and Desiree Winthrop mean they’ll all be coming back, you’ve cracked the case. Of course, Centennial U is near the “Neural Port Complex” (I don’t understand what that means), so we cut to this Armada guy preparing to break in, then back to Ben as he finds the fashion department at the college. He knows they’ll have plenty of discarded fabric, and plans to only use that so as not to mess things up for them.
The “too Asgardian” one doesn’t look at all Asgardian to me. Apparently the bottom right one is Dan Jurgens’ actual, rejected design for Ben’s suit. Can you imagine that? Over at the Neural Port Complex, a security guard goes to look at a “defense screen” that’s down, and another little flying robot zaps him in the face.
A transformation! Over at the Complex, there’s some serious exposition about this issue’s McGuffin going on.
Armada is still looking pretty 90s, but late 90s. Not covered in pouches and belts, at least. All his robots are named for women. Nearby, Ben takes his new outfit for a spin.
I hate this suit. I hate the dopey Gambit gloves, I hate the not-boots, I hate the giant spider, I hate it all. Look how the web pattern comes out of his head, like it used to, AND out of the big spider. Unnecessarily complicated!
A lot of pictures this post, but this issue is in the weird position of having to set up an entirely new status quo for the world’s most beloved hero, so there’s a lot of groundwork being laid. Jessica there manages to snap a photo of Spider-Man, and then he finally gets lead to The Neural Port Complex by his Spider Sense. Inside, Armanda instructs his robots to kill the scientists and destroy the lab, but a web hits the one trying to kill the guy…
He does not die at the hands of Armada. And even if the robots killed him, he still wouldn’t be dying at the hands of Armada, dude. The lil’ robots start zapping him and flitting around, and when he goes to web them, his webshooters jam.
He gets his webshooters unclogged and gets a line on Armanda, zooming out the window after him. Jessica from before watches him go, saying “I’ve waited so long…” Hopefully not another Black Cat situation, mm? Armada and Spider-Man fight through the sky, the doc and the sphere being dropped and rescued repeatedly, until eventually everyone but Armada is plummeting to the ground.
Jurgens seems to have a good feel for Spider-Man’s voice. I’m sure it was part of his mandate, but everything about his approach feels pretty classicist. Spider-Man has been in a weird place for a long time, no matter who you ask, and this hard reset is meant to right the ship. I don’t know how you right the ship by jettisoning literally everyone on board, but… anyway, Spidey webs up a parachute and then shoots a big cushion onto the ground, using up all his web fluid, but saving the scientist, Armada, and the ball. Then Armada’s robots steal the ball and zoom off. He says he’ll keep an eye out for it and return it if he can. The Doc tries to give Spidey all the money he has on him in gratitude for saving his life, but he asks for just the quarter he owes The Daily Grind, and then he’s off.
Now THAT’S a 90s costume. Look at all those belts! What do any of them hold up?
And there you go, this new Spidey has a job. He asks for a cash advance just to buy flowers to take back to the graveyard (How’s he gonna eat today?), and says he’s happy to be a hero again as he walks off into his new life.
It is a thoroughly insane thing, what they’re trying to do here. You have to give them a little credit for even trying, I guess. For even thinking they could get you to like Ben, his suit, and his new supporting cast so much you don’t mind tossing out literally everything you know and love about Spider-Man. Took moxie, if nothing else. I don’t condone this, but it’s happening, and at the very least, it’s not all grim and hopeless like our last block. At this point in my reading, that alone is pretty exciting. I hated this so much as a teen, and yet like a moron, I still bought most of it. Knowing what happens lets me look at it with a different perspective now, though. I can put aside my distaste for the general direction and just judge the stories on whether they’re good or not. As a reboot/reintroduction, this one was actually fine. I still don’t think Janson is a good fit for Jurgens and I hate the suit, but otherwise… nothing too offputting, really. Who knows what I’ll wind up thinking of this stuff?