Friday, July 14, 2017

Tie-ins, Part XXVI: Peter Parker: Spider-Man #57

Some random Spider-Man books, Part 15
Enjoy that Sam Keith cover…

…because you likely won’t enjoy what’s inside it

"Reborn, part 2”
Writer – Zeb Wells
Art – Sam Keith
Letters –Randy Gentile
Editor – John Miesegaes
Editor-in-Chief – Joe Quesada
August 2003

I’ve said before that I like Sam Keith’s non-traditional art style, and I do. I think his The Maxx story is simply amazing and recommended reading.I even enjoyed his werewolf / disfigured kids story Scratch.

That having been said, there are some characters that just don’t fit certain art styles. Or stories for that matter. This book feels completely out of place on both levels for me, story and art.

Zeb Wells penned this offbeat tale of Sandman, and I shouldn’t argue with Wells, as he’s won an Emmy. I’ve won a large bag of M&M’s though, so I think I can take him. Okay, maybe not “won” but more like “purchased.” Whatever.

I’ve seen Wells come up in other parts of the Crapbox and I will let those issues speak for themselves when we get to them. Just know he has lots of experience with the Spider-Man character, not all of it being “collectible” status.

Here we have Sandman, who gave up super-villainy / super-heroics and humanity in general with his last outing on these pages. It was the same-ole, same ole, he got mind-controlled into being a bad guy by the Wizard after spending quite some time as a white hat working WITH Spider-Man and the Thing. His subsequent attempt to reform the Sinister Six failed, he was partially lobotomized by Venom, and destabilized to the point that he washed down a sewer drain to mingle and become a part of Jones Beach, New York.

Last issue, Wells brings Sandman back, but in “good” and “evil” versions of himself, putting Spider-Man in the middle. By the end of that issue we end up with an “innocent” version of Sandman as well, in the form of a goofy child. It looks like there’s one more part of his psyche that is getting its own set of legs to strut around with too, Sandman’s “feminine” side.

Does your head hurt yet? I mean it’s just the typical man-turns-into-beach-then-becomes-separate-beings-representing-his-emotional-states kinda story, and we see these things all the time over here at the Crapbox.

But wait, if you think the story is wild, marry it with Keith’s very expressionist art and you get something too funky. Even I have a hard time with it. This is part two, so the story starts out weird and just goes warp speed down the rabbit hole from there. I literally cannot find the words for this one, so I’m taking you in right now so you can see for yourself.

This man is out at night walking his dogs, looking very much like what a person in a Sam Keith comic would look like. Suddenly his dogs take off around the corner without him and then start making that hurt sound only small dogs get to make.

And down this alley he bumps into “evil” Sandman. I don’t know what to say.

Seriously, someone help me out here. Yeah, I get that if you are going to use Keith, a story about someone who can change shape at will fits better to his art style than something traditional, but look at THIS! I don’t know where to really start.

I think the hurdle I’m having trouble jumping is the definition of normal in Keith’s world is already bizarre. Evil aspect Sandman here, he has to be out-of-the-ordinary which means he gets rendered in the craziest way possible to stress that he isn’t normal. The varying degrees this book takes to veer us into odder and odder surroundings, the more I pull back from the story. Starting with this second page.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man is on a beach talking to Sandman’s Female, Good, and Innocent aspects. They are all drawn with a penchant for having a body part rendered as sand, just so we KNOW they are part of Sandman. I get it, but it feels a bit of an overuse of the visual medium.

I’m trying to figure out my problems with the art and one of the few complaints I can clearly articulate is how empty Keith’s world is. This isn’t a bustling New York. It’s an empty cardboard cutout of the city, sterile and lifeless.

Beyond the art, the plot is these four aspects of Sandman need to rejoin so that Flint Marko, the person behind that villainous name, can be saved. Spider-Man is truly just along for the ride on this one. There is no bad-guy to defeat, even though one of the aspects is labeled Evil.

The separate aspects have differing levels of understanding and motivation. The Good aspect is guided by guilt. The Innocent aspect is a child. The Feminine aspect is wise and all-knowing. And as for the Evil aspect?

The Evil aspect is driven by pain and anger.

Which transitions nicely to the Evil aspect doing…something evil. What exactly, I can’t be sure. It involves the guy with the dogs, and possibly Evil killing one or all of them. See for yourself.

That eye could be Evil Sandman’s. His are falling out of head in the last panel. Or it could be the guy he caught. Just no telling and here is my problem for the book. When the art gets in the way of clearly telling the story it becomes a liability. I’m all for crazy and artistic if it doesn’t detract from the story. I don’t know what happened here and the book tries for the rest of its length to get me on Marko’s side in his struggle. To want him to reform and be whole. But I cannot root for someone who is an amoral murderer. So, this scene was crucial to gaining or losing my sympathies.

And I can’t for the life of me tell what just happened.

Then we have a comedic tone shift as Spider-Man rides around with the other three aspects, including the huge Good aspect crammed into the back with Spidey and Feminine, instead of Spidey up front and Childlike in the back. It is a slapstick thing, and I get it but we might have seen a man murdered on the other side of the page, so I don’t find this funny.

In another odd tone shift, we get Feminine getting emotionally upset over a poor woman she sees through the car window, one of only four people who inhabit Keith’s Jones Beach. Spidey does his inspiring thing, which brings out the tenderness in Feminine…

And now we have a fight erupting between Feminine and Good which feels like Sandman wrestling with some underlying homophobic vibe…I just don’t know any more what this book is really about.

And maybe it is too much to ask Spider-Man to play a social worker / psychotherapist instead of a guy who shoots webs and hits people. Oh, and speaking of “psychos”.

We have Evil now impersonating the dogs, who we can presume he killed, the appearance of which causes the taxi to crash. Said crash denting in Innocent’s head. Again, a surprise tone shift back to light-hearted and “funny.” Meanwhile Evil is outside the cab frothing and growling. Pick a tone, Wells!

Somehow this becomes a fight between Good and Evil. The aspects, I mean, while Spidey fends off the sand-dogs, which makes NO sense because why do the aspects need protecting? They are the same stuff as the dogs… so how could they be hurt?

At least I can appreciate that Keith draws them in ways that make me feel like they are in danger.

Even when they aren’t.

However Innocence mixing with the angry puppy leads to a new being: Adolescence. Not sure that’s the proper people formula, but in Sandman terms it is anyway. From here on out, it’s like Psychology mixed with Chemistry. What happens when you mix two personality types into the same person and stir?

And I’ve become Spider-Man now. He and I both decide to just stand around and let this all play out.

Feminine separates Good and Evil and then merges with Evil to get him in touch with his emotions.

The conflict of which is drawn in the craziest of manners. However Feminine wins and Evil desires to change his ways.

So he spits out a NEW baby Innocent and then merges himself/herself/ with both Innocent and Adolescence leading him to also become a second Good. You following this mess? 

The new Good says he feels excited and normal, so Spider-Man sues for both of the Goods to merge but gets resistance from the old Good. Old Good wants to be an ideal person who never makes mistakes.

New Good doesn’t see it that way. He wants to be able to make mistakes and forgive himself. When this takes way too long to work out, New Good leaves.

 Spider-Man tries to get Old Good to follow him, but when he goes back to talk to him…

…Old Good is a hollowed out, empty shell. Which means maybe this didn’t mean anything anyway? Maybe this little therapy session’s ending was predetermined? Cue moral of the story music.

Then we get a page of exposition, only the first half of which I’m buying and then we move on to Sandman being a dick to a guy selling oranges on the beach. Seriously.

You can’t buy anything with pieces of Sandman.

That certainly was several pages of art with words attached to them. Naw, I didn’t like this. The art distracted from the story. And while I love Keith’s other works, this one strayed a bit too far out of my Spider-Man comfort zone.

Not to mention my issues with the story.

There might have been a good message here, but it needed a better, punchier ending and less mindless action. There was no need for an extended physical conflict for several pages by the characters if the writer did a better job with the muddled and convoluted ideological conflict he was trying to craft. On the story front, this one needed a bit more thought.

As for this title, this is its final issue. Peter Parker: Spider-Man was the series supplanted the McFarland Spider-Man series, which got cancelled at issue number 98, long after McFarland left the title. The spot on the shelf it would hold was taken by a volume #2 of Spectacular Spider-Man the next month.

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