There are some artists you can just tell were born to draw a comic. Then there’s Mike Wieringo. The detail and attention he put into every Spider-Man comic he drew was amazing; it wasn’t the way he drew antomy that made you go, “Wow”; it was how he imbued a sense of humor without dialogue; and how good he was at relaying an expression with just the eyes of the Spider-Man mask. Wieringo’s is the kind of art that deserves a trade paperback to enjoy and now Marvel has done just that.
Writer: Todd Dezago (and Rich Case with Mike Wieringo)
Artist: Mike Wieringo (and Luke Ross, Josh Hood, Rich Case, Jason Armstrong & Todd Nauck with Pop Mhan)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
So what’s it about? The official summary reads:
A sensational saga starring several Spider- Men! Ben Reilly (remember him?) has taken up the webs, but he’s about to be taken down by… the Looter?! And if he can get out of that one, he’ll face the sting of Swarm! But when Ben’s world is rocked by revelations, he’ll make way for the one, true Spider-Man: Peter Parker! Peter takes on a Daily Bugle assignment in the Savage Land, where you might expect him to bump into Ka-Zar…but what’s the Hulk doing there? With the real Prowler out of action, someone muscles in on his act – and gets caught between Spidey and the Vulture! The Trapster and Living Pharaoh return, Doctor Strange lends a mystical hand, and we flash back to the days of a studious young boy, his Uncle Ben…and the Marvel Monsters!
Why does this book matter?
Collecting Sensational Spider-Man #7 through #24 and #1 (which is not the actual #1 but an annual…I think), this volume is mostly drawn by Wieringo with writing by (mostly) Todd DeZago. While there isn’t one long story arc in this book like some collections, it does capture a time in Spider-Man’s life that was tumultuous (the “Clone Saga” took over for a bit and Mary Jane was pregnant!) and a lot of the villains he fought were monsters of the month type baddies. That means The Embittered, a villain who can dissolve people (or himself), a trip to the Savage Land to fight Stegron, and other B-list villains. The funny thing is, this type of villain is perfect for Wieringo’s style as it’s so much fun.
Fine, you have my attention. What’s good about it?
Love the expressions Wieringo gave Spidey.
In a top ten list of best Spider-Man artists ever, Wieringo will undoubtedly be near the top. He gives the character a sense of spring that many artists fail to capture and the expressions in the eyes of the mask are unparalleled. Just look at the image above, and you’ll see varying emotions just in the eyes. There’s also a great mix of panels and angles, which help give you a great vantage in a scene. He also captures the usual Spider-Man visual tropes very well, like Spidey bouncing around with transparent versions of himself to showcase his movements. Out of the costume, Peter (and other characters) have Wieringo’s typical cartoony look, but nonetheless look very expressive and just all around fun. Make no mistake, you will read this and have fun looking at the art.
The fun is also partially due to Dezago of course, who has Spidey go up against a treasure trove of random villains. Maybe “Amazing” got all the A-listers, or maybe Dezago just liked to bring in a monster of the month feel, but the villains in this book are ones you may not have ever seen. Swarm, or the Trapster, anyone? Hell, even Groot makes an appearance–though he’s a villain and clearly from another time. Reading this book, I felt like I was reading a great primer for future writers to mine from. I wouldn’t be surprised if Dan Slott (or some future up and comer) pulls Swarm from this story and updates them for a more modern audience.
Speaking of updating things for a modern audience, this book is also quite good at reminding us what the 90’s where like! Characters say words like “Phat” and mean it in a cool way and how can you not be reminded of the 90’s when Spider-Man clones are involved. Sure, some of the dialogue reads like an older person trying to be hip, but it’s somewhat endearing to read this book and remember another time when beepers were considered really cool.
The remnants of the Clone Saga were clearly still in full force, as this volume opens with Ben Reilly donning the costume and Peter attempting to recoup from losing his powers. Before you groan yourself to death, know that Dezago does a pretty damn good job creating a brotherly bond between Peter and Ben here. Given how Slott has brought Ben back, this volume feels more pertinent than ever.
There’s also some nice messaging going on like the dangers of corporations destroying our environment to make a buck. Two times, villains are either the companies themselves (Roxxon you bastards!) or are products of companies destroying the Earth. It gives the stories a bit more weight.
It can’t be perfect can it?
This volume does suffer from missing chunks of story with Ben basically disappearing halfway through. You gotta wonder if editorial deemed him no longer sales worthy or what, because Dezago certainly doesn’t allude to any deaths or what not. There’s basically a strong sense of family in the first half, and then in the second, Peter is pretty much on his own going on adventures. It makes reading this cover to cover feel unfinished which is unfortunate.
There’s also half a comic missing too! I ended up buying this issue (check it out here) because halfway through, the comic just ends. Uncle Ben is literally in the middle of the sentence, and then it cuts to another issue. It’s inexplicable and must have been a mistake–there’s no reason for this comic to end where it does–and adds another slight disappointment to an overall fun read. The sad part is it’s a lot of fun, focusing on Peter when he was still just a kid hanging with uncle Ben on a fishing trip. It brings in monster characters that Cullen Bunn resurrected in his Monsters Unleashed series and even has Groot make an appearance! Hell, even Stan Lee is in the comic! It’s a totally fun one-shot tale that you’ll want to finish, but just can’t without finding it elsewhere.
I just have to share the time Wieringo snuck Joker and Harley Quinn into the series.
A bigger issue may be the general feel of this work, which I’m not sure modern audiences will pick up and love. There’s a fun streak in the book for sure, but there’s also quicker, two to three part stories that don’t add up to much. The overall narrative is definitely hurt by having Ben go bye-bye midway through too, but really every story is a quick way to read a Spidey story. It’s possible that’s partly because of crossovers going on with other Spider-Man books, but it hurts this collection all the same.
Is It Good?
If for nothing else pick this up for Mike Wieringo’s art. The art, mixed with a run of B-list villains, makes this collection a hell of a lot of fun. Younger audiences will love this, but older audiences may just fall in love all over again with the awkward 90’s. Overall this book is very much worth a read if you want light, but always enjoyable Spider-Man fair.