As the tagline on SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #0 says, "The Legend Begins Anew!" Dan Jurgens writes and illustrates (with inks by Klaus Janson) this newest Spider-series, which replaces the old WEB OF SPIDER-MAN.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : A decision was made to cancel WEB OF SPIDER-MAN and replace it with a new ongoing monthly Spider-Man title to coincide with the "Return of Spider-Man" event. From where I sat, the cancellation of WEB was no great loss. I always felt it was the weakest of the Spider-Man books, that it never really had its own identity, and was never able to hold on to a creative team for very long. The idea of starting a brand-new title, with a top-flight creative team, was not a bad one. In the old days, the new creative team probably would have just taken over WEB and tried to inject that title with new life. But things had changed in the comic book industry by that point, and it was much easier and cleaner to start fresh with a new book. I'm still not sure why the first issue was #0. That was a gimmick that was pretty prevalent in the industry at that time, and we just bought into it, I guess. But it makes no sense, from a reader's standpoint: it's the first issue of a new series, so why isn't it #1? What exactly makes it a #0? Oh, well, I guess the bottom line is that if the story and art are good, the number on the cover doesn't really matter. And in the case of SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #0, the story and art were very good indeed.
I don't recall whose idea it was to get Dan Jurgens to join the team of Spider-writers. I only remember that I was 100% in favor of it, and I do recall lobbying for it when it was initially under discussion. I was a big fan of Dan's work. He impressed me greatly with his work on Superman over the years, and his SUPERMAN/ALIENS limited series, which had just come out around the time he started on Spider-Man, was my favorite comic book project of that year.
The sales pitch on having Dan come aboard was something along the lines of, "He's the guy who killed Superman. What could Dan Jurgens now possibly have in store for Spider-Man?" I can't remember if we actually used that in the advertising, but that was the approach we had going in.
I was really excited when Dan came to New York for his first (and, unfortunately, his only) Spider-Man writers conference in June of 1995. All the writers, editors, associate editors, and assistant editors went up to a conference center, I believe it was in Westchester, and we stayed there for a couple of days to hash out the direction for the new era of Spider-Man. I was probably a little too fanboyish with Dan, showering him with praise for SUPERMAN/ALIENS, but he was really nice to talk to - it was a kick for me to be interacting with someone whose work I'd admired for so long - and it was good to have a new voice added to the mix. ]
Ben Reilly is paying a visit to the grave of Aunt May and Uncle Ben and spots a mugging. He goes after and catches the mugger, but is also spotted by Mary Jane's Aunt Anna, who wonders why "Peter" is looking so ragged and where MJ is. Ben, pretending to be Peter Parker, makes up an excuse and sees Anna off.
He continues to soul search, wondering where his place is in all of this. He can't be going around NYC as Peter Parker or looking like Peter Parker. It would cause too much confusion. And although he wants to take up the mantel of Spider-Man, he has no costume, no web fluid and no money. He goes to a local convenience store, gets some supplies and then goes home to create a new web fluid formula. After working hard, he heads out to the Daily Grind, a local diner, to get some food. He comes up short with the money, but his appearance leads the owner of the diner to believe he's homeless so she spots him the money for his meal.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I mentioned in part 17.5, no one could come up with a good rationale for how Ben could go back to being Peter Parker. How could he interact with any of the established supporting cast, who would naturally wonder about the whereabouts of Mary Jane? It would like Peter had left his pregnant wife to fend for herself while he's back in New York. There would be too many explanations to make, too many complications and convolutions, too much exposition, when all we wanted to do was move forward. None of the writers could come up with a way around this situation that was deemed acceptable. So the plan, at least for the time being, was to keep Ben as Ben... and the reason for that would be shown in SENSATIONAL #0. In rereading that issue for this column, I have to say that Dan did as good a job as possible in establishing why Ben had to remain as Ben. Having Aunt Anna meet up with him, having him be so uncomfortable around her and feel so guilty that he had to mislead her, was a great idea, and the scene between them is extremely well done. ]
When night falls, Ben heads to the fashion department of nearby Centennial University to look for discarded fabric in order to get enough materials to create a new Spider-suit for himself. He contemplates several costume changes before settling on a design that he likes, a more modernized version of the classic red and blues.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : The new Spider-Man costume was designed by Mark Bagley (who received credit for doing so in SENSATIONAL #0). I believe Dan Jurgens's proposed redesign was included among the montage of costume possibilities that Ben considers when he's putting together the new suit. (It's the one on the bottom right of the page.) ]
Spider-Man swings into action and finds himself some trouble on the first night, battling an armor-clad villain called Armada. While he takes care of the bad guy, a woman by the name of Jessica takes a particular interest in Spider-Man, snapping photos and thinking about how long she's waited for this day to come. Spider-Man takes Armada into custody, but fails to catch some of Armada's technical gadgets, which take off into the air with a revolutionary broadcast chip that was stolen earlier. Spider-Man goes back home as the little gadgets head back to their true master, Mysterio.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I recall, the new look for Mysterio, as seen in SENSATIONAL #0, came from John Romita Jr. He also attended the aforementioned Spider-Man writers conference, and the topic of redesigning some of the classic villains came up during one of our discussion sessions. Mysterio was one of the characters mentioned for a redesign, and JR, sitting at the conference table and listening to the conversation, drew a quick sketch that met with immediate approval. By the way, JR was a lot of fun at that conference. It was great to hang out with him, and he added a lot of energy and passion to the discussions. ]
The next day, a now blond Ben Reilly goes back to the Daily Grind to repay the owner for his loan the other day. They both sense goodness in each other and she offers him a job. Ben then goes back to Aunt May and Uncle Ben's graves and tells them how much he owes them for making him the person he is today.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Given the scene between Ben and Aunt Anna at the beginning of SENSATIONAL #0, it made perfect sense for Ben to keep the Ben Reilly identity and change his appearance. But I'll reiterate what I said last time, in my interview with Andrew: for this whole clone saga thing to have had any chance of working, Ben would have had to take back the Peter Parker identity when he became Spider-Man. After 33 years of being in publication, everyone around the world had come to know that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and vice versa. Some blond guy named Ben Reilly running around in the Spider-Man costume was just a little too radical, it required too much explanation, and it would never be fully accepted. Hell, there were plenty of people at Marvel who refused to accept it!
Another major drawback to this set-up was that the established supporting cast could not interact with Ben the way they could with Peter, so they would inevitably be avoided for much of the time. A new supporting cast would have to be created around Ben. And let's face it: it would be pretty damn tough, after 33 years, to replace characters like J. Jonah Jameson or Robbie Robertson or Betty Brant or Flash Thompson.
The notion of Ben dying his hair blond came from Bob Budiansky, the Spider-Man Group's Editor in Chief. He mentioned it in passing one day at a Spider-Man editorial meeting, as just one possible idea, but before we knew it, Bob latched on to it and wouldn't let go. In every subsequent discussion, Bob brought up the notion of Ben dying his hair blond, so that's what ended up happening when the time came to finally deal with the situation. After all, Bob was the boss.
Dan Jurgens had a lot of enthusiasm and ideas for Spider-Man when he came aboard, and I think he intended to stay for a while. But I also think he became disheartened, fairly quickly, when he realized that we had no plans to restore Peter Parker as Spider-Man. I think the whole Ben Reilly thing was very bewildering to him, but he soldiered through it as best he could, perhaps with the hope that he could work within the system in order to change it. My feeling is that Dan wanted to write Peter Parker as Spider-Man - the Peter Parker whose history we'd all followed for the past 33 years, the Peter Parker who'd gotten married to Mary Jane - with the clone saga and Ben Reilly being nothing more than things of the past.
Ironically, Dan turned out to be one of the writers who handled Ben Reilly the best, right up there with DeMatteis and DeFalco! In any case, Dan was getting to write a Spider-Man book, one that had gotten a big, highly-promoted launch, so it wasn't an altogether bad situation for him. And SENSATIONAL #0 was a very promising start to Dan's tenure as a Spider-Man writer/artist. ]
The return of Spider-Man continues with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #407, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. Everyone is wondering what happened to Spider-Man, who disappeared weeks ago, and who is wearing the new version of the costume now. Robbie Robertson and J. Jonah Jameson are discussing what to make of this, as are several other figures in the Marvel Universe, including the Human Torch, who guest stars in this issue.
Torch writes a message in the sky, telling Spider-Man to meet him at the usual place that evening, figuring that only the real Spider-Man would know where that place was. Meanwhile, Silver Sable, the freelance mercenary/security agent who runs the Wildpack, wants to investigate the new person wearing the webs. Spider-Man was an occasional ally of hers and she wants to know if he's been replaced. She chooses to send one of her top field agents, the now reformed Sandman, to test him out.
Across town, the revamped Mysterio is testing out the capabilities of his new digital imagery chip (which he stole in SENSATIONAL #0), which creates instant programming using a person's thoughts. We also get introduced to the rest of the players at the Daily Grind, where Ben works. There's Shirley, the owner, and her son Devon, as well as Buzz, a crotchety older fellow who prefers to sit on his stool drinking coffee, reading the paper and making comments about everything.
Ben Reilly takes a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, the meeting place of the Torch and Spidey, and spots the Sandman on board. Ben changes into Spider-Man and confronts the Sandman. He also happens to refer to Silver Sable as a "blonde cutie," which prompts Sable to order Sandman to make the test as difficult as possible for Spider-Man. Spider-Man and Sandman battle it out back on land as Sable observes, noting that Ben is as strong and agile as the other Spider-Man, but his moves are different. He seems less experienced and more lighthearted. As their battle continues to get more physical, Sable calls Sandman off.
The Human Torch arrives in time to see Sable offer Spider-Man a freelance spot on her squad and some advice about his inferior webbing. Torch confronts Spider-Man with a ton of questions on who he is and what happened to the original. Aggravated, the Torch flies off, saying that he's going to keep an eye on the "phony." As everyone goes their separate ways, Ben thinks how difficult things have become since he was last on active duty. He wonders what kind of world it is when the Torch is an enemy and Sandman is an ally.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Tom DeFalco did his usual fine job on the writing of this issue, turning in a very solid, well-crafted story with a lot of "hoo-hah" action and strong characterization. Mark Bagley's art was also looking much better on this issue, after some fairly lackluster work during the two months of Scarlet Spider books. It seemed like having Spider-Man back - even if it wasn't Peter Parker - was enough to re-energize the creative team. It was nice to see the Torch's reaction to the "new" Spider-Man, and to see how Ben would have to deal with the new faces and new situations that had cropped in Spider-Man's life over the last few years (Silver Sable, the reformed Sandman). ]
SPIDER-MAN #64, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr, Al Williamson, Dick Giordano and Al Milgrom, continues the story of Spider-Man's return. The issue opens after Spider-Man has rescued people from a neighborhood block engulfed in flames. A child lies unconscious before him, having inhaled too much smoke, and Spider-Man tries to revive him. "Saving dozens of lives will mean nothing to him... not if this one child is allowed to die." The boy regains consciousness and media swarms down on Spider-Man with even more questions about his identity and his relationship to the Scarlet Spider.
Spider-Man waits to make sure there are no other people trapped when one of the buildings comes down, and Poison comes floating out. Poison met the Peter Parker Spider-Man earlier and tells Ben that her son (the boy he just saved) is in danger. As she tries to explain the situation to Spider-Man, El Toro Negro, one of the contestants of the "Great Game" introduced in the Scarlet Spider books, attacks the ambulance with Poison's son Carlos.
Ben works another shift at the Grind, hears about an apartment and gets himself a new home. Meanwhile, El Toro contacts Poison, telling her to meet with him. Apparently, Poison is the newest recruit for the rich Mr. Paris Scott's Great Game. He's offered her a contract that El Toro feels should have been his. El Toro kidnapped Carlos, threatening to kill him unless Poison declined Mr. Scott's offer and let El Toro take her place. She does as he orders, and then Spider-Man crashes in to warn her not to trust El Toro, whom he battled in AMAZING SCARLET SPIDER. El Toro says that Spider-Man's arrival changed the rules and orders Poison to kill him before he'll release her son.
Poison battles Spider-Man, who's more focused on how good she looks rather than taking her seriously as an opponent, and that allows her to gain the advantage. She could kill Spider-Man, but her son begs her not to. In a final switch-a-roo, Poison teleports Spider-Man away, claiming the she's killed him. El Toro claims that he must still kill Carlos and at that moment, Spider-Man is teleported within striking distance of him, and saves the day.
Spider-Man's return to the core titles concludes with SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #230, written by Todd Dezago and illustrated by Sal Buscema and Jimmy Palmiotti. The issue opens with a couple of environmental consultants investigating Sanders Chemicals. Sanders has been dumping chemicals into a river and the consultants move in to try and arrest Sanders, but an explosion makes that an impossibility.
Cut to several months later as Spider-Man has a run in with a monstrous creature who is intent on finding Sanders. Spider-Man goes directly to the chemical plant to investigate on his own, noting that Sanders is surrounded by enough people and weapons to facilitate World War III. The creature arrives again, trying to kill Sanders, but telling Spider-Man he has no fight with him. Moving in on Sanders, the creature reveals that he is the product of everything Sanders has done to the land, to the Earth, through its chemicals and greed. The creature reveals himself to be David Kalen, one of the environmental consultants believed to have been killed in the explosion months earlier.
Spider-Man tries to reason with David, or DK, as he reverts to human form. He tells DK that they have enough evidence to see that Sanders pays for his crimes. He also offers the help of John Jameson, from Ravencroft, whom Spider-Man believes will be able to help DK with his problems.
[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : So the first month of the new Spider-Man had finally come and gone. All the creative teams were in place, and the direction was "onward and upward." But around the time that all this was going on, there were private discussions taking place, ideas being suggested, memos being written, decisions being made and unmade and made again, that would put the books into an unprecedented creative upheaval, almost immediately. I'll get into this more next time, but I'll say now that the first casualty of this creative upheaval was the SPIDER-MAN: THE FINAL ADVENTURE limited series, which had to have its ending radically altered - and nearly lost its writer as a result. We already discussed that limited series at length in part 17, but next time, we'll get into why things happened the way they did, and the beginning of a very... interesting period for everyone involved with the Spider-Man books. ]