Monday, August 20, 2007

The Sensational Spider-Man #40

This month’s Sensational Spider-Man takes a short break from the rigors of the ongoing storyline to focus on Peter’s uncertain state of mind. He’s broken up over the gunshot that struck his Aunt May several months ago, understandably so, and once again questioning his decision to take to the streets as Spider-Man. Good timing, then, for a certain all-knowing, all-seeing deity to grace Peter with his presence.

Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s story of the meeting between Parker and God himself is obviously meant to be very touching, yanking at the heart strings and ultimately delivering a clearer state of mind to the title character. If I’m speaking honestly, though, it just doesn’t connect. As though the concept of the almighty appearing alongside Spider-Man isn’t odd enough, the actualization of that idea is even stranger. The meeting is so nonchalant, so casual, that it puts the reader in a very strange place. One minute, Peter’s daydreaming about his origins, the next – “Hey God, what’s up? Oh, you want to help me work through this? Well, all right.” If we’re going to take such a direct approach at relieving Spidey of some of his angst and inner guilt over recent events, why does religion even need to be a part of the story? Couldn’t Peter have come to some of these conclusions himself if he’d put his million dollar mind to the task?

It’s tough to do a religious issue without coming off as heavy handed, but Aguirre-Sacasa does manage to avoid most of these pitfalls. There are no moments of overplayed symbolism or hints about the one true faith, it’s just a conversation. Not a particularly enthralling or revealing conversation, but not one that seems totally forced, either. Although the ultimate goal is to further elongate the Aunt May saga, which is really starting to drag on its own merit, at least this tale doesn’t feel like complete and utter filler. I was left with the impression that it’s finally time to wrap this thing up. Peter has come to terms with what’s happening, paving the way for “One More Day” next month.

Where I could take or leave Aguirre-Sacasa’s tale of conscience, heroism and the holy father, I found Clayton Crain’s painted artwork captivating. A lot of times, painters don’t mesh well within the confines of a full-sized monthly book. They tend to overdetail, reaching for absolute realism when the medium itself is defined by exaggeration, cleanliness and dynamism. Simply put, superheroes don’t work when they’re too realistic: the suspension of disbelief evaporates when Batman outweighs Commissioner Gordon by several hundred pounds’ worth of solid muscle.

Crain is a rare breed, in that he understands these guidelines and adheres to them from cover to cover. He allows his illustrative style to shine brightly, while also introducing a handful of effects and situations that wouldn’t work with pencil and ink. He frequently blurs his backgrounds, easily separating a panel’s focus from its surroundings, and it never proves to be too much. His detail on the New York cityscape is just enough to catch your eye but never so focused as to drive you mad. He understands when to allow the white space to do his talking for him. His framing and choice of camera angles is breathtaking. On the rare occasion that he falters (in detailing Peter’s face, for instance, he gets a bit crazy with wrinkles and blemishes) he almost immediately redeems himself (his recreation of the legendary cover to Amazing Fantasy #15 is breathtaking). Crain produces great, great work here, and I can’t wait to see more from him.

It’s too bad he couldn’t have been matched with a better story – while he was only given a limited opportunity to do so, the artist proved that he could really shine in an action scene. I couldn’t get into the talking heads of Peter and God that filled this issue, (although God’s physical appearance was an original idea) but you’ll want to at least flip through this and breathe in the visuals.

On a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 is poor and 10 is amazing...
Overall Score: 4

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