The first ever Fourthpoll winner gave Lee flashbacks!
Spider-Man Fever #1
Published by Marvel Knights
Written and Illustrated by Brendan McCarthy
Colored by Steve Cook and Brendan McCarthy
Any comic that starts out with Dr. Strange getting a book that releases havoc onto New York City sounds like normal fare. What about when that havoc is expressly some kind of spider demon who infects Spider-Man and carts him to what appears to be Fantastic Planet?
Yep, this is some seriously messed up psychedelic comics. The art is the real star here with Brendan McCarthy melding some blend of Riley Rossmo style lines with the day glo world of Madman. It looks like a spider comic on acid and honestly, it reads a bit like one too.
I’ll admit, I am unfamiliar with his work, but seeing that McCarthy has worked with Shade: The Changing Man scribe Peter Milligan comes as no shock. The comic I just read seems like something that might have come out of that same deranged mind.
The plot is simple enough, Stephen Strange has ordered a book on Albion Crawley, a turn of the century occultist who wrote about some crazy spider gods. Upon arrival, the book releases some spider demon who becomes involved in a conflict between Spider-Man and the Vulture. Spider-Man appears to go tripping the light fantastic in Strange’s bath tub and all holy hell breaks loose. No seriously, that’s about it for this first issue, other than an intriguing last panel cliffhanger.
Like I said, the art is the real star here. It is obvious that McCarthy has been inspired by the animated version of The Hobbit and all those concert flyers for Winterland and the Filmore back in the day. This is some black velvet, black light, smoke it up kind of stuff. The narrative almost loses lucidity once or twice and the art thrives on its lack of tangible. The opening sequence gives us a pretty realistic, if stylized version of New York. It is gritty and dirty, so it is probably the New York of the seventies or the eighties. You know, the place where no one looked each other in the eye. The place where everyone was mean on the streets, but behind closed doors, things like Midnight Cowboy happened.
What’s funny is a couple of weeks ago in the review group, I trashed Amazing Spider-Man #626 for Gaydos’ misplaced and gritty art. Where Gaydos failed, McCarthy gets it right. Spider-Man is in contrast to his surroundings, it is clear that he is not part of this world. He is something different from it, something amazing, spectacular even.
Then the crazy bits happen and everything goes all black hole sucking in colors. The art doesn’t help explain anything any more than the words do, but somehow they mesh to tell an interesting if slightly decompressed story. It feels like it is all exposition and I believe that it is, that last page drums up the only feeling that the next issue must be read, although the art sure does make it interesting to look at.
Like Marvel Knights Strange Tales , this is a book aimed at getting some of the outlying niche readers to check out what is going on in the mainstream. It is an interesting idea and kind of backwards in a few ways. This might be the kind of project that would benefit from a hardcover graphic novel initial release, spots on NPR, and heavy book store rotation. I don’t know if Strange Tales’ recent collection is making that kind of mark, but releasing either in single issue format seems to fly against the nature of the audience the books are clearly aiming for.
It’s an interesting debut that has me absolutely dumb founded as to where it may be going. If you live on the edge and want a truly different comics experience but are afraid to try Skyscrapers of the Midwest or Tales Designed to Thrizzle , then this might be the book for you.