Editor's Note: Spider-Man: Fever #1 arrives in stores tomorrow, April 7.
"Part One: Insecticide"
I've been looking forward to the first issue of Spider-Man: Fever for quite some time. The preview art that has been doing the rounds for the last few months has looked promising, with a real sense that Brendan McCarthy had captured the spirit of Steve Ditko in his depiction of Dr. Strange and Spider-Man. And the notion that Marvel was letting a creator cut loose to tell a story that didn't rely on any ties to current continuity was refreshing to hear, and made me far more interested in the book than I would have been in another Sige tie-in or "Dark Reign" special.
It's a shame, then, to finally read the issue and find it slightly disappointing.
I'll start with the book's positive points first. The artwork is, as expected, a pleasing fusion of Ditko's visually inventive Dr. Strange ideas with his kooky Spider-Man designs, contrasting the relatively mundane street-level existence of Peter Parker with the adventures of a magician that spends most of his time in a fantasy landscape that looks like it was designed by Escher after a bad acid trip.
McCarthy's take on Spider-Man feels very much in keeping with the realistically gangly poses and odd-looking costume that defined the character before he had his edges softened by the likes of John Romita Sr., and his version of the Vulture is very much in keeping with Ditko's original design. When it comes to Dr. Strange, the artist manages to capture the feel of Ditko's weird dreamscapes whilst channelling it through his own "indie" style, and gives the otherwordly insect creatures that he introduces into the story a suitably unsettling design, with vivid psychedelic colouring that makes them feel even weirder.
Unfortunately, all of these interesting visual concepts are linked by a story that just doesn't hang together particularly well. A big part of the problem is the way that the story is told: McCarthy flits from one idea to the next without a strong sense of connection between them, and often takes up entire pages of captions with descriptions of things that we can already see happening in his artwork. Expository dialogue is clunky and flat, often consisting of nothing more than declarative statements that tell us what is happening in the plot but that give us no sense of who the characters are or what they're feeling, making it difficult to invest in the story.
Perhaps McCarthy is trying to evoke the simpler style of Silver Age Marvel storytelling, but even those early Spider-Man and Dr. Strange stories managed to couple their weird and wonderful ideas with characterisation that made you care about the heroes, and dialogue that had a bit of an edge to it. This just ends up feeling flat and unremarkable, and for a series that deals with such a wealth of fantastical visuals, that's a huge shame. Art lovers will probably be able to overlook the problems with the writing in favour of McCarthy's distinctive visuals, but everybody else might find themselves wondering what all the fuss is about.
What did you think of this book?
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