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Peter Parker: Spider-Man #56

Posted: Tuesday, June 10, 2003
By: Jason Cornwell



Writer: Zeb Wells
Artist: Sam Kieth

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Plot:
The book opens with Peter Parker faced with a seemingly insurmountable task, as he's decided to spend the evening repairing his damaged costumes. However, ever the procrastinator we see Peter decides that the city is crying out for its protector Spider-Man, so in spite of the rain, he's off on his nightly patrol. Meanwhile on the stretch of beach that has been playing host to the scattered consciousness of the Sandman, we see something rather unusual is playing out, as the Sandman pulls himself together, but nearby we see a young boy who looks just like the Sandman has also emerged from the sand. However, when Spider-Man arrives on the scene he believes the Sandman has taken this child hostage, but after a quick fight, we see Spider-Man's curiosity gets the better of him when the Sandman claims the little boy is him. We then learn that a self help guru has been holding seminars down on the beach, and that the disembodied consciousness of the Sandman picked up on this man's message of releasing one's inner child. However, as Sandman & Spider-Man are off discussing the situation at a nearby diner, we see another Sandman emerges from the beach, and this one is decidedly hostile, as it most likely represents the Sandman's violent side. As the issue ends we see Spider-Man & the good Sandman are on hand to witness the emergence of another aspect of his personality.

Comments:
This issue certainly earns points for being an unusual plot that I can't imagine being used before. In fact the closest I can come is the old Star Trek episode where Kirk is split into two by the transporter, and this produces a meek, overly sensitive Kirk, and a homicidal go-getter Kirk. Still Zeb Wells takes this idea one better by offering up at least four different versions of the Sandman, all of whom were likely created by the motivation speaker who had been camped out on the beach, with his speeches about releasing one's inner child, and getting in touch with one's feminine side acting to produce some downright bizarre versions. In the end one does have to wonder what the final result of this will be, as if the evil version of the Sandman does kill those police officers, I imagine the Sandman will still be found guilty, though it might be fun to see how he explains the idea of his having multiple versions of himself running around, representing different aspects of his personality. In any event it's a situation that Zeb Wells looks to be having some fun with, and it's also an idea that opens itself to some comedic possibilities, as we encounter various incarnations of the Sandman's psyche. We also learn a little bit about the Sandman from a character standpoint, as we learn he does have a homicidal monster lurking inside him.

I've always liked the Sandman better as a villain than as a reformed hero, as his power make for a pretty entertaining show, and when he's playing the role of a hero, a battle against Spider-Man is less likely to occur. Now I will concede that I did enjoy some of the stories where the Sandman was dealing with others who couldn't see beyond his villainous past, and from a character standpoint, it was rather interesting to follow his struggles as he tried to gain acceptance as a hero, as he even made it as far as to get accepted as a reserve member in the Avengers. However, speaking as a fan of the pointless slugfest, I'm always been rather impressed by the Sandman's ability to convey a sense of real danger when he throws down with Spider-Man, and his malleable body allows writers and artist a fairly diverse selection of attacks, from the giant hammer hands, to the simple sand blast. Plus the Sandman isn't a villain who can be knocked out with a good right hook, so most times Spider-Man is forced to come up with a clever solution that requires a bit of strategic thinking on his part. Now why am I dithering on about the Sandman's past & his suitability as a villain? It's because this issue offers us the best of both world, as we have a fairly amiable, if somewhat slow Sandman, but we also have a utterly ruthless version that you just know is going to square off against Spider-Man.

A truly unexpected, but welcome surprise on the art, as Sam Kieth looks to have emerged out of the cave he's been hiding himself since the "Maxx" ended, and he's offering up a fairly steady stream of work. From a Wolverine/Hulk miniseries, to a two-issue guest-artist stint on this book, I can't tell you how delighted I am to see him back in the saddle, so to speak. Now Sam Kieth is not exactly a name the jumps to mind when I think of Spider-Man, and unless the story involved Dr. Strange and a visit to the astral plane, I really didn't think Sam Kieth even consider delivering a Spider-Man adventure. I mean I'm not saying he's a picky artist, but he does seem to prefer projects that are way off the beaten path, and Spider-Man's adventures never really stray too far outside the box. However, Zeb Wells has come up with a plot that is surreal enough that Sam Kieth's work feels right at home, as the Sandman is exactly the type of character who thrives under the hyper-kinetic style that Sam Kieth employs. From the brief battle that Spider-Man has with the Sandman in a bid to rescue Sandbaby, to the wonderfully creepy visual in which the evil Sandman puts his dangling eyeball back in it's socket, the art is what really sells the downright bizarre nature of this plot. The final page also offer up one of the best "what the heck" closing moments I've come across in years.

Final Word:
A pretty enjoyable, if somewhat offbeat Spider-Man adventure, that has everyone's favorite friendly neighborhood webslinger have another run-in with the increasing bizarre Sandman, whose scattered consciousness has taken to creating multiple version of himself. What more these version have all been inspired by the ramblings of a self help guru, who is dishing up all the standard clichés of his racket, so we encounter Sandman's inner child, and more disturbingly his feminine side. Now, the plot isn't all that deep, and it's more an excuse for Zeb Wells to deliver a series of amusing encounters, but the issue does manage to convey a nice sense of danger as a decidedly hostile version of the Sandman emerges from the sand, and this problem is far enough off the beaten track that I'm quite curious as to how it'll all be resolved. It also doesn't hurt that the art for this two-parter is being provided by Sam Kieth, one of the truly unique artistic talents in the industry.



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