Title: Sensational Spider-Man
Creative Team: Dan Jurgens (story, pencils), Klaus Janson (inks)
Core Issues: Sensational Spider-Man #0-#6
Essential Crossovers: “Media Blizzard”, “The Return of Kane”, ”Web of Carnage” and “Blood Brothers” (multi-part stories, each also taking place in the other monthly Spidey books)
In converstion with James about George Perez recently, I remarked that the legendary Teen Titans/Crisis/Avengers penciller had achieved one of those rare feats in comics – that is, becoming a widely-revered artist with both the Big Two publishers. There are a handful of artists that have done it, but very few in the great scheme of things that have achieved the same level of respect on both sides of the divide – but Perez has undoubtedly managed it, to the extent that you couldn’t really call him a “DC” or a “Marvel” artist over the other.
Dan Jurgens, meanwhile, is very firmly a “DC” artist – but he had a shot at becoming another one of those exalted few in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, a pairing that seemed for all the world like a perfect matchup – Jurgens drawing Spider-Man – ended up only lasting around half a year, and culminating in disappointment all around.
Having spent the first half of the ’90s establishing himself as the definitive Superman artist of that era, the prospect of seeing Jurgens apply his bold, clean-cut style of superheroics to Spider-Man was a mouthwatering one; and while he’s always been a better artist than writer, there was nothing fundamentally wrong with his scripting of the Man of Steel, and again his style seemed a good fit. But from the outset, circumstances were difficult: the high-profile launch of Sensational Spider-Man, the new “third” monthly Spider-book given to the writer/artist, also happened to be the first issue featuring Ben Reilly as Spider-Man – new hairstyle, costume and all.
For those of us who actually liked Reilly, this was no bad thing (even less so if you happened to like the Bagley-designed costume, too – which I certainly do/did). But unfortunately, while he had a game stab at setting up Ben’s new supporting cast and setup (the launch issue #0, while a little bogged down in the sort of expository talking-to-self narrative of which Jurgens has always been fond, was actually pretty good fun), Jurgens’ heart wasn’t really in it. He wanted to be writing and drawing the real Spider-Man – but as far as Marvel were concerned (publicly at least), Ben was in it for the long-haul.
Still, we got some good material out of the run – even though the publication style of the time means it’s difficult to follow Jurgens’ issues alone as one whole, as only the first and last issues actually stood alone. The rest were all individual chapters of storylines spread across all three monthly Spider-books – so in Sensational we get part one of the Mysterio-starring “Media Blizzard” (the only story that had little to do with the ongoing saga, also featuring an utterly cracking redesign for my favourite Spidey foe), part two of “The Return of Kaine”, part one of “Web of Carnage”, and parts one and five of “Blood Brothers”. It’s all a bit bewildering, really.
Nevertheless, through all of that, Jurgens was working hard to try and carve out a niche for Ben himself. Of the three monthly books at the time, Sensational was the one that really seemed to care about the character – it’s the one that gave him his job and supporting cast – while Amazing and Adjectiveless were more concerned with the longer-term, Clone-Saga-fallout ramifications. As such, there’s some good character material – and of course, Jurgens got to play with his one major contribution to the Spider-mythos, courtesy of Ben’s brief relationship with the photographer Jessica, who turns out to be the daughter of Uncle Ben’s killer. A potentially intriguing plot, it’s wrapped up in far-too-hasty fashion due to Jurgens’ last issue on the title being as early as #6 (one suspects he would have drawn the story out far longer had he stuck around – as it is, that last issue is simply a rush-job of loose-end-tying). Tired of being stuck writing the adventures of a fake Spider-Man (even though at the time the editorial line was that Ben was the “real” one), he left the Spidey books, never to return.
The cruel irony is that if only he’d stuck around for a bit longer, he would have had the chance to do what he wanted after all – the new creative team of Todd Dezago and Mike Wieringo only had to do five issues themselves before Reilly was promptly dispatched, in the “Revelations” storyline; and by the first issue of 1997, Peter Parker and the classic duds were back. It’s a shame, as Jurgens’ run had been an interesting new direction – and looked terrific, especially under the inks of Klaus Janson – and it would have been nice to have seen him have a crack at the character proper. Although I can’t help but wonder, if he had stuck around, how long it would have taken for him to put Spidey in a time-travel story…