Writer- Saladin Ahmed
Artist- Juan Ferreyra
Letterer- VC’s Joe Caramagna and Joe Sabino
Spider-Man can’t get a childlike scary nursery rhyme out of his head. The song is at the center of a mystery revolving around catatonic citizens. He better solve the mystery before he falls asleep….. or it may be too late.
This oversized one shot is a collection of some Marvel Infinity stories with a horror theme. The story where Spider-Man battles some unsettling dreams is straight forward, but mostly strongly effective. One of the reasons Spider-Man is my favourite hero is that he’s very versatile in terms of the stories you can tell. His stories can be funny, sad, thrilling, charming and in this case, scary. The writer Saladin Ahmed is no stranger to the world of Spider-Man of course. He wrote an extensive run on Miles Morales: Spider-Man and was one of the writers in the Beyond era.
This story is suitably creepy. Most of it revolves around a creepy song that takes over people’s mind and eventually leads to their death. Creepy songs always work no more so than the creepy rhyme from Wes Craven’s Night On Elm Street and I think it works here. There’s plenty of twists in the tale and super disturbing images that work well with that. At times, the story does seem like a series of opening doors with just more doors beyond. What I mean by that is that there will be an apparent answer to what’s going on but then ‘Oh wait, it’s not that, it’s this which can work fine. If anything, it works perfectly here with the theme of dreams and nightmares. Waking up from a dream and/or nightmare and still being in but thinking you’re awake is a thing so it works for this story.
There are a few odd story choices I felt. Spencer Smythe, an old time foe of Spidey who first appeared in Amazing Spider-Man 25 is teased as the villain here but has been dead for decades with his son Alistair Smythe taking over the building of various Spidey murder bots. So okay, it’s set in the past, that’s fine. The story seemingly kills off Spencer though and that left me puzzled. Is this out of continuity or not? Little things like this shouldn’t matter but it took me out of the book that up until then I was fully immersed in until then. At the end of the story it’s revealed that Spencer was just in a coma so therefore continuity is maintained but it was a weird thing to do a fake out of his death that shouldn’t have been here in the first place. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was an editor hiccup here, but with Marvel these days it’s hard to tell.
The other oddity is that the villain here (Sleep-Stealer) presents himself with an alias of ‘Paul’. Perfectly normal name, but in the current pages of Amazing Spider-Man, Mary Jane’s current love interest is called Paul and he has becoming the epitome of all is wrong and evil in the universe to some fans. I’m sure this is coincidence, but it did make me laugh that the name of this nightmare villain is the name of the character causing such ire to some Spidey fans currently.
Overall a simple but effective creepy story with only a few minor things that took me out of the story.
Glenn hit the main bits of the story so I won’t rehash all that happened. In all, I really liked the story. The concept fits perfectly with the original mandate from Stan Lee- to place normal problems on our heroes, after all, they are humans at heart. In this case, Peter must stay awake and perform his duties while being extremely tired……I mean extremely tired. Now of course the normal person doesn’t potentially die if they fall asleep, but performing at their best while being exhausted is a real thing.
Anyhoo, overall, the story was really strong. A few moments I really loved where quintessential Peter Parker moments. (these have been absent in recent runs by Nick Spencer and Zeb Wells) While waiting on food, (Peter was famished……and tired) his delivery driver is hit and broke his leg. He can’t miss the rest of his deliveries or his family won’t have enough money. Peter takes it upon himself to finish his deliveries at his own expense. This is truly the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.
Another cool scene, while rallying against Paul the Dream Guy, Peter inspires others. He leads by example and word here. He emboldens others stuck in this seemingly insurmountable situation. They, in his words, become warriors. I love this. Peter always puts others first and inspires. That’s how it should be and is frequently missed by writers. Ahmed did an amazing job here crafting a creepy, yet faithful, Spider-Man story. I really look forward to the rest of the series.
I’ve seen a lot of Juan Ferreyra’s name over the last few years. Lately he seems to be rightfully developing a reputation as an excellent horror artist. His art here is lovely and adds a lot to the horror atmosphere. Recently he drew Knight Terrors: Wonder Woman where he drew some genuinely unsettling images and he does the same here. Spencer Smythe has never looked this terrifying and the imagines of Peter using his willpower to overcome Sleep-Stealer are genuinely stunning. There are some interesting page design on display which I believe was to benefit the way you read it on Marvel Unlimited originally, but there is nothing lost in the print version I feel.
Ferryra’s Spider-Man is very much more of the Ditko vein, darker and more ‘quirky’ looking rather than ‘pizazz’ Romita SR influence and it really works here with the story being told.
There are some pages where the art looks more crayon/child inspired which I feel very much adds to the overall creepy nature of the whole story, especially when paired with the creepy song that is driving the narrative. So much of what makes a visual horror story is how it looks, the atmosphere and the visuals. I don’t imagine many other artists that could have made this look creepier.
Overall: This was a very effective, straight forward horror story. The minor story quibbles are just because I tend to overthink these things but this is a perfect comic for those looking for a darker Spider-Man story where you don’t have much prior knowledge. I was largely immersed and I’m greatly looking forward to the mini which will tell a new story by the same creative team.
Holy Cow- Juan Ferryra put on a masterclass here. This book is beautiful in line work, colors and layout. As Glenn says, his creepy work is spot on. Spencer looks old and haunting. Paul, in his dream state, evokes Death wielding dreams rather than a scythe. The dream state is eerie. Just amazing world building here.
Additionally, page layout is really well done. Lots of variety and clever usage of space and panel. Slowly rotating panels to show movement. Long panels with mini-Spider-man figures falling, swing, rotating, are well done and painstaking. Vertical panels to show scale. Horizontal panels to show breadth of the dream world prison. His choices make this one fun to read and Ahmed’s writing makes it tense. Overall, a wonderful Spider-Man story. Can’t wait to see where the series goes.
Glenn: 4 Webshooters
Steve: 4.5 Webshooters
Check back to the PopCulture tab for more comics fun.