Wow. What an artistic line-up "Amazing Spider-Man" has had over the last couple of months. Canete! Azaceta! And now Javier Pulido?
Yeah, this is the good stuff.
So here we are with the second act of "The Gauntlet" uber-plot, as Spider-Man, after dispatching the powered-up and socially relevant Electro in the previous arc, faces the pumped-up Sandman. With Electro, Mark Waid used the character to parody current trends in political punditry, but with Sandman, Fred Van Lente has taken a different approach. He's turned this story into part-detective story, part-fable. And it's beautifully sad, in just the right way.
Pulido is the right guy to draw this kind of story, for sure. And it helps that Javier Rodriguez provides subtle, flat colors instead of the overly-digitized stuff that we tend to see in other Marvel comics this decade. Pulido is a guy from the school of Ditko, Kirby, and Toth, so it's fitting that his comics have the same kind of simple color schemes that you'd see back in the old days. Rodriguez is a master at using the classical style but in a way that doesn't make it seem dated. This is a great-looking comic, all-around.
The plot hinges on Spider-Man's investigations into a series of murders, and a missing girl. A girl who disappeared when a snowman began talking to her, calling her "Princess Keemia," and leading her to a "secret kingdom."
Van Lente filters that scene through second-hand reports. It's what the children said happened, so even though Pulido shows it, the distance between the real and the childhood imagination is undefined. It's a much more effective choice than if Van Lente simply included that scene in the story. By having it be someone's recollection of reported events, it adds a sense of mystery and uncertainty.
And it fits into the fairy tale quality of the story.
But it takes some skill to weave a story about brutal murders into a fairy tale plot about a girl and her secret kingdom, and Van Lente pulls it off.
It comes as no surprise that the Sandman is behind the kidnapping, and that the Sandman is the girl's father, and has created a dream-like fantasy world for her to play in. When Electro's powers became enhanced, he raged against political corruption. Sandman uses his enhanced powers to create a romanticized safe haven for a child.
His battle with Spider-Man is about protecting his "kingdom" from those who would disturb it. And that's where the beautiful sadness comes in.
"Amazing Spider-Man" continues to be one of the best superhero comics on the Marvel shelves. And it comes out almost weekly? Amazing, indeed.