The opening pages of "Spider-Man: Fever " seem quite conventional. While Doctor Strange investigates a bizarre, other-worldly dimension, Spider-Man finds himself set upon by the Vulture in New York. It’s an inauspicious beginning to what is certain to be one of the most unconventional and exciting comics you’ll read this year-- and I say that with full knowledge that it’s only just April.
So why all the hubris? Quite simply, all the explanation you should need is the name of the writer and illustrator of this comic, Brendan McCarthy. He’s an artist the likes of which the world rarely sees, let alone the humble comics industry. So when he turns his expert hand to a Spider-Man and Doctor Strange team-up, we should all be interested.
As noted, the story starts out quite straightforwardly. Aside from an astonishing opening splash page, the issue begins with a beautifully Ditko-influenced street-level fight between Spider-Man and the Vulture. Unfortunately, a careless Dr. Strange activates a demonic trap and releases spider-demons into the world, placing the webslinger in peril. At the same time, this throws open the doors of perception, and the book transforms into a journey through the psychedelic which allows McCarthy’s artwork to shine. Pages are awash with colour, motion, and offbeat images – inventive layouts that make you feel as if you’re falling into the page. Even the lettering ignores the normal rules.
Those who know his work will be aware that McCarthy stands easily shoulder-to-shoulder with the greats, and hopefully work on a high-profile character will cement his name and reputation in the reading public’s consciousness. Quite simply, Brendan McCarthy’s art is fantastic beyond the telling of it, though Timothy Callahan has had an excellent stab at doing so in his column this week. The visuals alone are almost enough to earn this book its full five stars.
It helps, though, that the writing is great, as well. Done as a knowing (though respectful) Silver Age pastiche, the plot could arguably be called a little thin, deliberately no more than a vehicle for the artwork. Except, though, that it turns out to be much more, sometimes ominous and unsettling, sometimes gleefully absurd. A tad schizophrenic, but deliberately so. If there was ever any doubt that McCarthy is in on the joke, you only have to look at the issue’s final line, itself a legendary moment of comic book insanity in the making.
There’s a raw imagination to each page of "Spider-Man: Fever" that blows away the cobwebs of every dreary, by-the-numbers superhero title you’ve read in the last five years. It actually makes me nostalgic for the days when Marvel published books this interesting and unusual as a matter of course. Admittedly, if every comic was like this it might get exhausting. But right now, there’s more than enough room for it on the shelves.