The Sandman isn’t bad, he’s just granulated that way. Sometimes he’s even good. In Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #308, he’s soon to not be anything. Can our hero help out? Should he? Is it good?
Peter Parker’s science section of the Daily Bugle is late! It’ll still have to wait, because a new ally has dirt on something going on downtown!
Spider-Man should collar that menace! But hold on, Flint Marko’s played for both sides. So far he hasn’t hurt anyone, though once someone figures out who he is, the cops are sure to get involved.
But there’s no law against existing. If Marko’s coming to the end of that particular road, Peter’s good enough to know he’s tried, and deserves a little peace before he goes. Although who the hell can tell what kind of weird place he’s actually going to.
For years during the “Brand New Day” era, Amazing Spider-Man was the only place in town to catch the original wall-crawler. The ancillary titles of the ’90s were typical of the excess of the time, quality suffered and readers’ attention was split. Concentrating on Amazing gave the character a defined, singular direction that everyone could easily follow.
But when every issue has to be a mind-blowing event, even if the book is published two or three times a month, that means “smaller” stories become less possible, or at least fewer and farther between. The recent reintroduction of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man has allowed us to get into his head again, and check in on everything else that’s going on his world, even if it’s not Earth-shattering.
Of course, every person has a universe inside them, maybe literally in the Sandman’s case. In Spectacular #308, the bad-guy-gone-good-gone-bad-gone-wherever finds himself in outer space, mentally, anyway, as his body is deteriorating and his mind flashes back to the past and forward to what might be the future.
It might sound grand, but the scale is actually very small, starting with Sandman on the street. Jolly J. Jonah Jameson tips Spidey off about his activity, and warns that the cops will be onto him soon enough. Peter, being one of the best people in the world, doesn’t want that to happen until he knows it should.
So he visits Flint in the hospital and … I won’t spoil anything after that, but if you’ve ever made a mistake or you know someone who has, you’ll be near tears as the Sandman’s final fate approaches. Writer Chip Zdarsky has become a master of setting tone, and Spectacular #308 is dripping with dour dread and genuine sympathy for someone who legitimately tried, even if things didn’t end up in the best way every time.
The choice of Chris Bachalo as artist and colorist is a little strange for such a quiet and somber tale, and it’s clear he’s out of his element in some places. The characters are often unrecognizable with how they’re usually portrayed. Of course Bachalo excels in the few flashback scenes that show Flint cutting loose, and you have to think he was brought in explicitly for a weird, sandy wildness fight, so while that’s all but a lock for part two, it doesn’t make what’s included here any better.
What is an interesting perk is the inclusion of some Steve Ditko art from the Sandman’s first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #4, mixed with current scenes of bugging-out Marko, to serve as flashbacks. This follows a nice, four-page tribute to the legendary artist, who died in June of this year.
Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #308 is the kind of personal story that’s hard to tell in superhero comics, but hits you that much harder when it’s done well. It’s the fantastic made relatable, with all the same tragedy of the real world, and some diamond-skinned aliens thrown in for good measure. Bachalo’s art isn’t a good fit, but will surely look great in the (presumably) action-packed conclusion, but until then, you’ll have to deal with Zdarsky making you weep over the disintegration of a silicon-based bad guy. God bless him.