Really, no "diss" on Ditko or nothing, but Spider-Man: Fever is what I wanted Ditko's work to be like before I ever really saw Ditko's work. See, back when those shits were sorta hard to find and I had like my Comics Journal issues and maybe one or two dusty-ass collections from my local, suburban library and that's it, the idea of Ditko (or Kirby or Moebius or even, Frank Miller) bubbled-up into something no artist could never live up to.
Same way, say, descriptions by Scorsese and a single still in some crappy International Cinema book turned Bresson's Pickpocket into something "bigger" than the patient, brooding, kinda erotic crime movie it actually is. Point is, Spider-Man: Fever is something else, it's close to the kind of insanity I drummed-up from other people's descriptions of Ditko's work. That's great!
Spider-Man: Fever also helps me cope with a more recent comics-related disappointment: Mike Allred's steady downward trajectory into suckiness. It's something I've discussed with my fellow writers here and we all confessed to, on some dark, bored night, re-opening those first two volumes of Madman to make sure they were still perfect because well, his work's fumbled from confused, high-concept kinda cool stuff to dopey, too high-concept, digitally-colored pop-art garbage.
McCarthy certainly isn't aping Allred here or anything, but he's stumbled upon a lot of the things that made Allred's work really invigorating: A genuine love of comics, un-ironic chintzy humor, some heady stuff here and there, and a confident but wacky art-style that bounces off in twenty different directions at once.
How awkward but real Spider-Man looks sitting on a windowsill checking to see who's on Letterman. That Spidey tells Vulture, a page later, to "Cut that out!" when dude's sticking his grubby birdy mitts in his eye. That the villain of this is named Albion Crowley. That the whole bug world in issue #2 is so gritty and weird you kinda wanna vomit looking at it. It's just really good and really bizarre. But I almost didn't buy the second issue this week because of this one weird tangent in issue #1. I'll remind you real quick...
Spider-Man and Vulture are fighting and they crash through a window. McCarthy's brilliantly cuts-away from it for two pages of Dr. Strange weirdness and when we return, Vulture's all tied-up in a web and mad and shit. And then, out of the corner of the panel, a speech bubble reads "Hey, thass my phone!".
The next panel reveals a black guy (sideways hat, medallion hanging from his neck, baggy jeans and shirt), the owner of this apartment, and he's really worried because Spider-Man called the cops with his phone, and well, black people are all criminals, so the cops coming would be real bad. It's a weird, bad punchline. A page or so later, you get some more of this unfortunate "urban" patois ("You the guy who wrecked my pad!", "You the guy who brung the cops!") and it's just really, really awful.
First, it's just weird. How, in 2010, a clearly smart knowing guy like McCarthy could write such ridiculous coon-ish dialogue is baffling. Second, it's confusing because the guy's dressed like say, a De La Soul or Souls of Mischief fan from the early 90s, not a thug at all. Third, it's a buffoonish black character dropped into the narrative for some incredibly cheap laughs. This kind of stuff happens in comics all the time, like casual sexism, and it's just sort of jarring and weird and worst of all, innocent. McCarthy clearly doesn't think this is a big deal, right? He finds it humorous or maybe somehow, accurate to real life? What the fuck.
Well, it is a big deal. On the humanist tip, I prefer not to see people and peoples degraded like this. But frankly, more important than the "this is racist and it's bad" argument is that it really kinda derails the whole comic book and makes you look at the piece of art and artist behind it quite differently.
With Spider-Man: Fever, McCarthy's not even some insane racist dropping in some quick propaganda, which I can accept that way say, Dave Sim's misogyny or Ditko's Objectivism kinda "works", this is just some dopey white asshole who doesn't even realize he just put some insanely racist shit in his comic book! It's distracting because it's a bummer and it's distracting because it forces you to think about the guy behind the comic, and well, exposes him.
Thankfully, none of this returns in issue two and I guess it's better it was in the first issue and just out of the way than a boner-kill two or three issues in, but really, I just wish it wasn't in there at all.