The Sandman (Vol. 4)

Background

This is the last of the four "Marvel Spider-Man: Comic Storybooks". These were first published by Parragon Book Service, Ltd. in the UK in 2014. At least the first two were later re-released into NZ/Australia branded as "Scholastic".

The binding for all versions is a thick, plastic-covered card which is not quite paperback and not quite hardback. The cover is 5.1" x 7.7". Binding is square-bound approximately one quarter-inch thick.

The nominal page count is 80, however after removing front matter, blank pages, the character intros which are repeated across each book, and the chapter splash pages, there's really only 52 pages of actual original art and text material in each book.

Each is loosely based on the original Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) stories, but famed letterer Joe Caramagna has reworked and enhanced them for a modern age. Or at least that was the plan.

Story Details

CHAPTER ONE: Peter Parker is sleeping (and having nightmares) in class. His teacher sends him to see the school councilor.

But first we are yet again condemned to chew through tedious pages of clumsy character descriptions before the real story begins. This is "What Not To Do - Mistake #1" of "Writing 101". Don't give me a goddamn wall of text explaining how the characters work... move them around on the damn page and show me what your characters do!

Don't tell me "Peter was unhappy because Flash regularly bullied him and Peter was unable to prevent it." – I want to see Peter's white underoos pulled up above the waistband of his jeans after the atomic wedgie, and the pale reflection of florescent school lighting from the helpless tears on Peter's cheeks, as he sits alone on the cold floor of the silent hallway after the bell has rung. Show me his books strewn around him, and Flash's booger smeared over the cookie that Aunt May had thoughtfully slipped into Peter's backpack as a special treat.

Anyhow, the councilor is trying to be cool and hip, and wants Peter to tell him about what just happened in class (presumably yesterday) with Sandman. Writer Caramagna explains that the councilor was trying to be relaxed and cool, but Peter knew that he was just trying but wasn't really, but the councilor didn't know that Peter knew and that it wasn't effective, Peter needed to ignore the fact that the councilor didn't know that... oh please can we just get to the story already?

And so Peter begins to tell his version of the events of yesterday in science class...

CHAPTER TWO: This chapter begins on page 26, and by this point, absolutely nothing has happened. This is supposedly a children's adventure story, and NOTHING HAS HAPPENED YET.

Right, I've taken my meds. I've calmed down. This is where the "story" begins. Peter is in science class and his science teacher is demonstrating a giant machine that generates powerful electric currents. This is the kind of "signalling" they do with flags between ships at sea, and I immediately assume that this is the machine that will defeat Sandman 50 pages from now. I am of course correct.

Sandman arrives. The teacher is his ex-girlfriend, but she left him when he became a criminal, and now Flint Marko (having acquired his sandy powers via some sort of complicated accident) has come to force her to return to him. The police turn up and fire shots inside the classroom, but Sandman does his "sandy thing" and bullets don't bother him at all.

CHAPTER THREE: Peter takes the opportunity to flee from the classroom (to become Spider-Man of course). But this becomes problematic as the councilor seems to be interrogating him to find out why he ran away – a line of questioning which is so stupid that it makes my brain hurt. You see, Flash has told the councilor that Peter is a coward! And Peter has been summoned to explain his behavior of running away while the rest of the class remained at their seats.

Oh... I can't do this any more. I just want to tear this book in half and throw it across the room. Why am I being punished like this? AAAAAAAAAAARGH! SCREW THIS! YOU CAN'T MAKE ME READ THIS BOOK! I'm going for a walk outside. I need to calm down.

CHAPTER FOUR: I'm back. Let's finish this. Spider-Man fights Sandman. Spidey uses the cables from the electro-machine to melt the sand into glass. That's right, the teacher had a machine in her classroom (switched on and with loose-flying cables) capable of supplying enough voltage and current to literally melt rocks.

The teacher then explains the back-story over the petrified remains of her former fiance. You see, Flint wasn't really a bad guy. He just fell into unfortunate circumstances. He wanted to marry Peter's teacher, but didn't have enough money for a ring, so he stole money from his employer and used it gambling to try and get rich. Of course he lost all the money he had "borrowed", so then he had no choice but to rob a bank. Before he knew what happened, he had become a mutant freak and kidnapping his ex-lover was the only option.

See – not a bad guy at all!

Note: For me, one of the highlights of the 2007 Spider-Man 3 movie was actor Thomas Haden Church's achievement of making Sandman into a sympathetic figure. Caramagna is presumably trying to do the same thing here, but he utterly fails in the attempt.

CHAPTER FIVE: Some equally clumsy attempt to make us care about Peter and Aunt May.

Gratuitous Name-Dropping Cameos: Police Officers Ramos & Slott get smothered by Sandman.

General Comments

It takes a certain level of hubris for a writer to fool themselves that they can rewrite a classic tale like the early issues of Spider-Man. Even John Byrne failed with his Spider-Man: Chapter One. What the hell made Joe Caramagna imagine that he was capable of the job, I just cannot imagine.

Off-hand, the only "successful" retelling of Spidey's origin that comes to mind is the charming Marvel Books (Origin Story) by Jeff Clark and Rich Thomas back in 2011.

But these Marvel Spider-Man: Comic Storybook volumes are a million miles from successful.

Overall Rating

I am so, so glad that this is all over.

Rock-bottom half-a-web.