Spider-Man: Fever is quite the adventure. Brendan McCarthy pulls double duty and brings Spider-Man into the world of spider magic. According to McCarthy the book is an homage to Steve Ditko’s Doctor Strange stories from the 60’s, and boy is this book trippy. Spider-Man’s soul is abducted by a spider-demon who brings him to the ancient Webwaze, a dimension that all spiders call home. Doctor Strange goes in after him and it gets weird. Bipedal talking dogs, an aborigine with inter-dimensional walking shoes, a fly that used to be a man. Also, Doctor Strange rides along a river through space in a duck boat. That happens.
Spider-Man is also in this comic book! The King of the spiders wants to eat Spider-Man so he sends him off to the insect realm to prove whether or not he is a spider or a man. McCarthy explores the dual identity of Spider-Man as not just Peter Parker and Spider-Man, but as human and spider. In recent years there have been attempts to move Spider-Man’s origins towards something more to do with magic than science. We meet the spider who bit Peter all those years ago and discover its motives. It sought out Peter before and now it attempts to control him. Peter must decide if he is a man, free to make his own decisions, or a spider, with his destiny seemingly already decided.
Brendan McCarthy’s art is simply out of this world. We start out in the real world, which looks oddly like some kind of claymation movie (in a good way). After Spider-Man is brought to the Webwaze, McCarthy goes crazy in order to create an entire dimension. Colors are everywhere, shapes are out of control, everything is bright and colorful and maleable to thoughts and artistic whims. Doctor Strange’s scenes explore the bizarre reaches of this world, while Spider-Man’s show a more grounded, yet somewhat disturbing environment. The comic is littered with spiders wearing suit jackets and flies wearing vests, making this a journey into the imagination. One of my favorite pages show a hallucinating, green Spider-Man having his brains blown out by the memory of the Burglar, who is rendered as a Golden Age comic. There’s something to look at on every page.
It’s clear that McCarthy is trying to say something about ideas. They come from somewhere and sometimes they come for you. Doctor Strange acts as a guide through this dream world, almost as if it were a fairy tale. The idea of a spider realm, where all spiders come from and an insect realm, where all insects come from represents folktale that we might tell a child. Spider-Man is exposed to the horror of truth; the archaic magic throughout the book shows us how stories and ideas are older than we can ever know.
At the end of the book Spider-Man and Doctor Fate reflect on the literal unending void in front of them. Fate explains “to cross the abyss is to realize that you are an idea arising in open, empty awareness.” This could mean a lot of things. Are we all just ideas floating above a void? Did the spiders fall out of the book and into ‘our’ world? Spider-Man answers “You’re getting all Silver Surfer on me.” Sometimes it’s ok to stop asking questions. Maybe the truth is too terrifying to know just what lies beyond.