Marvel Comics bills this issue and the 'Sins Rising' story arc as one readers are not ready for, and in some regards, they're correct – but whether that makes this book a success is another matter. There is a saying that "context is king," and familiarity with the secondary Spider-Man titles of the '80s provides the necessary context readers will need in order for this story to truly land its punches. Without that context, however, it would be easy to see a number of readers failing to get what Nick Spencer is attempting to accomplish here.
Written by Nick Spencer
Art by Guillermo Sanna and Jordie Bellaire
Lettering by Joe Caramagna
Published by Marvel Comics
'Rama Rating: 7 out of 10
The crux of Sins Rising: Prelude #1 explores the origins of Stanley Carter — a.k.a., the lesser-known Spider-Man villain known as the Sin-Eater — as we take a brief tour of his formative childhood experiences in the Ozark mountains to the days leading up to his killing of Detective Jean de Wolfe. For readers unfamiliar with the fabled tradition of sin-eating, Spencer takes his time unpacking the way it's been translated from its non-western origins to the United States, and it certainly helps set the stage and tone for this remarkably dark and non-Spidey focused issue.
It isn't until readers are a third of the way through the issue, however, that the story takes a jarring albeit temporary shift. Injected into the midst of Carter's hunt for his partner's killer, we get a short sequence that serves as a sort of late night talk show with an unnamed host who introduces us to Jean de Wolfe, only to then inform the readers that she was killed by Stanley Carter's alter ego, the Sin-Eater.
This break in the narrative clearly fast-forwards us to a different time and place, but the questions of "Who is this?" and "Where are we now?" barely have time to form before readers find themselves launched back (apparently into the past) to the original narrative thread. The one instance we meet Spider-Man is with him serving as a sort of guest on the show, dancing around while highlights of his having captured the Sin-Eater play out. This scene makes more sense once Spencer reveals the issue's big twist, but again, it makes for a contorted reading experience.
Ultimately, Spencer aims to take a relatively obscure villain (to all but long-time Spider-Man readers) and elevate him to something far more tragic and yet sinister. On its own, this provides an opportunity for some interesting and ambitious storytelling that will no doubt reward many fans who have a long history of reading Spider-Man comics.
The story ultimately gets away from him, however, as the pacing of the story distracts and confuses readers more than it builds tension and draws them further into what could otherwise be a promising premise. The story introduces a strong concept and ends with a surprising and effective hook; it's just too bad the story in between couldn't have offered a more cohesive thread line between the two.
Given that Spider-Man rarely makes much of an appearance in this issue, aside from flashbacks and illusions, Guillermo Sanna and Jordie Bellaire are free to fully embrace a style that is decidedly unpolished and upbeat — something one wouldn't expect from an Amazing Spider-Man comic, but it works perfectly here to help sell the dark and brooding atmosphere of the hellish mystery they take us on in Sins Rising: Prelude #1. Sanna's depiction of Carter's first meeting with a sin-eater following his grandfather's funeral calls forth the sort of imagery many readers will recall from their childhood nightmares.
Even later in the story, his heavily-inked pages create a stark divide between the light and darkness, which seems to coat everyone and everything – again, a subtle but brilliant move given the direction this story takes. And it's within these narrow spaces that Bellaire quietly moves about, not over-saturating the page but offering only a small amount of color throughout with just enough to show signs of life. This comes across in the lettering as well, where Joe Caramagna is generally subdued throughout the story except in those instances with the talk show, where the dialogue pops far more and (ironically) offers more signs of life.
All in all, Sins Rising: Prelude #1 has a lot of the right parts on the table for the making of a good comic: a character who will feel new to many readers while rewarding those hardcore fans with a nod to the past, a story arc that adds depth to what has often been seen as a more two-dimensional thug, and an art team that knows how to handle a horror story in all the right ways. Were the narrative elements woven together in a clearer fashion, this issue might have really been a standout story to hook readers into this upcoming run.
Amazing Spider-Man: Sins Rising Prelude #1 goes on sale July 22.