Sensational Spider-Man: Self-Improvement #1 is bland. Now, to be fair, bland doesn't necessarily mean bad. Oatmeal is bland, but people still enjoy doctoring it up to suit their own palates. However, adding delicious ingredients to something with the flavor profile of cardboard doesn't make the base component exciting. At its core, it's still bland. Such is the case with Sensational Spider-Man. Quite simply, this comic is too quaint and disconnected from the here and now to make any sort of memorable impression on readers who may not be familiar with the history behind the story. Even having well-loved comic veterans spearheading the creative team can't breathe life into a fun idea that is several decades too late.
The backstory of how Sensational Spider-Man: Self-Improvement #1 came to be is rather fascinating. Prior to Marvel's massive 1984 event Secret Wars, a fan named Randy Schueller submitted a new black costume for Spider-Man, and a cool backstory as to where the web-slinger got it. Marvel Comics paid Schueller $220 for his idea and offered him a chance to write the script in which Peter Parker would debut his new Reed Richard-designed threads. Sadly, Schueller's story idea never came to fruition; these things happen.
However, every now and then one of these dead-in-the-water projects gets a second chance at life. Sensational Spider-Man: Self-Improvement #1 is a version of Schueller's original story behind the wall-crawler's black costume, now told through writer Peter David and artist Rick Leonardi, three decades after first being presented. But the decades-long gestation for the story as it unfolds doesn't bring anything fresh to the table, broadly speaking. Peter Parker getting a costume designed by one of the most brilliant people in the Marvel Universe is something we've experienced in both comic books and on film. Despite the story predating the aforementioned referenced works, Sensational Spider-Man is oddly pedestrian.
To be fare, seeing Schueller's design leap off the page in earnest for the first time is exciting. However, not seeing his name on the cover or some sort of declaration about a story decades in the making is a bit disheartening. The "based on a plot by" credited to Schueller's name doesn't do much to ease that feeling. As it stands, the situation is just one of the many bizarre footnotes that litter the annals of comic book history.
The back-up story by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz fares a little better, despite being a bit overly familiar. There's a kind of meditation on the strange sadness of being Spider-Man, and not in terms of not having enough loved ones in life. When Spider-Man isn't doing amazing things across Manhattan, he's just living his normal life, trying to keep relationships together and get his bills paid. It's the reason we love Spider-Man. Sure, he has powers, but he's just like us.
If nothing else, Sensational Spider-Man: Self-Improvement #1 is the end of an unusual road leading to release, one that still feels strange in how Marvel has somewhat buried the lead on what the comic truly is. This book is too well produced to dismiss outright, but other than being a talking point for comic fans, there isn't much here to write home about.