Issue(s): Spider-Man #1, Spider-Man #2, Spider-Man #3, Spider-Man #4, Spider-Man #5
I call it a legend because Todd McFarlane was already a huge name at this point and the idea that he would be put on, say, a new Prowler book (i pick that as an example because McFarlane seems to have had an interest in the character) so that he could learn to write seems unlikely. If for no other reason, McFarlane probably already had a higher than average page rate, so Marvel would need to put him on a book that was guaranteed to sell well. On the other hand, it is the case that Frank Miller and Walt Simonson got their starts as writer-artists on relatively low selling titles, so maybe that's what McFarlane expected would happen with him, and Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story repeats the legend (which was first given in a text piece in Spider-Man #1) as true.
In any event, the decision to combine McFarlane's debut as a writer-artist with the launch of a fourth Spider-Man book (not counting the reprint book Marvel Tales) proved to be the right one, at least in the short term. Issue #1 sold a record breaking 2.5 million copies.
An important caveat to that number is that this book is an important milestone in the development of the speculator market. I don't have the sales figures, but i guarantee you that issue #6 didn't sell 2.5 million copies. So a lot of those sales were just people stashing a new #1. That in itself is nothing new; Howard the Duck and Dazzler had similar types of launches. But one thing that is new is the use of variant covers.
By modern standards, the variants used for issue #1 are pretty mild. There was the newsstand version, and then there was a direct market (i.e. comic shop) version with a black background and silver ink. It almost doesn't seem noteworthy. There had been minor variations in trade dress between newsstand and direct market comics in the past, and Marvel actually devoted a Bullpen bulletin to assuring collectors that the difference wasn't important. The differences here are bigger than those, but probably the more important thing is how the differences were marketed, with expectations raised that this was a huge event and that the issues would be "worth something". (For what it's worth, i was able to get this entire run, including the black & silver #1, in the quarter bins right after the market crash circa 1997. Nowadays it looks like mint copies of the various #1 variants still sell for silly amounts, but you can get a copy in decent condition for less than the $1.75 cover price.)
I don't know that this is the first variant cover (see the Comments for some definite non-Marvel precursors), but from Sean Howe's book it's definitely apparent that this was early enough in the process that there were some bumps in the roll-out. First they announced the two versions. Then someone at Marvel noticed that mainstream magazines sold better when they came in bags, partially just because they stood out more. So they decided to put out a bagged version of the newsstand issue. Then comic shop retailers complained that they weren't getting bagged versions, so Marvel decided to put out a bagged version of the black cover, too. Then, when the original print run sold out, Marvel issued another variant, this time with gold ink instead of silver. And they also released a limited edition special platinum version to "reward" comic shop owners. In order to print the platinum version, Marvel found that they had to use a heavier card stock, so the run of the platinum versions wound up costing over $35,000 to print instead of the anticipated $8,000. And, according to Howe, this failed to placate retailers who just complained that they didn't get enough copies. In the medium term, though, the demand for all these variants opened the door to additional gimmick covers - day-glo, foil, glow in the dark, etc..
It's still the case that the hype around this issue wouldn't have been possible without McFarlane's art already being a strong selling point (and, of course, Spider-Man being a popular character, but a new Spider-Man book launching with Sal Buscema or Alex Saviuk art would not have had the same result at this point in time). So what made Todd McFarlane decide that he wanted to be a writer, too? He's actually very upfront about this in the text piece in issue #1: he was tired of drawing what other people wanted. "I knew that ultimately I was drawing their ideas when they came up with them. By this i mean that even though the stories were interesting and fun to draw, if I didn't feel like drawing an army scene and there were 28 pages of armies that month, I somehow had to get through the pages." Being his own writer will allow him to "draw who I want, when I want". McFarlane's text piece is an odd mix of humility (he writes like he honestly didn't believe he'd be able to start his writing career with such a major character, and he admits that he's "learning to write" on this series, and solicits critical feedback) and what comes across as the entitled hubris of a hot artist that only wants to draw what he feels like drawing. That may just be inartfully phrased. Surely when Jack Kirby, John Byrne, Frank Miller, Walt Simonson, etc.. made the transition to writer-artist, part of their motivations included not wanting to have to draw what someone else told them. But a big difference is that all of those creators clearly had big ideas and stories of their own that they wanted to tell. McFarlane really does sound like he just didn't want to have to draw armies or backgrounds or supporting characters when he didn't feel like it, and that's reinforced by the fact that he didn't come into this book with any specific story ideas.
His text piece explains that the reason the Lizard was chosen for this first plot was simply that "all the good villains" in Spidey's rogues gallery currently had stories in the works or were recently featured. So they settled on the Lizard, who "might not be Spidey's best villain" but is "still considered one of the classics". The use of Calypso comes entirely from editor Jim Salicrup's former assistant Glenn Herdling. The use of Calypso was apparently from a story idea that Herdling was developing for himself but which is appropriated by McFarlane for this story. So really, nothing about this story shows that McFarlane had any kind of vision or story that he wanted to tell. He just wanted to draw cool stuff without having to draw the more mundane stuff that writers put into a story to make it an actual story, and the Lizard and Calypso just happened to be what was available at the time.
The lack of villain availability will later become a point of contention after Jim Salicrup is replaced by Danny Fingeroth as editor. Jim Salicrup was apparently much more supportive and hands-off with McFarlane. The text piece in #1 says that this book will basically be standalone from the rest of the Spider-Man books, a major departure from Marvel's policy at the time. The book won't be participating in crossovers, it won't be acknowledging developments in the other books, it won't really be featuring supporting characters, and there won't even be subplots between story arcs. It's interesting to compare the text piece in issue #1 here with the one from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1, which justified its existence in exactly the opposite way, by promising tight integration with Amazing Spider-Man and more room for Peter Parker's supporting cast and civilian side. What we're getting in this book is a series of standalone stories with "the feel of a mini-series within a series". This really does make the plotting requirement little more than deciding which villain is available.
McFarlane's approach to this book is consistent with his general attitude. On the subject of backgrounds, Howe quotes a McFarlane interview where he says "As long as I get Spider-Man in the right pose, and I've got a cool shot of him coming at you on the splash page, it's not important what's behind him... If I can fill up the space with stuff that kind of sort of, looks right - or at least fill it up with linework - the kids figure there's more detail put in there than there really is". His view of background detail parallels his view of writing; it's all about making it possible to draw cool shots. From various interviews, it's clear that McFarlane's view of writers is that they play a subordinate, and possibly extraneous, role in comic book creation.
There are of course two elements to comic book writing: the plotting and the scripting. In these issues, McFarlane almost manages to pull off not being able to plot, at least until the whole story anticlimactically falls apart at the end. Actually, i take that back. The whole story is poorly paced, substance free, and surprisingly action-light. But at least it sort of feels like it's building to something big until we get to the end. Scriptwise, McFarlane wisely takes an approach of keeping the actual dialogue to a minimum. But he surprisingly uses way more narration panels than you would think for someone with such a disdain of writing. If anything, McFarlane seems to be overcompensating for his lack of writing experience by trying to be overly "artistic". Lots of short bursts of narration. A heavy use of a drum sound effect that runs through the story. Repeatedly invoking the phrase "rise above it all" in an attempt to develop a motif.
Unfortunately, McFarlane misses the mark with a lot of this stuff. His metaphors are mixed and nearly incomprehensible. Describing buildings in New York, he writes, "Littered with towering concrete giants that seem to swallow up the sky. They are silent -- frozen -- man-made guardians". And he's got a metaphorical pounding "sledgehammer" that "reaches into his head. Into his subconscious. Toying with his soul." Because that's what sledgehammers do: they toy with stuff. And Mary Jane knows that "when Peter becomes obsessive, she knows that his mind is starting to pull. And tug. And stretch." This is in conjunction with images of Peter pulling his mask on, but it's an extremely strained parallel. Someone writing in to issue #5 asks if Peter is secretly Mr. Fantastic.
And there are cliched phrases like "So you fight. Fight with ever fiber of your being. Because you know, that with all your vaunted strength -- tonight, it may not be enough!" Very generic writing that you wouldn't expect from a writer-artist who can actually depict that sort of thing instead of just saying it.
One of the most notorious bits of scripting is in the opening (double-paged of course), splash. "His name -- Spider-Man! His powers -- extraordinary! His webline -- advantageous!" Advantageous!? What?!?
McFarlane actually doubles-down on the "advantageous" line a few pages later.
That whole sequence comes into criticism in the lettercols for depicting Peter Parker as being too dark and too cruel. It's worth noting that the covers of all these issues have a tagline saying "The Legend of the Arachknight", a reference to Batman: Legends of the Dark Knight, which began in 1989 in response to the popularity of Batman thanks to the movie. The Arachknight tagline combined with the depiction of Peter in the scene above says that McFarlane & Marvel were trying to capture some of that popularity for their own character. That doesn't excuse the poor characterization, but it does help explain it (McFarlane will also respond to criticism in the lettercols by saying that he's trying to show that Spider-Man has matured and is more confident than he was in his early days; there's also a scene in issue #1 with Peter wondering why common thugs don't just give up when they see him since, after all, he's had thousands of fights with actual super-villains).
To be fair to McFarlane, he admits in his text piece that his writing is not going to be great, at least to start. Everyone, me included, is probably judging McFarlane's writing extra hard since he's so open about his disdain for writing and writers. And aren't we really all here to see cool shots of Spider-Man and his villains?
But i'm still going to complain about the plot. To get Spider-Man involved in the story, McFarlane has the Lizard writing "CNNR" in blood on the wall after killing his victims. This is so Spider-Man can figure out that the killer is Doc Connors, aka the Lizard.
But there's never any explanation for why the Lizard is writing Connors' name on the wall. Is it a cry for help? Is it Doc Connors trying to reassert control? We can make up explanations, but there isn't one in the story.
Issue #1 is a meandering set-up. It comes into criticism by people writing in for having "classic '#1 syndrome'" (i.e., too much set-up, no story) and for simply not having any substance to it. Despite that criticism, McFarlane is actually very much paving a new path here. As mentioned earlier, he's looking at these five issues as a mini-series. So issue #1 can indeed be all prologue as part of a larger story; it isn't necessarily meant to provide a satisfying read all by itself. This style of writing will be called decompression (i.e. telling a story that could have been told in a single issue and stretching it out over 5 issues so that there is more space for it to develop) or writing for the trade (i.e. not thinking about each issue as a standalone story and instead focusing on developing a larger story). McFarlane is far from successful with this - there isn't really any "development" of anything that's going on, and the larger story turns out to be nonexistent), but the writing philosophy will become more and more prevalent. This isn't the first time we've seen this sort of thing - it's really been more of a slow evolution - but it's a very prominent example of it.
It's not until halfway through issue #2 that Spider-Man and the Lizard actually meet, and Spider-Man is quickly poisoned.
Spidey continues to fight on, and eventually the Lizard is impaled, seemingly killed.
Then basically nothing happens until the end of the issue when the Lizard appears again. When i say "nothing" i am talking about pages like this. It's not "nothing", it's just about establishing a mood and heightening the anticipation.
To the degree that Mary Jane is a part of this story at all, it's just about her going out dancing to keep her mind off the fact that her husband is off fighting somewhere.
Anyway, we are back to a fight with the Lizard.
And there's also the drums.
And then there's lots of staggering around. Eventually Spider-Man encounters what seems like a zombie version of Kraven the Hunter.
But we have already caught glimpses of Calypso at this point.
And she turns out to be the real villain in this story.
This is issue #4, and one thing to mention is that McFarlane did the coloring for this issue in addition to the writing, penciling, and inks. Marvel apparently got "thousands" of letters complaining about the fact that Mary Jane's eyes changed color during issue #1; i don't know if it was based on that being the most prominent bit of criticism that McFarlane tried his hand at coloring, but he gives it up for issue #5. I do think the coloring, and the art, and the page layouts, work really well. If there were a story to go along with this art, the book could be quite good. McFarlane is certainly able to establish a sinister mood.
But McFarlane is not forthcoming with details about the story. That's partially a deliberate choice, with a little bit of deconstructionism coming in ("isn't that what you bad guys live for?").
But there's ultimately no payoff.
For continuity purposes, here's a flashback showing some of Calypso's background. The most notable thing is that after meeting Kraven, she went back and studied to become a witch, and killed her sister to gain more power.
But that's basically the whole story. Calypso takes possession of the Lizard and uses him to attack Spider-Man. She's a bit vague on whether she's doing this as vengeance for killing Kraven, who she calls a weak powerless fool. And then during the fighting a ruptured gas line causes the building they're in to explode.
In his torn costume...
...Spider-Man continues to fight for a little while longer, and eventually the Lizard is seemingly killed again (don't worry, he's shown reviving at the very end)...
...and Calypso just decides to leave when the police show up in response to the explosion.
So there's basically no ending.
Spider-Man just crawls home to Mary Jane, who has come home from partying.
That could be some deliberate post-modern type of thing, but it's a bit weird for a mass market Spider-Man title. And if it was meant as set-up for a future story, it doesn't come off that way and would defeat the idea of the book being a series of stand-alone arcs. And Calypso next appears in a 1992 Daredevil story by Glenn Herdling.
I mentioned above that McFarlane eventually leaves this book over conflicts with his future editor regarding villain availability. Another factor was the Comics Code. And that seems to have been a problem from the beginning; a scene in issue #1 apparently had to be redrawn because it was too violent.
People honoring McFarlane's request for feedback in the lettercols praise the art, but describe the story as "mediocre" and "hollow" and complain about the pacing and the characterization. That's my feeling as well. I do think McFarlane being able to control what he draws leads to better looking art than we saw in his Amazing run. He doesn't have to draw pages full of people talking and stuff like that, which was always the most agonizing part of his Amazing issues, since we'd have these giant splash panels of people's heads surrounded by lots of dialogue. So this book looks better. It's a really nice compilation of horror art, basically. But the story is all empty calories. It's too bad McFarlane couldn't write better or work with a writer that could tailor the story to McFarlane's strengths.
Quality Rating: D+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Oh god the variant covers! The 90's are now in full swing!
Posted by: david banes | June 10, 2015 2:30 PM
At the time I just loved the art and bought the book for that alone. I knew the writing was crap, even back then. It wasn't long after this (when the X-Men series launched I believe) that I began to get full into the speculator side of things and started taking better care of my comics (ie becoming obsessive compulsive about them). Because, you know, they were going to make me rich someday. Still waiting on that day to come. The f'n 90s, man. At least I came to my sense before that CGC racket started up.
Posted by: Robert | June 10, 2015 3:11 PM
His writing is pretty bad and I'm not really that impressed with the coloring as its too dark and I'm unable to make out much of what's going on. His editor should have got him to write the book until something at least half-decent turned up on his desk instead of this mess.
Posted by: JSfan | June 10, 2015 3:31 PM
"Legends of the Dark Knight" #1 had multiple covers. As I recall, they were different-colored outer covers and another cover inside. Still qualifies as a cover gimmick though.
I do believe Todd when he says he wasn't expecting any high-profile writing assignments. He's always struck me as professional enough - especially at this point in his career - that he wasn't going to cost another writer a job. He knew his art would be a selling point, and since all the big titles already had creative teams, no one would have expected Marvel to create another title just for him, especially not a Spider-Man book.
I, for one, genuinely enjoyed "Spider-Man" #1. My comic store gave me a free copy and I ruined the value by ripping the bag open and reading it, but I thought it was a neat take on Spidey. Peter asking a sensible question like 'why would this random thug think he's going to beat me when Doc Ock can't?' was a very good point. I never cared much for his art, and I didn't enjoy the book enough to keep reading, but I thought his writing had a certain integrity that made up for the less-literate qualities.
At point of greatest reduction, I think the comics medium is wide enough to accommodate artists who can piece together stories after-the-fact, and at his best (this issue, early "Spawn") McFarlane did a great job, or at least was really cool about it.
I say all this as someone who, at roughly the time period when this story came out, had just learned that people actually wrote comic books, and to this day it still sounds like a dream job.
Posted by: ChrisW | June 10, 2015 4:33 PM
I don't think Calypso is ever referenced by name in this story. A lot of readers would have probably had no idea who she was or what her connection to Kraven was.
Todd's M.J. isn't great, but I still prefer his version to Erik Larsen's.
I think you summed up these issues and the surrounding hubbub very well, fnord. You really "write above it all."
Posted by: TCP | June 10, 2015 5:22 PM
Well ... I'll say this about the rise of the speculator issues... a year later, "X-Men" 1-7 aren't that great either, but at least the first three of those have Claremont to keep things grounded (I can't believe I actually just wrote that). Jim Lee definitely had a better understanding of storytelling than MacFarlane, or Liefeld for that matter.
Still, this title was the one I consistently ignored as a kid. There was no real need for a fourth Spider-book in my head when they could barely keep up the quality of the third book. "Web" was just awful around this time.
Posted by: Jeff | June 10, 2015 5:57 PM
I remember going to the local comics shop when issue 1 came out and they had one of the variants on display, at first i thought it wasn't much more expensive than usual, until i realised there wasn't a decimal point. Can't remember whether it was £295 or £595, but it seemed crazy that a new comic could be worth that much. The art is moodier than his work with Michelinie, but I agree with JSfan that some of it is hard to make out, and i'm not sure that's due to him being told to make the violence and gore less clear. I remember thinking that the "doom" motif was borrowed from walt simonson's surtur. i don't think i minded too much at the time, just saw it as a reference to a classic story, though john byrne takes the piss out of it when he returns to she-hulk.
Posted by: Jonathan | June 10, 2015 6:11 PM
In scan 5, where is the Lizard's tail??
Calypso was never named in this story, so I had NO clue who she was. That's mistake 101 for a writer and should never have been allowed to pass by an editor. This book was just a mess from the get go...
Posted by: Bill | June 10, 2015 6:24 PM
Fnord, I know you had a hard time reviewing these issues but can't you RISE ABOUT IT ALL? (I'm surprised you didn't mention that bit in your review.)
Posted by: Michael | June 10, 2015 7:54 PM
I did mention it in the section about McFarlane trying to sound "artistic". And of course TCP made a nod to it as well. :-)
Posted by: fnord12 | June 10, 2015 9:11 PM
I wonder if Michael means there's a point where the typo he makes actually appears in the story...
Posted by: Morgan Wick | June 10, 2015 9:16 PM
Aside the obvious mess of this story, I don't get why the heck this ends up as Calypso's characterization. I actually remember the respectful way she was done as Kraven's supporter in the 90s animated series and figured that was more her role. Here...she's just a wild-dressed, wild-haired woman performing weird rituals and magically becomes some pupil-less She-Hulk in her final panel. I sort of get the problems of freeing up villains, but if this is what we're going to get then I sort of understand why they weren't open to give them to McFarlane.
Posted by: Ataru320 | June 10, 2015 9:32 PM
This storyline was hyped at the time as a sequel to Kraven's Last Hunt. So in addition to being a Spider-Man #1, McFarlane-drawn, and blessed with variant gimmick covers, this was also a "hot" storyline. And our first-time writer was humble enough to kick off his writing career by inviting comparison to the best Spidey story of the past half-decade. Those narrative captions are in part McFarlane's attempt to write like DeMatteis in KLH.
What's doubly sad is that these issues are in fact far better than anything else McFarlane would do on this title: at least there are characterizations here as inconsistent as the Christian Hobgoblin and cuddly, innocent Wendigo that are coming up. I was a Marvel U. near-completist at the time, but I dropped this book thanks to that Wendigo nonsense.
Rob Lefeld has said, by the way, that the sales on this #1 were what persuaded Harras to accept the X-Force proposal.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | June 10, 2015 9:58 PM
(That should be "no characterizations here...")
Posted by: Walter Lawson | June 10, 2015 10:00 PM
No, Walter, that was just a typo- I seem to have the same typo virus everyone else does today.
Posted by: Michael | June 10, 2015 10:26 PM
It took me a while to figure out this was bad. I was really hoping McFarlane would turn out to be a good writer so I gave him much more than the benefit of the doubt. I was still scratching my head when the next storyline came out, and then I decided it was just awful.
McFarlane would have been greatly helped to work with a journeyman writer who could be co-plotter and scripter to work with him to get his ideas into a competent format. I think such apprentices is what made Walt Simonson (with Archie Goodwin on Manhunter), John Byrne (with Claremont on multiple books), and even Frank Miller (with Roger MacKenzie on Daredevil) good once they took writing themselves. Obstensibly, this is what happened with Ron Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza, although it seems it was Nicieza who developed as writer.
If I remember right, McFarlane did much better on SPAWN where he was frequently paired with lots of different writers early on.
Posted by: Chris | June 10, 2015 10:45 PM
Apparently it struck again since you referred to Walter rather than me...
Posted by: Morgan Wick | June 10, 2015 10:54 PM
"In these issues, McFarlane almost manages to pull off not being able to plot, at least until the whole story anticlimactically falls apart at the end." I can't tell what you are trying to say here.
Posted by: EHH | June 10, 2015 10:59 PM
I mean that the structure of the story is such that it almost disguises the fact that there's no actual plot, at least until the end. McFarlane makes it feel like he's building up to something big.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 10, 2015 11:58 PM
I don't think i lasted all the way through this storyline. I definitely remember nothing from it. The emphasis on bagged issues really did convey a sense of "the actual contents don't matter."
Posted by: cullen | June 11, 2015 12:49 AM
The whole "DOOM DOOM DOOM" thing thing was ripped straight from Walt Simonson's Surtur sage over in Thor.
Except, here, it was done to build tension and show the building threat looming in the background of the book.
Here, MacFarlanne simply decided to rip the effect because big words look cool on top of pictures.
Even as a 12-year-old, I knew this writing was awful, and the book was the butt of many jokes among friends.
Never was a fan of MacFarlane's art. (His storytelling skills are nonexistent, and the gratuitous cheesecake of poodle perm MJ was annoying as all get-out.) But, I'll give the book one thing: It had great production quality for its time. The colors, inks, paper quality, etc were first rate and still look contemporary today.
Posted by: Bob | June 11, 2015 4:37 AM
I'm pretty sure the first, major, deliberate use of a variant cover was John Byrne's Man of Steel #1 back in 1986. The first #1 was direct-market only, and featured a metallic ink logo and an iconic close-up of Clark Kent ripping open his shirt to reveal his costume. Later, the non-direct variant came out, which had the Superman shield version of the logo, with the hero standing to one side and an image of Kal-El's rocket escaping Krypton on the other. I wasn't quite as good as the direct-market version, but it used a design style that all the other covers in the mini-series would use. I was very tempted to buy the non-direct variant so I would have the complete mini-series with consistent covers, but I resisted the urge. If other readers had followed my lead, the 90's would have never happened.
Posted by: Andrew | June 11, 2015 7:18 AM
To me, this was the beginning of the end for Marvel. Style over substance, meaningless stories, keel art, decompressed stories with nothing original or interesting to say. I thought this would blow over, now it seems the norm.
Posted by: Damiano | June 11, 2015 7:39 AM
To this day I still feel that McFarlanne had some interesting ideas but is actually rather weak as an artist. Creating a five-issue overpriced, overmarketed mini-series that relies on his art as the solo selling point was a sure fire way of keeping me out.
I actually felt a bit soiled for being a part of a market that sustained such books.
Posted by: Luis Dantas | June 11, 2015 11:34 AM
I think the world is better for the creation of Image Comics, but I sure wish that te Spider-Man title had never existed.
I'll save my rant until fnord reviews #s 6 and 7.
Posted by: Vin the Comics Guy | June 11, 2015 12:05 PM
Image Comics: the temper-tantrum of a bunch of entitled, overpraised brats that saved the comic industry.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | June 11, 2015 12:46 PM
Saved? Perhaps at the short-term level, that' true. But I would argue that Image ultimately ruined and destroyed the comic industry. I would argue that Image changed the course of the industry and made things like 'Ultimatum' possible.
Posted by: Zeilstern | June 11, 2015 1:10 PM
I'd argue early Image was more a symptom of what was ailing the comic industry than a cause, and today's Image might be the best thing about comics (which admittedly might say more about the rest of the industry than Image).
Even at its worst, Image arguably was a net positive for the comics industry by forcibly divorcing Marvel from the Liefelds of the world and letting its founders get all the crap in them out of their systems so everyone else could get over them all the quicker.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | June 11, 2015 1:15 PM
I can't help thinking that the key problem with this is that McFarlane is left to work out how to tell a story on his own. It reminds me that when Jim Shooter was in charge, he ran courses for the staff explaining how to tell a story, and it's under his stewardship that the likes of Miller and Simonson learnt to become writer-artists.
I can't help thinking that if he'd still been at the helm at Marvel by this time, we would have been spared the worst excesses of this era. McFarlane might have got a minor comic to learn in, and probably would have been given much more help with his writing. The same sentiment goes for a lot of the other Image guys.
Posted by: Stephen | June 11, 2015 3:26 PM
Morgan, it's difficult to understate the damage that Image did to the industry. Image helped fuel the boom and bust of the '90s, especially due to its late shipping. Remember Deathmate? It's because of image that we went from comics selling hundreds of thousands to comics selling tens of thousands.
Posted by: Michael | June 11, 2015 8:28 PM
My impression is that Image didn't so much fuel the boom and bust so much as it represented the peak of it. Keep in mind just how much 90s excess fnord has already chronicled when he's only up to 1990. Image may have accelerated the bust, but considering the entire speculator boom was built on a basic failing of economics 101, it almost certainly would have happened anyway and I'm not sure it was much worse than it would have been.
In any case, this is the most tangential of tangents...
Posted by: Morgan Wick | June 11, 2015 8:35 PM
I don't want to turn this into an Image page, but I think the point is basically Image was both a bane and a boon regarding how it affected comics. In the short term, it remove hot writers from Marvel just to give us garbage like Liefeld's works being thrusted out there. But in the long term, Image evolved into a place where bigger-profile creator-driven projects emerged that really improved things such as The Maxx, Witchblade, Astro City and Walking Dead. Sure they're more indie-esque but by being associated with a bigger name like Image instead of just being its own tiny comic in its own company, it just allowed for the wider exposure that lead to bigger and more prestigious things. (not to mention Image's own notables that came from the immediate split like Spawn or Savage Dragon)
But of course to get to even the point Image starts, we still have to get to the excesses that allowed for the dissent by the writers who founded it...and that means putting up with garbage like this. That's probably what was meant by the good and bad that Image created...even if Marvel is sort of associated with how it started.
Posted by: Ataru320 | June 11, 2015 8:55 PM
Marvel's attempt to control the direct market by self-distributing through their just-purchased Heroes World was what really made matters worse.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 12, 2015 5:02 PM
The biggest satirical jab at this book(and Image in general) from other mainstream publishers was probably DC's "Ambush Bug Nothing Special", which prominently featured "Advantageous!" and the Bug in a Macfarlane pose yelling "Hey! Look how my LEG can go!"
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 12, 2015 5:09 PM
I still steal jokes from that Ambush Bug special, and I haven't even seen my copy for a decade or so.
No sense shying away from discussing Image [pros and cons.] We're still two publishing years away from the actual founding, then there's the dreck Marvel put out to compete in the early-mid 90s, then there's "Heroes Reborn"... This is where it really gets started, so might as well accept it.
Posted by: ChrisW | June 13, 2015 7:39 AM
The censored Macfarlane page was printed in Comics Interview #85.
The earliest previews of this book listed the Owl as the co-villain.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 14, 2015 10:57 AM
"The earliest previews of this book listed the Owl as the co-villain."
Are you sure you're not thinking of X-Factor?
Because if that's true, I'd love to hear if it was a mistake, or if Macfarlane actually was going to use the Owl, but had to substitute Calypso for some reason?
Posted by: mikrolik | July 11, 2015 12:26 PM
No, not X-Factor. Amazing Heroes, for example, specifically mentioned the Lizard and the Owl as co-villains here.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 11, 2015 4:44 PM
I can understand letting McFarlane have his own title to write. I can understand not giving him a co-plotter or scripter. I can even understand the marketing of this as a huge new Spider-Man #1. But, what I simply cannot fathom is how this was allowed out without even the slightest hint of actual editing. Okay, sure, someone fixed whatever typos McFarlane no doubt introduced into the script. But a real editor would have looked at it and said "You need to explain what's going on" and "you can't keep saying his webs (webline?!?) are advantageous". This is a total editorial failure, probably brought about by someone high up saying "give him this book to make him happy and let him do whatever he wants". And, hey, it sold, so what difference did it make?
On Walter's comment that this was sold as a sequel to Kraven's Last Hunt, that's just so, so sad. Especially since DeMatteis's actual sequels to Kraven's Last Hunt were barely promoted and have not been reprinted to this day, despite being the best thing to come out of the Spider-Man office in the 90s (yeah, low bar, I know),
Posted by: Darth Weevil | July 31, 2015 8:56 PM
Oh, ugh! I just got done reading the trade of this thing, and my take is: what utter junk! This is terrible enough that it actually lowers my opinion of MacFarlane (Fnord, I take it you're scanning from the original issues themselves, since the trade makes the unpleasant art look even WORSE.) It's seems to be common agreement that the writing is subpar (to say the least), but I was surprised at the contribution the drawings played in the arc's incomprehensibility. It was often X-TREMELY (cuz it's the 90s, see?) hard to figure out what was going on based as much on the bizarre art decisions MacFarlane made as much as anything else. For example his big splash pages would be interspersed with boxes feature close-ups of an eye or a fist sticking out somewhere in the ether or something like that.
Of course, BECAUSE the art is so unclear and unfocused, it leads to the other (and quite honestly underreported) bane of the comics industry in the 90s: The concept of relying on portentious overwrought narration to explain what's suppose to be reflected in the artwork. Art like THIS is a big contributor in the "Exposition Fairy" writing style that went into overdrive around this time.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | August 12, 2015 5:37 PM
This was a let down. I loved the black cover with the silver webs though ...hehe
Style over substance. Marvel of the 90's ...
Posted by: Grom | August 14, 2015 12:32 PM
Yeah, did any person at Marvel need the guiding hand of a Jim Shooter more than MacFarlane? And yes, I am not forgetting Liefeld as I write that.
This is the start of, "hey, that looks cool, but as soon as you think about it, you'll bang your head against a wall."
Posted by: Erik Beck | October 27, 2015 8:27 PM
Todd McFarlane: poster boy for aesthetic abomination and anti-intellectualism. I'd like to think his subsequent legal travails took the grin off his face.
Posted by: Oliver_C | April 12, 2016 3:18 PM
Damiano is sadly right about this becoming the norm for comic writing style. The worst part is definitely the 'self-contained' aspect. This is an ongoing title - sub-plots are an absolute necessity. I could sort of see how a book that's mostly the 'Spidey in action' parts could be worth adding to the line, but it would need setting up in the other books, making co-ordination with those much MORE important, not less.
Posted by: Dave77 | April 16, 2016 2:32 AM
LOL at this "ruining" the industry. Big deal, Todd made a bad comic. People bought it. Comics are still being made today. Honestly I prefer the fan that would be inclined to follow a creator vs one who is just into continuity porn.
Posted by: MindlessOne | June 11, 2017 8:48 PM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|