Collecting: Spider-Man #1-5
Original Release Date: 1990 (collected edition released 2011)
Characters: Spider-Man, Mary Jane Watson, Calypso, The Lizard, Kraven The Hunter
Writer/Artist: Todd McFarlaneStoryLine – 6 Art – 10 Captivity and Length – 7 Identity – 7 Use of Medium – 10 Depth – 8 Fluidity – 6 Intrigue/Originality – 9 The Little Things – 8 Overall awesomeness – 9
On the eve of the early premier to Columbia Pictures sequel to The Amazing Spider-Man, I ventured out to my garage to uncover my collection of Spider-Man arcs from over the years. Sidebar; It is important to recognize for the sake of this review that Spider-Man was my first nerdy obsession. I came to comics in purist tradition. There was no multi-billion dollar studio backing a franchise of movies or chain of retail stores carpet bagging 80’s cartoon T-shirts for the neo-nerds to wear as ironic or trendy. There were no celebrities gushing over their love of all things Marvel in hopes of landing the next big role. Web-heads like me had NBC’s Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends on Saturday mornings, and that’s about it.
Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man saved my life. 1988 was a hard year for my family. My mother decided to move from New York City half way around the country to Denver to be closer to my grandparents. Nothing could have been more crushing to me at the time. All I knew was New York; other cities didn’t even exist to me. There are only two truths that keep me half-way sane: the Yankees are the greatest sports team ever assembled and Spider-Man is the best super hero in all of comics.
Parker is a New Yorker without both of his parents. He is nerdy and unsure of himself. Spider-Man reminded me of home. Without Spider-Man, I may not have fallen in love with comic books.
When McFarlane announced that he was leaving The Amazing Spider-Man, my heart sunk. The man who gave us spaghetti-webbing was leaving; who could possibly replace him? It was soon released that McFarlane would launch a new Spidey book simply titled Spider-Man. Not only would Todd pencil the book, but he would write its stories too. This was a dream come true! The man who gave us Venom would be responsible for creating new villains and plots in the Marvel universe! His first attempt launched in 1990 was the five part mini-series, Torment.
The first issue gave us an iconic cover. The Wall-Crawler, hunched over, over-exaggerated eyes, twisted arm, nestled safely in his web was here! Spider-Man sold 2.5 million copies initially. It’s variant covers helped push the title into uncharted territory in sales.
And to top it off, in the top right hand corner of the issue, McFarlane dubbed the series, The Legend of The ArachKnight. This was an obvious dig at DC Comics and the tidal-wave success of Tim Burton’s blockbuster film, Batman. There were more subtle jabs towards the Bat in the first few pages and web-heads went nuts! The success of Batman was overwhelming, there seemed to be no stopping the media blitz and little if no space was left for any other heroes. Quite frankly, it was hard to identify with a billionaire playboy who played cops and robbers in some fictitious town, but Peter Parker was from Queens, and he could never quite get over the hump. His character was much more relatable to me.
Despite Torment‘s initial popularity, McFarlane faced wide-spread criticism from fan-boys, peers and even his last Marvel editor Danny Fingeroth. His initial editor, Jim Salicrup, offered Todd the shot to author and pencil his own title. The book was a huge cash cow for Marvel but Todd seemed to face opposition at every turn. He had already weathered the storm of critics who claimed that he couldn’t draw anatomically correct figures. Instead of changing his style and falling victim to self doubt, he drew even crazier. He twisted bodies in ways they shouldn’t have been able to, he gave us MORE spaghetti-webbing and made Spider-Man his way. He would, “Rise above it all.” With that being said, Torment isn’t Shakespeare, and it didn’t have to be. McFarlane used the Torment series to push HIS brand of art. And even though the company tried to tame his style, they encouraged their next generation of artists, including Amazing Spider-Man successor, Erik Larsen, to draw Spidey the same way because that’s what sold comics.
“The City. New York. Littered with towering concrete giants that seem to swallow up the sky.” Torment is simple – the Lizard is out of control in New York. He is under the control of the dark voodoo priestess Calypso, and on a vicious killing spree. The sensually drawn Calypso has revenge in her dark soul. Her wish? To kill Spider-Man and resurrect Kraven The Hunter. Spidey nearly loses his life in this bloody battle. Any true McFarlane fan will tell you that you don’t need much more than that.
Critics argued that McFarlane never learned how to establish tone in his writing, but if the artwork does it for you, imagination should take care of the rest. The panels are elegantly illustrated. The backdrop of New York is gritty and terrifying. The flow of the first five books may seem a bit sloppy, but the Spider-Man he depicted was a stretch from our friendly neighborhood hero. He is placed in a mysterious plot for no reason – other than torment – and we, the reader, get to enjoy a fresh perspective from one of the most successful comic book artists of all time.