Wednesday, October 7, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #11 - February 1997

Tower of Despair
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Yancey Labat (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Paul Becton w/World Color (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  The Vanisher’s attempt to send the X-Men back to Earth doesn’t go as planned, with Cyclops and Gambit arriving in New York but Storm and Jean Grey materializing in a Florida swamp.  Inside the swamp, the duo discovers Man-Thing, a creature with a strange affinity for Jean Grey.  Going into town, they encounter the charismatic Godfrey Silverton, who leads the townspeople to a tower where he claims their dreams will be fulfilled.  Silverton then reveals himself as D’Spayre, and Jean quickly realizes that the tower is connected to the Nexus of Realities.  Storm destroys the tower while Jean faces D’Spayre in the Astral Plane.  Jean discovers he’s working for the Dweller in Darkness, and with Man-Thing’s help, forces D’Spayre to retreat.  At the mansion, Lilandra contacts Xavier, revealing that the M’Kraan Crystal is unstable and getting worse following the battle at the Nexus of Realities.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Man-Thing and D’Spayre debut in the Adventures continuity.
  • The Dweller in Darkness was last mentioned in Adventures of the X-Men #4.
  • Man-Thing subconsciously passes along a secret to Jean that she feels is “the most important thing” she’ll ever remember.

Miscellaneous Note:  This issue and the next feature an episode guide of the animated series, written by Andy Mangels.

“Um, Actually…”:  The script leaves the “All” out of “Nexus of All Realities.”  Also, the story claims at one point that the tower actually is the Nexus, which doesn’t sound right.

Review:  Adventures of the X-Men is one issue away from cancellation, and it looks as if Ralph Macchio is tying together various stories from previous issues and going for a cosmic sendoff.  Even though the word “Adventures” became synonymous with “done-in-one, continuity-free” storytelling in the ‘90s, an accurate adaptation of the X-Men animated series actually would feature continued storylines, so I’m okay with Macchio going in this direction for the final issues.  Yancey Labat returns as artist, in this title that has yet to find anyone willing to stick around for more than a few issues.  Unlike the previous pencilers, there’s no pretense that Labat is drawing in the conventional “Adventures” style, which means his work looks like almost any other comic Marvel published circa 1996.  On a few pages he manages to channel early Terry Dodson fairly well, but much of the issue is plagued by disappearing backgrounds and cluttered storytelling.

I guess even the Adventures books couldn’t avoid Marvel’s Bronze Age Revival in the mid-‘90s, which is the only justification I can come up with for dedicating this issue to the Man-Thing, D’Spayre, and the Nexus of (All) Realities.  I’m not carrying any ‘70s nostalgia into this comic with me, so much like the revivals of Shang-Chi and the Micronauts, I just kind of shrug my shoulders and move on.  There’s nothing terrible about the script, aside from a few lines of clunky dialogue, but it’s hard to find a reason to care about Storm and Jean getting dropped into a tame recreation of an old Steve Gerber comic.  The prospect of the Nexus of Realities having an impact on the M’Kraan Crystal actually isn’t a bad idea, however, so maybe there will be a smooth transition into next issue’s finale.

Monday, October 5, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #10 - January 1997

Media Darlings
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Yancey Labat (penciler), Ralph Cabera (inks), Paul Becton w/Graphic Colorworks (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Storm films a pilot episode for Mojo, but the filming is interrupted by aspiring screenwriter Vroot.  Meanwhile, the Vanisher teleports the X-Men to the Mojoverse.  They quickly encounter Longshot, who is leading a rebellion against Mojo.  With his help, the Vanisher discovers Storm’s location.  The X-Men free her from Mojo’s guards and soon confront Mojo, who’s building a tower to reach Earth’s satellite transmissions.  Mojo’s device doesn’t work, thanks to Vroot, who’s been secretly working with the rebellion.  His plan is foiled, but Mojo demands Storm honor her contract.  The Vanisher volunteers to take her place; he needs to hide from Sebastian Shaw, and he’s always wanted to be an actor anyway.  Mojo agrees and Vanisher sends the X-Men home.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Cyclops’ headgear is drawn incorrectly the entire issue.  The area above his visor shouldn’t be covered.
  • In this continuity, the Vanisher is a former employee of Sebastian Shaw’s.  His motivation for double-crossing him last issue is clarified, somewhat, in the second chapter.  Vanisher claims that he wants payback for undisclosed things Shaw did to him while under his employ.

I Love the ‘90s:  Vroot’s pitch to Mojo for a new series: “We start off with a young twenty-ish C.E.O. -- already we nailed the Generation Xers!  He’s a shallow little cretin who says ‘way cool’ ‘til even his mother wants to strangle him!  Now we caught the Grunge audience -- and the seniors!”

Huh? Moment:  Not only do Longshot’s luck powers enable him to automatically know where Storm’s being held captive, but simply holding hands with the Vanisher enables him to subconsciously pass the information along.

Review:  Well, the Mojo scenes aren’t funny and the TV parodies are tedious and years out-of-date.  I’m stunned.  I will say that Macchio has a better handle on Storm than I would’ve guessed, with only a few ridiculous lines that no human would ever speak (“I despise what I have been forced to become!”)  And thankfully, Macchio seems to be tired of media parodies by the time the X-Men arrive, so the second half of the issue is a fairly standard rescue mission and not a play on Bewitched or something.  Even the obnoxious Vroot is given some justification for existing in the final act, although it’s hard to excuse how much of a nuisance he’s been so far.  

Probably the most painful moment of the issue is when Longshot is thrown into the plot, since there’s apparently some law that says he must appear in every Mojo story.  Macchio demonstrates yet again that he’s a little fuzzy on how these X-Men’s powers work, so the reader is left with a torturous scene that has Longshot suddenly developing telepathic abilities.  You know who does have telepathic powers and is standing right next to Longshot?  Her name is Jean Grey and she has absolutely nothing to do in this story, so perhaps this moment should’ve gone to her.  Just a suggestion.  Still, it’s not a terrible issue, and I have to give Macchio credit for using the Vanisher creatively throughout the storyline.  Considering how badly a Mojoverse story can go off the rails, this is surprisingly tolerable.

Friday, October 2, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #9 - December 1996

Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Derec Aucoin (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Paul Becton (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Jubilee and Storm take Gambit shopping in a futile attempt to cheer him up.  At an electronics store, Spiral suddenly materializes.  She kidnaps Storm, leaving Jubilee and Gambit behind.  In the Mojoverse, Mojo explains to Storm that she tested higher than the other X-Men during their first visit.  Storm signs a one-year contract to star in her own series, thinking that this will give her an opportunity to find an escape path.  Meanwhile the Vanisher, under the Hellfire Clubs employ, steals blueprints for a new model of Sentinel developed by the government.  Vanisher double-crosses Sebastian Shaw by planting evidence inside the Pentagon implicating the Hellfire Club.  Shaw retaliates by having his new employee, Bolivar Trask, activate his newest Sentinel model, ordering it to kill the Vanisher.  The Vanisher teleports away, materializing at the X-Men’s mansion.  The Sentinel follows but is defeated by the team.  As a show of gratitude, Vanisher agrees to teleport the team to the Mojoverse.

Continuity Notes:  
  • The X-Men appearing this issue are Xavier, Storm, Cyclops, Jean Grey, and Gambit.
  • The Vanisher has never appeared in Adventures continuity before.  
  • The Hellfire Club is actually called by name, as opposed to the “Circle Club” of the animated series.
  • Mojo’s homeworld is referred to as Mojoverse and Mojo World interchangeably.

Review:  Pretty much anything would’ve been an improvement over the previous issue, although I have to say this is actually entertaining in its own right.  Derec Aucoin’s art is fairly bland at this stage, but it’s a bit of a relief to have one issue without deformed interpretations of the cast, and in fairness to him, he’s asked to pack a lot into this issue.  I like the prospect of taking characters from various corners of a universe and tossing them together, since at the very least it breaks up the tedium of the same villains reappearing with the same schemes.  This story could easily be a mess, but so far Macchio has managed to fit the Vanisher, the Sentinels, Mojo, and Sebastian Shaw into the same story without falling on his face.  There are moments that don’t quite stand up to scrutiny, such as the Vanisher’s convenient (and unexplained) knowledge of Xavier and the X-Men’s secret mansion, but they’re not egregious enough to kill the story’s momentum.  Predictably, the weakest element of the issue involves Mojo, who remains not-particularly-funny, and the less said about his obnoxious screenwriter Vroot the better.  (Was this an in-joke gone wrong?)  Unfortunately, the next chapter is the one that seems to be Mojo-specific, which isn’t giving me a lot of hope for the story arc’s finale.  Still, this chapter shows that Adventures can occasionally surprise you, and even present issues that aren’t a minimum forty percent exposition.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #8 - November 1996

My Brother’s Keeper
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Andy Kuhn (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Paul Becton (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  Gambit receives word that his brother Bobby is engaged to Bella Donna.  He travels to New Orleans to talk Bobby out of the marriage.  Bobby refuses, claiming that he’ll be the one to unite the Thieves and Assassins Guilds.  He quickly changes his mind, however, which leads Bella Donna to send the Assassin Beau after Bobby.  Beau throws a blade into Bobby’s back while he’s outside talking to Gambit.  Gambit chases Beau and eventually forces him to reveal Bella Donna’s plot: Bella Donna arranged the marriage to gain access to the Thieves Guild’s immortality elixir vials.  Gambit sneaks into Bella Donna’s home and destroys the vials.  Later, at Bobby’s graveside, he says goodbye.

Continuity Notes:  This is a direct sequel to the nineteenth episode of the animated series, “X-Ternally Yours.”  The footnotes claim this episode was adapted in X-Men Adventures #6, presumably the second volume.

“Um, Actually…:  Amazingly, the opening page gets the name of the X-Men’s school wrong.  There’s no such school as “The Xavier Academy for Gifted Youngsters.”  The cartoon went with the classic “Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters,” while the comics at the time had updated the name to “The Xavier Institute for Higher Learning.”  

Approved By The Comics Code Authority:  Gambit is allowed to smoke in the Adventures comics, unlike the cartoons.  Bobby also has a more graphic death scene than the show would ever allow, even though the comic does have him bleed white blood as opposed to red.

Miscellaneous Note:  The Statement of Ownership lists average sales for the year at 66,165 copies, with the most recent selling 58,945.

Review:  Oh, wow.  This is a rough one.  The Thieves Guild.  The Assassins Guild.  Ridiculous phonetic accents.  (“Gotta tell you, brot’er, you was makin’ me proud back dere!”)  That’s already asking a lot of the reader, but even if someone has the goodwill to ignore these elements, there’s no real reward.  Unless you’re just absolutely desperate for a Gambit solo story, it’s hard to decipher what the appeal of this issue is supposed to be.  

For some reason, the cartoon’s shrill, irritating interpretation of Bella Donna returns, which means she’s a one-dimensional harpy who can’t conceive of a villainous plot that doesn’t involve marriage.  This time she’s selected Gambit’s brother Bobby as her husband, a role he stupidly agrees to even after she kidnapped him and held him hostage as a part of her previous marriage scheme.  For the sake of plot convenience, it takes a one-page conversation with Gambit to convince him that this is an idiotic idea, but unfortunately for Bobby, he’s deemed expendable enough to die in the cartoon tie-in book.  That’s pretty much the height of obscurity, Bobby.  

Gambit spends the rest of the issue hunting down his brother’s killer, spouting unconvincing action movie revenge clichés that sound even more laughable through his “dis an’ dat” accent.  He then exacts vengeance on Bella Donna, which just means he spends a few panels destroying her precious elixirs.  (As someone who’s endured far too many Guild stories, I don’t even remember if the Thieves Guild was the side with immortality elixirs in the first place.)  There’s also an underdeveloped plot involving the Thieves Guild blaming Gambit for Bobby’s murder, a thread that goes nowhere and is resolved off-panel.  

This is as bad as you’d probably expect an Adventures issue to be.  I can’t even throw much of a bone towards Andy Kuhn, since his interpretation of Gambit often resembles a frog wearing Johnny Depp’s wig.  “X-Ternally Yours” set an incredibly low bar to clear, but amazingly, this issue might be even worse than its predecessor.

Monday, September 28, 2015

ADVENTURES OF THE X-MEN #7 - October 1996

Rites of Passage
Credits:  Ralph Macchio (writer), Andy Kuhn (penciler), Ralph Cabrera (inks), Matt Webb (colors), Michael Higgins (letters)

Summary:  While the X-Men return from Russia, Jubilee is left alone with Xavier at the mansion.  Sabretooth, who has emerged from the depths of a pit in the arctic, sneaks into the mansion.  He knocks Xavier unconscious, forcing Jubilee to face him alone.  She fights Sabretooth to a standstill until he eventually gains the upper hand.  Fortunately, Xavier enters in time to hit Sabretooth with a mental blast, enabling Jubilee to push him into the War Room’s exposed wiring.  The X-Men return home to discover a captive Sabretooth.  Jubilee declares that she’s now officially an X-Man.

Continuity Notes:  This issue is a direct follow-up to Sabretooth’s appearances in the first season.  Sabretooth knows the mansion’s location and its layout after staying there in episodes three and four.  His escape from the arctic in the opening pages is a reference to the end of his fight with Wolverine in episode six.  In the animated series, Sabretooth’s next chronological appearance is in either “Bloodlines” or “Weapon X, Lies, and Videotape,” depending on which episode order you follow.

“Huh?” Moments:  Sabretooth claims that because he’s been to the mansion before, he knows how to block Xavier’s mental scans.  This is utter nonsense.  Xavier is also adamant that Jubilee carry a mini-communicator with her while searching the mansion, which is completely pointless since in every incarnation of the character, from his first appearance, Xavier has been able to stay in mental contact with his students.

Review:  Well, I asked for an Andy Kuhn issue and I actually got one.  His interiors aren’t nearly as strong as his covers, which is a disappointment, but he’s still a marked improvement over what we’ve been getting in this series so far.  Kuhn’s work at this point is a strange combination of Bruce Timm and some of Bret Blevins’ more outré art in New Mutants, which of course means it looks nothing like the X-Men cartoon, but it fits the style Marvel’s chosen for this book.  Some people will absolutely hate it, and admittedly it is pretty rough in places, but there are a few scenes that show real potential.  When Kuhn isn’t totally distorting the cast, there’s a genuine charm to his cartooning.  In places, Jubilee is a cute caricature of a teenage girl and Sabretooth is a menacing beast.  Xavier never looks right, however, either grimacing, squinting, or grinning the creepiest smile in history.

Even more annoying than the occasionally off-model art is the story.  Like most of the previous issues, the basic idea is fine, but the execution is hindered by blindingly obvious mistakes.  If Ralph Macchio doesn’t even know how Xavier’s powers work, I think it’s justifiable for the audience to question just how much he knows about the X-Men in the first place.  In addition to getting the powers wrong, Macchio often seems to have only a vague understanding of who the characters are supposed to be.  Yes, Jubilee is a teenage valley girl, and she was fairly annoying in the cartoon, but when did she ever say “like” every three seconds?  (And why is she thinking the placeholder word “like” in her thoughts?)  I’m not going to pretend that “like” has never shown up in her dialogue, but just throwing that in there (repeatedly) and pretending that you’ve somehow established a personality for her is absurd.  

It’s a shame, because this had the potential to be a solid issue.  The premise springs straight from the show’s canon, the cast is kept small and manageable, and there is a clear arc for Jubilee to complete before the story’s over.  Even though the censors would tone down much of this material (Jubilee spits in Sabretooth’s face after he orders her repeatedly to beg for her life), it’s not hard to imagine this plot serving as a springboard for an episode of the cartoon.  There are moments this issue that evoke what a quality Adventures book for the X-canon might be like, making the screw-ups even more frustrating.

Friday, September 25, 2015

This Post Will Not Be Followed With a New #1

It wouldnt be accurate to say that the post-clone titles bombed.  I think “languished” would be a better term.  Most of the books were decent sellers, but Spider-Man still wasn’t competing with the X-titles, and there didn’t seem to be much enthusiasm from the fans.  What worked and what didn’t?

The Art
All of the artists assigned to the books in late 1996 would seem to be commercial draws.  Steve Skroce and Luke Ross were coming from the X-titles (okay, they did X-Man, but thats still an X-title), Mike Wieringo had done some fill-ins for the X-titles and had built a name for himself at DC, and John Romita, Jr. was a Marvel legend with lengthy stints on Amazing Spider-Man, Uncanny X-Men, Iron Man, and Daredevil in the past.  Cracks develop early on however, with Skroce dropping out of Amazing a few issues in and Ross cartoony style not meshing with DeMatteis psychologically dark stories in Spectacular.  In addition, Wieringo seems to struggle to find a style that fit Spidey for a while there, and Romita’ title is given some extremely disappointing fill-in artists.  On any given month, the average quality of art in the Spider-Man books could only charitably be called inconsistent.  It’s a shame that the most consistent writer wasn’t paired with the most consistent artist -- why didnt Ralph Macchio pair DeMatteis/Romita together on Amazing Spider-Man?

The Villains
The Clone Saga concluded with the “shocking” reveal that the original Green Goblin, Norman Osborn, had been behind the entire fiasco.  And even though Norman apparently died yet again in the closing chapter, there was no doubt that he would be returning soon.  Marvel actually showed some restraint and waited a year before giving Norman his big comeback in Spectacular Spider-Man #250.  There is a sense that the creators were often spinning their wheels while waiting for Norman’s return.  Dr. Octopus was revived, Electro got a power-up, and the Chameleon fought off insanity long enough to learn Spider-Man’s secret ID, but none of those storylines were sold as Big Important Events.  It’s obvious that Marvel considered the original Green Goblin to be the villain with the most marketing potential, and to be fair, his return issue in Spectacular is executed very well.  

Within a few months, however, it’s clear that the creators have no real interest in doing Norman Osborn stories, or at the very least, can’t think of anything worthwhile for him to do.  He buys the Daily Bugle, threatens some cast members, and tries to sell “m’boy” as a catchphrase, but he doesn’t seem to do an awful lot.  The creators even seem reluctant to have him don the Goblin disguise again, leading to an utterly pointless mystery surrounding the new Green Goblin.  (I thought we were supposed to be psyched to see the original Green Goblin!)  The books have an awful lot invested in Norman’s return, and when that eventually flops, the dearth of credible villains becomes even more obvious.  Even when one of Spider-Man’s foes actually accomplishes something, like in the Chameleon story mentioned above, the story just exists in the vacuum of one title.  Spider-Man never seems particularly concerned in his other titles about this villainous loon learning his secret identity, and within a few issues, it’s even forgotten in Spectacular Spider-Man itself.

The Supporting Cast  
Everyone knows Spider-Man has the greatest supporting cast in comics, right?  So why is it that this two-year period brings us only one memorable storyline featuring a supporting cast member?  Inserting Flash Thompson into an alcoholism storyline probably isn’t the greatest use of Flash, but J. M. DeMatteis does generate a lot of credible character work out of the idea.  Yet, if you followed any of the other titles, you wouldn’t even see an acknowledgement of the ongoing storyline starring Peter’s oldest friend/rival.  Instead, each book seems to claim a supporting cast member or two and keep exclusive focus on those individual stories.  

Allowing every creator to follow the character of his choosing might seem like a nice way for each writer to put his unique mark on each title, but in practice, it’s a mess.  Peter Parker’s interest in the lives of Robbie Robertson, Flash Thompson, and Billy Walters seems sporadic at best.  And most of these character subplots are absolute duds.  Robbie’s conflict boils down to his wife nagging him into retirement…a misguided concept that drags on for months.  And the rich, new supporting cast members that the Empire State University setting was supposed to bring us -- do the names Shantal Wilsk and Marina Caches ring a bell?  No, of course they don’t, because they’re ciphers that no one ever developed into believable personalities.  

Speaking of ciphers, the issue of the Stacy family has to be addressed.  Added to the titles at the urging of editor-in-chief Bob Harras, but with apparently no guidance on what to actually do with the characters, the Stacys languished in the background for a few months and predictably contributed nothing.  Eventually, it’s simply declared that Jill Stacy is MJ’s best friend, although no creator seems willing to explain how exactly one explores a friendship with a piece of cardboard.  Paul Stacy is allegedly Peter’s academic rival, a role that serves no real point since none of the writers are invested at all in Peter’s college life.  And Arthur Stacy makes a few empty threats to investigate Spider-Man, a plot that’s referenced in a surprisingly great issue of Unlimited, and then pretty much disappears.  Marvel promised a revived focus on the supporting cast upon Peter Parker’s return, and this is what it delivered.

The Marriage
I’m not interested in debating whether or not Peter and MJ should be married.  Everyone has his or her opinion on this and it’s hard to see anyone budging by now. However, Peter and MJ are married at this point in the titles, and since Marvel has no nerve to separate or divorce the couple, then the stories should contain a genuine focus on the dynamics of their relationship.  And almost none of them do.  J. M. DeMatteis steps up once again and puts in a real effort, while Todd Dezago’s stories in Sensational occasionally hint at the fun, sexy side of their marriage.  To the other creators, the marriage seems to be a subject to be avoided at all costs, or an excuse for Spider-Man to endure another lecture from his unsympathetic wife.  More annoyingly, MJ’s personality shift seems to happen overnight with no real justification within the stories.  

The Status Quo
This era of Spider-Man begins with Peter and MJ returning to New York.  The baby, as far as they know, was stillborn.  Aunt May is dead.  They can’t afford a place in Manhattan so they live in Aunt May’s old home with MJ’s Aunt Anna.  Peter returns to work at the Daily Bugle.  Both Peter and MJ enroll at ESU and try to start their life as a couple over again.  There’s clearly an effort to go back to a situation that the readers are familiar with, while not outright pressing the reset button.  The lost baby is always a thorny issue, but there is the occasional scene that manages to broach the subject in a tasteful and poignant way.  Aunt Anna initially comes across like a replacement Aunt May in this situation, and never seems to outgrow the role.  (Anna’s considered such a nuisance by the writers that she goes several months at a time without even making an appearance.)  

Having Peter and MJ move back into Aunt May’s old place is an idea I’ve always liked, and it’s a shame that more isn’t done with the Forest Hills neighborhood.  The new neighbors introduced in Sensational seemed to have some potential as recurring characters, although we’ll never know what might’ve been.  The return to ESU always comes across as something Bob Harras thought was a great idea, but none of the people working day-to-day on the books had the slightest interest in.  There is the occasional “Chaos on Campus!” plot, but for the most part, the college is a background element that adds nothing to the stories.  The idea that MJ is suddenly desperate to study psychology also comes across as arbitrary.  The Daily Bugle makes a welcome return, although it’s hard to think of any particularly great stories that use the setting.  Jonah Jameson has his moments in Spectacular Spider-Man, but the grand mystery involving him and Mad Jack fizzles out in a, well, spectacular fashion.  

In retrospect, this setup should’ve produced several memorable stories.  The only elements that don’t fit into the “classic Spidey” mold are holdovers from the clone days that would’ve eventually faded away.  At some point, the status of Peter and MJ’s baby would have to receive a definitive answer, and someone needs to find a unique role for Aunt Anna; outside of those issues, there’s no obvious reason why this status quo shouldn’t work…unless you’re absolutely adamant that a) Aunt May shouldn’t be dead and b) Peter shouldn’t be married.

The End of Spider-Man (?)
From 1996 to 1998, the post-clone era usually remained under the radar.  As I mentioned earlier, not bad sellers, but certainly not great ones, either.  Perhaps the die was cast when Wizard (still rather powerful within the industry in the mid-90s) printed an article in late 1997 detailing the ennui that surrounded the Spider-Man titles.  In another piece from this era, Wizard stated its belief that Aunt May shouldn’t have been the one to die in Amazing #400…it should’ve been MJ!  Yes, that pesky marriage is the problem, along with a series of issues the magazine claimed were holding the titles back.  Wizard’s solution seemed to boil down to “go back to the Roger Stern days.”  Marvel was thinking retro, but not in the way Wizard probably expected.  (You can read the article on the "What Would Spidey Do?" blog. It's typical of Wizard’s writing of this era -- arrogant and ignorant simultaneously. I have a hard time making it through the piece, even though I agree with many of their points.)

Marvel tried to revive interest in the titles with two connected crossovers, “Spiderhunt” and “Identity Crisis,” but before the second crossover was even finished, the big announcement had been made.  The Spider-Man line was getting relaunched with a series of new #1s.  John Byrne was coming over from DC to reboot Spider-Man’s first year with Twice Told Tales (later renamed Chapter One), and Howard Mackie would be the sole present-day continuity Spider-Man writer.  The reboot/relaunch turned out to be a critical flop, and after an initial sales bump, the Spider-Man titles were no better off than before.  

The Chapter One/Next Chapter era was so hated for so long that memories of the preceding era seemed to fade away.  In most fans’ minds, Spider-Man goes from Clone Saga to reboot to J. Michael Straczynski, with no gap in-between.  There is an era nestled in there, though.  I wouldn’t argue that it’s best forgotten -- there are numerous stories in there that are true to the character and worth any fan’s time -- but perhaps it is easily overlooked.  Let’s face it, the titles rarely interacted with one another, there seemed to be no overall direction for the line, and no title seemed to generate a momentum that could last for more than a few issues.  It’s hard to name one element that defines this era, and even though individual story arcs can be singled out for praise, overall the Spider-line was so unfocused and aimless that it feels as if there’s nothing to hold on to.  It’s a quirky, brief blip in the character’s overall history, doomed to obscurity.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Does the Post-Clone Era Even Have a Name?

I’m not quite sure what Marvel expected to happen when Peter Parker returned to the Spider-Man books in the fall of 1996.  Yes, it’s easy to make the case that the majority of fans wanted the Clone Saga over and Peter reinstated as Spider-Man (even though Ben Reilly turned out to have a more dedicated fanbase than anyone could’ve predicted), but Marvel’s approach to the return seemed strangely low-key.  There wasn’t a new title with a fresh #1 issue.  No multi-title crossover to herald his first month back.  No cover gimmicks.  No variant covers that I’m aware of.  Heck, the creative teams even stayed basically the same.  The only new addition was J. M. DeMatteis on Spectacular Spider-Man, and by “new” I mean “back after a year away.”  Marvel’s assumption seemed to be that by simply giving the fans what they claimed to want, all eyes would return to Spider-Man and things would work out okay.  

Looking back, I wonder now if Marvel was reluctant to give the Spider-Man titles a large marketing push so soon after the launch of the “Heroes Reborn” books.   Perhaps someone thought that pushing a new Spidey #1 just a month or so after Avengers, Fantastic Four, Iron Man, and Captain America received new #1s would’ve been too much for the market to bear.  That doesn’t really sound like Marvel, though, does it?  Also, “Heroes Reborn” was famously hated within the halls of Marvel’s offices (due to the titles being farmed out to Image creators), so it’s hard to imagine Marvel making a conscious effort to downplay one of their brightest properties in order to appease creators that were still viewed as the competition.  Honestly, I think it’s entirely possible that Marvel believed that a quick sweep under the rug of any clone silliness was all the books really need at the time.

So, by late 1996, the Spider-Man line consisted of Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Peter Parker: Spider-Man, Sensational Spider-Man, Spider-Man Unlimited, Spider-Man Team-Up, and one title set in the past, Untold Tales of Spider-Man.  In addition to this rather lengthy list, Marvel also published a monthly series of Venom miniseries, and numerous one-shots featuring Spider-Man.  The only real marketing push I can remember for the post-clone titles were a few blurbs in the Bullpen Bulletins, boasting that the titles would have more of a “classic” feel, with Peter and MJ returning to college and new supporting cast members like the Stacy family possibly creating some fresh conflicts.

Did it work?  I’ll continue the retrospective in my next post, concluding my Spider-Man review series (which stretches all the way back to, geez, 1985!)