Friday, November 27, 2009

SPIDER-MAN #4 - November 1990

Torment - Part Four

Credits: Todd McFarlane (artist/writer/colorist), Rick Parker (letterer)

Summary: Spider-Man flashes back to the day Kraven the Hunter buried him alive. During a break in his hallucinations he learns that the mystery woman, not Kraven, is standing in front of him. She takes him to her hideout. Spider-Man finally breaks free of his bonds and fights the Lizard once more. They accidentally knock over a firepot, which causes fire to reach a ruptured gas line. The building explodes.

Continuity Notes: The story doesn’t identify her by name, but we see enough of the mystery woman to learn that she is Calypso. Calypso is an obscure character from Denny O’Neil’s brief run who was once Kraven’s lover. She has a flashback to her origin this issue, revealing that she killed her sister in her quest to become a witch. And, just to nitpick, I’ll point out that the narrative caption claims that the Lizard reappeared twenty-four hours ago, yet his murders have appeared on two different Daily Bugle covers since then.

The next issue reveals that Calypso's now-destroyed hideout is Kraven's home. It can't be the same home we saw in "Kraven's Last Hunt" since Spider-Man returned to it during 1994's "Pursuit" crossover, and in a later Spectacular Spider-Man storyline by J. M. DeMatteis.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: We have a few more tasteful shots of hole-in-his-head Kraven.

Panel Count: Ninety-four panels this issue. The main story is interrupted by Spider-Man’s flashback to his burial, and Calypso’s flashback to her past.

Where’s Felix? : I don’t see Felix in this issue, but there is a bottle of “Cat Beer” in the debris Spider-Man’s buried under during the opening pages. Maybe Felix was removed by Marvel's lawyers.

Review: And now it becomes obvious -- this storyline is a quasi-sequel to “Kraven’s Last Hunt.” It’s not a shock that McFarlane would be attracted to one of the darkest Spider-Man comics ever published; plus it was written in the “artistic" style that McFarlane seems to enjoy so much. If McFarlane’s goal all along was to mirror the somber narrative style of KLH, then perhaps it’s not totally fair to dismiss his writing in this arc as pretentious. Of course, J. M. DeMatteis is generally regarded as a talented writer, and McFarlane was widely viewed as someone who didn’t deserve the job he’d been given. If you’re fully prepared to write off McFarlane as an amateur, seeing him go on a DeMatteis riff is probably enough to make you laugh out loud.

The subtitle to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” is “Fearful Symmetry,” which is also the name of the Watchmen issue that perfectly parallels itself. Perhaps McFarlane was influenced by both when structuring this arc, although it still reads as if he’s leaning towards Alan Moore. Another transition scene is introduced this issue, as the beats of the music in the nightclub Mary Jane visits now mirror the “DOOM DOOM DOOM” beat in Calypso’s lair. I’ve noticed for the first time that another theme also repeats itself, the origin flashback. The three middle chapters of the story all have origin flashbacks (Calypso’s origin story is even presented in a nine-panel Watchmen style grid), which might’ve been a deliberate part of McFarlane’s structure. The opening pages of each issue also have the same page layout, a five-panel opening page with long, skinny panels, followed by a giant double-page splash. McFarlane also uses long, skinny panels throughout the first three chapters of the story, usually to parallel dropping water, blood, and whatever it is Calypso is using in her witchcraft. They start to disappear in this issue, as Spidey meets Calypso for the first time in the story (which may or may not have been intentional). This type of repetition I don’t mind, and it creates the effect McFarlane’s going for more effectively than repeating “Rise Above It All!” in every issue.

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