Friday, December 18, 2009

SPIDER-MAN #15 - October 1991

The Mutant Factor

Credits: Erik Larsen (artist/writer), Chris Eliopoulos (letterer), Gregory Wright (colors)

Summary: After discussing the possibility of having a child with Mary Jane, Spider-Man travels to ESU to speak with the Beast after a genetics lecture. Spider-Man and the Beast team up to stop a mutant terrorist and anti-mutant extremist at the college. Afterwards, Beast explains the various complications Spider-Man’s radioactive blood could cause during pregnancy. Their conversation is interrupted by another mutant’s rampage. Eventually, the mutant reverts back into a small boy when he sees his parents. Beast explains to the parents that a facility called the Nursery can help the boy. Spider-Man returns home, learning that Mary Jane is also unsure about having children. The couple decides to wait.

Continuity Notes: The mutant terrorist in this issue is a prototype for the Savage Dragon character Rapture. I don’t see a name for her here, but she later showed up during Larsen’s Wolverine run as Powerhouse. Peter and MJ’s conversation at the end of the issue about knowing when the time is right to have a child is somewhat amusing, given that MJ just showed up pregnant when it was convenient for the plot during the clone imbroglio.

Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Both Mary Jane and the Rapture-prototype are wearing thongs.

Creative Differences: The Bullpen Bulletins describes this issue as an “X-Men parody,” which isn’t accurate. I vaguely recall reading that this was supposed to be a humor issue, but have no idea how this specific story ended up here.

Panel Count: Eighty-two panels, which puts Larsen somewhere in-between McFarlane and Sal Buscema’s usual averages.

Where’s Felix?: No Felix, as this isn’t a McFarlane issue. Larsen used to hide Betty Boops, but I don’t see one.

Review: McFarlane’s one issue away from quitting, but this fill-in came about due to an injury he received while playing semi-professional baseball. Larsen took this issue as an opportunity to address the baby question, which hadn’t been raised in the titles since Spider-Man was married four years prior. It’s a nice starting place for a story, and Larsen manages to work the Beast in as a logical guest star and have the superhero action tie in with Spidey’s insecurities over having children. Back when everyone had the crazy idea that there should be a forward momentum in the Marvel Universe, you could have this type of question raised in a story and actually get some mileage out of it. Of course, it’s the kind of story you can’t do if you’re twisting Spider-Man into some sort of perpetual slacker screw-up; although Marvel’s current interpretation of the character is so bizarre, I wonder how long it’s going to be before they give him a pregnancy scare anyway.

Larsen had a reputation as a McFarlane knock-off artist in the early ‘90s, which wasn’t totally fair. He did follow some of the superficial details of McFarlane’s style, like the borders-around-panels gimmick and some other layout tricks, but his figure drawing didn’t resemble McFarlane’s. They’re both drawing a big-eyed, “spidery” version of Spider-Man, but Larsen’s interpretation is kind of an amalgam of Steve Ditko, Walt Simonson, and maybe a little Sal Buscema. His Spider-Man has some exaggerated anatomy, but his head isn’t three sizes too large for his body. Larsen can also draw Spidey, and the other characters, consistently from panel to panel, which often seemed like a struggle for McFarlane. Larsen always seemed like the strongest writer of the original Image creators, so I’m not surprised that this a little better than your average fill-in. Everyone’s in character, the story has a point, and there’s enough room for the action sequences. This is the best story in the series so far, and it didn’t even have to be stretched out over five issues.


Matt said...

Yay! I like Erik Larsen a lot more than McFarlane. Even as a 12-year old, I felt Larsen was far superior.

Any plans to keep reviewing this title through Larsen's run, once McFarlane is gone? I don't think it was very long.

Jeff said...

Yeah, I'd love to hear Glen's opinion of his Sinister Six story.

Anonymous said...

I always loved this issue as a kid. Larsen used speed lines like a manga and that really upped the excitement.

And I actually think Larsen is worlds ahead of his Image contemporaries in the writing department. He actually gave Spidey some funny quips.

Jeff said...

This is a little off topic, but one thing I kind of love about Marvel comics: Whenever Spider-man fights the X-Men he always seems to completely wipe the floor with them, no matter who is on the team. This is true in the comics and the cartoons. It's completely nonsensical. Since I love them both it's gotten to the point where I root for Spider-Man and he ALWAYS wins.

The Estate of Tim O'Neil said...

Well, I think the point USED to be - or at least, back as far as the first Secret Wars - the X-Men were underpowered underdogs who got by on luck and determination, and Spidey just outclassed them even if, say, Colossus was stronger or Storm was more powerful. Nowadays the X-Men are a super-powerful paramilitary strikeforce filled with grizzled combat vets who are psychically linked for optimum teamwork, so the dynamic isn't the same. Quite boring, actually.

wwk5d said...

Underpowered underdogs getting by on luck and determination is one thing, if you are going up against the Avengers or a team of that level. It another thing when the whole team is getting clobbered by Spiderman (!) or the Wasp (!!) Frankly, it make the X-men look sad, not interesting, and I'm glad they've been toughened up a little.

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