Credits: Todd McFarlane (artist/writer), Rick Parker (letterer), Gregory Wright (colors)
Summary: A reporter, Anna Brooks, accidentally crashes into Wendigo on a road in rural Canada. Wendigo flees, leaving behind the body of a murdered boy. A media circus begins, leading the Daily Bugle to send Peter Parker and reporter Melvin Gooner to investigate. The hysteria swells when the body of a second boy is found. Hunters begin killing numerous animals, hoping to execute the child-killing beast. Wolverine arrives, stopping a group of misguided hunters.
Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Well, there are shots of a naked, decomposing DEAD KID.
Panel Count: Seventy-eight panels this issue. Another “less-than-four-per-page” average.
Where’s Felix? : Melvin, the goofy reporter Peter is paired with, reads a Felix comic on the airplane.
I Love the ‘90s: Peter is glad MJ is taping The Simpsons and Twin Peaks while he’s in Canada.
Review: In case the previous storyline didn’t give you your dose of terrible things done to children, we now have an arc dedicated to dead boys. Letting a novice writer deal with this material is a dangerous proposition, but this specific issue doesn't feel too trashy, and it raises (perhaps inadvertently) a legitimate question. Should this type of material be in a Spider-Man story? Is any Spidey story with dead kids automatically a bad Spidey story? McFarlane’s defense when called out on this in a later letter column is that this is the fourth Spider-Man book, and the dark approach is what sets it apart from the other titles. It’s an odd selling point (“this is the Spidey book with superhero adventures, this is the one with street-level action, this is the one with DEAD KIDS”), but it’s not the first time Marvel tried the idea. A few years earlier, Peter David’s run on Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man was supposed to be the darker, more adult book that dealt with serial killers and the like. This is the post-Watchmen comics landscape, and I guess it was inevitable that this type of material would make it into Spider-Man comics. The presence of this relentless gloom and gore in mainstream superhero comics over twenty years later is what bothers me. It’s one thing to fall in with a trend that seemed novel and different at the time, it’s another to keep beating the dead horse years after you’ve chased a mainstream audience away.
McFarlane isn’t an obvious choice to tell a sensitive story about child murders, especially since he’s already declared that he doesn’t consider himself a real writer. It’s also not a good sign when the only Spider-Man action we see in this issue is Spidey webbing a thug up several stories above a trash heap, then letting him fall when he refuses to confess to a mugging. (Of course, Todd’s the guy who went on to receive complaint letters from Amnesty International, so I guess this shouldn’t be much of a shock.) What’s surprising is that, in this issue at least, the mature subject matter is handled delicately. Most of the issue has first-person narration from Anna Brooks, the reporter who found the first boy. It gets a little overblown, but the majority of her narration is handled well. Her grief over the murders, her commitment to doing her job, and her guilt over the role she played in creating the media circus are all communicated very effectively. It’s a shame McFarlane went back to the purple prose when writing Spawn, because I think this issue shows that even in his earliest scripts, he was capable of going in different direction. I also like the phone conversation between Peter and MJ, where he admits that he had to leave the room and cry when he saw photos of the dead boy. I don’t really like the idea of Spider-Man starring in a story like this, but those character moments make it at least tolerable.
As delicately as McFarlane might’ve dealt with the material in the first issue, it’s worrying that a brazenly commercial guest star is being dropped into the story. Wolverine’s probably one of the few heroes who should be starring in this type of story, so I guess it’s not totally inappropriate, but it does feel strange that we’re getting the obligatory ‘90s Wolverine team-up in a DEAD KIDS story. His giant splash page entrance doesn’t even look that great, since McFarlane makes the brown stripe on his chest too skinny and his belt and trunks too large (this is the closest thing I could find to a scan). At any rate, the rest of this storyline doesn't exactly work (by the time you get to the final issue, it's pretty messy), but I’ll give the first installment credit for being better than I expected.
Image via comicartfans.com