Wednesday, March 30, 2011

X-MEN UNLIMITED #19 - June 1998

Unforgiven

Credits: Ben Raab (writer), Jim Calafiore (penciler), Mark McKenna (inker), Ian Laughlin (colors), Comicraft (letters)

Summary: Belasco appears before Nightcrawler, offering him the captive Margali Szardos in exchange for permanent custody of the Winding Way. Before disappearing, he warns Nightcrawler that Amanda Sefton has embraced dark magic. Following Belasco’s clues, Nightcrawler locates Amanda at his childhood circus. They travel to Limbo together to rescue Margali, and are soon attacked by S’ym. S’ym reveals that “Amanda” is actually Margali, who switched bodies with her daughter months ago in order to escape imprisonment. Margali admits to the deception, but eventually finds the power to rescue Amanda and dethrone Belasco. She abruptly disappears, leaving Amanda to look after Limbo. Later, an armored hand emerges from a pit, grasping the Soul Sword.

Continuity Notes: According to Belasco, Nightmare gathered “necessary intelligence” for him during his recent encounter with Excalibur. Also, the Limbo version of Nightcrawler (the one that tried to feel up Kitty Pryde in his first appearance) is killed by Belasco when he attempts to rescue Amanda.

“Huh?” Moment: Nightcrawler and “Amanda” use sorcery to teleport to Limbo. Later, when he’s ready to leave, Excalibur’s Midnight Runner jet spontaneously appears in Limbo to give him a ride home.

Review: As this is not flagrant filler, it isn’t the typical X-Men Unlimited story from this era. Alternating series writer Ben Raab actually uses the issue to resolve one of his dangling storylines from Excalibur, perhaps because he’s discovered that book is getting cancelled. Considering that there wasn’t going to be an Excalibur book in a few months to finish this story, I don’t think anyone can blame him for using Unlimited to provide some closure to the fans. In light of the substantial number of dangling subplots in all of the X-titles, I wonder now if Unlimited could’ve been the place to wrap up the various loose ends. Is Kitty Pryde’s father alive or dead? Are Elsie-Dee and Albert still searching for Wolverine? Who was using the X-Men’s abandoned headquarters in Australia? What exactly was the conspiracy surrounding X-Factor? Well, X-Men Unlimited is right there, taking up rack space. Address those mysteries there. That might be unfair to readers of those individual titles, but if they’re pointed to the relevant Unlimited issue in the letters page, they’re at least aware that the story is getting resolved.

Much like Raab’s Excalibur, there’s a mix of good and bad ideas here. The impetus of the story is a little wonky, as it reads as if Nightcrawler has some authority over the Winding Way. I guess the idea is that Margali has agreed to abandon the Winding Way if Belasco hands her over to Nightcrawler, but that info isn’t conveyed clearly. Belasco also believes he’s keeping her prisoner at this point, so I’m not sure why he’s negotiating with her anyway. Previous X-continuity is used rather well, which is usually one of Raab’s strengths, as Kitty Pryde and Colossus argue against Nightcrawler going into Limbo alone. They have their own connections to Limbo and don’t appreciate Nightcrawler’s insistence that only he can accomplish this mission. The Margali and Amanda body swap fake-out also works as a genuine surprise, and Raab gets some decent character work out of Nightcrawler’s relationship with his foster-mother and lover/foster-sister.

The plot mechanics of the ending are confusing though, before we even get to the mysterious hand holding the Soul Sword. Why is Margali leaving? What “mess” exactly does Amanda have to clean up? As for the teaser on the final page, I remember people freaking out over the prospect of Magik returning, but considering that the pit the hand’s emerging from resembles the one Belasco was just thrown into, there’s really no way to know what Raab had in mind. Also, taking into account the necessity of this story as a subplot resolver, was it really wise to end the issue with yet another mysterious cliffhanger? Hasn’t this kind of intentionally vague storytelling gotten the books into enough trouble?

Monday, March 28, 2011

GEN 13/GENERATION X #1 - July 1997

Generation Gap

Credits: Brandon Choi (writer), Arthur Adams (penciler), Alex Garner w/Peter Guzman (inks), Richard Starkings & Comicraft’s Dave Lanphear (letters), Joe Chiodo & Martin Jimenez (colors)

Summary: Trance and his Freaks kidnap Jamie, a young mutant teleporter, from government custody. Gen 13 investigates the kidnapping, while Generation X detects Jamie’s presence with Cerebro. Gen X arrives as Gen 13 battles the Freaks, and mistakenly assumes they also want Jamie. The two teams fight, until their battle is interrupted by Emplate. When Trance suggests a partnership with Emplate, they teleport away. The heroes convince Jamie to take them to Emplate’s dimension, where they join forces against Emplate and Trance. With the help of Gen 13’s robot, Anna, the villains are fought to a standstill and the heroes return home. Jamie doesn’t join either team, but knows that both are his friends.

Production Note: This is a thirty-two page, standard format one-shot. Rather than twenty-two pages, however, the story runs twenty-eight. The cover price is $2.95.

I Love the ‘90s: Grunge exclaims “You go, grrl!” as Fairchild charges into battle. Also, there’s a character named “Grunge.”

Review: This one should’ve been a big deal. A huge deal. A Generation X and Gen 13 crossover, drawn by J. Scott Campbell’s inspiration, the legendary Arthur Adams? The two hottest teen superhero groups together in one book? People waited years for this comic, and yet it’s been consigned to the dollar bins of history. Perhaps not as embarrassing as the fifty-cent bins that house back issues of Fantastic Force and Doom’s IV, but it’s still a sad fall from grace.

Gen X and Gen 13 have an odd history, one that predates this comic by a good four years. Jim Lee first announced Gen X in a Wizard ad in the early ‘90s, only to be informed by Marvel that while the letter “X” might not legally be theirs, it is closely associated with Marvel, and it didn’t take a genius to figure out that they were also working on a book called “Generation X.” I’m sure Marvel didn’t have a leg to stand on legally (they didn’t invent the phrase, and it was used everywhere between 1992 and 1996), but Jim Lee respected their wishes. When the series launched, it was titled Gen 13, and it became an instant hit. Not only was it a bit racier than anything Marvel or DC were offering at the time, but artist J. Scott Campbell’s amalgam of Arthur Adams and Jim Lee was a revelation to the adolescent audience.

Gen 13 was so big, I would go so far as to say it helped to fend off the inevitable bust of the ‘90s for a few years. Marvel’s promised teen mutant series took a few more months to materialize, and while Generation X was a very successful launch, it never really seemed to have the heat of its Image counterpart. And while it was certainly possible to be a fan of both series, it was hard for the readers not to perceive at least some sort of rivalry between the books. I mean, Generation X “stole” Gen 13’s name!

So, a few years pass, the industry tumbles, and Marvel and Image decide working together is in their mutual interest. Between Wildstorm and Extreme Studios, a plethora of Marvel crossover comics are published, beginning in 1996. Maybe one reason why this comic didn’t have an impact is because it came at the tail end of the fad; its heat stolen by the likes of Spider-Man/Backlash. Gen 13 scribe Brandon Choi’s story, however, probably deserves the bulk of the blame. What do people like about Gen 13 and Gen X? Gen X’s popularity was built on its characters, and while that’s partially true of Gen 13, much of its audience probably came for the T&A and stayed for the sheer zaniness. If you’re pairing the two teams together, your best bet is to create a minimal story that gives the characters plenty of room to interact with one another. With Arthur Adams drawing it, you know it’s going to look good. People probably won’t even miss Chris Bachalo or J. Scott Campbell.

What does the actual Gen 13/Generation X crossover bring us? Plot. Lots and lots of plot. I tried to boil it down to basics in the summary, but a more detailed recounting goes like this:

- A cold war flashback. Interpol agent Banshee and Lynch of the Black Razors stop a terrorist, Carlos Ramirez, from exploiting young Jamie’s teleportation powers.

- Lynch places Jamie in government care, against Banshee’s wishes.

- Today, Trance finds Ramirez and orders him to reveal Jamie’s location.

- Under Trance’s orders, Ramirez kills himself. Lynch is notified of the death.

- Lynch informs Gen 13. They use Freefall’s alien pet, Qeelocke, to track Jamie.

- Emplate senses Jamie’s presence.

- Cerebro locates Jamie, spurring Generation X into action.

- Gen 13 attacks Trance and his Freaks.

- Generation X interrupts the battle. A misunderstanding fight commences.

- Emplate arrives. He decides he’d rather have Qeelocke.

- Trance promises to hypnotize Qeelocke for Emplate if they join forces.

- They escape through a portal. Grunge, who still has Husk wrapped around his back, leaps after them.

- Jamie awakens. The teams convince him to help him locate their friends.

- Trance turns on Emplate, as Grunge and Husk face the Freaks.

- The heroes arrive in Emplate’s dimension, although for some reason they emerge in two different groups a few minutes apart.

- More fighting.

- Trance hypnotizes everyone. Anna is unfazed. She agrees to let him ago if he doesn’t hurt the team while they’re entranced.

- The heroes return home. Jamie is left alone, but decides the two groups of people he’s known for five minutes are his friends.

- Neither team fulfills their mission, as Jamie doesn’t go back into government custody and Generation X doesn’t gain him as a member. No one seems bothered by this.

Who gives something like that to Art Adams to draw -- especially if you know it’s going to be crammed into twenty-eight pages of story? There’s enough material here for at least a three-issue miniseries. In order to make everything fit, Adams has to resort to numerous multi-panel pages. Sometimes he packs over ten panels on to one page. Want those large, bold Adams drawings with insane levels of detail? Look elsewhere. Want to see Grunge hit on M, or Jubilee and Freefall’s trip to the mall, or Fairchild’s reaction to Chamber’s face? Too bad. Want to even see Emma Frost? Sorry, she’s inexplicably away, although having one less character to draw is probably a relief for Adams’ drawing arm.

The story does try to build up a rivalry between Banshee and Lynch, and portray Jamie as conflicted over what to do with his powers (he mistakenly believes Carlos was his friend and distrusts the heroes). Due to the ultra-compressed nature of the story, though, the small character moments don’t have any resonance. There’s simply no room for the characters to express any personality, or to do anything together, which is a shame. That’s what people wanted to see. No one bought either of these books for the plot, so the decision to go with such a dense plot that skimps over the characters was baffling.

Friday, March 25, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #7 - September 1991

The Machine and the Man

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Guang Yap (penciler), Aiken & LaRosa (inkers), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Roxxon develops a new synthetic vibranium on ESU’s campus, attracting the attention of the Kingpin and Ultron. Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Black Panther have also united over concerns about the synthetic vibranium’s instability. Joined by Roxxon employee Sunturion, the heroes face Ultron at ESU. When Ultron betrays Kingpin by hoarding the vibranium samples, Kingpin responds with a sonic frequency that incapacitates him. The unstable vibranium begins to melt all metal in the vicinity, but Sunturion refuses to destroy Roxxon property. Iron Man responds by creating a tunnel to the center of the Earth. As the floor collapses, the vibranium disappears.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: This is part three of “The Vibranium Vendetta,” a crossover in the 1991 Spider-Man annuals.

*See _________ For Details: Iron Man’s study of the synthetic vibranium was interrupted by Arthur Dearborn, aka Suntrion, in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #11.

Review: The annual mini-crossovers Marvel ran in the early ‘90s probably seemed like a good idea on paper, but I can’t think of too many of them that were particularly good. “The Vibranium Vendetta” does have Spider-Man teaming up with some of the Avengers and facing foes that are a little out of his league, but there doesn’t seem to be much else going for it. In fairness, I haven’t read the other chapters in years, so perhaps Michelinie hashed out some of the ideas he hints at here in the other installments. Aside from the superheroics, the story briefly touches on the influence science can have on economics (synthetic vibranium will cripple Wakanda’s economy, which doesn’t please the Black Panther), and shows the limitations a corporate-sponsored superhero faces, especially when he’s employed by the all-purpose evil corporation, Roxxon. “Briefly” is the operative word, as the plot is mainly concerned with getting the characters in place for the final showdown and finishing up the storyline. If there’s any meat to “The Vibranium Vendetta,” it’s not in the final chapter.

Fast Feud II: Speed Demon’s Revenge

Credits: Tony Isabella (writer), Paris Cullins (penciler), Dave Cooper (inker), Ken Lopez (letterer), Marie Javins (colorist)

The Plot: After Speed Demon’s lawsuit against Rocket Racer is dismissed, he targets the hero for revenge. Rocket Racer defeats him in battle, but is concerned by how close he came to killing Speed Demon. Racer declares that he’ll become a better hero.

Web of Continuity: Rocket Racer can now use his rockets to increase the speed of his fists and create a “rocket-punch.” The attack is so brutal, Racer briefly wonders if Speed Demon is still alive.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Rocket Racer and Sluggo, his contact with Silver Sable International, stay in contact through a beeper.

*See _________ For Details: Speed Demon filed a lawsuit against Rocket Racer in Marvel Tales #242.

Review: I remember the days of new backup stories in Marvel Tales, but they were usually Fred Hembeck’s “Petey” tales, or short Spider-Ham stories. I never read the Rocket Racer backups, but now that I know one of them involved Speed Demon filing a lawsuit against Racer, I really want to. If Isabella wrote them in the same spirit as this backup, I bet they’re a lot of fun. Aside from the levity, this story also works in a message about true heroism, and builds up Rocket Racer’s character by chronicling his turn from hero/mercenary who needs money for tuition into a more legitimate hero. I’ve mentioned earlier that much of the character work done on Rocket Racer was squandered in subsequent years, which is too bad because stories like this show that he has real potential.

Outlaw Justice! Part Three

Credits: David Michelinie (writer), Alan Kupperberg (artist), Rick Parker (letterer), Ed Lazellari (colorist)

The Plot: Desperate to prove himself, Sandman works undercover to stop political extremist, Boussard. He has to fight Silver Sable’s Outsiders when they arrive to apprehend Boussard, but Sandman breaks cover in time to prevent Boussard’s escape. Impressed, Silver Sable offers Sandman a contract.

Review: This backup is mostly forgettable, although it does feature the oddest artwork I’ve ever seen from Alan Kupperberg. On almost every panel, Silver Sable looks like she’s a gummy version of herself. No shadows stick to her, she barely has detail lines, and her body is eerily flat. Strange. Anyway, this is the conclusion of a three-part backup series, which mainly existed to pay off a Sandman subplot from Amazing Spider-Man. Michelinie was teasing the idea that after a misunderstanding with the Avengers, Sandman would be lured back into a life of crime. In the final installment, we learn that everything’s okay and he’s firmly working with the heroes again. That is, until John Byrne informs us that Sandman was faking his reformation, even in his own thoughts, all along. Retro fever strikes again.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #81 - October 1991

Living in Fear

Credits: Kurt Busiek (writer), Steve Butler (penciler), Don Hudson & Chris Ivy (inkers), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Two brothers, Wyndell and Ricky, are apprehended by Spider-Man while stealing a car. Years later, Ricky works as a bond trader, but lives in fear that his teenage arrest will be discovered. Wyndell has become the super-powered criminal Bloodshed. When crimelord Bazin demands a million dollars from Bloodshed after a botched drug delivery, Bloodshed turns to his brother. Ricky is reluctant to help Bloodshed steal securities and reaches out to Spider-Man. Bloodshed soon attacks Spider-Man, who subsequently escapes and investigates Ricky. He mistakenly believes Ricky’s the criminal, but learns the truth when Bloodshed invades Ricky’s office. Ricky overcomes his fears and helps Spider-Man place Bloodshed in custody.

The Subplots: None.

Forever Young: Ricky has grown up, graduated college, and become a bond trader, all after an encounter with Spider-Man. The story tries to cover for this by later declaring Ricky was sixteen when Spider-Man apprehended him (although the art makes him look around twelve or thirteen), and by having Peter assert the event occurred during his “first few months as Spider-Man.”

Review: Before he really made a name for himself, Kurt Busiek would occasionally show up as the fill-in guy. This is one of his strongest stories from the fill-in days, a human interest story about two brothers that have followed very different paths in life. Not only is Ricky reformed, but he’s racked with guilt over his youthful indiscretion. Fearful that his past will be discovered, Ricky lives a lonely life of simply doing his job and keeping his head down to avoid attention. Wyndell has embraced crime, and even advanced into the early stages of supervillainy. Druglords have given Wyndell super-strength and an armored suit, and perhaps as a practical joke, an attached pink ponytail (Wyndell is a black man with short hair, making this even more ridiculous).

The story hinges on Ricky’s characterization in order to work, and Busiek’s portrayal of his insecurities and inner conflicts make Ricky an easy character to pull for. Spider-Man is, perhaps, not the best hero for this story, as it requires someone who’s been around for a while, but Marvel of this era wasn’t obsessed with “youth” so it wasn’t much of an issue then. Future Web artist Steven Butler makes his debut as fill-in artist, and I really like his interpretation of Spider-Man. It’s very much the classic Spider-Man of the Romita era, with a little bit of the ‘90s exaggeration thrown in. When Butler eventually takes over the title, he’ll stick with a Bagley-style Spidey, but this is the version I prefer.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #80 - September 1991

The Blood Is My Blood

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen & Renee Witterstaetter (colorists)

The Plot: Spider-Man awakens to discover Silvermane’s technology is draining his blood. He overloads Silvermane’s device with his webshooters and breaks free, only to lose his mask when it’s snagged by falling debris. Before his identity can be broadcast by the security cameras, the Black Cat arrives and disrupts more of Silvermane’s technology. Spider-Man sabotages the computer system, but Silvermane refuses to leave the security tape behind and is trapped in the ensuing explosion. Later, the real Silvermane emerges, disappointed by the performance of his doppelganger.

The Subplots: The Black Cat is contacted by Mary Jane, who hopes that she can track Spider-Man with his old spider-tracer tracking device. Black Cat follows his trail from Central Park and locates him. After they’re reunited, Black Cat doesn’t tell MJ that Spider-Man forgot to go through with their emergency plan and activate a spider-tracer.

*See _________ For Details: Silvermane explains away his death in Amazing Spider-Man #284 by revealing that his men kept his head alive until a new body could be built.

Creative Differences: As Silvermane’s base falls apart on page twenty-three, two different explanations are given. Black Cat speculates, “The damage done to Silvermane is somehow manifesting itself through all his equipment,” while an added word balloon has Spider-Man respond, “Yes! My sabotage of the computers worked!”

Review: As Kavanagh’s brief fill-in run concludes, he reverses the flow of his first story arc. The Firebrand two-parter opened strong and then petered out, while this story had a lackluster opening but a more dramatic conclusion. Spider-Man’s secret ID is threatened, Silvermane’s base is falling apart, and the Black Cat is trapped under a pile of flaming debris. Something actually happens on almost every page, and all of the action is conveyed successfully by Saviuk. Now, the story’s filled with questionable details (why is Silvermane waiting until Spidey dies to reveal his secret ID to the mobsters watching via satellite…why waste Spider-Man’s powerful blood on a robotic duplicate that’s just testing the procedure…), but Silvermane still comes across as a worthy opponent, despite the hokey premise of the character, and it is fun to see Spider-Man and the Black Cat team up again. Having Black Cat cover for Peter’s forgetfulness on the final page is also a nice character moment, and a good example of the emotional maturity the supporting cast was allowed to have during this era, before retro fever struck Marvel in the late ‘90s.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #79 - August 1991

First Blood…

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: The Silver Squad target Peter and MJ while in Central Park, hoping to draw out Spider-Man. Peter changes into Spider-Man while MJ distracts the mercenaries. As Spider-Man attacks, he realizes the soldiers are actually robots. All are destroyed, except for Ripster, who chases Spider-Man throughout the city and eventually forces him to fall off a building. Unconscious, Spider-Man is brought to Silvermane.

The Subplots: None

Web of Continuity: The Silver Squad consist of Purty Larry, Slambeaux, Twit, and the lone “female,” Ripster. Silvermane, at this point in continuity, is a weakened cyborg in need of blood.

Creative Differences: An added thought balloon on page eleven emphasizes yet again that the Silver Squad are robots, so it’s okay for Spider-Man to blow them up.

Review: Were cyborgs and humanoid robots considered interesting enough in 1991 to carry an entire story? I don’t remember ever buying into the cyber-craze as a kid, yet mainstream comics are filled with these characters well into the ‘90s. This issue introduces the Silver Squad, four robots inexplicably given human appearances and personalities. How exactly does that help them in their mission? They’re attacking Peter Parker in public, hoping to attract Spider-Man’s attention, so it’s not as if this plan requires any amount of stealth or subtlety. When Spider-Man’s hopping around forces the Squad to shoot each other (odd that this never happens to his human opponents), he discovers that they’re robots and declares all bets are off. You might expect this to lead to an intense fight scene, but instead he’s finished with most of the Squad by the next page. The rest of the issue consists of Spider-Man running from Ripster (a rejected Dreadnok name if I ever heard one), who’s somehow a thousand times more competent than her teammates. It’s a dull shred of a story, but I’ll give Alex Saviuk credit for delivering another issue of solid draftsmanship and storytelling.

Monday, March 21, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #78 - July 1991

Toast of the Town…

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Nel Yomtov (colorist)

The Plot: Mother Inferior sacrifices herself so that Spider-Man and the others can escape. Spider-Man escorts Anna and the Morlocks to safety, as the partygoers take care of the wounded and Cloak and Dagger face Firebrand. Spider-Man finally arrives and defeats Firebrand before he can escape with his protection money.

The Subplots: Spider-Man discovers the body of Munson, the civil servant responsible for renovating the hotel as a shelter. Anna later visits his grave, declaring that she’ll learn from his mistake and not look for easy solutions. J. Jonah Jameson funds the reconstruction of the hotel following the disaster.

Web of Continuity: In case you’re interested in Morlock genealogy, we learn that Mother Inferior is Ent’s mother. Aunt May is shocked to discover her former boarders, Victor and Rose, at the party. They explain that they’ve had a difficult time since May closed down the boarding house, but no other information is given. Obviously, the implication is that they’re living at the shelter (last issue established that the residents are working as servers during the fundraiser, which would explain why they’re dressed up), but the idea is immediately dropped.

*See _________ For Details: Firebrand is working for the mobster Bazin, who’s ordered Munson pay a protection fee in order to open a homeless shelter on his territory. Munson did pay, but Firebrand kept the money for himself. A footnote points to Darkhawk for more info on Bazin.

“Huh?” Moment: Firebrand is stashing the protection money he stole in an abandoned car, only a few feet away from the building he’s just set on fire. There’s a criminal genius.

Creative Differences: The letters page announces Howard Mackie will begin a five-issue run, focusing on the Kingpin and Richard Fisk, in issue #81. This is “The Name of the Rose,” which actually doesn’t begin until #84. Kurt Busiek writes a few fill-ins while the storyline is delayed.

Review: It’s admirable that Kavanagh isn’t padding out a simple idea in order to kill pages, but there’s a little too much going on here. The Daily Bugle staff, along with a few other members of the supporting cast, is trapped in a disaster movie (fitting for a story set in the Poseidon Hotel). Spider-Man’s encountered a group of Morlocks displaced by the new homeless shelter. Cloak and Dagger are looking for a missing friend who lives at the converted hotel. Aunt May discovers two of her former boarders are also staying at the shelter. Meanwhile, a new Firebrand causes havoc, and a well-intentioned bureaucrat pays a fatal price. All decent ideas, but when thrown into this blender, none of them amount to much. Cloak and Dagger never even encounter Anna, their motivation for entering this story. Instead, the two-parter ends with Anna visiting Munson’s grave, declaring that she’ll learn from his mistakes. What exactly does this mean? Maybe her appearances in Cloak and Dagger gave this character a captivating backstory, but all we know from reading Web is that she’s a homeless teen that Cloak and Dagger are pursuing. And while I’m glad the supporting cast hasn’t been forgotten, the casual dismissal of Victor and Rose’s homelessness is just bizarre. Why throw this idea out there and do nothing with it?

Friday, March 18, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #77 - June 1991


Home Is Where the Terror Is!

Credits: Terry Kavanagh (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams w/Bud LaRosa & Kevin Tinsley (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: After dismantling a bomb left by Dr. Octopus in the sewers, Peter joins MJ and his friends at a party sponsored by the Daily Bugle. The event celebrates the city’s refurbishing of the Poseidon Hotel as a homeless shelter. The party is disrupted by a group of Morlocks who wish to reclaim the hotel as their home. Spider-Man investigates and learns from Anna, a homeless teen who lives at the shelter, that the Morlocks mean no harm. Suddenly, Firebrand attacks the party. Spider-Man, Anna, and the Morlocks are crushed by the falling ceiling.

The Subplots: Cloak and Dagger are looking for their friend, Anna. They track her to the Poseidon Hotel just as Firebrand attacks. At the party, a man named Munson tells the mysterious Broxtel that he shouldn’t be there. When Firebrand emerges, he claims to be Broxtel.

Web of Continuity: The Morlocks introduced here are Mother Inferior, Ent, Pester, and a little baby. Ent, who’s super strong but also mute, and Pester are the baby’s parents. Mother Inferior can command rodents.

Following the final issues of Gerry Conway’s Spectacular run, Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson are back at the Bugle. Flash Thompson, Betty Leeds, and Felicia Hardy mistakenly believe the party is a masquerade ball and arrive in costume. Felicia dresses as the Black Cat, which leads Peter to question why she’s jeopardizing her secret identity. I believe Felicia is actually publically known as the Black Cat, which is a continuity point used in her future breakup with Flash. (Was it ever explained how Spidey kept his ID secret while living with Felicia, or was her identity still a mystery at this point?)

*See _________ For Details: Spidey faced Doctor Octopus in Spectacular Spider-Man #175 & #176. Anna knows Cloak and Dagger and Spider-Man from The Mutant Misadventures of Cloak and Dagger #17-#19. (Actually, I think “Mutant Misadventures” had been dropped from the title at that point, but I like using it.)

Creative Differences: Anna’s explanation that these Morlocks fled to the abandoned hotel during the Mutant Massacre has been re-lettered.

Review: It’s now Terry Kavanagh’s turn for a few fill-ins, and he begins with a follow-up to one of his early Cloak and Dagger stories. I only vaguely remember the existence of a late ‘80s Cloak and Dagger book, and had no idea Terry Kavanagh was one of the writers, so who knows where this is heading. I will say that Kavanagh has worked a lot of story into these twenty-two pages, and he’s revived some forgotten supporting cast members like Randy and Amanda Robertson, along with Aunt May’s former boarders, the perennially unhappy Rose and Victor. Some fill-ins just feel like generic superhero stories, while others give you the sense that you’re actually reading what could be an issue out of someone’s regular Spider-Man run. This falls into the latter category, as Kavanagh uses the supporting cast well and draws upon the tiny amount of spider-continuity he’s built so far to begin a new story. There isn’t a lot to say about the villains, but I do like the sheer randomness of the Morlocks and Firebrand sharing a story together. The various corners of the Marvel Universe should collide more often, and why not use a Web of Spider-Man fill-in to bring these disparate elements together?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #76 - May 1991

Art’s Desire!

Credits: Tony Isabella (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man breaks free of the ice, shortly before the Human Torch arrives to check on him. They follow the tracer Spider-Man left on Bora to the Avant Guard’s headquarters and confront the villains. The Painter grows bored with the fight, and when Spark and Bora question him, he transforms them into a painting. The Painter drops his human fa├žade and unleashes the thousands of insects that reside inside his body. The insects evaporate as gas. Spider-Man picks up the remains of the Painter’s face and realizes it’s made of canvas.

The Subplots: MJ continues to keep the crew of “Secret Hospital” calm, even as the power goes out.

Web of Continuity: According to the Human Torch, the Painter was a small-time crook until he discovered a set of alien paints that allowed him to alter reality. Spider-Man’s suspicious of the story, which foreshadows this issue’s ending.

*See _________ For Details: The Torch first encountered the Painter in Strange Tales #108.

Review: Because everyone’s out of art/heart puns, “Art Attack!” must come to an end. (Maybe someday, the Avant Guard can return in a massive crossover entitled “Total Eclipse of the Art.”) The Painter is given something of a reboot at the story’s conclusion, as we discover he was never human at all. This was apparently done to retcon his “alien paint” origin, but I’m not even sure how it’s supposed to work. So, he’s actually a collection of sentient roaches that created a human identity and fabricated a story about finding cosmically powered art supplies? I can understand why someone would want to update his Silver Age origin, although it’s so ludicrous I’d like to see it stick around, but I’m not sure how this is an improvement. That said, I enjoyed Isabella’s collection of villains for this arc (I’m not sure if any of the early Human Torch solo stories had been reprinted at this point, so using the Painter is really going to the heights of obscurity), and Saviuk has handled the action scenes and various cameos well.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #75 - April 1991

Cold Hands Warm Art

Credits: Tony Isabella (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man, along with numerous heroes, aids the citizens of New York during a sudden blizzard. When he’s attacked by Spark and Bora, he realizes that Bora’s mutant powers are behind the snowstorm. Bora freezes Spider-Man inside a block of ice, which completes the Painter’s vision.

The Subplots: Spider-Man attempts to check on Mary Jane during the blizzard, while she’s trying to keep the crew of “Secret Hospital” from panicking.

Web of Continuity: This story is presented as Spider-Man’s first meeting with the New Warriors. It’s also his first in-continuity team-up with Firestar (his other amazing friend, Iceman, makes a cameo as well).

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Spider-Man refers to Iceman as the “original Vanilla Ice.” There are also references to former New York mayor David Dinkins, Siskel & Ebert, and (oh, yes) “Hammer Time.”

Forever Young: Spider-Man calls the New Warriors “kids.” He reflects on his own younger days as a hero before briefly wondering if he’s suffering from a “premature midlife crisis.”

Miscellaneous Notes: Two tourists, who look suspiciously like Lois and Clark, are honeymooning in New York. DC’s cold feet, combined with the Lois & Clark TV series’ postponement of the wedding, made this in-joke arrive five years early. Also, the Painter briefly transforms Spark and Bora into two classic comic strip characters. I think their names are Sally and Puggo. This guy seems to like them.

Review: Congratulations on reaching seventy-five issues, Web of Spider-Man. Here’s the mid-chapter of a fill-in arc. You’re not getting a regular writer until you bring those grades up, young man. Last issue’s cliffhanger revealed the Painter’s ambition to prove that mankind is “no more worthy of survival than the dinosaurs,” which of course means a massive blizzard is the next part of his scheme. A lot of the wackiness of the previous issue is gone, as the focus turns to the assorted heroes of the Marvel Universe fighting the weather. I do like seeing the various heroes interacting with normal people, but this storyline definitely feels like it’s starting to drag.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #74 - March 1991

Art and Soul

Credits: Tony Isabella (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Following a cold response to their work, performance artists Spark and Bora meet their mentor, the Painter, backstage. The Painter declares the trio “the Avant Guard” and uses his ability to warp reality to transform Spark into a hulking behemoth. Spark attacks the audience, but is repelled by Spider-Man. The Painter teleports Spark away, declaring his next scheme will have more substance.

The Subplots: Peter has been forced into attending the performance by Kristy, who seems to be Spark’s only fan. At the show, they run into Peter Nicholas again. Kristy accidentally reveals her crush in front of the painter, and blames Peter for making the incident more embarrassing.

*See _________ For Details: The theatre’s art exhibit includes a painting of a foot in a holey sock. Peter recognizes it from Amazing Spider-Man #22 (I don’t remember this scene, but I’ll take a shot in the dark and say it involved Steve Ditko making a statement against the modern art scene). Peter Nicholas has a vague memory of Bora from his previous life as Colossus. A footnote points towards Moon Knight#35, of all places.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Spider-Man advises Spark to save his ad-libs for Arsenio.

Forever Young: Peter tells Peter Nicholas not to worry about Kristy, as “they’re fickle at that age.”

“Huh?” Moment: Two different groups of people mistake Peter Parker and Peter Nicholas. Has it ever been established that Peter Parker looks like Colossus? Shouldn’t Colossus be at least a foot taller?

Creative Differences: Spark’s diatribe against the audience on page six has been re-lettered.

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average sales for the year at 209,174 and the most recent issue selling 202,200 copies.

Review: I seem to recall this arc getting a bad rap amongst fans, and while it is ridiculous, I give it points for just being fun. The Painter is apparently an obscure character from Marvel’s early days, who has the power to shape reality, and wastes it on making statements about art. Unless you’re doing the post-Watchmen story about the guy recognizing the true capacity of his powers and realizing the horrible burden they carry, his stories are probably going to be absurd. Isabella grounds the story by giving us plenty of interaction between Peter and Kristy, which is really the highlight of the issue. She’s moved on from her crush on Peter, and now thinks of him as kind of a dork, while he’s still trying to humor her (presumably to keep MJ happy). More often than not, he acts like her slightly obnoxious older brother, which is a role you normally don’t get to see Peter play, but it works quite well. There is one line, however, which could be interpreted as Peter mocking Kristy’s bulimia. He asks Kristy if she finds cheese dip too “dangerous” a snack, which angers her. Given the context (Spark just faked his death onstage), maybe it’s a reference to the theatre itself being dangerous, but it’s hard to tell. I certainly hope that’s all it was.

Monday, March 14, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #73 - February 1991

Head Quest

Credits: John Byrne (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Peter and MJ accompany Kristy, Aunt May, and Willie Lumpkin to Alicia Master’s art exhibit. The Headsmen have tracked Spider-Man to the exhibit, and soon invade the party. Spider-Man and the Human Torch team up to defeat the villains.

The Subplots: Peter is suffering indigestion after eating Willie Lumpkin’s lasagna. The fight interferes with his trip to the bathroom. During the melee, Kristy is rescued by a young painter named Peter Nicholas.

Web of Continuity: The Human Torch is still married to Alicia Masters as this time. Amazing Spider-Man has detailed Nathan Lubensky’s death and Aunt May’s subsequent relationship with the Fantastic Four’s mailman, Willie Lumpkin. Peter Nicholas is actually Colossus, who’s suffering from amnesia during this era of Uncanny X-Men. Kristy Watson’s name is misspelled “Kristie” for perhaps the first time. Namor makes a cameo appearance with his latest girlfriend, Carrie Alexander.

*See _________ For Details: The Headsmen previously attacked Spider-Man, hoping to steal his body for their member Chondu, in Sensational She-Hulk #3.

Forever Young: Both Peter Parker and Johnny Storm reflect on how much their lives have changed since becoming superheroes. Horror of horrors…they’re now married twenty-somethings! If only this turn of events could be erased in the clumsiest manner possible.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Peter’s hair is now getting long in the back, yet it remains short in the sides and front. I think we all know what this means…

Creative Differences: Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein makes a one-panel cameo. It’s a funny reference to his art, although Lichtenstein’s dialogue appears to have been re-lettered. Considering Byrne’s established antipathy towards Lichtenstein’s work, I wonder if the scene was toned down by editorial.

Review: This actually isn’t part one of a four-part storyline, these issues just happened to be published when Marvel was going through its phase of promoting serialized storylines on the covers. I assume these cover labels helped sales, considering that a standalone serialized arc still tended to signify an important storyline in those days, but there’s no other defense for using one here. The other three issues in this “arc” involve art-themed villains, and Colossus shows up again, but that’s the extent of any connection with this issue. As for this issue, it’s silly, harmless fun. Most of the jokes are funny, and there’s an acknowledgment of the inherent absurdity of the premise (Spidey even asks, “How much further do we stretch the bounds of coincidence tonight…?” just as Colossus arrives to rescue Kristy). Even the bathroom humor is treated with some decorum, as we’re never really sure which way Peter needs to expel the bad lasagna. Web’s entering another long stretch of filler, but the guest stars and sheer silliness help this issue stand out.

Friday, March 11, 2011

SPAWN #70 - February 1998

Darkness

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Danny Miki (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Spawn unleashes bats into the alley, creating a distraction that allows Twitch to escape the Freak’s grasp. The Freak runs away as the gang war intensifies. Spawn’s powers short out when he steps back into the “Dead Zone,” which prevents him from ending the fight. He tracks Freak to a nearby alley and punishes him for causing the chaos, summoning animals and insects to consume Freak’s body. Elsewhere, Cyan nearly causes an accident when she leaps out of Wanda’s car after dropping her shoelace out of the window.

Spawn Stuff: McFarlane Toys is now producing X-Files action figures.

Production Notes: For the third issue in a row, the story runs twenty pages. The back cover is also almost entirely black (it’s an ad for Korn’s new album that just consists of the band’s logo), making this issue a chore for any ‘90s collector to keep mint. While the story runs short, there is a three-page preview of the second season of the Spawn HBO series. New co-executive producer John Leekley reveals that the first six episodes were rewritten at HBO’s request after the animation had been completed. This was possible, he says, because much of the dialogue happened off-screen, which enabled him to change characterizations and story points. Also, the show has received a slight anime makeover, and switched over to a more prestigious animation studio. My memory is that the second season did have much improved animation, but the storyline couldn’t match the first season’s, which did have its moments.

Review: So, some bums fight each other for fifteen pages, Spawn summons more animals and insects, and Cyan is still hung up on that shoelace. I couldn’t have seen any of that coming, could you? The plot might’ve been tolerable as a straightforward resolution to the past two issues, but McFarlane’s excessive narration on every single page makes this one hard to slog through. Do we really need over a hundred words a page of text somberly describing a massive bum fight? We also have McFarlane returning yet again to the worms, although in fairness he does branch out this issue and give Spawn Dr. Doolittle powers over all of the night’s creatures. Still, the worms are receiving an inordinate amount of the attention (Spawn’s tongue is now apparently made out of them), which is just baffling. Did someone involved in the book just get a kick out of seeing worms? Did McFarlane have a traumatic experience while dissecting a worm in the ninth grade? Are they easy to draw? The mind boggles.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

SPAWN #69 - January 1998

Freaky

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Sam and Twitch arrive in the alleys and discover Spawn’s headless body. They’re soon caught in-between two gangs of street people -- Spawn’s followers, and the criminals he pushed out of the alleys. The Freak sneaks behind the detectives and threatens Twitch with a knife. Suddenly, a reanimated Spawn emerges to face the Freak. Meanwhile, Cogliostro reveals to Boots that he knows he’s an agent of Heaven.

Spawntinuity: According to Boots, agents of Heaven must preserve free will and therefore can’t explicitly make their presence known on Earth. His dialogue also implies that Cogliostro is still associated with Hell, which doesn’t seem to match Cog’s hints that he can show Spawn an option outside of Heaven or Hell. As for Spawn’s defective costume, it’s explained that he wandered into an area of the alleys that is the “domain of heaven,” which can apparently neutralize hell-creatures.

Todd Talk: Three letters in a row criticize the series’ aimless direction and repetitive plots. McFarlane defends using Jason Wynn repeatedly by saying that Batman’s faced the Joker several times over the past few decades, too. He has, but Batman’s conflicts with the Joker actually end; then a new storyline begins which forces Batman to face the Joker in a different circumstance. Based on the era of the comic, the Joker could be extorting innocents, playing massive pranks, or spreading sheer panic throughout the city…each story with a different execution based on the prerogative of the creators. McFarlane doesn’t seem to realize that Jason Wynn’s been doing the same thing since the series started, and he hasn’t been brought to justice or moved on to any bigger goals. To keep the Joker analogy going, it’s as if Batman just let the Joker announce people’s deaths over the radio for several years and did nothing about it. McFarlane does concede a dip in quality in recent issues, though, and says that he’s looking for a co-writer to inject a fresh take on things.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Sam refers to the homeless gangs as “pieces of shit.” McFarlane has occasionally let other writers use more extreme language, but this is the first time he’s really gone beyond standard “prime time” profanity. Perhaps he felt the HBO series, which often sounded like a leaked Christian Bale audio tape, had opened the door for more adult language.

Production Note: Like the previous issue, this issue is only twenty pages long.

Review: To McFarlane’s credit, he seems to be grasping the idea that something needs to happen in each issue. The pacing is still borderline-glacial (it takes Sam and Twitch around ten pages to find Spawn and drag his body out of the alley), but there is an increased sense of momentum in the title. Some of the vague hints about the nature of the alleys are starting to pay off, and we even have a “shocking” revelation about one of the minor supporting cast members. I’m sure Frank Miller didn’t intend for Boots to be an undercover angel when he created him in that fill-in issue, but the good thing about having a cast of virtually blank supporting characters is that you can take them in any direction you want to. The Freak was a disappointment in his debut, but McFarlane gets some mileage just by portraying him as an agitator within the alleys. Matching him against Sam and Twitch also brings some semblance of cohesive continuity to the series. McFarlane still can’t let go of the worms, though. They return this issue and magically restore Spawn’s head, it seems. If they were always around to perform the kind of last-second miracle this plot requires, that’s almost defensible, but there is no justification for dwelling on this inane idea for almost thirty issues.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

SPAWN #68 - January 1998

Intersection

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Mr. Byrd, the husband of Sam and Twitch’s eccentric client, is murdered. Mrs. Byrd blames aliens. Cogliostro gives the detectives info on their case and informs them that Spawn needs help. Meanwhile, the bums learn that Spawn has been shot by Johnny’s crew. They prepare for a fight, but Boots refuses to join in. Johnny contacts his leader, the Freak, and gives him a paper bag filled with Spawn’s necroplasm. The deranged Freak stabs his follower in the eye.

Spawntinuity: According to Cogliostro, Spawn has “ventured into a section of alleyway that is controlled by a power far greater than his. There he is weak. Vulnerable.”

The Big Names: As reported by this issue’s hype page, Akira creator Katsuhiro Otomo is a big Spawn fan.

Spawn Stuff: You can now own Spawn: the Movie action figure playsets, and something called Spawn: the Movieplay. I have no idea what this thing is (at first I thought it was a CD-Rom, but the specs say it measures 9.5 x 8.5 inches), but Todd McFarlane assures us it’s “an essential addition to any Spawn collection.”

Production Note: This issue runs twenty pages instead of the standard twenty-two.

Review: I’m hoping at least that Spawn’s fainting spell from last issue and this issue’s (I can’t believe I’m writing this) wardrobe malfunction are related. With this book, you never know.

And, what do you know? They weren’t. Spawn’s costume is dormant, apparently because he’s wandered into an enchanted area of the alleys, which has nothing to do with Spawn passing out in #66. That incident was, judging by the intimations of that issue’s narrative captions, just a hangover from all of the “feeding on evil” binges with his precious worms. And, boy, did I just type quite a sentence. If McFarlane’s finally setting up an end to that worm stupidity, fine, but this means that two issues in a row had Spawn unexpectedly knocked out by mysterious forces. So, McFarlane’s creating a new arc around Spawn’s costume shorting out before he bothered to explain fully why Spawn’s body essentially did the same thing an issue earlier, which brings us the McFarlane Double-Scoop of poor issue-to-issue continuity and recycled scenes.

We also have another entry in the Unrelated Portrait Cover Hall of Fame. Not only is it not snowing in this issue, but Spawn doesn’t have a head when we see his body on the final splash page. I can’t blame McFarlane for normally favoring a dramatic pose over a story-related cover, but Spawn’s appearance in this issue really is striking! You can run Spawn standing over a generically “spooky” background any time you want…why miss out on the opportunity for a headless Spawn cover?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

SPAWN #67 - November 1997

Homeland

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: While Sam and Twitch deal with an eccentric client, Rat City’s homeless discuss religion. Johnny, a disbeliever, mocks the others. As he leaves, he clumsily destroys Bobby’s crystal deer figurine, a gift from his estranged daughter. Spawn follows Johnny and learns that he’s involved with a gang that’s pinning crimes on the homeless. Spawn confronts him and is shot repeatedly. To his surprise, his uniform does not come to his defense.

Production Note: The digital separators are hiding photographs of Vanilla Ice in the backgrounds. McFarlane assures readers in a future issue that he’s told them to stop.

Review: McFarlane did say several issues ago that he would like to spend some time exploring the homeless cast of characters, so perhaps that’s the current direction of the book. Last issue had Spawn inexplicably getting woozy and accidentally crushing a homeless person’s leg, so maybe McFarlane even had plans for that one-legged wino. He doesn’t show up here, but Spawn still seems out of sorts. I’m hoping at least that Spawn’s fainting spell from last issue and this issue’s (I can’t believe I’m writing this) wardrobe malfunction are related. With this book, you never know.

If McFarlane really does want to flesh out the supporting cast, I’m all for it, but I can’t help but to feel he’s waited way too late in the game. The last time any of the homeless supporting cast received more than an ounce of characterization was all the way back in issue #21, when Bobby detailed his wife’s death and his decline into alcoholism. Now, we learn that his daughter turned to drugs after her mother’s death, but she cleaned up years ago and gave Bobby the crystal deer to symbolize her hope that he’ll get sober, also. That’s actually…nice. This book has been bogged down in so much exaggerated grit and grime for so long, seeing a real human moment almost leaves you speechless. Where was this material during the past forty-plus issues? Why has only one member of Spawn’s immediate supporting cast been treated like an actual human being over the past five years? I’m not going to delude myself into believing Spawn’s turned itself around and is headed in a great direction (even this issue has obnoxious scatological humor -- yeah, I really wanted to see Sam on the toilet again -- and some brazen padding), but I do think it shows a side of McFarlane’s writing that he unfortunately ignored for too long.

Monday, March 7, 2011

SPAWN #66 - October 1997

Demons

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Before Sam and Twitch can continue questioning Cogliostro, he disappears. Spawn returns to New York, only to learn his face has rotted. He ignores Cogliostro’s counsel and proceeds to stab himself repeatedly in anger. Later, he tells Terry that their joint investigation will continue, but Terry refuses to forget their earlier confrontation. That night, Spawn grows dizzy after feeding on his worms. He collapses on top of a nearby derelict and crushes his leg. Meanwhile, Cyan remains obsessed with Spawn’s shoelace.

Spawntinuity: According to Cogliostro, God placed Spawn in these alleys for a specific purpose. He goes on to say, “Hell may have chosen you but Heaven had the call to locate you wherever on Earth they wanted.” McFarlane would occasionally drop vague references to the relationship between Heaven and Hell, but I don't know if the association was ever explicitly spelled out.

Creative Differences: I have no idea what the cover is supposed to represent. This series isn't shy about using portrait covers, but this isn't some generic shot of Spawn you can put on the cover of a video game. Maybe the tentacle attacking him is supposed to represent the worms, but that's a stretch.

Spawn Stuff: An alternate Christmas cover of the Spawn soundtrack is on sale for a limited time. It also includes a new song by Apollo Four Forty & Morphine. The Manga Spawn line of action figures is also being released.

Review: More dreariness, more recycled scenes, more running in place. Yet, this issue does have something the previous sixty-five issues usually ignored -- humor. Okay, it’s one joke that runs for less than a page, but it still counts. While Spawn walks the streets of New York, unaware that his rotted face has returned, he struts to the beat of “Stayin’ Alive” and sings the words to himself. For at least one page, you’re supposed to laugh at Spawn. McFarlane might’ve narrowly avoided a lawsuit by using the song, but it’s worth it to get any break from the monotony. The rest of the issue is the same nonsense McFarlane can’t let go of, only now Spawn’s reached new levels of melodrama by repeatedly stabbing himself in the stomach with a giant blade that’s appeared out of nowhere. Hopefully, McFarlane got a “Self-Mutilation Spawn” action figure out of the issue.

Friday, March 4, 2011

SPAWN #65 - September 1997

The Past

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Cogliostro gives Sam and Twitch a tour of the alleys, explaining the past of Al Simmons and detailing his life as Spawn. The detectives learn that a subconscious suggestion led Spawn to choose their office to unload Billy Kincaid’s body. Cogliostro informs them that they have been chosen as Spawn’s knights in the quest for his lost soul.

I Love the’ 90s: On the real-life Terry Fitzgerald’s hype page, he announces that HBO will release the Spawn series on DVD, for “all of you techies (like myself).”

Review: So, two months after the movie is in theatres, we get the big recap issue. I’m sure McFarlane wanted this to be on the stands in time to coincide with the film’s release, but the book always seemed to be two months or so off-schedule. Given the nature of the story, this could’ve been an inventory issue that could be placed anywhere, but perhaps McFarlane thought it would be unfair to the regular readers to interrupt the story arc from #62-#64. The story’s told through a combination of prose and static splash page images, as Cogliostro tries to justify Spawn’s petulant behavior, and pretend that there’s been more than five issues worth of plot over the past three years. Finally, Sam and Twitch learn that they’ve been selected to be Spawn’s “knights,” which I’m sure just thrills them. Despite the abundance of filler this issue, this revelation actually does advance one of the series’ longest running subplots. It’s such an oldie, in fact, that the original solicitation for issue #24 had Spawn and the detectives teaming up as the alleys’ newest heroes. You’d almost think McFarlane’s been wasting everyone’s time for the past forty issues…

Thursday, March 3, 2011

SPAWN #64 - August 1997

Checkmate

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Chance Wolf & Todd McFarlane (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Spawn invades Jason Wynn’s headquarters, as Sam and Twitch encounter Cogliostro in the alleyways. After brutalizing Wynn’s security force, Spawn confronts Wynn and vows to destroy his empire. He removes his mask so that Wynn can learn his identity, unaware that his human face has already rotted away. Spawn exits, and Wynn finally appears to be intimidated.

Spawn Stuff: The back of the issue is filled with ads for Spawn movie merchandise, including Inkworks trading cards, Starlog magazines dedicated to the movie, the soundtrack, and movie t-shirts. The HBO series is also on VHS in both PG-13 and R-rated versions (how exactly it was edited down to a PG-13 rating is beyond me), and the abominable Playstation game is advertised.

Gimmicks: This issue is polybagged with a free McFarlane Toys catalogue.

Production Notes: The cover design has dropped the cover dates, although the indicia still lists them. Brent Ashe has also begun redesigning the letters page and trade paperback collections, giving everything a shaky and scratchy look.

Review: Oh, wouldn’t you just know it? Spawn squandered the temporary remission of his skin condition. It’s like the guy is a perpetual loser or something. Not only is the issue’s plot recycled from previous issues, but it’s regurgitating material from two issues that aren’t even that old. Spawn armed himself and gunned down an army of Jason Wynn’s men in issue #55, which is less than a year old at this point, and his confrontation with Jason Wynn is virtually identical to the one in #62, which was just two months ago! Apparently it’s different now because Wynn is truly scared of Spawn, unlike the previous times Spawn’s invaded his sanctuary and nearly killed him. Sure.

McFarlane can’t even come up with a decent justification for Spawn’s killing spree. In issue #55, he was murdering soldiers who raided an innocent village. Now, simply working for Jason Wynn is enough of a rationale for their deaths. So just taking a security job overlooking a middle-aged man is grounds for murder, apparently. And while the guards are killed, Jason Wynn, the true target, is left alive because Spawn still believes he might hurt Wanda. Is Spawn so stingy with his magic power that he can’t be bothered to just erase Wynn’s memory of Wanda? Wouldn’t that solve a good eighty percent of the problems he consistently runs into? And I don’t care how dark and gothic he’s supposed to be, doesn’t it bother him at all that he’s killed dozens of flunkies but still lets their boss go free?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

SPAWN #63 - July 1997

Identity

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Spawn feeds on his worms before going out in public with his new face. He visits Terry, warning him that he’s preparing for his final confrontation with Wynn and that he’ll return for Wanda. Terry snaps back, leading Spawn to declare him an enemy. Later, Cogliostro warns Spawn that his vendetta against Wynn is a part of Hell’s plan, but he refuses to listen. Meanwhile, Jason Wynn augments his security while Sam and Twitch continue to investigate Spawn.

Spawntinuity: According to the narrative captions, Spawn returned to Earth “almost a year” ago.

The Big Names: The lineup for the Spawn movie soundtrack is announced. The album was released during the music industry’s push to sell electronica in America, so every song is a collaboration between a hard rock artist and an “alternative dance” act. The album contains songs by Filter & Crystal Method, Marilyn Manson & Sneaker Pimps, Orbital & Kirk Hammet, Korn & the Dust Brothers, Butthole Surfers & Moby, Metallica & DJ Spooky, Stabbing Westward & Wink, Mansun & 808 State, Prodigy & Tom Morello, silverchair & Vitro, Henry Rollins & Goldie, Incubus & Greyboy, Slayer & Atari Teenage Riot, and Soul Coughing & Ronni Size. Shortly after the release of the album, Filter co-founder Brian Liesegang left the band to explore the new direction showcased on the soundtrack, while Marilyn Manson and the Sneaker Pimps engaged in a public feud.

Review: Okay, you might’ve thought something might actually happen in the book after Spawn’s original face returned, but we’re still dealing with the master of procrastination here. Spawn reflects on his new condition for a few pages, feeds on those stupid worms again for another page or two, steals a pair of sunglasses to cover his green eyes, visits Terry, talks to Cogliostro for a few pages, and then strikes a dramatic pose for a splash page. Meanwhile, Jason Wynn talks to security guards for several pages, while Sam and Twitch remind everyone that they’re still investigating the lead character. Oh, have we reached twenty-two pages yet? Darn. Well, see you next month.

Aside from moving impossibly slow, the plotlines don’t show a lot of promise anyway. Spawn confronted Jason Wynn just last issue, and decided that killing him wouldn’t be worth risking Wanda and Terry’s life. Now, he’s decided to make one more go of it, naively believing that with Wynn out the way, he can restart his life with Wanda now that his face has returned (whether or not the rest of his body still looks like a zombie isn’t addressed). Not only is he acting like a moron again, but he’s forcing the reader to revisit a plotline that had a fairly definitive ending last issue. And while I’m glad McFarlane remembered Sam and Twitch, he seems to have forgotten where their storyline left off. They were investigating Chief Banks’ connection to Washington officials, which lead to Wynn and Violator setting up a dummy informant to meet with them. Two separate issues, months apart, teased this meeting. A meeting we still haven’t seen, a full year later. Now, the duo are back to investigating Spawn, still angry that he left Billy Kincaid’s corpse in their office all the way back in issue #5. Are these two drinking bleach in-between issues?

I’d be curious to know if this was anyone’s first issue of the series. It’s the issue that was on sale the week the movie hit theatres, so it’s possible that someone unfamiliar with the comic would’ve picked this one up out of curiosity during the publicity buildup. (I’m assuming that it was still sold on newsstands at this time.) It’s also possible that some poor soul looked past the film’s many faults and actually wanted to learn more about Spawn after seeing the movie. What did they get for their $1.95? The hero inexplicably has a new face, he’s threatening to take his friend’s wife away from him, he bathes in worms, and he’s being investigated by two detectives (who are still mad about something that happened in a comic published almost five years earlier). McFarlane does get around to doing a full-issue recap of the series for new readers a few months later, but I can’t imagine why anyone would want to stick around if this was their first exposure to the character.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

SPAWN #62 - June 1997

Return

Credits: Todd McFarlane (story), Greg Capullo (pencils), Todd McFarlane & Chance Wolf (inks), Tom Orzechowski (copy editor & letters), Brian Haberlin & Dan Kemp (colors)

Summary: Spawn confronts Jason Wynn in his home, only to learn that Wynn has ordered Terry and Wanda killed if anything ever happens to him. Spawn spares his life, but demands that Wynn leave Terry and Wanda alone. Meanwhile, Terry discovers his neighbors are petitioning him to move. In Rat City, Angela suddenly materializes. She asks for Spawn’s help before being abruptly taken away by a bright light. After Spawn stops a mugging, he realizes that his contact with the light has revived his original face.

Spawntinuity: This story allegedly takes place at the same time as Curse of the Spawn #10, although it’s impossible for the details to be worked out. The Curse story ends with Spawn joining Angela on her mission, which is ignored by the next issue. Angela describes the events of the Curse storyline: “A breach has formed within the Eternal Triumverate (sic). A cybernetic soul-eater called the Argus is the catalyst, in conjunction with Limbo.” I hope that helped everyone out.

Spawn Stuff: The McFarlane Toys line of KISS action figures is announced. The Spawn: The Movie toy line is also previewed. You can now own the plastic likeness of Martin Sheen, complete with an oxygen mask, a chest monitor that opens to reveal his heart (an actual plot point in the movie), and a rocket launcher.

Production Note: As of this issue, Brent Ashe is handling the design of the inside front cover and some of the ads. The simple graphics of the earlier issues are replaced with an image from the Spawn movie, along with a few ‘90s Vertigo-esque design elements.

Review: So, around thirty issues after Spawn realized that Jason Wynn ordered his murder, the subplot reaches some form of conclusion. The story’s had to twist in about a dozen different directions in order to justify why Spawn doesn’t just show up and snap the guy’s neck, and finally McFarlane’s decided to go with an obvious copout. If McFarlane has a real reason for keeping Wynn around, I can’t really fault him for this, but McFarlane rarely takes advantage of any of his characters, and the readers shouldn’t have waited two years to get this anti-climax. I suppose this scene also ends the “Terry and Wanda investigate Jason Wynn” subplot, since Wynn and Spawn seem to be at a stalemate, and while I’m glad it’s finally over, it’s another letdown. So, that leaves Sam and Twitch’s investigation into Wynn’s conspiracies, and Violator’s partnership with Wynn to be explored. I’m totally confident that these ideas will reach a logical conclusion within the next couple of issues, aren’t you?

The confrontation with Wynn only takes up less than a third of the issue, so McFarlane has some pages to kill. Angela’s appearance was supposed to tie in with the Curse of the Spawn series, but it instead serves as another example of the lax continuity that’s always existed between the Spawn spinoffs. Curse of the Spawn #10 presents a slightly different conversation between Angela and Spawn, although the general thrust is the same. However, Curse #10 ends with Spawn and Angela teaming up to fight the horribly vague threat from that impenetrable storyline, while this issue has Angela disappearing in a flash of light before Spawn can do anything but squint menacingly at her. He then stops a mugging, (The homeless are always getting mugged in these alleys. It’s a real problem. Someone should write the mayor.) before sitting on his throne and humoring one of his followers’ baseball talk. Finally, it’s time for the cliffhanger. The final page reveals that Spawn has Al Simmons’ face once again, which leads into the storyline McFarlane decided to run as the Spawn movie hit theatres. The circumstances don’t make any real sense, but I have to admit this is one of the few decent cliffhangers the series has presented so far.