Monday, January 12, 2015

SPIDER-MAN, PUNISHER, SABRETOOTH: DESIGNER GENES - June 1993


Credits:  Terry Kavanagh (writer), Scott McDaniel (penciler), Keith Williams (inks), Joe Rosen (letters), Tom Smith (colors)

Summary:  Peter Parker discovers that numerous lab animals at ESU have been slaughtered by a mystery creature.  Nearby, the Punisher faces a group of arsonists called the Scorchers.  After the Scorchers are neutralized, a homeless woman shows Punisher the mutilated bodies of several of her friends.  Spider-Man and the Punisher’s investigations lead to an underground lab, where they discover Sabretooth.  They mistake Sabretooth for the killer until he reveals that he’s hunting a former Weapon X scientist named Phil Chambers.  Sabretooth leaves Spider-Man and the Punisher to fight amongst themselves and heads to Roxxon’s headquarters.  Spider-Man and the Punisher eventually follow and meet Roxxon executive Brandon Chambers, who has hired his brother Phil to conduct genetic research.  Phil, from his lab, unleashes his genetically modified creature to kill the heroes.  Brandon is shocked to discover the monster is their brother Mitchell, who Phil was allegedly treating for cancer.  With Brandon’s help, Mitchell is restrained.  Sabretooth kills Phil and escapes.  Later, Brandon tries to make amends by using his brother’s altered DNA to advance cancer research.

Continuity Notes:  Sabretooth remarks that “my claws only kill for money...and revenge.”  At this point, Marvel tends to portray Sabretooth as a mercenary rather than a serial killer.

I Love the ‘90s:  Phil Chambers tries to escape with his floppy disc archive of scientific research.  Also, the very concept of “designer jeans” seems unique to the ‘80s and early ‘90s.

“Huh?” Moment:  The Punisher escapes the Roxxon building when Microchip arrives in a helicopter.  The Punisher has his own helicopter…and chubby computer hacker Microchip knows how to pilot one?

Creative Differences:  An added line of dialogue has Spider-Man confirm that one of Roxxon’s guards is still alive after the Punisher forced another guard to shoot him with a laser rifle.

Production Note:  I hesitate to call this a bookshelf format one-shot, because an argument can be made that it’s a full-fledged graphic novel.  It’s not oversized like Marvel’s earlier graphic novels, but it is sixty-four pages of original material at the whopping price of $8.95.  (And that’s in 1993 dollars!)  The cover also has foil effects and raised lettering.

Review:  Do you think Peter David was kicking himself when Terry Kavanagh got to the pun “Designer Genes” first?  If only Peter David had written this one; the silly title probably would’ve remained, but I’m sure he could’ve done something with a Spider-Man/Punisher/Sabretooth team-up story.  Terry Kavanagh does pretty much what you expect Terry Kavanagh to do, which is fill pages with words but never really say anything.  To be fair, there is an effort to give one of the Chambers brothers a character arc, but at no point does Kavanagh actually make him sympathetic or believable.  Instead, Brandon’s redemption is just tossed in during the final pages to create the impression that this comic has more to it than mindless violence.  The story mainly consists of the three lead characters, most likely chosen for marketing reasons, having brief fight scenes with one another that are interrupted by quickie plot points, which lead to more running and fighting until the sixty-four pages are mercifully over.  While the dialogue isn’t as bad as some of Kavanagh’s later work, there are quite a few groaners in here.  The Punisher specifically is saddled with some hideous one-liners, like “He's a killer who needs being dead” and this egregious one: “Just get me to the hurt on time.”  Get me to the hurt on time.  Yeesh.

The back cover plays up the idea that the one-shot contrasts the idea of the hero, the anti-hero, and the villain, but that’s kind of a joke.  Sabretooth and the Punisher are essentially the same character in this story, with Spider-Man playing the part of the overwhelmed hero who accomplishes nothing by the end of the comic.  I will say that Kavanagh writes Spidey pretty well for most of the story, and I was relieved to see Spider-Man make some effort to apprehend the Punisher.  Stories where Spider-Man just accepts what the Punisher does aren’t true to the character, so I have to give Kavanagh some credit for trying to stay loyal to Spider-Man’s values.  However, not only does Spidey fail to apprehend the Punisher, he fails to do anything in this one-shot.  The Punisher escapes.  Sabretooth escapes and kills the main villain.  And the secondary villain gets a redemption arc that Spider-Man has zero participation in.  It’s almost as if Spider-Man’s only here to sell comics or something…

I’m not sure why someone thought that Scott McDaniel at this stage could handle a nine-dollar prestige format book, but he’s clearly out of his depth here.  While his interpretation of Spider-Man is remarkably consistent (and not a bad variation on Ron Lim’s portrayal at the time in Spider-Man Unlimited), the rest of this art looks like any other subpar Jim Lee impersonation from the era.  I’m assuming this was penciled before McDaniel began experimenting with his style on Daredevil; I wasn’t a huge fan of that run, but there was something stylized and cool about it.  Designer Genes just looks like any random Wildstorm comic from 1993, without the fancy computer colors.  This is pretty bad stuff all around.  In Marvel’s quest to reprint everything, I wonder if this is something they’re just going to overlook.

3 comments:

Jeff said...

One of my all-time favorite comics is Amazing Spider-Man Annual 15. It's by Denny O'Neil and Frank Miller and is pretty much the final word on the Spidey/Punisher relationship. The Punisher kills a criminal who's poisoned a kid with a slow-acting toxin and Spidey has to rush around to get the antidote. It also features Doc Ock beating the hell out of the Punisher and gets in some great character moments for J Jonah Jameson. In short, read that not this.

Matt said...

I think Kavanagh usually writes Peter Parker/Spider-Man well. The problem is that his stories are all terrible. I have the same issue with Bill Mantlo's Spider-Man.

With regards to reprinting, I honestly would not be surprised to see this show up in a Spider-Man Epic Collection covering the era, as they've inserted other graphic novels into their series' respective volumes where appopriate (AVENGERS: EMPEROR DOOM and SPIDER-MAN: FEAR ITSELF, specifically).

MasterMahan said...

"Get me to the *hurt* on time?" Okay, this sounds terrible, but I like the idea that the Punisher is a secret My Fair Lady fan.