Monday, January 31, 2011


Credits: Peter David (writer), Sam Kieth (art), Clem Robins, Dave Sharpe, & Steve Dutro (letters), Glynis Oliver (colors)

Summary: Cyber arrives in Madripoor, as Wolverine befriends a wolf in the woods. Soon, Wolverine confronts Cyber outside of General Coy’s office and is left hallucinating. He recovers in the wilderness, while Cyber offers both General Coy and Tiger Tyger a batch of hallucinogenic drugs. Wolverine eventually summons the courage to face Cyber again, just as Cyber double-crosses Coy and Tyger. During their fight, Wolverine’s wolf friend bites Cyber on his neck, sending him into a barrel of the drugs. Hallucinating wildly, Cyber disappears into the sea.

Continuity Notes: Wolverine knows Cyber from his past, but can’t remember how exactly. Cyber mentions that he has mental powers, which is apparently related to Wolverine’s memory loss (this is before the “implanted memories” story arc in Wolverine). In Wolverine’s hallucinations, he’s fighting Cyber over a blonde woman named Janet.

Production Note: This is a sixty-four page bookshelf one-shot, reprinting the Wolverine serial from Marvel Comics Presents #85-#92. There’s also a Beast serial in these issues, written by Scott Lobdell and penciled by Rob Liefeld and Jae Lee. How exactly did Marvel avoid reprinting this during the ‘90s?

Review: One of the few stories from MCP that stuck in continuity is the introduction of Cyber, who appeared occasionally as a villain in the’90s and was apparently revived inexplicably a few years ago in Wolverine Origins. I recall Larry Hama saying he disagreed with even the premise of the character, since the suggestion in this story is that Wolverine is afraid of Cyber. He has a point. If Wolverine isn’t afraid of death itself, he shouldn’t be afraid of retconned new villains from his past, either. In fairness, the story doesn’t actually say Wolverine is afraid of him, although Wolverine’s actions certainly leave you with that impression. The specific term used is that Cyber has placed a “mental block” on Wolverine, which is the source of his odd behavior.

The story doesn’t really hinge on whether or not Wolverine is honestly afraid of Cyber, or just responding to a mental command, so it’s actually not as controversial as I would’ve expected. It’s the type of Wolverine story that we’ve seen a thousand times today (mystery foe returns from Wolverine’s past, a few unreliable flashbacks occur, a previously unknown love is revealed…), but most of this was pretty new when the story was published in 1991. Almost half of the story is dedicated to hallucinations, which is one way to use Sam Kieth effectively. I don’t know if the script asked for Wolverine and Cyber to be driving comically phallic cars during the hallucination/flashback scenes, but it wouldn’t shock me to learn it was Kieth’s contribution. (Cyber’s is bigger by the way; he’s given the Oscar Meyer Weinermobile, after all.) Kieth’s art is all over the place here, alternating between a weak McFarlane impression in some places to the signature “photo-realism meets ‘70s underground comix meets Frazetta” look he later developed. At this point, he’s still warming up for The Maxx, which I consider his greatest work by far.

As this is a comic packed full with hallucinations, David’s obligated to play around with some symbolism. For much of the hallucination, Wolverine views himself as a ‘50s greaser, competing with high school coach Cyber for the affections of the teenaged Janet. Wolverine’s the young punk, Cyber’s the bigger authority figure, and Janet’s just there to be fought over, although she definitely seems to prefer Cyber. We’re also introduced to two animals that make repeated appearances throughout the story, an aged wolf and a white cat. Wolverine encounters the wolf in the woods and feeds it pieces of a deer out of mercy. The cat he later meets outside of Coy’s office, and for some reason it follows him for the rest of the story. When Tyger meets them, she wonders if the wolf represents Wolverine and she’s supposed to be the cat. The cat doesn’t really do anything, yet at the story’s climax, he or she’s riding on top of the wolf as it bites Cyber and saves the day.

Perhaps the wolf is the Wolverine we’re all familiar with, and the cat represents the hidden vulnerabilities Wolverine never shows. I’m sure there’s some significance to the cat riding on top of the wolf at the end, but there’s an implication there that Wolverine needs this softer side to defeat Cyber, which isn’t conveyed by the main story. Honestly, the psychological examinations of Wolverine aren’t the highlight, but as a slightly wacky action story, it’s certainly enjoyable.

Friday, January 28, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #72 - January 1991

The Reckoning

Credits: Danny Fingeroth (writer), Dave Ross (penciler), Al Milgrom, Keith Williams, & Andy Mushynsky (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Renee Witterstaetter (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man locates the rigged statue in Steele’s hideout and throws it out of the window, seconds before it explodes. Later, Dominic Fortune abandons his partners and locates Steele’s ship. He reconnects with Sabbath, who reveals that she married Steele’s anti-Nazi brother shortly after WWII. After the birth of their daughter Elena, Sabbath’s husband was mysteriously killed. Believing Steele to be reformed, she accepted his support and eventually married him. Unbeknownst to her, Steele took Elena under his wing and trained her to become his loyal agent. Now calling herself Sabbath, Elena is eager to kill her mother. The elderly Sabbath is saved by Spider-Man, who’s followed Silver Sable to the ship. Steele and Elena are placed in custody, and Fortune makes peace with Sabbath.

The Subplots: None.

Review: So, five years after Web #10, the mystery of the young Sabbath is resolved. Revealing that she’s the original Sabbath’s daughter is fairly obvious, but in the world of comics, it’s entirely likely that she could’ve been a clone, shapeshifter, robotic duplicate, or just plain immortal. As little as any of this has to do with Spider-Man, I’m a sucker for dangling plotlines, so I’m glad there was an eventual resolution. Spider-Man’s actual presence in this issue is more than the plot recap would lead you to believe...he helps to save the day, he just isn't particularly involved in any of the issue's big revelations. He saves the heroes from last issue’s death trap, reflects on why Dominic Fortune reminds him of Uncle Ben for a few pages, and saves the elderly Sabbath during the issue’s climax. There’s also an extended sequence that has Dominic Fortune faking a heart attack, and then faking his death while in the hospital. Spider-Man passes a mystery man outside of Fortune’s room and lets him go, even though his spider-sense tingled. The man turns out to be one of Steele’s agents, and he just filled the dummy in Fortune’s bed with bullet holes. Spider-Man believes Fortune is dead for a couple of pages, and predictably, he flashes back to his origin story and beats himself up. It’s obvious that Fingeroth is trying to find some way to make this a Spider-Man story, but there’s only so much you can do. If this were the main story during a regular run, he would be free to check on the supporting cast and advance some subplots. Unfortunately, fill-ins are almost always standalone stories, and this particular story requires Fortune for most of the action, so we’re left with an issue of Dominic Fortune, guest-starring Spider-Man and his ever-reliable guilt complex.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #71 - December 1990

Fortune’s Fury!

Credits: Danny Fingeroth (writer), Dave Ross (penciler), Keith Williams & Andy Mushynsky (inks), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man runs across Dominic Fortune, who is still searching for Baron von Lundt, a.k.a. Simon Steele. Silver Sable is also hunting the ex-Nazi, which aligns her with Spider-Man and Fortune. Fortune learns of Steele’s location and charges after him, ignoring Sable’s warning that it could be a trap. Fortune is indeed ambushed by Steele, who also has Fortune’s former love Sabbath and her adult daughter on his side. Steele traps Spider-Man, Fortune, and Silver Sable in his hideout and detonates an explosion after he escapes.

The Subplots: None.

*See _________ For Details: Dominic Fortune’s son briefly took on the identity and was killed by Simon Steele in Iron Man#213. Another footnote points towards Marvel Team-Up #120, Spider-Man’s first meeting with Fortune.

Creative Differences: The letters page says that Gerry Conway will return with issue #76 after a few fill-ins by Danny Fingeroth, John Byrne, and Tony Isabella. The return doesn’t materialize, due to Conway’s commitments on The Father Dowling Mysteries.

Review: You might remember Web of Spider-Man #10, which was clearly intended to be the first part of a storyline centering on Dominic Fortune. You might also remember that the early issues of this series were surrounded by behind-the-scenes turmoil, which likely explains why that storyline was dropped after the first issue and subsequently ignored. Even if he couldn’t finish it during his initial Web run, Danny Fingeroth apparently never forgot about the story. He revived the idea again in an Iron Man fill-in, and five years after the story began in Web, he returns to wrap it up in a filler arc. Iron Man fans complained that this story didn’t exactly belong in that character’s book, and it’s hard not to feel the same way about Spider-Man’s involvement. Fingeroth briefly connects Fortune’s guilt over his son’s death with Spider-Man’s guilt over Uncle Ben’s, and perpetual guest star Silver Sable does show up, but this still feels like a generic story that could’ve starred whichever Marvel hero needed a fill-in that month. Dave Ross did a lot of fill-in work for Marvel during this era, and while not every page is great, I’ve always enjoyed his interpretation of Spider-Man. I first saw it in a Punisher War Journal fill-in, and was impressed with his ability to merge the distorted McFarlane Spider-Man with a more traditional look. I also liked the way he played around with the black area around Spider-Man’s white eyes in order to create the illusion of facial expressions, which doesn’t make any literal sense, but it looks cool.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #70 - November 1990

A Hulk by Any Other Name…

Credits: Gerry Conway (plot), David Michelinie (script), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: A disoriented Spider-Man recovers the energy-transference device and returns to New York. He places the device in a bus station locker, and later tries to make amends with Betty. Spider-Man continues to grow sicker, until he transforms into the Spider-Hulk. When he eventually returns to his normal form, he realizes the device transferred energy from the Hulk into him. Spider-Man returns for the device, only to discover it’s been stolen. He finds the thieves and inadvertently changes into Spider-Hulk again. One of the thieves uses the device on Spider-Hulk and transforms him back to normal, although the device is destroyed during the scuffle.

The Subplots: None.

Web of Continuity: The name of the scientist in the previous issue is given as Armand Jones.

Review: No, we’re not ready for Spider-Hulk. I don’t think anyone even wants Spider-Hulk. Conway never shied away from ridiculous ideas during this era (the Living Brain…Phreak-Out…Banjo, the Appalachian mutant…), but those stories were usually propped up with ongoing subplots that could keep the readers’ interest piqued for the next issue. As long as Spider-Man acts like Spider-Man and the ongoing plotlines are advanced, I can live with a goofy villain. I could even live with Spider-Hulk for an issue, if it the supporting cast still had something to do and the overall momentum wasn’t lost. This issue, however, is a rushed conclusion to a silly idea with barely any other ideas to distract from the ridiculousness. If you don’t like Spider-Hulk, too bad, because that’s all you’re getting. Unfortunately, this marks the end of Conway’s second tenure on Spider-Man. Not only is he unable to script the final issue (due to his television writing commitments), but everyone assumed he would be coming back in a few issues, so there isn’t even a goodbye message. There isn’t even a letters page, just a house ad for the Star Mighty Mouse series. If Web ever had anything approaching a golden age, it would have to be the Conway/Saviuk run. And although Saviuk remains loyal to the book for years to come, the title still endures a stretch of filler before a new writer is finally named.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #69 - October 1990

A Subtle Shade of Green

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Renee Witterstaetter, Paul Becton, & Heidi Goodhue (colorist)

The Plot: A mysterious scientist builds an energy-transference device, while Peter Parker and Betty Brant investigate a monster sighting in New England. The monster is actually the Hulk, who is traveling with his wife Betty Banner. The scientist detects Hulk’s energy and tries to absorb it while he rests as Bruce Banner. Banner transforms and swats the scientist, accidentally killing him. Spider-Man arrives and briefly fights the Hulk. Hulk leaves him for dead and escapes with his wife.

The Subplots: Robbie Robertson asks Peter to forgive him after his recent behavior. Kristy Watson is released from the Eating Disorder Unit, and accepts a job as the Osborns’ live-in nanny.

Web of Continuity: This is Betty Brant’s first job as a reporter, and she isn’t thrilled with Peter abandoning her when he spots the Banners’ jeep turning into the forest. Mary Jane ponders why she’s so attracted to fellow actor Jason Jerome, a reference to a subplot running in Spectacular Spider-Man.

*See _________ For Details: The scientist is supposed to be the brother of the one who died in Fantastic Four #51 (“This Man…This Monster!”). The footnote incorrectly lists the issue number as #53.

Production Note: Bob Sharen is incorrectly credited as colorist. Issue #71 lists the colorists as Renee Witterstaetter, Paul Becton, and Heidi Goodhue (perhaps that last name is pseudonym).

Review: Gerry Conway’s final arc begins, and it’s far from a classic. In fairness to Conway, he originally planned on taking a few issues off after #70 and then returning, so he didn’t know he was going out on “Spider-Hulk.” This issue sets up Spider-Man’s eventual transformation, while a few supporting cast members are given a little attention. Robbie formally apologizes to Peter, as Kristy finally checks out of the EDU and is given a job as the Osborn’s au pair. This is possibly the last time Kristy was given more than three lines of dialogue in a mainstream continuity book (although Tom DeFalco did resurrect her in Spider-Girl, which seems fitting for that title). When the extended Harry Osborn arc begins next year in Spectacular, I don’t think Kristy even makes an appearance, nor do I recall her ever getting any type of a send-off. Much like the unwanted siblings on Happy Days, Family Matters, and That ‘70s Show, she just disappeared.

Speaking of garbled continuity, can anyone explain the Hulk’s appearance in this issue? He’s back to green and dumb status, even though he appeared just a few months earlier as Joe Fixit in Amazing Spider-Man. I was always under the impression that Peter David never reverted Banner to the dumb, green persona during his Incredible Hulk run. There aren’t any footnotes indicating when this change might’ve occurred, so it’s hard to know if this is supposed to tie in to a specific Incredible Hulk storyline. Also, I thought Marvel had a policy that the Hulk never killed anyone during his rampages. Yet when he accidentally kills the scientist in this issue, the incident isn’t treated as a particularly big deal. Could this be the Hulk’s first on-panel kill?

Monday, January 24, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #68 - September 1990

Tombstone Territory

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

The Plot: Tombstone summons Robbie Robertson for a meeting, and Spider-Man follows. Inside Tombstone’s hideout, Robbie discovers a badly beaten Hammerhead. To Robbie’s surprise, Tombstone thanks him for his new powers and declares a truce. Spider-Man leaps in to apprehend Tombstone, as Hammerhead breaks free of his restraints in the confusion. He guns down Tombstone and accidentally destroys the armory. When the smoke clears, Tombstone is gone.

The Subplots: Nick Katzenberg follows Robbie Robertson throughout the ordeal, but his ransom photos are ruined when his camera is damaged in the explosion.

Review: The long-running Robbie Robertson/Tombstone arc, perhaps the most notable aspect of Gerry Conway’s return to Spider-Man, concludes with this issue. Again, it’s a little odd to see the final installments show up in Web instead of Spectacular, but we are provided with over two pages of recaps to bring everyone up to speed. Tombstone, an albino school bully turned professional hitman, is one of Conway’s greatest creations, and his interactions with Robbie Robertson are some of the highlights of this era of Spider-Man. As hard as it might be for Robbie to believe, Tombstone honestly likes him, which is why he merely broke his back instead of actually killing him. Conway seems to be riffing on the belief (and I have no idea how much research has really gone into this) that bullies actually have some amount of affection for their targets. Tombstone tortured Robbie in high school, and from a distance intimidated him well into adulthood, but that doesn’t mean he has genuine antipathy towards him. In Tombstone’s warped mind, his relationship with Robbie is probably the closest he’s ever come to a friendship.

Now that Robbie’s responsible for inadvertently giving Tombstone super-strength and invulnerability, Tombstone extends his hand for a handshake and declares all debts are paid. Sure, he’s terrorized Robbie for decades, and Robbie has tried to kill him on two separate occasions by now, but Tombstone wants Robbie to know everything’s okay between them. I imagine that Tombstone has been granted super powers in order to make him a more credible Spider-Man foe (Conway always had to dance around Tombstone’s mere “peak human strength” in his previous fights with the hero), but Conway is still using the opportunity to tell a story about the characters. On the final page, Robbie reflects on Tombstone’s twisted view of friendship and realizes, with a little prodding from Spider-Man, that he’s been too hard on Peter. After around twenty issues, Robbie Robertson’s long arc is concluded. He’s faced his fears, realized the true value of friendship, and is starting to forgive himself for an old mistake. Gerry Conway leaves the books a few issues after this, and Robbie predictably returns to the background, but I think anyone who read this storyline was made fully aware of just how much potential is hidden within the character.

Friday, January 21, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #67 - August 1990

With Friends like These!

Credits: Gerry Conway (plot), Ben Trovato (script), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man follows Harry Osborn and tries to talk him out of reassuming the Green Goblin identity. Harry refuses to listen, maintaining that he’s restoring the Osborn legacy by acting as a hero. Later, Spider-Man tracks Harry to his secret headquarters and initiates a fight, hoping to teach him a lesson about the dangers of costumed crimefighting. Harry relents, and discreetly thanks “Peter” as Spider-Man swings away.

The Subplots: Tombstone emerges from the chamber with enhanced strength and invulnerability. He travels to Hammerhead’s home and declares that he’s the new crimeboss.

Web of Continuity: Tombstone no longer speaks with this trademark whisper, which is supposed to be a sign that the experimental gas has even strengthened his voice. This idea is quickly ignored (it was never established if Tombstone chooses to speak with a whisper or has weak vocal chords, anyway), as the whisper returns next issue.

Production Note: Some people have speculated that “Ben Trovato” is a pen name for John Byrne, but I’ve never heard any confirmation, nor do I know how the rumor started. Ben Trovato is actually an Italian term, so this is presumably someone's pen name.

Review: It’s funny how you can perceive ongoing continuity as a kid. I missed this issue when it was released, but I did read #66 and #68. Based simply on those comics, I assumed that Harry Osborn had revived the Green Goblin persona as a hero and that this was his new status quo. As far as I knew, Green Goblin would be teaming up with Spider-Man on a regular basis, and perhaps Spidey would be showing Harry the ropes while he adjusted to crimefighting. I also thought Harry suddenly remembering Spider-Man’s secret ID was a quickie plot convenience from a later issue of Spectacular Spider-Man. Oops. As it turns out, that missing issue in my collection swiftly put an end to Harry’s hero career, and it’s also the end of Harry’s very long, and very convenient, bout of amnesia.

I’m probably in the minority, but I’ve always liked the idea of Harry as a slightly inept superhero. He already has the Green Goblin technology, so perhaps a part of him feels the same obligation to put it to good use that motivates heroes like Iron Man. Plus, he’s always felt a need to redeem his father’s name. Why shouldn’t he make amends by retaking the identity and using it for good? Making him a villain again is too obvious a move, and since Harry doesn’t have any inherently villainous traits, he usually doesn’t even come across as that great of a threat. Of course, it was only a matter of time before Marvel turned Harry villainous again, with a cover that even mocked the idea of him ever going straight. I’m certainly not saying the DeMatteis/Buscema Spectacular Spider-Man arc was poorly done, I’ve just never seen the overall benefit of turning Harry bad again and then killing him off.

Speaking of obvious, this issue has Spider-Man picking a fight with the Green Goblin under the questionable motive of “teaching him a lesson.” You would think that perhaps Spider-Man would realize at some point he’s acting like a jerk (and a hypocrite, since he has a family as well, but he’s scolding Harry for not thinking about his), but that moment never comes. It’s a fight for a fight’s sake that eats up a few pages while the Tombstone storyline continues in the background. I understand Spider-Man has to confront Harry over his decision, and I don’t even mind his refusal to support Harry, but the execution is a disappointment.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #66 - July 1990

Friends and Enemies

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams & Mike Manley (inks), Rick Parker & Jack Morelli (letters), Marc McLaurin & Bob Sharen (colors)

The Plot: Molten Man contacts Spider-Man, informing him that Tombstone wants his help robbing the Osborn Chemical Company of a new chemical, Diox-3. They arrange an ambush and confront Tombstone’s men that night. Unexpectedly, they’re joined by the Green Goblin. Meanwhile, Robbie Robertson has been tipped off to the robbery, only to learn it’s a setup from Tombstone. Robbie defends himself by shooting Tombstone, who falls into a pressure capsule with the Diox-3 gas.

The Subplots: Robbie refuses to forgive Peter for staging the Spider-Man shoot. Liz Osborn is incensed when Mary Jane reveals she saw a Green Goblin costume in Harry’s closet (which is now gone).

Web of Continuity: Betty Brant is now Jonah’s executive secretary at the Jameson News Digest. Presumably, Glory Grant is still working for the Daily Bugle, although she seems to disappear from the books at around this time.

Review: Gerry Conway wrote a lot of comics with Tombstone during this era, but almost all of them were in Spectacular Spider-Man. For unknown reasons, Web is given this Tombstone arc, while Spectacular runs a storyline that has Spider-Man traveling to England and encountering the villainous duo, Knight and Fogg. The ongoing saga of Robbie Robertson’s imprisonment and return to society was also covered mostly in Spectacular, so it’s a little odd to see this plot shifted over to Web, as well. Regardless, I love the early Tombstone appearances and the Robbie Robertson storyline that went along with them, so I’m not complaining.

Robbie’s already gone through the arc of facing his fear, paying a price for his actions, and confronting his lifelong tormentor. Most writers would stop there, but Conway now delves into the question of how a man goes forward after these experiences. After a stint in prison, Robbie can’t adjust to the real world overnight. He had to become hard to survive, but the rules that kept him alive in prison are now driving away the people he cares for. He also sees himself in Peter, and just as he never forgave himself for covering up a story for Tombstone, he can’t let Peter off the hook when he commits his own breach of journalistic ethics. Peter thinks he’s become an unfair test case for Robbie’s “new morality” and refuses to roll over for him. Did any writer ever put this much thought into Peter and Robbie’s relationship? How often was Robbie even given something to do, after being introduced as a Sidney Pointier analogue in the late ‘60s? Conway makes the dramas of the supporting cast just as important as the main superhero action, which is a major reason why I’m convinced he’s responsible for Web’s strongest run of issues.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #65 - June 1990

The Last Act of Vengeance

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

The Plot: Spider-Man attaches his webline to an airplane, riding it back to land. Meanwhile, the villains return to Chameleon’s headquarters to collect their bounty, only to discover him missing. Trapster finds a note, planted by Chameleon, which implicates Kingpin in his scheme to rip them off. The villains travel to Kingpin’s headquarters for retribution. Spider-Man follows, and knocks out Graviton while he’s distracted by Kingpin. One by one, Spider-Man defeats the remaining villains. The Chameleon is thrilled, believing that Spider-Man’s interference has made Kingpin appear weak in the eyes of the Maggia.

The Subplots: Following Graviton’s upheaval, the Daily Bugle building is declared condemned. While babysitting Normie Osborn, MJ discovers a Green Goblin costume hidden in his father’s closet.

We Get Letters: A letter writer commends Marvel for avoiding profanity in its comics, unlike DC. The editorial response is “you can rest assured that the regular Marvel and Star Comics will always be free of curse words.”

Review: More fight scenes and not a lot of plot development, but that’s forgivable given the number of villains Spider-Man’s dealing with this issue. Allowing Spider-Man to defeat so many foes in such a short amount of time is a copout, but it’s obvious that Conway has put some thought into the execution and wants to give the conclusion some credibility. The most powerful villain, Graviton, is KO’ed while he’s distracted, which makes the fight exponentially easier for Spider-Man. Trapster and the Brothers Grimm aren’t much of a threat, and Goliath is defeated by his own weight when Spider-Man uses his webline to trip him. That leaves Titania, who’s taken out when a bus runs into her. If Titania’s strong enough to face She-Hulk, I think it’s really the bus driver who would come out the worst in that situation. Considering the difficulty she caused “Cosmic Powers” Spidey just a few issues earlier, it’s a letdown to see her so casually dismissed. Still, this is an entertaining two-parter with a good hook, and the subplots introduced are intriguing enough to keep interest up for the next storyline.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #64 - May 1990

Once More with Feeling

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

The Plot: The Chameleon hires Graviton, Titania, the Brothers Grimm, Trapster, and Goliath to kill Spider-Man. Graviton draws Spider-Man out by levitating the Daily Bugle building, but Spider-Man narrowly avoids defeat by turning his opponents’ powers against one another. Graviton responds by using his powers to send Spider-Man a thousand feet into the sky.

The Subplots: When Nick Katzenberg informs Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson that Peter Parker faked a Spider-Man photo shoot, Robbie refuses to work with Peter again. When Peter later slams Katzenberg against a wall, Katzenberg declares their feud is now personal.

Web of Continuity: Jonah and Robbie are now working at their new venture, J. Jonah Jameson Publications, Inc. following Jonah’s forced departure from the Bugle.

*See _________ For Details: Graviton previously lifted the Daily Bugle into the sky in Amazing Spider-Man #326.

I Love the ‘90s: A Daily Bugle ad declares Spider-Man “A ‘90s Kind of Hero.”

Miscellaneous Note: The Statement of Ownership has average yearly sales at 199,360 copies, with the most recent issue selling 207,300.

Review: The gimmick behind the Spidey chapters of the “Acts of Vengeance” crossover was that Spider-Man had an assortment of new powers to deal with, just as a new group of villains targeted him as a part of the “trade a hero” scheme. Now that Spidey’s lost the powers, Conway goes the rather obvious route and forces the hero to fight the same villains again. It’s a strong challenge that does strain credibility a bit, but no further than any Sinister Six story does, really. Also, Magneto (who appeared in one of the Amazing Spider-Man “Acts” issues) isn’t involved with this revenge scheme, so Spider-Man’s chances aren’t totally null. The cliffhanger is fun, and I’m glad Robbie Robertson’s storyline isn’t over yet.

Monday, January 17, 2011

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #63 - April 1990

Clouds from a Distant Storm

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

The Plot: At a cemetery, Mr. Fear overhears Betty Brant blaming Spider-Man for the deaths of her brother and husband. He uses his fear gas to manipulate Betty into contacting Peter, who she knows will send Spider-Man after her. Soon, Mr. Fear ambushes Spider-Man. Under Mr. Fear’s influence, Betty points a gun at Spider-Man, but Spider-Man encourages her to face her fears. She instead turns it on Mr. Fear, forcing him to fall in the nearby river.

The Subplots: Peter and MJ stage a Spider-Man public service announcement for the Daily Bugle in their home. Nick Katzenberg is spying from the skylight, taking photos of Spider-Man unmasking as Peter.

*See _________ For Details: Mr. Fear wants revenge on Spider-Man following his defeat in Marvel Team-Up #92.

I Love the (Early) ‘90s: Nick Katzenberg comments that he spent years avoiding Sean Penn’s fists, a reference to the actor’s reputation for punching the paparazzi while married to Madonna.

We Get Letters: A letter writer defends Skinheads following the neo-Nazi storyline, stating that white supremacists only account for fifteen percent of Skinheads.

Review: A future letter column has a few complaints about this cover, saying it unfairly implies that Venom and/or the Punisher would be guest-starring. That might be valid, but I still think this is a great cover. Gerry Conway is an avowed fan of the earliest Amazing Spider-Man issues, and I believe he was the first writer to revive Betty during his original run on ASM (unless I’m misremembering, Gwen Stacy debuted after he quit reading the book and he wondered why Peter was with this girl instead of Betty). A year earlier he did an excellent issue of Spectacular Spider-Man that detailed Flash and Betty’s experiences during “Inferno,” so I’m not surprised to see Betty show up in Web also.

The story continues a theme that appears often during Conway’s run, overcoming your own self-doubts and finding the courage to face your fears. Using Mr. Fear is a bit “on the nose,” but it would almost be a disservice to use this character and not tie him into that theme. The brief sequence that has Spider-Man facing his own hallucinogenic fears doesn’t exactly work, but Conway’s portrayal of Betty is commendable, and I like his interpretation of Mr. Fear. Mr. Fear II has inherited the role from his uncle; he considers himself a businessman and doesn’t know the first thing about villainy. He’s had to hire someone who actually understands chemistry to develop his fear gases, and he’s not sure if he’s even used them right. As he dangles from a ledge, facing defeat, he wonders if there are classes he can take to improve his villain skills.

Meanwhile, the subplot pages bring us the biggest goof from Conway’s second stint on Spidey. As numerous letters will vocally protest, there’s no way Nick Katzenberg would’ve been able to take a photo of Spider-Man removing his mask. As detailed in countless comics, including one of the “Spidey’s Spectacular Powers!” annual back-ups that ran not long before this comic was published, Peter’s spider-sense would’ve warned him of Katzenberg’s presence. It’s a giant mistake, but the editorial team at least acknowledges it in the letter column. The only No-Prize explanation that could be offered is that Peter’s identity is still maintained when the affair is over, so his spider-sense instinctively knew that everything would turn out okay. And, yes, that is lame.

Friday, January 14, 2011

SPAWN #60 - April 1997


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

Summary: Spawn takes aim at the invading police, until Cogliostro convinces him not to kill them. Following his advice, Spawn learns why they’ve occupied the alley and heads to Terry’s home. He convinces Terry he didn’t kidnap Cyan, and discreetly takes one of her toys. Spawn finds Cyan in the alleys by focusing on the connection between a part of his past (the shoelace) and the piece of her past (the toy). He confronts Violator, and uses his powers to seemingly kill him. Cyan returns home, but without a piece of her innocence.

Spawntinuity: When Spawn declares that he’s going after Wynn and Chapel next, Violator laughs maniacally. He mocks Spawn for still believing Chapel killed him, but refuses to reveal the true killer.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: As of 1997, Rob Liefeld is out of Image, and Todd McFarlane is adamant that he’ll never return. Since Liefeld’s character Chapel is supposed to be Spawn’s killer, that creates a problem. Just as the Spawn movie removes Chapel from continuity, the comic is now retconning him from Spawn’s past.

Spawn Stuff: Promotional material for the movie has begun. Despite the movie’s many faults, the producers have created a great costume for Spawn, one that trumps the many suits Batman’s worn in his movies.

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

Review: And now the outside continuity has begun to override the comic’s continuity, instead of just influencing it. Allowing Spawn’s killer to be a character McFarlane didn’t even own always had the potential for trouble, but when Chapel’s creator has a falling out with McFarlane and the movie creates a new character for the role, it’s time for a retcon. (Although the HBO series kept Chapel as the killer, and even used him in several episodes, so some portion of the “mainstream” audience always knew him as the killer.) McFarlane’s just dropping hints this issue, though, as the rest of the story is devoted to Spawn rescuing Cyan. Which is what he does, without any real amount of drama or conflict. Spawn’s method of finding her is a little schmaltzy, and requires him to suddenly develop some form of psychic powers, but I kind of like the scene. Spawn’s actually acting like a hero, and using some of those vaguely defined powers Hell’s given him to do more than eviscerate someone, although he does that too at the end. Giving Cyan the shoelace a few issues ago also creates the impression that there was a purpose after all, which is somewhat rare for this book.

As much of a relief it might be to actually see the villain do something in this arc, there’s still a sloppiness that surrounds the story. Violator’s been working with Jason Wynn since issue #34. They’ve smoked cigars, plotted and schemed, and laughed menacingly for almost thirty issues now. So when Violator actually makes his next move against Spawn, is Wynn anywhere to be found? Nope. Is there even a scene detailing Violator’s frustration with Wynn, setting up his decision to torment Spawn on his own? Of course not. The closest the two came to ever doing anything is when they contacted Sam and Twitch, creating a phony “informant” that would give them information on the Billy Kincaid case. Not only did this go nowhere, but two separate subplot scenes, issues apart, had Sam and Twitch preparing to meet their snitch. The most recent was in #54, which was the last time the characters appeared in this title. It’s not as if there’s a cast of thousands to keep straight in the book. There are two main villains, two detectives who could be allies to Spawn, a few bums who never do anything, a really wise bum who never does anything, Spawn’s widow, his old friend, and their kid. Is it really so hard to remember your Laurel and Hardy detective duo were left on a that also involves your main villains? I could tolerate McFarlane’s short attention span if it meant each storyline had a lot of ideas and each twist lead to a new direction, but it’s a nightmare when the majority of his story threads are these slow-burners that just disappear into the ether.

SPAWN #59 - March 1997


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

Summary: Spawn visits Terry’s home late at night, complaining that he hasn’t moved against Jason Wynn fast enough. He returns to the alleys, where the worms are feeding on Cy-Gor. The next morning, Violator disguises himself as Spawn and kidnaps Cyan. After she contacts the police, Terry reveals he’s been secretly meeting with Spawn. As the police invade Rat City, Spawn arms himself. Meanwhile, Violator holds Cyan’s pacifier and shoestring hostage, as Jason Wynn learns Terry has been stealing classified information.

Spawn Stuff: McFarlane Toys announces its Legendary Monsters series, featuring new versions of Frankenstein’s monster, Dracula, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, and the Wolfman.

Review: It’s surprising that this series is almost sixty issues old and no one’s kidnapped Cyan yet. In the HBO series’ first season, Jason Wynn arranges for Billy Kincaid to kidnap Cyan when Wanda comes too close to one of his cover-ups, which might’ve been an inspiration for this story arc. The Spawn movie also had Violator interacting with Cyan in a few scenes, so it’s almost as if this is an amalgam of the various media adaptations of 1997. The movie and the first season of the cartoon weren’t nearly as open-ended as the comic, requiring writer Alan McElroy to actually do something with the characters before his time was up. That’s a concept that’s usually eluded McFarlane, so I don’t mind if he turns to the adaptations for story ideas. (Exactly how long have Violator and Jason Wynn been plotting against Spawn, and what exactly has come of it?) The villain is actually doing something villainous, rather than just planning on future villainy, and Spawn’s forced to defend himself. It’s not a brilliant idea, but it sets events into motion, and actually advances the “secret partnership” plot between Terry and Spawn that’s already started to drag.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

SPAWN #58 - February 1997


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

Summary: Spawn removes Cy-Gor’s tracking chip, further aggravating Jason Wynn. Meanwhile, Eddie and Andy leave Alabama, hoping to find Spawn in New York. Eddie is recruited by the drug dealing Snake, but he remains adamant that Andy not get involved. Eventually, the brothers locate Spawn. When Snake finds out, he tricks Eddie into leading him to his lair. Snake views Spawn as a threat to his business, but his assault on Rat City only leads to Andy getting shot. After Eddie impales Snake on Spawn’s pile of bones, Andy is taken to the hospital. Once Andy recovers, the despondent brothers return home.

Spawntinuity: Yes, Spawn keeps a pile of human bones lying around. Eddie and Andy are the abused kids from Spawn #29. Much like a distant relative, McFarlane gets their names mixed up throughout the issue. Older brother Eddie is mistakenly referred to as Andy until the final few pages.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: The news recap page no longer has the CNN and E! logos. CNN is still one of the channels, but a new font is used to replace the trademarked logo (later, the name is totally changed to CNR). E! is now I!, the Infotainment Network.

Not Approved By The Comics Code Authority: Snake smokes a crack pipe on-panel. We also hear the phrases “suck me!” and “faggot vampire.”

Review: Cy-Gor just won’t go away. Now, we’re supposed to believe that destroying his tracking chip further undermines Jason Wynn’s credibility and creates global consequences. Really? The cybernetic gorilla they stashed in an old castle and forgot about years ago is that important? The one they haven’t bothered to track down, even though he went rogue in an issue published back in 1995? Okay, then. Aside from that ridiculous subplot, this actually is a tightly plotted issue. It has a specific point, the characters get in their proper places in a reasonable amount of time, and the conflict is resolved by page twenty-two.

McFarlane’s trying to emphasize the idea that evil follows Spawn, even when he tries to do the right thing. He thought he was defending Eddie and Andy by scarring their father, but he inadvertently set into motion the events that led to Eddie killing his abuser. Since then, Eddie has grown into a juvenile delinquent, and he only gets worse after traveling to New York in pursuit of Spawn. It is nice to see Spawn come face to face with one of his mistakes, and there is some emotional resonance to Eddie’s corruption. It’s rare that the sweet, innocent blonde kids in abuse stories ever return in comics, so showing one of them as a teenage crack dealer actually does require some amount of guts. Honestly, McFarlane has such a haphazard approach to continuity and long-term storytelling, I’m surprised he even remembered the kids. Seeing them return in the post-superhero era of the comic is a reminder of the days when Spawn was often cliché and predictable, but not an outright chore to read.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

SPAWN #57- January 1997

The Beast

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

Summary: Cy-Gor ambushes Spawn in Rat City, and is only subdued when Spawn unleashes a dark army of worms and bats. When Cy-Gor speaks his name, Major Forsberg recognizes it as the codename of one of Jason Wynn’s secret projects. He reveals that an operative who threatened to reveal Wynn’s connection to Al Simmons’ murder was abducted and used in Project: Simian. Spawn realizes that Cy-Gor is what remains of his friend, Mike Konieczny. Confused, Cy-Gor sought the person indirectly responsible for his condition, Al Simmons. Meanwhile, Wanda questions Terry about his new partner.

Spawn Stuff: The promotion for the HBO series has begun. This issue reprints some of Greg Capullo’s character designs (which are cleaner, slightly simplified versions of the comic book models), and details the writing process. Alan McElroy was hired to write the series based on his Spawn movie script, which McFarlane says was written when only twelve issues of the series were completed.

Review: A brief history of Cy-Gor: Spawn #38 - Cy-Gor debuts. He’s apparently been living in a castle for years after killing his creator. Spawn #40 - Cy-Gor prowls the countryside and is mistaken for Bigfoot. Spawn #41 - Hunters chase Cy-Gor again. Spawn #42 - Cy-Gor heads for New York. Spawn #49 - After disappearing for six issues, Cy-Gor arrives in New York, searching for Al Simmons. Spawn #56 - He’s still looking for Spawn. Last issue, he does manage to locate Spawn’s home in Rat City, but he happened to arrive during one of the rare occasions Spawn actually left his alleys. And now, almost twenty issues after the subplot was introduced, Cy-Gor finally faces Spawn. Can you imagine if these various subplot scenes were pieced together into one comic? Page after page of either Cy-Gor being chased by hunters, or aimlessly searching New York for Spawn?

Cy-Gor’s a silly concept to begin with, but knowing that even his creator couldn’t be bothered to check on the subplot for two separate six-issue breaks just emphasizes what a waste of trees this entire affair has been. And when his origin is finally revealed, after months and months of pointless filler, it’s in a rushed one-page exposition dump. That’s what you waited twenty issues for, kids. Cy-Gor is a gorilla with the brain of one of Spawn’s old friends, and he wants to kill Spawn because his thinking’s a little hazy after that wacky “swapped his brain with a primate” business. And God forbid you kids draw any entertainment from such a ludicrous concept. As all of these gothic narrative captions have informed us, Cy-Gor is a deadly serious cyborg gorilla with a human brain. Spawn’s battle with Cy-Gor is a dark, solemn affair. Don’t expect a wink to the audience. Don’t look for any acknowledgment of the inherent absurdity. Don’t you dare laugh at Cy-Gor…he’s hardcore, man. And if you think anyone involved with this storyline is embarrassed by its shoddy delivery and dimwitted premise, think again. You haven’t seen the last of Cy-Gor…

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

SPAWN #56 - December 1996

Kahn (sic)

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

Summary: Spawn continues to destroy Jason Wynn’s military installations, causing global repercussions. A former advisor to Wynn, Major Forsberg, rots in a hidden prison and grows increasingly insane. He flashes back to Wynn’s murder of his family, placing Genghis Khan in the assassin’s role. Spawn rescues him from prison, leaving behind the box that contained his child’s favorite toy. Meanwhile, Cy-Gor searches for Spawn in Rat City.

Review: This is one of the series’ early forays into straight horror, as the majority of the story is dedicated to Major Forsberg’s hallucinations of Genghis Khan. The design sense featured on the pages is great, but they drag on forever, and the pretentious narration doesn’t help. For whatever reason, this issue was adapted in the third season of the HBO Spawn series. The “adult” nature of the series required Forsberg to be force-fed opium by topless Bangkok prostitutes, of course. That episode served no real purpose, much like the issue it’s based on. Major Forsberg hangs around the alleys for a few issues, and maybe offers some helpful information to Spawn before disappearing. But really, why is Spawn bothering with this cloak and dagger crap in the first place? He knows where Wynn lives. We know he’s more than willing to kill people. What’s the issue? I know an earlier story had a half-hearted justification that Spawn won’t kill him because he was just a part of the conspiracy to murder Al Simmons, but that idea’s been ignored since it was introduced. Spawn isn’t looking to uncover a conspiracy, he’s apparently just annoying Wynn while Terry is looking for enough information to have Wynn prosecuted. Since when does Spawn care about the law?! If Spawn and Terry were working together to uncover the conspiracy behind Al’s death, that would justify the past few issues, and actually provide a decent justification for why Spawn’s sparing Wynn’s life. Instead, Spawn’s doing what he always does in this comic, waste time.

Monday, January 10, 2011

SPAWN #55- November 1996


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

Summary: In Rat City, Terry and Spawn review their plans, although tension still exists between them. As Violator checks in on Jason Wynn, Spawn sneaks onboard a plane headed for North Korea. There, he destroys a secret military installation that’s working for Wynn. Terry’s upset he’s destroyed evidence of Wynn’s stolen weapons, but Spawn assures him he’s kept a few souvenirs.

Review: Spawn #7 now has competition in the “Most ‘90s Cover Ever” contest. It’s not just the grimace, the giant guns, the dramatic pose, the excessive pouches, and ridiculous mask…the cover makes it clear that Spawn’s a cop-killer! Spawn’s coming for you pigs, and just like Body Count, he’s totally metal and gangsta at the same time. In the actual comic, Spawn’s killing soldiers instead of cops, but the juvenile anti-authority posturing is the same. (A tiny narrative caption informs us these troops “ravaged a small village” earlier, so it’s okay, moms. These are the bad guys.)

Although this does have a little more action than the average Spawn story, it’s essentially the same as the previous twenty or thirty issues. A few pages are spent reminding us of Spawn’s laughable connection to the evil worms, two more pages reiterate yet again that Wynn and Violator have a partnership, and Spawn spends a lot of time skulking around and hiding in shadows when he isn’t psychotically violent. And, like always, there are a dozen dangling plot threads that could be addressed, but are ignored for no discernable reason.

Friday, January 7, 2011

SPAWN #54 - October 1996


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

Summary: Spawn begins collecting bodies in Rat City, as Terry investigates the alleys. Cogliostro brings him to Spawn, who vents his anger at Terry. When Terry explains his desire to take down Jason Wynn, Spawn agrees to meet him at his office. There, Spawn sees the evidence of Wynn’s arms dealing and volunteers to ID the weapons in person. Meanwhile, Sam and Twitch prepare to meet their mystery informant.

Spawntinuity: Last issue, an offhand line from Malebolgia had him promising to keep Wanda safe as Spawn returned to Earth. This issue, this is apparently supposed to be Spawn’s new motivation -- he “embraces evil” in order to keep Wanda “untainted.” Ironically, this issue ends with one of Spawn’s rare heroic acts, as he agrees to help Terry stop Jason Wynn. Spawn’s throne is now made out of corpses he’s amassed in the alleys. This could be the “Spawn builds a chair” issue I’ve always mocked, but my memory is that Spawn spent the entire issue on that stupid chair, while this issue does give him something else do. It's possible I mixed it up with issue #48, which was largely devoted to Spawn building a refuge even deeper in the alleys.

Production Note: One of the Spawn/Terry reconciliation pages is missing a few word balloons. The corrected version is run in the next issue. This also happens in a later issue, and the computer lettering process is blamed. Yet, Tom Orzechowski’s words and balloons still appear hand-drawn to me, making me wonder if he was lettering on a separate sheet of paper that was then scanned digitally on top of the original art.

The Big Names: Mike Grell writes and pencils (with airbrush painting by Rob Prior) “Image’s first fully painted comic,” Spawn the Impaler.

I Love the ‘90s: A full-page ad seeks a “Gen X designer” for an art designer job at TMP. They’re looking for a fan of Green Day/Marilyn Manson/Nirvana, who watches MTV for the videos (and can’t wait for MTV2), and hates the Power Rangers.

Review: Check out that cover…it’s hard to believe it’s by the same guy who initially drew Spawn like this. The interiors aren’t this twisted and exaggerated, but there is a sense that everything in the book now has to have some sort of distorted look to it. I could still see Capullo’s talent, but was growing tired of this look at around this time. That might be why I had no real interest in the Curse of the Spawn spinoff, which seemed to imitate the surface details of the Capullo/McFarlane collaboration, with mediocre drawings underneath all of the scratchy lines.

As for the story, this is one of the rare issues that actually advances a few ideas in a noticeable way. Terry confronts Spawn! They make peace! Spawn makes a move against Jason Wynn! The book’s been building up to this for years, which might be why it feels so anticlimactic. I’m under the impression McFarlane wanted to do this story sometime around issue #24 and got cold feet, leaving us with thirty issues of mostly filler. In that meantime, Spawn’s grown colder and more unlikable, which means his meeting with Terry largely consists of him screaming and swearing at him while Terry tries to avoid wetting himself. Reading this, I’m glad Terry’s with Wanda, because who in their right mind would want to be married to such a petulant, irrational ghoul? Just a few pages before he finally reconnects with his best friend, Spawn was collecting dead bodies and arranging them dramatically around his alley. At what point am I supposed to root for this guy?

And even if one of the major threads actually gains momentum, McFarlane wastes more time on recapping Sam and Twitch’s storyline again. This issue, they’re preparing to meet with their mystery informant, which is what they’ve planned on doing since issue #49, a comic released around five months earlier. And is any progress made in the next issue? Flipping through it…nope. No Sam and Twitch. Also, wasn’t Spawn’s costume supposed to be going through some dramatic metamorphosis? It freaks out, retreats back to Hell, and then…it’s back to normal? McFarlane dedicated four issues to the Hell storyline, yet couldn’t be bothered to actually resolve the conflict that brought Spawn to Hell in the first place. At what point did McFarlane realize this book needed an actual editor, and not just a copy editor?

Thursday, January 6, 2011

SPAWN #53- September 1996

The Reckoning

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

Summary: Spawn finally arrives in Hell’s ninth level, the home of Malebolgia. He kills Billy Kincaid for a second time, and is attacked by demons masquerading as Wanda. Malebolgia makes his presence known, yet Spawn refuses to submit to him. Satisfied by Spawn’s new face, missing heart, and chest engraving, Malebolgia sends him back to Earth. Soon, Terry has a nightmare, confirming Al is alive.

Spawntinuity: Billy Kincaid is still wearing his Spawn uniform from issue #8. According to that issue, Malebolgia should be in the eighth level of Hell. Malebolgia claims that Hell needs an agent of death (Spawn) on Earth, so that souls can be harvested. I have no idea if this is supposed to mean every death, or just the ones Spawn kills. Again, this element of Spawn’s origin doesn’t make sense if we’re supposed to believe Heaven and Hell compete for souls in the afterlife anyway. Also, what does Hell do during those centuries without a Spawn?

Review: Spawn’s journey into Hell is over, freeing him up to wander aimlessly through Earth instead. The story hints around that Spawn’s time in Hell has left him even darker than before, leaving him as some sort of evil influence on humanity. I don’t recall this going anywhere, but I do remember even more directionless moping and anti-social behavior from Spawn as the months go on. Really, if the previous issues hadn’t made this clear, it’s obvious McFarlane doesn’t know where he’s going with any of this. This is an entire issue of Spawn interacting with his demonic creator, and all that comes of it is a recap of his mission on Earth (which is even murkier given later revelations about this world’s afterlife), and some vague talk of him spreading Hell’s influence on Earth. There’s no coherent mythology being built, there’s no clear direction for the main character to follow, and if this extended arc even had a point, it’s apparently to make him even less likable than before. Like always, the art and production values help the story coast a bit, but this is all forgettable. Well, the image of Spawn standing on top of Malebolgia’s left nipple is pretty memorable. I have no idea why Capullo/McFarlane felt the need for this shot, but it’s virtually the only scene from this storyline that stuck in my memory.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

SPAWN #52 - August 1996


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

Summary: Terry finds himself haunted by nightmares featuring Al. In Hell, Spawn arrives in the Fifth Level of Hell. He’s praised as a messiah by the envious, green-skinned denizens of the Fifth Level. Another recent arrival, the Savage Dragon, is pitted against Spawn to determine which is the real prophet. Spawn wins, but he enrages the natives when he demands they spare Dragon’s life. They attempt to crucify Dragon and Spawn, but the heroes disappear in a flash of light.

Spawntinuity: Allegedly, this story is supposed to be resolved in Savage Dragon #30. Spawn does appear in that issue, but this story is entirely ignored, as Erik Larsen presents his own interpretation of Dragon’s first meeting with Spawn. The little green men carve a large Spawn insignia into Spawn’s chest after they turn on him. McFarlane might’ve intended this to be permanent addition, but I doubt the opportunity to show it came up that often.

Spawn Stuff: McFarlane Toys unveils its new line, Total Chaos. The characters are simply supposed to “look cool” and don’t have any ties to the Spawn comic, although there is an alternate reality version of Al Simmons.

Spawn vs. Lawyers: The Image Info page hints that a character who isn’t Chapel will be Spawn’s killer in the upcoming movie. This is before Liefeld broke ties with Image (in fact, McFarlane defends his “Heroes Reborn” deal in the letters column), so I wonder now if the recasting was a Hollywood decision and not a result of Liefeld owning Chapel. Terry Fitzgerald was made into a white character because the studio didn’t want Spawn to be viewed as a “black movie,” so perhaps that’s why Chapel was removed (and replaced by a white woman!).

Review: After an insanely wordy intro, which recaps Spawn’s history with Wanda and Terry and the events of the past few issues, the title returns to the tedious “Spawn in Hell” arc. This issue’s plot is as aimless as the previous chapters, but it’s actually fairly entertaining as a standalone story. The internal politics of the green men add some humor to the series, and I like the game of “Telephone” they play that ends with them convinced Spawn killed his wife…“and loved it.”

Although the continuity between Savage Dragon and this book never worked out, McFarlane does at least know that Dragon is supposed to believe he’s dreaming during his own Hell storyline. An avowed atheist, Dragon refuses to believe he could be taken to a place that doesn’t exist, so he just goes along with whatever this dream tells him is happening. If he has to fight Spawn to prove to a group of little green men that he’s the messiah, so be it.

The final page reveals (through several of the giant chunks of text McFarlane’s so fond of) that Malebolgia arranged these events to even a personal score with the ruler of the Fifth Level. The appearance of two messiahs creates doubts amongst the green men, which leads to differing philosophies and religions, eventually causing the Fifth Level to devolve into never-ending war. None of this really has anything to do with Spawn, but it is a nice use of the Levels of Hell setting. Meanwhile, absolutely no subplots are advanced, let alone resolved. We’re reminded of Cyan’s shoelace and Terry’s dreams, but the other characters that are allegedly a part of the ongoing storyline are dropped. Violator and Jason Wynn working together? Sam and Twitch’s conspiracy investigation? Terry’s probe of Jason Wynn’s activities? Violator spying on Cyan? They’re not even given a token cameo. Also, wasn’t there a cybernetic gorilla that was pursuing Spawn? No, that’s ridiculous. I must’ve imagined that one.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

SPAWN #51 - July 1996


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

Summary: Spawn lands in the fourth level of Hell, where he’s tormented by a corpulent demon. His costume detaches from his skin, as the demon reviews Al Simmons’ life and reflects on his love of killing. The demon rips out Spawn’s heart, keeping it as a memento as Spawn is sent to the next level of Hell. Meanwhile, Sam and Twitch prepare to meet their mysterious informant. Twitch is shocked to discover Sam’s purchased a ’55 Chevy to act as their “Crimemobile.” Elsewhere, Cyan has grown attached to an old shoelace.

Spawntinuity: Spawn’s tormentor also rips his flesh off, which completes the rotting corpse look McFarlane is currently going for. Terry now has gray temples, which are somehow a side effect of Spawn healing his injuries. Cyan’s shoelace is the one that kept Spawn’s face together for months. She found it in Terry’s hospital room, after he inadvertently pulled it loose while Spawn healed him.

The Big Names: Steve “Spaz” Williams, who did special effects for Terminator 2, Jurassic Park, and The Mask is creating a CGI Violator for the Spawn movie.

Spawn Stuff: Aside from the latest wave of Spawn toys (which include Zombie Spawn and Wolf Spawn), this issue advertises Spawn chromium trading cards, a Spawn Bible handbook one-shot, an exclusive comic starring Viking Spawn in the latest Overstreet Fan magazine, and a new spinoff, Curse of the Spawn. Curse of the Spawn originally centers on other Spawns throughout time, before expanding the focus to supporting characters like Angela and Sam & Twitch. This paves the way for the Sam and Twitch spinoff series, which raises the profile of a pre-Marvel Brian Michael Bendis.

Review: Spawn now finds himself in the unnamed Fourth Level of Hell, which is known for the unbearable psychological torment it inflicts on its victims, and the wonderful convenience of all-white backgrounds it provides to creators on a deadline. The stark white background is actually a nice break for this series, which usually can’t resist a coat of scratchy lines over any backdrop. The story is more of the same, not surprisingly. We get another recap of Al Simmons’ life, while Sam and Twitch continue to passively investigate the conspiracy they’ve been exploring since…who even remembers at this point. One new plot thread is introduced, as Cyan develops what appears to be a supernatural connection to Spawn’s old shoelace. This has potential, but McFarlane’s track record for actually paying this stuff off is abysmal. Wanda still hasn’t reacted to Granny Blake’s claim that Al’s alive, or to Spawn himself outright telling her he’s Al. Terry’s conversation with Granny from the previous issue, which revealed that Al/Spawn cured his cancer, is also ignored. Maybe these two should actually listen to the old lady…

Monday, January 3, 2011

SPAWN #50- June 1996


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

Summary: Terry survives the wreck, only to learn he has brain cancer. Meanwhile, Cogliostro warns Spawn to let go of his anger, which is feeding his erratic symbiote. Spawn visits Granny Blake and learns of Terry’s cancer. When Terry’s condition becomes critical, Spawn reluctantly uses his powers to heal him. The act triggers Spawn’s symbiote, which returns to Hell in its confused state. Spawn finds himself under attack by the lower levels of Hell. When his face is ripped off, he fights back. On Earth, Granny tells Terry that he was cured by Al, while Violator, as a birthday party clown, spies on Cyan.

Spawntinuity: Terry calls out “Al?” when he sees Spawn standing over his hospital bed. Spawn replies, “I used to be.” When Spawn asks Cogliostro to reveal who he actually is, he gives a few cryptic comments before finally saying, “In short…I’m a Spawn” as he walks away. Later, when Spawn enters Hell, an extended narrative sequence expands on Alan Moore’s earlier hint that good and evil don’t matter in this continuity’s afterlife. If that is true, why was Spawn sent to Earth to “harvest souls” for Hell? The people he’s killed could just as easily be recruited into Heaven. Finally, Wanda’s age is given as twenty-nine. Even in 1996, this means she was pretty young to be married to a Vietnam vet.

Todd Talk: McFarlane reveals that if he were to return to the book as the regular artist, he would emulate the style Capullo’s developed. He also says that he would instruct any future artists to follow that style, which is funny, given McFarlane’s refusal to draw Spider-Man according to the John Romita model.

The Big Names: The Image Info page recounts the time director John Singelton gave Todd McFarlane an award, recognizing the million-plus sales of Spawn #1.

Review: To commemorate the fiftieth issue of Spawn, Todd McFarlane returns to pencil the first half of the double-sized issue, while Greg Capullo tackles the second half. As McFarlane points out in the letters page, the fans can now compare their art side by side to see how Capullo’s influence has shaped the title. What you really see, though, is how much Capullo has adapted to McFarlane’s style, because this isn’t the same Capullo who drew X-Force. In fact, Capullo actually seems to have exceeded McFarlane’s normal level of exaggeration by this point, as McFarlane’s half looks pretty tame when compared to Capullo’s. Then again, McFarlane’s chapter mainly consists of conversation scenes in a hospital setting, while Capullo illustrates Spawn’s battle with the demons of Hell. It’s a little odd that McFarlane chose to give himself the more boring chapter, but by this point I guess I just have to concede that McFarlane’s definition of “boring” is probably different than mine.

Putting Spawn in a position of having to save Terry’s life is a decent idea, which is probably why McFarlane already used it in “The Hunt” storyline, and why it showed up in the Spawn HBO cartoon. The twist this time is that Spawn still mistakenly believes Terry is working for his killer, so it’s not a decision he’s inclined to make. Through a lengthy series of narrative captions, which actually does work more effectively than McFarlane’s standard purple prose, Spawn’s thought process is made clear. He’ll save Terry’s life because he promised Wanda he’d always make her happy (let’s forget that one-panel flashback of him beating her), and he’s not going to stand by while she loses a second husband. Ideally, this is supposed to end Spawn’s yearning for Wanda and begin the next phase of his life. In the immediate future, it somehow triggers the costume and prematurely sends him back to Hell.

I can almost understand the reasoning for why the costume wants to return to Hell (it’s confused by its premature mutation and wants to go home), but why does this prompt the escape? Just a few pages earlier, Cogliostro told Spawn that the costume was feeding off of his anger, so he needed to develop a new attitude before he triggered the costume again. Now, it’s set off when he actually does something nice. So much for the “stop being an a-hole” advice. The second half of the story follows Spawn into Hell, as he’s forced into battle with lower-level demons that want his necroplasm. Capullo seems to enjoy drawing the various creatures, but it’s a thin plot that drags on for too long, and unfortunately, Spawn’s going to be wandering aimlessly through Hell for the next few issues. I remember this as an especially pointless arc, with its only true significance being the debut of Spawn’s new face. After the demons rip his “hamburger head” face off this issue, he’s now left with a more skeletal, rotten look. This marks the first time McFarlane totally redesigns the character’s face, but it’s not the last. Viewing this as an outsider who hasn’t read the book in ages, Spawn seems to get a new face every couple of years. Originally, McFarlane seemed to be making Spawn’s look creepier and more corpse-like, but the last Spawn cover I saw had the character resembling a Venom-style monster. I doubt any of the alterations have really caught the interest of the lost readers, but McFarlane seems unperturbed.

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