Like any comic nerd, I have opinions. George Perez is amazing, The Wasp is the greatest Avengers leader in history, not enough people appreciate the beauty of the black-and-white ‘Deadly Hands Of Kung-Fu’ title from the 1970s. But it’s not all beer and Skittles, even in my head, and sometimes I worry that I’m too hard on the comics of the 1990s, and so today I’m going to re-examine one as a grown-up, and see if younger me was overly critical. Your Major Spoilers (Retro) Review of Spider-Man #1 awaits!
Writer: Todd McFarlane
Artist: Todd McFarlane
Colorist: Bob Sharen
Letterer: Rick Parker
Editor: Dan Cuddy
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: $1.75
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $2.00 / $3.00 / $100.00 / $3.00 / $2.00 / $20.00
Previously in Spider-Man: If you’re wondering why there are six different prices listed for this comic, it’s because there are multiple different variants available. Nearly any copy of Adjectiveless Spider-Man #1 will net you three to five bucks, with the notable exception of the Wal-Mart-distributed version of the Gold Edition at twenty bucks, and the Platinum cover edition which had a limited run of 10,000 copies. (The fact that 10,00 copies was a super-rare limited run makes me a little bit nostalgic for those long-lost days of massive sales, even though I know rationally that it was just speculator madness inflating the numbers artificially.) In any case, Peter Parker had, as of 1990, been headlining Amazing Spider-Man since 1963 and Spectacular Spider-Man since 1976, but the summer of 1990 brought with it a high-profile relaunch with Todd McFarlane (the new hotness of the day) handling not only art, but the writing duties as well, promising an all-new era of greatness for the Web-Head…
…an era which, appropriately, begins with a massive (and admittedly pretty cool-looking) double-page spread from the newly minted writer/artist. His scripting isn’t quite as together as the pencils, though, especially the much-mocked “His webbing: ADVANTAGEOUS!” caption. The issue is a bit florid for my tastes, but it is clearly trying to channel Alan Moore’s ‘Watchmen’-style captions, especially as we find a woman being mugged, with the captions warning us that night is a time “when shadows move, when things begin to crawl… Things like… spiders.” Enter: The Spider-Man.
Spider-Man as a dark avenger of the night is a concept straight out of the 90s, one that is seems cool on the surface (especially when he crushes a thug’s gun in his bare hands), but it quickly becomes clear that our red-and-blue garbed hero isn’t Batman. There’s also a recurrence of the “advantageous” line that really thuds to the ground in delivery, but the visuals are still pretty stunning. McFarlane’s trademark dynamic lumpy webbing is put to good use throughout the sequence, ending with the criminal bound to a lamppost by a comical amount of webbing… We get a quick sequence featuring dark forces conspiring in darkness before we launch into the bit of Spider-Man’s life that I most love to see McFarlane draw: his domestic life with wife Mary Jane.
During his run on Amazing Spider-Man immediately prior to this big #1 relaunch, McFarlane infused the Parker’s home life with playfulness and some surprising sexuality, something that this issue continues, but the strong art of the webswinging/fighting sequence feels a bit less distinct here. In fact, close inspection of certain panels…
…leads me to believe that Peter and Mary Jane are REEEEALLY drunk in this sequence. Still, seeing them together and being so cute lends this issue something that I have found myself missing in modern Spider-comics, so I’m willing to forgive some bloopy faces. (Interestingly, Peter in panel two looks remarkably like he was drawn by Judd Winick of ‘Barry Ween: Boy Genius’ fame, which leads me to think that Judd was influenced by this run of comics in his later work.) And, hey, remember that strange dark evilness that I mentioned? Whomever (or whatever) was behind it has summoned one of Spidey’s oldest and deadliest foes, The Lizard, and ol’ Lizzie is hungry…
The Lizard’s attack is once again beautifully drawn (but still quite a bit overwritten), and his rampage coincides with Peter Parker once again venturing out into the night…
At least, the captions tell us that it’s meant to be night, but the bright colors and vivid blue sky kinda tell a different story.
It’s a great-looking bit of Spider-Man action, though, and this time the copious captions work to the story’s advantage, giving us a view into Peter Parker’s whirling mind as he swings above the city, and giving us a nice character moment for our hero before setting up a big climactic parallel splash-page of hero and villain…
As I’ve mentioned countless times, I’m not a fan of the modern comic tendency towards extreme decompression, and this issue (or at the very least this ERA) is a pretty big part of the reason why. This is part one of a five-part series, and while some of it is pretty stylish, there’s really not a lot that happens here, and the overall arc is about an issue-and-a-half worth of story. Still, it’s hardly the abomination that my brain wants to remember it being, even for its flaws. Every page featuring Spider-Man is (you should excuse the expression) spectacular visually, and while Todd’s writing is awkward in spots, there is good character-building stuff to be had and some nice Spidey dialogue as well. All in all, Spider-Man #1 is inconsistent in its storytelling, but does some fun things in the journey, and gets at least a few points because I miss the married Parkers in their charming interaction, earning 2.5 out of 5 stars overall. It’s not Will Eisner, but it’s still an above-average reading experience…[taq_review][signoff predefined=”PayPal Donation” icon=”icon-cog”][/signoff]