This week, Keb revisits childhood memories and examines the writing in Todd McFarlane's short-lived 90's Spider-Man run.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Todd McFarlane was the hottest artist in comics... “blah blah blah tell us shit we don’t know”. Nowadays, he’s just an obsessive egomaniac... “blah blah blah tell us shit we don’t know”. However, it’s neither his illustration nor his... toys that I want to talk about.
In 1990, McFarlane had helmed the launch of a new Spider-man series simply titled Spider-Man. While McFarlane’s “epic” run lasted a whopping 15 issues, it produced two storylines that I think are the epitome of everything wrong and right about the artist’s career as a writer. As we all know, McFarlane would go on to create Spawn but I will talk about that in future columns.
The first storyline, Torment, launched the book and had about 14 different #1s with gold and silver prints and all kinds of 90s collector crap. Right on the cover of Spider-Man’s first issue is a little box that says “The Legend of the Arachknight”. When I first saw this box as a 6 or 7 year old, I thought it was a weird name. Now 20 years later, this little box pisses me off.
McFarlane’s writing on Torment is horrible! It’s bad because it’s flat-out poor writing (some may argue otherwise) and the plot is very bad. It’s also poor writing because it has no voice of its own. McFarlane seems to be trying to mimic the industry greats. His extensive use of the narrative captions having Spider-man talk to himself in his head while fighting the Lizard seem to be reminiscent of Frank Miller. In that same vein, McFarlane also tries to use the repeating element of a drum sound “DOOM DOOM DOOM” throughout the “DOOM DOOM DOOM” story and it really starts to take your “DOOM DOOM DOOM” focus away from other elements.
It’s easy to nitpick the story, but the most atrocious element of the story has to be the introduction to each issue. Even fans sending in letters to Marvel made comments about it. At the beginning of each issue, McFarlane begins the story with some sort of short sequence that either features inane New York babble or showcases pretty pictures of tall buildings and captions it with “RISE ABOVE IT ALL!” What bothers me most about this silly introduction is that it rarely has any point to the story. If it does, it’s sorely missed on my part but most of the story seems to be taking place in the lowest, dirtiest of places. Rarely does the story ever “rise” in terms of levels and Spider-man doesn’t seem to rise above his enemies. It really makes no sense and detracts from the whole story.
And those elements are just a shred of what’s wrong with the story.
So where did McFarlane get it “right”, if he even did? I would have to say his next big story, Perceptions, has him not hitting the nail on the head of the hammer, but actually improving. Perceptions features a guest appearance from Wolverine and is pretty much an excuse for fanboys to drool over McFarlane drawing Marvel’s two biggest characters. However, I like what Todd does with the story because he doesn’t try to go “big”. He produces a simple story that spans five issues and has Spider-man and Wolverine working together to solve a mystery. It’s also dark but it is set in the forests of BC and in a town called Hope. McFarlane does a great job making Hope feel like a hopeless place. He also does a great job with a simple story that doesn’t shove needless elements in your face.
So is McFarlane’s Spider-Man run bad? Not necessarily. The art is pretty and the writing is mostly bad. What I can definitely appreciate from McFarlane’s writing is how he improved it. As the series progressed, his writing got better. While I don’t think he found his voice writing Spider-Man, he came close enough to it with Perceptions and I think that might be the reason why I can definitely enjoy these issues twenty years later.