Saturday, April 14, 2018

Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane Omnibus

 So beautiful, so terrible......

 I vividly remember cursing Marvel and Todd McFarlane every month when I plunked down my $1.75 for the latest issue of SPIDER-MAN. "How could Marvel publish this shit?", I asked. Probably because you and a million other idiots were buying copies of it, you fool! But McFarlane's SPIDER-MAN was the hot book, and, as overwritten as it was, it was a joy to look at. And the pain didn't last long....McFarlane was out after issue #16, and that was following a fill-in issue by Erik Larsen, who would (briefly...) take over the book after McFarlane departed.

 I did have to give McFarlane props for knowing his Marvel history, as proven by his use of obscure Kraven The Hunter sidekick, Calypso, in the first story arc, "Torment". (Twenty-seven years later, this omnibus bursts that bubble by revealing that it was actually Glenn Herdling's idea to use Calypso, not McFarlane's. Street cred GONE, Todd!) TORMENT runs for five issues, and is basically a long fight sequence, as a drugged Spider-Man is chased all over the city by a blood-crazed Lizard, who is under the control of voodoo-practitioner Calypso. McFarlane is not a terrible writer, per se, but he could have used some judicious editing on this arc. He actually gets worse from here.

 The second arc, "Masques", finds Spider-Man and The Ghost Rider at odds over The Hobgoblin, who has somehow become a religious fanatic. Again, great art, but McFarlane doesn't get the character of Ghost Rider at all, and the story, such as it is, suffers for it.

 The third arc, "Perceptions", is just a hot mess. Peter Parker takes an assignment from The Daily Bugle to photograph the investigation of a series of child-murders in the Canadian wilderness. The culprit seems to be The Wendigo, a longtime foe of The Hulk and Wolverine, but Wolverine, who soon arrives on the scene, just isn't buying it. Wolverine is hot about all of the animals that are being wrongfully killed by hunters out chasing The Wendigo, so he decides to clear the big guy's name and stop more innocent animals from being slaughtered. OK, McFarlane seems to be laboring under the misconception that The Wendigo is really just a misunderstood Bigfoot, when, in fact, The Wendigo is a transformed human, cursed after EATING HUMAN FLESH, and condemned to hunt and kill humans until the curse can be passed on to another cannibal. Soooooo....Wolvie is totally barking up the wrong tree here. Add in some very poorly written proselytizing about Pedophilia, tons and tons of overwritten pages featuring block after block after block of text, and my previously-mentioned distaste of stories that feature Spider-Man creeping around in the woods and the countryside, and....this is the worst story arc in a bad lot.

 Next up is "Sub-City", which gives McFarlane a chance to draw (And not-so-comedically overwrite) grotesque homeless people, who are helpfully supplying victims to Morbius, The Living Vampire. This arc seems to exist for the dual purpose of letting McFarlane use Spidey's black costume, and attempt to draw a few issues in a Bill Sienkiewicz style, which he actually pulls off quite well.

 The book skips SPIDER-MAN #15, which was an Erik Larsen fill-in issue, which is a shame, because it would have been the best issue of the title in this omnibus.

 McFarlane returns, and departs, with issue #16, which features the first part of a two-part crossover with Rob Liefeld's X-FORCE, whose 4th issue is included here. This is an odd story, which again exposes how little McFarlane understood about some of the characters that he chose to use. Both issues of the crossover were printed sideways, and since they come at the end of the book, sometimes you have to do a little bit of page-stretching to get to dialogue that is a little lost in the gutters. There's a VERY uncomfortable few panels which feature Black Tom Cassidy blowing up one of the World Trade Center towers, and McFarlane has Shatterstar poke out The Juggernaut's eye with his sword, which totally goes against everything we know about Juggy's powers. Oddly enough, for as much shit as Rob Liefeld got about X-FORCE, it was dialogued by Fabian Nicieza, so it is actually the best-written issue in this collection.

 There are a TON of extras, including a politically-incorrect cringer of a questionnaire, in which McFarlane refers to himself as "retarded". Goes to show you how PC we've gotten...I actually gasped when I read that word. Kudos to Marvel for not censoring this historical document.

 SPIDER-MAN BY TODD MCFARLANE OMNIBUS is a beautifully-presented curiosity, from a time when writers were deemed to be almost completely valueless by comic-book publishers. This "Any asshole can write!" mentality led to a decade or more of the worst shit imaginable being published, and, in my opinion, led to catastrophic numbers of lifelong readers walking away and never coming back.

 The art and the copious extras earn SPIDER-MAN BY TODD MCFARLANE OMNIBUS seven out of ten overdrawn webs:

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