READ ALONG WITH PIPELINE
Let’s try something new: Every night for the rest of this week, starting tonight, I’m going to read a comic and post my thoughts on Twitter about it as I go. To make it more interesting, I’m starting with Todd McFarlane’s adjectiveless “Spider-Man” run. I’ve asked for Marvel to reprint the whole of this run in hardcover a couple of times in the last year and have given up hope. So I’m going back to reread the original issues, myself. I’ll skip over “Torment,” since that’s been republished a couple of times already.
We’ll start tonight, Tuesday the 10th, with “Spider-Man” #6. This, as I recall, is one of my favorite issues from the series, artistically. Spider-Man, Hobgoblin, and Ghost Rider star. It’s a two-part storyline, and maybe I’ll cover both parts together.
The #McSpidey hashtag is sitting unused, so I’ll start using that to tag all my related Tweets. Search on that, or just follow me @AugieShoots. Let’s relive the crazy days of 1990/1991 together, shall we?
NOSTALGIA AND THE SINISTER SIX
There’s an oft-quoted proverb about putting away childish things that lots of people like to skewer superhero comic readers with. It’s an unfair tactic, and one that’s potentially dishonest. A quick Google search for the quote landed me at this site, which refutes the convention wisdom, pointing out that “Judging ourselves or others for something we now call childish, is simply substituting one childish emotion for another. In addition, these interests of ours are a big part of what we are, and that is not something we are trying to avoid; in fact, it is just the kind of thing we are trying to see, to penetrate.”
This is just my roundabout way for saying that I bought Marvel’s recent Premiere Edition hardcover of “Spider-Man: Sinister Six” for purely nostalgic reasons. I remembered the issues well enough to know that this isn’t a modern masterpiece of comic storytelling, nor is it even the best of Erik Larsen’s run on the Spider-Man titles. The original issues for the series aren’t even that far out of reach. I know for a fact that they’re in the closet behind me as I type this, in a long box of Larsen-drawn titles I hold onto, from “Doom Patrol” through to “Savage Dragon,” with every stop in-between.
But the fact that this six part storyline from my earliest days of reading comics was coming out in a hardcover book was enough to get me excited to buy it. I remember the issues, and I remember where I was and what I was doing when I bought a couple of them, or where I read them for the first time. I can even tell you about the excitement I experienced at the time when I caught the next issue a week earlier than expected at a local Waldenbooks.
The book collects “The Amazing Spider-Man” #334-339, a storyline that came out back in the day when Marvel would push their most popular titles into a twice-monthly schedule in the summer to take advantage of the extra allowance that kids got outside of the school year, I suppose. Todd McFarlane had just left the title, citing in part the unnecessary rigors of doing bi-weekly comics, and Larsen was someone whose art, to my young eyes, looked very similar. That’s an embarrassing admission these days. Their two styles are worlds apart, but I can still remember the second time Larsen filled in for McFarlane on “The Amazing Spider-Man” and I didn’t realize it at all through the entire issue. (I wasn’t so thick, though, that I didn’t immediately see the difference at the time between McFarlane’s style and fill-in artist Colleen Doran’s, though.)
David Michelinie’s story has Doctor Octopus bringing the Sinister Six back together – with Kraven substitute, The Hobgoblin – to hijack a satellite containing a science experiment to seed the earth with something that will – ah, heck, I’m not sure I can explain it to you now, nor do I need to. Here: Bad guys want to sprinkle magic pixie dust on the earth and benefit from it. Spider-Man must stop them. Fisticuffs ensue, OK?
Along the way, several sub-plots of the time play out, including Aunt May’s romance with the gruff Nathan Lubensky, the return of one-time stalker Jonathan Caesar into Mary Jane’s life, and Peter’s on-going graduate studies at Empire State University. There’s even a scene later on with Felicia Hardy dating Flash Thompson to get back at Peter. Crazy times, those were.
At the time, it was serialized drama at its finest for me, with some cool art and a wide variety of guest stars to keep things exciting. “Amazing” was the flagship book of the Spider-Man corner of the Marvel Universe, made to bring in as many other Marvel characters as could possibly be corralled into one place. Things would get even crazier when Mark Bagley came on board shortly after this story, and Michelinie wrote a story to throw every character he could think of at Bagley’s drawing table.
Keeping in line with that, a variety of cameo appearances by other Marvel characters appear in these six issues, including Thor, Nova, Iron Man, and Doctor Strange. The good doctor, as a matter of fact, has the single most pointless and useless cameo in the history of comics. I remember blinking twice when I first read it, even back then. He basically shows up, thinks that the drama beneath him is none of his business, and then zips off. But it gives Larsen an excuse to draw a cool looking Strange, which is better than other cameos he drew in the title at the time, like Jay Leno and Malcolm Forbes. (Yes, Marvel was poking at Hollywood even back then!) Although, to be fair, Paul Schaeffer makes an appearance in one of the issues.
That, of course, is in addition to all the other cool characters Larsen gets to draw, including his famous Doc Oc in a white suit, Mephisto, and Elektro. About the only misstep I see is Hobgoblin, whose teeth look like an awkward horror special effect, rather than a “real” character. And, in a nod to the original “Amazing Spider-Man Annual” that introduced the Sinister Six (which is also reprinted in the book), each of the six gets a full page splash page along the way.
The highlight of the book is the issue Terry Austin draws, and the back cover reproduces a cover Larsen drew at the time with Walter Simonson on inks. That’s a combination I wouldn’t mind seeing again someday. It’s a natural stylistic fit.
The reproduction values in this book are top notch. I was pleasantly surprised by what I saw. While the original issues weren’t exactly printed on toilet paper using three drab colors that sunk the art into the mud, they also weren’t originally drawn for higher quality paper, or even the digital post-processing environment. I’ve seen enough poorly done reprints of comics to make me wary or what any new printing of an older comic might bring. Just removing those four-color printing press dot patterns in favor of the intended solid color can sometimes distract from a reprint. That’s to say nothing of issues with dropped thin black lines, missed colors, or missing things. While there are a few insignificant and barely noticeable spots where color leaked into odd areas (like a wheelchair turning the color of the ground at the edge of its wheel), it’s nothing that affected my enjoyment of the book.
The Ditko-era reprint takes a bit of getting used to, in the color department. The colors are, as they were back in the day, very simple and very bold. But being printed on solid white paper instead of newsprint, those bold colors can often be hard to handle. And the exact nature of the color separations means the soft blending of one color into the next is now gone, replaced by magic lasso outlines where colors come and go. It’s not distracting and it’s not detrimental to the story, but it is worth nothing if you’re into that kind of thing.
I’m not entirely sure why this storyline, of all the Spider-Man stories of that era, was chosen for a reprint in 2009. I don’t know if it’s a sign of more Larsen “Spider-Man” reprints to come or not. But I really enjoyed the fresh look back on a storyline that I’m sure I read more than once back in the day, and from which I used to trace drawings for fun. The hardcover is put together very well, complete with glossy color (spot varnish, perhaps?) on the front back covers.
The almost 200 page book carries a cover price of $25, and is available today.
REVIEWS AND PODCASTS
I’ve been contributing to the CBR Reviews section of this site recently, and hope to do one or two there each week. In the past couple of weeks, I’ve reviewed Radical’s new “FVZA: Federal Vampire and Zombie Agency” #1 and Image’s “The Eternal Conflicts of the Cosmic Warrior” #1. I never have time or space to talk about everything I read in this column, so hopefully, this will help flesh that out a bit. It’s also an interesting writing exercise, as I’m using a different writing style, and picking books that I wouldn’t always necessarily read. Also, I try to stick to 500 words or less. That can prove challenging, at times.
The Pipeline Podcast carries on! Here are links to the most recent podcasts:
Pipeline #232 – 04 November 2009 (13:03, 3.4MB)
Pipeline #231 – 28 October 2009 (9:25, 3MB)
Pipeline #230 – 21 October 2009 (10:28, 3.7MB)
Finally, one year ago this week, in Pipeline, I reviewed the “Wall-E” DVD and related it back to comic book storytelling, and covered the Joe Casey re-scripted “Youngblood” trade paperback. I just felt like mentioning that.
Next week: More reviews. . I have three or four things that are ready to go. We’ll see which one best suits my mood when I sit down to write next week.
I’m on Twitter at AugieShoots. See the top of today’s column for what’s going on there this week.
My photoblog, AugieShoots.com, has a few sunset pictures on it this week, including a couple of my new favorites for the year. Less than two months remaining to finish a pic a day for the year. I’m already thinking about what I want to do in 2010 with the site.
The Various and Sundry blog is still alive. I have more I’d like to write, but I’m running out of time. Just subscribe to the RSS feed and enjoy the occasional surprise.
Don’t forget to check out my Google Reader Shared Items. It’s the best of my daily feed reading, sometimes with commentary!
More than 800 columns – more than twelve years’ worth – are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They’re sorted chronologically.