In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the variant cover for the first issue of the second volume of Amazing Spider-Man…
Amazing Spider-Man #1 vol. 2 (published January 1999) – script by Howard Mackie, art by John Byrne and Scott Hanna
There’s an abundance of Spider-Man-related media in the news this week, such as the All-New Marvel Now reboot of Amazing Spider-Man (vol. 3) and the North American opening of Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2, so the timing was unquestionably apropos for Gimmick or Good to focus on something Spidey-centric. And that something, for better or worse, is going to be the first-ever reboot of the Amazing Spider-Man series. For the inaugural issue of the second volume of Amazing Spider-Man, John Byrne illustrated a variant “sunburst” cover. That’s only about 40 or so less variant covers than what was printed this week for the ASM vol. 3 launch.
But what about inside the comic?
Pinpointing the exact “low point” for the Amazing Spider-Man franchise in the 1990s is a tricky endeavor because there’s so much to choose from. There’s the infamous “Clone Saga” that gets a justifiable amount of hate from fans (but sold wildly for the first few years of its existence) and dozens of other arcs and events that were either terrible, forgettable or both (The Gathering of Five or Maximum Carnage, anyone?).
But I think a legitimate case could be made that the Howard Mackie/Byrne reboot was the worst of the lot, not so much because these stories were awful (though many were), but because they were so bland, boring and pointless. The Byrne/Mackie run all but killed any lingering interest fans might have had in the franchise before the reboot, and thing stayed that way until J. Michael Straczynski and John Romita Jr. arrived on the scene in 2001 (Paul Jenkins and Mark Buckingham totally killing it on Peter Parker Spider-Man starting around 2000 helped things as well).
ASM #1 vol. 2 picks up where the lousy “Gathering of Five/Final Chapter” storyline ended the first volume of Spider-Man comics. Peter has “quit” being Spider-Man so he can focus on his studies and take care of his Aunt May, who was miraculously (or inexplicably) resurrected despite dying one of the most beautiful and poignant character deaths in comic book history. The opening page of the comic shows the Human Torch sending out an S.O.S. to Spider-Man, hoping he’d reappear after what is assumingly a multi-month absence. But Peter is uninterested in putting on the webs again – even when a newly super powered version of the Scorpion shows up – “with great power must also come great responsibility” be damned.
Peter’s uncharacteristic stubbornness about his obligation to be Spider-Man is actually just a symptom of the larger problem with this comic. On every single page, I cannot find a single thing – a character moment, interaction, villain battle or plot development – that compels me to keep reading. When Marvel rebooted this series in 1999, it was part of a larger rebranding effort to streamline all of the Spider-Man books into two series (thereby simplifying things for new or casual readers), but Mackie’s script reads like it was written on lithium and Byrne’s art is cookie cutter and uninspiring (if not technically proficient). There’s no drama, urgency, or any other reason for me to get excited about this brand new series. Instead, it’s a total “eat your vegetables” kind of story from Marvel – you want Spider-Man, well then this is what you’re going to get.
The only moment that sparks a little bit of interest is when a “new” Spider-Man shows up to fight the Scorpion (with Peter there as a witness to boot). But within a few pages of the new Spidey’s introduction, the character is buried underneath rubble, and even after making a comeback, the hero looks to be Peter’s inferior in every way. It’s not that I don’t want to read a Spider-Man story where Peter isn’t the main character (I just did that for 31 issues of Superior Spider-Man), but once again, there’s no hook to this Spider-Man. The character is just there, more out of obligation than anything else (plus, the character’s identity is revealed by the very next issue, so it’s not even like Mackie/Byrne had any intention of stringing along a mystery here).
Probably the most “offensive” part of this reboot is Aunt May’s characterization. As I noted earlier, the fact that May was even resurrected is a crime in itself, and the explanation for her “death” strains the limits of credulity even for comic books (Norman Osborn kidnapped May and hired an actress to get plastic surgery and fake her death). But beyond May’s existence, like everything else in this comic book, there is nothing about her designed to grab or interest me. Her kidnapping is only slightly touched upon. Otherwise, she’s the same old “coot” she was when she was first introduced in Amazing Fantasy #15, making comments about her nephew needing to eat more while listening to less rap music (well, the rap music is a new wrinkle, I guess). Marvel came up with a preposterous resurrection angle for an old woman so she could play the exact same character she was nearly 40 years earlier.
So, if I had a choice between reading about Peter Parker’s clone or this comic, clones win every time. At least the “Clone Saga” was an attempt, albeit poorly executed, to mix up the status quo and do something risky and different. Risk almost always come with some kind of reward, but ASM #1 vol. 2 plays it so safely, there’s really no reason to bother checking it at all, which is probably the most damning criticism a comic can get.