Gimmick or Good? - Amazing Spider-Man #358

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 1992's gatefold cover of Amazing Spider-Man #358...

Amazing Spider-Man #358 (published January 1992) – script by Al Milgrom, pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Randy Emberlin

For the final installment of Gimmick or Good’s April gatefold cover month, I’ll take a look at Amazing Spider-Man #358, the final chapter of the six-part “Sidekick’s Revenge” arc that saw Spider-Man and a host of guest stars including Punisher, Moon Knight and Nova, take on the cyborg version of Moon Knight’s former partner Jeff Wilde, aka, Midnight. The special, three-part gatefold cover opens up to reveal all of the issue’s guest stars (all five of them) plus Spider-Man.

But what about inside the comic?

While it was fairly common for the first issue of a new comic book series, or an anniversary/centennial edition of a long-running title to get the gimmick cover treatment, in the 1990s, Amazing Spider-Man #358 demonstrated that sometimes, just your average, run-of-the-mill issue could get a special gatefold cover if the potential was there for additional sales.

While sifting through my personal collection to find gatefold covered comics to review this month (proving that even “Gimmick or Good?” has gimmicks), I was at a lost trying to remember what ASM #358 was all about (and this is coming from a guy who has dedicated his internet persona on his dedication to Amazing Spider-Man). In re-reading this issue, and the preceding five issues in the “Sidekick’s Revenge” arc, it dawned on me that while the story was a completely unmemorable one, it was still a perfect exampled of the excesses that came to define this era of comic books.

So why all the guest stars? One can surmise the use of cyborgs came just months after Terminator 2 was making money hand over fist at the box office. Nova and Night Thrasher were from the relatively new New Warriors series (which was also penciled by Bagley). And the Punisher was just one of those “it” characters from the 1990s. Oh, and while not featured on the cover, Darkhawk, a hero created by Tom DeFalco a year earlier in 1991, also makes an appearance in this comic, so he must have needed a plug as well.

In trying to look at the structure of this arc and issue logically, I’m at a loss to explain why Spider-Man is even involved. It’s a Moon Knight villain (Midnight) who captures a member of the New Warriors (Nova). The Punisher is there for some yuks and senseless violence. But Spider-Man has the best-selling series out of everyone, so I guess there’s your explanation. Either way, the whole arc doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man story and even the opening splash page jokes “and lest we forget whose comics this is … the Amazing Spider-Man!”

The issue is really just one long, chaotic battle scene between all the heroes and Midnight, Thunderball and who we later learn is another cyborg, Midnight’s female nurse, Lynn. And the resolution is about as anti-climatic and nonsensical as it gets: after Spidey shoots Midnight and Lynn in the face with some webbing, revealing the metallic exoskeleton underneath, Midnight expresses disgust that Lynn would “voluntarily” become a cyborg, causing her to turn on her counterpart. As the two cyborgs tear into each other, the building around them collapses. The heroes all escape, but the machines are believed to be dead until Midnight emerges from the rubble. That (I believe) is the last we ever hear from Midnight inside a Spider-Man comic ever again.

Beyond the uninspired conclusion, Milgrom, who’s filling in for regular writer David Michelinie for this arc, just never seems to be comfortable writing Spider-Man dialogue, which is probably why Marvel leaned so heavily on guest-heroes/villains galore. I find this is a still a problem for Marvel today – substitute writers just never seem to sprinkle the right amount of Peter Parker’s sarcasm and wit into the text (when Peter Parker is actually Spider-Man, of course). In Milgrom’s case, the Spidey wisecracks are just overkill (even going so far as to make a pseudo-S&M crack and Punisher and Night Thrasher’s name in an earlier issue).

Meanwhile, after spotting some complaints in the comments section for my write-up on ASM #400 last month about the rigidness and sterility of Bagley’s artwork, suffice to say those people are probably going to be very unhappy with all of the emotionless figures in ASM #358. Granted, this is an issue that’s unabashedly the comic book version of a mindless popcorn flick, so expecting any nuance in the artwork is probably a waste of time.

The cover, on the other hand, is a pretty nice Bagley visual, especially if someone is a big fan of Spider-Man and the New Warriors and/or Moon Knight. Of course, the focal point of the image is Spider-Man and the Punisher –Marvel ‘s money makers – so if you were a fan of the secondary heroes and wanted to display this cover somehow you would have to unfasten it from the comic and reduce its value from pennies on the dollar to less than pennies on the dollar.

It does sadden me to go an entire month examining this gimmick cover type and not land on a single issue I could deem “good,” But I don’t think anyone will be surprised by the final verdict here. What’s funny about this era of Spider-Man is what worked REALLY worked well (Michelinie’s Venom stories, ASM #400, Spectacular #200), but the bad stuff, like the “Sidekick’s Revenge,” really has no redeeming qualities. At least with the other three issues I discussed this month I was able to highlight a few positives. All I can say about ASM #358 is that Spider-Man is still my favorite comic book character.

Verdict: Gimmick

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