AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #299: "Survival of the Hittist!"
Welcome to part two of The McSpidey Chronicles, an attempt to review every issue of "Amazing Spider-Man" from the Todd McFarlane run. (The series began last week.)
Spider-Man travels out to the wilds of Northern New Jersey to fight a crazy billionaire building a domed city for survivalists in secret, policed by his own private army, which is armed with stolen military weapons. Meanwhile, Peter Parker continues to feel lost in his supermodel wife's world.
The story is typical of the time in that it glosses over all the relevant questions and higher moral and political issues to deal with just the part of the story that is most likely to involve superhero hijinks. The rich guy wants to hide out in a dome and get his rich friends to pay him an enormous amount to buy a place there. To protect these world-weary survivalist one percenters, he's building an army to protect the facility and to keep the rabble out.
The twist here is that he has chosen Chance for his weaponry. He wants to learn the secret of how Chance can control the technology he uses to fly with those rocket boots and backpack. But he doesn't want that to help his secret army. No, he wants to use that to raise a second army to keep a close eye on the first one to make sure it doesn't get out of hand. Who watches the watchers, right? (The question of who watches the people who are watching the watchers never comes up.)
The story focuses on that struggle between Chance and his captors, and Spider-Man's desire to remove the stolen military-grade weaponry from private hands. There are far deeper issues than that, but "Amazing Spider-Man" is a superhero villain-of-the-month type book. It wasn't going to stop for six issues to introduce us to some Survivalists, one of who likely wants to escape and is secretly aiding Spider-Man with information before losing her life trying to help him. Or, er, something. You could see the modern spin on this clearly. The class divide issues, the high tech angle of building a survivalist city, the military might and how much responsibility comes with that much power.
Nah, this is about Spider-Man breaking Chance out and blowing the place up. In that way, it works. You get the gun fire, the acrobatics, and the explosion. Yee-ha!
So, by today's standards, it's hokey. It is also, however, done inside this single issue. It's a tight story, without a wasted page. There's something new happening on every page, and nobody ever stands around to have a clever conversation. Everything is leading towards something plot-specific. David Michelinie is moving his chess pieces across the board, particularly with the subplots.
The issue has a nice mix of classic Peter Parker action, with scenes at The Daily Bugle and Empire State University, to boot. Defining Spider-Man up to be the put-upon hero, Michelinie's script has him winning the day and preventing weapons from getting into a private militia's hands, but Spider-Man still has to hitch a ride to get there, and then ride Chance's back to New York to get home. The poor guy can't catch a break.
It's another one of those repeated themes we'll see in the series: Spider-Man has a soft spot for the bad guy. Spider-Man doesn't have much of a choice here, but does help Chance get loose to help fight off the army trying to take them down. Even after that initial adrenaline rush is over, Spider-Man accepts Chance's offer of a ride home. Getting back to a worried Mary Jane is more important than taking the villain in who nearly killed a military man last month, I guess. Truces are funny things.
The story uses the old generic and vaguely hand-wavey "Northern New Jersey" location for its setting. Marvel writers will name specific neighborhoods in New York City where the action happens, but once the action crosses the Hudson, it's a general location where anything can happen. In this case, it's a heavily wooded section where a dome has been built without anyone noticing. One caption box describes it as being off of "State Road G2." I've never heard of such a road.
Story-wise, the issue is best remembered for the last two pages, in which Mary Jane comes home to find Venom waiting for her in the shadows. Creepy. More on that next week!
Let's get to Todd McFarlane's art now. Bob McLeod inked McFarlane in this issue, so it looks a lot like last issue did. The difference in the finished look of the book is enormous once we get to issue #300 -- next week! -- when McFarlane takes over inking duties. It's still clearly McFarlane's pencils, though. There's no mistaking the exaggerated Spider-Man poses, the body language shown by both civilians and superpowered folks, and the general storytelling.
In "The Art of Todd McFarlane," the artist talks of McLeod's work on the book:
Not that he was a bad inker, but by this point in my career, I'd been inked by literally dozens of different inkers. Each one of them brought a different flavor to my pencil. I never felt that anyone was actually hitting it quite right in the way that I had it in my mind's eye.
I'd just done some work on "The Incredible Hulk" where I did both pencils and inks, but Jim Salicrup was a little leery of letting me jump right into the fire of penciling and inking 'The Amazing Spider-Man.' He wanted to see if I could just get the storytelling and drama he needed out of my pencils first, before moving on to inking."
But not even a good inker could save McFarlane from the occasional incredibly wonky design choices in his work.
We can't know what the original script said, but I don't think this page layout serves the purpose too well. Spider-Man recaps the last issue with four word balloons, each of which could be easily linked to an image at the bottom of the page. It's a bad layout choice. There's no way those small panels packed that closely together in that position on the page could be used to accompany any amount of text. McFarlane's wonky page designs worked so much on "Infinity Inc." because they stole the show but still worked with the story. Here, that tendency doesn't serve the story at all. The reader is forced to wade through a wall of text, and then repeat the experience in pictures afterwards.
As a design thing, I get what he went for there. The reality is that it didn't work.
That's So '80s! Michelinie continues to explore Peter's relationship with his new bride and her world in this issue, as she takes him to a party with a gratuitous Eddie Murphy reference and a big-headed Paul Schaeffer cameo. He looks more like Don Rosa crossed with Erik Larsen than Schaeffer, though.
In the "Art of Todd McFarlane" book, the original art to this page is shown. You can easily see where Schaeffer's head was pasted in on both panels he's visible. Is that from McFarlane redrawing it so much he needed to paste in a new drawing? Or did someone else pencil the likeness for McFarlane to ink? Perhaps a Marvel Bullpen member?
That's So Spawn! My favorite part of the page, though, is the location of this party that Mary Jane has dragged Peter to. It's "The Spawning Club." Is that coincidence? Was McFarlane inserting a little in-joke? He may not have done the final lettering -- that's Rick Parker -- but maybe he sketched it in?
This isn't the only Spawn link we'll see in this series. Wait for issue #310, at the very least...
Coming up in issue #300: Extra pages! McFarlane inks! The return of the red and blue! Oh, yeah, and that Venom dude who got so popular there for a time.
RELEASE DATES, 1989
Last week, I asked about figuring out the release date for "Amazing Spider-Man" #318, my first comic. I had a number of people write in with possible dates for the release.
It's either April or May.
Bob S. wrote in to point to "The Newsstand" feature at Mike's Amazing World of Comics. It lets you pick a month and then shows all the comics that went on sale that month. "Amazing Spider-Man" #318 shows up in April.
The crazy thing is, I recognize a couple other covers on that page from being on the newsstand, too, that first time I bought a comic. "Avengers West Coast" and "Detective Comics" #600 are the most memorable.
I seem to recall the next issue of the series came out very quickly, so if that site is right and the book came out in late April, then I could have bought it at the end of May. If "The Newsstand" dates refer to the Direct Market, then the book might have come out in May a couple of weeks after the Direct Market and it's still possible I bought it at the very beginning of June.
The May Direct Market release date (which could push us into June) is best explained for us by reader Derrick Williams:
Up until 1989, an April cover date indicated a book released in January, so "Amazing Spider-Man" #318 (August cover date) would have come out in May (which jibes with issue 320 kicking off the summer bi-weekly stories). At the end of 1989, Marvel slid in a "Late November" and "Late December" issue, making February cover date the January issue from that point forward.
This formula is usable going back to the 70's (at least), so you can use it to determine when just about any Marvel comic came out.
That sounds pretty convincing, too. I even remembered when they went to "Late" month names for a bit to catch up. Maybe "Marvel Age" noted it at the time?
If the book came out in May at the comic shop, it could have come out in early to even mid-June at the local stationery store I bought the issue at.
The long and short of it is, I'll never have an exact date, but these answers certainly give me enough background to be confident that I bought the issue in, er, the spring of 1989. I'll go with the first week of June, because that's the overlap in all the explanations.
Twenty-five years ago. Yikes!
PIPELINKS AND NOTES
- I didn't do a full review of it last week, but I don't want it to pass without a mention: "Garth Ennis' Red Team" #7 last week was worth the wait. The extra page count helped end the story with a bang. It did not let me down. I gave the series grief after the first issue for being a lot of people sitting around tables talking, but Ennis infused enough dramatic tension in the book over those seven issues to make every table discussion interesting. All of the issues are available digitally now, or wait for the inevitable trade paperwork. If you like shows like "The Shield" or "Breaking Bad," I think you'll find something to like here.
- I'm on Instagram now. I plan on using it for art purposes. I have a couple sketches up there now. We'll see what comes next in the days ahead. (Yes, likely more Smurfs.)
- The Facebook page dedicated to Frenco-Belgian comics in America has changed its name now to "Eurocomics USA Invasion." I like the optimism and hope it works out. If you're on Facebook, it's a great way to see what's out there. If you're into Eurocomics, it's worth creating a Facebook account just for this feed.
- San Diego Comic-Con sold a bunch more tickets over the weekend. The directions on how to buy a ticket get more long-winded every year as they search for the best method possible. This year's explanation included this sentence:
When the sale begins after 9:00 AM (PT), EPIC will take everyone in the waiting room and sort them in random order for their registration session.
That's the nice way of saying it's now officially a lottery system. It has been for years, effectively, but now it's controlled more like a lottery rather than the random luck of who squeezes in between server crashes.
- My new method to learn French: Google Plus! Follow some French folks. Beneath every entry in their "blog" is a translate link, which lets you toggle back and forth between the English translation and the original French. Very handy. Even handier than Twitter. Using the Chrome browser gives you a "Translate" button at the top of the page, but that works on the whole page, takes longer, and is more annoying than the local link.
- Next week: Artistic dimensions and overlapping, French original art, and a milestone "Amazing Spider-Man" issue that launched a major Marvel character.