8.10.2015

Spider-Man: 1989

SPIDER-MAN in the 1980s, pt. 12 of 12


Well, here we are. There will be an epilogue, but for most intents and purposes, this is the end of the line. 1989, the year once known for Tim Burton's Batman and the debut of The Simpsons, now known primarily as the title of a Taylor Swift album. So it goes.

1. PETER PARKER SOAP OPERA

I've enjoyed chronicling this Peter Parker Soap Opera business. Particularly the highs and lows and sideways of one Flash "Your Ass Is Grass!" Thompson.


In the 80s his function as that creature of necessity for all episodic drama, the erratic sidekick (sort of a Steve Sanders of the Spideyverse) bounced right off me. This time around though, I was thoroughly entertained by that. The writers seized upon him as the random element background character to propel the A-plots (from the Hobgoblin right through Inferno) along. 

Stan Lee's hard work in the 60s pays sweet dividends for the Flash of the 80s.
And here's where he ends up - dating Rachel Dolezal, apparently.

Flash and Betty break up in the wake of her schizophrenic break after Ned's death, and all the craziness of Inferno, (see below). He ends up as some kind of boxer or something, working with at-risk kids at some gym, still going on about how his high school athleticism defines him. Sha-Shan seems to be well out of the picture, now, which in real life would be seen as abrupt but makes total sense as soap convention.


And his life is set to become even more complicated.
In that time-honored soap tradition of the supporting characters hooking up in every conceivable combination.

Is he a cautionary example? The case could be made that maybe he should have been, but he sure wasn't written that way. In Flash's defense, let's keep in mind his two best friends are Peter Parker, who's still working his high school job at the Bugle, among other arrested-adolescent activities, and Harry Osborne - 

who has his own issues.

Basically, the whole gang is crazy. Poor Mary Jane. Speaking of, in the wake of the Jonathon Caesar affair last time around, MJ's blacklisted from all modeling gigs, and she and Peter get kicked out of Bedford Towers.


You'll never believe where they end up!

To make matters worse, her niece Kristy moves in with them.

She seems like she's a sweet kid, at first. Then cometh the drama:
It goes on like this for too long. Bulimia, parental estrangement, bi-polar disorder, etc. I ended up agreeing with Peter, at least the first thought balloon:

Peter and MJ eventually get their own place again, complete with skylight for discrete Spider-comings-and-goings, when Harry leases them the top floor of one of his refurbished warehouses in SoHo. Always good to have industrialist friends, even if they do occasionally turn into the Green Goblin and go streaming around the New York skyline, threatening friends and loved ones and throwing goblin grenades in-between super-villain monologues and bouts of amnesia.

Other developments: a bunch of crap with Aunt May and Nathan, and the Bugle gets bought out by the Puma. Lots of luck, Puma. 

3. ATLANTIS ATTACKS

"Event Comics" were just starting to go into overdrive in 1989. Why only have one huge crossover event per year when you could have 2? Or 3 or 4? The practice would result in the excesses of the 90s - throw in variant hologram covers! - but for '89, it means Marvel started off with Inferno, summered with this Atlantis Attacks storyline for the annuals, and ended the year with the Acts of Vengeance event.

Of these, Inferno had the most direct impact on the Spideyverse. Acts of Vengeance had little, at least longterm, and Atlantis Attacks had no discernible effect whatsoever. I probably should have named this section something else. I include it here only for these fun Fred Hembeck inserts from the Spider-annuals. 

Such as these from Web Annual 5:

Or "Spidey vs. JJJ" from ASM Annual 23. Fun stuff. Here's the insert from SSM Annual 9:


You all know who #1 is without my telling you, I'm sure. (And no, it's not Aunt May, smart guy - she's #2, followed at #3 by Peter's actual Mom. You don't need to be Doctor Octopus to figure this one out.)

And yet one more (well, two - I included one from ASM 326) variation of Randi, Bambi, and Candi! Granted they're neither important characters nor is it remarkable that they'd look different as rendered by Hembeck (due to his particular style), but the consistency of this inconsistency amuses me.


And the "Oh yeah, I remember them" award goes to Debbie Whitman and Marcy Kane. Despite Peter's returning to ESU last time around, neither of them - or any of his old buddies are mentioned.

4. INFERNO

The Marvel Universe was invaded by demons at the end of '88, thanks to events primarily over in the X-titles -


and the chaos continued through the early months of '89.

It had a twofold impact on the Spideyverse. 1) As mentioned above, Betty and Flash break up after demons target them for hi-jinks.

"Night of the Living Ned."

and 2) the Hobgob'o'lantern powers up as a result of petitioning one of the demons (the horse-headed one) coordinating the invasion.



As a kid, I never understood why everyone cracked on Jack O'Lantern so much. Didn't he have a cool visual? Seemed a perfectly fine comic-book-y villain to me. Then he became the Hobgoblin and literally every time he appears the other characters refer to him as a joke, a second-stringer, has-been, etc. It's kind of hard to enjoy a character everyone else (including the creative teams) sandbags in every panel. And when others aren't doing it, he's doing it to himself via thought balloon. So, this demonic angle worked for me in that it gave him something distinctive.

I guess a lot of work was done with the character after I stopped reading, and when Stern returned for Hobgoblin Lives, the new/old Hobgoblin (i.e. Roderick Kingsley, the guy Stern - and no one else - originally wanted to be the Hobgoblin) kills him. Whatever. I'll just say this - nothing associated with the Hobgoblin (his origin, his powers, his identity) makes sense to me after 1986 (not counting the character's retro-appearance in SSM 130), except for Jason Macendale's little deal-with-the-devil here in Inferno.

5. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN 146 - 159
Written by Gerry Conway and penciled by Sal Buscema.

Hat's off to Gerry Conway. While all the above was happening, he kept SSM and Web well-plotted and on track. It's not my favorite year of Spider-Man, but compared to the goings-on in ASM and the Image-y stormclouds gathering on the horizon, it's a breath of fresh air.

The various plot threads bounce back and forth between the two titles, but the ones that dominate SSM include: 1) yet another Gang War (!) with the Chameleon posing as JJJ and the Kingpin going to war with the Lobo Brothers.

Complicated by the romance between Eduardo Lobo and Gloria Grant.
Spoiler alert: it ends badly.

and 2) Robbie's stint in prison. First, he's adopted by a guy named Bruiser: 

Uh-oh.

Bruiser is killed by Tombstone before he can show Robbie the special direction in which he sees their friendship going. While Tombstone is doing solitary for the crime, Robbie hits the gym and practices the fight moves Bruiser taught him. There's a jailbreak (long story) and he and Tombstone fall from an airplane into Amish country:

Spider-Man searches for him, but he meets entirely different locals:
As with The X-Files a few years later, almost anytime the action leaves an urban center, our heroes find themselves surrounded by aggressive inbred yokels.

Eventually, Robbie manages to best Tombstone (who escapes to fight another day), and, once he gets back to New York, Bruiser's brother, an attorney with White House connections, tracks him down to thank him for the kindness he showed his late brother in the clink. (No one brings up the likelihood of Bruiser's pending ass-rape of Robbie. Thankfully, I suppose.)

6. WEB OF SPIDER-MAN 46 - 59
Written by Richard Howell (46), Gerry Conway (47 - 48, 50 - 59), and Peter David (49). Penciled by Richard Howell (46), Alex Saviuk (47 - 48, 50, 54 - 59), Val Mayerik (49), Mark Bagley (51, 53), Frank Springer and John Romita, Sr. (52). 


Like I say, most of the action bounced back and forth between SSM and Web, but there were some standalone Webs I wanted to mention.


One last sweet cover by Charles Vess. He racked up a good tally of impressive Web covers.
Intervention! The drug-fueled world of high-profile NYC models.
And this nice turn by Marc Bagley, winner of the Official Marvel Try-Out contest.

Web ends with the Acts of Vengeance business, during which Spider-Man gets cosmic powers for a few issues. That was it for me. Conway aside, Spider-Man seemed to be in the hands of meth heads. Looking back, I can't clearly see what provoked me so strongly at the time. I was hoping to discover it in these posts, and I haven't, actually, at least not yet. 



Maybe next time. But directly before the above is this nice standalone issue with the Grizzly.

It's your basic seeking-revenge-on-Spidey story, except this time Spidey lets the bad guy think he won.

I liked this so much at the time that I wrote a fan letter, and they even printed it in a subsequent issue. (63, I think?) Unfortunately, I don't have a copy of either the letter or the issue, otherwise I'd scan it for you so you could compare/ contrast my comics reviews of two different eras. (It's the Dog Star Omnibus DIY Home Game!) This time around, I still liked it, but I couldn't quite remember what it was that previously appealed to me so much. I was looking forward to reading said letter to find out - if any of you have any Web of Spider-Mans numbered in the early 60s, check out the letters page to the one dedicated to this issue and let me know, eh?




7. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 311 - 326
Written by David Michelinie. Penciled by Todd McFarlane (311 - 323, 325) Erik Larsen (324), and Colleen Doran (326).

Associative memories fascinate me. It's something I've remarked on many times in these pages, to be sure, but looking at this cover, for example, I'm overcome by a desire to play Metroid on the NES - 


or maybe ride my ten speed up to the Slatersville Plaza, get myself a comic book from the spinner rack, and a Charleston Chew.

I'm not going to spend any time on this Assassin Nation Plot, a 6-part storyline inflicted on the fans during a twice-a-month publishing schedule. Which pissed me off royally at the time - I was already not enjoying the Michelinie/McFarlane Spidey and now I had to buy twice as much of it every month? No thanks. It was easier to just quit reading Spidey. Which is exactly what I did after sending the Spider-editors a profanity-and-all-caps-laden screed about how they weren't going to have Bryan McMillan to kick around anymore. 


Sharknado, '89 style.

I didn't actually quit reading Spidey until late 1990 or so. I think - I can't recall. I know that by the time I graduated high school in 1992, I was no longer collecting any Marvels, nor any DCs except Sandman, which I bought until it ended, God bless its Endless Emo little heart.


7a. TODD McFARLANE

The McFarlane Era, pt. 2, more wildly popular with each passing month. For reasons as unfathomable to me now as they were then.


Another positive side effect of Demon Hobgoblin - at least it gave some kind of supernatural covering fire for the way his cape would tatter and self-repair, grow and shrink, etc.
No word on why/how Harry sprouted fangs when he put on his Dad's old mask, though. Maybe the mask came with some kind of stylized mouth guard? Which would make sense, I guess, but sure wasn't part of the original design. I don't think it was, anyway. Check the pertinent OHMU: Book of the Dead entry if you want to fact-check me.

I decided not to go too all-out in this section - to each his own, I've made my case, why belabor the point, etc. And really, I've made my peace with the guy - it's not his fault he single-handedly ruined my favorite character and comics in general for me. I exaggerate, sure. Here are two McFarlane panels from '89 I actually kind of like, from ASM 313 and 314, respectively:

We'll see more of McFarlane's Lizard in the Spider-Man in the 80s epilogue.

7b. VENOM


Dear God.

Okay - I actually wanted to like the character this time around. But folks, this shit is just ter-rib-le. WTF were people thinking?


It's not just the ridiculous visual. I mean, the black-and-white costume is cool, but the malleable-anatomy and quesitonable-laws-of-physics and spasm of webbing is not. And it's not just the break-Worf's-arm stuff, i.e. how suddenly Venom is the most powerful and fearsome and capable foe Spidey has ever fought, with each match-up preceded by Spidey hugging his loved ones and getting the women and children below, etc. (Forget that we've seen Spider-Man beat the freaking Juggernaut and Firelord in these pages; suddenly, his old costume - a visual gone amok; read into that what you will - moves to the very front of the line). 

Both of these things are tiresome, but what really kills the character for me is how inconsistent and random (and damn cliched) his dialogue/ character is. He's either doing stuff like this -

i.e. super-villain-monologue-ing, not underwear-weightlifting, which is a whole different thing -

for pages and pages at a time, or stuff like this:


I mean, is he a Ren-and-Stimpy-loco character? (So tediously popular at the time.) Is he a a mastermind given to speeches and turns of phrase like "my ebon friend?" (And no one who isn't a Latverian monarch or the ruler of Apokolips should be monologuing this damn much, anyhow). Or is he someone driven insane by an alien symbiote, which also has secret aims of its own? Bah!

7c. ROB LIEFELD

As visually unpalatable as McFarlane is to me, he's not the worst Spider-artist in 1989, nor the worst of the mayhem to come. That guy is undoubtedly Rob Liefeld.

I mean...

These panels are all from the ASM Annual. I think it was either William Friedkin or Robert Altman who said (according to Peter Biskind's Easy Riders, Raging Bulls) that Star Wars gave everyone a taste for junk food, and this new, insatiable appetite is what killed the American New Wave. I have a few problems with this assessment (namely: Star Wars is awesome, first and foremost, and it was more the studio that got said appetite, not the viewing public. As Lucas responded, "Popcorn movies have always ruled - how is that my fault?") but this McFarlane/ Liefeld stuff isn't even popcorn; it's instant-diabetes-in-a-can.

When Liefeld was asked (as reported in The Comic Book Heroes by Gerard and Jones) at a convention in 1990 why he got into comics, he said "Because Todd McFarlane lives on the beach in Malibu." Mistaking the audience's silence for incomprehension, he repeated himself. "He lives. On. The. Beach. In Malibu.

So, within only a year of his taking over Spider-Man, McFarlane spawned (ahem) an imitator who was arguably as popular he was. Within a few years, you'd see dozens of young bucks in print imitating Rob Liefeld. 

...


~ 
NEXT: Even more Get Off My Lawn remarks! And closing up Spider-camp.

From Parallel Lives, the Spidey graphic novel that came out in magazine form in '89. (Written by Gerry Conway; art by Alex Saviuk.)

8 comments:

  1. I'm sad that the all-caps, profanity-laden screen from ca 1989 McMolo is probably lost to history.

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    1. Regrettably, it's true, unless Danny Fingeroth has it a drawer somewhere.

      I've got to find the Web issue with my letter printed in it. Unlike a surprising amount of people I talk to about 80s comics with nowadays, I only ever had one or two published. I can't recall how many I wrote, but more than that. Anyway, I'm looking forward to see it again.

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  2. Jeez, the Liefeld drawings. You know they're going to be crappy when you open the book and they still manage to amaze you.

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    1. Exactly - bashing Liefeld is the low-hanging fruit, in so many ways, but then when actually confronted with it, it becomes impossible not to remark upon it.

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    2. This is how I lose my whole afternoon to rereading that "Shittiest Liefeld Drawing Ever" page.

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  3. (1) I still think of 1989 as the year of "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade" and "Licence to Kill," personally. Taylor Swift notwithstanding.

    (2) Flash Thompson WOULD date a Dolezal, wouldn't he?

    (3) "Always good to have industrialist friends, even if they do occasionally turn into the Green Goblin and go streaming around the New York skyline, threatening friends and loved ones and throwing goblin grenades in-between super-villain monologues and bouts of amnesia." -- That might the sentence of the month!

    (4) Bruiser and Robbie: a love that could never be. (*shudder*)

    (5) Very cool you appeared in the Marvel letters! I don't think I ever wrote to any comics when I was a kid. I wrote to Roald Dahl once and asked him if he would hire me as a co-author. He never wrote back, and I don't blame him!

    (6) Jeez, man. McFarlane even makes Red Skull look like shit.

    (7) Only Conan should refer to someone/thing as "my ebon friend." Never in Spidey; never.

    (8) I give that reference to "The Thing" all the thumbs up. I'm only mildly familiar with Liefeld's work, but what I've seen is HORrible.

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  4. (1) I can't believe I neglected to mention Indy 3 OR License to Kill. Both of those were definitive things on my calendar that year as well.

    (2) Named "Sambouca," no less! Flash Thompson, man, whaddyagonnado.

    (3) Thanks!

    (4) I share you shudder, here.

    (5) I'm hoping someone can track down the issue it appears in so i can see it again. I thought I had a copy, but if so, it's buried in the closet. When I was 8 or thereabouts, my favorite book was A Cricket in Times Square, and I sent George Selden a fan letter. He wrote back and I wrote back and he wrote back again, so i sent him a story I wrote about how kool-aid was invented. These dinosaurs went around the earth spitting blood at everyone, but since it was dinosaur-blood, it was sweet, and people liked it, so it became Kool-Aid.

    Curiously, the correspondence ended after that. I bet, tho, if that happened today, I'd be talking to the authorities.

    (6, 7, and 8) Agreed 1000%.

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    1. That seems like a reasonable origin-story for Kool-Aid to me!

      Did the dinosaurs go extinct by being overly generous with their blood? That seems like a good plot twist.

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