Andy’s Read Pile: Spider-man, Torment
Happy 4th of July, Everyone!
For all of my American readers, that means “Happy Independence Day y’all!”.
For my British readers, that means Happy “Yeah we totally broke up with you, but c’mon we’re better as friends anyways”.
For all those other nationalities, Happy “It’s not the 3rd of July anymore…but not quite the 5th. Ummm…Yippie!”.
Anyways, before I get out there and enjoy the delicious smells of cook outs, picnics, and burnt chemical exhaust fumes from the small arsenal of fireworks I’ve been saving up all year, I thought that I’d get this week’s read pile out to all of you in case you’re 4th of July ends up being so boring that you have no choice put to read comic related articles on your computer, phone, and/or other smart device. Yes, indeed if you are reading this, I hope it’s over your morning cup of coffee and that you have much better plans for the rest of today. If this is all you got, well, God Bless America, I guess.
However, what some people have planned for later this week is to go out and see the new MCU movie “Spider-man: Far from Home”. Yep, the final movie in the legendary Phase 3 of this franchise will actually be in some select theaters this evening so you can top off your firework watching with some good ol’ fashioned Web head goodness featuring my favorite Spidey baddie, Mysterio!
By the way we will have a review of Spider-man: Far from Home on next Tuesday’s regularly scheduled podcast so make sure you stop back for that!
However, in the meantime, here’s some Spider-man related love with a review of the classic story line that was kicked off in the incredible “Spider-man” Issue 1 back in 1990.
Drawn by Todd Mcfarlane, it’s still one of the top selling Spider-man issues of all time with 2.5 million copies sold. Yes, I’m talking about the Spider-man vs. Lizard grudge match known as “Torment”.
The trap has been set! Long time Kraven the Hunter accomplice, Calypso, wants revenge on Spider-Man for his part in the death of her former lover, and she’s going to use the Lizard to enact that revenge.
Playing upon Spidey’s affection/respect for Dr. Curt Conners, the Lizard’s Alter Ego, who has recently lost his battle with his reptilian counterpart and has now become a savage mindless beast, Calypso, sends the Lizard on a murderous spree, killing innocent bystanders in hopes that it will draw Spidey out into the open.
It does just that, and thanks to the additional help of deadly poison which Calypso has enhanced the Lizard’s claws with, our friendly neighborhood web swinger now finds himself in fight for his very life, as he battles both super-villains who are not only hell bent on ending his life, but making sure he dies in the most painful way possible!
Things I Liked:
Well, I’d be a liar if I didn’t say what brought me to the dance back when I was a bare foot boy of 11 back in 1990 wasn’t exactly what I still love about this book nearly 30 years later. It’s that Todd McFarlane Art!
Yes, I won’t lie that while most of my friends were drooling over the Jim Lee X-men or Rob Liefeld’s X-Force, my heart was with Todd McFarlane and his insanely acrobatic, spaghetti webbing all over the place interpretation of my favorite Web Head. Although I will say that at times I prefer Erik Larsen’s Spidey over McFarlane, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t think that McFarlane wasn’t the bees knees when it came to drawing Spider-man. It’s exciting, it’s kinetic, its overly stylish. It makes you sit up and take notice, and it still has that effect on me today.
It doesn’t hurt either that this particular story of “Torment” fits his overall style to a tee as well. To say it bluntly, the story is very simple. It’s Spider-man meets “The Most Dangerous Game”. It’s a classic cat and mouse survival horror tale, and never really tries to be anything more than that. As a result, McFarlane can just flex his artistic muscles and give everyone a visual treat.
From the layouts to the splash pages, everything is both beautiful but also brutal, as he really puts Spidey through the ringer, beating him to within an inch of his life. We’re talking ripped mask, cracked eye covers, tuffs of hair sticking out, scars and cuts everywhere. Forced to sleep in garbage, to endure fire and explosions, and constant vicious attacks by a blood thirsty Lizard, drives Spidey to his limit as the senseless wanton punishment being inflicted on him takes its toll driving him to the point of madness.
And from a story perspective all of that great emotion is laid bare for the reader to see. It’s a terrific marriage of both art and dialogue that adds up to some of my absolute favorite stuff that Todd has ever put to paper.
It’s a high water mark for sure in my books for Mr. McFarlane as an artistic force, and although attempts to duplicate this same mix would be made in the early issues of McFarlane’s Spawn, it’s never as good as it is in this story.
Things I Didn’t Like:
I understand why there are the Mary Jane interludes throughout this story, showing her dancing at night clubs while her husband fights for his life. They are supposed to serve as a narrative breather for the reader, something that breaks up the savage carnage of the Lizard’s deadly onslaught on Peter Parker, and allows us to reset ourselves mentally. They also provide somewhat important context on what exactly Peter is missing in his real life due to the responsibilities he has in being Spider-man, and why he would struggle so mightily against certain death to get back to them.
However, of all the things in the book, these really haven’t aged very well, and honestly come across as somewhat shallow and annoying. They paint a picture of a Mary Jane that is somewhat callous and not fully aware of the dangers that her husband’s life presents himself every-time he puts on the mask.
Sure, some could argue that these scenes are supposed to depict a Mary Jane that’s so distraught over said dangers that dancing and partying are her defense mechanisms, the only things keeping her from being driven insane with grief and worry about whether her husband will come home alive tonight.
And yes, in other stories, that inner conflict is laid bare and we can see the complexities within Mary Jane and her actions. However, in this story, they just don’t come across. I was almost tempted to blame it on the times, citing that MJ must have grown as a character so much in time between this story and the current modern times, that she can show more depth nowadays.
But, I then reminded myself that MJ as written by Gerry Conway, Roger Stern, Tom DeFalco, JM DeMatteis or many of the other authors that penned stories starring her in years previous to this story, did so with a lot more tact and heart than how she’s portrayed here. Amazing Spider-Man #122, anyone?
Yeah, that’s still one of my favorite Peter/MJ moments. That tugs at the heart strings!
Sad that there aren’t any moments like that in this book…
One of the more interesting facts about this particular story is the fact that it’s in some ways a direct spin off of a even more famous Spider-man story that predated this by 3 years called “Kraven’s Last Hunt”.
Remarkably written by one of GotS’ favorite authors, JM DeMatteis, it’s often cited as one of the best Spider-man related story lines out there, and as a result has become one of those creative “wells” that many authors have dipped their buckets into for inspiration. I’m not going to rehash what happens in this famous story here, though. If you want that, you can read my fellow GotS staff member, Rob Stewart, and his review of the story by clicking below.
Anyways, what my point was that in addition to this story in which Kraven’s former lover, Calypso, attempts to enact revenge for the death of her former lover, Kraven, on Spider-man, there are also a variety of other really great Spidey story lines that used “Kraven’s Last Hunt” as the impetus for telling their tale.
For those of you that want to read more good Spider-man stories, here’s two such stories for you to pick up:
Soul of the Hunter:
The direct sequel to “Kraven’s Last Hunt” this graphic novel was published in August 1992 and reunited the exact team that worked on the original series: J.M. DeMatteis as writer with pencils by Mike Zeck, and inks by Bob McLeod.
In some ways a necessary epilogue, DeMatteis mainly wrote it because of a pretty wild misrepresentation of the “Kraven’s Last Hunt” story as one that glorified the act of suicide which is not what the writer had intended.
Anyways it mainly deals with Spider-man efforts to team Kraven’s spirit find rest in the wake of his violent end. I actually remember this story pretty vividly because at the time I read it, I had actually not read “Kraven’s Last Hunt” yet, so it was like watching a sequel before the original movie. All I remember was the scenes were Spidey had to fight Zombie Kraven were pretty unsettling for me even as a 13 year old.
What If? Issues 17 and 53
In issue #17 of the second series of What If? from the early 90s, we get an alternate telling of “Last Hunt” in which Kraven used real bullets instead of tranquilizers, thus truly murdering Spider-Man.
It’s an even darker story to be honest than the original simply for no other reason than its implied that Kraven not only killed Spider-man but cannibalized his body, eating pieces of it in order to gain his spider-powers. Just plain nightmare fuel.
Also issue #53 of that same series, included a short story that was an alternate ending to “Torment” in which Spider-Man kills the Lizard during his mad struggle to survive. This one is also pretty dark as although Curt Conner’s wife forgives Spidey for having to kill her husband in self defense, Curt’s son, Billy, does not. I’m not going to give away all the twists in this story, but let’s just say the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree in the Conners’ family.
I can still remember so many summers ago seeing Spider-man #1 at my cousin, JA’s, comic shop in Annville PA. All shiny and new sitting there on the shelf of new books. Yeah, this wasn’t in the spinner racks, folks, this was important. It was on the shelf only.
I didn’t want to pay the extra 75 cents to pick up a copy for myself, so instead I just let my cousin, who was gonna buy it anyways, get the book instead. However, I still can remember the excitement and electricity of reading it for the first time after he had finished. It was unlike any other Spidey comic I had read up to that time and that included all of those issues of Amazing that McFarlane had done before.
This was serious. This was prestigious. This was altogether “adult”. It was like I was half tempted to shove it under a pillow when a grown up would walk by as if it was a porno mag or something I shouldn’t have been reading.
I went on to get most of the rest of the Spider-man series, such as the remainder of “Torment” and then the piss poor second story arc in “Perceptions”. However, nothing ever matched the goosebumps I got in reading that first issue and to this day, it’s still one of my fondest comic book memories.
And now that I’m much older I thought that in revisiting this series, most of shine would have been taken off of this story as often many things we look back nostalgically on. But, I was actually pleasantly surprised that this particular story still holds up quite well.
The art is still impressive, the layouts as I said before stellar, and there’s a lot of genuine suspense as Spidey struggles to just outlive an unstoppable killing machine in the Lizard.
Yep, I may take crap from some of my other GotS companions, but this is some really great Todd McFarlane Spider-Man right here! You can try to knock it. You can stick your nose up in a snooty way saying it’s beneath you now, but this is what made Spider-man one of the most popular books Marvel ever put out.
Anyway you slice it, this is gripping, compelling “A” grade work here from one of the best Spidey artists ever!
That’s my two cents at least. Now get out there and blow up something! Do it for ‘Merica!