A few weeks back, I was flipping through the dollar bins and found an issue of Spider-man, written and drawn by Erik Larsen that I had never read before. The story was collected from Marvel Comics Presents, and it managed to fly under my radar both when it was originally released (which was just prior to Larsen taking over Amazing waaaay back in the early 90’s), and when the one-shot collection was released (I want to say it was mid clone-saga era, and I was outtie at that point). So finding this story was like unearthing an artifact from one of my favorite times as a comic reader, when I first started reading comics and fell in love with the medium.
That’s not what we’re going to talk about today. Originally it was, but I pushed that article back to next week. Why, you ask? Because the whole shebang was about unearthing new Erik Larsen Spidey, and lo and behold, what did I find when I picked up my recent stack o’comics, but new Erik Larsen Spidey stuff! Brand new, just came out this week Erik Larsen Spidey stuff! So the retro review that’s 24 years overdue can wait another week. Today, we’re going to look at The Amazing Spider-man: Going Big #1 by Gerry Conway(!) Mark Bagley(!) And Erik Larsen(!)
This book is part of Marvel’s 80 year celebration, and the goal is to bring big name creators back to the books that they are best known for. I really enjoyed this strategy with the Marvels: Epilogue and the Peter David/Dale Keown’s Incredible Hulk: Last Call. I’ll save the Hulk for another day (cough, haven’t finished it yet, cough), but I like the idea of the best creators being given one more shot at their most recognized creative eras. Even more so, I really thought the Marvels: Epilogue story added something great (albeit unnecessary…in a good way) to their story. You don’t need the epilogue to finish that tale, but if you have it, it’s nice. Here in Going Big, the creators wrote brand new stories, not necessarily tied to any previous work per se, but definitely meant to evoke their spirit.
*SPOILER WARNING*If you do not want to be spoiled, reading a review would be a bad idea. While I thank you for your click, this is a review; perhaps consider continuing with a different article at this time.*SPOILER WARNING*
Up first is a fifteen page story by Gerry Conway (plot and script), Mark Bagley (pencils), Victor Olazaba, Andy Owens, Dexter Vines (inks), Carlos Lopez (Colors) and Joe Sabino (Letters). Gerry Conway is responsible for some of my favorite Spider-man stories. An older cousin handed me a stack of Spideys in the low to mid 100’s when I first started reading comics, so those Conway/Ross Andru issues hold a special place in my heart. The Death of Gwen Stacy, the Punisher, The Jackal and more are all thanks to Gerry Conway, and those stories still hold up today.
Btw, the new issues that were coming out when I first started that I read alongside Conway’s work? The Michelinie/Larsen run. There were a few McFarlane issues in there, too, but this issue really is like a full circle thing for me, personally. I wonder what Dave Michelinie is up to these days? Maybe he’d be up for one of these issues at some point.
Anyway, Conway knows his way around Spidey and his universe. I hold him most responsible for making Peter/MJ a bonafide thing.
In this story, Conway mixes in something old, something new, a character who’s borrowed, and Spidey in his classic red and blues. MJ’s cousin Kristy (remember her from the 90’s and her crush on Peter?) has gone missing while investigating a human trafficking ring. Conway cuts back and forth between Spidey action and Peter Parker playing detective to seek out MJ’s missing cousin and there’s a lot going on for a short story.
There’s flashbacks, mystery narration, and unexpected bad guys. Spidey comes face to face against Coyote, a villain introduced in the Waid/Samnee era of Daredevil that looks part Joker, part Venom, and has powers that are all borrowed from the Spot. He lacks the ridiculousness of the Spot, however, as he trades all of that for sheer brutality.
He’s just terrible. He’s a grotesque character with grotesque motives, and he continually uses his powers in grotesque ways, whether it’s trafficking people or casually spotting off somebody’s arm in a battle.
In the end, Spidey shakes down some baddies and very quickly dispatches Coyote, while Kristy teachers Spider-man some lessons along the way. I should mention that Conway and company have one last surprise at the end to close out this story. It was a frantically abrupt story that could have benefitted from maybe an entire issue’s length of breathing room, but instead was crammed into a 15 page roller coaster. It was still fun…as long as you don’t stop to think about all of the brutality. The Coyote is an interesting choice to bring back as a baddie– he’s visually interesting and an utterly deplorable character, but he gets jobbed out so quickly here that I wonder if it was worth it. Lots of things move pretty quickly, just like they did In Conway’s heyday. Heck, that poor armless guy never gets another mention! Ok, maybe things moved too quickly here.
I spent a lot of time commenting on the words and character motivations, but I haven’t touched upon the art by Mark Bagley.
Let me re-post those two gorgeous spreads.
On a base ‘let’s look at the issue’ kind of way, Bagley’s art here is pretty darn good. He turns in a few double page action sequences that are really exciting. His pages are clear and there aren’t any reasonable complaints to be had with his storytelling. I even liked that he chose to go with a more classic Spidey suit with more spread out webs than he traditionally drew on Amazing Spider-man back in the day.
Now, looking at the art from a ‘this is a special issue that I paid a higher premium than other comics to get’ sort of way, the Bagley art is a bit of a let down.
Wha-wha-what?!? Let me ‘splain.
In general, I like Mark Bagley’s art. I don’t love it. I recognize that’s a personal preference more than anything else. He’s a fine draftsmen and he draws really great, expressive faces. But in my teenage eyes, he was the guy who came on after McFarlane and Larsen who wasn’t as exciting. I think the stories he had to work on had something to do with it, too, but they never got the reaction from me that his predecessors did. Contrast him with another industry vet like Sal Buscema, whose art I didn’t recognize as being great when I was young—but that didn’t matter because the stories Sal was working on were so darned good. It wasn’t until later that I put 2 and 2 together on Sal and realized that he was, actually, one of the greats the whole time.
Man, I wish Sal could have had a bit in this issue.
Back to Bagley, I respect Bagley as one of the definitive Spidey artists, though. His run on Amazing was solid, and his work with Brian Bendis on Ultimate Spider-man pretty much defined Spider-man for a generation. He was the guy whose Spidey ended up on all the licensed materials, the t-shirts, the underoos, the what-have-yous. Here’s the thing about Bagley for me, though, that’s as true today as it has been seemingly for 20 years: He’s never gone long enough for me to miss him.
He went from New Warriors (a book I loved) to Amazing Spidey (a book I loved when he started…but then he was there for a long, long, loooong time, and the back half of that time wasn’t that great). I feel like it wasn’t long after Amazing that he picked up Ultimate Spidey, and then he was there for a hundred plus issues straight. From there, he’s always popping up in books that I’m reading. Most recently, he was the artist on Spider-man: Life Story with Chip Zdarsky. The last issue of that series released last week. I guess what I’m saying is Mark Bagley, dude, I can’t miss your work if it never goes away. So even though he’s certainly earned the position as a top Spidey talent, I just don’t feel like this is a special appearance from a long-forgotten talent from Marvel. I just bought his stuff last week!
I probably sound more harsh than I intend to, but there are so many options out there for something like this, I would have probably made a different choice.
How awesome would it be if they could have convinced John Romita, Jr. to contribute? Or senior? Or both. Any John Romita would do.
Up next, there’s a brief 3 page story by Ralph Macchio (plot and script), Todd Nauck (pencils and inks), Rachelle Rosenberg (colors), and Joe Sabino (letters). This story involves Spidey reflecting on the time that Uncle Ben taught him to distract and attack bullies. Yeah, if that sounded strange to you, it did to me, too. I’m not sure if that’s how young Peter Parker would work in my head, what with the attacking his bullies and walking away unscathed. I’ll chock this one up to Ralph Macchio being a better editor than writer. This one’s forgettable, so let’s move on.
You know a Spidey writer whose work isn’t forgettable? J.M. DeMatteis! I wonder what he was up to while they were putting this together.
Now we’re at the final story, “The Execution,” a 10 page story written and drawn by Erik Larsen, with Laura Martin (colors) and Ferran Delgado (letters).
This is a really nice bookend for me, especially with the book you’ll read about next Sunday. That book is a very early in his career Erik Larsen cutting his teeth on a Spidey story, whereas this is a much more mature Larsen taking care of business on a Spidey story. Both are great in their own ways, but you can tell when Erik is a bit green behind the ears verses when he’s more grey around the temple.
Does he even have hair? I don’t know, honestly. That’s not meant to be a slight, I just don’t know. I feel like the metaphor should still apply. He is more aged and wiser in the ways of comics now that he’s made a bunch.
Here, Larsen takes advantage of his experience. He knows when to tug on the nostalgia–any time I see him use the speed lines in place of an actual background brings me joy.
I know it’s a shortcut, but it’s an exciting shortcut! You can tell, too, the lessons he learned from his years working on Spidey, as he’s much looser, much more expressive with the eyes on the mask and his use of perspective. He did more and more of that as he went along back in the day on Amazing, but it’s nice to see he hasn’t forgotten those lessons. He’s gotten better as an artist and really knows how to make his story pop. Even his writing has improved. I’ve been very critical of Larsen’s writing in the past–but here he avoids falling into some of his usual traps. He doesn’t go overboard for the sake of going overboard. Nothing is gratuitous. It’s not deep waters by any stretch–Spidey fights Nightshade and her horde of vampire, sciences his way to a magical cure, finishes the baddie and makes it to his date with MJ just in time–only to realize he forgot something important. But it does capture the spirit of what makes Spidey so much fun, even more so than the other stories in this book.
Larsen even tossed in a wheatcake reference!
If you’re not going to do what the Marvels: Epilogue did and add to a classic story, then Larsen’s story here is the way to go. It doesn’t need depth; but it does contain all the requisite fun and action and characterization you would want. This story is definitely the gem of the bunch.
Overall, I’m glad that this isn’t it for Marvel’s celebration for Spidey. I’m very pumped for that Full Circle series coming out with a host of varying creative teams all trying to psyche each other out. I’m happy to see the creators that are here get recognized, but in a perfect world, there would be room for so many more other awesome contributers.
Do you remember Kurt Busiek and Pat Olliffe’s Untold tales? They could have put a brief one of those here.
Or how about a JMS science lesson from when Peter was a high school teacher?
They could have gotten a certain other Image co-founder to spawn something out of his imagination.
A prequel with J.M.D. and Mike Zeck for Kraven’s last hunt could have been really powerful!
Remember pin-up sections in special issues? We could have one of those! Give me a Marcos Martin double page spread pin-up, please!
As a lifelong Spidey fan, it can be difficult for me sometimes to put on the brakes and face reality. I realize a lot of the things I’m asking for are unreasonable. Many of the creators I’ve named that are still working are at other companies or trying to attract readers to their own work. I get all that. I know if Marvel took all of my suggestions, this issue would be 400 pages, cost $80, and still highly unlikely to occur. I can dream, though.
In the meantime, there’s the reality of The Amazing Spider-man: Going Big. I’ll give it a big B. There’s a lot I liked (Larsen’s story, Bagley’s art, the pace of Conway’s story) and a bit I didn’t like (Macchio’s story, why Bagley’s art doesn’t feel special, the brutality of Conway’s story). I can enjoy this enough for what it is, and not only be thankful for the work, but also thankful I was able to use it as a springboard. While it may seem like I was relentlessly kvetching about what wasn’t happening, I actually found myself using this more as a jumping off point to remind myself of how many great Spidey creators there are. That’s cool, too.
Until next time, I’ll be reliving my glory days by actually travelling back in time by virtue of the dollar bin. See you there!