Spider-Man: Torment
Todd McFarlane, writer & artist
(Marvel, 1992; collected from
Spider-Man 1-5, 1990-91)

Todd McFarlane gave Spider-Man a new look and his villains a new attitude when he launched a new series titled simply Spider-Man in 1990.

A successful run on The Amazing Spider-Man was a precursor to McFarlane's work on his own book, and he used the time to hone his artistic interpretation of Marvel's flagship hero. By the time Spider-Man hit the stands, his new look for the hero was perfected, and was quickly copied by other Marvel artists. A lot of it had to do with simple flexibility; instead of swinging Tarzan-like through the tall New York City skyline, Spider-Man gained a kinetic, loose-limbed style of movement under McFarlane's pen which seemed more appropriate to his arachnid-based powers. Also, the hero's web line became less of a sticky strand, more of a woven rope of many threads.

It was a very good look for the hero.

But McFarlane got his own book also because he wanted to write, not just draw, the popular character. Here, too, there were a few changes. Picking up a few threads from the excellent storyline left by Kraven's Last Hunt, McFarlane introduced a new, bloodthirsty character with voodoo magic and close ties to the late Kraven. He also brings the Lizard back into things -- another of Marvel's many scientist-gone-mad-and-superpowered villains. But, while previous writers were mostly content to let the lizard run around in his lab coat and purple pants and use too many menacing S's in his speech, McFarlane turned him into a ravenous, murderous beast, all sharp teeth and saliva.

It makes for some pretty intense conflicts for poor Spider-Man when his foe isn't just trying to punch him through a wall, but eat his face as well.

Things don't go at all well for the hero in this story, and it's his sheer unwillingness to give up which sees him through. Meanwhile, Peter Parker's wife, Mary Jane, dances a lot while quietly fretting for her missing husband. Drawn in all her supermodel glory, she serves little purpose here except as a showpiece -- but a gorgeous showpiece who forces readers to wonder why Spider-Man goes webswinging in the rain when he has that waiting for him at home.

Torment was an excellent introduction to McFarlane's writing, proving that his stories went well with his dramatic art. It's a shame he didn't stick around the Marvel offices a little longer before heading off to start his own company and resurrect the '70s hard rock band Kiss as a late-'90s commodity.

[ by Tom Knapp ]

Buy Torment from Amazon.com.