Monday, March 5, 2012

GN Review -- Spider-Man: Torment / Todd McFarlane

When you're one of the most high-profile heroes of the day, you're bound to make a few enemies.  In Spider-Man's case, there are more than a few.  He has one of the most formidable rogues galleries around.  But what happens when you have a new, mysterious enemy hunting you, attacking you, and you have no idea who she is or what her reasons are for her vendetta?

This is the question he faces in Spider-Man: Torment, in which he is attacked by the Lizard, an enemy he already knows as a vicious and dangerous foe.  What he doesn't realize until later, though, is that the Lizard is being controlled by another person, a dangerous and apparently crazy voodoo witch, who he'll later come to know as Calypso a former lover of Kraven, another member of his rogues gallery.  Using her control over the dangerous beast, she succeeds in poisoning, tormenting, and nearly destroying Spider-Man in a single evening, until he manages to pull a desperate turn-around at the last second and hold them both off.  Calypso brings the building down upon herself, leaving Spider-Man injured, bewildered, and wanting for answers about his vicious assailant.

This storyline is known as the 5-part arc that started the Spider-Man title that artist Todd McFarlane both drew and wrote in 1990, and I think it amply shows some of the problems McFarlane had with writing in the beginning.  Many of the situations, dialog, and overall plotting suffered from lack of coherence, sophistication, and more than a hint of "I'm in charge and I want to do this my way because I can," as opposed to the focus being on telling a good story.  The overall concept isn't bad, but many of the particulars caused me to furrow my brow, rub my head, or otherwise perform gestures of confusion, annoyance, or dismissal.

One example are the thought boxes, which are overused and inconsistent in perspective.  Occasionally McFarlane will use a different color to indicate a shift in perspective or who the thinker is, but more often than not you get no clues or hints as the internal thoughts of Spider-Man go from his own first-person perspective to a third-person omniscient narrator, to a mildly sinister second-person perspective with no rhyme or reason.  It strikes me as a novice mistake, made by a guy whose primary trade until this point has been in illustrating.  It's forgivable in light of this being essentially a rookie writer, but it doesn't erase how distracting it was from the flow of the narrative.

I also found McFarlane's narrative choices to be questionable at times.  More than a few times, I was wondering what the point of having Mary Jane in the story was at all.  She served no purpose, other than to remind the reader that Spidey has a hot, red-headed supermodel wife, who instead of waiting nervously for her superhero husband to return home, buries her worries and goes out dancing without him.  I understand the need to portray MJ as more than just a stay-at-home, hand-wringing loved one, but in the context of this story, she just comes off as, at best, unnecessary, and at worst, self-absorbed.

The overall story--Calypso controlling the Lizard to fight Spider-Man and bring him to her so she could torture him--was actually quite good.  I enjoyed the interplay between Spider-Man, who kept looking for Dr. Curt Conners inside the Lizard, and the Lizard, who only responded on an instinctual, animal level.  There was no Conners for Spider-Man to reach out to in this story.  The brief recounting of Calypso's acquisition of supernatural powers through the sacrifice of her younger sister was also interesting, though if you blink you'll miss it.

Art-wise, I can't claim to be a huge McFarlane fan.  For every time he draws an awesomely posed, dynamic Spider-Man swinging through the air, I see another instance of his work on everyday people that I dislike.  I seem to remember one picture of MJ that makes her look like she has a lazy eye!  The Lizard is done viciously well, often with McFarlane utilizing the black of shadows to emphasize his gleaming fangs.  And Calypso, for all her crazy and malice, looks dangerous and beautiful.  McFarlane clearly likes putting a lot of detail into his work, from long tails to plenty of flowing chains.

Overall, this isn't a bad story.  It suffers from some poor decisions in scripting and narration, but the overall concept is worth checking out.  The art, while it has its flaws, also has its high points, and when McFarlane hits those, he really shines.  Spider-Man and Todd McFarlane fans should definitely know about this story, if not have already read it.  Other readers might enjoy it, but probably don't absolutely need to read it.  Recommended.

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