Thursday, 22 April 2010

Retro Review: Spider-Man: Torment

With the American comic book market currently in a somewhat precarious state, it seems ludicrous that once upon a time a single issue could sell in excess of two million copies. Yet once upon a time, in 1990 (funnily enough the year of my birth) Todd McFarlane managed just that with the debut issue of a fourth ongoing Spider-Man series, titled simply 'Spider-Man'. The issue kicked off a five part arc entitled 'Torment', but was this story worth its lofty sales figures? The short answer is probably not.

Torment has little plot for a five issue storyline. Basically, Spider-Man heads out to investigate a serial killer that he suspects to be old foe the Lizard. After finding the Lizard Spideyengages himself in one of the more brutal fights in the characters history, being drugged by a voodoo priestess along the way.

This stories greatest strength, by a long shot is its presentation. The issues have a very dark, almost gothic style, with the panels laid out in an abstract way never before seen in a Spider-Man book. The art, while clearly not being to everyones taste is spectacular, dynamic and vibrantly coloured. While his anatomy is not always spot on Mcfarlane draws Spider-Man very well, retaining the creepiness brought to the character by Steve Ditko while adding more modern sensibilities. His redesign of the Lizard is inspired as well and is as terrifying as any comic book villain has ever looked. However, McFarlane's storytelling is fairly weak. while individually his panels look great it is often unclear what is actually happening.

It is sadly indicative of McFarlane's priorities with this story that the first thing I discussed was its presentation. As I said before, Torment looks great but there is never that much going on below the surface. It definitely shows that this was McFarlane's first assignment as a writer, as he makes some amateurish decisions, most notoriously the ludicariously pretensious narrative captions that run throughout the story. McFarlane seems to be going for a 'Stan Lee for the 90's vibe' but sadly falls flat on his face. Torment is also very decompressed. While this has become quite the trend in recent years this does not make it excusable. Torment was clearly influenced by JM Dematteis' classic six part storyline 'Kraven's Last Hunt', but that story actually had the substance to justify its extended length, something that Torment is lacking.

McFarlane's characterisation of Peter Parker, Mary-Jane and their relationship is actually one of Torment's strengths in my opinion. McFarlane has a good handle idea of Peter Parker's 'voice', and while many have criticised the Mary-Jane focused sections of the story I enjoyed them and felt that they gave an interesting insight into MJ's character development since settling down with Peter and how events echoing Kraven's Last Hunt have become all too commonplace for her.

Overall Torment is a solid story, very well presented and perhaps only hampered by McFarlane's inexperience as a writer and the lofty expectations placed upon it


1 comment:

  1. 2.5 Million copies of Spider-Man v1 #01, there is big credit that goes for Spider-Man's popularity as a character, but the biggest reason is the popularity of "Todd McFarlane" as an artist, that talent allowed Spawn #001 to sell 1.7 million copies

    Too bad the artistic talent & handicraft of that artist isn't as handy now as it was back then