Axel-In-Charge: Extending "Secret Wars," Excitement for a "Totally Awesome Hulk"
Every day this year, I will be examining the first pages of random comics. Today’s page is from Spider-Man #2, which was published by Marvel and is cover dated September 1990. Enjoy!
I’ve picked on Todd McFarlane’s Spider-Man before, but I did buy it, after all, so I guess it’s the case of pointing one finger at him while the other three are pointing back at me! But let’s check out a first page before we heap more scorn on him, shall we?
McFarlane loved using the thin vertical panels in this story, and as I’ve noted before, I really do believe it was because he wanted to mimic the skyscrapers of New York and the giant canyons of the streets between the buildings. He also did this so his splash pages – a double-page one follows this page – more impact, because these claustrophobic panels opened up to expansive pages that were supposed to thrill the reader (and usually did). The only real problem with doing thin panels vertically as opposed to horizontally is the way Americans read – left to right, so horizontal panels fit more in with our perception of the world. That doesn’t mean vertical panels can’t work just as well, but letterer Rick Parker has his work cut out for him on this page.
Poor doomed Stan and Morley don’t give us much information on this page, but McFarlane is basically trying to humanize them as quickly as possible before the Lizard slaughters them, so we get the banter about pulling pranks on the boss and Morley’s penchant for flirting with secretaries and his more unusual tastes. I guess if you’re Stan and you were born in the 1920s (he looks over 60, doesn’t he?), then Bambi’s personal ad seems a bit “sick,” but it sounds pretty tame, if you ask me. Things change! McFarlane’s dialogue in this arc is actually not terrible – it’s not great, but it’s not terrible – and he does what he can making Stan and Morley feel like actual characters before they meet their untimely end on the next page. (McFarlane’s writing problems throughout his run on the book was in the third-person narration, not necessarily in the dialogue.) During this arc, McFarlane proved that he had been reading Walt Simonson’s Thor a bit too much, as you’ll notice the “Doom” at the bottom of each panel, getting louder as the two men’s actual doom comes closer. The repetition of the “doom” is one of the many over-the-top conceits that McFarlane really beat into the ground during this arc.
McFarlane is, of course, primarily an artist (even though he only writes these days), and while this page isn’t as dynamic as he can be, he does some interesting things with it. In Panel 1, he emphasizes the entire canyon motif with the skyscraper rising in the center of the panel even as two buildings rise on either side of the panel. Notice that in Panels 2 and 5, the perspective is from up above. This does two things: reinforces this idea of the city looming high over its inhabitants, and the view downward, coupled with the vertical panels, makes this far more effective than if McFarlane had used the same perspective with horizontal panels; and as the Lizard attacks from above, it foreshadows his arrival on the scene – Panels 2 and 5 can almost be imagined as us seeing the scene from his point of view. Notice, too, that in Panel 4, McFarlane puts the front page of the Bugle where we can read “Killing” and even see part of the bloody graffiti that Curt Connors leaves at the scene, implicating himself. Yes, it’s subtlety from Todd McFarlane!
Obviously, some of the tics we know McFarlane has – giant, inch-worm-esque eyebrows, for one – are evident here, but overall, this page does what it’s supposed to do – get us into the story and build tension for the page turn. There’s a lot wrong with “Torment” (the name of this arc), but McFarlane does some things right. This is a pretty good first page, so there’s that!
(By the way, I will give you one shiny gold doubloon if you can tell me what the remainder of Bambi’s ad says without looking it up. If you’ve ever read this comic, the phrase will be burned on your brain, I reckon!)
(Note: I have no doubloons. Sorry!)
Next: You know it’s the best mutant book ever. YOU KNOW IT IS!!!!! But you can always find other, far worse mutant books in the archives!
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