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Gimmick or Good? – Amazing Spider-Man #358

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence “Gimmick or Good?” Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with 1992′s gatefold cover of Amazing Spider-Man #358…

AmazingSpider-Man358Gatefold

Amazing Spider-Man #358 (published January 1992) – script by Al Milgrom, pencils by Mark Bagley, inks by Randy Emberlin

For the final installment of Gimmick or Good’s April gatefold cover month, I’ll take a look at Amazing Spider-Man #358, the final chapter of the six-part “Sidekick’s Revenge” arc that saw Spider-Man and a host of guest stars including Punisher, Moon Knight and Nova, take on the cyborg version of Moon Knight’s former partner Jeff Wilde, aka, Midnight. The special, three-part gatefold cover opens up to reveal all of the issue’s guest stars (all five of them) plus Spider-Man.

But what about inside the comic?

While it was fairly common for the first issue of a new comic book series, or an anniversary/centennial edition of a long-running title to get the gimmick cover treatment, in the 1990s, Amazing Spider-Man #358 demonstrated that sometimes, just your average, run-of-the-mill issue could get a special gatefold cover if the potential was there for additional sales.

While sifting through my personal collection to find gatefold covered comics to review this month (proving that even “Gimmick or Good?” has gimmicks), I was at a lost trying to remember what ASM #358 was all about (and this is coming from a guy who has dedicated his internet persona on his dedication to Amazing Spider-Man). In re-reading this issue, and the preceding five issues in the “Sidekick’s Revenge” arc, it dawned on me that while the story was a completely unmemorable one, it was still a perfect exampled of the excesses that came to define this era of comic books.

So why all the guest stars? One can surmise the use of cyborgs came just months after Terminator 2 was making money hand over fist at the box office. Nova and Night Thrasher were from the relatively new New Warriors series (which was also penciled by Bagley). And the Punisher was just one of those “it” characters from the 1990s. Oh, and while not featured on the cover, Darkhawk, a hero created by Tom DeFalco a year earlier in 1991, also makes an appearance in this comic, so he must have needed a plug as well.

In trying to look at the structure of this arc and issue logically, I’m at a loss to explain why Spider-Man is even involved. It’s a Moon Knight villain (Midnight) who captures a member of the New Warriors (Nova). The Punisher is there for some yuks and senseless violence. But Spider-Man has the best-selling series out of everyone, so I guess there’s your explanation. Either way, the whole arc doesn’t feel like a Spider-Man story and even the opening splash page jokes “and lest we forget whose comics this is … the Amazing Spider-Man!”

SM_358_splash_page

The issue is really just one long, chaotic battle scene between all the heroes and Midnight, Thunderball and who we later learn is another cyborg, Midnight’s female nurse, Lynn. And the resolution is about as anti-climatic and nonsensical as it gets: after Spidey shoots Midnight and Lynn in the face with some webbing, revealing the metallic exoskeleton underneath, Midnight expresses disgust that Lynn would “voluntarily” become a cyborg, causing her to turn on her counterpart. As the two cyborgs tear into each other, the building around them collapses. The heroes all escape, but the machines are believed to be dead until Midnight emerges from the rubble. That (I believe) is the last we ever hear from Midnight inside a Spider-Man comic ever again.

ASM_358_cyborgs_betray_each_other

Beyond the uninspired conclusion, Milgrom, who’s filling in for regular writer David Michelinie for this arc, just never seems to be comfortable writing Spider-Man dialogue, which is probably why Marvel leaned so heavily on guest-heroes/villains galore. I find this is a still a problem for Marvel today – substitute writers just never seem to sprinkle the right amount of Peter Parker’s sarcasm and wit into the text (when Peter Parker is actually Spider-Man, of course). In Milgrom’s case, the Spidey wisecracks are just overkill (even going so far as to make a pseudo-S&M crack and Punisher and Night Thrasher’s name in an earlier issue).

Meanwhile, after spotting some complaints in the comments section for my write-up on ASM #400 last month about the rigidness and sterility of Bagley’s artwork, suffice to say those people are probably going to be very unhappy with all of the emotionless figures in ASM #358. Granted, this is an issue that’s unabashedly the comic book version of a mindless popcorn flick, so expecting any nuance in the artwork is probably a waste of time.

ASM_358_random_battle_scene

The cover, on the other hand, is a pretty nice Bagley visual, especially if someone is a big fan of Spider-Man and the New Warriors and/or Moon Knight. Of course, the focal point of the image is Spider-Man and the Punisher –Marvel ‘s money makers – so if you were a fan of the secondary heroes and wanted to display this cover somehow you would have to unfasten it from the comic and reduce its value from pennies on the dollar to less than pennies on the dollar.

It does sadden me to go an entire month examining this gimmick cover type and not land on a single issue I could deem “good,” But I don’t think anyone will be surprised by the final verdict here. What’s funny about this era of Spider-Man is what worked REALLY worked well (Michelinie’s Venom stories, ASM #400, Spectacular #200), but the bad stuff, like the “Sidekick’s Revenge,” really has no redeeming qualities. At least with the other three issues I discussed this month I was able to highlight a few positives. All I can say about ASM #358 is that Spider-Man is still my favorite comic book character.

Verdict: Gimmick

29 Comments

Am I seeing things? I can see Darkhawk on the cover you posted?

Awesome…this came out a few months after I began collecting…I had the entire storyline and pretty sure I traded it, because of the gatefold cover, for the glow in the dark Ghost Rider issue, and a few others…

total gimmick…still love it because of nostalgia…

I will say that Round Robin: The Sidekick’s Revenge resulted in an amazing follow-up story, a decade and a half later, during Charlie Huston’s Moon Knight run.

One of six are still relevant.

And yes I mean Frank Castle.

I’m sorry, but you lost me at Mark Bagley’s art being “rigid” and “sterile.”

This is one of the first Spidey comics I ever bought with my own money. And Bagely’s art is STILL way better than a lot of artists these days.

i had this in a TPB and if I remember correctly all they find is two cyborg arms lock in a death grip as a resolution.

I actually remember getting this exact issue way back in 1992. I had picked it bundled with a couple of the stories from a bin from Walmart or Kmart I think. The comics were tossed in the exact way you’d see DVDs in the discount DVD bins. I still have this issue in my collection but in worse for wear. I miss how comics used to be everywhere you went that had magazines. Now they are no where to be seen except bookstores and comic shops.

A Horde of Evil Hipsters

April 29, 2013 at 2:06 am

I did chuckle at “Darkhawk’s not featured on the cover”. He’s right there, but I guess he wasn’t very memorable if the reviewer didn’t recognize him…

Mark Bagley’s very much “my” Spider-Man artist (well, after John Romita, I guess). Of course, this is partly because he took over ASM after Erik Larsen, who drowned the book in excess hair and ridiculously huge muscles. Even at 12 years old I could figure out that the Image style wasn’t exactly beneficial for storytelling, so Bagley’s clear style was refereshing.

Aw man, I have such a nostalgic appreciation for this arc. Part 3 (#355) was offered as a 2-for-1 in some shrinkwrap package deal with the latest issue of GI Joe (seriously, remember when they used to do cool stuff like that??), and thus became my very first issue of a proper Marvel Universe comic. I was 11 years old I think and only reading GI Joe and the occasional random DC book. Therefore, this was my introduction to the Punisher, Moon Knight, and Night Thrasher. Today, I’m still a dedicated Punisher fan, and recently I rediscovered Moon Knight and it was like reconnecting with an old friend. And I was probably the only person on the planet who actually felt a little grief when Night Thrasher bought the farm in Civil War!

Come to think of it, this was my first exposure to Spidey as a comic book character too. Of course, I already knew about him from the various shows, cartoons, daily comic strips, toys, and, of course, my Spider-Man pajamas. I was kind of ho-hum (at the time) about getting a free issue of ASM because I always thought he was kind of lame. But I distinctly remember actually being impressed with the issue. It had Spider-Man’s famous sarcasm and self-deprecating wit, the obligatory kill-or-not-to-kill philosophical debate between Spidey and Punisher (mid-battle, of course), and even a brief but effective Punisher origin panel.

So yeah, it was with this arc that Marvel officially sank it’s claws into me.

My familiarity with the villains characters involved here stems entirely from Huston’s Moon Knight follow-up to this story, mentioned by Rob London above. Except I didn’t know that this was where they came from, because that goddamn story refused to include any kind of footnote or in-story explanation for what the deal with the characters was and just expected me to know about them already.

Just felt like mentioning that. First crack that appeared in that MK series before it turned to complete pants.

My apologies for being a total putz about the Darkhawk oversight on the cover. The fact that I went out my way to point out that he wasn’t there just makes the egg on my face taste better.

Yeah, this story isn’t very good, but I read it a million times as a kid. Part of its charm for me is that it has all these characters I like, specifically the ’90s iterations of them (for some, the only time they were relevant). I was a huge Darkhawk and New Warriors mark.

Wow there is darkhawk,,,, i like it…

It’s weird, I also had a nostalgic flash for this issue, but it’s because it was the last issue I didn’t have for a fairly decent run afterwards. I remember going to the library, when they still had comics and when I was just getting into them, and various parts of the “Sidekick’s Revenge” were there in the rack. And somehow, even then, I could tell that this was just some dumb thing where each issue was “Oh, now Spider-Man gets a new guy to be on his temporary team, that will all come together in the final issue and then go their separate ways after the fight ends.

Darkhawk always felt like a decent book for a new start-up company, but when it was stuck into the Marvel universe, it didn’t fit, and it didn’t help that they over-exposed him with a lot of strange guest appearances like this.

This was the first Spider-Man comic I ever bought. It’s amazing I stuck around.

This issue (and entire storyline) was one of the very first comics I bought. I got rid of it years and years ago, and it is obviously a bad comic by any literary measure, but I think the issue of intent is also worth examining.

The fact is, early 90s Marvel comics mostly stopped being written for the longtime fans, and were produced en masse for pre-teen boys. The concept of gimmick or good implies the only judgment worth being made is the one made from serious adult comic fans. And with most comics that’s fine. But when the goal of a comic is to excite 11-year olds, that almost requires a gimmick. Judging from the comments (and my own memory), this comic sort of transcends “gimmick or good,” and has to be placed in a third category of “good gimmick” (or some such). Amazing Spider-Man 358 was placed on the Earth for the sole purpose of being bought by middle school boys and exciting them enough to buy more comics. And that purpose was fulfilled.

I guess I think of a gimmick is something that tricks people, but I have a hard time imagining ASM 358 did that. Any adult who bought this comic should have known that it was going to have no redeeming “actual” qualities, so it’s hard to picture any of them really being duped in the sense that they expected the issue to be better. And any child who bought this comic didn’t feel tricked by it at all, because it was probably even more awesome than their expectations.

To go along with the Jim Shooter theory, if a comic gets a kid into comics, it’s hard to say it failed. And getting kids into comics was really the only ambition of this issue.

I bought this because of the art. (well, that and I bought anything with Spider-Man in it back then). I remember that Al Milgrom made me miss David Michelinie a little bit, and I think Michelinie is my least favorite Spider-Man writer by a rather big margin. Very clunky dialogue, but in hindsight, Al at least had respect for the various characters involved, if not a great handle on them. It was a Moon Knight story, but I got no impression of what Moonie was like as a character from reading it.

Of course, I’ve never quite understood Moon Knight. In terms of personality, his writers seemed to go for quantity over quality, (badda boom), so it might not be Al’s fault.

But yeah, rushed art, characters shoehorned in for no real plot based reason, guest writer, gimmick all the way.

@Third Man You make some really good points a la Gimmick or Good and the purpose of these comics. I’m a devout defender of Secret Wars in large part because it got interesting in comics as a kid. Obviously my impression of the story would be different if I read it as a “serious adult” today. But I think what I really want to accomplish with this feature is an exploration how these comics were crafted during this era, because there are some who still put priority on the story rather than just try and draw in readers. I also want to draw parallels with what the comic industry is doing today. I hear a lot of people tell me that comics today are different because even with some gimmicks (like the WTF gatefold cover month), people say they’re written better. That’s true in many respects, but there are still good stories from the 90s that happened to utilize gimmick covers, polybags, etc. So why not try and hold every comic from this era to the same standard so we can parse out the good from the marketing ploy?

[...] back with Gimmick or Good? at CBR’s Comics Should Be Good blog. This week, I’m spotlighting Amazing Spider-Man #358, the final chapter in the six-part “Sidekick’s Revenge” arc, which had guest [...]

Love Bagley’s pencils. Those strips of skin he leaves around the eyes of Midnight make him look really creepy.

I got mine in a bundle together too when it came out and enjoyed it so I’ve kept it in my collection because of that. Independent of my childhood recollections it’s alright. I was never bored reading it and I’m ok if Spidey isn’t in the forefront for EVERY story in his series but it does have it’s share of clunky moments too as noted. Thanks for the nostalgia kick!

@ Mark

I mostly agree, and I’m sorry if it came off like I was trying to discredit this column, because that wasn’t my intent and I really enjoy reading this column. I think you do a great job.

I guess my point is just that I think for some comics, it’s useless to try and judge them on normal quality standards, because those standards had no bearing on their creation. The creators of ASM 358 didn’t make any effort to make it good for adult readers, they only tried to make it cool for kid readers. So in that sense I don’t really think either gimmick or good are the appropriate label. It’s certainly not a good comic, but I don’t see it as a gimmick either. For the pre-teen boys it was aimed at, it succeeded quite well in its objectives.

I definitely agree with your point that several “gimmick” cover comics from this era still put a tangible priority on story while several did not, but I think the better measure of failure applies to a comic that tried in the first place.

Wolverine 50, for example, or X-Men 25 are comics that I would call good (not great, necessarily, but comics that are at least worthy of surviving collection purges). My favorite example is probably X-O Manowar #0, which I think was the first ever full chromium cover, and was a damn great origin issue with beautiful Quesada art. That’d be a great issue for you to spotlight here because it’s a legitimately fantastic comic. Same with the Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre issues that had glow in the dark covers.

On the other hand, you have the Defalco FF issues or the Harras Avengers issues from this era, which did make real attempts at stories, and simply failed at being very readable.

Should I fire up the 40 years of ASM DVD and have a look at this issue? I’m thinking no now.

@ThirdMan no offense taken and I appreciate the feedback. Like I said, you make some solid points and you also mention a bunch of comics that are on my radar for future reviews. I just need to go ahead and acquire some of these (fortunately, they’re not expensive!). Thus far, I’ve really been trying to plow through what’s already in my collection and on hand and since I was a huge Marvel nerd in my youth, that shows in a lot of the early choices. But I promise more variety in the future.

The biggest shock to me: a special cover for only a buck??

But this was the first issue of Amazing that I bought on my own. The story wasn’t that bad, but I came in at the last part and was collecting Punisher, New Warriors, and Darkhawk, so I’m a tad biased. I do love how this issue ended with one of the Wrecking Crew crawling out of the wreckage, saying ‘I’m beat, can we just call it a day,’ and Spidey agreeing. At the end of a strange arc, a bit of humanity between villain and hero, who just want to end it.

That said…this whole story kinda came off as a way to market all of those books, didn’t it?

The dialogue was so horrendous and there were too many lame puns throughout the 6-parter! Milgrom was okay back when he was writing Spectacular Spider-Man after Mantlo left but he should’ve never been hired to write this entire story arc.

Oo, and there’s a tiny bit of cross-over with Darkhawk continuity in this issue, with the Wrecking Crew being locked away in the jail where sometime Darkhawk-ally Savage Steel (what a great name!) works in his alter ego as a cop.

this issue/storyline was a rip of Erik Larsen’s REVENGE OF THE SINISTER SIX, from the adjectiveless Spider-Man book (#18-#23).

NOTE:
1. Both storylines featured 6 issues (although RotSS had a reason for being six issues, given the villains).
1. Both featured multiple guest stars (Erik Larsen, a known Marvel head, just wanted to play with a ton of his favorite character for the heck of it- it wasn’t an editorial decision to boost sales or anything).
2. The final issue (#23) had a gatefold cover featuring all of the guest stars, just like Amazing #358.
3. REVENGE featured TWO cyborgs (Cyborg X and Deathlock) plus Spider-man wearing a cyborg-like cast, ala Terminator 2 popularity.
4. Larsen originally wanted a reunion of the New Fantastic Four in issue #22, but since he was unable to use Wolverine at the time, he replaced him with Sleepwalker (brand-new 90′s hero, akin to Darkhawk).
5. Larsen used Solo as one of his guest stars; a character he created when he was unable to get permission to use the Punisher in an earlier story of his.
6. RotSS is a second part, of sorts, to Larsen’s Return of the Sinister Six from his run on Amazing.

Given all of this, it makes the dumb Round Robin storyline look even lamer.

The story wasn’t that great, but this issue holds a special place in my collection as being the very first issue of Spider-Man I had ever collected.

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