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Foggy Ruins of Time – What the Heck is a Venus Butterfly?

This is the latest in a series giving you the cultural context behind certain comic book characters/behaviors. You know, the sort of then-topical references that have faded into the “foggy ruins of time.” To wit, twenty years from now, a college senior watching episodes of Seinfeld will likely miss a lot of the then-topical pop culture humor (like the very specific references in “The Understudy” to the Nancy Kerrigan/Tonya Harding scandal). Here is an archive of all the Foggy Ruins of Time installments so far.

Today we look at the racy reference in Amazing Spider-Man #298 to the Venus Butterfly!

In 1987’s Amazing Spider-Man #298, the first issue by artist Todd McFarlane (the issue was written by David Michelinie with inks by Bob McLeod), Peter tries to surprise Mary Jane with some sexiness…

After Peter recovers from his embarrassment, we get the following…

The Venus Butterfly was then a very famous plot device from the first season of the hit television series, L.A. Law, in an episode, “The Venus Butterfly,” that aired in November sweeps in 1986.

Tax lawyer Stuart Markowitz was helping divorce attorney Arnie Becker with a massive divorce case involving an average-looking man who has at least eight wives that we know about. The women, though, are sort of pushed into divorcing the man. They really don’t want to do it. Stuart wonders what the deal is, and the man explains it is mostly due to a special move he uses in bed called, you guessed it, the Venus Butterfly. He decides to share the move with Stuart, since he trusts him and he relates to him.

The diminutive Markowitz had been in a sort of relationship with his beautiful fellow attorney Ann Kelsey since the first episode of the series (“The Venus Butterfly” was episode 9), but you could tell that Kelsey was wavering a bit, as she sort of entered into the relationship in a moment of desperation. Stuart uses the Venus Butterfly and, well…

The episode writer, Terry Louise Fisher, has always maintained that she just made up the name of the move and that she did not put any thought into what the move actually entailed. However, that hasn’t stopped people from assigning a move to the name over the years. I won’t go into the details of what the “official” Venus Butterfuly is. You can just Google it to find out.

In any event, the Venus Butterfly was a really big deal at the time in popular culture, even a year later when Michelinie did the joke.

If anyone has suggestions for future installments of Foggy Ruins of Time, drop me a line at bcronin@comicbookresources.com


I thought you were going to say it was the thing that caterpiller Mr. Mind turned into at the end of 52.

interesting for did not know the venus butterfly also made its way into the comics for only know about the thing from that l.a law episode

I just figured Peter was showing off his next Spidey costume.

The idea of those two folks from LA Law doing the nasty is enough to turn me off sex forever.

I remember another bit from Michelinie and McFarland where Peter used his webbing to suspend Mary Jane nearly spread eagle in the middle of their living room. The story then went to ‘Elsewhere…’

David, they really are [or were at the time of the show] a married couple.

Yeah, i know. But i’m not that awesome looking of a person either, so i’ll cut them a bit of slack. :-)

Yeah, I love that they are a real life couple. They have such great chemistry that it is cool to know that it is real to life.

It’s funny, I saw an old episode of Hill Street Blues and it had Tucker and Eikenberry both in it (they didn’t share scenes together) and the episode was written by…Alan Rachins, another actor from L.A. Law! I actually wrote him about it and he said that they were all friends at the time (well, not super duper good friends, but friendly enough to go out to dinner with each other). How cool is it that they then all ended up on a hit show together four years later? Hell, how cool is it that a married couple got to play a married couple on a hit show together period?

You want to talk about “the foggy ruins of time”? How about that Nagel poster Pete and MJ have up in their apartment?

You’re making me feel old. I loved L.A. Law. I just realized I was only ten when that episode aired. I guess I had rather adult tastes in TV shows.

Wow! You can see some of the “McFarlane” in the art, but it’s almost unrecognizable as his later stuff.

Hey, Brian! Here’s another connection among those actors. Alan Rachins is Steven Bochco’s brother-in-law, and Bochco went to college with Michael Tucker. And they say showbiz isn’t incestuous.

I had to re-read the article again after looking at the art. I know it said Todd MacFarlane’s 1st issue, but from some of the panels, I’d swear it was John Byrne – just look at Mary Jane’s face on the last panel of page one and in the posture of MJ against the door on the bottom of page two. And I suppose I also thought that the article was going to describe “Spanish Fly”, an old “sexual aide” from old magazines, lol.

Wow! You can see some of the “McFarlane” in the art, but it’s almost unrecognizable as his later stuff.

I agree. These panels are readable.

Not that you mention it, Mary Jane in panel 5 (‘I brought Sandy home to meet you’) looks just like a Byrne drawing, from the face down to the big 80s coats he drew in Superman.

Hey, Brian! Here’s another connection among those actors. Alan Rachins is Steven Bochco’s brother-in-law, and Bochco went to college with Michael Tucker. And they say showbiz isn’t incestuous.

Cool, Doug, that makes the connection make a lot more sense, thanks!

McFarlane took over inking himself soon after this, so presumably the difference in style is mostly attributable to McLeod.

Man… I’m showing my age, but I remember watching that episode of LA Law and knew exactly what you were referencing with this article. I was only 11 then, but I remember that episode! :)

@Fred10 – Good eye! Patrick Nagel was HUGE in the 80s.

Re: Nagel. Well, it ended up just being the 80s because he died rather young (not sure if it was AIDS, but I tend to think it was something in that direction). The man was a brilliant graphic artist and designer, beyond just the prints of the women. The art book with his work had some other pieces, showing the art deco influence, as well as the Japanese style., with architectural and other graphic renderings. That was the first true “art book” I ever bought.

Looking at this artwork, it has a lot more of Bob McLeod than Todd McFarlane to it. I would not be at all surprised if McLeod had actually done finishes over McFarlane’s loose pencil breakdowns. McLeod is definitely a fantastic artist, and I don’t think he gets nearly enough credit for his quality work over the years.

After taking a minute to do a bit of research (try it, you may actually prefer giving facts instead of spreading rumors) on the cause of Patrick Nagel’s death. I came across the NY Times Obituary concerning him.


Nope, not everyone who dies at a relatively young age dies due to AIDS… There are plenty of other causes of death as well.

The gist of his obit is that after participating in a celebrity Aerobics exercise event, Mr. Nagel died of a heart attack shortly thereafter while sitting in his car in the nearby parking lot. A damn shame for him as well as the art world.

Wow, it’s a smaller world than I thought because I just wrote about this issue in Pipeline today, having completely missed this discussion. The scary thing is, I vaguely remember that LA Law story. Yikes.

I have a photocopy of the pencils from this issue somewhere. Marvel sent them out to retailers at the time to drum up interest in the series’ new artist, I guess. If I ever find them in this mess of a collection I have, I’ll be sure to post lots of samples.

Like I said in the column today, McFarlane had some overlap for a few months, finishing up his HULK issues while starting Spider-Man. He was inking himself starting at issue #300.

Ha, I thought for a second that you literally wrote a column about just the Venus Butterfly. Now THAT would be one bizarre coincidence! :)

Nice idea for a series of columns, Augie, I’ll be reading ‘em!

Thanks, Brian. I had a moment of panic when I saw the Editor’s Note in today’s column that someone would also be reviewing that run on CSBG or Robot6 when I wasn’t looking… Glad I dodged that bullet. Sorry I missed this one, though, because I would have happily linked to it and saved myself a paragraph of looking clueless. Or, looking like I was reaching for a cheap joke when the real story was so much more interesting.

Better luck next week, right?

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