It’s that time again. Spider-Man time. With the long-running Dan Slott era of Spider-Man finally about to end soon after a whole decade, it’s time to go back and read all the good old stories of my favorite superhero. Bear with me, this might take quite some time…
Many people might disagree, but as far as I’m concerned the good Spider-Man stories didn’t really start until the 80’s with Roger Stern. Even then, his early work on Spider-Man is a bit rough and it takes some time before things really get moving. It did mark the beginning of the long-running Hobgoblin saga though. Some might say TOO long-running, and they might have had a point, but it had its moments. The Hobgoblin was basically just a new, different colored version of the famous classic villain Green Goblin, who was dead (dead forever!) at the time. There was something interesting about him though. Maybe it was his more mercenary approach to things, as opposed to the more chaotically insane nature of Green Goblin, or maybe it was his mysterious identity. Who knows?
Anyway, after Stern left, Amazing Spider-Man went to Tom DeFalco, who did do some decent things in his time, but also milked the ever-living shit out of the whole “who is Hobgoblin?” thing. To put this in perspective, it was FOUR years after Hobgoblin was introduced that his identify was finally revealed. No one would put up with a wait like that these days, that’s for sure.
On the plus side, this was when Spider-Man got his awesome black costume and wore it pretty often for several years. There were also some good runs on the Spectacular Spider-Man title by Al Milgrom and Peter David, most famously being David’s Death of Jean DeWolff story, and some ok stuff in the newest Spider-Man title of the day, Web of Spider-Man.
Things got really crazy in the end of DeFalco’s run though…
So the editor of Spider-Man back then was James Owsley (who we now know as Christopher Priest, which is another story entirely), and he suddenly decided that this Hobgoblin identity business had gone on for way too long. Stern had his own plans for who Hobgoblin was going to be, but he was gone, DeFalco had his own plans for Hobgoblin, but reportedly refused to tell anyone who it was (though it seemed rather obvious to everyone that he was building it up to be Ned Leeds). Owsley fired DeFalco in the middle of this Gang War story, then killed off Ned Leeds just to fuck with him, but then quickly realized that with the way it had been written, none of the other suspects really made sense and so he brought in Peter David to write the issue with the grand revelation that Ned Leeds was the Hobgoblin, which happened during the guy’s funeral because he was already dead.
Someone else became the new Hobgoblin again within that same issue, another villain called Jack O’ Lantern who would later get turned into demonic Hobgoblin, then split in two so there was another separate character called Demogoblin running around, then he became a cyborg, then someone else became the new Jack O’ Lantern, then they just killed Hobgoblin again because Stern returned to write a story where he said “nope, that was all bullshit, Hobgoblin was actually this other guy the whole time and now the REAL Hobgoblin is back!” (until a few years ago when he was replaced with someone else again). That’s superhero comics for ya.
Then Spider-Man took his darkest turn yet, and still probably the darkest since, in the infamous Kraven’s Last Hunt story by J.M. DeMatteis. This shit was so dark that Spider-Man finally stopped wearing the black costume not long afterwards, only to bring it out again on a few rare occasions. I won’t spoil it for you if you haven’t read it, but this is one of those absolute-must-read stories.
DeMatteis would return to Spider-Man again a few years later, but in the meantime, after Kraven’s Last Hunt we saw the arrival of David Michelinie on Amazing Spider-Man (more on that in a sec) and Gerry Conway taking over both Web of Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, which became so interconnected that they might as well have been the same book. Conway’s long run was pretty entertaining, though mostly stuck to safe standard superhero stories. I don’t think I would call it an essential run, but it was enjoyable and I have a lot of good memories of many of these issues.
Meanwhile, in the main Spider-Man title, David Michelinie’s long, ongoing run had begin, accompanied by new artist Todd McFarlane. I have to say, I don’t really understand why McFarlane was so popular at this time. His early work was not very good at all. He did a tolerable job of drawing people in costume and inhuman monsters and such, but holy shit was he bad at drawing faces. So many horribly misshapen bodies and freakishly asymmetrical facial features. If the stories weren’t so fun this would be a tough era to get through again.
Makes you wonder why I bothered buying this run again. Well, in its defense this later work on Spider-Man was when McFarlane started tightening up his style a bit more. It’s still painfully 90’s X-TREEEEEME in some ways, but his style definitely improved and he even learned how to draw people with semi-normal looking faces! His writing is a bit rough and the stories drag on a bit longer than they should sometimes, but most of it’s still a decent enough read. Maybe this is just nostalgia talking though. Who knows?
One other point of interest regarding the McFarlane era is that you can literally see all the art that he ended up pretty shamelessly recycling in the early days of Spawn. People often joke about how similar Spawn’s costume was to Spider-Man/Venom, but there were a lot of other characters lifted right out of the pages of Spider-Man too.
In response, soon after Spawn first appeared, Marvel introduced a character called Nightwatch in the pages of Web of Spider-Man…
Nightwatch didn’t last very long, but McFarlane would go on to make millions off of Spawn, despite the fact that the majority of the series ended up being written and drawn by other people. Almost 30 years later, he still has only ever “created” one other hero character…
That does it for part 1. Next time I’ll finally get to my favorite bits, the Larsen and Bagley eras, as well as looking back at the infamous Clone Saga.