Todd McFarlane’s Spiderman #1 is one of the featured titles on Marvel’s iPad app this week which got me feeling rather nostalgic. You see, growing up as a comics fan in the 90s, the most iconic book for me wasn’t Amazing Fantasy 15 or Action Comics #1 it was Spiderman #1. I’d been a Todd McFarlane fanboy from the moment I first picked up Amazing Spiderman #317 and saw Venom and Spidey go back and forth while surrounded by Todd’s trademark webs. His pencils were so exciting and dynamic and the weird poses he had Spidey contort into were just mind-boggling and unlike anything I had seen before. So, as his run on ASM came and went, the prospect of seeing Todd not only drawn but also write, his own title was a fanboy’s dream come true.
As a kid growing up in the country, I didn’t have a comic store in my home town to pre-order the first issue and so I had to wait for our annual trip to London and hope I could persuade my parents to take me to a comic shop up there in order to get my dream comic. In the mean time I could just about keep my enthusiasm at bay by looking back over the old issue of Spidey I had accrued and also at some of the pencilled and inked pages from Spiderman that had appeared in the ‘Marvel Five Fabulous Decades’ hard cover book which I had tracked down and read cover to cover. However that was not enough and I knew I would have to get my hands on a full issue some day.
Unfortunately these were the decadent 90s and with this new title came the new and exciting multiple covers, polybags and limited edition foils. This was years before the market was over saturated and the speculators had killed my interest in comics ( as well as my wallet) and so as a magpie-like 13-year-old who poured over the pages of Wizard, I wanted them all, but knew I could never justify spending all of my pocket-money on a foil embossed Spidey #1. After months of waiting it was finally time for our trip to the big city and I persuaded my parents to take me to Tottenham Court Road, to Forbidden Planet where I spent, what at the time, was the grand sum of £5 on a silver webbed edition of the comic. Bear in mind this was at a time when a standard comic would cost you less than a £1 but it was to become my pride and joy. I poly-bagged it, boarded it and even double bagged it to protect it from finger marks (I’ve since bricked and graded it). But what about reading it? After all this anticipation, surely I would want to pour over every panel, and there in lay the dilemma of collecting comics in the early 90s. In order to read this masterpiece, but also keep it in pristine condition I ended up buying a second copy, followed by a further reprinted version of it in French while on holiday just to study the artwork. You ever wonder why sales went so berserk in the 90s it was kids like me driving the market mad with multiple purchases (and the publishers encouraging us!) I even had poster versions of the cover on my wall courtesy of a McFarlane cover poster book printed by Marvel UK. After all, I couldn’t damage my pristine first printing, it might be worth a fortune one day!
So 20 years on, it is released on the iPad and I have another chance to buy and own this book in yet another new format. I feel like a music collector who has to have Rubber Soul in every available format, but how does the book itself stand up to my more discerning eye? I have to admit, as I have grown up I have matured away from the bombast of McFarlane and his style over substance approach to comics. Thanks to the worlds of Miller, Moore, Mignola and Gaiman, I have learnt what true story telling is and looking back on the book and I can see it for what it is – a vanity project, from one of the periods biggest egos.
But that isn’t to dismiss it’s importance, both in my life and in comics as a whole. McFarlane himself concedes that the title contains some of his worse writing, however in time he would develop into a pretty decent story-teller with a very succesful creator owned title in Spawn as well as a stake in the foundation of one of the top creator led companies in the world in Image Comics. Unlike most writers who cut their teeth on small title no-one has ever heard of, Todd had one of his first books sell over a million copies! not bad for a beginner, eh?
However when it comes to Spiderman #1 it is his artwork that is truly something to behold. As the years have passed, Todd’s work has become more and more scarce, reduced to a smattering of covers and guest appearances on his own titles. But in 1990, he was at the peak of his powers and, removed from the monthly (and often bi-monthly) grind of churning out the pages on Amazing Spiderman, he was finally able to take the time and care over his artwork that it deserved. That cover alone has become an icon of modern comics and the pages inside are just packed with the finest of fine details. Sure, the cynics would argue that in doing so his artwork lost the structure that veteran writers like David Michelinie and Peter David enforced on it with the regular work on Amazing Spider-man, and instead it was replacement with iverly intricate panel design and an excessive reliance on more and more webs and more and more outlandish contorted poses, however unlike other 90s wunderkinds like Rob Liefeld who really were all style, Todd still maintains the subtlety and finesse that made him a super star in the first place – he didn’t need bigger guns and boobs to make his work better (although he did Peter Parker use up a hell of a lot of web fluid!)
In these books you got the pure essence of Todd McFarlane the artist, whether you love that or hate it. As the years went by and the deadline frequency increased and the pressure of being an Image co-founder got to Todd, his writing and drawing was side-lined in favour of toys and merchandise. But his legacy will be the that the comics themselves were used to inspire a whole new generation of artists who have taken comics in a new and fantastic direction. It is for that reason that Spider-man #1 will always remain one of my all-time favourite titles.
Spider-man #1 and the rest of the Torment storyline is now available on the Marvel iPad app priced at £1.19 an issue.