So I just read an older trade paperback called Spider-man Visionaries Volume 1: Todd MacFarlane and it’s a real head trip. The thing is, I really only read Spider-man comics in passing back when he was on the title so going back to them with pretty much no expectations or introduction is, jarring to say the least.
And it’s not the art or the quality of the colour that is weird. I can accept the different aesthetic from the time period, I mean the silly cut offs and the Corey Hart bangs on all the men is kind of emblematic of the time and MacFarlane’s art. What’s odd is that underneath all the proto-Spawn costume designs, silly character origins, overly complex roboticesque costumes and the fact that MacFarlane seems to have removed Peter Parker’s spine you see hints at a self-deprecating artist. There’s this great scene with Spidey waiting to consult with some people and there’s newspaper or magazine articles about the Hulk smashing MacFarlane and a few other jabs at the profession and the job he was doing throughout the comics. It’s just such a contrast from what people assume about the guy these days.
What is also really freaky is that Venom is introduced and attacks MJ in their apartment and what actually happens is never explained. There is sort of an implied rape and we’re given an MJ that does what she can to leave the place when she’s discovered by Peter and she just wants to forget about it and not discuss what happened. The way the characters all handle the situation looks like the story was heading to very dark territory but unlike what happened to Dr. Light this situation is all the more creepy and foreboding. You know something horrid happened to MJ and never knowing exactly what it was makes it all the worse in the mind of the reader. Because it is left unsaid, I jumped to conclusions and filled in the blanks – doesn’t mean I’m right here but you can sort of see a situation unfolding and editorial mandates as well as different sensibilities of how much to rock the boat taking something out of the story that was maybe never intended to be there. I think it makes the story stronger and makes the characters more understandable and believable, especially in this day and age where our superhero comics show and tell us everything leaving nothing unsaid.
It’s weird how a more restrictive time can give a greater sense of evil rather than showing us every horrid detail of what happened when Venom is trying to show his power of Spider-man.
Then there is the guy who was bitten by a radioactive Jack Rabbit and could run really fast but didn’t want his family to know in order to save them from super-villains and stuff.
Looking at this book as an artifact of the time you can see this superhero comic trying to come to terms with itself. The stories are still mostly done in one, and do a good job of bringing the reader up to speed but they also have multiple issue stories. There are goofy superheroics at the same time as these much more grim characters and story elements appear. All in all I enjoyed it a heck of a lot more than I thought I would, in part for being reminded that even the most self-aggrandizing people are capable of really good things when there’s a bit of restraint involved – the stories and art can be better when some things are left unsaid. Imagine what Identity Crisis or Civil War could have been if more things were implied and the characters tried to avoid discussing things while still being super-heroes and dealing with their fundamentally silly situations? Then again, it requires a certain something to make characters appear to be implying things and look like they’re acting as people would act, it’s not just making photorealistic art and extended conversations. There is still invention here and new characters showing up rather than rewrites for the simple sake of shock and artificial change which is something that I don’t hate but am growing tired of in today’s modern-retro superhero comic book retreds.