Sunday, April 5, 2015

Quick Comic Looks: Spider-Man: Torment


Though this story has been mostly forgotten today, Spider-Man: Torment was an incredibly big deal back in 1990, especially since it was to be the grand entrance of then comic superstar Todd McFarlane into the Spider-Man books as both artist AND writer. It certainly made a boom financially, with it's first issue selling well over a million copies, and is credited with being one of the comics that set off the speculator boom; however critical reception was exactly the opposite, practically universally negative across the board, even Todd McFarlane himself admits that it may very well be the worst thing he has ever written. So with even the creator putting this arc down, you can only imagine the fear I felt going into this one.

Great cover, AND a great example of ninties sales gimmicks. It's a "collector's item" because Marvel said so.

Peter Parker has a moment of happiness with Mary Jane, which, naturally, is against the law of the Marvel Universe, so the Universe punishes him by having the villainous voodoo priestess Calypso cast a spell on Dr, Curt Conners AKA The Lizard to take control of him and have him attack Spider-Man for some reason. I'm not even joking, this arc is 5 issues long...and that is the extent of the plot (my facetiousness not withstanding). It's one okayish issue of set-up which then becomes a 4 issue long, mind-numbingly stupid action scene bearing little to no stakes, with a few cut-aways to Mary Jane having a night on the town in what I think is an attempt to parallel her situation with Peter; because minor inconveniences in nightclubs are very comparable to getting slammed about by a mind-controlled reptellian monstrosity.

This Narration--PRETENTIOUS!

As a consumer of superhero comics, extended action sequences are not usually a source of complaint for me, but when it lasts for FOUR ISSUES things start to get a bit boring and repetitive, and the absolute amateurish writing doesn't help the situation either. McFarlane opts for the comic's narration boxes to tell the story as opposed to character interaction (a common trope of 90s comic writing) and it's absolutely laughable in several instances ("His webline--ADVANTAGEOUS!" and of course the infamous "DOOMDOOMDOOMDOOMDOOMDOOMDOOMDOOMDOOM" that I guess is supposed to be coming from ritual drums). In fact, dialogue is very few and far between after the first issue, and while a good writer and artist team can tell an excellent story with little to no dialogue, I can assure you that is not the case here, especially since the fore-mentioned narrative boxes make sure to tell the reader the absolute blindingly obvious, almost as if McFarlane just drew the comics, and then handed over an un-edited script to the letterer to stuff in, artist notes and all.  Having not read much of McFarlane's written work, I don't know if he improved...but after this, he could do nothing BUT improve.

This may be the most extensive conversation out of all five issues. Also...yes, they actually did a transition from a blood spatter, to Peter's over jellied toast...

Defenders of McFarlane's time on Spider-Man will often use the art as the saving grace of the book, and while I do not "dislike" McFarlane's style (though I get sick of everything and everyone looking grotesque and macbre) I can safely shuffle those defenses away in this case, since the art is absolutely chaotic, and incomprehendable in several instances. Even in panels without fighting, it can be a chore to discern what is actually happening, and in a book already devoted to mostly being a fight scene that is quite a bit of a stumble into the snake pit since we need to clearly see what is going on in order to enjoy the book, considering the writing isn't providing. This is mostly a result of trying to cram too much detail into the panels; whether it be too much cross-hashing, movement lines, or flickering candles, it all proves to be a bit of visual overload and ruins what could have been a redeeming factor for this book.

Wanna know what's happening?...So would I.

Torment is indeed a very bad Spider-Man "story" (if you want to even call it a story), but I hesitate to call it one of the worst. At least it was just an overhyped, consequence-less bad beginning to a new Spider-Man title, as opposed to something like the Clone Saga, or...One More Day. There is really no mischaracterization, or lasting impact, just a lot of dumb action with little context, making it rather harmless in the grand scheme of Spider-Man history. Still, DO NOT waste your money on this, unless you're morbidly curious, a big fan of Todd McFarlane, or a fanatical collector.


  • Ummmmm...okay first issue?
  • Ummmmmmmm...OH! The first issue's cover is also kinda cool!

  • Hideously bad writing
  • Incomprehendable art 
  • Ultimately forgetable

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