Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Writer: J M DeMatteis
Artists: Mike Zeck & Bob McLeod
Lettering: Rick Parker
Colors: Janet Jackson, (WOS#31) Bob Sharen, (WOS#31) Mike Zeck

It's Spider-Man's darkest hour, erm, fortnight.

Well, he does spend it buried alive six feet under.

Heck, he's not even in part two, and part three only features one panel of his hand at the end!

J M DeMatteis' take on the world of Spider-Man takes the emphasis firmly off of the man and onto the spider. The result is an unpleasant playground, and yet these six issues also form the most perfect Spider-Man tale I've ever read.

Throughout, the entire creative team fires on all cylinders. DeMatteis' script delves deep into the characters' psyches, making little sense at times, but with so much conviction that I'm persuaded that this must be my own shortcoming.

Mike Zeck's pencils and Bob McLeod's inking amalgamate to conjure up some truly disturbing imagery. Perhaps the most extreme panels come in the first part on pages 10 and 11, when a naked Kraven stands up to his waist in spiders, cramming them into his mouth until the blood seeps out through his teeth. Later issues feature spiders swarming together to form a giant one to attack him as, the decomposing ghost of Ned Leeds, and Peter Parker heaving himself out of the bloody corpse of a giant dead spider.

Marvel UK were never going to reprint this with Fraggle Rock as a back-up strip.

Well, maybe they would have allowed-through the advert-strip on the back that featured Earth's heroes teaming-up with Meatloaf over a charity record in aid of the Special Olympics, but they would probably have rewritten Meatloaf's name as 'Jimmy Nail' or something.

Rick Parker also puts his heart and soul into the lettering, renewing the font depending upon who is currently speaking. Janet Jackson likewise colour-codes the narration-boxes to further clarify each unseen protagonist.

The overall combined effect of all this is rather like that of watching a highly stylised indie movie, (with a nice advert afterwards) complete with jump-cuts, parallel editing and sound-effects that you can hear really clearly. Several pages in the first issue end by wordlessly cutting to a gravedigger in the rain, with the single onomatope "SHUK".

Also, part three contains a brief interlude in which Mary Jane visits Joe Robertson, and I found the relief of these two pages reminiscent of watching something directed by David Lynch. Amidst all this grim chaos, a scene that actually read like a regular issue was compellingly peaceful. Lynch taunts you like that sometimes. (I was reading all six parts through in a single sitting)

Yet despite all my raving on about what a brilliant assault on the senses this whole thing seemed between 4-5am this morning, the sad truth is that when I bought these issues at age 16, they heavily contributed to my stopping reading Marvel Comics.

I was already tip-toeing through storylines to avoid learning the events of Secret Wars II out of sequence, but I distinctly recall part four page seven, because that was the point at which I gave up in boredom.

Peter Parker was having a trippy nightmare about crawling naked and bloodstained through a long dark tunnel. However this made no sense to me at that age, and wasn't the remotest bit fun. I believed that a dream-sequence should be ridiculous and silly, just like Peter David had been writing them.

Judging from subsequent letters-pages, I wasn't alone in my overall disappointment.

I do think that the thing that Marvel really got wrong about this story though, was the way in which it was published.

This whole super-polished odyssey had been commissioned for printing in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, which in recent years had been cutting-out an identity as the place for Spider-Man's darker, more adult adventures. Great.

Alas, when Jim Salicrup took over the editorial reins from Jim Owsley, the decision was taken to instead strip this six-parter across all three Spider-titles, for two months.

Hence the reading order, instead of being simply:

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #131-136


Web Of Spider-Man #31
The Amazing Spider-Man #293
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #131
Web Of Spider-Man #32
The Amazing Spider-Man #294
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #132

I've no idea what the reasoning behind this decision was. Maybe they worried that readers wouldn't understand Spider-Man's death in one title while continuing with his adventures in the other two, but Marvel-buyers were well-used to reading several asynchronous storylines simultaneously. Maybe they were concerned about getting one title stuck in a potentially unpopular rut for six entire months, and losing regular readers, but again, there were two other ongoing Spidey-titles to catch them.

Instead, the readership of all three monthlies got a bit shaken.

I guess it probably worked better in the US, where the three series were each published in different weeks of the month. This enabled the entire six-part story to be bought and followed almost like a weekly comic.

Here in the UK however, we would receive each whole month of Marvel publications in our shops on the same day. Waiting for that particular day every four weeks when a huge doorstep of comics would materialise on the newsagent's shelf in an elastic band was probably a bigger deal, and the damage of the comics therein not delivering on our hopes therefore maybe greater.

Perhaps this really should have been a six-part stand-alone limited series? Only enthusiasts bought those. And, let's be honest, only enthusiasts would really have been interested in reading this.

Still, aside from messing-up the subsequent collected-edition reprints of those three monthly series, that's all fairly irrelevant today.

I don't generally like miserable, gritty horror-stories, but even I am overwhelmed by the sheer quality of these half-a-dozen mags. Spider-Man doesn't even win in it - Kraven actually beats him. How breaking-the-mould is that?

Like I said above, I think it's Spider-Man's most perfect story, but I'm so glad it wasn't like this every issue.

I would never have read that.


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