In 1990 Todd McFarlane was the hottest artist in comics and Spider-Man was the medium's hottest character. Todd was the regular artist on Marvel's flagship title, The Amazing Spider-Man. He had returned Spidey to the quirky poses and spidery moves that hadn't been seen since the Steve Ditko era.
Todd also completely reinvented the way Spider-Man's webbing was drawn. He used a hyper-realistic style that has been emulated by nearly every Spidey artist since. Gone were the simple lines of cross-hatching. In their place was stuff that actually looked like a spider's web. It even looked sticky.
Todd's third contribution to Spidey art was to make the eyes on the mask extremely large. Again, this style was widely emulated. It's only been in the last few years that this trend has started to reverse.
In short, Todd was a hit, and so was Spider-Man. Yes, Todd McFarlane is a very talented and extremely influential artist. Perhaps only John Romita Sr. has had a greater impact on the way Spider-Man has been drawn over the years.
Todd wasn't content with that, however. He got tired of drawing other people's ideas. He wanted to draw his own stories. He wanted to write, and since Todd was the hottest artist in comics, Marvel let him.
The result was a new Spider-Man title, a new record for the best selling comic book of all time, and one of the worst stories in Spider-Man comic book history. It was called Torment. A very apt title, indeed, as five issues of torment awaited the Spidey fan in 1990.
|Complete Spider-Man (UK) #1
|MCC #2 - Spider-Man (1990) #1 Chromium Reprint
|100 Greatest Marvels #17-14
|Spider-Man: Torment (TPB)
|Spider-Man: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility #5
The story starts with a slow zoom from the NYC skyline to the mass of humanity on its streets. The captions describe the city and its inhabitants and tell us that these people sometimes wish they could... [turn the page] "...RISE ABOVE IT ALL!" Wow, there's a double page spread of Spidey swinging over the city streets.
Right away this intro just didn't feel right. Spidey is supposed to be one of us. The down-to-earth hero. Yet, here he's blatantly set apart from the rest of humanity as they "scurry" far below. Yeah, Spider-Man has powers that no one else does, but he's still as human as we are, with all the same troubles and difficulties.
Being Spider-Man doesn't help him "rise above" anything. It really just creates even more complications. This is the essence of the Spider-Man character. Anyway, we'll see that the phrase "RISE ABOVE IT ALL" will be the theme of every opening page in this storyline. This is the first example of one of this story's main problems. Todd is simply trying too hard with writing that calls attention to itself in a very uncomfortable way.
Here's an example from the very next page, "Soon it is night. A time for the scum and vermin to play among the shadows. It is also a time when shadows move. When things start to crawl. Things like... Spiders."
Pretty melodramatic, eh? Especially considering that these captions are merely describing your typical "Spider-Man confronting a mugger" scenario that we've seen dozens and dozens of times before.
These sorts of captions appear throughout the story. Often describing the action we see on the page, making them painfully redundant. So, Spidey beats up a mugger and now we have a change of scene.
The captions describe a voodoo ritual. A drumbeat pounds out "doom" over and over again. This will continue for five issues. Who's the drummer? I don't know. Whoever it is, is tireless. A shadowed figure says, "Rise," and we see the East River where the Lizard is depicted bursting from its depths.
Now, what the heck was the Lizard doing in the East River? How long was he down there? Who knows. It isn't explained. The last time we saw the Lizard was in issue 313 of the Amazing Spider-Man, an Inferno crossover. He wasn't aquatic then.
Now we have Spidey spending some quality time with his wife, Mary Jane, while the Lizard hunts down a rat and then viciously slaughters some crooks. One of the crooks shoots the Lizard repeatedly and Todd has a lot of fun drawing lots and lots of spattered blood. This ain't your dad's Spider-Man comic book, I guess.
Our shadowed voodoo figure pricks her finger, blood drips into a cauldron, the drums pound "doom" and the Lizard, dripping with blood, is revived to kill the remaining crooks. Spidey goes for a web-swing as the Lizard kills a pedestrian. Eat your heart out, Carnage. The death toll continues to mount. That's the end of the issue.
Oh my dear lord, this is terrible!
Half a web.