An argument can be made that Spider-Man's history can be divided into two halves...before Todd McFarlane and after Todd McFarlane. In fact, the same can be said for Marvel itself. I know I'm being a bit hyperbolic here, certainly there's been many great artists to work on Spider-Man over the years, but few have blazed a trail quite like Mr. McFarlane. Spider-Man #16 is significant in that this is the last comic McFarlane did for Marvel before leaving the company to start Image Comics. So it is fair to say that this story represents the end of a significant era. To make it even more special, McFarlane dubs this issue a "special sideways issue!" Thus, to read this book you have to turn it on its side (the page layouts are horizontal, not vertical like traditional comic stories). So without further adieu, let's have a deeper look at Todd McFarlane's swan song...
The events of Spider-Man #16 technically begin in the pages of X-Force #3 in which Spider-Man has a short appearance toward the conclusion of the story as he web-swings through the city. He muses to himself that he heard there was a riot going on downtown. Indeed there was a colossal battle being fought between Juggernaut and Warpath. Spider-Man realizes there's not much he's going to be able to do there against those two big guys, so he decides to go check out the hostage situation atop the nearby building. Just then, a massive explosion emanates from one of the World Trade Center towers. Spidey's only response, "Uh-oh".
And that leads us right into Spider-Man #16...
As Spider-Man web-swings high above New York City, an explosion originating near the top of one of the World Trade Center towers sends debris hurtling toward him. He's able to evade the various chunks of cement and brick, then swoops in to investigate the cause of the blast. Down on the ground below Spider-Man sees the Juggernaut, covered in wreckage and debris...and he knows he's now headed for a long day.
Some of the members of the mutant team X-Force surround Juggernaut and prepare to attack. Warpath, Shatterstar and Feral are first to confront the villain and their presence causes Spider-Man to second guess whether or not he should join the fray. Suddenly, a fourth member of X-Force, Cannonball, comes firing toward Juggernaut with the inflated hope of neutralizing the giant mutant. Juggernaut laughs as Cannonball is easily deflected to the side without so much as a budge from the big guy. Spider-Man helps to break Cannonball's fall by catching him, and his feeble attempt convinces Spidey that this young crew of mutants is going to need some help.
The story then shifts to the inside of the World Trade Center as Cable, Domino, Gideon and a few other members of X-Force argue about their situation. It becomes clear that they're after a villain named Black Tom, the question for the group is where (and how!) to find him. They begin by searching the wreckage for Black Tom, since they claim he was there before the explosion. The arguing between Gideon and Cable reaches a fever pitch though as the two almost come to blows over their predicament.
As Spider-Man assists Cannonball back to his feet, the other three members of X-Force continue their attack on Juggernaut. Spidey admires their courage but knows they're hopelessly outgunned. The web-slinger slowly approaches Juggernaut and asks him nicely to stop the destruction and turn himself over to the authorities. Obviously Juggernaut thinks he's joking (which he sort of was) and he refuses Spidey's proposal. Spider-Man then tells Juggernaut that he had his chance at a peaceful resolution and he quickly fires a web-line right into his face.
He then uses the web-line to pull Juggernaut face-first into the concrete. This allows the X-Force mutants to attack the vulnerable Juggernaut.
Just as Juggernaut attempts to pull himself up from the ground, Boom-Boom (another X-Force member) arrives in the team's jet. Disappointed that she missed so much of the 'fun' she goads Juggernaut into attacking her...a decision she immediately regrets.
Back inside the Tower, Cable abandons the rest of his teammates, citing that whenever they're ready to quit their pouting, they can follow him in finding Black Tom.
Outside the towers, there's an all-out brawl between Juggernaut and the X-Force. After Shatterstar stabs Juggernaut in the eye with his blade, the mutant quickly heals.
Unfortunately for Shatterstar and the others, Juggernaut is now furious so he charges headlong toward the towers. This brings the entire building down on top of Spider-Man and the X-Force, the massive villain stands and admires his work while laughing hysterically. The story ends with Spidey and the mutants buried in rubble but prepared to counter-attack...with Spider-Man as their leader!
The story arc is concluded in X-Force #4...also a "sideways issue"!
I know it's been said a thousand times but it bears repeating, Todd McFarlane's pencils are amazing! They truly are and he deserves all the hype and accolades that he receives. I decided to randomly sneak some images from the book into the story recap above because the work was so amazing. Unfortunately for me, that is where the praise for this one stops.
Let's be honest, this is a gimmick comic meant to showcase the X-Force through a popular Spider-Man title. The "sideways" schtick basically translates into more splash pages, more action and less plot. So while the art is beautiful, it also highlights the fact that there's not much else going on here. Aside from introducing the X-Force to the Spider-Man audience, the building falling down was the only other thing that happened. It's kind of lame when you think about it, especially with the number of characters that appeared in the story. To be fair, the lack of plot in exchange for splashy art was everywhere in the 90s.
Also, McFarlane's transitions between scenes (oscillating back and forth between inside the World Trade Center and on the ground below) are so abrupt. There's no flow between scenes, giving the story a disjointed feeling. I had to go back a couple of times because I thought I was missing pages, but nope, that was how it was written. The portions of the story featuring Cable are especially affected by this abruptness. It felt like the reader was directed into the middle of a conversation, missing the context for what Cable and the others were discussing.
And the script is also clunky in its own right. The characters consistently call each other's name out while they're talking to one another, which comes off very corny and inorganic. "Warpath what are you doing?" or "That's a great idea Shatterstar" feel more like quotes from a 60s cartoon than a well-written comic.
And with all the damage done to the streets, and the collapse of the building, simple questions like...hey, what about the civilians in those buildings that were destroyed? Those concepts are not addressed at all. Are we saying that the World Trade Center had been evacuated? If so, that would have been nice to share with the reader.
Ok, I could go on about this one for a while, but let's stop here, I think my point has been made.
Tremendous art, little to no story here...2.5 Webs.