In 1990 Marvel decided 3 Spider-Man titles weren’t enough. We had Amazing, Spectacular and Web of Spider-Man. Marvel decided we needed a series simply called Spider-Man. So, in 1990 Spider-Man #1 was released with one of the most iconic covers to come from the 1990′s. The series was written and drawn by Todd McFarlane at first and the premier issue, including all the variations of the cover image, sold over 3 million copies and for a time was the highest selling comic book of all time (that record would be broken the following year when the Chris Claremont/Jim Lee X-Men #1 was released, the combined sales of its many covers topped 8 million copies. This issue is in the Guinness Book of World Records).
But enough about that, what was the first story about? Well, it was called ‘Torment’ and it was probably one of the darkest Spider-Man stories told at that time, second to maybe Kraven’s Last Hunt.
The story begins with Spider-Man doing his thing (wonderfully drawn by Todd McFarlane, when he used to draw comics). He saves a lady, stops a criminal then goes home to Mary Jane (this was before they fixed the whole marriage thing), all seems good in Spidey’s life.
Then we cut to the darkness. Inside that darkness is The Lizard, one of Spider-Man’s oldest enemies and friends. Only he seems less human, he kills without remorse, starting with rats then quickly moving to humans. During all of this there is a ‘Doom… Doom’ sound of a drum.
As the story moves forward we learn that The Lizard isn’t in control of himself. There is a mysterious Voodoo Witch who has taken control of him and wants to use him to destroy The Spider. Apparently she has something of a Kraven obsession. She feels she can succeed where he failed not really knowing that Kraven, on some level, actually did succeed in what he wanted to do.
We also have a small sub-plot with Mary Jane as she tries to keep her mind occupied while Peter is out web slinging by going to party after party and at one point nearly crossing paths with the feral Lizard!
The story is very dark and very atmospheric. Spider-Man trying desperately to understand why his friend, Dr. Connors, has become the Lizard again and why the beast is mindlessly killing anyone around it, and trying to kill him. The Voodoo Witch is an interesting character, she has control over The Lizard and her origin is given but while she’s an important part of the story she really doesn’t get the development she should have gotten. I say she’s interesting because she is given a pivotal role in this story but she isn’t fully formed.
His art was vibrant and the motions of Spider-Man as he swings through the city are magnificent, but his facial expressions though, seemed to have some problems here, in many cases people, like Peter Parker and Mary Jane, looks almost anime-esque in that their eyes were huge and their expressions were not always in the right place. But the action scenes were awesome.
However, on the writing side of it McFarlane isn’t as solid. The dialogue is shaky in some spots and, as I said before, the Voodoo Witch isn’t a fully formed character, just enough to make her interesting and not completely stick out but not enough to make this story truely great. The story still reads easily enough some 20 years later. I found I had little trouble getting into it again. Of course, McFarlane would improve on his storytelling abilities and launch the character Spawn in his self titled series, a series that very soon will hit its 200th issue!
Then there are the covers. This is where McFarlane excels like few others. Every cover for this story is awesome. The first issue has become an iconic cover and has been homaged many times (including Marvel Zombies) but every cover is fun to look at. One of the things that he did on these covers is hide a spider somewhere on the cover. Yeah, I know “it’s a Spider-Man comic, of course there’s a spider!” Whatever, what I mean is each cover had a unique spider on it hidden somewhere in the image. I think some were covered by the UPC code box because there are a few covers that seemingly don’t have the spider on it.