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Todd McFarlane, Erik Larsen provided popular 1990s take on Spider-Man

by Matthew Price Published: September 23, 2013

The adjectiveless Spider-Man title was launched at the height of popularity for artist Todd McFarlane, who was coming off a successful run as the artist of “Amazing Spider-Man.”   Here, he takes over as writer and artist of his own title.  In 1990, this first issue sold more than 2 million copies.

McFarlane wrote and drew the first 14 issues of the title, then, after a fill-in by Erik Larsen, closed out his run with issue No. 16, a crossover with Rob Liefeld’s “X-Force.”  Larsen wrote and drew issue 15, then followed that up with a multi-part storyline in issues 18-23.

Comixology‘s daily sale today includes 22 of the first 23 issues of the 1990 “Spider-Man” series, all the issues by McFarlane or Larsen.

The first storyline, “Torment,” features Spider-Man facing off against a more menacing, animalistic Lizard.  There’s a crossover with the popular 1990s version of Ghost Rider in issue No. 7.  The second story arc, “Perceptions,” features a team-up between Wolverine and Spider-Man.  This was a more rare occurrence in the days before both heroes were regular Avengers.   A two-part storyline in issues 13 and 14 featured Morbius and an excuse to put Spidey temporarily back in his black costume.    Issue No. 16 was drawn to be read sideways, and is a crossover with issues 3 and 4 of “X-Force,” as Juggernaut attacks the World Trade Center.

Erik Larsen took over with No. 18; I’ve previously written about Erik Larsen’s run on the title:

Following the departure of writer/artist Todd McFarlane from the simply-titled “Spider-Man,” launched in 1990, Erik Larsen provided a six-issue tale reuniting the Sinister Six Spider-Man villains.  (Larsen had provided a one-issue fill-in with No. 15; Larsen’s run began after an ‘Infinity Gauntlet’ tie-in with No. 17 written by Ann Nocenti.)

Larsen, who had also followed McFarlane on “Amazing Spider-Man,” wrote and drew the Sinister Six tale in “Spider-Man” #18-23, which tried to provide some insight into the Peter Parker-Mary Jane Watson marriage at the same time as throwing all kinds of friends and foes at Spidey.

Doctor Octopus regroups Mysterio, the Hobgoblin, the Vulture, and Electro, along with Sandman, who had gone straight at the time.

The story kicks off with Spider-Man and Ghost Rider battling a cyborg.  Doc Ock is retreiving adamantium arms that should make him invincible, he believes.  He rounds up the Six and forces them to work with him.   The Hulk shows up and battles Ock, who is able to handle even the Hulk’s strength with his adamantium arms. (Meta: This irritated Hulk writer Peter David, as I recall.)

Before the arc is out, Doc Ock will gather ultradimensional weapons, Spider-Man will become a cyborg, guest-stars will include the Fantastic Four, Nova, Deathlok, Solo and Sleepwalker.   It all comes together at the end, though it’s a lot of characters to keep up with.   Following this, Larsen co-founded Image Comics, where he created the Savage Dragon, so maybe he was just getting all the Marvel characters out of his system.   Larsen had a good feel for Spidey, and if some of the references are a bit dated now, it was still neat to see Spider-Man and Mary Jane behaving like a regular couple.   Larsen lost his home in a fire during the creation of this series, as well, so its to his credit he was able to complete the arc, even though some of the issues had to be reconfigured to pull it off.

by Matthew Price
Features Editor
Features Editor Matthew Price has worked for The Oklahoman since 2000. He’s a University of Oklahoma graduate who has also worked at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and was a Dow Jones Newspaper Fund intern for the Dallas Morning News. He’s...
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