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Thursday, April 21, 2016

X-amining Spider-Man #16

"Sabotage"
November 1991

In a Nutshell
Spider-Man and X-Force battle Juggernaut, sideways.

Story, Pencils, Inks: Todd McFarlane
Letters: Chris Eliopoulos
Colors: Greg Wright
Editor: Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief: Tom DeFalco
Special Assist: Rob Liefeld

Plot
Spider-Man arrives on the scene of the World Trade Center explosion to find most of X-Force fighting Juggernaut. Meanwhile, Cable, Domino and Siryn, along with Gideon and Sunspot, free themselves from the wreckage of the tower's upper floors. Below, X-Force's efforts against Juggernaut prove fruitless, prompting Spider-Man to intervene. In the tower, Cable and Gideon nearly come to blows, but Domino separates them, and Cable declares he's going after Black Tom. Below, Spider-Man tries to lead X-Force in a coordinated attack on Juggernaut, culminating in Shatterstar slashing Juggernaut's eyes. This causes an enraged Juggernaut to slam into a building, sending it crashing down on Spider-Man and X-Force. But they climb free of the wreckage, with Spider-Man declaring that now he's mad, and if X-Force wants to stop Juggernaut, he'll show them how.

Firsts and Other Notables
This is the second chapter of the "Sabotage" crossover between X-Force and Spider-Man, which began in X-Force #3 (though this is listed as part one). Following the linewide relaunch, the X-books grow increasingly more insular and cutoff from the rest of the Marvel Universe (culminating in "Onslaught" and Heroes Reborn, when a good chunk of the Marvel Universe gets cutoff from the Marvel Universe), but in the early goings, there's a handful of little crossovers like this, between one X-book and another seemingly random title (that usually has some kind of creator connection; Liefeld/McFarlane being buddies here, the later crossover between Peter David's two book, X-Factor and Hulk).

This is also the last issue of this series written and drawn by Todd McFarlane. It was launched in 1990 as a showcase for McFarlane (and serving as a kind of template for the release of X-Force #1 and X-Men #1), and the first issue was, before X-Force #1 came along, the highest selling comic book of all time. This also represents McFarlane's last work for Marvel; though Image Comics is still not quite a thing and the bulk of the Image Exodus is still about a year off, McFarlane effectively leaves Marvel with this issue.

In one of those gimmicks of which I've never been a huge fan, this issue is laid out so that it has to be turned sideways to be read (X-Force #4 will follow suit). Not sure why it bugs me; just something about the awkward way the comic has to be held to be read for minimal gain.

A Work in Progress
Spider-Man is somehow aware that Cable is the leader of X-Force. And also that X-Force is X-Force.

Boom-Boom, whom Liefeld apparently didn't draw into the first chapter of this story, enters the fray in this issue.


Shatterstar is able to slash at and cause some level of damage to Juggernaut's eyes, which doesn't seem quite consistent with how Juggernaut's power usually works (he basically has an invisible forcefield around him; just because he has exposed skin in places doesn't mean that skin is vulnerable while the rest of him isn't).


The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
More unintentional echoes of 9/11 in the aftermath of the World Trade Center explosion triggered in X-Force #3; the description of the ash cloud in particular proves frighteningly prescient.


Austin's Analysis
To say this is an issue-long fight scene is a bit of an understatement. Usually, that means the focus of the issue is on a fight of some sort, with everything else (like subplot and character development) relegated to the margins. In this case, there's literally nothing but fight scenes, either between Spider-Man, half of X-Force and Juggernaut, or Cable and the rest of X-Force arguing with Gideon and Sunspot. Between that and McFarlane embracing the sideways gimmick to turn in multiple one and two page splashes, this entire issue can be read in about 90 seconds. It's less a chapter in a story than a scene in a story, stretched out to fill the page length of a chapter. The art isn't bad - McFarlane can have some whacky anatomy at times but it's nothing like Liefeld, and Juggernaut is consistently rendered in medium and close-up shots, making him an appropriately large and menacing presence, looming over everything. But the art is pretty much all there is to this issue.

I shudder to think how this reads to someone who was reading this issue as the final installment of McFarlane's vanity book (the series continues, of course, just sans McFarlane). Certainly, little here is germane to Spider-Man as a character (though McFarlane does get some good use out of him as the seasoned veteran with experience fighting the Juggernaut). This is pretty much all style, no substance, which seems an odd note to end a run (and his career at Marvel) on. Then again, from what I gather, this entire series (and most of McFarlane's career at Marvel) has been about style over substance, so maybe this is, in fact, the perfect end note for McFarlane after all.

Next Issue
Tomorrow, the New Mutants go medieval in Wolverine: Rahne of Terra. Next week: Uncanny X-Men #282 and X-Force #4.

Collected Editions
 

13 comments:

  1. Shatterstar is able to slash at and cause some level of damage to Juggernaut's eyes, which doesn't seem quite consistent with how Juggernaut's power usually works

    Peter David has at this point and concurrently been doing a plenty with Hulk's superfast healing as opposed to total invulnerability. It's like they're appropriating that wholesale here for Juggernaut too (wrongly and totally out of nowhere), cos with his strength and bulk he's like the Hulk a bit and anyway they're the f*cking superstars here and can do what they like.

    maybe this is, in fact, the perfect end note for McFarlane after all.

    Everything stuck sideways and left with smoky ruins. Sounds about right.

    Yeah, sorry. Occasionally it's hard to fight back the bitterness about what my beloved Marvel Universe has turned into in so short time. Black Tom, the lovable rogue, who turned into crime because of (willingly) losing a lady to his cousin Sean, who commented approvingly on Spider-Woman's spunk on her taking them on, and who laughingly thanked Cain for the fun birthday present ruckus they had courtesy of Cyttorak gem, apparently is blowing up WTC nowadays.

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    1. ... I mayhap should be underlining that the only one of the Black Tom appearances I actually got for the longest time was MTU #150, where Rachel was fretting over Black Tom being a good guy who helped them in her DoFP future.

      It gets a bit awkward though once you remember UXM #189 and Rachel remembering the WTC towers laying in ruins, "with thousands dead". We obviously never learned the circumstances how and by whom it happened, but Marvel Universe seem to be drawing its own unintentional parallels occasionally so maybe it was Black Tom there and then too. If that counts as "helping" for the mutants of that timeline, then DoFP just got a tiny bit more bleak.

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  2. For as (fittingly) lame as this final McFarlane issue was, and for as unimpressed as I had been with Leifeld's New Mutants/X-Force up to that point, I really liked the last page or two of this book. McFarlane gave us a Spider-Man who had been rudely reminded of how dangerous Juggernaut was, and Spidey seemed determined to take him down with the help of some very powerful allies. I was genuinely excited to see the co-ordinated, strategic ass kicking he was going to have X-Force lay down on Juggernaut in the next chapter of the crossover.

    Then the next chapter came out, and the first few pages were so dumb that it put the nail in the coffin of any affection I had for any book with Leifeld's name on it.

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    1. I definitely like the idea of Spider-Man as a sort of superhero elder statesmen, at least in relation to a group like X-Force.

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  3. // It's less a chapter in a story than a scene in a story //

    Really.

    // The art isn't bad //

    We’ll have to agree to disagree on that. I mean, yeah, I understand that a lot of folks like(d) McFarlane’s style and that he does have a style and that he puts a fair amount of work into his pages, but me, personally, I can’t stand it. The single panel that impressed me is the one of the ground being torn up as Cannonball slams into and ricochets off of Juggernaut, kind-of proving the rule because Juggernaut’s standing there in a long shot and Cannonball isn’t even seen on-panel.

    I will agree with Bob above that the (very) little bit to like in this issue is how Spidey comes across as the experienced, strategy-minded elder statesman. While I haven’t read enough of McFarlane’s work — a literal handful of Spawn and Spider-Man issues back in the day — to say this about him, I always found it ironic that Erik “Name Withheld” Larsen ended up being a solid writer, even perhaps a better writer than he is an artist.

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    1. If I was truly wrestled to admit it, as the whole arc goes I on my part really appreciate the partnership between Black Tom and Juggernaut continuing to be faithful to that portrayed in the early 100's of UNCANNY where Juggernaut unflinchingly jumped after Tom to the sea. Tom's plan may be nonsensical otherwise, but maybe he really just wanted Cain back and the rest is just window dressing to maybe make some bucks on the side.

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    2. As Matt says below, I'm more or less grading the art here on a curve, compared to the Liefeld chapters. But I do think McFarlane turns in a properly-imposing Juggernaut in this issue. He seems appropriately bigger than everyone.

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    3. Seriously... I'm no Todd hater, but even Leifeld is out-shining him in the panels above. Just look at the mouth on ol' Juggy.

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  4. I don't like Todd McFarlane's artwork, but compared with the Liefeld stuff in the previous chapter, this looks downright beautiful.

    You note the scene where Shatterstar stabs Juggernaut's eyes (perhaps taking Cable's trademark oath as instruction?), and you note that this is McFarlane's final issue -- and there's actually line to be drawn between those two notes, as discussed here: Comic Book Legends Revealed #482: Todd McFarlane quit Spider-Man over a panel of the Juggernaut getting stabbed in the eye.

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    1. I though the then-popular "Stab his eyes!" oath was a dig at Claremont who had said that's how it felt to him watching the X-Men animation. But apparently the oath came earlier.

      Hilarious unrelated exchange there in the CBLR comments about a person complaining about a location given as "Deep inside Africa", and someone answering that it was in Chad but "Deep inside Chad" wouldn't make it past the Comics Code.

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    2. Thanks for linking this. I was looking for this legend as I, too, seemed to recall that the rendering of Juggernaut's eye-impalement was a point of contention between Todd and the editors. This seems to be accepted as the reason why Todd quit. However, his editorial in the letter column of this issue would indicate paternity leave as his reason for taking a break from comics at this time (his wife had just given birth to their first child).

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    3. Ah, yeah, thanks for linking to that Legend. Reading it again, I remember it, but I plum forgot about it when I was writing this post.

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  5. I guess this issue is more or less what you'd expect from a McFarlane issue of Spider-man. The writing isn't all that deep, so I guess we shouldn't expect anything beyond an issue long fight scene.

    As for the art...true, it may be more consistent than what you'd get with Liefeld, it still isn't what I would call good. I mean, check out that picture of Juggernaut before his eyes get stabbed...what the hell is happening to his face? That has to be one of the ugliest renderings of Juggernaut I think I have seen. And I'm not even sure what Spider-man is doing in that panel when Boom-Boom is landing the ship.

    Speaking of that panel where Juggernaut gets his eyes stabbed the reason McFarlane quit the title? He wanted it to be much more graphic, but the editor nixed that, which really pissed off McFarlane. Of course, a really good editor should have mentioned the whole force-field thing as you pointed out, but oh well.

    I never realized McFarlane left Marvel long before Image started. Granted, Spawn #1 has a cover date of May 1992, so I guess he just spent his time off working on that.

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