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Friday, April 2, 2021

X-amining "Onslaught" Tie-Ins Part 1

"Siege" / "Even the Brave Can Fall" / "...the World's Gone Mad!" / "Manhattan Onslaught"
September 1996

Amazing Spider-Man #415 by Tom DeFalco & Mark Bagley 
Green Goblin #12 by Tom DeFalco & Josh Hood
Spider-Man #72 by Howard Mackie, John Romita Jr. & Al Williamson
Punisher #11 by John Ostrander & Tom Lyle
(Please visit the GCD for full credits from each issue)

Amazing Spider-Man #415: Peter Parker and his wife Mary Jane return to New York to find the Sentinels controlling access to the city. With the nearest Sentinel detecting enhanced abilities in Peter despite his recent retirement as Spider-Man, he & Mary Jane are forced to use his waning spider powers to flee into the city. Meanwhile, one of the Sentinels cuts the power to the Daily Bugle, after which the Sentinel is attacked by the new Green Goblin while elsewhere, Ben Reilly dons his Spider-Man costume and heads out into the city to help. When the Sentinels stop chasing Peter after his powers briefly give out, he & Mary Jane proceed to the Daily Bugle, where J. Jonah Jameson is determined to put out a paper no matter what, and offer to help, while Spider-Man helps prevent looting, then manages to destroy one of the Sentinels before heading off to find more to smash. 

Green Goblin #12: In the wake of the Sentinel attack on the Daily Bugle, Phil Urich dons his Green Goblin gear and attacks the Sentinel. The robot quickly overpowers him, sending him crashing into an alley. When his mask, which enhances his strength, falls away, the Sentinel suddenly ignores him and moves on. Though despondent, Phil summons his courage and puts his mask back on, then flies off after the Sentinel. He manages to destroy it, but his mask is damaged in the process, possibly bringing his time as the Green Goblin to an end. 

Spider-Man #72: As Peter covers the Sentinel attack on New York for the Daily Bugle, Spider-Man takes on more Sentinels. The two "brothers" meet up in the face of a larger contingent of Sentinels and work together to destroy them, then set off to find Onslaught and the real fight. 

Punisher #11: The Punisher watches as the Sentinels attacks the SHIELD Helicarrier, forcing it to crash into the river. Feeling indebted to the deceased Nick Fury, Punisher swims out to the Helicarrier to help SHIELD evacuate and defend the massive ship from a gang of looters. With SHIELD needed in the city in the face of Onslaught's attack, GW Bridge asks the Punisher to track down a new mutant terrorist group outside the city; the Punisher reluctantly agrees to help. 

Firsts and Other Notables 
"Onslaught" occurs concurrently with another large, sprawling Marvel crossover, Spider-Man's "Clone Saga" (which technically lasted for several years but had different phases; it wasn't just one continuous story month after month for years). At this point in time, the books had settled on the notion that Ben Reilly, the "clone" of Spider-Man created in Amazing Spider-Man #149 and who had operated earlier in the "Clone Saga" as the Scarlet Spider, was actually the real Peter Parker, and Peter Parker/Spider-Man had actually been the clone since that issue (all of this was on the cusp of being further retconned, with Ben declared the actual clone after all, a few months after these issues were published). As such, a married Peter Parker, with Mary Jane pregnant, had retired from superheroing while Ben adopted the Spider-Man mantle and a costume that fused his Scarlet Spider look (mostly via external web shooters) with the classic Spider-Man attire. 

Green Goblin is a short-lived series (its next issue is its last) starring Phil Urich, the nephew of Spider-Man & Daredevil supporting character, Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich, who stumbles across a cache of Green Goblin weaponry and decides to become a superhero. I believe it has a reputation these days of being "not terrible", at least compared to a lot of the other stuff being published at this time (issue #12, the only one I've ever read, is fine for what it is). 

The Punisher, meanwhile, at the time of "Onslaught", is in a state of flux as well; not long before this issue, he was carrying three separate series, but they were all cancelled and a new, single series was relaunched (the better, presumably, to concentrate all the Punisher sales in one book) as part of the "editorial silo" era at Marvel (when the singular Editor-in-Chief position was split amongst five editors, each in charge of a different "silo": the X-Books, the Spider-Man books, etc.). This iteration of the series was launched as part of the "Marvel Edge" group (which included Daredevil and the mystic/supernatural books like Ghost Rider & Doctor Strange) with a crossover that culminated in an insane Punisher killing the head of SHIELD, Nick Fury (an act which is mentioned here as the source of the now-right-minded Punisher's need to atone). 

As such, our (and Cable')s old friend GW Bridge is the director of SHIELD at this point in time. 

A Sentinel detects that Mary Jane's unborn baby is an "abnormal embryo", which is one of those "maybe Spider-Man's baby will be special in some way" hints common around this time in the Spider-books which ultimately, I believe, go nowhere (other than to the alternate reality Spider-Girl series). 

Spider-Man #72 has a badge on the cover declaring it the Marvel Must-Read of the Month; if memory serves, Marvel briefly applied that label to one issue each month as a way to highlight a particular series, though I'm not sure what, exactly, warrants its application to this particular issue (I mean, I probably like it the best of these four issues just for the art, but that's purely subjective; certainly, you'd think one of the issues more directly connected to the larger crossover would merit the "honor"). 

It also ends with the Spider-Men running off to join the fight against Onslaught, suggesting they'll show up elsewhere in the crossover; they do not. 

The Chronology Corner
All of these issues take place just before and shortly after the arrival in Manhattan of the Sentinels and Onslaught's subsequent EMP pulse in X-Men (vol. 2) #55.

What's the Plan, Stan?
The Sentinels throughout these issues are said to be targeting mutants and other other enhanced people (like the Spider-Men), collecting them for Onslaught, though to what end (and where any such people they've captured are) is unclear. 

In Punisher #11, the Punisher ruminates that whatever Onslaught's plans are, they are unknown to most people, a statement which probably also includes several if not most of the writers involved in the crossover. 

A Work in Progress
Scenes set inside the Daily Bugle in Amazing Spider-Man #415 provide a snapshot on the general state of the crossover at this point. 

These issues take place during the time that Peter Parker's spider-powers are randomly coming-and-going, which I believe is another facet of the larger Clone Saga as well. 

The Green Goblin is shown fighting a Sentinel in Amazing Spider-Man #415, a scene which is later repeated from the Goblin's perspective in Green Goblin #12. 

Some of the dialogue in the Daily Bugle scene in Green Goblin #12 matches the same scene in Amazing Spider-Man #415 (Tom DeFalco writes both issues). Here, there is mention made of Daredevil and the New Warriors also fighting the Sentinels, which sound like references to other tie-in issues, but neither series ever does. 

A scene involving Phil suiting up as the Green Goblin serves as handy exposition for any new crossover readers unfamiliar with the general gist of the character/series, including his characterization as a slacker wannabe hero. 

The SHIELD helicarrier crashes in Punisher #11 after a Sentinel blasts it; it's presented as a big deal (all of the issue is devoted to the aftermath of the crash) but this kind of thing seemed to happen to the Helicarrier fairly regularly. 

The Grim 'n' Gritty 90s
After it crashes in the river, the Helicarrier is beset by one of those multiracial New York gangs that were around every corner and down every alley in comics in the 80s & 90s

Artistic Achievements
John Romita Jr. & Al Williamson, no stranger to drawing Sentinels, not surprisingly knocks it out of the park in Spider-Man #72. 

Austin's Analysis
This batch of tie-in issues is, collectively, "superheroes (mostly Spider-Men) fight Sentinels", which essentially establishes the Sentinels as the "Onslaught" version of the demons & possessed objects in "Inferno": an easy way to establish a setting & common antagonists for other books to use as a vehicle to tie-in to the crossover without having to worry about getting caught up in whatever macro developments are happening in the more "core" books. And like those "Inferno" tie-ins, the end result offers up, in many ways, the best of both worlds: curious non-X-book readers might follow one of these issues to the larger storyline unfolding elsewhere or just enjoy the story on its own and move on (as it requires little outside knowledge to get the gist of "Sentinels are in New York, and evil"), while devoted X-book readers can either check out these issues and get a sense of the larger scale of Onslaught's actions and the impact of the crossover's events on characters outside the main narrative focus, or simply ignore them without fear of missing out on important plot or character happenings (all the while Marvel Marketing is pleased by all the crossover sales happening in both directions). Unlike some of the other tie-in issues that bill themselves as being more important to the macro-narrative, there's little of that happening in this chunk of issues. 

All of that said, reading these four issues in one batch gets a bit repetitive. Part of that, of course, is the fact that with the X-Men, the Avengers, and the Fantastic Four (plus Hulk) all tied up in the main plot of the crossover to some extent, there's not a ton of additional characters to feature in these ancillary tie-in issues, which is how we end up with two separate stories featuring Spider-Man fighting Sentinels  (and a Spider-Man-adjacent character doing the same in a third story) . The other problem is that the Sentinels themselves are fairly repetitious & bland; the "Inferno" demons & objects all brought a kind of madcap, zany energy to the tie-ins, whereas the Sentinels, by design, are homogenous and, uh, robotic, in their interactions with the heroes. In that regard, the Punisher issue is perhaps the most engaging of this bunch, using the Sentinels simply as the kickstart to a larger survival story involving the crashing Helicarrier (it's not really a great *Punisher* story, though), though the Green Goblin issue, by zooming in to present simply one Sentinel as a massive challenge to the protagonist that pushes him to his limits, isn't bad either. And of course, Spider-Man #72 features some great John Romita Jr. art; his depictions of the Sentinels in particular are especially nice. So not a bad batch of issues, certainly, though they are of course not required reading (by design, to some extent). And, taken collectively, you'd be forgiven if they all start to blur together and/or you get a bit bored with reading about characters punching, smashing and/or evading Sentinels. 

Next Issue
Next week, Cable battles Apocalypse in Cable #35, X-Force deals with the aftermath of their fight with Mister Sinister in X-Force #58, and Excalibur tries to move on in Excalibur #101.

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  1. Phil Urich looks like he went to the same barber as Bart Allen.

  2. It never occurred to me until now, but it's very weird that they had two Spider-Men running around at this time and did _not_ kill one of them off in Onslaught: Marvel Universe as to launch a Heroes Reborn Spider-Man, but they did randomly split Bruce Banner and Hulk apart so they could have a Hulk in both universes.

    1. I think that's because they needed to end the Clone Saga once and for all with a clear declaration that Peter was the real thing and remove Ben from the scene permanently rather than risk yet more revelations. Simply dispatching one of them into another universe to return at a later date would have dragged things out yet more.

      Whereas IIRC the Hulk was split in two because otherwise his series would have been cancelled to free the character up for Heroes Reborn (as with Thor).

  3. These tie-ins were, for the most part, meh. As you pointed out with Inferno, there were demons invading. There was a lot of room for imaginative creatures designs and individual personalities. With Sentinels, it's kind of already "been there, done that." The Inferno tie-ions were great because it tossed New York into a hell on Earth scenario and really shook things up for everyone involved. Using Sentinels, however, is basically just Tuesday.

  4. The other thing "Inferno" had going for it, at least from Spider-Man's perspective, was that it was used as the backdrop for some major plot developments: Jason Macendale/Hobgoblin made a deal with N'astirh to become part demon (something that lasted for a few years afterward), and Harry Osborn regained his memories of being the Green Goblin, taking up the identity again to help Spidey fight Hobgoblin. It wasn't just "Spider-Man fights demons" for a bunch of issues -- whereas "Onslaught" really is just "Spider-Man fights Sentinels" for two issues. (But at least they didn't tie all the Spidey books into and make him fight them for four issues!)

    Not much to say about these, aside for repeating myself from some time back: when I was younger, I loved seeing G.W. Bridge as the head of SHIELD. For some weird reason, I felt it gave the X-books a sort of "legitimacy" in the larger Marvel U., with one of their supporting characters graduated to the ubiquitous role typically held by Nick Fury. Which is bizarre, because the X-books were, and had been for years, the top sellers of the line. They didn't need to be legitimized!

    And boy, do I want to re-read the Clone Saga. It's been on my to-do list for many years now, ever since I bought all the trade paperbacks reprinting it back circa 2010-2012 or thereabouts. It just feels like such an underaking that I've never gotten around to it. I've never re-read since it was first published, but I was totally engrossed with it back then -- and I really liked Ben Reilly. I never wanted him to become or remain Spider-Man, but I would've been totally happy to see him continue as the Scarlet Spider alongside Peter as Spidey for as long as it might've lasted.

    Years ago, I read where Howard Mackie said that as the Clone Saga went along, the four Spider-writers naturally tried to make Ben an interesting and appealing protagonist -- but not long before "Onslaught", when they learned they would eventually have to kill him and put Peter back in the role, they really doubled down on it, trying as hard as they could to make readers care about Ben, to give his death that much more impact. I think they succeeded. I still think back on those two years of his adventures with a lot of fondness.

    Oh, and I love JR Jr.'s work here too. For my money, he was turning in, hands down, the best work of his career around this time, from the Clone Saga (1996) through the Byrne/Mackie reboot era (2001). He was paired with great inkers and every issue looked magnificent.

    1. JR JR is probably my favorite comics artist. I actually started reading X-Men with the classic reprints of his X-Men vs Brotherhood stuff, and I think his work on mid-90s Spider-Man is about the right mix of that 80s charm and what his style ended up doing later. Say what you will about the Clone Saga, Spider-Man # 75 still looks gorgeous.


  5. As much as I didn’t care for JR Jr.’s first run on X-Men and was indifferent to his earlier Amazing Spider-Man work, I enjoyed his art here as inked by Al Williamson — enough to pick up the series for a spell not long after this point, having moved away from the comics shop where I could read store copies. The way he renders the contours and perspective on the lines of Spider-Man’s mask legit thrills me.

    // the Punisher ruminates that whatever Onslaught's plans are, they are unknown to most people, a statement which probably also includes several if not most of the writers involved in the crossover //



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