Volume 2 Review is a regular feature that looks back to the late 1990s when Marvel rebooted its Spider-Man series for the very first time. Each installment will discuss a different arc and whether or not it achieves its goals of presenting something new and/or gripping about the Spider-Man character and mythos.
In this installment, we’re discussing Amazing Spider-Man vol. 2 #16-18 and Peter Parker: Spider-Man #18:
Not to delve too much into the behind the scenes sausage-making here at SuperiorSpiderTalk.com, but researching and writing Volume 2 Review may have been one of the most challenging blogging endeavors I’ve ever willingly set myself up to do. I’ve always maintained that when it comes to writing about comic books — especially older comic books like these Howard Mackie/John Byrne issues — I would much rather talk to you all about the stuff I like rather than the stuff I dislike or am indifferent to. With a few notable exceptions, most of the Mackie/Byrne run represented the unlikeable or indifferent category, which I’m sure was further reflected in the tone of my writing, which may also explain why there there wasn’t as much engagement for this feature as there’s been for past ones on this site and my old home, Chasing Amazing.
This is not me trying to pass the buck on you, the reader, for not wanting to discuss these comics with me more in the comments section, on Twitter or on our Amazing Spider-Talk podcast, because that would be entirely unfair of me. Mackie/Byrne may not be the darkest era of Spider-Man comics, but it’s arguably the most forgotten. I’ve even received more feedback/requests from readers/listeners for stories from Denny O’Neil’s mostly forgotten run on Amazing Spider-Man in the early 1980s, then I did for Mackie/Byrne. I actually find that rather amazing if I’m being totally frank, though at least with the O’Neil run you got a few memorable stories like the first Hydro-Man (and later the Sandman/Hydro-Man mud monster issue) — though you rarely hear anyone on the social medias talk about that time Spidey teamed-up with Moon Knight, or Peter’s love/hate relationship with the guitar player who lived upstairs.
All of this preamble is just a long-winded way of saying we’ve reached the end of Volume 2 Review with this entry. Again, to probably reveal too much about my process, I’ve grouped these four issues (three of Amazing Spider-Man, one of Peter Parker: Spider-Man) together for this one post not so much because it’s a neat and tidy storyline that connects together, but out of necessity of mercifully ending this blogging experiment. Certainly, these comics are sorta/kinda connected, much in the same way that the four stories I grouped together in my last entry sorta/kinda told a similar story, but my motivations were as much about expediency as anything else.
The scattershot approach to this post also, in many ways, reflects the end of Byrne’s second (and thankfully final) run as a Spider-Man creator. After receiving the opportunity to revamp Spider-Man’s entire origin story in Spider-Man: Chapter One, and then further developing these ideas (sort of) in the reboot of one of Marvel’s chief legacy titles in Amazing Spider-Man, Byrne more or less just disappears from the Spider-Verse after Amazing Spider-Man #18.
In fact, not only does Byrne’s disappearance lack any build or fanfare, it also comes at a completely random moment in the larger storyline being told in the Spider-books. The second part of the arc introduced in ASM #18, which involves the appearance of yet another Green Goblin character (that Peter automatically vows cannot possibly be Norman Osborn since he was last seen losing what was left of his marbles during the “Final Chapter” storyline that ended volume one of ASM) is actually drawn to conclusion by Mackie and artist John Romita Jr. in Peter Parker: Spider-Man #18. When the series returns to ASM for issue No. 19, former 90s phenom Erik Larsen would be found taking over for Byrne with nary an explanation.
I can’t speak with any authority as to why Byrne’s stay on ASM came across as being so truncated, but given JB’s history of not playing well with others, it’s probably safe to assume that he impulsively decided to take his ball and go elsewhere. The fact that Mackie stayed on the book (I remember hearing he was basically contractually obligated to stay on) adds some additional fodder to my speculation.
Either way, regardless of why or when Byrne left the book, he and Mackie do manage to place Peter in a very familiar situation over the course of these final three issues of ASM. With Mary Jane now seemingly out of the picture (Peter continues to vow that she’s somehow still alive and being held somewhere, but he does very, very, very little to actually go out and prove that in this comics) and Peter advancing past the mourning stage, he’s seen trying to get his personal life back together, while still balancing that with his life as Spider-Man.
These comics capture the classic Spider-Man/Peter dynamic in that he loses his job at the lab (that after the first arc we never actually see him attend which probably explains why he’s been fired) in ASM #16, and he also continues to deal with the fallout from the “Another Return of the Sinister Six” by battling a dying Sandman (who had a chunk of his body eaten by Venom — classic Venom, amIrite?) in ASM #17.
Unfortunately, in this instance, “classic” is just another way of saying tired and trite, as loser Peter who can’t do anything right is indeed one of his core character traits. Yet Mackie/Byrne also add very little to the reader’s understanding of this dynamic, so it instead comes across as a glorified rehash of a story that numerous other creators have done first and done better. The one, somewhat interesting wrinkle is Peter believes he’s late for a job interview that was set up for him by Glory Grant, but in turn is early but over-qualified for the job (and thus doesn’t get it). A funny spin on the Parker Luck is always worth at least one or two chuckles.
The good news is, the supporting cast is utilized quite well here, and in its own, blessing in disguise kind of way, would help set the stage for some of the (better) stories to come from the Paul Jenkins/Mark Buckingham tandem on Peter Parker: Spider-Man in the early 2000s. Chief among those is Peter’s burgeoning friendship with Randy Robertson, aka, Joe “Robbie’s” son, who would eventually move in with Peter.
The way the supporting cast was used during Mackie/Byrne was always a mixed bag. Because of the old school sensibilities of both creators, who seemingly appeared insistent on doing a “back to basics” story that focused on Aunt May coddling Peter, J. Jonah Jameson making Spider-Man’s life miserable, and everyone else just doing random things when convenient, characters like Randy or Jill Stacy felt completely tertiary in the grand scheme of things. Even Flash Thompson, who starred in what might be my favorite story of the entire Mackie/Byrne run, comes and goes without any real rhyme and reason and is shown to be so unsavory and unlikeable in his lone appearance during this storyline (he talks smack about Peter behind his back, which prompts Randy to stand up for him).
It illustrates yet another inherent flaw in the Mackie/Byrne run that has made Volume 2 Review difficult to construct week in and week out. Despite its “back to basics” philosophy, volume two glosses over one of the essential things that defined the early Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run on ASM — it’s rich supporting cast of characters. Liz Allan makes an appearance in ASM #18 and PPSM #18 but we’ve been given very little reason to care about her by the creators outside of her past connections to the men who used to be the Green Goblin. On top of that, she’s shown being cold and unsympathetic to Peter, telling him to stay away from her because she’s afraid that like “all the other women” in his life she’s going to die some horrible death. So, in other words, the reader is supposed to hate Liz Allan? But, seriously, what does this subplot actually accomplish in a way that makes people want to read more Spider-Man books?
And thus, that feeling of throwing your hands in the air of indifferent frustration so perfectly encapsulates the past six weeks of writing about the Mackie/Byrne run — in trying to wax poetic about a group of stories that have a legacy of … existing, and nothing more. Very little introduced over these 18 issues (and PPSM tie-ins) had any long-term impact on Spider-Man’s mythology. In fact, there are some stories, like the Ghost attacking a science lab where Peter is working (as seen in ASM #16), that would be reused in later stories with nary a reference or a nod to them happening the first time around.
Just like these comics, Volume 2 Review will continue to exist, tucked away in a little corner on this site, so it can be accessed by only the most curious of eyes — so wait, what actually happened during the Makcie/Byrne run? You can read all about it, and continue to be unimpressed by it.