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Lost Gems: “Perceptions”

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We’re back, with another December of Mark’s “Lost Gems” — stories he considers among the very best Spidey tales, that are also unlikely to appear on any “best of” lists. For this year’s entry, Mark is going to pick one Spider-Man story per decade (60s, 70s, 80s, etc.). Hope you all enjoy and happy holidays!

This entry looks at Spider-Man #8-12 by Todd McFarlane:

Todd McFarlane’s writer/artist run on “adjective-less” Spider-Man has earned its fair share of scorn from yours truly over the years, and I mostly stand behind that, especially as it relates to the much ballyhooed opening arc, “Torment” (DOOM DOOM DOOM!). Still, after recently binging on the McFarlane run, I actually stumbled upon a storyline that I quite liked, “Perceptions,” which can be found in issues Spider-Man #8-12.

There’s actually a bit of history (and controversy) to “Perceptions.” The storyline, which deals with Spider-Man teaming with Wolverine to investigate a series of child-murders in Canada that are being pinned on the Wendigo monster, dealt with some censorship issues when it was first published in 1990. While there were many, many factors that contributed to McFarlane leaving Marvel and subsequently co-founding Image Comics in the early-90s, some of the editorial pushback he got on “Perceptions” is believed to have played a role. The whole point of handing McFarlane his very own Spider-Man series to write and illustrate was to allow one of the company’s most notable talents freedom and ample room to grow as a comic book creator. The level of editorial interference “Perceptions” received served as yet another reminder of the bureaucratic system McFarlane was operating in, which made the creator-owned utopia of Image that much more palatable to him, even if it meant he’d no longer be working on one of the great pop culture icons in Spidey.

Regardless of how much or little the final version reflected McFarlane’s initial vision for “Perceptions,” it’s a compelling story in both the way that it is structured, and for the sheer fact that it reads so “different” (dare I say, “edgier”) than a lot of the other Spider-Man stories being published during this timeframe. It’s got plenty of flaws, sure — regardless of how great his pencils and inks are, and make no mistake, this storyline is GORGEOUS, McFarlane was/is just not a great writer — but for the most part, all of the twists and turns of this arc work. It also carries a message of media sensationalism, which probably seemed played out by the latter stages of the 90s (when news stories like the “Trial of the Century,” and the “Long Island Lolita” bombarded readers/viewers until they want numb), but given some of the current affairs of the world, now feels quite prescient again.

As you could probably figure from some of the general themes and ideas I’m touching upon, over the course of the storyline, it becomes readily apparent that the Wendigo is being falsely accused of these murders as a means to cover up the very real (and human) culprit. However, because the media sees more money to be made beating the drum of a “monster” abducting and killing kids, the Wendigo angle continues to get pushed, regardless of the mounds of evidence Spider-Man and Wolverine turn up on the contrary.

Meanwhile, the Spider-Man/Wolverine dynamic is pure gold — and in retrospect, “Perceptions” a huge omission on the Spider-Man/mutant listicle I put together on this site earlier this year. It (smartly) borrows a number of character beats and sensibilities from 1987’s Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot, and could even be viewed as an unofficial “sequel” to that story. There’s a high-level of hopelessness and despair that hangs over every page of “Perceptions,” with Peter/Spider-Man serving as an optimistic-bordering-on-naive participant, while Wolverine plays up the more jaded, cynical, veteran. It could be argued that in the arc’s final chapter, the focus is trained almost too much to Wolverine and his “methods” in getting to the bottom of the tragedy that is tormenting this small Canadian town, but at least none of the narrative comes at the expense of making Spider-Man look like a total lightweight who is incapable of fighting his own battles (which may be my biggest complaint against SvW). Plus, many of the sequences detailing Spidey “baby-sitting” the Wendigo are downright hilarious (and humor was something that was often missing from McFarlane’s Spider-Man).

And of course, as I alluded to earlier, if you’re a fan of McFarlene’s artwork, you’re in for a treat as “Perceptions” has dynamic splash pages galore, complete with sweeping snowy Canadian landscapes that contribute to the arc’s dark tone. However, unlike other McFarlane Spidey tales, “Perceptions” isn’t all style (at the expense of any substance). There’s a high level of passion and investment in how the story bobs and weaves that I just don’t think is comparable to anything else from his run.

Unlike some of the other “Lost Gems” this year, you can’t find “Perceptions” on Marvel Unlimited, but if you have a few bucks to spend, you can order the collection digitally via Comixology, or you can just find an online retailer that deals in back issues (mycomicshop remains a personal favorite) and grab the hard copies for what should be a very reasonable rate. Again, I think this is a storyline worth checking out if you’re a fan of McFarlane, not to mention, a fan of Spider-Man/Wolverine team-ups.

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