Sunday, April 25, 2010

Web of Warrant

For those who thought this post would be about the 80’s glam metal band, I apologize. It’s more tangentially about this guy.

I had certainly not thought about short-lived Spider-Man sorta-villain Warrant since I first encountered him back in 1994, but Jim Beard’s Archrivals feature on the shared history of Spidey and The Lizard last week brought him back into my life somehow. I’m astonished to learn from Comic Vine that the guy actually made five more appearances outside of the ones I own (some in Handbooks and stuff, but still), but we’ll circle back around to him in a bit.

As I’ve covered in part here before, my comic book buying habits back around the time I was 12-13 were pretty haphazard for lack of a better term. I had my perennial favorites like the X-Men titles, New Warriors, Superboy and the like, but aside from that, I was prone to sampling any super hero stuff that jumped out at me, typically in staggered chunks. What I mean by that is I’d buy Thor for a few months because a cover caught my eye, then when I saw a logical jumping off point, I’d ditch that and replace it with something else I wasn’t reading like Green Lantern.

There were some books I’d stay pretty consistent with just because as a still relatively new fan they felt like stuff I needed to be reading; I’d always have at least one Superman book on my “pull list” (I didn’t actually use a pull list, but let’s imagine), one Avengers, one Justice League and so on (oddly enough I never remember collecting any Batman titles on the regular, just ancillary stuff like Robin and Catwoman).

Amazing Spider-Man was my token Spidey book. I’d never been that into the character (though in finally reading the original Stan Lee-Steve Ditko run for the very first time over the past couple weeks, I’ve starting to develop a genuine appreciation—a topic for another day), but felt he was integral enough to comics and the Marvel Universe that I should at least follow his flagship title. Also, I loved (and still do love) Mark Bagley’s art.

However, one comic I was onboard with was Infinity Crusade, Jim Starlin’s annual Marvel cosmic crossover, so I ended up picking up a lot of random titles I wouldn’t normally give a glance (hello, Darkhawk) on the basis that they tied in. Spidey’s Infinity Crusade crossovers took place in Web of Spider-Man, so I grabbed those issues; and strangely enough, I ended up sticking around for more than a year on the tertiary (maybe) title of a character I was pretty meh on to begin with.

When Web of Spider-Man kicked off in 1985—replacing Marvel Team-Up as the third monthly Spidey title alongside Amazing and Spectacular Spider-Man—it carved something of a niche for itself by featuring stories of a slightly darker and more psychological bent written by guys like Peter David and James Owsley (the future Christopher Priest). This direction didn’t last more than a year or two before it just became another Spider-Man book during a time when those happened to sell well (one of the earliest comics I ever remember owning is Web of Spider-Man #39, featuring Spidey against The Looter by Fabian Nicieza and Alex Saviuk).

By 1993, Web took a backseat not only to Amazing and Spectacular with their longer pedigrees, but also the simply-titled Spider-Man which had been launched amidst much fanfare by Todd McFarlane and the new quarterly book Spider-Man Unlimited. It was then that I encountered the series in the midst of the Infinity Crusade, written by Terry Kavanagh and still being penciled by the venerable and talented Mr. Saviuk.

I give credit to the creative team, the editors, or whoever was responsible at the time, but they sure as heck convinced me to hang with Web even after the trippy Infinity Crusade tie-ins (which featured Spidey hallucinating on another planet that he is battling oddly-costumed versions of his supporting cast who are in reality an odd potpourri of characters like Sasquatch, Moon Knight, Quicksilver and Archangel—long story). They did this by promoting the heck out of each subsequent story arc, planting seeds the way a good episodic ongoing series should and then hyping the hell out of stuff in the letters pages, in Marvel Age, and son on.

And the thing is it was stuff that should not have mattered to me in the least! I’m not really a Spider-Man guy, what do I care what’s going on with The Sandman or The Lizard? Yet these folks were good at what they did, because when it made all the sense in the world for me to kick my $1.50 to She-Hulk or Detective Comics, I ended up staying with Web of Spider-Man far longer than intended.

Perhaps equally noteworthy to what a solid hype job the people running Web of Spider-Man did monthly was how despite some generally decent stories and well thought-out origins, the new characters they were cranking out on the whole really went nowhere beyond their introductory arc.

First up after Infinity Crusade was the introduction of the new villain Sandstorm, a sort of next generation Sandman who also incorporated the powers of Thor (?) adversary Quicksand to be three times as sandy or whatever. It was a noble attempt at creating something new out of the well-worn ashes of the old, but I pretty quickly forgot about Sandstorm (as did the rest of comicdom as I’m fairly certain he never appeared again), recalling more how Web’s new inker, Stephen Baskerville, added a dimension to Saviuk’s pencils I’d never seen somebody in his position do before, giving me a whole new appreciation of that particular craft.

Again, another good chance to jump off with Sandstorm having come and gone, but the build was already in overtime for “The Savaging,” a story that promised to “change The Lizard forever.” I don’t think I had even ever read a story with The Lizard at that point in my life, but for whatever reason, I was hooked once more.

I actually quite enjoyed the lead-in prologue to “The Savaging,” where Lizard killed Calypso in the back-up story, but the main had Spidey and a personal favorite of mine, Night Thrasher of the New Warriors, having their only team-up I can recall against The Shocker, another villain I knew zilch about but he’s got a rad costume.

“The Savaging” proved a bit of a let-down for me (which shouldn’t have been terribly surprising given my aforementioned apathy for all fictional parties involved), made memorable by some really good art and the introduction of the guy who kicked off this trip down memory lane, Warrant, an oddly-designed stock mercenary character who nonetheless remains burned into my memory to this day.

I skipped Web of Spider-Man #112, which was part of the “Pursuit” crossover with the other three Spider books and a sign of things to come both in terms of structure and tone (Spidey had just lost the robots he thought were his resurrected parents and was headed down a dark path—another long story). However, #114 had not only Gambit and The Black Cat in the first part of a new story called “Live and Let Die,” but also a silver foil cover! It was 1994 and you didn’t say no to stuff like that.

Gambit bolted Web after that first chapter, but “Live and Let Die” was actually a neat little mystery featuring another new villain, the armored Façade, who was teased as being any of several candidates thrown out through the arc. Frustratingly, Façade’s identity was not revealed by story’s end and in fact I know I’m not the only one who still thinks about it to this day as one of the Handbook-style specials (I believe the Dark Reign one) featured an in-joke about Façade on the intro page though he, again, has not appeared since.

I quit Web of Spider-Man with the conclusion of “Live and Let Die” in issue #116, which also happened to be Alex Saviuk’s swansong as series artist after like six years. I was gradually phasing into buying less at the time and the Spider-Man titles were also adopting the mid-90’s Superman structure of telling stories spread over the course of all four monthly books as opposed to each having their own direction, so I wasn’t really into that (it was also the start of the Clone Saga, though that wasn’t really a factor for me).

Random though it was, I look back on my year-long run as a reader of Web of Spider-Man kinda fondly. It was an odd little book that didn’t really have a place by the mid-90’s, but guys like Terry Kavanagh and Alex Saviuk did their damndest to carve one out anyways. Sure, Sandstorm, Warrant and Façade never became household names, but credit for trying to add something new into a mythos as rich as Spider-Man’s and give something back to the Marvel Universe.

Now to track down Terry Kavanagh and find out who the heck Façade is once and for all…


chrispearce said...

For some reason, our local pharmacy's spinner rack only supported Web of Spider-Man, which made it the go-to Spidey book for most of my late childhood. I jumped on somewhere around the big Spirits of Venom crossover a few issues before #100.

Quite a few of my comic-buying friends looked at Web as the lamest of the Spider-Man family, but I always enjoyed the art... and yeah, the writers always did a fair job of hooking you into the next run of stories by peppering in plot points and stuff.

Also: Spider-Armor.

Ben Morse said...

I missed out on the Spider-Armor, but a friend of mine had the issue and I was jealous.

You bring up an interesting point re: Web of spinner racks. I'm pretty sure that's how I got my Looter issue. Wonder why that was...

Jesse T. said...

To this day, I am still fascinated by the Nightwatch character. More how he came to exist over his actual comic appearances.

Ben Morse said...

There a story there, player?