As the issue begins, Mary Jane has been kidnapped and Peter has called in the police. It's a classic example of Peter's secret identity failing on him.
Of course, Spider-Man isn't staying in the sidelines, what happens next for the rest of the issue is a colorful, yet fruitless, goose chase, as Peter follows a wrong lead. Let's take the trip anyway if only to see the early work of an artist named Todd McFarlane.
For many, if not all of us, if something like this kidnapping happens, taking leave from work is a given. But Peter can't do that. He has to keep up appearances to spare Aunt May from the dreadful news.
Peter should inform Aunt May, after all, the cops already know. My guess is he doesn't do this as a form of self-punishment. He feels guilty that his Spider-Man persona got MJ in trouble.
And she is in trouble.
Early McFarlane Spider-Man right here:
McFarlane has three graveyard panels
It may be a wild goose chase but, for our entertainment, it pits Spider-Man against the Taskmaster
So-called "photographic reflexes" allows the mutant Taskmaster to learn combat moves on sight. Even more interesting, Taskmaster isn't a "straight on" bad guy. He candidly admits that he has no interest in tangling with the heroes. He's an educator. A thug trainer. If you're a mob boss or any kind of crime leader and you want your hirelings to shape up enroll them in Taskmaster school.
In a dubious McFarlane panel Spider-Man breaks Taskmaster's sword with a hand swipe.
Thor - yes. Hulk -yes. Spider-Man? No way.
Before he tangles with Taskmaster Peter is a ball of tension, so when some action finally comes his way, he has this to say.
That is a true thing for all of us isn't it? The inaction is what gets us, the waiting. But when its finally time to move, results unseen, some kind of chemical thing happens inside and we feel relieved because at least we're doing something.
This issue ends were it begun. So the story is meh. The art is NOT good. What makes this really special is (1) it's early Todd McFarlane, (2) Taskmaster - always a nice villain to see and (3) how about those graveyard panels.
Amazing Spider-Man 321
This comic has Spider-Man, Paladin and Silver Sable but you'll barely see Silver Sable in this breakdown because, sadly, Todd McFarlane can't draw a sexy Silver Sable - at least not yet. That said, and not to sound patronizing, but, Todd's art has gotten better significantly since he first started Spider-Man; I'm beginning to see glimpses of the awesome art to come from issues of Spider-Man and Spawn.
Here's Spidey and Paladin.
I've always known paladin was a gun-for-hire, it's a pragmatism that I've always respected about him. What I didn't know was this.
He has super-strength!
In a hunt for some important data, Paladin does some good old fashioned ransacking.
5.25" floppy disks. It just tickles me that there are some people who don't know what 5.25" floppy disks are. If you don't, don't worry about it, it's not important.
And here's the basic difference between Spider-Man and Paladin.
Hey, Mr. Spider-Man, money in exchange for value added is the cornerstone of capitalism - still the best system for getting people out of misery. I'm firmly on Paladin's side here so I'm wondering why there are so few mercenary heroes. Even Luke Cage drank the Avenger's Kool-Aid. Wait a minute, the Avengers have an allowance from Stark.
I'm sure MJ and Peter are talking about something important but I'm having a hard time paying attention what with MJ in that nightie.
I finally know what SOHO means.
The next day everybody helps Liz and Harry move into their new place. After the move everybody's pooped.
This is great acting by Peter. I know he has to maintain his secret identity but out of sheer consideration he should have targeted the bigger, heavier, items. One way is to have MJ, and only MJ help him, say with the fridge, but MJ just has to touch the appliance while Peter makes a show of moving.
Here' another somewhat dubious panel.
So Peter calls Silver Sable, identifying himself as Spider-Man, but he's not wearing a mask! When Peter has that mask his voice changes a bit - it becomes Spider-Man's voice. Maybe the line wasn't so good so Silver Sable can't tell. By the way, welcome to 1989, when cellphones weren't that common yet.
I'm starting to notice that McFarlane has an inordinate amount of panels were the protagonists have their back turned to the reader. In spite of that, this panel is pretty good anyway.
So is this panel, showing Paladin take a big hit!
Ah, Mr. Parker you have been listening to me about money.
Not a bad issue. The failure to draw a sexy Silver Sable is a definite miss though.
Amazing Spider-Man 338 Death From Above
Beautiful splash page showing the Sinister Six by Erik Larsen.
Otto Octavius is both the strategist and the technologist of the group - he's the core around which the other five revolve. He has to be. Hobgoblin's crazy, Mysterio is too self-involved, The Vulture is not sophisticated or ambitious enough (though he's still my favorite), Electro is too temperamental, and Sandman . . .
. . . let's just say that if they had a yearbook Sandman is the one going to be voted "Most Likely Not Really Sinister".
Erik Larsen is the artist and his Red/Black Spidey is something to see.
Peter will never grow old. Correct? MJ will never grow old. Actually, nobody in the Spider-Man family will ever age. The stories will go on and on for each now generation. Aunt May has the distinction of being portrayed with a certain age range. Here she looks very old.
Later issues will show her much younger than this.
A piece of granite is headed Peter's way.
His spider-sense saved him. Unfotunately, his spider-sense didn't kick in as it should when he put on that shirt.
Before we go see more Sinister Six here's a really great panel of MJ.
And now for some great Sinister Six panels:
Vulture and the Hobgoblin.
Electro and Sandman.
Mysterio and Doctor Octopus.
This panel shows us just how long Doc Ock's arms are.
The Sinister Six attacks.
Great Vulture panel (as I said, he is my favorite).
Spider-Man vs. Doctor Octopus
Spider-Man vs. Mysterio
As expected, Sandman sides with Spidey.
Unfortunately, Sandman gets turned to glass by Doc Ock.
It's all been fun and games until Doctor Octopus proves he's a real killer
The cover isn't that enticing but this is a soiid, fun, Sinister Six read sure to delight casual readers and fanboys alike.
Amazing Spider-Man 356 Round Robin: The Sidekick's Revenge Part Four
Night Thrasher, Spider-Man, Moon Knight, the Punisher. Nova has been captured by the bad guys. We won't see much of the Punisher this issue - he took same heavy hits previously and has to recover.
Night Thrasher is young and his blood is hot and it shows.
I would have wanted the next panel to be Night Thasher getting thrown out of the Moon Copter, you know, for laughs.
We come upon an organization called the Empire. They have a medical team doing cyborg enhancements on former Moon Knight sidekick Midnight. It's a brutal operation with no pain killers. The doctor comes off as cold and sadistic but here's the real surprise.
The doctor is Thunderball from the Wrecking Crew! He's a doctor!?
Continuing with the Empire's grisly activities we come upon a hapless Nova.
Normally I wouldn't show this, it's effectively a torture scene, but look at the machinery in the room. It's Mark Bagley doing Jack Kirby machinery.
Here's a great panel of Moon Knight's Moon Copter dodging an attack.
Frenchie at the controls.
Spider-Man, Night Thrasher, and Moon Knight go on the offensive.
Midnight looks good in costume. . .
. . . but he's been the recipient of brutal surgeries. Look at the eyes, they give an indication of just how much trauma Midnight has been through.
Night Thasher and Moon Knight may not like each other much but they are an effective assault team.
Here's an example of the power play inside the Empire's upper levels.
The blood on the wall behind Midnight is really "persuasive".
Midnight has just "broken his leash" and declares himself leader of the Empire.
Midnight in action!
He's extremely effective.
Until he meets Spidey.
Look at the fight sequence on this page. Smooth flow from one panel to another. Kudos to Mark Bagley
Midnight's Cyborg enhancements are quite impressive. Not least is his ability to fly.
By the end of the issue, the Empire organization is on the run but they still have Nova.
Amazing Spider-Man 391 Shrieking Part Two
Based on that awful cover I didn't have any high hopes for this issue of Amazing Spider-Man.
Fortunately, I would be proven wrong. It wasn't an exceptional issue but it was a lot better than I expected. There are two subplots here. The first is quiet, sad and melodramatic and it is centered on Aunt May and Mary Jane after the death of Nathan Lubinsky. The second is traditional super-heroic fare centered on a battle between Spider-Man and Shriek.
It's a rare thing for the relationship between Aunt May and Uncle Ben to have any kind of focus. It's usually the relationship between Peter and Uncle Ben that is the subject. But not today.
Mark Bagley does the art. Here's the Bagley Spider-Man
Shriek's ferocity is captured in this panel
Back to the melodramatic part, Aunt May launches into an angry tirade.
She's pretty tough, gone through a lot, and its very rare to see panels of Aunt May, the doting Aunt, angry. What? You didn't come here for the soap opera? All right. Here's Spider-Man's attack on Shriek
An attack deserves a counterattack.
And look, we meet an old friend at the end of this tale.