Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Marvel Graphic Novel #22: The Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky (1986/2012)

I didn't read very many graphic novels growing up. I didn't have regular access to a comic shop until around 1989, and graphic novels cost several times as much as any other comics of comparable length. I had much better luck with trade paperbacks, which collected a wealth of unattainable stories at a greater value, and could typically be found at mall bookstores. That's how I read classics like The Dark Knight Returns, and not-so-classics like The Life and Times of Death's Head, but they always seemed worthwhile. Still, graphic novels held a certain forbidden allure, as if they were more sophisticated and complete bodies of work that matched their upscale printing and pricing.

This was, of course, horseshit. It took me weeks to save up for Assassin's Guild during my Punisher phase, and that was one ugly turd of a book. There was nothing in the Dreadstar graphic novel that wasn't effectively covered as a recap in the first issue of the series. For all the critical hype in their day, X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills and The Death of Captain Marvel were crushing disappointments. For better or worse, more or less, the rest that have passed my way have only ever been longer than average comic books.

I used to see the house ads for The Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky, and was really intrigued by the premise as presented of the hero in a darker, perhaps even horrific story. As Marvel's original breakout star, despite all the overwrought tragedy surrounding his life, there's usually been a safety net webbed up underneath the character. He can't battle a proper vampire, but instead a living one created by science. If a terrorist shows up, he'll be covered head to tow in brown spandex, and serve as a throwaway in a team-up. Later, there would be the '70s style gritty crime drama of The Death of Jean DeWolff, and psychological thrillers like Kraven's Last Hunt, but to this day I can't point to a Spider-Man story that was truly, deeply a terrifying tale of the supernatural. Marvel's gotten into the habit of cleaning out their attic to offer previously nixed inventory stories and reprinting obscurities like the Marvel Graphic Novel series, so when Hooky came up, I was hopeful that it would be a fraction as interesting as what my mind could conjure twenty-six years ago.

Unsurprisingly, Hooky read like a 62 page inventory story. There's this adolescent girl dressed for a spaghetti western who knew Ben Parker and roundabout solicits Spider-Man's aid against a curse because she's a sorcerer's daughter and whatever. It's pages and pages of flying around in a poor man's Dark Dimension and repeatedly fighting an evolving monster. I'm pretty confident that without the art of Bernie Wrightson attached, this script would have either stayed in the drawer or been cut to 22 pages for a Marvel Fanfare. The only thing I can dig up on Susan K. Putney was that she wrote a sci-fi paperback in the '70s. Maybe she was somebody's friend. I have to assume somebody was doing a favor. It isn't that the story is bad, but it's a lightweight fanciful romp strung along well past the length necessary to tell the tale. It feels like it was designed to allow Wrightson to noodle with monster designs, splashes and spreads to his heart's content.

The creatures are cool, but the humans are threadbare, and Wrightson's from that school of artists who make the mistake of trying to draw Spidey anatomically correct. That never works. Berni and Michelle Wrightson provide watercolors over the line art, which was very in vogue at the time, but today makes for an awkward washed-out pastel juxtaposition. The "graphic novel" is a cheesy YA affair with a pat ending; a modest diversion that couldn't help but disappoint after so many years of possibilities imagined.

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