Spider-Man #16 (1991)

Spider-Man #16 (November, 1991)
“Sabotage, Part One”
By Todd McFarlane
Special Assist – Rob Liefeld
Colors – Greg Wright
Letters – Chris Eliopoulos
Edits – Danny Fingeroth
Chief – Tom DeFalco
Cover Price: $1.75

I’m taking a little break from reflecting today… but, I’m not quite ready to return to “business as usual” for the site… and also… just don’t feel right actually reading comics just yet.  And so, I decided to repurpose a synopsis I’d written a few months ago in preparation to script a segment from the From Claremont to Claremont: An X-Men Podcast project.

The synopsis portion may be old, but my thoughts following them will be new to this piece.

We open with Spider-Man swooping in, while avoiding some flung debris… the Juggernaut is loaded for bear against Warpath… and the streets of New York have been torn up but good.  We’ve got quite a few Todd-isms in this opening splash, a street-sign reads “Cyan” and the name “Wanda” is scrawled on some rubble… I think we’re a Felix the Cat away from the “Todd-fecta”.  Hmm, maybe the giant indicia box is covering the Felix?  Anyhoo, Spidey decides to forgo the fight for now, and instead head up to the top of the exploded World Trade Center.  Feral and Shatterstar rush out of the building to give James some much-needed back up.

Before the fight can commence, Cannonball barrels into the scene and plows directly into Juggernaut’s chest!  Unfortunately for him, however… he just bounces off, ricocheting right into the swingin’ Spidey.

Back inside the Towers, Cable (in his still-horrid armor), Domino, and Siryn are chatting up Sunspot and friggin’ Gideon.  Black Tom’s gone missing, but Cable assures everyone that he’ll track him down.

Back on the street… the fight continues.  Spidey sets Sam down, and decides it’s probably high-time he make his presence known.  After all, Juggernaut’s basically just toying with these “kids” at this point.  Juggs asks “how many heroes are in this town?”, which… I mean, dude… like all of them live there, which makes it even stranger that only Spider-Man shows up when the World Trade Center explodes.

Inside, Gideon and Cable get pretty catty toward one another… a really lame and forced argument commences over the course of a few pages.  Cable basically “sons” Gideon, before going about his business.

Outside, Spidey shoots some webbing into Juggernaut’s eyes.  Ah, the classics!  While Jugg’s is “blinded”, Spider-Man squats behind the baddies’ knees, while Warpath gives him the ol’ shove.  More classic stuff here… well, classic for bullies anyway!

It doesn’t take long for Juggernaut to recover… and, just then the X-Force aircraft flies overhead.  The hatch swings open, revealing Boom Boom.

We swap scenes back inside where we get a sideways two-page spread of Cable… and his armor… in all its glory.  This might be the ugliest page Todd McFarlane has ever drawn.  Worth noting that the tip of Cable’s pistol here looks… uh, suspect.

Next up, we return outside for… probably the most infamous scene from this issue… and, in fact, reportedly the reason Todd McFarlane quit the book!  Here’s a bit from Todd’s Facebook Page:

Ya see, Todd was asked to rework his original concept for this next page.  In it, Shatterstar and Juggernaut face off… with pretty gruesome results.  Here’s the original (also from Todd’s Facebook):

Shatterstar runs his blade right through Juggernaut’s eye!  Pretty extreme, innit?  To be honest, the scene we get instead… isn’t really “tame” in comparison, it’s just a little less explicit.  Still pretty crazy how this page… from a weird sideways crossover issue, was the proverbial “straw” that broke the camel’s back for Todd.

Juggernaut, though pained, shrugs off the attack… considering the ol’ Cytorrak Gem has healing properties, it’s not hard to see why.  He lunges at Spider-Man…

… driving him into, and toppling, a nearby building… perhaps one of the Twin Towers?  It’s never going to be clear what building went down, ya see… the second part of this crossover (in X-Force #4) has… zero backgrounds drawn in!  That’s right… zero!

We wrap up with a farewell to Todd…

Not that great an issue, was it?  The story (if we can even presume that this comic book contains one) is just sort of “there”.  The real import and interest in this one falls to the behind the scenes stuff.  First, this is Todd McFarlane’s final Marvel work… and also the “kick in the pants” he needed in order to finally make him quit.  Second, it’s here that Rob Liefeld finally got to pull his “sideways” gimmick without poor Karl Kesel getting stuck having to haphazardly cut ‘n paste the “landscaped” pencils into “portrait” style.

From Comic Book Urban Legends Revealed #36 (February 2, 2006) regarding an issue of Hawk and Dove Rob turned in:

Weird stuff.  By 1991, however, Rob was able to punch his own ticket… especially when paired with Todd on a project putting two of Marvel’s hottest books/franchises together.  There wasn’t an editor who was going to turn down the silly “sideways” gimmick.  It’s worth noting, it’s a real pain in the ass to read this.  Not due to the storytelling, but just because it’s quite uncomfortable to hold a comic book sideways.  I mean, when you read something over-sized, like a newspaper, you could fold it into origami to make it a bit more comfortable, while allowing you to focus on an article of interest.  You weren’t going to be doing that with a comic book… especially at the mid-dawn of the age of speculation. 

Todd, however, did get told no when he turned his pencils in.  I showed the images above… and, while in 2020, even the more explicit panel looks rather tame… I guess I can see the editor’s point in not wanting something quite that gruesome included.  Spider-Man, the adjectiveless Todd-book, for all it’s warts (of which it had many), was a fairly “mature” book for its time.  And by “mature”, I mean like it probably should’ve included a “For Mature Readers” warning.  Todd focused on things like child abduction and sexual abuse… weird religious rituals… demonic possession… again, things when we list during “current year”, sound pretty tame, but for the early 90’s… on arguably Marvel’s “flagship” title?  That’s kind of extreme.

Todd has complained that his creative freedom was often stifled… and that he’d regularly bump-heads with his editors.  Considering what they often allowed him to get away with… I couldn’t imagine what his original pitches were!  If the prior fifteen issues of Spider-Man are as a result of Todd cutting a compromise… man, those first drafts must’ve been insane!  I wonder how much of what hit the “cutting room floor” wound up included in the first few years worth of stories on Spawn?

Anyhoo, this issue, being a crossover with another super-hot book in X-Force, might’ve made editorial a bit more stringent when it came to what could/couldn’t be included as it pertained to explicit violence.  This might sound silly, but… consider the price difference between the two books.  X-Force was $1.00, Spider-Man was $1.75… almost twice the cost.  It’s almost as though the price-difference was a sort of “barrier of entry” (as well as a Todd-Tax), to perhaps put it just out of reach (financially) of younger readers.

The fact that X-Force #4 (which maybe I’ll put up here tomorrow) can be read on its own, and does not reference some of the bits and bobs from this issue (even though Rob gets a credit in both books), might be a sign that Marvel expected for many X-Force readers not to buy both books?  But, for those who did… especially those of a younger variety… maybe they wanted to keep this issue as inoffensive as possible?  Dunno.  These are just the theories of an idiot.

Since there really is no story, let’s take a look at the art.  It’s… uneven.  Perhaps Todd had already “checked out” for this issue… but, we go from some insanely great panels… to some sorta-kinda “phoned in” stuff.  That double-page spread with Cable and his phallic pistol stand out as being especially unpleasant.  I suppose disenfranchisement with Marvel might be a cause for Todd to slack (assuming he did)… but, really… this could have been better.

Overall… this probably isn’t a story you need in your life… but, as an important piece of Marvel/Image/comics history, you may want to have it in your collection.

In lieu of a letters page, we get Todd’s farewell address and “thank yous”.  Remember, he’s not leaving this book (and this company) out of anger… it’s just that he’s a father now, and wants to have more “family time”:

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2 thoughts on “Spider-Man #16 (1991)

  • I always thought it was the CCA that said the pannel needed to be changed. It seemed to be too gorey to get the CCA seal, which Marvel was still using at the time.

  • Unknown

    Just an FYI, this issue isn't listed in the Review Index but luckily for all of us its X-Force counterpart is.


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