Hey 90’s people! Sorry we weren’t able to get this to you sooner, but I hope you have enjoyed the tremendous work the last few weeks, done by Angel Hayes and Emily Scott respectively, but much to your delight (and chagrin to some of you – after their work, how’s a guy supposed to compete?) I have returned to the era of Hypercolor, Friends, and Extreme! Rest assured 90’s babies, I have missed you as much as you have missed me!
The 90’s meant tons to me, not just because of the enjoyable comics, but because that was the era of my youth. I turned 11 in 1990, and I turned 21 in 2000. The 90’s are the era when I discovered my music, my books, and myself. This is also the time that I discovered girls, and no, this isn’t some joke where I say, among them Spider-Girl! Although, that is indeed a joke I might make. The point here is that, like many a young lad, attempting to attract the fancy of the opposite sex made me give up some of the interests I had previous clung to more tightly than that lady tried to hold on to Stallone’s hand in Cliffhanger. Just like her, I was unable to hold on.
I made few new comic book purchases during the years of 10th-12th grade. Like I said, I was discovering girls, but in addition to that, my local comic shop had fallen victim to the speculator bust/Marvel distributor fiasco (and I am sure we will cover this eventually right here, 90’s fans!). Our local supermarkets dropped comic books at this time too, so no matter how badly I wanted any of the adventures of the X-Men, Punisher, or CyberRad, I was S.O.L. I was not one of those folks who abandons their love altogether, though. I certainly still admitted to liking superheroes; I just was not able to buy comics. And even if comics had been there, I don’t know that I could have. 16-18 is such a confusing time for folks, and despite my affinity for fun articles about 90’s comics and great radio shows like Her Dork World, His Dork World (co-hosted by Emily Scott, who wrote the fantastic Death article from last week!) and Compton After Dark, I was no exception to that. Like nearly all teens, I vacillated between being gung-ho about my interests and defending Chumbawumba vociferously to cowering if someone dared offer a disparaging comment toward WKRP in Cincinnati or anything else I loved.
When I headed for college at Arkansas State University in 1998, I was fortunate enough that campus was about 3/4 of a mile from a comic book store. I was also SO LUCKY to have very few friends, so I didn’t have to worry what people thought of me. I’d learn to blend my interests and passions into a way to be likable, but my first year of college, I was too overwhelmed with school, life, and how relationships and viewpoints change for people during that age. I found refuge in the comic book store, but since I hadn’t been able to read any comic books regularly since 1995, I was lost. I was going to get Punisher because, well, Punisher. I was entranced by Quesda’s art on Daredevil. Having always been a fan of George Perez and Kurt Busiek, picking up Avengers was an easy choice, but when I heard from my friend Chris Grady that Marvel was going to continue the adventures of May Parker from the above-pictured Spider-Girl, I had to get them because they picked up at the point of Spider-Man where I had left off. Then I learned that not only were we going to see an alternate future for May Parker, Spider-Girl, but that we would also see Juggernaut’s son, as well as a future group of Avengers!
As I thought more about these comics, I knew that I had to do an entry on them. I started reading and reading comics in preparation for an entry on the MC2 universe, when I realized that I had to do this one in installments, so welcome to part one of the MC2 Summer here at The Unspoken Decade! We will start with Spider-Girl, but first, what’s all this MC2 stuff about anyhow?
Now, I could waste a few more paragraphs attempting to describe that point, or, I could let a master like Tom DeFalco use one of these handy gatefold-fold out covers that Marvel used in the late 90’s to explain back story to new readers. These were great! Why companies did not continue to use them, I have no idea.
This issue of What If, which basically serves as a Spider-Girl #0, “introduces” us to the Parker Family. Peter and Mary Jane are married, and they are enjoying watching their daughter play high school basketball at the highest level. Personally, I can’t stand watching high school basketball. I am a huge fan of the college game (ROCK CHALK JAYHAWK!), and I even keep up with NBA on a casual level, but high school sports in general bore me, unless they are occurring in the fictional town of Dillion, TX on the critically-acclaimed Friday Night Lights. Have you noticed how it is a law that one says “critically acclaimed” before saying “Friday Night Lights”?
I digress, but forgive me, as both Spider-Girl and the Dillion Panthers (for real, watch Friday Night Lights: It’s f’n great!) are great pieces of entertainment to remind you of when you were young. You are reminded when everything was somehow simultaneously carefree but also constantly heavy. You remember when your whole life was ahead of you, but you could not possibly think past your 5th period world history class. Spider-Girl brings that to us, and it uses her burgeoning powers as a great vehicle to also deliver the anxiety and feelings of never being able to fit in that saturate our every moment when we are teenagers.
And by burgeoning, I mean, OBVIOUSLY ALREADY APPARENT!
This issue is very fun! Marvel has always seemed to be looking for a follow-up to Spider-Man since that success. I mentioned this in a previous article about Darkhawk here at The Unspoken Decade, but it goes back awhile. There was Nova in the 70’s, Speedball in the late 80’s to early 90’s, The New Warriors (who featured both Speedball and Darkhawk as members) in the 90’s, Sleepwalker in the 90’s, and Cloak & Dagger in the 80’s just to name a few off the top of my head. I am sure more characters fit into this archetype in the Marvel Universe, so feel free to put a couple in the comments section.
The teenage super-hero archetype they had been trying to achieve again with varying levels of success is perfected here. I think that this succeeds for a variety of reasons, a primary one being an editorial feel like the old Marvel Bullpen of the 60’s. The blurbs are fun and insistent that MC2 is amazing, you’re amazing for reading it, and we are amazing together. That’s vaguely reminiscent of a Beatles song, which makes the concept even cooler to me. The other reason is the connection to Spider-Man and his mythos. I found myself going along with the story much more easily than someone else sharing these archetypes because it a generational tale. May Parker is learning Power and Responsibility now, just as we saw Peter do. There’s just something about the tale of progeny continuing in the wake of the heroism of their parents that always gets to me. The idea gives me hope that maybe nothing ever really dies…maybe it is just transmogrifies, e.g. energy. In fact, there’s even some hope that thanks to the lessons Peter learned, May can do it better.
The focus on family has always been at the center of the Spider-Man universe, even if most of Peter’s family are adopted. Loyalty, sacrifice, and togetherness are themes we see again and again, and Spider-Girl is no different except that Peter’s role has changed. Now he takes on the Aunt May role as he worries about his daughter.
The thing I loved most about going through these first few issues was the subtextual exposure of the inherent hypocrisy in parenting. The personal stuff between them is blatant, but the subtext to me is that ALL PARENTS are hypocritical due to the nature of the position. In order for parents to help their kids be better than them, they have to tell their kids not to do what they did. Not just because and not just for kicks or what have you (although parents probably have to get their kicks where and when they can what with all the child-rearing and all), but because otherwise, the experience of the parents is meaningless without passing that wisdom and knowledge on. But as a child, how can you take that seriously b/c NEARLY EVERYTHING YOUR PARENTS TOLD YOU NOT TO DO IS SOMETHING THEY DID THEMSELVES. Thankfully, your Dad wasn’t Spider-Man.
Spider-Girl would go on to become the longest running Marvel title featuring a solo female character, and this title also had a dedicated fanbase. When the rest of MC2 died, Spider-Girl lived, being saved from cancellation on a few different occasions by the fervent fan base. I love that sort of passion, and the idea that willpower, desire, and an unwillingness to cave in against great odds is really what superhero comics are all about, right?
Tom DeFalco, & Pat Olliffe are a great team, and I think Olliffe is sooooooo underrated. Kurt Busiek gets the credit for The Untold Tales of Spider-Man, but the art really helped drive the early Spidey feel of the book; we’ll cover it later, though, because this is an article about Spider-Girl.
DeFalco does a great job bridging the Marvel Universe of old (do the cool kids call it “The 616”? If so, would that disqualify them as cool? Let me in on the etiquette here, folks.) with MC2. In the first few issues, we see Kingpin, Darkdevil (who I cannot wait to find out more about), and in one of those moments that will speak to the woebegone tribe of fans that love 90’s comics in spite of the constant ridicule aimed at us by the comics fans who see themselves as our betters, we see the “good guy” Green Goblin! Yes, there was a good guy Green Goblin, and yes, he was awesome. Hush if you think otherwise! (Actually, leave a comment.)
Spider-Girl is the place to start with MC2, but it is not the place to end, nor is it my favorite. The book does provide the center of the MC2 universe, not unlike Spidey is the center of the standard Marvel Universe, and reverberations from all actions and events in MC2 seem to either start or end up here. From the sneak preview of J2 in this book to the appearance of the Fantastic Five (who will get their own entry in a few weeks), this is pulse of where MC2 happens. You’ll see the rest of the MC2 Universe here at The Unspoken Decade over the next month or so, and next week, you get to see my favorite MC2 character…J2! See you then folks!