For some readers today, it might be hard to imagine that once upon a time Todd McFarlane was the top artist in the industry and not just a toy company mogul or occasional cover artist. But he was huge. Highly influential, he was one of the founders of Image Comics, but his name was synonymous with Spider-Man before he left Marvel to create the brooding and visceral world of Spawn. I could have picked any of the McFarlane issues for this column, and so I chose my favourite.

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Tale of the Tape

Amazing Spider-Man #312

Published 1989

Written by David Michelinie

Art by Todd McFarlane

Coloured by Bob Sharen

Lettered by Rick Parker

44th ed. Overstreet Guide puts a 9.2 at $22

Available on Marvel Digital Unlimited

This issued featured the work of two highly influential Spider-Man creators: Todd McFarlane and David Michelinie. Creating Venom is, by itself, enough to get a mention in the Spidey creator hall of fame, but they achieve far more than introducing a new villain. At the time, Michelinie didn’t really get the kudos and credit he deserved (the time of the superstar writer was far off) but he expanded Peter’s supporting cast and infused every issue with many soap opera elements that created welcome pauses from superhero action. Peter and Mary Jane face marital stress, loss of employment, a stalker, and the return of a jilted ex-lover in the form of the Black Cat. Over his run these telenovella plots served to further illustrate the difficulty that Peter had in juggling his life as Spider-Man and the responsibilities of a normal adult life. This pattern of using a supporting cast with Melrose Place problems would be a factor in Spidey comics for years to come. And as influential as Michelinie was as a writer, Todd was doubly so as an artist.

While some readers today may dislike McFarlane’s style, it would be difficult to shrug off his impact on Spider-Man. He refined the look, creating larger eyes on the mask, and added webs back to the sides. He was also the first artist to draw webbing as a ridiculous mass of silly string, and contorted Peter into all sorts of rubber man gymnastic poses as he swings along the Manhattan skyline. For an entire group of 30-somethings, the McFarlane Spider-Man is THE Spider-Man.

So, even though issue #312 is a great example this creative run, it also has a comic book first in its own right. This issue saw the first ever in-costume battle between the Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin. Now purists will be quick to note that it is Harry Osborn and Jason Macendale, but still, it is a first.

The basic story shows the Hobgoblin chasing after Osborn to get the Goblin formula, and Harry (a good guy at the time and not a murderous killer) is forced to don the green and purple to confront Macendale to protect his wife and son. And this is taking place during the Inferno crossover so the city is filled with demons and goblins to boot. Spider-Man sort of gets in the middle but mostly readers are treated to a pumpkin bomb vs pumpkin bomb battle that they long wanted to see.

I was also reminded of how much I like interspersing those soap opera elements as part of a Spidey tale. We get to see little things like MJ and Peter passive aggressively fighting, or a single page of Curt Connors at ESU. These single pages seed elements that won’t get a pay off until further issues and it is a great reminder of the potential for long term storytelling in the medium.

If you just can’t get enough Goblin action you should seek out Spectacular Spider-Man #259-#261. Entitled Goblins at the Gate, the three part story focusses on the recently re-appeared Norman Osborn and Roderick Kingsley, who battle for the first time ($3 per issue). Dan Slott also returned to this theme during the end of the Superior Spider-Man run. Issue #26 sees Kingsley and Osborne face off again as a precursor to Goblin Nation.

So if you like McFarlane and Goblins, this Spidey is for you!