It can be difficult to tell a complete Spider-Man story in three or less issues, at least one that is original. Without several issues of back story or a grandiose ongoing story arc, most Spider-Man tales can be summarized as “Spider-Man cracks wise as he fights a familiar, animal-themed villain and deals with personal issues.” The first three issues of Spider-Man’s Tangled Web were a valiant attempt to escape this paradigm, but ultimately they failed.
Spider-Man’s Tangled Web was created to be an anthology series of unrelated stories that involve Spider-Man. The series was ambitiously initiated with the well known creative team of Garth Ennis, John McCrea, and James Hodgkins providing the story arc which spanned the first three issues. In order to make their story unique, they introduced a new villain, called The Thousand (Legion would have been more appropriate, but it was already taken.)
Carl King has known Peter Parker since Kindergarten, and bullied him all the way through high-school. Carl was there when Peter was bitten by the radioactive spider, and has stalked him ever since. He knows all of Spider-Man’s secrets and covets the adulation that comes with Spider-Man’s super heroics. That could be a good basis for a story… But wait!
Carl wants to have powers like Spider-Man, so he breaks into the lab where Peter had been bitten. He even finds the spider. Unfortunately it’s dead, so he does the sensible thing – he eats it. As you probably guessed, eating the dead spider transfers his consciousness into an army of spiders that replace all of his internal organs. Makes sense so-far right? Well, then he discovers that as the spiders he can crawl down the throat of other people (starting with his mom), and he can take over their bodies, leaving behind the previously occupied skin. As he occupies and eats person after person he grows progressively stronger, all the while watching Spider-Man with envy and plotting the day when he will take over Peter Parker’s body and claim Spider-Man’s powers and fame as his own. Now he prefers to be called “The Thousand” in order to justify the title of the story arc.
So if you can get past the fact that WE’VE NEVER HEARD OF THIS GUY BEFORE even though he had a significant impact on Peter Parker during his formative years, he makes for a fairly formidable foe. By his own admission he has been killing about twelve people a month. I’m not sure where this is supposed to take place in the canonical Spider-Man chronology (Peter isn’t married to Mary Jane in this story), but lets guestimate that Peter has been Spider-Man for ten years. Let’s see, twelve people times twelve months times ten years equals about 1440 people who Carl has consumed, without anyone noticing. He’s strong, he clearly has no remorse, and he has been able to cover up over fourteen hundred murders.
But his plan doesn’t seem very well thought-out. He wants to take over Peter Parker’s body; then what? He doesn’t seem like the type who would carry on Spider-Man’s career of super-heroism. He would probably try to take advantage of Spider-Man’s fame while it lasted. Then he could use Spider-Man’s powers for super-villainy but he will eventually have to move on to a life of eating people without a purpose or objective. And even with that, he’s making a big assumption. His stated motivation is his belief that Peter Parker stole his life and he is going to take it back. He clearly wants to be Spider-Man. But how can he be sure he’ll get Spider-Man’s powers when he eats Peter Parker? The web slingers are external, but not the wall crawling and spider-senses. Did he gain the power of a thousand hobos from his previous victims? And if he’s been following Spider-Man all these years, I expect he would have some reservations about doubling-down on the radioactive spider mutations. He would have witnessed Peter growing extra arms and turning into a giant spider. Who knows what could happen when his radioactive spider essence crosses with Peter’s? But Carl doesn’t seem like the sharpest crayon in the box, so maybe his thought process doesn’t extend deeper than: “Yo dawg, I heard you like spiders, so I’ll put some spiders in Spider-Man, and I’ll be Spider-Man!”
These three issues of Spider-Man’s Twisted Web seem like they are trying to be dark, but the art works against any ominous mood that the story is trying to build. Overall, John McCrea’s art is cartoonish, and makes dramatic situations seem silly. There are pseudo-creepy moments. As a skin-suit full of spiders, Carl can take a beating without really incurring much damage. This leads to some Exorcist-style contortionist horror as he fights Spider-Man while in the body of J. Jamison’s secretary. And it’s a little disconcerting when Carl’s head starts to collapse and spiders start crawling out. But then his teeth literally shoot out in all directions, and I can almost hear some zippy cartoon sound-effect, which makes me want to chuckle, rather than draw back in horror.
The creepiest part of the whole story can be found on the cover of the first issue. Glenn Fabry is known for doing the covers for Ennis’ Preacher series, and he was nice enough to do the covers for these three issues. (This may have been a bad decision, because his extra-realistic artwork provides additional contrast to the goofy, unrealistic art inside the comics.) On the cover of issue 1 Fabry decided to depict a scene which has absolutely nothing to do with the story (except for the presence of Spider-Man.) And here we find the grotesque visage of an egg-headed thief lecherously leering and waggling his tongue at his ill-gotten gains. It’s terrifying. His partner-in-crime, who bears a strong resemblance to MTV’s Butt-head, looks on with revulsion, and even Spider-Man seems unable to act, paralyzed by the horrific scene unfolding before his eyes. Comical-Musings is not responsible for any nightmares caused by this image.
Overall, the first three issues of Spider-Man’s Tangled Web were okay, but they weren’t anything to write home about (unless you frequently send sarcastic comic reviews to your family.) The story held my interest, but the art detracted from my enjoyment of it. It ended up being another installment of: “Spider-Man cracks wise as he fights a spider-themed villain and deals with personal issues.” And unfortunately, it consistently failed to elicit the emotions that its scenes called for. Life and death struggles had an air of wackiness, and Peter’s slow dance with Aunt Mae seemed a little unsettling. But maybe that’s just me.