20 years ago, Todd McFarlane, comic artist extraordinaire, was given an amazing opportunity: to not just draw, but write his own Spider-Man book. The comic, simply titled Spider-Man, was designed as a book to sell trade paperbacks. Back then, comics that filled a whole book with one storyline was a rarity. So the question is, does Torment, the debut story of the comic, hold up two decades afterwards, despite its high sales?
First and foremost, we need to talk about the art. In my mind, there are only 5 artists who can draw Spidey perfect, yet unique to themselves: his co-creator Steve Ditko, John Romita Sr., John Romita Jr., Mark Bagley and Todd McFarlane. When Todd started drawing Spidey, there was a return to the strange, contorted spider-like poses. He also changed the webbing to look like actual tangled weblines. Most modern Spider-Man emulate his design.
Now, the rough summary of the storyline for “Torment”. Basically, the whole story is about one horrible night in Spider-Man’s life. The Lizard is on a rampage, murdering people as if he were simply a savage beast instead of a crazed lizard-man out to wipe out mammals. He seems to be manipulated by a crazed voodoo witch who has connections to Spidey’s old foe Kraven, who at this point was still dead in comics. That’s basically it, Spidey and Lizard engaged in brutal battle as this crazy witch watches on.
Storyline-wise, I can’t find fault with it. This was a book made to be read as one whole story, and reading it in one shot, you feel a sense of horror as Spidey basically doesn’t understand why he’s being targeted by this woman, and the combination of poison and the relentless battle with the Lizard takes its toll. The action is brutal and epic, and basically shows how dangerous the Lizard truly can be.
The biggest problem with this book is the dialogue, the narration, basically at any point words are actually used. There are a few gems of Spider-Man dialogue, but for the most part it’s written as if it’s trying to be either Batman or Sin City. I’m not against noir-like dialogue or narration, but in a comic starring Spider-Man, it comes across as melodramatic and over-the-top.
In the end, “Torment” is alright. It’s a turning point in the Lizard’s development as a villain, taking him from crazed reptile speaking with a ssssssssspeech impediment to a savage monster. The art is gorgeous, and the action scenes are awesome. The dialogue is not as impressive, but thankfully nowhere near how bad Frank Miller has been lately when writing Batman. I recommend reading it at least once, especially if you’re a fan. Otherwise, decide for yourself if it’s worth a purchase.