Sep 28, 2011

Who Watches the Nightwatch Part 2: Failure to Launch

February, 1993.  In the past few months, several of Marvel Comics' top talents have fled the company to form Image Comics, and their new creator-owned books are selling like hotcakes.  Without Lee, McFarlane, and Liefeld, Marvel is reeling.  It's time for something new.  Something bold.  Something that would be exactly like that book McFarlane is writing, Prawn or something.  Get me Terry Kavanagh.

Man, they missed a perfectly good opportunity for him to say his own logo there!  I love it when guys do that.

Web of Spider-Man #97-99

Yes, there's even a ridiculous '90s version of the Rose.

#97 was longtime Marvel editor Terry Kavanagh's first issue as Web of Spider-Man's regular writer; he'd written a few fill-in issues of the title a few years back, though.  Kavanagh's writing career has been...let's say checkered.  His run on Iron Man revealed Tony Stark to be a homicidal pawn of Kang, who was then killed off and replaced with a teenaged Tony Stark from another timeline.  His run on Moon Knight revealed Marc Spector to be related to a hidden race of weird monster guys, and then killed him off.  And his run on Web included the much-reviled FACADE storyline, which killed off a longtime supporting cast member and never revealed who did it, as well as the genesis of the Clone Saga - in fact, it was Kavanagh who originally suggested resurrecting the Spider-clone.  He was joined on the book by Alex Saviuk, who'd penciled Web since #35; Saviuk was never the flashiest artist, but he was a good, solid penciler.  But he won't be penciling the Nightwatch segments in these issues, so forget about him for the time being.  That job fell to Transformers: Generation 2 artist Derek Yaniger, and it's pretty good, in a '90sy kind of way.

In New York City, various things are happening.  Betty Brant meets Peter Parker's parents (who are actually robots, but we don't know that yet).  International assassin the Foreigner teams up with ridiculous vigilante Blood Rose (who is actually Richard Fisk, but we don't know that yet).  I'm reading this comic (which is actually terrible, and I know it immediately).  But that's not important right now (or in fact ever).

Somewhere, halfway across the world from New York City, a boat crashes against some rocks, sending its passengers sprawling into the sea.  One of them, a fat bald man, washes up on the beach.  Since this is a Spider-Man comic, you'd think this was the Kingpin; you would be wrong.  Regular readers of Web of Spider-Man would know this was Richard Fisk who, during the Name of the Rose storyline, took over his then-deposed father's criminal empire and in rapid succession became fat, bald, and dead.  They would also be wrong, as we'll soon find out.  He comes to, and finds a man standing over him.  A man with a purple vest, no shirt, and a cornrow ponytail.  His name is Trench, and he cannot dress himself.

"I'm going to keep poking you with this stick to be sure, though."

It's evidently some time later.  Guy Who Isn't Actually Richard Fisk (GWIARF) has lost some weight, gained some hair, lost an eye, and he's running for his life.  Apparently Trench is making GWIARF run a crazy island obstacle course in exchange for a hot meal and a tacky safari suit.  He also insists that Trench stop calling him Fisk, as that name "doesn't seem to fit anymore" - and also because it isn't actually his name.  Spoiler!  GWIARF later rifles through Trench's tent, and is especially taken with a briefcase he finds in there.  Which seems strange, but this is the Marvel Universe; that briefcase could contain anything from a set of Iron Man armor to a fortune in unmarked Latverian doomsmarks.  Trench walks in, and isn't too happy about GWIARF going through his stuff.

Even later, GWIARF has lost another fifty pounds and pretty much looks like a regular guy, albeit one dressed like Roger Moore circa 1983.  He asks Trench about leaving the island, but he's not having any of it - even after GWIARF points out the hidden boat he found. So GWIARF reveals that he's wearing a crazy spiked metal glove he apparently stole from that briefcase (toldja it'd be something cool) and punches Trench in the face - and also says that "after everything I've gone through, Trench...I've earned the name Gauntlet!"  You see, because Trench made him "run the gauntlet" and also he's wearing a metal glove...anyway.  He takes the boat and hauls ass.

"It' bad..."

Trench isn't gonna stand for this. He has to get the power-glove back from GWIARF before it's too late...but he swore he'd never touch this "cursed costume" again.  Well, it wouldn't be much of a comic if he just stayed on the island and moped, so look out 1993, here comes Nightwatch!  We get the big full reveal of the Nightwatch costume here, and, as you can see above, it is blatantly, blatantly Spawn.

Web of Spider-Man #100 - Total War


Okay, it's time for the big show.  We got holofoil, we got a big round issue number, we got a new Spider-Man costume...and we've got a new character to introduce.  Nightwatch stalks the city, his "animate cape" following his purloined power-glove's energy trail.  Meanwhile, Spider-Man's fighting the New Enforcers (who aren't Ox and Fancy Dan et al, but a collection of seemingly-random villains like Dragon Man and the Eel), and Gauntlet's fighting Blood Rose.  So hey, if the Blood Rose is Richard Fisk, who's Gauntlet?  Well, he's Richard's friend Alfredo Morelli (who first appeared in the '80s Gang War storyline), who had plastic surgery to act as Richard's double; unfortunately, he's gone kind of crazy, and thinks he really is Richard.  But that's not important right now.

Nightwatch shows up...and the Blood Rose accidentally shoots him in the back, allowing Gauntlet to hit him with a stick.  But Nightwatch's cloak wraps itself around Gauntlet...and the fight occurs entirely off-panel.  When Spider-Man finishes with the Blood Rose, he finds Gauntlet bereft of his gauntlet, and Nightwatch is nowhere to be seen.  In an epilogue, though, Nightwatch notes that his costume's "hormone stimulation effect" is healing his bullet wound, but he's off moping in an alley because he's found a newspaper adrenaline experiment?  So, not the most impressive debut for Marvel's newest superstar.  Beats a guy who has...a glove, says some mysterious stuff, has angst.  He doesn't even meet Spider-Man!  It fits with the rest of the issue, really - it's a huge mess, with mysterious doppelgangers, mysterious masterminds (the New Enforcers, of course, never appeared again), and a gimmicky new costume that lasts all of eight pages before being destroyed.  Alex Saviuk and Joe Rubinstein's art is nice, at least.

But wait, there's more!  Web #100 also features a backup - The Origin of Nightwatch, as written by Kavanagh and drawn (once more) by Yaniger!  It's 1983, and Empire State University department head Dr. Kevin Trench presides over a graduation ceremony with class valedictorian (and Trench's mentoree) Ashley Croix.  Immediately afterwards, Croix thanks Trench for all his help by inserting her tongue into his throat.  Inappropriate!  A week later, Ashley's boarding a plane en route to Paris, where she'll be continuing her hormone research for Morelle Pharmaceuticals. Make a note of Morelle Pharmaceuticals; they'll be important later.  After Trench says his goodbyes, a portal opens up in front of him, and some invisible guys start punching him.

She seems to have an invisible touch, yeah.

Yeah, this is where it gets kind of goofy.  Nightwatch then comes through the portal, and tosses the invisible guys (who Nightwatch identifies as the Camouflage Cadre) back through...and then keels over and dies.  Trench unmasks him, only to find that he's...Kevin Trench!  A ten-years-older Kevin Trench, with a recently-broken right arm and a newspaper clipping from the far-flung future of 1993 in his hand.  It's dark, so 1983-Trench puts on the mask (Future-Nightwatch says it has "Nightwatch lenses", which seems to be the sole reason why 1983-Trench assumes this guy is called Nightwatch), only to see Ashley's plane surrounded by police.  AIM agents have commandeered the plane to recruit the new Morelle hires, and they're taking off!  Putting the whole costume on, Trench follows, and clings to the escaping plane with his cape.  Entering the cargo hold, he's attacked by terrorists, who fire wildly, eventually hitting the fuel tanks or something and blowing the plane up.  Trench glides to safety with his cape, but he's not happy.

"The woman I loved (for a week)...dead!"

The authorities find 1993-Trench's body (and fail to notice that he's aged like ten years); meanwhile, 1983-Trench blames himself for the explosion, and exiles himself to a Caribbean island, hoping to avoid his time-travelling fate.  Ten years pass, and the whole Gauntlet thing draws him back to New York City; thus, Nightwatch concludes that "I can no longer run from tomorrow - the future of Nightwatch is now!"  I've got to give Kavanagh some credit here.  The whole "doomed to die when I put on this costume" thing is a pretty good hook.  This has potential!

So what have we learned?  Now, Web of Spider-Man wasn't the most prominent Spider-Man book at the time.  Amazing Spider-Man, of course, was and always had been the flagship, and was in the latter stages of David Michelinie's long run, with Mark Bagley on art duties.  Spectacular also had a long history to call upon, and was in the midst of one of its strongest runs ever with JM DeMatteis and Sal Buscema producing some of the strongest work of their careers.  Web was probably on par with adjectiveless Spider-Man, which was, at the time, a Legends of the Dark Knight-style anthology book.  But still, Spider-Man carries a lot of cachet, even in his lesser books.  And Spider-Man is nothing if not a spinoff engine.  In the '80s, Spider-Man characters Punisher and Cloak & Dagger were spun off into their own books, and it got even crazier in the '90s.  In that decade, no fewer than 11 properties spun ongoing series, miniseries, or one-shots out of first appearances in Spider-Man books - Venom, Silver Sable and the Wild Pack, Black Cat, Prowler, Solo, Annex, Carnage, Green Goblin (Phil Urich), Slingers (sort of, as the characters didn't appear in Spider-Man books, but their costumes did - it's complicated), Spider-Woman (Mattie Franklin), and of course Nightwatch.

"But not me!  What the hell, Marvel?"

Some of these characters were introduced long before they got their own spinoffs, and garnered enough of a following to support their own books (did you realize Silver Sable and the Wild Pack ran 35 issues?)  Some, however, were clearly designed from the start to be spun off, and they were generally given a prominent event to springboard off.  Annex appeared in one of the 1993 "new character" annuals (each Marvel annual that year introduced a new character - most kind of sucked and quickly disappeared, with the exception of Captain Mar-Vell's son Genis).  The Green Goblin appeared in the holofoil-enhanced Web of Spider-Man #125 and Spectacular Spider-Man #225.  Web #100, as noted above, fits these criteria like a glove.  So that's it, right?  Time to get this guy his own book?


Next time: Infinity Carnage!  Maximum Crusade!

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