Jan 30, 2012

Who Watches the Nightwatch Part 3: Crossoverkill

Hey, remember those new-character 1993 annuals I was talking about in our last installment?  Well, Web of Spider-Man had one, too, introducing not one, not two, but three new characters!  Vortex, Dementia, and Shard are...the Cadre!  Who?  Yeah, pretty much.  Forget about them, they suck.  Marvel annuals of the late '80s and early '90s were jam-packed with backup stories, and this one is no different.  One of those just happens to be another Nightwatch story, written by Terry Kavanagh with art by Mark Powers and Hector Collazo.

And then...OBSCURITY!

Web of Spider-Man Annual #9 - Opening Gambit

Following the events of Web #100, Nightwatch broods on a rooftop, and recalls his origin for two pages. He then takes a cue from that newspaper article he found and flies to ESU, where they're conducting some kind of adrenaline experiments; there, he saves a security guard from being chucked out a window.  Inside, he finds a dead security guard and an invisible guy rifling through the filing cabinet - an invisible guy like the guys who killed Future Nightwatch!  Nightwatch can see him, thanks to his special lenses, so when the guy shoots at him, he can dodge the bullets and smack him with his cape.  This apparently breaks his inviso-suit, as he materializes as a guy in a vaguely Nightwatch-ish techno-greeblie suit. Says Nightwatch: "...you can't hide in the light from a man forever surrounded by his own darkness...in more ways than one."  Guh.

Weeeelllp, better die before I provide any more exposition.  Seeya!
Nightwatch identifies him as "Camouflage" - because I guess Future-Nightwatch called the invisible guys the Camouflage Cadre - and that's apparently his real name, because he wonders how Nightwatch knew who he was, because his suit is top secret.  Then he suddenly dies for no apparent reason.  Nightwatch says he can detect the corpse emitting "chemical acids" (as opposed to the other kind of acids), so...someone killed him with a suicide pill via remote?  He didn't kill himself, because he seemed pretty surprised about it too.  No time to dwell on it, as Nightwatch finds a picture in the office - a picture of Ashley Croix, who blew up in that plane!  (Some other dude is also in the picture; he'll be important later.)  What's more, some more security guys bust in, and they reveal that this is Ashley's office!  Whoa!  The rent-a-cops wants answers, but "they will have to wait...until Nightwatch himself finally unearths the neccessary answers!"  Yes, that's a thing Nightwatch actually says.  Blergh.

And that brings us to...

Summer, 1993.  The dark heart of the Crossover Age.  For years, the X-Men books have been crossing over more frequently than an Alabama family tree, and it's made them mad cash.  The previous year, Marvel's new horror line followed the successful Rise of the Midnight Sons six-parter with seventeen shambling issues of Siege of Darkness, and even the Avengers books got into it with the 19-part monstrosity Operation: Galactic Storm.  Now, with four monthly Spider-Man books on the stands and a new quarterly book, Spider-Man Unlimited, debuting, it's time for them to get with the times.  So pull out a red SNES cartridge, put on some Green Jelly, and join me for Maximum Carnage!

I'm not going to surgar-coat this.  Maximum Carnage is awful.  There are some bright spots.  The issues written by JM DeMatteis have some nice character work, and there's some good art, including (I believe) the only time 80-Page Giant favorite Sal Buscema ever drew Venom.  But it's 14 issues of pointless fighting and endless angst, capped off with a resolution so ridiculous I can't believe it ever saw print.  I'm not gonna go in-depth into the whole thing there, because the last time I did it Marvel paid me for it.

Available at all fine comics establishments!  Buy two.
(art by Tom Raney and Frank D'Armata)
Maximum Carnage also featured no fewer than ten super-heroic guest stars; some with a connection to Spider-Man (Venom, Black Cat, Cloak and Dagger, Morbius), some who could reasonably be expected to be there because it's a Marvel crossover (Captain America), and some who are there because who knows (Deathlok, Iron Fist, Firestar).  And then there's Nightwatch.

The size of the crossover, the size of the cast, and the size of the marketing push (it had its own video game!) meant that Maximum Carnage was a big goddamn deal.  It was a perfect storm of '90s-ness; Venom had just been spun off into his own miniseries, and titular villain Carnage was an edgier, hardcore-ier version of Venom, as was de rigeur in that decade; Morbius was dropping in from the aforementioned horror line, fuelled by Howard Mackie's red-hot Ghost Rider relaunch; and even Spider-Man's amazing friend Firestar was borrowed from then-hot teen-team the New Warriors. If you had a new vaguely Spider-Man-related character you wanted to give some heat to, this was the place to do it.

Web of Spider-Man #103 - Maximum Carnage Part 10: Sin City

We're well into the crossover at this point.  All you really need to know is that Carnage has escaped from prison and accumulated a "family" of c-grade villains (empathic groupie Shriek, walking corpse Carrion, fanatical demon Demogoblin, and mindless Spider-Man doppelganger...er, Doppelganger), who have spent the past nine issues going totally sickhouse on New York City. Spider-Man and his pals are trying to keep things under control, but because this is a Marvel comic, they've been fighting amongst themselves and split into two groups - Spider-Man's guys who are going to punch Carnage so hard (Cap, Iron Fist, Firestar, Deathlok), and Venom's guys who are going to punch Carnage so hard he dies (Morbius, Black Cat, Cloak). (Dagger is dead at this point, but she'll be okay in a couple issues.)  The latter are in a little over their heads, and the Black Cat in particular is about to lose a couple lives, so here comes Nightwatch!

You know who refer to themselves in the third person, Nightwatch?  Supervillains.  Well, supervillains and Bob Dole.
Nightwatch makes good on his promise, and does in fact change all the odds, and the bad guys hightail it back to the Statue of Liberty, where Carnage is torturing the captive Venom.  Nightwatch wants to follow them there; Morbius tags along, but Cloak stays behind to look after the Cat.  And that brings us to...

Amazing Spider-Man #380 - Maximum Carnage Part 11: Soldiers of Hope

Face it, Nightwatch; you just hit the jackpot.  Amazing Spider-Man was, is, and likely always will be the Spider-Man flagship; if you buy one Spider-Man book, you probably buy Amazing, although if you were just buying Amazing during Maximum Carnage, you were getting parts 3, 7, and 11 of a 14-part story, so you would be really confused.  But anyway.  The title was at the tail-end of David Michelinie's long tenure on the title; although Michelinie was clearly fatigued at this point, the book had strong work from regular penciler Mark Bagley.

So Nightwatch and Morbius crash the statue's torch, where they find the guys they'd just fought, in addition to Carnage.  So...Cloak and Morbius were no match for the three villains, and they needed Nightwatch to even things up.  Thus, when the villains retreated, Nightwatch and Morbius followed them...but left Cloak behind.  You'll still be outnumbered, guys!  Anyway, they fight, and it doesn't go too well.  Making matters worse, the sun's coming up, and Morbius is kind of a vampire.  Nightwatch, realizing he's no match for a torch full of crazy freaks, decides that discretion is the better part of valour and gets the frick out of Dodge.  And that's it for Nightwatch and Morb as far as having any importance to the plot goes.

"...I won't be able to use the carpool lane!"
Spider-Man Unlimited #2 - Maximum Carnage Part 14: The Hatred, the Horror, and the Hero!

Spider-Man Unlimited was the big new quarterly Spider-Man book - it usually had a couple back-up stories, but the main feature was by the reliable team of Tom DeFalco, Mark Bagley (again - that guy's a machine), and Sam DeLaRosa. Most of this issue is devoted to a big Spider-Man/Venom/Carnage brawl. With the threat over, the people of New York are partying in the streets; Nightwatch and Morbius are of course not, because angst.  Not only are they both unable to celebrate like the civilians below due to their dedication to being angsty badasses, but they're not sure if they're gonna be friends or enemies the next time they meet.  Such is the plight of the '90s hero.

Guys, the spooky word balloons kinda lose their impact if you're both using them. 
Spoilers: Morbius and Nightwatch never meet again.

So what does Maximum Carnage gain from having Nightwatch in it?  Basically nothing.  He doesn't advance the plot, he doesn't get a cool fight scene.  What does Nightwatch gain from being in Maximum Carnage, though?  Lots.  Everybody was reading this thing - everybody is still reading this thing.  The trade paperback collection is still in print, and the whole story's available digitally from Marvel. If you've read anything with Nightwatch in it, it's probably Maximum Carnage.  That said, Nightwatch's appearance in the crossover is decidedly non-essential, so I can't say how much it prompted the readers of 1993 to snap up Nightwatch's next appearance.  Which was...

Infinity Crusade!  You remember Infinity Crusade, right?  No, it's not the one where Thanos kills half the universe...that's Infinity Gauntlet.  It's not the one with all the evil duplicates, either.  That's Infinity War.  Infinity Crusade is the one where Adam Warlock's female side splits off and makes like half of Marvel's heroes find religion and stuff...remember?  No?  Well, it wasn't that great.  You probably should have guessed that when the only IC tie-ins the Spider-books had ended up in Web of Spider-Man.  Still, a crossover is a crossover, and that means a sales boost.  So what better time than that to push Nightwatch again?

Amazingly, the Nightwatch backups are the best part of the issues.  That's not to say they're good, but the Infinity Crusade lead stories are pretty terrible.  They're totally incomprehensible without reading the main series, and they doesn't go anywhere.  They're completely superfluous.  The Nightwatch backups at least tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end.  Once more, Terry Kavanagh is our writer, and the art is by Bill Wylie and Timothy Tuohy.

Web kind of drew the short straw when it came to guest-stars.
Web of Spider-Man #104 - Deathmask

It's nighttime, which makes sense, given that our hero's name isn't Daywatch.  He's crashing through a skylight at the Museum of Natural History, his Nightwatch-o-Vision having picked up infra-red beams inside.  Naturally, there's a robbery in progress, and Nightwatch fights off some generic goons.  Meanwhile, the head goon, Daniel Davis, admires the thing he's come here to steal - a Macedonian death mask, from "the oldest-known ancient burial ground to date".

"Boss, the death mask's in this bag.  That's an off-brand Jason mask you bought at the Halloween Superstore." 
So here's our first problem - why's a Macedonian death mask at the Museum of Natural History?  As its name implies, the MNH has...like, dinosaur fossils and meteorites and stuffed and mounted bears and stuff.  An ancient death mask would be in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, on the other side of Central Park.  I'm pretty sure Kavanagh lived in New York City at the time (in fact, there's a contemporary Bullpen Bulletins piece about how he never leaves the city), so he really should have known this.  Furthermore, death masks are generally sculpted to look like the wearer, not a...whatever that mask is supposed to look like. Furthermore, wouldn't the oldest-known ancient burial ground be in Africa?

So anyway, Nightwatch busts through the wall, Kool-Aid Man-style, so Davis jumps through a one-way mirror to escape, putting the mask on first.  Remember: coming into contact with an ancient artifact in any comic book is basically never a good idea, so putting on a scary monster mask?  Terrible idea.

Oh, man up, it's just spirit gum.

Nightwatch surmises that the mask is pumping "some kind of long-lost embalming fluid - probably designed around a radically-different ancient physiology and diet" into Davis, transforming him into "an angry living corpse that reeks of acid."  So...uh, what the hell?  This mask has enough embalming fluid, after thousands of years, to embalm a grown man?  Nobody noticed that the mask was really heavy, and made sloshing noises when you moved it?  And because Davis gets more refined grains and preservatives than an ancient Macedonian, this fluid turns him into a crazed zombie?  It would be one thing if they were going for a goofy Silver Age kinda thing, but Nightwatch is serious business making this just really dumb.  So serious that said crazed zombie says that "Daniel Davis is dead - only Deathgrin remains!"

Also, on the letters page, Chris Kiner of Suffolk, Virginia "can't wait to see more of Nightwatch."  I'm going to go ahead and blame this all on you, Chris Kiner of Suffolk, Virginia.

Web of Spider-Man #105 - Acid Test

Oh no!  He'll smash all those priceless statues in the...Museum of Natural History...
Not a whole lot to talk about here.  We learn that Deathgrin also has bulletproof petrified skin and an acidic death touch.  Deathgrin and Nightwatch have a big fight.  Deathgrin smashes up the museum, then flees into the sewers, because every supervillain does that, and vows to "Use pain...to survive...to slay tormentor - slaughter Nightwatch!", because I guess he talks like that now.  Nightwatch himself vows to "...find Deathgrin and stop him for good!"

Web of Spider-Man #106 - The Killing Ground

Our hero is wading through the sewers, using his mask's lenses to track Deathgrin's "acidic wake"; as per usual, the internal monologue's going strong. NW's comparing himself to Deathgrin, I guess to set him up as a potential future nemesis: "Deathgrin's body is now tearing him apart, while my mind has been eating me alive for over a decade...but [Deathgrin's lair] is no more pathetic than my temporary rooftop roost.  And neither of us can escape our own agony - "

Seriously, enough with the spooky balloons!   You're devaluing the spookiness!
Thankfully, Deathgrin spares us any more of this by pouncing on Nightwatch.  Deathgrin grabs a pipe and swings it at Nightwatch, and of course it's a gas pipe, so the sewers are now filling with gas.  Nightwatch opts for the "punch Deathgrin really hard" strategy, and it works. Nightwatch skedaddles topside with Deathgrin in tow, leaves his foe with the cops, and flies away with a new determination "...not to lose Kevin Trench to the deadly power of Nightwatch.  Although it means taking some painful risks in the very near future!"  Want to know more?  Well, lucky you!  Coming in 1994 - Nightwatch, in his very own limited series!

So we end up with a three-issue backup that doesn't really tell us much about Nightwatch that we didn't already know, and it sets up a terribly uninspiring villain.  Still better than the lead story, though.  So we've had a guest appearance, and we've had some backups.  Time to stop dicking around and get this guy his own book already.

Next: It's the Nightwatch Show, with our very special guest Spider-Man!  Yaaay!

It's time to get a spinoff/it's time to fight some fights/it's time to get a new costume/on the Nightwatch Show tonight!

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