In looking back at the process which ultimately lead to the creation of Spider-Man, it’s fascinating to think that the character has become associated more with lighthearted, superhero fare. Borne out of the final issue of Amazing Fantasy, Spider-Man’s look is unlike anything comic readers had ever experienced. From the intricate web-pattern on his body-suit to the full face-mask, Steve Ditko design became instantly iconic and changed the way people thought a superhero should look. Ditko also drew Spider-Man differently from other heroes of the time. Rather than a big, barrel-chested hero with a square jaw, Spider-Man was often rendered in twisted contortions that were as cool as they were creepy. No doubt, Ditko’s history in horror comics played a major role in this, but few artists since have managed to capture that look for Spider-Man. That is, until 1988 when the legendary horror artist Bernie Wrightson teamed with writer Susan K. Putney for the graphic novel Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky.
Let’s make one thing clear from the get-go: this is not a horror title. However, its success is the result of two very distinct things. First, Putney fully understands what makes Spider-Man a hero. Secondly, the story allows Wrightson to do his thing. To borrow from another Marvel hero, he’s the best there is at what he does, and what he does is draw terrifying monsters. In addition to creating Swamp Thing, his bibliography includes work at IDW, Dark Horse, and in film productions – including the 1984 hit Ghostbusters. But while his work is well known to those fans of the horror genre, Spider-Man: Hooky offered mainstream readers a glimpse at his expertise, and he delivers a knockout performance.
Most artists for Spider-Man has followed the example set by John Romita Sr., who gave the character a distinctly heroic and more polished look. However, Wrightson’s work channels the character’s co-creator and original artist, Steve Ditko. This is unsurprising, given both artists’ history in horror. Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky sees the titular character less likely to puff out his chest, but announce himself while creepily perched on a ledge. While upside down. In the shadows. Throughout the story, Wrightson draws Spider-Man is bizarre situations and in contorted positions that hearken back to charming weirdness of the Ditko era. Compared to the comics of the time, this was markedly different. This is further evidenced by the explosion in popularity seen by Todd McFarlane, who took over regular duties on The Amazing Spider-Man two years later in 1988. McFarlane has often credited Ditko as his inspiration. This only shows how visionary Wrightson was in recognizing the potential of a dynamically positioned Spider-Man.
Putney’s script is very self-aware that this is not a typical Spider-Man tale. Throughout the fantasy-horror, characters make a note how Doctor Strange would be better suited for the situation. There is speculation in some corners of comics fandom that Strange was supposed to be the star of this, there is nothing to corroborate this. What is certain is that this story takes place in Peter Parker’s adult life. Because of this, Putney writes Spider-Man as a confident and competent crime-fighter, as evidenced by the opening sequence. Throughout the story, it becomes clear that Putney understands who Spider-Man is at his core: a hero who will never give up if it means saving someone, no matter the odds. This holds true when Spidey comes face-to-face with the reason we’re even talking about this.
Glimpsed on the cover, Wrightson’s creature work reaches its apex with the monster known as the Tordenkakerlakk. Also referred to as the “Spindrifter’s Bane,” this seemingly unstoppable force is as gorgeous to look at as it is disgusting. What begins as a cockroach or mosquito-looking thing about the size of a child becomes an overpowering mass of tendrils and teeth. This thing is truly grotesque. It has mouth-pincers in addition to razor sharp teeth, until it doesn’t. Then it become a gigantic serpent, until it isn’t. Then it’s a blob with a blank, emotionless face that is absolutely haunting… until it morphs yet again. Throughout the story, this monster not only grows, but adapts in order to prevent its attacker from using the same method twice. Suffice to say, this creature is a formidable antagonist.
Amazing Spider-Man: Hooky is far from the most conventional pick for a Halloween read. It certainly lacks the scares of other stories – including those starring old Web-head. What it does possess, however, is a terrifying and nearly unstoppable force that brings with it a building sense of dread. For an offbeat Spider-Man story that retains the core essence of the character while delivering some truly outstanding art by a horror master, this is an easy recommendation to read on a brisk fall evening.