Comfort Food Comics – Spider-Man: The Parker Years

The year is 1995. I am 7 years old. The most important thing in my life is Spider-Man. We are smack-dab in the middle of The Clone Saga and everything I’ve ever known about Peter Parker has been revealed to be a lie. My fragile little mind is shattered. The character I’ve now grown up on is a clone and this new radical dude in a hoodie is the real Spider-Man. My Peter is losing his powers and also his identity. Marvel Comics will never be the same again. In Waldenbooks I see a fresh new copy of Spider-Man: The Parker Years, utterly transfixed by its gorgeous captivating John Romita Jr. cover. I have to have it

Now its 25 years later (Jesus Christ) and I now know Peter Parker was always the genuine article and Ben Reilly was always the Spider clone. The Clone Saga roughly started in 1994 and brought about a long tumultuous change for all of the Spider-Man titles and Marvel as a whole. As a kid, Spider-Man was about the only comic character I truly cared about. Sure, I liked the X-Men and Danny Ketch Ghost Rider and some other random Marvel heroes such as Darkhawk, but my bread and butter was always Spidey. Some of my earliest memories are of being 4 or 5 and reading(looking at) Todd McFarlane’s Lizard in Torment from Spider-Man 1 and Mark Bagley’s Carnage in Amazing Spider-Man 362. My older brother had a random assortment of Marvel Comics with a bunch of Spider-Man material like that and I’d voraciously devour it all. To this day, Spider-Man remains my favorite superhero if not favorite fictional character of all time.

In 1994 Spider-Man The Animated Series debuted and my fate was sealed. I was a permanent webhead. I knew nothing could unseat the Wallcrawler as my favorite superhero of alltime. It was around 1993 when 5 year old Dave was finally finding change around the house to collect enough money to buy my own comics. My mom would often take me and my brother to Kelly’s Cards and Collectibles in our town’s closest plaza where our Jubilee Foods grocery store also resided. We’d always have to stop in there and browse the stacks when our Mom grocery shopped. I can remember some of the first comics I bought myself were Venom: Lethal Protector 1 and funnily enough Rocket Raccoon 1 which I snatched up as a highly prescient young fan (Or I just thought the cute raccoon looked neat). I was absolutely obsessed with Marvel Comics and my main man Spidey. I remember just constantly thinking about Marvel and needing to know more about all of its rich history. The Marvel Universe Trading Cards and my copy of The Official Handbook Of the Marvel Universe Volume 6 tpb (It had Spidey AND that Raccoon I had fallen in love with on the cover!!) were my gateways into learning about as much of the Marvel U as I could.

Everyone has their own stories about growing up pre-internet. Mine is using Marvel Trading Cards to fill in all the blanks of Spider-Man’s history. Being a kid in that time was a wild ride. In my head, Spider-Man’s history shared equal continuity with the Spidey Super-Stories I loved so much as well as the random Stegron Lizard issue of Amazing I owned as well as the Pizza Hut Real Heroes issue with Spidey, Firestar & Iron Man. You had no Wikipedia or anything to properly lay out an entire comic character’s history. Most of the big events I only knew from the various sets of trading cards we had with their bite sized info recaps. It was something that really fascinated me. Another lifeline was the Editor’s Notes telling you where old events happened. At an early age I fell in love with continuity. It’s why I have always preferred Marvel over DC. I love that big unwieldy history unchanged by reboots.

The reason I go on and on about this is that as a kid back then that lived and breathed Spider-Man, I was about to enter an era steeped in deep continuity, confusing even to the most astute fan – The aforementioned Clone Saga. I can remember sitting at our coffee table, drawing something of my own on a big stack of that old computer printer paper that used to be all connected with the tabs on the end my dad had brought me from his work. Also on the table – Web of Spider-Man 117 – the de facto start of the whole Clone Saga

I think my Dad had picked that one up for me on a random stop at a drug store or something, and boy was I lucky to have it. Spider-Man had a clone?!! When did he have a clone?? My world was turned upside down. I was so into this stuff. I remember desperately wanting to know more about the past of this clone and the original Clone Saga referenced in one of those handy Editor’s Notes in this issue.

Unfortunately for me, for whatever reason, I never really came across any old collections or past issues during this era. I kept trudging along picking up whatever of the 4 various Spider-Man titles at the time I could find. I had little bits and pieces of what was going on. The Scarlet Spider debuted, Stunner & Doc Ock tried to save Peter’s life, the Planet of the Symbiotes happened, the Jackal tried to further tear apart our character’s lives. Kelly’s Cards & Collectibles had now closed, replaced by some Hallmark Store or Chinese Restaurant. Any comics I was getting now were from the grocery or drug store, the local Toys R Us, or lastly Waldenbooks when we’d make the trip to the McKinley Mall. Back then my Mom would often take me and my older brother out with our Grandma to do some shopping and get something to eat.

It was at one of these outings we found ourselves at Waldenbooks and I remember absolutely LOSING it for the wraparound cover for Spider-Man: The Parker Years. I hurriedly grabbed it and flipped through it. I was utterly awestruck. There was so much amazing stuff being shown in this comic. It was definitely coming home with me! We quickly finished shopping and the family decided to go to the Applebee’s across the street. I INSISTED I bring in my new comic. I didnt want to sit and take in all the crazy decor and ambiance, I wanted to read this astounding new comic I couldnt believe I held in my hands. I can fondly remember ordering the chicken fingers, of course, as my Mom told me to put that comic down and eat. I couldnt!! I read this baby front to back while the rest of my family chowed down. This was it, to 7 year old me, I’d found the perfect comic book.

A lot of you by this point are probably asking yourself – What even is this comic?! I’ve thought about this a lot, especially recently with the X-Men & Fantastic Four: Grand Design books that have come out lately. These were big projects that took years of comic history and recapped it all into a jam packed quick narrative style. A lot of people were clamoring for a Spider-Man Grand Design when these were announced. Well, I’m here to tell all of you it already exists and its called Spider-Man: The PArker Years

So let’s dig into this Comfort Food! As the opening blurb says, Peter has found out he is the clone and must come to terms with these revelations. On the first page we see my beloved Peter Parker saying Good-Bye to being Spider-Man!! 7 year old me thrown for a loop! Devastated. The character I’d been following these past few years is hanging it up?! That guy in the hoodie is taking over??! Just what are we in for? The next page’s Editor’s Note tells us Pete is calling it quits & moving away with Mary Jane!! Peter is interrupted by MJ as we now get a more clear understanding of what this comic is all about. Peter is shedding his past, going on a walk down memory lane as we get a recap of all his adventures since the original Clone Saga. I know reading this Ive hit the jackpot. Im going to have most of Spider-Man’s history lovingly retold to me. All that history! All that continuity! This book was soon to be my bible!

For a little more context on this comic and how it came to be, let’s refer to the infamous Life Of Reilly blog by Andrew Goletz. The Life of Reilly was a MASSIVE, extremely informative 35 part column written by Goletz and former Spider-Man Editor/Writer, Glenn Greenberg. It went in depth on every single book for the Clone Saga with all types of behind the scenes info. I recommend everyone read it. In part 17 we get some details on this book from Greenberg:

[ GLENN’S COMMENTS : The PARKER YEARS one-shot represented my first experience as hands-on editor of a comic book project, and it came to pass purely by circumstance. My boss, editor Tom Brevoort, was very sick at the time (as I recall, it was either bronchitis or the flu), and was out of the office for several days. In the meantime, PARKER YEARS had been scheduled and our time was running out. We had no real concept for it and no creative team in place before Tom got sick, and we needed to get started on it ASAP. So I took the reigns on it.

Evan Skolnick, who was writing NEW WARRIORS for Tom and me, happened to stop by our office one day and I informed him of our scheduling dilemma – and the fact that we didn’t even a real concept yet. Evan made some suggestions on how to approach the PARKER YEARS one-shot: what it should be about, what should happen in it. I liked what I heard, and I had an idea. With Evan sitting right there on our office couch, I called Tom Brevoort at home. Tom crawled out of his deathbed to clutch at the phone, and I proudly said to him, “I think I’ve got a writer for PARKER YEARS!” Tom, barely above a whisper, managed to groan out, “Who?” (He actually might’ve been asking who I was – he was pretty sick, remember – but I just assumed he was following what I was saying.) I replied, “Evan Skolnick – he’s sitting right here in the office!” Tom said, “Yeah, okay,” and that was pretty much it. Done deal. I gave Evan an enthusiastic thumbs-up signal as I hung up on the barely-alive Brevoort, and sent Evan on his way to write up a proposal. The proposal was eventually approved by Spider-Man Group Editor in Chief Bob Budiansky, and Evan then went on to write the plot.

The artist for the book, Joe St. Pierre, was an up-and-coming penciler who did some pages for Tom and me for the JACKAL FILES one-shot, and I liked his stuff. Bob Budiansky was pushing everyone to bring some new talent into the Spider-Man group, so that we’d have a nice big pool of artists to choose from. I thought Joe would make a nice addition to that pool, and Tom agreed. We eventually gave Joe some work on the VENOM series once we took over as editors. As I recall, I chose Joe for THE PARKER YEARS shortly after I handed the writing assignment to Evan. Tom was still out sick, and we had to keep moving forward, and I think Tom pretty much left it up to me to pick the artist.

Finally, I called John Romita Jr. to pencil the wraparound cover. For me, it was a no-brainer. I always jumped at any opportunity to work directly with JR, and I saw this as one of those opportunities. Luckilly, he was able and willing to do it, and he did his usual wonderful job. ]

So there you have it! Almost out of thin air, Evan Skolnick teams up with Joe St. Pierre, Al Milgrom, Jim Novak & Gregory Wright to make one heck of an impromptu comic. Skolnick will always be a comic legend to me for this one. His work on the Spidey books as well as his run on New Warriors were some straight, simple, damn good comics. St. Pierre does some extremely gorgeous work in this book. His version of Peter Parker is the Peter I picture in my head. My test of a good Peter artist is how well they do the powerful Parker eyebrows. Look how well St. Pierre passes this important test:

This comic does an amazing job of covering all the big time events in Spider-Man’s career in a very entertaining way as Mary Jane debates Pete on how it was all worth it, even if he was a clone. All of it mattered. He did amazing things. Let’s dive right in.

I’ll never forget how they powerfully introduce the big moments into this book. These pages always stuck out to me. Peter’s monologue how responsible he feels for foolishly letting a hood go who went on to kickstart the creation of…..

Just look at St. Pierre’s artwork here!! Hobgoblin is terrifying and imposing! That panel of him with Liz Allen and MJ – look how deftly St. Pierre draws Mary Jane – eyebrow raised, full of strength, trying to craftily find her way out of a bad situation. St. Pierre’s work here is on another level. I was lucky enough to be able to buy the original art for this page. Its something I treasure so much.

Skolnick also just gets Mary Jane here. She has no time for her guilt ridden sadsack husband. She is fully there to dispel his silly notions and support him. Peter isnt responsible for everything.

Another page of beautiful artwork that really stands out is when Spider-Man got his alien costume in Secret Wars. I love how St. Pierre draws Peter’s costume fingerless and tattered here as he finds the symbiote. In my mind I could picture the hardships he was going through on an alien planet. These little touches immersed me even more into this story

Look at this absolutely gorgeous double page spread featuring Venom. Look at the brilliant composition here. Venom literally LOOMS over Spider-Man’s life, responsible for so many harrowing events in his life. Look how good that image of Venom terrorizing Mary Jane circa Amazing Spider-Man 300 is. You yourself get unnerved looking at him. One thing I really want to point out about this spread is how Joe St. Pierre draws Venom in the background there. He almost resembles a Xenomorph from the Alien franchise. It really fits and makes him seem far more like a monster from outer space. I think this is one of the best renditions of Venom ever in comics. Its spectacular.

Another reason why I love this book so much is one of the recapped scenes is from one of my all time Comfort Food Spidey Comics – Spectacular Spider-Man 115. This thing packs everything I love about Spidey into such a delightful package

Continuing through the issue, we get a summary of the great Kraven’s Last Hunt. I’ve always loved how St. Pierre does the body work here. Mary Jane curling into herself, looking off sad and traumatized. Its subtle, but its striking.

Then we are treated to another stunning splash page where every little thing from the Clone Saga is thrown into one page. I love how Peter and Ben are shown leaping into the action, surrounded by clones and mysterious adversaries literally towering over them. They are being swallowed up by the Jackal’s machinations, both pawns in his game, amidst a sea of chaos.

Peter has gotten awfully Maudlin by this point, babbling on without any Mary Jane interjection. Skolnick again writes a pitch perfect MJ who yawns and playfully picks at the “poor little clone boy” asking “Or were you going to move on to all the bugs you’ve accidentally stepped on in the past five years, too?” Thats just a perfect line to throw at Peter to snap him out of his responsible guilt. I just love MJ in this issue. She is written so smart with such a supportive loving sass. Its incredibly endearing. This issue was a big part of why I love this couple’s relationship so much.

We then get some fun Team-Ups and other landmark points in Spidey’s career, again detailing some now Comfort Food Faves. 7 year old Dave’s mind was sent into space by these pages. What the hell was this Adam Warlock adventure?? Who is Firelord?? Captain Universe power Spider-Man slugging the Hulk?! This stuff was thrown at me, page after riveting page. I knew then I had to read every Spider-Man comic ever.

We then get another big splash page throwing every villain they think they forgot to mention in. I remember for years thinking is that the Red Skull, while trying to figure out who the Fabio guy, the old man and the weird fly eye guys were? (Will O’ the Wisp, Tinkerer & the Human Fly). I love how St. Pierre just does cool portraits framed around the big, bombastic action piece. Its lodged in my brain forever. What a piece of art

We then wrap up with Mary Jane discussing all the good personal stuff in their lives like his education, their marriage and their soon to be born baby(I’M STILL MAD). Peter shakes himself out of his moping and decides not to get rid of all his mementos and superhero gear. To look back fondly on the life hes lived and strongly take on anything in his new retired future with MJ in a saccharine satisfying ending.

This comic is the first one that springs to my mind when I think Comfort Food Comics. It’s the pillar this site is held up by. It’s the most important comic in the world to me. It checks all the boxes and I still dearly love it to this day. Its the comic that I come back to the most. It reaches into me and hits me hard with a sense of nostalgia, love, wonder and excitement. It fills me with an innocent longing of the profound magic comic books can conjure up. In the end, the comic just makes me ridiculously happy and thats what its all about, isnt it?