‘The Goblin tried to destroy my mind… but what did his evil really do? Open a door to the good… to the two of you. All those years I tried to shut you out. So afraid to even think of you. Feeling so GUILTY… so responsible for your deaths. But now, MOTHER… FATHER… I can let myself remember. Now I can love you. Now I can grieve.’ And in his grief he finds new freedom, and that freedom lifts him up and carries him off… into the DAWN.
J. Marc DeMatteis (from The Spectacular Spider-Man #183)
Have you ever read a story that just blew your mind from its very first line?
Let me back up a bit…
I… have read a BOATLOAD of comic books in my day! From Neil Gaiman’s seventy-issue run on The Sandman to the epic Batman: Knightfall, I’ve been around the newsprint block more than a few times. I’ve read thousands of books, including series that date back to the nineteen-forties. When it comes to ‘sequential artwork’, there ain’t a whole lot that I don’t know.
But there is one story that will always remain my favorite: The Child Within, by writer J. Marc DeMatteis and artist Sal Buscema.
Now, I have Sal Buscema’s entire run on The Spectacular Spider-Man. I re-read through the run once a year (along with Sam Keith’s epic series The Maxx, and Gaiman’s The Sandman.) The entire run is amazing, but it kicked into overdrive when writer Peter David handed the baton to J. Marc DeMatteis. And within that run lies The Child Within, my favorite six-issue tale of all time.
The trick with writing comics, I think, is that a writer must take them seriously. One cannot focus over-much on the costumes and the super-powers, lest one’s tale de-evolve into a cheesy Power Rangers rip-off. This truth DeMatteis understands in spades: The Child Within is possibly the most harrowing, disturbing tale ever to grace the four-color page. It sucks you in like a Hitchcock film, pulling you deep into the dark recesses of each character’s mind.
Buscema – easily one of my favorite artists – was the perfect illustrator for DeMatteis’ nightmarish tale. His style is sharp, clean, almost bare-bones, and yet remains extremely vibrant and expressive. His work really stood out in the nineties, when more ‘sketchy’ styles were trendy due to artists like Todd McFarlane.
Most Spider-Man fans would tell you that Spidey’s best stories were Kraven’s Last Hunt (by DeMatteis and Bob McLeod) and Torment (by Todd McFarlane). The Child Within smokes them both, in my opinion; it was a true stroke of genius.
The Child Within ran in The Spectacular Spider-Man #178-183, in late 1991. All six issues can be readily purchased for a couple of bucks apiece; in fact, you’ll probably pay more for shipping than you will the actual magazines. For some odd reason, The Child Within was never collected into a trade paperback.
It should have been!
So go hunt it down and read it. Seriously.
You’ll be glad you did…