Amazing Spider-Man #301 cover image detail by Todd McFarlane

The Amazing Spider-Man #301: “Saber Rattlin'”

Silver Sable takes on a private security contract that only Spider-Man can save her from. Plus, Peter Parker goes back to school, and — a Nazi! But will Spider-Man get the chance to punch him?

Credits Dressed All in Silver

Amazing Spider-Man #301 cover by Todd Mcfarlane with the classic red and blue uniform
Writer: David Michelinie
Pencils: Todd McFarlane
Inks: Todd McFarlane
Colors: Bob Sharen
Letterer: Rick Parker
Publication Date: February 9, 1988

What’s Going On?

David Michelinie’s script only has a couple of pages’ worth of soap opera this month, as Peter Parker thinks about going back to school, only to get cornered into teaching a class.

Mary Jane doesn’t get along with another model. That’s building up to something in future issues, but I’ll let you know when we get there.

The majority of the issue is split between Spider-Man and Silver Sable. Sable’s Wild Pack has been reduced to taking on private security contracts that she thinks are beneath her, but the economy of Symkaria depends on that business. So off she goes.

Her new contract comes from an overzealous security chief at a new New York City high rise who’s vowing security, but hiding a secret agenda. Spoiler: He’s a Nazi out to get Sable, who comes from a Nazi-hunting tradition.

Silver Sable's paramilitary Wild Pack and their matching uniforms

The Wild Pack gives McFarlane a chance to go back to the drawing board to create another pack of paramilitary guys wearing lots of bandoliers, pouches, armor, boots, and jumpsuits.

We get a lot of variations on this combination over the years with McFarlane’s art. We saw straight-up paramilitary guys already, but now we’re venturing into more of the fantasy/comic book military/security organization types.

They are, as Avi Arad might say, very toyetic.

Security, Security, Security

Mr. Pruett, a legitimate NYC real estate developer with a super secure building
The glasses are uneven, but it’s so small on the page that you don’t notice.

They’re the three buzzwords in the real estate market of the Marvel Universe. Only a couple of issues ago, it was Carlton Drake trying to secure his suburban survivalist bunker. In the last issue, Peter and Mary Jane left their apartment after a security breach. And now, in this issue, it’s all about a real estate developer, Mr. Pruett, trying to prove he has the most secure skyscraper in Manhattan.

He goes to some extreme ends to make that so. The windows can be armored shut at the slightest provocation from outside. Hallways are lined with guns firing paintballs that could be filled with acid or a particularly nasty gas. A drone flies through the hallways with hypodermic needles on its two arms. And elevator shafts are protected by lasers.

Silver Sable's Wild Pack test a building's security
Bonus points for using the word “escutcheons” in a sentence.

I can’t imagine what the HOA fees must be like on a location like this.

Silver Sable

Silver Sable, just before entering the building's security gauntlet

I know this likely has something to do with that enchantment you have with all comic book characters when you’re new to comics. I just think Silver Sable is a great, under-used character. She appeared in “The Amazing Spider-Man” during the first summer I read comics, and she seemed pretty cool there. I had no idea that she was a relatively new character.

At the time of “The Amazing Spider-Man” #301, she had appeared in very few comics. Maybe 3? (There is a “Silver Sable” trade paperback that contains all her earliest appearances through the McSpidey issues.) David Michelinie takes a couple of panels on page four of this issue to give her enough thought balloons to explain her story to any new reader instantly. You’re all caught up at that point and can move on with the story. As a new reader, I appreciated that.

She’s cool as a cucumber and can put Spider-Man quickly in his place. She’s an ally, but a difficult one. There’s an antagonism between them that’s fun to watch. It’s not annoying. It’s a strong combination of character — she’s looking out for her country’s interests, and he is always looking out for everyone else’s. They want to work together towards common goals, but it pains either to give the other any credit.

True to her name, you’re as likely to find her in a black-tie event wearing the fanciest silver-colored dress as you are to see her in the field plying her trade. She has no superpowers; she’s just really good at what she does, which includes the darts strapped to her body and some strong gymnastics powers.

Hey, wait a second, this is Dart from “The Savage Dragon”, isn’t it?

In any case, I enjoy this character. I think she and Spider-Man have great chemistry. It shows in this issue. And McFarlane gets to play fashion designer for her in every scene, too. Then she can go jump through lasers and scale a rigged skyscraper.

It’s fun comics stuff.

She’ll be back after this for the “Assassin Nation” summer bi-weekly event that we’ll talk about starting in issue #320.

Evolution of McFarlane: Some Stumbling Blocks

Todd McFarlane wasn’t entirely new to inking when he started “The Amazing Spider-Man.” He had done some of it on “The Incredible Hulk” just before it.

“Amazing Spider-Man” #300 was a great introduction to the young inker’s skills, but issue #301 is a step back in some ways. It doesn’t look quite as finished. I wonder if #301 had to be done in a hurry to catch up from any excesses in getting out the bonus-length #300 on a monthly schedule.

It’s inconsistent.

There are definitely moments and lines in this art that scream the McFarlane style that we all know and love, but it’s always uncertain. It’s still looser than you might remember. The art is a little shakier and a little less perfect, but the inks aren’t helping it at all. Fast forward a year or so and you can see a vast difference in the final line, in both the superhero scenes and in the “normal people” pages.

In particular, watch Spider-Man’s legs as we go through this evolution of McFarlane’s Spider-Man style. It’ll eventually grow to be a really tight, thin line-laden technical style. Here at the beginning of the return to the red-and-blue costume, McFarlane is feeling his way out. The black on Spider-Man’s legs is much smoother and more rubbery than what it will eventually become. There’s very little, if any, feathering of his lines the way there would later be.

There are more solid blue areas on his costume without the thin little lines to outline every muscle in the shadows.

He’s also using an angle on Spider-Man drawn directly head-on that isn’t flattering to his head. The head looks small or the neck is too wide. The webbings make his head look flat from the front. It’s apparent in a couple of panels this issue.

Flat Faced Spider-Man by Todd McFarlane

It’s something McFarlane quickly gave up on. You can look towards later issues to see how the three-quarter angle on Spider-Man’s head worked a lot better for McFarlane. He stuck to it religiously and to great effect.

The Spider-Man poses are no doubt McFarlane’s, and you’d recognize most of them from a mile away even if he had done just the layouts. It’s the final line that looks more variable in this issue.

Sable’s face also morphs across the issue, never quite looking like the same person from panel to panel. Sable fills many roles in this issue, from superhero to diplomat to high-end fashion plate. McFarlane looked more comfortable in his art with the men than the women at this point, with the possible exception of Mary Jane, who he seemed to have a lock on from very early on.

My overall thesis of The McFarlane Chronicles is that this is the series where Todd McFarlane found his artistic voice. We have a lot of growing pains to get through in order to get there. McFarlane was just learning to ink comics. This was his third monthly assignment, but the bi-weekly issues also wreaked havoc with his ability to add all the detail he’s famous for. There are moments in these early issues where you recognize The Todd McFarlane Style, but there’s also a lot where it’s a young artist trying to make it through to the next issue.

All in all, the issue makes for a nice action set piece, focusing on the secure high-rise towers where Spider-Man and Silver Sable fight it out. Michelinie strains to fit the soap opera parts in, but we still get a page of Peter and Mary Jane at home, so it’s par for the course.

McFarlane’s art is a step back from the last issue but is not without its moments where it still shines.

Spider-Man versus Silver Sable

The panels where Spider-Man and Silver Sable have their little battle are filled with great poses and angles. They’re not all drawn perfectly, but they’re laid out well and continue to define how McFarlane’s Spider-Man moves, even when in action.

The Comedy and the Credulity of Silver Sable

The climax of the comic is when Silver Sable enters the skyscraper alone, as a test to survive the new security system. We see her facing off against multiple defense systems, all of which she bests.

Except… she never looks behind her, and she always assumes the best-case scenario. When the red light beams make contact with her backpack, but no alarm rings, she assumes she just got lucky. She never notices that the other defense mechanisms are all doing live fire rounds. Plants die around her from the hypodermic drone. Acids sears into the walls from where the “paintballs” missed her.

Silver Sable misses evidence of security tampering
First, “escutcheon.” Now, “satchel”.

She’s missing all the evidence she needs that there’s something wrong with this “test.” Not that she would have any cause for concern, but a head of a nation’s security should be slightly more suspicious/cynical. It’s almost funny how she keeps just missing the one bit of proof she’d need that she’s in bigger trouble than she thought.

The trouble is, it starts to undercut her. She’s super smart and good at the security thing, but she doesn’t catch on to this? She shrugs her shoulders and ignores it when she has evidence that something is going wrong? I get that it’s necessary for the plot, but it feels like a bit of a cheat.

It’s all setting things up to get Spider-Man to come in and save her, though only after one last friendly altercation. I think if this story was written today, she’d realize what was going on just before Spider-Man burst through the window. Then she’d be able to smugly call him “late” to join the party. They’d still be able to trade barbs, then fight against the security systems together for the extra action. He’d still be able to break the news to her about the Nazi connection. And she would still look smart and strong.


Original Art Watch

There are three pages from this issue posted to the Comic Art Fans website. That would include the opening splash page, page 13, and the last page.

The last page has Peter being offered a job far away from home. There’s not too much to be learned from that page, aside from a margin note just outside the last panel that says, “Fix MJ’s lips.” I’m not sure what had to be done, but the final product looks good.

Take a look at the original art on that splash page if you’re reading this in the Omnibus or digital editions. It’s the best example I’ve seen so far of how these scans aren’t perfect. Most everything is OK, but the thinner lines are a trouble spot.

The original art shows how the speediness were drawn.  Next to it is the digitally remastered comics

Look at all of McFarlane’s burst lines and see how the new editions make them so thin that they break up. Those lines are fragile, which is a shame. Sometimes, to be fair, having breaks in the line makes it look more organic and interesting. But, mostly, they just look scratchy and slightly pixellated.

Why I Bought Silver Sable’s Solo Series

Silver Sable and the Wild Pack #1 cover

Fun fact: The colorist of this issue, Greg Wright, would go on to write the “Silver Sable and the Wild Pack” series for 35 issues starting in 1992. (That cover had a metallic silver cover, by the way. It was awesome.)

On a personal note: Remember Marvel’s attempt to restart the Epic line in the Bill Jemas days? I was one of the people contacted for it. While I wound up not submitting anything for it, I did do a little bit of research. I wanted to bring Silver Sable back. Nobody had done much with her in almost a decade at that point. That changed not too long after…

I went so far as to research it by buying the entire run of “Silver Sable and the Wild Pack” from a seller on eBay. Turns out, it’s not that great a series.

I didn’t have the fire in me to follow up on the Epic program, so I didn’t submit anything. Also, I was one of the rare columnists of that era who wasn’t writing a column as a way of getting a job writing comics.

Given how many projects wound up unfinished or dead from the start at Epic, I like to think I saved myself some time. It’s a life lesson that cost me about $30. Plus shipping.

Finding Felix

This might be the most preposterously hidden Felix of them all. It’ll take eagle eyes and a bit of imagination to find it. It’s kind of clever.

There’s one panel of Peter teaching a class at Empire State University. In front of the stage he’s teaching from, there’s a crowd of people.

Todd McFarlane hides Felix the Cat in the student body

If you look just carefully enough, you’ll see Felix staring out at you from between the squiggles of the crowd.

Final Analysis

I like David Michelinie’s main plot with the skyscraper penetration testing, even if it dumbs down Silver Sable just a little. It’s not so bad that she can’t come back from it. McFarlane’s artwork is wildly variable in this issue. Some of the inking feels unfinished, some of it just couldn’t save the art underneath it. Yet, there are moments of classic McFarlane interspersed throughout the issue.

But it’s Silver Sable, so I can’t hate it.

By the way, the Nazi gets away in the end of this issue. We’ll get back to him in a couple of issues, don’t you worry.

BD Recommendation

If you liked this issue, I have a recommendation for you from the world of les bandes dessinées, or Franco-Belgian comics.

Silver Sable is a butt-kicking heroine with steely blue eyes and very light-colored hair. She reminds me of an adult version of Harmony, the teenage star of the series of the same name written and drawn by Mathieu Reynes. Harmony actually has telekinetic super powers, though, but will definitely still kick plenty of adult butt on her way to figuring out where her powers came from.

It’s a great series with amazing art by Reynes. Insight Comics even did a print edition [affilite link] collecting the first three albums in the series.

I have a review of “Harmony” volume 1, as well as volume 2 and volume 3.

Next Issue

Detail on The Amazing Spider-Man #302 cover by Todd McFarlane

It’s one of the most ludicrous issues of its time. We get to have fun talking about the man imbued with the proportionate strength and skills of — a jackrabbit?!?


    1. She went into virtual hiding after her series failed and then popped up 15 years later when people my age became Marvel’s main writers and brought back all the characters they enjoyed from the late 80s/early 90s that everyone had forgotten, like Silver Sable and Paladin. (We’ll get to him eventually, too, of course.)

      Marvel used her in a couple of mini-series a few years back that didn’t go anywhere. Silver Sable’s movie development history is a loooooong story, though, that might be worth a whole article sometime. Keep in mind, she’s in the Spider-Man Universe, so she’s technically a Sony character at the moment.

      Or, heck, we’ll let Wikipedia do the writing for me:

      1. oh yes I only had a vague recollection of that, thanks for reminding me. The fiasco of Raimi’s third Spider-Man movie buried the whole franchise for a while. That was the one with Venom in it, wasn’t it? I was half expecting to see Topher Grace show up as part of the Sinister Six in the new trailer this morning… They still managed to get Molina and Dafoe back so this should be interesting.

        1. With the new Spider-Man trailer out, I had to look back and be honest. This will be the eighth Spider-Man movie, I think. I’ve only seen three. I never saw Spider-Man 3 with Venom. I still have the DVD wrapped in plastic in a box somewhere. I didn’t see the Andrew Garfield movies. And I only saw the first Tom Holland movie. I’m tempted to watch the second Holland movie before this one hits theaters, but I just never have the time to sit at home for two hours straight to watch a movie, or even breaking it up across two nights. I’d rather be writing or reading.

          Oh, I did see the animated one, so if we count that then I’ve seen four of nine movies.

          I should get around to watching that trailer. I’ve been spoiled on everyone who’s in it already as they each take their turn being a trending topic on Twitter in the past 24 hours. Wild world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.