The Artist’s Spider-Man: Marcos Martin’s Ultramodern Nostalgia
Though the story that brought it about was among the most controversial Spider-Man stories ever published, the soft reboot that came with 2008's "Brand New Day" branding infused the Spidey titles with a massive influx of energy and talent. In addition to the rotating Spider-Man "Brain Trust" concocting some of the most exciting stories in years, the books were gorgeous, with art from the likes of Steve McNiven, Chris Bachalo, Paolo Rivera, Phil Jimenez, and Salvador Larroca, among others.
Yet one artist really stood out among that incredible pool of talent: Marcos Martin, who penciled and inked five arcs of Amazing Spider-Man between 2008 and 2011. Though all the artists who worked on the series during that period turned in gorgeous work, Martin truly put his stamp on the character.
It's easy to initially look at Martin's Spider-Man art and say, "Oh, he's doing Ditko." An appreciation of his Spider-Man work in Entertainment Weekly made the observation thusly: "Martin’s style is reminiscent of Spider-Man’s first artist, Steve Ditko, especially in the slinky bodies and even more so in the long, expressive hands." And then there are the other similarities: the contorted positions and the narrow eyes (returning after decades of getting bigger and bigger to the point of taking over the mask).
But to relegate Martin's work to that of simply a Ditko impression is to discount much of what is great about it. It incorporates a lot of details that came from later Spider-Man artists, for one. (Note the McFarlane-like "spaghetti webbing" in the splash page below). And then there's his immaculate sense of composition. EW's Jeff Jensen puts it well: "Even though the page is clearly 'designed,' there’s a naturalistic vibe to it all; it feels like a collection of found moments, captured by Martin’s camera and then artfully arrayed on the page."
There's a throwback sensibility to Martin's Spider-Man work, to be sure, but it never felt retro. It felt wholly ensconced in the time it was being released, and still looks great today.
There's a very distinct sense of place to Martin's compositions. Even as locations and angles change from panel to panel, his characters almost seem to have an awareness of the panels above, next to, and below them. Individual panels play their roles in the story, but the pages themselves do, too. Martin's occasional two-page backup stories with Stan Lee demonstrate that beautifully, and bring a playful, pop-art sensibility to Martin's work.
Another story that really beautifully demonstrated Martin's page layouts was his first arc on the series, "Peter Parker: Paparazzi" in Amazing Spider-Man #559-561. A climactic fight that ends up in a pool is a wonder of storytelling. The design of the tragic villain of the story, Paperdoll, who could turn two dimensional and suck the life out of people she touched, was likewise a bit of visual magic that few other artists could likely pull off. After all, she hasn't returned.
In his last arc on the book (so far), "No One Dies," Martin designed a new-look Spider-Armor, which was considerably less clunky than armor designs of the past. It looked weird. It had web designs all over it. It was perfect.
Martin has occasionally returned to draw covers --- for Amazing Spider-Man #700, a few issues of Superior Spider-Man, and the first issue of the 2014 Amazing Spider-Man relaunch. But since 2011, he's mostly kept busy with a run on Daredevil and with the launch of Panel Syndicate, his digital comics project with Brian K. Vaughan.
Here's hoping he comes back to Spidey sometime.