This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 13-14 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 12-14
Okey-dokey, here we go. Not much to talk about on the ASM front this week. ASM 13 is the last of my Pocket Books memories, and it's just plain difficult for me to take Mysterio seriously, even in the stories of the time. He is a villain who is designed specifically to counter Spider-Man's powers, but once Spider-Man figures out the gimmicks, he trounces Mysterio. This issue features yet another JJJ “Spider-Man is a fraud/crook” thing that the whole town buys into until Spider-Man exposes the real fraud. I have to say that this element of JJJ is getting very old, very quickly. Not a lot of movement on the Peter/Betty front, either.
ASM 14 deserves a little attention, of course, as it features the first appearance of the Green Goblin. It's funny to me to see what an inauspicious start the Goblin got in his first story. He wants to be a crime lord, so he's going to take down Spider-Man. His plan? Lure Spider-Man out to New Mexico to get him with the Enforcers, who were just so effective against him even with an army of thugs backing them up. The bait? Spider-Man: The Movie. Obviously nobody showed Spidey the script to Spider-Man 3, or no amount of money would have gotten him out west. What really matters about this story is that the Goblin and Spidey are obviously good matches for each other, and the Goblin takes the defeat personally in ASM 17, where he next appears, and where his true obsession with Spider-Man begins. The Hulk is wasted here, except to put Spider-Man in “his place” in terms of power. Honestly, it does more for the Hulk than it does for Spider-Man.
UTSM rightfully ignores the silliness of those ASM issues and goes for some character pieces. In UTSM 12, we finally, finally, finally get a good explanation as to why this 18/19-year-old high-school drop-out is working as the secretary of one of the most powerful men in New York City. It turns out that Betty's mother, Mrs. Eleonore Brant, was his secretary, and that Betty learned the ropes from her over the years. This is very believable for me, as I've seen this happen in real businesses. When Betty's sinister boyfriend, Gordon, who is sure to turn up again in UTSM, smacks Mrs. Brant around, leaving her permanently brain damaged, Betty takes over for Jameson, receiving a generous salary in return because JJJ says she's “family.” This is the perfect kind of story for UTSM, as it answers some lingering questions and deepens the character. All of a sudden, it makes a ton of sense why Betty shows up at the hospital to help care for May, as she understands the need for that sort of support and offers it to Peter. A fine story.
UTSM 13 features the death of Sally Avril, who gives up her Bluebird identity only to rededicate herself to becoming Peter's superior in the photography biz. In a very teenagerish moment, she eggs Jason into running a red light, the car is struck by a truck, and Sally is killed. While Spidey blames himself for scaring her out of the Bluebird thing, wondering if she wouldn't have been safer at his side, the Human Torch is there once again to remind Spidey of the difference between responsibility and self-pitying egotism. Honestly, the story didn't do much for me, but it is good in concept, as Sally and Jason are some of the only members of the group who act recognizably 17. UTSM 14 is another Scorcher story that touches on the Osborn thing and continues the fallout of Sally's death. Not great, but not terrible, either.
Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list:
1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. So-so. Cheesy villains and plots in ASM, overly hasty deaths in UTSM. I wonder if Busiek knew the book's days were limited, as it seems that there was more that could be done with Sally. At the same time, this pretty much is her arc, so maybe he just decided to move it along. I just wish we could have seen more of her, as I like her more than Jason, personally. Except for UTSM 12, I'm not sure that any of these issues would really make me hungry for more if they were being published today, even if I were ten. This week, I'd say the material is about equal in quality to today's stuff, certainly not embarrassing.
2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. The Betty issue is a stand-out, and UTSM is all about the supporting characters this week. Not a ton of supporting cast in ASM, and it hurts the issues. A little bit of Flash's unflagging loyalty to Spidey in 13, but nothing new or groundbreaking.
3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. In ASM, he is. In UTSM, he's almost the only identity this week.
All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 15-16, Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1, Untold Tales of Spider-Man 15-18, and Untold Tales of Spider-Man: Strange Encounter! Until Spider-Man chooses a whiny, pathetic MJ over the near-goddess Gwen, Make Mine Marvel!
(Sorry for the Spider-Man 3 rants. I saw it again this weekend and it just burns me up how bad it was. -ET)