Saturday, June 30, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 20-21, UTSM 23, '96, '97

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 20-21 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 23, '97, and '96

Okey-dokey, here we go. Well, ASM this week features one sci-fi story and one comedy romp, and that's okay by me. Stan and Steve were not only having fun with the book, but they were really showing Peter growing into his role as Spider-Man. Both of these stories are done-in-one jobs that make for great reading.

First up is the first appearance of the Scorpion. In what I've always considered interesting misdirection, the shadowy stranger following Peter at the end of ASM 19 turns out to be working for J Jonah Jameson--not for any nefarious purpose, but simply because Jameson wants to know Parker's secret to getting such awesome Spidey pics. Jameson gives up on that, however, when he decides that one Doctor Stillwell can create a super-being more powerful than Spider-Man. Now, when I read this story as a kid, I swallowed that last idea easily. This time, however, I have a little more difficulty accepting that such a feat would be a) as scientifically marvelous as Jameson's reaction would indicate, and b) obviously dangerous. There are plenty of super heroes stronger/more powerful than Spider-Man. Now, we know from ASM 10 that Jameson wants to ruin Spider-Man because JJJ is jealous of him. Fair enough. I can certainly see Jameson hiring someone of sufficient power (like Luke Cage, once he comes along) to try to humiliate or scare off Spider-Man, but to create a super-being on his own? This, from the man who so strongly dislikes costumed heroes? Nope, I don't believe it. I believe the Spider-Slayer thing, because Dr. Smythe simply puts his invention in JJJ's hands--JJJ doesn't commission it. But I don't believe Jameson's short-sightedness on the Scorpion issue. I guess it's just part of that whole inconsistency problem that comics have and that seems so obvious in retrospect.

Anyway, the science-gone-wrong aspect of the story is fairly cliché, even if it is well executed. The real crux of the issue is Spidey's reaction to getting so quickly trounced by the Scorpion. For one of the first times, he is clearly beaten but requires no outside inspiration to pull himself together. That Betty is in danger provides a sort of time-pressure, but Spidey just jumps right back into the fray, and this time he fights smart. He figures out the Scorpion's obvious weaknesses and uses his own unique strengths (agility and speed) to defeat them.

ASM 21 is more of a comedy pitting the Torch against Spidey before they both team up to fight the Beetle. In my mind, the best part of the issue comes when Peter, who has been warned away from Dorie Evans by the Torch, decides to make a play for the Torch's girl as Spider-Man. The specific wording of the whole thing comes across as a bit old-fashioned and sexist, but when taken in the spirit of the day and the intentions, it really shows Peter as being both good-natured and proud enough to not take crap from the Torch. I'm not sure that Spidey would previously have reacted this way. He might have chosen to do nothing or he might have taken it too far, but I'm not sure that he would have found such a balanced response.

There's only one standard issue of UTSM this week, and it features the first chronological appearance of the Crime Master. What we're starting to see on this book is a wrap-up of all of the UTSM-specific sub-plots. This issue involves the Crime Master's “zombie-like” henchmen controlled by a special kind of computer chip. At the end of the issue, the chip is put to good use to bring Betty Brant's mother out of her coma. It makes me wonder if Mrs. Brant still has the chip in her...! Anyway, a fair issue.

Time-line-wise, UTSM Annual '97 comes first. This is a terrible issue featuring the debut of a new super-villain named Sundown, who also appears in ASM Annual '97 when he gets out of prison “years later”. The story is pretty weak, I'm sorry to say, but the art by Tom Lyle is abysmal. Lyle's young Spider-Man looks exactly like his adult Spider-Man, and the whole thing is just awful. Yech.

UTSM Annual '96, on the other hand, is a real joy to read. Essentially, Spidey asks the Invisible Girl out to dinner to get under the Torch's skin, so the Torch decides to get back at Spidey by siccing Namor on him. Yeah, that ends well. Another delightful comedy issue here, this one featuring art by Mike Allred. I'd say more on this, but Busiek plays on the same issues that Stan did in ASM 21, and he plays them so well that the comments apply equally well to his work. In this case, reading the UTSM stuff at the same time as the ASM stuff actively diminishes this story. It's like drinking a really good chocolate milkshake right after you've eaten really good French silk pie--too much chocolate at once. Better to spread it out, I say.

Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list:

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Eh. About the same. A decent “straight” story with the Scorpion, two “fun” issues (we don't get enough of those, that's for sure), a mediocre crime story, and one abysmal failure of an annual.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Much of Spidey's supporting cast in these issues is the super hero community, which is the same state as today's comics (although if Dan Slott's FCBD issue, “Swing Time” is any indication, that may be changing! Yay!).

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Well... This week, he pretty much is.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 22-24 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 24-25! Until Iron Man and Reed Richards become super villains, Make Mine Marvel!


1 comment:

Jared said...

Great taglines at the end of your posts. It's also an interesting comment on Spidey's development when he acts so stupidly when the Torch warns him away from his girlfriend, and lets his foolish pride lead him into a fight with Namor. I doubt the Spider-Man of the first Conway era, or when he goes to university, would do anything so dumb.