Monday, August 27, 2007


Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 36-40.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. The first three issues are relatively run-of-the-mill. First, let's talk villains. The Looter is pathetic, but he's obviously meant to be. No decent villain really uses a helium balloon as their escape vehicle (or as transport to the Arctic, I might add.) Stromm is a little more interesting, if only for his interesting robot designs and relatively novel revenge motivation (novel for Spider-Man, anyway). Joe Smith is another born loser, and my main question about him is why we never see movie posters in the background of the Marvel U.: “Starring Joe Smith...” etc. The best thing to come out of Joe Smith's “villainy” is the villain making out better than Spidey by the end.

Good things in these three:

  • Norman Osborn, who is clearly being groomed for his reveal in ASM 39, starts his appearances. I'm ashamed to say that I just noticed today, for the very first time, that Norman's hairline and the Goblin's wacky hat-line are the same. I've been reading since 1983, folks. Someone please hit me. I have to say, I really, really like how Norman's treatment of his son clearly had an effect on how Harry treated others, and it says something for the overall theme of the series that Harry is, in many ways, redeemed through his friendship with Peter Parker, who treats him much more fairly.

  • Ned Leeds showing up. Whoops, I guess he hasn't married Betty, yet. What's going on with her? I absolutely love the ongoing nature of these storylines. Even though each issue's A-plot is self-contained, the B-plots go on forever! I also love Spidey punching out the Ned-looking mannequin. Ah, angst.

  • Peter lost in thought from his too-accurate Spider-Sense. Check out ASM 38, 6;3-5. Joe Smith is tearing stuff up, but Peter, unlike everyone else, doesn't really notice. Why? He's thinking too hard, and he's really come to rely on his Spider-Sense to alert him to such things. The various rocks and things aren't going to hit him, so they pose no danger. It's not until one passes across his line-of-sight that he perks up.

  • Gwen's consideration of Peter. It's too bad that, over time, Gwen lost the personality that she so clearly has here. She's an independent thinker who is finally starting to break with the crowd. She's also fiery in a way that Spidey girls haven't been so far. The sparks between these two, especially in ASM 37, 5, are just plain fun to watch. It's almost like being young again, but fictional. You know?

Bad things in these three:

  • Crappy villains. We get Meteor-Fart, Master of Tinkertoys, and Cordrazine-Addict Man. True, Osborn's working kind-of behind the scenes, but still.

  • The cover to ASM 38, which is also inexplicably chosen for the cover of Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-ManVolume 4. Between this one, ASM 33, and ASM 39 or 40, I can tell you that this one (which consists solely of cut-outs from the interior) is clearly the (sarcasm) BEST ONE OF ALL (/sarcasm)

Amazing Spider-Man 39 and 40

Ah, the “end” of the Green Goblin. These issues are remarkable for several reasons, both positive and negative. First, the basic story is a worthy culmination of two years of ongoing storytelling. After several meetings where one or the other escapes and there is no solid resolution, Norman locks them in a room and they have to fight it out to the finish. It's worth adding also that for once, a super-villain schemes to discover the hero's secret identity and the scheme works. As with so many other things in Spider-Man (and Marvel), making things a little more realistic in key areas really increases the tension of the story.

When I was re-reading these stories to write this article, it struck me as both cliched and annoying that Osborn is so willing to tie Peter up and blab for an entire issue, but I'm not sure that's really being fair. A) The ranting villain is a long-standing tradition in serials, and it's not a terrible one as long as it's not overdone. B) No Spider-Man villain had ever ranted quite this long. C) The Goblin is shown repeatedly to be quite mad, and it had been building to this point of release. D) There has to be some sort of narrative mechanism for explaining how all the clues come together, and this is as good as any. So I forgive Stan for this old chestnut.

The supporting characters are given some face time in these issues, with a little more Anna Watson than we usually see. All of them are clearly being groomed for their post-Ditko roles, with Harry warming to Peter, Gwen already losing some of her personality (“If Peter Parker becomes one of our crowd, it'll be just wonderful--for me!” - ASM 39, 6;3), Flash becoming more of the grumpy man than the bully, and Anna Watson preparing for her increased “camera time” as MJ's Aunt.

I have to say that, despite the clean lines of Romita's art, I already miss Ditko's energy. Romita does a fantastic job with basic storytelling and between-panel continuity. If I wanted to give a kid a pair of comics to “get them started” with Spidey, ASM 39 and 40 would be at the top of my list because Romita's art is clear and easy-to-follow. It's also a little bland and boring here after 38 issues of Ditko. Ditko's influence on Spidey's fighting style wouldn't be consciously felt for years, IMO, and it's definitely missing here.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. The Ditko stories are average, and while the Goblin two-parter has its problems, it pays off months and months of build-up and mystery.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. They're all that's interesting about the first three. While many of them are pushed aside in 39 and 40 (and rightfully so), the tension in Peter's initial out-of-costume confrontation with the Goblin is significantly heightened by trying to hide it from Aunt May, and more tension is created in the final battle by her worry over Peter. Sure, it's an overused thing, but it's a reasonable part of the story engine here, so we'll accept it.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. No, he's the driving dramatic force in 60% of the stories here and the key weakness in the Goblin issues. A good use of the Parker persona, I'd say.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 41-45 and Annual 3! Until Spidey's entire supporting cast is dead, amnesiac, or absent, Make Mine Marvel!



Anonymous said...

I have to be honest-I prefer Romita's spider-art to Ditko's.

(ducks the bricks and tomatoes)

I don't really know much about art, so I can't really describe it, but Romita's art just looked more...realistic to me. His Gwen, IMO, looks far better than Ditko's, which to me seems too sharp and nasty-looking.

And I have to admit-I actually like the big, buff Spider-Man better than Ditko's gangly teenager.

As such, I probably would have enjoyed Kirby's take on the character too, so hopefully I'm not a total heretic.


Eric Teall said...

Hey, one thing I think everyone on the Internet just needs to accept is that there is NO accounting for taste. I'm not a huge fan of Al Milgrom, but if someone told me he was the biggest Al Milgrom fan alive, I wouldn't throw bricks or tomatoes.

I think the reasons you present clearly explain what you liked better, and that's all anyone can ask for. Unless one claims to like Joel Schumacher after the 1997 travesty that shall NOT be named on this blog. In that case, such a one would be WRONG.