Sunday, October 7, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 51-55, Ann 4

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 51-55, Amazing Spider-Man Annual 4

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. Well, well, well. Ask and ye shall receive. Last week I complained about annoying villains, boring issues, and noted that the soap-opera was on some kind of maintenance cycle. NOT the case this week. We have the first confrontation with the Kingpin and a fantastic extended stay by Alfred Molina himself, Doctor Octopus! We'll quietly consider the reading of Amazing Spider-Man 14--er, I mean, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4, and then we'll call it a week.

Okay, first and foremost, the Kingpin. Wow. Especially for the sixties, he's a cold-hearted bastard. It also really impressed me that he seems to understand the nature of his position, even in his first appearance. While he's not the nigh-invincible super-mastermind he becomes later in Daredevil, he's still a bad-ass who fights and runs as the situation calls for it.

I really got into these issues. The Foswell/Jameson plots were excellent. I particularly liked that Foswell wanted back in the game, as I never really bought him going straight. The fight scenes were, as always with Romita, dynamic and easy to follow. Here's an artist that does pin-up quality pages without sacrificing storytelling.

Then comes a rehash of Amazing Spider-Man 14 and the back-up from Amazing Spider-Man 8: ASM Annual 4. Pairing a loser like Mysterio (seriously, he was a loser even back then!) with a super-genius like the Wizard has to be the mismatch of the year. That's like teaming up Hobie Brown and Reed Richards and then calling it an equal partnership. Still, there's some good action and some informative back-ups that would certainly have been appealing to kids in 1967 who may very well have missed the superior Ditko back-ups from ASM Annual 1. This issue doesn't hold up today, but I'll bet it was worth the money back then. Besides, the Aunt May line on the Coffee Bean Barn pin-up (“Cool it, sweetie! We don't want those cats to dig that we're hippies!”) alone is worth the price of admission, especially with her sinisterly pensive hand position.

Finally, we have a loooong Doctor Octopus story that isn't even done by the end of issue 55. These issues serve to illustrate the seeming paradox of good comics from the olden days: Good action, beloved characters, and a menacing villain, but a gimmicky plot, impossible situations, and crappy, crappy dialogue. Look, here's the good: Doctor Octopus is awesome here, and he really creates a sense of jeopardy just by being there. Romita takes the time to compose shots that amplify the sheer power and grace of Ock's arms, and it helps the story tremendously. Gwen and Peter really start hooking up, which is fantastic in my opinion, as I've always been a huge Gwen fan. Peter's science abilities and predilections are the source of much of his involvement, and his intelligence saves him from a Doc Ock-shaped bomb. Harry's being weird and paranoid, which is interesting, especially given future events, AND we get to see an Osborn bed-head! w00t!

Then there's the actual plot. Ock is going to steal a missile-deflecting super-device and sell it to the USSR or China so that he can have money to be a crime-lord. Whaat?!? As far as that whole idea goes, I refer you to the John Byrne-penned Captain America/Batman crossover where the Joker refuses to work with the Red Skull because, as he says, “I may be a crook, but I'm an American crook!” Ock may not be patriotic, but surely even he could have seen that giving the Soviets the advantage in the arms race would not have been good for business! Then, Ock boards at the Parker house, and Aunt May is too thick to recognize this arch-criminal. How she was ever made into a halfway useful character is beyond me. Based on the Stan Lee-version of the character, I wish she were dead, dead, dead. I keep hoping she'll die, even as I'm reading these old ones. Maybe they went back for the Masterworks versions and fixed it... and she's DEAD!

Then there's the “nullifier,” which stops ANY machine from working. Even guns. I wonder if switchblades work around this thing. Oh, it also stops RADIOACTIVITY from working, as it does when it messes with Spidey's mind and gives him--DUM DUM DUHHHHMMMM! AMNESIA! Oh, good lord, Stan. You're doing such a good job with some parts of this. Why make a weapon that stops anything one might call a machine? Would a screw still work? How about an inclined plane? Aren't those called “simple” machines? I can see it now: “I tried to stab him with my knife, but since it's a machine, he's not even bruised! Curse that nullifier!”

Even for a sixties' story, it still seems a bit on the hokey side, but the awesome fights and supporting characters give it the edge. Plus, I can't wait to see what happens! Will Spider-Man ever regain his memory? Hey, that makes me wonder--are marriages machines? They work or don't work! Maybe Quesada will use the nullifier on the marriage! It alters the non-radioactivity in Mary Jane's blood and turns her into Jackpot! Yeah! Someone get Stan on the horn--he's got to script this one, dad!

God, I hate sixties' dialogue.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Hokier, true, but better? Except for the Annual, yes.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Peter and Gwen, sitting in a tree... Yes.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Considering he wouldn't have been at the nullifier's presentation if Professor Warren hadn't invited him along... Yes.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 56-61! Until Mysterio is killed and resurrected without half his head, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

A nullifier that neutralizes every single type of machine? I mean, I can buy a machine that gives off EMPs, but...ah well, chalk it up to comic book science, I guess.

I read that Mysterio/Wizard team-up in a TPB I checked out of the local library, and I admittedly found the argument between the two villains more amusing than the actual situations Spidey and the Torch found themselves in.

To me, that speaks volumes about why Ock is the kind of villain that would give anyone, even heavy hitters like Wolverine or Captain America, reason to soil themselves; he's incredibly intelligent, and (appropriately enough) cold-blooded about it. Mysterio's and, moreso the Wizard's, problems are their need to indulge their egos, and the fact that they can't seem to call a truce in the ego wars and team up.

It's weird-here you have two mature adult men fighting two hot-blooded teenagers in their late teens or early twenties at most, and it's the youngsters that manage to team up. Sure, Spidey and the Torch got involved in macho idiocy by letting their testosterone override their common sense, but at least they managed to set aside their differences.

It also baffles me how Aunt May could hate Spider-Man when he's saved so many lives, even back then, and yet somehow considers Ock to be "misunderstood." Granted, this is the same dingbat who got sick every three months or so.

Oh, and total agreement on the Kingpin. No one, but no one, not Count Nefaria, not Silvermane, not the Foreigner, can match the Fat Man when it comes to being a criminal mastermind.

Just out of curiousity, were Mr. Fisk's legitimate business interests, the ones he uses to project an image of being an honest businessman (and probably to launder a fair amount of money, while he's at it) ever really detailled in the comics?

I have no doubt he'd be able to match Norman or Roderick Kingsley in ways Spider-Man never could-by undercutting their companies. It would probably make for a very interesting struggle to see how Osborn, especially, would react to Mr. Fisk. A pissed-off Osborn versus a cold-as-ice and determined Kingpin...

...yikes.

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

Well, there's comic book "science" and then there's also comic book silliness where weapons made by the US Military have "Omnipower" as one of their traits. Ugh.

Yeah, Mysterio and the Wizard provide the same kinds of comic relief when they talk as the Toad and Frog Man did back when they made a super-hero rejects team.

As far as Aunt May goes, I'm not kidding when I say that I now 100% understand why some people hate her. Lee's May is a dingbat who does NOT deserve to suck oxygen. Not even comic book oxygen.

I'm not sure about the Kingpin's "legitimate" interests. You could check the usual spots (Wikipedia, Spiderfan.org, etc.) or even send a query to the Spider-Oracle or to Mad Goblin (who knows a ton about the Hobgoblin, so he may know half a ton about the Kingpin).

As far as Kingpin vs. Kingsley or Osborn goes, I've always had the impression that such fights were foregone conclusions in favor of the fat man. Look, for example, at the "Gang War" storyline in Amazing 284-288 or so, where the only way Hammerhead, the Rose, and all the others even have a chance to fight is with the Kingpin out of the way.

He's a scary, scary man.

Eric

Omar Karindu said...

A Frank Miller Daredevil story (issue #170, IIRC) tossed off the idea that he fronted as a "humble spice merchant." This is of course a riff on Vito Corleone's front as an olive oil vendor in the Godfather novels and films.

The Kingpin did send Nitro to murder the resurgent Osborn shortly after the clone saga, but we never saw any follow-up.

As to the Nullifier, there is one way to No-Prize away its workings: it's a pwoer dampener, sort of like Wundarr the Aquarian's dampener field. Any energy above a certain threshold is "nullified" or dampened; this would explain why it affects the radiation in Peter's blood (radiation is energy) and how it might dampen the explosion that propels a bullet sufficiently to stop gunfire.

Alternatively, Stan Lee got into the good weed again when he was scripting the story.

Anonymous said...

Leave it to Omar Karindu to come up with the best explanations. Are you sure you aren't related to Mark Gruenwald?

Actually, this explanation reminds me of Phantazia's ability to manipulate and disrupt various types of energy-according to her Wikipedia article, she once shut off Cyclops' optic blasts and Cannonball's energy field when her version of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants tangled with X-Force. She also nullified Sleepwalker's warp vision and disrupted his flight, sending him off-balance until Darkhawk got her by surprise and knocked her out.

Maybe the Nullifier replicates Phantazia's natural powers?

I've talked with Madgoblin a couple of times, even found some information for him. Great guy-he even cleared up some confusion I had as to whether a Hobgoblin appearance I had read when I was a kid was either Kingsley or Macendale-it seemed to me to be Macendale, given what a hash Hobgoblin made of the affair and how badly Spider-Man beat the crap out of him. It all just seemed so badly planned and executed that it was the kind of half-baked scheme Macendale would have come up with.

And it's true-the Fat Man has resources Kingsley and Osborn can only dream of. Doesn't mean his hired goons always get the job done-look how many times Bullseye and Typhoid Mary couldn't get the job done against Daredevil, and Nitro probably wouldn't be too much of a problem for Osborn.

I have this vision of Osborn nailing Nitro with the psychedelic pumpkin bomb he used on Spider-Man in one of the Annuals (and which Spidey later used to turn the tables and win), driving Nitro so crazy that he kept exploding himself over and over until he was too tired to keep going. Didn't Iron Man defeat him that way once?

Nitro probably suffers from Hydro-Man syndrome; he's incredibly powerful, but he's too stupid to get the most mileage out of his abilities. Same as with the likes of the Absorbing Man-IIRC, in the 1991 trading card series, he was the only character with an Intelligence of 1, meaning he was "mentally deficient."

As a sidenote, perhaps Mr. Fisk is involved in a number of businesses, as your generic industrialist? I personally like to think he deals in used furniture, myself.

Of course, no mafioso was ever as big as Al Capone.

Anyway Eric, keep up the great work. And Omar, keep up the great work at the Appendix. I love your commentary-it inspired me to revive Megatak and Hellrazor for my Sleepwalker fanfiction series, hopefully to make them into interesting villains.

Yours,

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

Omar,

Your power dampener argument is probably the best answer, no doubt, but I still hate the machine. At what point does energy become "big enough" for the nullifier to nullify it? Does it nullify kinetic energy, thus making it like a Vibranium projector? Bah.

BTW, love the Appendix. I've found it very useful when I don't want to reread 1000+ issues of a series to know something! ;-)

Seriously, it's great.

Eric