Monday, October 15, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 56-61

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 56-61

BTW, sorry for the late post, but my whole family is currently sick with random viruses, and this weekend was a bit on the looney side.

Also, on the podcast front, the general lack of interest from everyone in the world sort of nixes that idea. That's okay--less work for me.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. An ignominious end to the Doc Ock storyline leads into a pointless guest appearance by Ka-Zar, a fight against the new-and-improved Spider-Slayer, and finally a three-parter featuring a mystery villain called “The Brainwasher” who happens to be a large bald man whose muscle looks like fat. More importantly, we're introduced to one of the great Spidey supporting characters of all-time, George Stacy, and Peter and Gwen really start to become a couple.

The first two stories here are hogwash, pure and simple. The “Spider-Man Gets Amnesia” story is one of the dumber things I've read so far in the Spidey saga, and I find it hard to believe that there will again be such an anti-climactic end to such a great beginning. With the radioactivity in his blood disrupted by the “Nullifier,” the machine that stops both scissors, radioactive decay, and gunpowder from working, Spider-Man spends an entire issue thinking the same thought over and over: “I know what I'm doing is wrong, but I must trust the arch-criminal who's telling me to fight the Cold War US Army!” Please. Then, when Spider-Man realizes the deep stupidity of such a thought at the last minute, and Doc Ock is taken away, Who-Am-I-Man is attacked by Ka-Zar because a) Mr. Zar just happened to be in town, and b) J Jonah Jameson, whom Mr. Zar immediately distrusts, tells Mr. Zar to “get Spider-Man!” So Tarzan and Who-Am-I-Man fight, and WAI-Man falls in the water. More comic-book science: Water apparently reverses the effect of disrupting radioactive decay, and so WAI-Man realizes who he is--Spider-Man!

Good lord, just reading the basic events there makes me want to cry. What saves the whole story from being completely useless is that we are treated to the reactions of Spidey's supporting cast, which could possibly make for more interesting stories later. It certainly ramps up the tension, as Harry breaks into Peter's room and finds a Spider-Tracer (although he misses the web-fluid and extra costumes somehow). We're also introduced to George Stacy during all of this, and I have to say that I really like him. I like the fact that this book can actually have a person over fifty who isn't boring, criminally insane, senile, or Jameson. (Okay, Joe Robertson also fits that, but he hasn't had much to do yet, having only appeared five issues before Captain Stacy.) It's also interesting reading his appearances and knowing that, of all the people who are close to Peter on a daily basis, it's George Stacy who figures out he's Spider-Man. I honestly wonder if he already knows or strongly suspects by the end of the Doc Ock caper. His little Stone-Age PowerPoint on Spider-Man is a weird thing to show to Peter on their very first meeting, I'd say.

Spider-Slayer attacks. Jameson isn't homicidal. Smythe is. Spidey gets the machine to OD on spider-pheromones or something equally stupid. When there's a giant, rampaging robot on the streets of Manhattan, why in the world don't a couple Avengers show up?

The Brainwasher story is relatively run-of-the-mill, and it also features much of Stan Lee's Mary Jane Watson talking, so it can be hard to read. (Secret: The Brainwasher is the Kingpin trying on a new name.) What makes the book increasingly hard to read, though, is Romita's sudden reliance on Don Heck as a finishing penciller. The book's art takes a dramatic downturn in quality. The layouts are more workmanlike, often relying on a simple four-panel structure, and the detail work becomes instantly terrible, although that may be Mickey Demeo's fault. The smooth, confident web-lines that Romita made sure we had now often do not connect properly, and the whole book now looks sketchy and unprofessional.

In addition, we are “treated” to the first of many misunderstandings between Peter and Gwen when Peter has to defend himself against a brainwashed George Stacy and Gwen assumes (without questioning) that Peter, who she thinks may be “the one,” just decided to beat on an old man. Ugh. It's clear to me that, without the more expert characterization Ditko provided, Lee and Romita are falling back on the easy melodrama of the romance comics Marvel once published. Still, it's Gwen, and I'm still in love with her on Peter's behalf, so I'll read it. Besides, at this point in the story, she's not a whacko slut suddenly jumping the bones of her beloved's best-friend's father. But I'm not bitter.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Meh. Not really. What these stories do well is present a one-issue main story that feeds into the next. I can see why a kid would drop his $0.12 on the counter once a month for this, no question.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Well, I like Doc Ock, I like the Kingpin, but I can't stand silly, silly stories. All I've got to look forward to in each issue is poorly drawn melodrama featuring my favorite supporting cast members, so Yes.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Is a secret ID still important when he can't remember it? Well, the Parker persona adds a huge layer of interest to the Brainwasher story once his girlfriend's dad is BW'd, so yeah, I guess so.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 62-65 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 1! Until Spidey forgets where he put all his Spider-Tracers, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

Aye yi yi...

-Spidey somehow gets amnesia from having the radioactivity in his body disrupted?

-Ka-Zar shows up for no good reason?

-A Spider-Slayer is destroyed by pheromones?

...Okay, let's just chalk it up to Stan getting into the good weed again, as Omar suggested.

I'm starting to see Ditko's appeal-even if I like Romita's art better, I can see why you like Ditko's writing so much.

Believe it or not, when he wasn't recycling plots and footage from Rocket Robin Hood or animating the results of Lin Carter's acid trips, Ralph Bakshi adapted the Brainwasher storyline for the 1960s cartoon, one of a few classic storylines that were animated, along with the classic "Breakout" storyline where Spidey has to deal with a gang of escaped cons who take Captain Stacy hostage, and the one where Mysterio tricks Spidey into thinking he's been shrunk.

Of course, that episode would make continuity buffs weep-Captain Stacy is shown as being _Mary Jane's_ uncle, and he looks kind of like Thomas Dewey, with black hair and a pencil-thing moustache.

On the one hand, you can sympathize with Bakshi, given that the suits were constantly slashing his budgets and pushing up production deadlines-no wonder he had to cut so many corners. OTOH, most of the plots he came up with were utterly ridiculous. They should have at least tried to keep the writers from the first season-some of the plots they came up with at least used the tried and true spider-villains, like Mysterio using images of the Flying Dutchman to scare people away from the sites of his smuggling operations, or the Vulture mentally controlling huge flocks of birds with his helmet.

And just for the record, don't ask me why Bakshi drew Mysterio as looking like Woody Allen. That was something that confused me even when I was six.

So, until J. Michael Strazcynski comes along and completely perverts the concept behind Spider-Man with his totem crap that should have been in the Ultimate version, turns Gwen into a whore with a mad-on for men with bad hairstyles who are old enough to be her father and dress up like oversized gremlins, and comes up with a villain that practically screams Mary Sue and bad Anne Rice/Vampire the Masquerade ripoff, Make Mine Marvel!

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

So, until J. Michael Strazcynski comes along and completely perverts the concept behind Spider-Man with his totem crap that should have been in the Ultimate version, turns Gwen into a whore with a mad-on for men with bad hairstyles who are old enough to be her father and dress up like oversized gremlins, and comes up with a villain that practically screams Mary Sue and bad Anne Rice/Vampire the Masquerade ripoff, Make Mine Marvel!

You're a bitter, bitter man, Jared. I like that about you.

Eric

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Eric. Did you check out my angry rant over at the Comicboards spider-forum a few weeks back?

A few thoughts have occurred to me since then:

-Marvel under Joe Q. looks like it's about to repeat the sorry history of the Clone Saga with One More Day; in both cases, the reason for the changes was an obsession with ending the spider-marriage.

Quesada should have really stuck to what he was good at. He wrote some nifty Sleepwalker art back in the day as the guest artist for some of the covers, and probably would have made a better replacement for Bret Blevins than Kelly Krantz, who drew a cool Sleepwalker and Cobweb but occasionally butt-ugly humans:

http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=69710&zoom=4

-JMS should have been the writer for Ultimate Spider-Man when it came out, and Peter David should have been the writer for the 616 series when they tried to get it back on the rails after the Clone Saga.

JMS's mouthy, hard-edged Spider-Man would no doubt have appealed to the cynical teens of today more than Bendis's long, drawn-out story arcs, while bringing in a writer with a proven track record (David) would no doubt have rebuilt a lot of the goodwill among devoted fans that was lost during the Clone Saga.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20. Would David have even been available, or was he still writing the Hulk at the time?

And now that I think about it, you may be right about my being bitter.

When was the last time a villain hatched a scheme simply for the money or the power?

How many heroes still have secret identities?

Could characters like Sleepwalker or Darkhawk fly today?

Robbing banks for cash, holding cities for ransom, and planning to take over the world are all derided as cliche and overdone. Concepts that would have flown in the Silver Age, or even as recently as ten years ago, would be ridiculed if they were launched today. Dressing up in a funky costume is ridiculed as childish and stupid.

Instead of good superhero plots, where Spider-Man kicks ass and saves the day, we have quasi-mystical crap, Spider-Man's life being one shitstorm after another and superheroes at each others' throats, all while guys like the Mad Thinker, the Wizard and Doctor Doom are apparently off eating tea and crumpets somewhere.

And people wonder why kids don't read comics anymore.

Go figure.

But then, I suppose that's what I get for still liking the superhero genre more than any other type of comics, for not buying into the whole post-modern approach that guys like Grant Morrison seem to be going for, and for believing in putting fresh spins on old ideas, like I do with Sleepwalker.

As Aunt Petunia's ever-loving, blue-eyed nephew Benjamin J. Grimm is heard to remark...

BAH!

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

I disagree with you on the writers. I don't think JMS has any business going anywhere near Spider-Man, period. Even when his stories were conceptually interesting, they were poorly paced and dreadfully dialoged. (Like that word?)

Peter David... What to say there? I'm a big fan of his. I buy Fallen Angel in singles and in trades, I bought all of Supergirl, and I'm even buying X-Factor. I'm not a huge X-fan, but I tried it because of PAD and I like it okay.

That said, I'm not sure that, especially then, David could have been successful on the book. Quesada and Jemas were bad-mouthing him, and his career had taken a bit of a beating with a string of cancellations and bad treatment by the companies. I'm also not sure that the fans were particularly receptive then.

Since 2000, David has produced a steady stream of excellent work that has gotten serious critical recognition (FNSM being an exception, from where I'm sitting). I think he'd be a fantastic choice to replace Bendis now, especially if he could reign in some of his sillier impulses (like the Hulk/Rhino/Casey at the Bat issue or much of the humor of Young Justice or Soulsearchers.)

I think he's improved his control of that over the years, and I'd really like to see him in complete control of Peter's cast.

Eric

Anonymous said...

Well, they were just some thoughts. I agree that we would all be better off if JMS stayed well away from anything to do with spiders-I just figured that if Marvel absolutely had to hire him as a writer to bring his fanbase into the spider-comics, as they did with guys like Joss Whedom, they should put him on Ultimate Spider-Man.

And if that were the case, we'd have...Ultimate Morlun.

*shudders*

I'll admit-I hate seeing one-sided Bane-like fights where the hero stands little if any chance against the villain, and is reduced to running like a scared rabbit, or gets his ass kicked so completely that it's really no contest. I mean, even with guys like Venom and Carnage, one could argue that Spidey could use both his smarts and his strength to win. With Morlun, Spidey poisoning him with radiation was only a temporary respite, and even then it was a dramatic cheat when Morlun's stooge "killed" him while Spidey contemplated what to do.

And just like J.R. Fettinger, AKA Madgoblin, noted, it's galling that the villain who beats Spidey to within an inch of his life is a nobody like Morlun, who had little if any development besides JMS trying to drive it home with a sledgehammer that this guy was somehow more dangerous than Norman or Doc Ock.

Now if it had been Ock, Norman, or Venom to leave Spidey shredded, that would have been one thing. But to have Morlun, with no backstory, no development, or anything like that somehow have Spidey running more scared than any of the guys who would _rightly_ send a chill down Peter's spine doesn't really build up dramatic tension from where I stand; rather, it just reeks of Mary Sue-ism and the fact that no matter what he does, Spidey simply can't win. At least with Venom and Carnage, you could still get the impression that he had a fighting chance.

Oh, and then there's the fact that Morlun was, for all intents and purposes, a vampire. With the advent of "vampire culture" in both fiction and reality, the refined-aristocrat-as-murderous-predator has become so overdone and is so cliche that I for one am just plain sick of it.

Besides, Spidey isn't a horror book-his villains are costumed criminals, not unearthly predators that come back from the dead.

Finally, a query: How much joking around did Spidey do on JMS's watch?

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

Well, they were just some thoughts.

I hope I didn't sound rude in responding to them.

And just like J.R. Fettinger, AKA Madgoblin, noted, it's galling that the villain who beats Spidey to within an inch of his life is a nobody like Morlun, who had little if any development besides JMS trying to drive it home with a sledgehammer that this guy was somehow more dangerous than Norman or Doc Ock.

You are so right, as is Mad Goblin. That sort of villain is annoying, annoying, annoying, and not fun to read about. You completely need to check out the blog http://fraggmented.blogspot.com. The writer, John Seavey not only has many interesting things to say about stories in general, but he actually came up with a glossary of terms for stuff like this. Specifically: http://fraggmented.blogspot.com/2006_09_01_archive.html

An excerpt:

Claremont (n): The death of a villain at the hands of another villain (usually a new villain) solely to demonstrate how powerful and ruthless the new villain is. The Upstarts, for instance, began their string of appearances in the X-titles with the claremont of the entire Hellfire Club, while Stryfe demonstrated his power with the claremont of Apocalypse. Virtually without exception, claremonts are performed by weak, incompetent, or otherwise unexceptional villains; their spectacular performance against villains never seems to allow them any advantage against heroes. The obvious conclusion to draw is that they're in the wrong line of work--while they might be unexceptional as bad guys, they'd make excellent super-heroes.

Oh, and then there's the fact that Morlun was, for all intents and purposes, a vampire. With the advent of "vampire culture" in both fiction and reality, the refined-aristocrat-as-murderous-predator has become so overdone and is so cliche that I for one am just plain sick of it.

You noticed that, too, eh? I remember thinking for a year or two in college that Anne Rice was SO COOL... And then I grew up and couldn't read her stuff anymore.

Finally, a query: How much joking around did Spidey do on JMS's watch?

Not enough for me, but I think that might be a tone thing and not specifically a joke thing. You know, like in the Lee/Romita years, even when Spidey is really in deep shit, the book is still fun. There's a difference between urgency and constant suffering that Marvel doesn't understand anymore.

BTW, next week's comics are much better than this week's comics. Hooray!

Eric

Anonymous said...

Nah, you weren't rude. Just one of those occasions where I write the way I would talk in a face-to-face conversation.

And credit for the vampire observation goes to Madgoblin, not me, although it's my own extreme annoyance with the prevalence of vampires that put two and two together.

I'm not up to speed on Batman's feud with Bane, but wasn't Bane at least built up, and set up a mass breakout of convicts and criminals, forcing Batman to run himself ragged catching them before Bane finally came in for the kill? In other words, didn't we as readers at least know something about his background and character first?

In that case, at least, you can see why Batman ended up in traction-he was so exhausted that he couldn't put up a fair fight, and anyway got some redemption when later on he faced Bane on even terms and narrowly won. Whereas Morlun just shows up with no development or explanation, and Spidey can't touch him.

Also, I just had a glance through John Seavey's website, and I already love his blog. In an extremely bizarre coincidence, his post for April 25, 2006 (my birthday, no less!) he repeats some of my gripes about the state of comics today.

It's weird-back in the day, readers complained about comics being full of squeaky-clean moralists like Superman, and presumably about how superheroes were irrelevant fluff, and all that. Fast forward two decades and now the pendulum seems to have swung too far the other way-now things are too dark, there's no fun in the comics anymore, everything has to be 'meaningful' or dark, etc.

Go figure.

Jared.

Chris Munn said...

Eric, I was recently turned on to your blog by Jared via a mailing list we both subscribe to. It's a daunting endeavor you've set upon, reviewing each Spider-Man issue from the beginning, and I salute you for it. I do a similar site for Ghost Rider (at http://ghostrider.omegacen.com) and another friend helms a Daredevil review site (at http://daredevil.omegacen.com).

We are a rare breed, it seems, more concerned with the comics of the past than the ones of today. Good luck with the reviews, Eric, and I'll continue to read and comment when appropriate.

Chris

Eric Teall said...

Eric, I was recently turned on to your blog by Jared via a mailing list we both subscribe to.

That'd be great, except now I owe Jared another $5. ;-)

It's a daunting endeavor you've set upon, reviewing each Spider-Man issue from the beginning, and I salute you for it.

Thanks. It doesn't seem so daunting right now because I'm moving through "real time" Spidey very quickly, since Amazing is still the only book (except for the Spectacular magazine). I've got Marvel Team-Up and Peter Parker coming up, though, at which my speed in "real time" will come to a grinding halt.

I do a similar site for Ghost Rider (at http://ghostrider.omegacen.com) and another friend helms a Daredevil review site (at http://daredevil.omegacen.com).

Thanks for the references. I checked both of them out. I must admit to a general sense of personal apathy over Ghost Rider, but both sites are interesting. I really like the Daredevil site's grouping of the reviews by "eras", which feeds some of the same needs my blog tries to. I'm someone who doesn't know much about Ghost Rider. Is there a good overview of the various incarnations?

We are a rare breed, it seems, more concerned with the comics of the past than the ones of today.

I'm not sure I'd go that far. Certainly, I have a deep and abiding love for the comics of my youth, which kept me company when I spent more than my fair share of time alone at home. That said, I'm honestly more concerned with today's comics than with yesterday's. My problem is that yesterday's comics were, in my memory, just plain better than they are today. This blog is, in part, an investigation into that old chestnut to see if it's true or not. (If you haven't yet, check out the "Introduction" to this site. There's an easy link on the homepage on the left.)

What makes us a rare breed IMO is that we care enough about these characters and their legacies to actually go back and give the old comics an honest look. Your willingness to call the first couple of Ghost Rider storylines D+'s shows that we aren't all blindly nostalgic for the past.

Good luck with the reviews, Eric, and I'll continue to read and comment when appropriate.

Chris


It's good to have you aboard, Chris. Comments are always appreciated.

Eric