Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse? This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 62-65 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 1.
BTW, don't get too excited over a Saturday post. I'm still just trying to post once a weekend, but it's one of those Saturday nights where I have nothing better to do then post, so here you go. ;-)
Also, I've added a little bit of Java to the site so I can track traffic. If it gives anyone any trouble, let me know. I hate sites that take a long time to load, especially because of some stupid plug-in.
Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. Wow, wow, wow. Last week was so “meh” and this week... Again, it's so easy to see sometimes what the appeal was to kids back in the sixties. This week's books are just jam-packed with excellent action, fantastic fights, and dynamic character interaction! See, it's issues like these that remind me why I'm bothering with this crazy project in the first place (the reading, not the blog): These five issues are head-and-shoulders above any Spider-Man book published in the last year. Yes, they're a little cheesy. Yes, they're full of sixties weirdness. Yes, the art is old-fashioned much of the time. None of that changes the fact that each one of these issues tells a full story's worth of plot and excitement, does interesting things with the supporting cast, and puts Spidey into situations that aren't tired. Okay, it starts out weak with the Medusa issue. Still, this little guest appearance does serve to tie Spidey in to the larger Marvel framework, so that's okay. It's also got good use of supporting characters like Harry and Gwen, and it really builds the “Return of the Green Goblin” plot, which must have been great for sales. Then comes a strange little experiment in Marvel publishing history: Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine 1. This black-and-white magazine features excellent Romita pencils and fine Jim Mooney inks (possibly pencil finishes as well--I'm not sure). (Let me throw in here that I have noticed Jim Mooney's work in this volume of Marvel Masterworks for the first time. I'm not sure I ever gave him much thought before--I've seen his work now and again--but he is a better Romita-substitute than Don Heck. He has nice, clean lines and solid penciling, as well as inking, skills.) For more info on the publication history of the Spectacular name, check out its Wikipedia entry. The story itself is a long done-in-one about a NY mayoral candidate who creates an underworld threat against himself to cement his reputation as a fearless crusader against crime. Spider-Man, of course, gets in the way, uncovers the plot, and undoes the candidate. It's not the single best Spidey story ever, but as a magazine that may have attracted some readers that weren't regular Amazing fans, it covers all the bases of the Spidey mythos. More importantly, it is a more “mature” story, more science-fiction/social commentary than “comic book villain-of-the-month,” which would presumably make it more palatable to an older audience. It's not a bad issue at all, and it's interesting to me that the story clearly does have a social critique angle without seeming unduly heavy-handed or super-specific in its execution. There's also a little “Origin of Spidey” back-up that is clearly the template for the 1960's Spider-Man cartoon version of the origin. A great many of the lines and scenes in the origin episode of the cartoon are taken directly from this version. It feels weird reading this because it's so close to the cartoon. Of course, over the last couple of issues, I've noticed several pictures of Spider-Man in the comics that were obviously lifted by the cartoon. Since I saw the cartoon first, decades ago, there's a bit of a chicken/egg thing going on in my brain. Okay, then comes a two-part Vulture story starring one of my least-favorite characters of all-time: Blackie Drago. Before these two issues, I would have said that the only good thing to come from Blackie Drago is his daughter, the Raptor, who is a villain in the Spider-Girl universe. However, these issues do something so right with a pathetic usurper like Drago that they deserve a special place in Spider-Man history: they allow the original version to beat the crap out of the pathetic usurper. Toomes, the old Vulture (who was presumed dead BUT never died on-panel) comes back and publicly humiliates Drago. This fight also serves to set Toomes up as a more credible threat than before, so that when he fights Spider-Man above the city, there is real suspense. During both of these stories, Gwen discovers that Peter didn't really betray her and her father, and she tries to find him, to no avail. Yes, it's an old plot device, but it's used well enough here. Honestly, I think that originality is a little overrated in serial fiction, as most plots are a rehash of some other plot. What's more important is execution, and here the old chestnut is well-executed. There's also the Norman Osborn sub-plot, so that's okay, too, I guess. Finally, JJJ and Robbie are put in danger by the fight between the two Vultures. Again, this illustrates one of those unrealistic things about serial fiction that readers should simply learn to live with: There's no way that so many super fights would happen this close to the Daily Bugle building and never next to, say, the Daily Globe building or the Empire State Building. Except, of course, that the people the readers care about don't work in any of those other places, they work at the Bugle, so that's where the jeopardy is. Also because of this, writers should give up their constant and boring attempts at “realistic” detective fiction, having characters in the story suddenly go, “Hey, Spidey's always around the Bugle--he must be a Bugle staffer!” or somesuch. The real cause of such strange geographic anomalies is outside the story, and thus should be given a wide berth by the majority of writers. Anyway, Spidey is captured at the end of 64, which leads into one of the best done-in-one Spidey stories I've ever read: “The Impossible Escape!” Spidey is in jail and has to get out, but there's a jailbreak. The jailbreakers take George Stacy hostage, so instead of simply mopping the floor with these normal cons, Spidey has to work around them. This is a wonderful use of situation to change the level of threat posed by a non-major bad guy, and Spidey books should do it more often. One doesn't always have to have a newer, bigger, stronger bad guy to fight. Instead, a writer can either weaken the main character or present him with some other, more important objective that makes the basic objective more difficult. Spidey having to go all ninja-style on these cons is great, great fun to watch, as is George Stacy's competent handling of his role as hostage. All the way around, this is a shining example of the potential of post-Ditko Spidey. Bravo. Anyway, let's check my Spidey-Standards against this week's reading list: 1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Except for the gratuitous Medusa issue, yes. They're old-fashioned, but the basic foundation and execution of the story ideas and pacing are light-years ahead of, say, “One More Day.” 2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Well, duh. Again, nearly every hostage or civilian-in-trouble role goes to a Spidey regular, which ramps up the action. Also, the constant tension in Peter's social life gives even the “boring” parts something to do. 3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. You bet he's not. Every single part of these issues, except for the villains themselves, is really about Peter, and not Spider-Man, and that's how it should be. All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 66, 67, Annual 5 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 2! Until Spidey continuity is honored better in his daughter's book than his own, Make Mine Marvel! Eric