Sunday, October 28, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 66, 67, Ann 5, SSMM 2

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 66, 67, Amazing Spider-Man Annual 5 and Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) 2.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. Up this week are a quick little Mysterio yarn and two longer pieces. Nothing this week rises to the level of last week's awesomeness, but neither does it fall to the levels of dreck we've had to suffer through.

The Mysterio two-parter in ASM 66 and 67 is yet another example of a good use of a second-string villain. At no time is Spider-Man actually in that much trouble, really--it's a question of beating Mysterio quickly and then it's a question of “how am I suddenly six-inches tall?” ASM 66 does a better job with the urgency question, even if it's a flimsy reason. Mysterio, appearing on TV, freaks out fragile, pathetic Aunt May, and Peter rushes off to beat him in time for May to catch the Beverly Hillbillies later that night. Honestly, it's the super-hero version of going out to yell at your neighbor for his stupid, barking dog so that your kid can go to sleep, and it serves the story well. There's a real sense of surface urgency that adds to the tension of “hey, I'm fighting the Angry Stunt-Man again!”

ASM 66 also outshines its successor in the soap-opera department. Not only does it use Aunt May in a halfway-decent manner, but it also reunites Peter and Gwen. Hooray! 67, on the other hand, has maybe two pages TOTAL of soap-opera and another 18 pages of Spidey versus giant Mysterio hand. To add insult to injury, the two pages include a clear “prelude to the next issue” scene between Joe “Robbie” Robertson and his son (in which Robbie calls his son both “my outrageous offspring” and “man-child” in a clear attempt to practice his fantasy play for MJ) and a final panel in which Spidey thinks that the protest below couldn't possibly have anything to do with... Spider-Man! Yawn.

Next up is Amazing Spider-Man Annual 5, where Peter fights the Red Skull and some Algerians in order to clear his parents' names. Other than the fact that seeing Spidey fight Muslims reads a little differently in today's world, not much goes on here. I will say that it's interesting to see Spidey fight the Red Skull for two reasons: First, the Skull expects Spidey to be a push-over, which is a nice reminder that Spidey is still, in many ways, a young New York local without much of a rep outside the city. Second, it's always interesting to see a crossover between heroes and villains in books (occasionally). The art here is disappointing, but it's an okay done-in-one Annual story.

Then comes “The Goblin Lives!” in Spectacular Spider-Man (Magazine) #2... and it's disappointing. Sure, it's great to see the original Goblin, but this whole story basically boils down to this: The Goblin has two psychedelic pumpkins. The one he uses on Spidey weirds Spidey out for a minute. The one Spidey uses on him causes him to freak out and forget his own name. Honestly, that's it. There's the whole “remembering his identity” set-up. There's the “dinner with Norman” scene that is clearly ripped-off by Spider-Man (The Movie). There's the fight. None of it is bad, but since the ENTIRE issue is self-contained, too much time is spent in set-up and wrap-up with the cosmic reset button pressed at the end. Plus, Jim Mooney's art here is just not as good as it was in his last couple of issues of Amazing. Given that this issue must have been exciting for anyone wanting to see Spidey vs. Goblin, it's a let-down.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. I'd say about the same. Some interesting experimentation, but not a lot of payoff. Kind of like the whole Ezekiel storyline. (I'm not saying that in a bitter way, either. The good is balanced out by the bad, so it's decidedly so-so.)

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. They're the most interesting parts of these stories, but they're in short supply. Meh.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Well, he's not, but... Fine. We'll give this one a big “check'er-oonie”, but that doesn't make this a good week.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 68-72! Until Marvel brings back Peter's parents, but like Ash in Alien, they turn out to be ROBOTS, Make Mine Marvel!



Anonymous said...

Boy oh boy...this post REALLY takes me back, these being some of the very first spider-comics I ever read.

I personally think Spidey was in fact in more danger than you do in his tangling with Mysterio in these issues-our hero is caught in a maze of horrible deathtraps, and he only escapes through his wits.

What I find bemusing is that, somehow, Mysterio was able to rig up an entire deathtrap system all by himself, without anyone at all seeming to notice. Control room...robotic lizard...crushing mirror did he put all that together, all alone? I find myself more than a little amazed the same way I do when I wonder how Bruce Wayne manages to build and maintain all that fancy equipment he's got in the Batcave. For me, that's the only problem I have with this storyline-some of the setups Mysterio establishes really stretch believability.

It's also worth noting that, along with the Breakout story from last week, this one was animated by Ralph Bakshi for the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon. The only change I can't understand is why Bakshi drew him as a human-and looking like Woody Allen, to boot. From what I remember, this episode was mercifully free of Spidey web-swinging, and actually replicated Stan's story.

As for the Green Goblin annual, one thing I'm most amused about in thinking back on it is how long Peter's internal monologue, explaining his history with the Goblin, was. Sure, it was helpful to an uninformed reader like my seven-year old self, but even then it seemed pretty unbelievable that someone would actually think like that. Ah well, it was the '60s for you.

And yeah, the big fight with the Goblin isn't exactly the most thrilling thing in the world, is it? Even so, the psychedelic pumpkin bit is still a clever way to win, and certainly outranks turning into a giant spider and eating your enemy alive.


As for Gwen, I suspect that the reason her personality shift doesn't bother me is because I find girls like that more attractive than the sharp-edged, nasty-tempered person she was when Ditko first introduced her.

I suppose that says something about me that I prefer the sweet-natured, even-tempered Gwen of Stan's later writing to her early appearances under Ditko's pen. Even if it makes her a somewhat less interesting character, I myself don't care, finding her more likable that way anyway.

Whether it's Gwen or Mary Jane, I don't especially care myself-I only made Gwen Peter's girlfriend in my Sleepwalker series for the same reason I made Aunt May the burglar's victim instead of Uncle Ben-Ben and Gwen are both famous for being dead, so I figured it'd make a nice change of pace to have them both alive and involved in Peter's life.

Just so long as Peter is married. That's all I ask. I mean, what can you do to end a marriage in the Marvel Universe, anyway? Have the groom be a clone? Have the hero appeal to a cosmically powerful entity to have reality rewritten?

*coughs again*


Eric Teall said...

I'm not convinced that many of the traps were real. Why actually put poison on the mirrors? The whole point was for Spidey to be disoriented and confused--his Spider-Sense wasn't much of an issue in that story. Therefore, one way that Mysterio might have managed to do so much in so little time would be to fake much of it.

Yeah, I've seen that episode. Terrible design. The script actually had Mysterio being his normal fish-bowly self, as Spidey actually calls him "bowlhead" or something like that during the story.

You know, I don't have a preference between the current beginning of the issue recaps and the inner monologue recaps. Both of them work just fine in their native medium (written-for-trades vs. single issues). Today, readers want many details and trades that aren't interrupted. Enter: text recaps. In the old days, stories had to get started and involve the reader at the newsstand, so the in-story recaps served two purposes. Realism has to go by the wayside in some cases.

Well, I don't hate the JMS stuff quite like you do (although I still love to mock it), but I'll agree that the spider-metamorphosis thing was pretty sucky.

What gets me about Gwen is not that she turned nicey-nice, but that people then get upset over her death. (People like me.) She really isn't as interesting alive as she is dead. (Ultimate Gwen is/was another story. Yes, I'm looking at you again, Bendis.)

I don't care if Peter's married or not--I care that they treat the character and his cast with care and respect. IF he's married (which he has been for decades), then the story of the marriage needs to be handled in a fair way. NOT by having it wiped from history.

UGH. BTW, your cough is bad. Have you seen a doctor? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Back when I was a kid, in 1987, I bought ASM Annual #5. At the time, I loved it. But I reread it this year, and many things about it struck me as either unusual for Spider-Man comics or illogical:

1. Spidey gets shot. It's happened on other occasions (by Hammerhead in ASM #113, by private security officers sometime in the late '70s, by the Burglar in #200 when Spidey had temporarily lost his powers, by Kraven the Hunter [though not with a bullet] in Kraven's Last Hunt). Still, given that when it happens in Annual #5 Spidey isn't in a weakened condition, or distracted by others who are attacking him at the same time, it's really odd. The narration itself chalks it up to Spidey being careless as he tries to figure out where the Algerian hoods are going, so that he wasn't watching the guy who pulled the gun on him, but that doesn't explain why his Spider-Sense didn't warn him.

2. The issue begins in mid-story, with him being assaulted by the hoods, then is followed by an extended flashback. I don't remember any other Spidey story having had this film noir-like structure (though I've missed many issues and even if I had seen it elsewhere I wouldn't necessarily remember it).

3. Peter, who has tremendous intellectual curiosity when it comes to science, doesn't seem to have been that inquisitive, prior to discovering the old newspaper article, about his parents. While this is a subjective judgment on my part, his thought bubbles and dialogue with Aunt May don't make it seem like he had kept pestering her (or Uncle Ben when he was alive) about it, or that he thought it was really strange that she wouldn't even tell him their names.

4. If Aunt May didn't want Peter to know of his parents' alleged treason, why did she save the article?

5. As I understand the issue, Richard Parker was a spy, whereas Mary was not, but was in Algeria with him just as his wife. If Mary wasn't a spy, and her presence in Algeria wasn't necessary to the spy mission, wouldn't it have made more sense for her to have remained in the U.S. to take care of Peter, rather than risk her own life? The mission was only to last a few months, so Peter's parents wouldn't have been separated for terribly long. The only reason I can think of for Mary having been in Algeria as well is that her presence served as part of his cover; the Red Skull would be less likely to suspect betrayal from someone who went to the trouble of bringing his wife with him, than from someone who came by himself.

6. With the exception of Aunt May, and the appearances of Uncle Ben and Peter's parents in flashbacks, the supporting cast is almost completely absent, with Gwen, Harry, and (maybe) Flash (I'm operating from memory) appearing in only one panel, and only in the background in that. (I'm not counting the cover itself.)

7. Spidey goes to Algeria without luggage or civilian clothes, and there are no references to his having brought money. (Yes, we know he carries change with him to call the cops so they can apprehend webbed-up baddies, but staying in a foreign country for even one day would cost much more than the cost of a local phone call.) What if finding out the truth about his parents had taken days instead of hours?

8. The fact this issue takes place in a foreign country is also unusual. I think this is the first time Spidey's even appeared outside the New York City metropolitan area (please correct me if I'm wrong).

9. The appearance of the Red Skull as the villain is highly odd -- not only is he a traditionally non-Spidey villain, in a time when villain crossovers were quite rare, but he is not even associated with the era in which Spidey lives. (Although it does turn out that this was the second Red Skull but not the first.) It's as strange as if Spidey had battled, say, Bizarro. As explained by Stan Lee in a retrospective in ASM #365 (the Spider-Man 30th anniversary special, which marked the "return" of Peter's parents in, as it turned out, robot form), he and his brother, Larry Lieber (who illustrated Annual #5), brainstormed to think up the most unlikely villain to appear in a Spider-Man issue, and settled on the Red Skull.

10. A piece of Spidey's costume is torn off in the course of a battle. This is necessary to the plot, so that the Finisher can use the scrap of costume to have his missiles home in on Spidey. Nevertheless, it's very unusual.

11. Spidey's taking a big risk of exposing his secret identity by asking numerous people for information about his own father. Why would a superhero travel to the other side of the world to conduct an investigation if he didn't have a personal stake in the outcome?

12. Spidey's conduct towards the Finisher -- in causing the Finisher's second missile to strike his own car -- is the closest I've ever seen Spidey come to killing someone on purpose. Admittedly, Spidey didn't necessarily know the car was occupied; he could've thought the missiles were fired by remote control. But it looked like he could've just as easily caused the missile to hit an empty area of pavement. Then, after the Finisher is hurt by the missile, Spidey grills him about his parents, rather than try to get him medical attention. Spidey usually tries to save even his enemies' lives, but here he doesn't do that. (Theoretically, Spidey could've been able to figure out the Finisher was mortally wounded, but I don't think he could've done that just based on the quick visual inspection that was available to him.) Spidey's seeming callousness to the Finisher's fate can't be explained by his knowing that the Finisher killed his parents, because he doesn't find that out until after the mortally wounded Finisher tells him.

13. Why does the Finisher tell Spidey how he killed his parents? Would an unreformed hit man really think his death will be easier if he confesses to one killing? Moreover, why would he do the person responsible for his death -- Spidey -- a favor by answering his questions?

14. If the Red Skull wanted to frame Richard Parker as one of his own spies, why did he preserve evidence of Parker's innocence -- the double-agent ID card he received from the government -- by sealing it inside Parker's fake Red Skull spy ID card? While the card-within-a-card concept has a certain metaphorical appeal, does that justify risking blowing the cover off the entire frame-up?

15. Spidey thinks he can use the double-agent ID card to prove his father's innocence. But, given the U.S. government used Richard as a double-agent and issued him the card in the first place, it must already know that he's innocent. (The question then is why the government didn't just announce Richard was a double agent at the time of his death, but that's explainable by the government being concerned about compromising other spy missions. The government would've known the Red Skull knew of Richard's true status, but Richard might've also been involved in operations directed at enemies other than the Skull, and those foes wouldn't have known of the existence of those operations based just on the public reports of Richard's spying on the Skull's behalf.) Spidey could intend to give the card to the media instead, with the hope the story about Richard's innocence will receive coverage, but that again raises the question of why he went to the trouble of investigating the subject, compromising his secret identity (see #11 above). He could give it to the media anonymously, but if Reed Richards saw the story, wouldn't he be able to figure out that because Spidey's trip there coincided with the revelation of the card, Spidey must have been the one to find the card and must have had a personal reason for doing so? Furthermore, given the original, inaccurate story reporting Richard was a traitor was almost twenty years earlier, would the media even bother running the story?

16. The triumphalistic final narration, on the last page, strikes me as over the top. I don't have a problem with happy endings that aren't beaten into the ground, like, say, that of ASM #98 (Peter's reunion with Gwen after her move to London), but I felt this one was ridiculous.

17. How does Spidey get back to the U.S. after the issue? At least on-panel, he didn't set up a time for Reed to pick him up for the return trip. Does he have enough money on him to make a long-distance call to the FF (see #7 above)? Does the FF accept collect calls?

Comic Book Guy

Eric Teall said...

1. His Spider-Sense didn't warn him because it wasn't in synch with Algerian danger yet--it was still on New York time. Five hours later, his SS went off like mad.

3. I can honestly say that there have been BIG things in my life that I ignored for years because I just got used to not thinking about them. Questions about his parents may just have been one of those things.

4. She's a crazy old bat who likes her drama.

6. Maybe this story was written by JMS!

7. When I go to Algeria without clothes, they throw money at me. Hard.

8. Florida. The Lizard. ASM 6. (Not to mention riding a FRIGGIN JET PLANE in ASM 1.)

9. And yet he also appeared in an awesome Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends episode--WITHOUT Captain America.

10. Thank God it wasn't a crotch patch then.

11. Richard Parker owed him money. Easy answer.

12. Spidey drank Draught of Meursault before arriving in Algeria.

13. He was tired of the guilt and secrets and wanted to be... FINISHED.

14. Richard had kissed the card beforehand, and the second Skull was just too big of a softie to throw away such a memento.

15. Spidey is aware of the audience in this story and just wants to prove it to them. John Seavey over at has a word for this: Lobdell.

16. "Triumphalistic" is my new favorite word.

17. Yeah, but the problem is that Spidey called them collect but used the name "Kay Fabian." The FF just figured he was okay and went back to being mutated freaks.


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your responses, Eric. :) (I didn't "get" all of the references, but that's fine. :) ) Right you are about Spidey having gone to Florida in ASM #6, and the jet plane in ASM #1. Like ASM Annual #5, I haven't read either of those in about 20 years.