Sunday, November 4, 2007


Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 68-72.

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks. All the Lee/Romita/Mooney team can offer us this week is... an action-packed page-turning* saga of crime, greed, and desperation! Holy cow, did they knock it out of the park this week as the Kingpin searches for a mysterious tablet. Lots of done-in-one A-plots with compelling, to-be-continued B-plots means quick reading and gratitude that I didn't have to wait 30 days for the next installment each time as I do here! Let's get it going!

*Thanks to Stu The Disgruntled Geek over at the ever-popular Spider-Man Message Board for applying this particular phrase to this particular era of Spider-greatness.

All right, first we have the famous “Crisis on Campus” issue. The story here is very smart, mixing social commentary with soap opera with super-hero/crime stuff. This, like “Escape: Impossible!” is a fantastic Spidey story that can be read by itself but also does a great job of advancing several storylines. What's really interesting to me, though, are the racial issues in the, er, issue. Several times, Peter or some other caucasian is called “Whitey”, while Joe Robertson is called an “Uncle Tom” because he works for J. Jonah Jameson. Meanwhile, Robertson, Parker, and Gwen all have moments to shine where they all basically declare that the only thing that really matters is the choices a person makes, what he does with his life. I have to agree, and I've always really liked reading Stan's “racism” issues/scenes because that's my take on it, as well. Certainly Randy Robertson's “soul-brother” friend Josh takes the attitude of “they're white so they're wrong”, and that kind of prejudice (on any side) is just worthless--and dangerous. I seem to remember another scene at some point where someone says something to Jameson about keeping “one of them” (Robbie) on staff, and Jameson basically rips into the guy for being such a pathetic racist. None of this is to say that Marvel doesn't have its own problems with race, but the basic idea being advanced in this issue is one that I can really get behind.

After that, the issues all blend together in my mind because I read them all in one sitting last night. I thought to myself, “Well, I'll just read two!” Then I'd get to the end of one and want to read the next. This happens to me a lot with modern comics, but I tend to believe it's because the stories are so damned decompressed (and yes, I'm looking at YOU, Bendis!) and they just don't read well on an issue-by-issue basis. I've actually stopped buying the single issues of all the Ultimate books and moved on to the trades, simply because I couldn't ever remember, month-to-month, what was happening in any of them. It wasn't so bad when Ultimate Spider-Man was coming out bi-weekly almost, but then that book just got a bit old and boring. (And they killed Gwen Stacy. Again. And I was honestly too mad to keep paying the same kind of attention.)

That said, the fact that these issues all blend together in my mind doesn't mean they weren't good. On the contrary, I kept reading. I felt that wonderful compulsion to keep reading that one only gets when the story reaches a certain critical mass. Certain things stand out to me: Spidey losing it with Jameson and threatening him in our first big “Spidey goes too far!” storyline. Of course, this one made sense all the way around, and it serves as yet another reminder that Peter is nineteen at best and he's not really ready for the burden of being a public figure (as Spider-Man). I don't generally like those stories, but they're generally gimmicks. It's not here, so I'll go with it.

The Kingpin is awesome, as always. The Quicksilver fight falls into much the same category as the Medusa issue, but it's not as lame, and it's one of those not-too-often seen power mix-ups (basically Spidey fighting the Flash) that would have been really cool when one was ten. The Shocker issue is an okay use of a second-stringer, but not on the level of “Escape: Impossible” or the recent Mysterio two-parter.

Through all of this weaves the Peter/Gwen get-together/break-up cycle, which honestly doesn't bother me the way that it seems to bother other reviewers. I remember being nineteen and being in a serious relationship (with my future wife, I might add). We fought over petty crap and I was really scared of commitment, so we had a ton of little tiffs and “breaks” and ultimatum-filled arguments for a good two years before we got married and did many of the same things behind closed doors. Add in the burden of one of you being Spider-Man, with all the problems and lies that go along with that, and it's a wonder the two of them didn't just break up. That Peter and Gwen obviously have fallen hard for each other at this point is indisputable, but the pressures on their relationship would make anyone crazy. Keep it comin', Stan.

Let me just add that Captain Stacy is kind of a jerk. When Gwen complains to him that Peter is being called a coward, he asks something to the effect of, “Are you afraid they might be... right?” He doesn't bother to defend his potential son-in-law whom he must know is Spider-Man at this point, and he doesn't comfort his only child. Instead, he just sits back, smokes his pipeweed, and thinks “I know something you don't know...!” He should hang out with Silver Age Superman for a while. (See if you don't get the reference.)

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 actually wanted to read the next issue, so yes.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Once again, the things that makes one want to read the next issue are the ongoing storylines--that's all supporting cast, people.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Well... this week he kind of is. I'm not sure that Spider-Man has much to do for which the Peter Parker side of his skill sets (science, personal relationships, etc.) are really necessary.

All right, that's it for this week. Next week will be a scorekeeping week, which means we'll actually review the last twenty posts worth of stuff and look at the tally for whether Spider-Man books of the past used to be Better, the same, or Worse! Until the Kingpin is assassinated Caesar-style (but not really--psyche!), Make Mine Marvel!



Anonymous said...

Now we're into the trade paperback I read in the library. Seeing Jolly Jonah have a mild seizure was rather surprising, and this is one of those instances where Spidey's anger and frustration boil over, and he comes close to clobbering someone. I just read a recent story where he nails Nick Katzenberg at the Bugle's Christmas party, and the "Predator and Prey" two-parter where he whales on Mac Gargan.

It's only on the third occasion that I really feel disgusted with Spidey for going off-no one can say that Katzenberg wasn't begging for a punch in the face, and it's hard to fault Spidey for finally snapping after enduring so much public ridicule-he's not a politician (where being mocked, sadly enough, comes with the territory) or a pro athlete (where their bloated salaries more than make up for being insulted), and he didn't put on the webs just so JJJ could drag his name through the mud. Beating Gargan the way he did, however, was inexcusable, and all the more disgusting when Spidey doesn't feel much remorse afterward, thinking only a simple "good luck" to Gargan and not even bothering to apologize.

Stan's position on the racial issue is interesting to me-it seems here that he's criticizing the radicals on both sides of the divide-obviously the KKK types who think that anyone not of Nordic ancestry is a sub-human thing that should know their place, but also the radicals on the discriminated side that accuse anyone who works with the "enemy" as being a traitor, a sell-out, or in this case an Uncle Tom. For that, Stan deserves full credit.

Without going too far off the rails, I'll say only that political radicalism on both sides of the spectrum is poison, and it's something I myself criticize in my Sleepwalker series...but let's not get into that now.

As far as the comics go, Stan also deserves full credit for beginning to develop Jameson beyond his being a simple cartoon character. I can see him going out of his way to piss off the anti-integrationists by actively recruiting staff from New York's black community. That's the cool thing about Jameson-his editorials can be vicious, but when they're directed at the right targets (the KKK, the various anti-mutant groups that the X-Men tangled with, and that Jameson fought by investigating), he can fight for good in a way not even Spider-Man can.

And as for our disagreements on the movie, don't worry about seeming rude. I find that, on some occasions, I tend to be more forgiving of a piece of media (TV show, movie, comic book, etc.) when it gets criticized: I'm baffled as to why so many people think "Family Guy" has sucked ever since it came back from cancellation, when to me it's perfectly obvious that "The Simpsons" is the one that has gone way past its expiry date, given the fact that it's sunk to the low of ripping off Family Guy's absurdist style of humor.

And I haven't seen your opinion on SM3, but let's not clutter up the blog with it. Mail me at and tell it to me, if you like. I want to hear it, so you won't be bothering me...and I had a few questions I wanted to ask you, but didn't want to clutter up the blog with anyway. That way, I can reply to you and it won't be in the way.


Eric Teall said...

Well, yeah... the JJJ thing here is understandable, certainly. I don't feel disgusted with Spidey over either of the other cases, especially because the writing at that time was forcing him into those situations.

As far as the movie goes, I have no problem "cluttering up the blog" with stuff about Spider-Man 3 and my opinions on just how awful it was. It is, after all, my blog, and if it's a discussion you'd like to have, I'll make it happen.

However, it's not going to happen tonight. I'll post a review of it on the main page at some point. If I haven't done it by Thanksgiving, email me or post to remind me.


Anonymous said...

Alright then, let's hear it. I will freely admit that I'm not a cinephile, and so I can't judge a movie based on its technical merit-Batman Begins may be a better film on most levels, but I still prefer Tim Burton's Batman for a few reasons, among them Jack Nicholson's awesome performance, and the warped worldview of the Joker, which dovetails perfectly with the comics, at least for me.

You can keep those abominations directed by Joel Schumacher.