Sunday, December 9, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 84-89

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 84-89

The Schemer, the Kingpin, the Black Widow, the Flu, Doctor Octopus. Not a bad line-up for a run of Spidey-issues. There's something old, something new, etc. Again, these comics are not the absolute best Spidey comics ever created, but it's clear that the quality of a so-called “average” Spidey story used to be much higher than it is today.

We find Spidey hanging upside-down in the snow, reading about the Schemer. No wonder Spidey gets the flu as often as he does--spandex and freezing temperatures don't mix, boy. Anyway, it's hard for me to take this story seriously for a couple of reasons. First, the Schemer has clearly seen too many James Bond films. The car, the weird get-up... Second, I know who the Schemer is and how the character is abused in the future. Plus, the idea of him dressing up in old-people stage make-up just makes him... kinky, and not in a fun way.

However, that doesn't change the fact that these are action-packed stories with lots of twists and turns in the plot. I'm not sure that the revelation of the Schemer's true identity would have been particularly interesting to anyone back then, as Richard Fisk was only introduced at the beginning of this arc. If they'd mentioned him in the last Kingpin arc and had just now paid it off, it might have been a little better... (Add to that the fact that Richard looks all of 12, and it's like finding out that the mastermind behind the latest episode of The Brady Bunch is... DUM DUM DUM... Cousin Oliver!)

Then comes a rather forgettable issue featuring the Black Widow slinking into her sexy new 70's get-up. She really isn't “a female copy of” Spider-Man in the vast majority of ways, but this story wants us to think she is. Anyway, to even the odds a little, Stan gives Spidey the flu. Anyway, the most interesting parts of this issue are (surprise!) the soap opera, as Peter's exploits as Spidey are really starting to cramp his lifestyle. The kooky thing is, it's pretty believable. The lack of a steady cast to whom he must constantly lie (and the inconsistent treatment of Peter's various jobs) in recent years has largely removed this issue from the books. (And don't start in on the unmasking, as you know that's going away after Christmas.) Still, Peter would be lying to everyone he knows all the time, and he'd seem like a real jerk. Can you blame his friends for thinking he's flaky?

By the start of ASM 87, the flu has Peter knocked on his ass and pretty much delirious. As he told himself in a dream back in ASM 11, viruses are about the only thing his Spider-powers can't handle. He should listen to himself. Anyway, there's no villain this issue--just the flu. It mind-controls him into revealing his identity to his closest friends. Luckily, they remember that Peter tried this schtick back in ASM 11 (through a story Harry heard), so they maintain their aura of gullibility +12. Hobie Brown is brought in as an NPC to help ensure that the damage done by the flu (who was possibly working with Mister Measles) is undone. Gwen is concerned; her father smokes his pipe and acts both sage and high at the same time. Same as it ever was. These two issues together are the weakest of the bunch this week, but they still keep the story moving forward.

And then... Doctor Octopus. Moreso than any “classic” Spidey-villain (and by “classic” here I'm talking what might have been considered classic as of ASM 88--a villain from the first thirty issues or so, maybe), Doc Ock is Stan's go-to guy. “Hey, Jazzy Johnny,” Stan might have said, “we lack powerful punch and pizazz in our soon-to-be subsequent Spidey story! Let's get Doc Ock in there for no reason other than he's cool!” I mean, where's the Sandman? The Scorpion? The Looter? Okay, I'm stretching. The truth is, Stan used the classic villains often enough, but except for the Goblin, Doc Ock tops them all, and he does here, as well.

The Chinese and terror angles on the first Doc Ock story are strange to read, given today's political situation. What really turns me on with these stories--WAIT! There! Did you see it? I never say “turns me on” in that context. Stan's Sixties Slang has infected me! AAAAGH!

Seriously, Gil Kane is one of my top three Spidey pencillers of all time, if he's not my #1. He has absolutely dynamic layouts, smooth storytelling, and his Spider-Man...! His Spidey is muscular but lean, and he does something with Spidey's face and eyes that, while I can't describe it, is very, very clearly the “Gil Kane” Spider-Man, and it's probably my favorite version. Seriously. Look at the number of times his characters break the frames of the panels, the perspectives he uses without going overboard into Kirby territory... Sigh. Gil Kane Spidey. It's like Heaven, only drawn better.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. The Ock issues are above-average, the two stand-alones are below-average, and the Schemer is average for the time. Compared to today's Spider-Man stuff, this is definitely better.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Yes, they are, but I'm starting to see why they felt like they needed to kill Gwen. I still think she could have run back to London instead of getting chucked off a bridge, but hey...

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. He has nothing to do with anything in the Doctor Octopus issues, the flu in the middle two, and nothing to do with the Kingpin, either. Don't worry, though. Peter's science know-how will come into play big time next week.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 90-95! Until Marvel constantly makes changes to Spidey and reverses them when the wind shifts, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Richard Fisk is probably an example of how Marvel will take a good idea and pulverize it into the ground. Have the son be out to ruin the father's criminal empire? Cool.

Have him become a gang leader himself to undermine daddy, assuming the name of the Rose? Eh, fair enough.

Jacob Conover? That New York Cop? Blood Rose?

Check, please.

The thing about Peter constantly lying to his friends and loved ones offers an interesting dilemma to any would-be superhero; you seem like a jackass for constantly lying to your friends...but if you don't do that, you can't go out and use your powers for good. What if someone is hurt or killed because you weren't there to protect them?

It's a classic Catch-22: you're either irresponsible for lying to your friends and keeping them in the dark for their own safety, or you're irresponsible for not using your powers to help others. Peter's friendship with Harry Osborn, his relationship with Gwen, even his relationship with Aunt May, have been screwed up because of these dilemmas-but what's Spidey supposed to do?

Peter Parker isn't the only one to suffer from this dilemma, obviously-I'm sure a few guys named Rick Sheridan, Matt Murdock, Hector Ayala, and Chris Powell can all sympathize with what Peter Parker has to go through, if they knew. It makes for one of the most fascinating parts of the superhero genre, I think.

Now, as for Doc Ock...what else can be said? If the Green Goblin is the Joker to Spider-Man's Batman, then Doc Ock is the Riddler or the Penguin-a deadly, persistent enemy that's dogged our intrepid hero almost from Day One, and whose mutual hatred with the hero is almost as bad as the one he shares with the arch-enemy.

Doctor Octopus can go head-to-head with Thor, he can throw down with Iron Man, he can duke it out with the Black Panther, he can mess with Wolverine, he can duel Ms. Marvel, he can take on the Thing, he can fight (and has defeated!) the Hulk.

If you're a superhero and you end up having to fight Doctor Octopus, it's probably a good idea to prepare a last will and testament, just in case.

Jared.

Eric Teall said...

See, now, I really disagree with you on the Doc Ock thing. Maybe it's just a difference on how we interpret continuity, but I don't believe for a second that Ock can actually take any of those heroes that you mention. For my basic take on the Doc Ock power thing, I humbly submit the issue of Incredible Hulk where the Hulk and Doc Ock have a rematch (after Ock pulverizes the Hulk during "Return of the Sinister Six") and the Hulk trounces him.

Essentially: Any writer who shows Doc Ock being a serious one-on-one threat with anyone in the old "Class 100" bracket needs to get over himself and remember who he's writing.

Finally, I'd put Ock up there more as a Two-Face level villain--probably not Ra's Al Ghul level, but Two-Face for sure. I don't think anyone's been able to take the Penguin or the Riddler seriously for thirty years, at least.

But, of course, YMMV.

Eric

Anonymous said...

Well, that could be fair enough, but if Spider-Man can take on Doctor Octopus, then so can guys like the White Tiger, Daredevil, Sleepwalker and Darkhawk. It'd be a vicious, hard fight, but if Spider-Man can beat him, so can other heroes in his weight class.

This is an example of my mileage varying from yours, I suspect, but I intensely dislike the notion of "B-list" or "Second-string" heroes. To me, it tends to denigrate the worth of their deeds and arguably those of the villains they fight. One is almost left to wonder why Sleepwalker or Darkhawk even bother taking on a given threat, when the Avengers could just as easily do it.

Same thing with their villains-are these lesser-known villains somehow not even a serious threat if they can be taken out by second-stringers, can they even be taken as a credible, serious threat in a world of Doctor Dooms, HYDRAs, and Red Skulls?

That's why I think your previous example of using B-list heroes to show how tough the A-list villains are would backfire; the A-list villain triumphing wouldn't bring out anything new in them, since we already know how tough they are, whereas beating up the second-string hero just makes the hero look bad.

In any case, there are examples of B-list heroes taking on villains that give Marvel's flagship heroes a rough time and coming out on top; the U-Foes have tangled with the Hulk on multiple occasions, and also faced the Avengers, and yet Darkhawk was able to beat them with the help of Captain America and Daredevil. From what I've heard, Darkhawk also rumbled with Venom, and came out on top. And again, Darkhawk and Sleepwalker were able to take on Toad's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and win.

I myself think that if guys like Captain America, Wolverine and Daredevil can take a given villain on, then guys like the White Tiger, Moon Knight, and Gravity can too. None of the second-stringers would last very long against the Hulk, but then Spidey and Cap would likely rather mess with Doctor Doom than the Big Green Machine.

Now don't get me wrong; I can easily accept Spidey being among the most high-profile characters both in real life and in the context of the MU, but to say that he can triumph where other lesser lights are doomed to fail doesn't make Spidey look good; we already KNOW how good he is, from the countless times he's used both his brains and his brawn to come out on top. Rather, it just makes the second-stringers look bad by comparison, as if they shouldn't even be bothering, when the A-listers will just get around to it sooner or later.

Jared.

Omar Karindu said...

The Spider-Man/Ock battle in ASM #89 is quite possibly my favorite comic-book fight scene of all time. It's beautifully choreographed -- love the tit-for-tat business with slamming one another into the chimney -- and it's the first Ock fight in which you really get a sense he could just run one of those steel tentacles straight through someone is he wanted.

Eric Teall said...

I know it's been a week, but it was a busy one. I have to respond to Jared's "weight class" arguments.

Well, that could be fair enough, but if Spider-Man can take on Doctor Octopus, then so can guys like the White Tiger, Daredevil, Sleepwalker and Darkhawk. It'd be a vicious, hard fight, but if Spider-Man can beat him, so can other heroes in his weight class.

I'm not sure about all of those guys' powers, but Daredevil vs. Doc Ock is a VERY different fight that Spidey vs. Doc Ock. Spider-Man and Daredevil are simply NOT in the same "weight class". They both fight street crime, but in terms of raw power Spidey has much more than DD. Every time they've fought each other, it's really been a question of Daredevil surviving the fight long enough to talk Spidey out of fighting. If Spidey hit Daredevil well one time, DD would be dead or crippled. (After all, Spider-Man can hit "hard enough to wreck cars.")

This is an example of my mileage varying from yours, I suspect, but I intensely dislike the notion of "B-list" or "Second-string" heroes.

If we're talking "popularity = power", then I totally agree. But in a straight-out fist fight between Peter Parker and, say, Dick Grayson, Parker wins, period. ONE shot from Parker kills or maims Grayson, who is also simply not in Bruce Wayne or Steve Rogers' league.

Spider-Man > Daredevil isn't a popularity thing--it's a power thing.

To me, it tends to denigrate the worth of their deeds and arguably those of the villains they fight. One is almost left to wonder why Sleepwalker or Darkhawk even bother taking on a given threat, when the Avengers could just as easily do it.

This is actually something that was covered in the Spider-Man 90's relaunch: Without Sleepwalker or Darkhawk taking down the minor baddies, the Avengers would be swamped all the time.

That's why I think your previous example of using B-list heroes to show how tough the A-list villains are would backfire; the A-list villain triumphing wouldn't bring out anything new in them, since we already know how tough they are, whereas beating up the second-string hero just makes the hero look bad.

I'm not sure what you're referring to here. Help me out.

In any case, there are examples of B-list heroes taking on villains that give Marvel's flagship heroes a rough time and coming out on top; the U-Foes have tangled with the Hulk on multiple occasions, and also faced the Avengers, and yet Darkhawk was able to beat them with the help of Captain America and Daredevil. From what I've heard, Darkhawk also rumbled with Venom, and came out on top. And again, Darkhawk and Sleepwalker were able to take on Toad's Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and win.

I do wish that writers would be more careful in these situations. I wouldn't go so far as to argue that they should "role-play" the whole fight out, but having a little bit of an idea of power levels would make the pairings play out more logically.

I myself think that if guys like Captain America, Wolverine and Daredevil can take a given villain on, then guys like the White Tiger, Moon Knight, and Gravity can too. None of the second-stringers would last very long against the Hulk, but then Spidey and Cap would likely rather mess with Doctor Doom than the Big Green Machine.

But again, you're comparing completely different levels of skill. The White Tiger may be tough, but Cap vs. WT isn't even a real fight. 616 Cap is "peak" human--he can lift something like 800 pounds. Add to that one of the most perfect and well-rounded martial arts skill sets around, and you've got a virtually invincible fighting machine. And while his strength was a gift, his skills were not--his mind and will are highly trained, as well. Someone like the White Tiger might be slightly stronger and he might have been given great martial art skill, but he (or she) is not the total package Cap is.

Another thing to consider is that certain match-ups don't "clash" well in terms of skill sets. Spidey and Cap vs. Doom isn't a comparable fight to Richards/FF vs. Doom, power levels or no power levels. Win conditions are different there, too, as Omar has pointed out.

Now don't get me wrong; I can easily accept Spidey being among the most high-profile characters both in real life and in the context of the MU, but to say that he can triumph where other lesser lights are doomed to fail doesn't make Spidey look good; we already KNOW how good he is, from the countless times he's used both his brains and his brawn to come out on top. Rather, it just makes the second-stringers look bad by comparison, as if they shouldn't even be bothering, when the A-listers will just get around to it sooner or later.

But many of them simply aren't the total packages, again. Darkhawk does not have the combination of raw power, intelligence, will, and motivation that Spider-Man does. He just doesn't. I don't deny that he might have some advantages on paper, but they're just not the same. Spider-Man is also, at this point, a professional hero who has been operating for about ten years. Someone else who shows up with three issues of experience with new powers isn't going to have the same clout as Spidey.

That said, some of those power level issues should definitely be monitored more closely by Marvel, as should a character's personal development. If Darkhawk matures in his own book, his future appearances should reflect that.

Eric