Tuesday, July 24, 2007

"Real" Hobgoblin Appearances

The following message was posted on the ever-awesome Spider-Man Message Board, and it deserved a good answer:

> I just yesterday found the out of print Origin of the Hobgoblin trade, which stops at #251, right before Secret Wars 1 and Saga of the Alien Costume. What are the other important issues that I should get?
> I already have the Saga of the Alien Costume paperback(which continues the Hob arc)and Amazing #260-#261, which directly follow it, and Spider-Man Vs. Wolverine #1, which I know is important to the Hob arc. Should I pick up anything else, like Amazing #277 and/or Gany Gang War?
> Thanks.

Well, if you want the "real" Hobgoblin (Roderick Kingsley) and those most closely manipulated by him, these are the issues I'd argue you really need:
  • Amazing Spider-Man 238, 239, 244, 245, 249-251, 259-261
  • Peter Parker, Spectacular #85 (Goblin formula used, +Black Cat) - only if not in the "Origin of the Hobgoblin" TPB
  • Amazing 275-278 (revealing Flash Thompson to be "the Hobgoblin" and some fall out there)
  • Gang War arc (which ran ASM 284-288, but has the Ned as Hobby reveal in 289)
  • Web of Spidey 29 (a bit of a Spidey/Wolverine sequel) and 30 (the Leeds/Rose connection "explained"
  • Web of Spidey 38 (It's Macendale, so who cares, but it's a favorite amusing issue of mine)
  • Hobgoblin Lives! 1-3 or TPB
Everything else is Macendale or this mysterious Hobgoblin V from the [sarcasm]awesome[/sarcasm] Secret War mini, and once they turned Macendale into a demon, Hobgoblin sucked for many, many years. Everything up there, except for Web 38, which is just funny, is pure-D Kingsley-Hobgoblin or his direct machinations.

BTW, the list above was compiled with the help of Spider-Fan.org's excellent characters list. I use it every chance I get.


Monday, July 23, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 25-30, Ann 2

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 25-30 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2!

Okey-dokey, here we go, folks, our first all Lee/Ditko week in some time, and at the rate ASM is about to start going, there won't be too many more of these. Ah, the pain of creative changes. Knowing what's going to be coming actually makes it a little bittersweet to write these reviews this week, because this week's books are, by and large, really, really good. BTW, sorry for the late post, but it's summer, and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Let's start at the beginning for the week: Amazing Spider-Man 25. It's funny, but this is another one of those early ASM issues that have just kind of passed me by over the years. I've read this one before, but after reading it intently this week, I'm not sure I've ever really paid attention to it before. This is an awesome, awesome issue. Supporting characters are key, there's lots of Spidey in costume, and it's just a cool story. What really makes the story for me, though, is Ditko's Randian, Objectivist philosophy coming through in a way that really makes sense. See, what I basically never saw before is how the whole thing is basically Peter's fault. When Smythe comes in, Jameson wants to brush him off, but Peter talks him into listening to Smythe, thinking that it'll give Spidey a chance to humiliate Jameson and Peter another chance to sell some photos. Betty acts as the Greek chorus this issue, constantly protesting Peter's actions and trying to help Spider-Man, who, she rightly points out, saved both her and May Parker back in ASM Annual 1. Peter doesn't tell the truth, he doesn't advance the truth. Instead, he pushes lies for personal gain, and it comes back to bite him in the ass. Spidey really was his own worst enemy, wasn't he? I'm trying to think of a time in recent memory where Peter caused as many of his own problems as he solved.

(Don't bring Civil War up there, because Peter was not acting rashly with that decision, and he had May and MJ's blessings. It's not the same kind of thing.) I'm also sad that Busiek never got to do the untold tale where Peter is swinging around Manhattan in his underwear after losing his costume to the robot, because that would have been funny. It... also doesn't sound so appealing now that I've actually typed it up. Scratch that one. The idea, I mean.

So, anyway, that brings us to one of my favorite Spidey stories of all time, the Goblin/Crime-Master story from ASM 26 and 27. It's a bit silly in places, I must say. I mean, we're supposed to believe that people are scared of the Crime-Master because he throws a red ball through the window? Oh noes! Of course, he does clear out an entire room of goons by himself, which is impressive for a guy with no super-powers. I don't buy the part where Spidey gets blind-sided by the Goblin. I guess his Spider-Sense is about as reliable as the Tick's nigh-invulnerability: Spidey is only precognitive when the plot calls for it.

Still, there are great bits in this two-parter, and all-in-all, it holds up. The cheap imitation Spidey suit is a great gag that is worked into the plot well, as it saves Spidey from being unmasked in front of the entire underworld. Having the cops come in and hold their own and be an important factor in the eventual capture of the gangs does a good job of showing that the entire weight of the world does not rest on Spidey's shoulders. Finally, Peter putting off sewing his new costume so that he can take a lonely Aunt May to the movies is great character-building stuff, especially with her as-yet-unknown-but-impending illness.

ASM 28 introduces the Molten Man and ties in several threads from previous issues. Remember how I said I obviously didn't pay much attention to ASM 25 in the past? Well, there was a time when I had missed that particular issue of Marvel Tales, and so I didn't know who Spenser Smythe was, I didn't know anything about his robot, and I didn't know what had happened with Spidey losing his costume. In short, I was a sporadic reader somewhat unfamiliar with comics who wasn't following the continuity very closely at the age of nine, and still this entire story was understandable to me. No recap pages or annoying “flashback panels” are necessary when the story is told well. (Notice the same in the beginning of ASM 27, which featured exactly zero flashback panels and only a one-sentence recap on the splash page.)

The Molten Man is basically a strong, slippery bronze dude who had his clothes ripped off by a teenager. That's enough said about that. A standard plot that does involve a well-thought out use of webbing and its properties.

What's important about ASM 28 is Peter's high school graduation. Liz Allen (or is that “Hilton”?--see page 2) is ignoring him for attacking Flash and the gang a couple of issues back, thus proving that she's been serious about her “I don't like Flash Thompson or any boys who are bullies” thing, which I honestly never believed. Liz reveals some real character depth here, but that's not terribly surprising, as this is the end of her arc for the foreseeable future. Flash, despite his attack of conscience in telling the principal the truth a couple of issues back, has not really matured, as his arc is definitely not over. All in all, it really says something for the kind of writing Marvel--and Ditko in particular--was doing at this point in its history.

And then, at least in my copy of Marvel Masterworks, comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2, featuring Doctor Strange, who was not yet Sorcerer Supreme at this time, as the Ancient One still lived. In this story we find out a couple of things. First, hypnosis can make you as strong as the Hulk, who can tear webbing like tissue paper. Second, Voldemort should have been looking for the complete Wand of Watoomb, which is a slut of a wand once it's two-headed. Third, Spider-Man really can work in just about any kind of story, even a run-of-the-mill Doctor Strange one like this. Fourth, Stan Lee wrote some cuh-ray-zee dialogue back in the day. Fifth and finally, the “Gallery of Spider-Man's Most Famous Foes” was a tremendous help to me when I was nine or ten and trying to learn everything I could about Spider-Man in the dark, pre-Internet days. (Also, for years, I thought that when it said “Boy, did this villain [the Crime-Master] come close to writing “finis” to Ol' Web-Head's career!” that CM had gotten close to “finish” but had been killed before he could complete the word. Just, you know, FYI.)

ASM 29 is interesting to read, as it and ASM 20 were adapted into a single Scorpion episode of the old 60's cartoon. This issue is fairly standard, but it's a fun one. We have the return of Ned Leeds and the further complication of the Peter/Betty relationship. In the long run, I think this is really important to show, that someone living a so-called normal life really does have things to offer a potential partner that an “abnormal” person cannot. Even though Betty eventually insists (to no one) that “it was always you [Peter]!”, she can't deny that Leeds offers her something substantial in being “normal”. We also have Jolly Jonah acting alternately fearless and courageous. Ditko clearly had fun showing the windbag at his best (“Get my courageous expression... My iron fists, clenched and ready!” and then later, when learning the Scorpion may return, “I wonder if it's time for fearless Jonah to take a long trip...?”). The action between Spidey and Scorpy is plentiful and entertaining, and Spidey's one-liners are great. Finally, we have Aunt May's first clear fainting spell that leads into the Master Planner storyline next week! Hooray! (Not that May's sick, of course, but... Master Planner! WHOO!)

In our last issue for the week, we are introduced to that most interesting of Spidey villains, the Cat-Burglar. Apparently not the same burglar as the father of Felicia Hardy as I'd thought. I think I'll go on thinking that, as it gives her a nice link to the Spidey mythos. If anyone out there can explain to me why I can't or shouldn't think that, I'd like to hear why. Anyway, the Cat has apparently rented out the Master Planner's gang, and they all think he's swell. At least, he's swell until he's caught by Spidey and the cops in what I consider a fairly inspired ending, even if the overall story is boring. Give me the Black Fox any day. Oh, Liz Allen and Flash Thompson show up just to show up, and Aunt May's still fainting.

What's really important in this issue is Betty's announcement that Ned has asked her to marry him. Is it just me, or does this seem very, very sudden? I've definitely noticed that Spidey time seems much closer to real time in these early issues (Peter only graduated in #28, but he and Liz act like they haven't seen each other in, oh, about two months in #30), but Ned and Betty have gone out semi-steadily for only a year, and he was abroad for much of that time. What's even more amazing to me, having read this and UTSM, is that Peter is seriously thinking about popping the question to Betty here, too! Huh? Anyway, Betty gives Peter a speech about how she wants a man who has a steady job and comes home to her every night. She's apparently leading into something about “If you [Peter] can do that, then I'd rather marry you,” but Peter, understandably, takes the speech as “You and Spider-Man, your connection with whom I don't know about, cannot be the husband I want.” Peter then gets mad and storms out, saying some rather insensitive things in the process.

I absolutely love the scene. I love everything about it. Ditko and Lee both had experience with romance comics, and that comes through here. I imagine that the layout of the panels is very standard for soap-opera stuff, but the small panels on page 9, leading to the “widescreen” panel at the top of page 10, coupled with Ditko's facial expressions... It all just works for me. I love the fact that Ditko's faces in general aren't conventionally or repetitively beautiful as many artists' are. Look at Betty, page 10, panel 1. She's all nostrils and lips, and her body has weight and inertia and she's off-balance and staggering... She's not a model of pretty here, but who among us is at such a moment? This, combined with page 10, panel 3, where a shadowed Betty leans against the door and bemoans Peter's secret, which she knows about but cannot uncover, is heartbreaking for me. The desperation in her dialog, even though I'd do panels 2 and 3 with thought balloons instead of word balloons, just rings so true. I love everything about the Peter/Betty stuff in this issue, including his refusal to talk to her for the rest of it and the final panel showing a spectral Spidey keeping the two of them apart. Forget the Cat--for this issue, Peter Parker really is the star, and deservedly so. This is good Spider-Man (especially for those of us who know the “future” and know that we're going to be getting action in spades for the next three issues). Some of the best Spider-Man, really.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Um, with the exception of Annual 2, which was enjoyable but forgettable because it had no Parker-heart and just random fights and villains? Yeah, check, these were all better than Spidey is now, with Spidey being on what, his fourth issue tracking down the Kingpin to “kill” him? I'll believe that when I see it. (Actually, I don't see an ending to “Back in Black” that will satisfy me. We'll see if JMS can pull it off, I guess.)

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Um, Jonah and Betty are absolutely essential to 25, 28, 29, and 30, while other supporting cast have important moments sprinkled throughout. Yeah, big ol' checker-roonie on this one.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Please. Check, check, triple-check.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 31-35! Until the Green Goblin is on a super hero team, Make Mine Marvel!


Sunday, July 15, 2007

SM: FBFW Kurt Busiek Q&A

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: None

Okey-dokey, here we go. This week we have a special treat for the blog: A question-and-answer session with the writer of Untold Tales of Spider-Man, Mister Kurt Busiek! Mr. Busiek, as some of you know, is a reader of this very blog, and he has been kind enough to answer some questions for me to mark the end of our time with UTSM.

ET: It's clear from your attention to detail in UTSM and other works that you, like many comics fans, are interested in continuity. You go out of your way sometimes to explain obscure bits of continuity (like Flash Thompson seeing Doctor Strange's astral form in ASM Annual #1). When is continuity too restrictive? What do you see as possible solutions to the "baggage" that accumulates from years and years of seemingly contradictory continuity? (Retcons, Crises, Skrulls? Ignoring the problems?)

KB: I think that continuity is the frosting -- the stories are the cake. So continuity's fun, and we certainly had a lot of fun with it in UNTOLD TALES, but that doesn't mean I think all books should be done that way. There are times you just have to look the other way -- like if Batman's in trouble with some heinous villain in his own book, he doesn't call in the JLA because...well, because it's his own book, and people bought it for a Batman adventure. They don't want to see the Flash and Green Lantern show up and save his caped butt every time he runs into something dangerous.

I think some continuity glitches are worth explaining and some are worth ignoring. It's all just a case-by-case thing, and there shouldn't be too many rules about it. The first law of comics storytelling should be, Tell Good Stories. If you can do that, then whether you're continuity-rich, continuity-light or even continuity-poor, people will still enjoy the result.

So while I have fun with this stuff, I don't begrudge others from wanting to stay away from it. Variety's nice, after all.

ET: Was there anything you really wanted to do in UTSM that you couldn't get to or weren't allowed to do? Any chance we'll ever see it?

KB: I had a bunch of stories planned, from Peter doing a brief internship with Hank Pym to what I wanted to do for UNTOLD TALES #50, which would have shown us what Spider-Man and his supporting cast's lives were like on the day Galactus came to Earth. I wouldn't mind doing that someday, but I don't know if it'll ever happen.

ET: Did the wrap-up to the Batwing storyline end as you originally meant it to end, or did you have to rush at that point? The sudden appearance of Batwing's mother and his ability to "hold the cure in abeyance" seemed a little... odd, to me.

KB: I don't remember the details, but that may have just been that we were telling single-issue stories in 20 pages, so occasionally we had to compress things. Also, DC had complained about Batwing for trademark reasons -- it's the name of a Batman plane or something -- so we wanted to give him an ending rather than just leave him out there, unable to be used again.

ET: Is there any other Spider-Man era (or even another character, any company) that you think strongly deserves an Untold Tales book? Which one and why?

KB: I did want to do an X-Men series set between #66 and Giant-Size X-Men #1, but John Byrne beat me to it. And I think there are books like FANTASTIC FOUR, where they're unknown in #1 and famous in #2, that have room for the stuff in-between to be explored -- and I think Joe Casey did a project like that. But I don't think any book, even Spider-Man, "deserves" an Untold Tales series. It's purely a matter of whether it'd be interesting or not. I mean, I'd have a blast telling stories that take place in between Green Lantern's Silver Age adventures, but I can't say that it's a series crying out to happen. Just that I'd enjoy it.

ET: With UTSM 25 showing the Goblin's "revealed secret identity" to be Jameson, why does the Goblin worry that "If [the Goblin] should accidentally kill [the Crime-Master], [the Goblin's] secret will be made public!" (ASM #26, page 17, panel 6)? Bonus continuity question: Why doesn't the Jameson ID get exposed after the CM's death in ASM 27, despite the Goblin's worries?

KB: Answer the first: We covered that on the last page of #25 -- the Goblin figures that if the authorities do investigate Jameson, they'll look closely at his friends, including Norman Osborn. And Osborn's secrets won't stand up to official scrutiny.

Answer the second: Not really my problem, since if that's a glitch, it's Stan's glitch -- the way he wrote it, the Crime-Master knew the Goblin was Osborn, and that didn't get exposed either. So in the absence of other information, "Lucky" Lewis apparently was bluffing, and didn't have an "in the event of my death" failsafe.

Though it could have made for an interesting UNTOLD TALES issue, as after Lewis's death, the Goblin has to steal back the information before the cops get it, or Jonah gets accused and Spidey winds up clearing him in a way that keeps Osborn from being investigated...

ET: The last couple are either nit-picky or fanboyish on my part, but I can't resist throwing these at you:

KB: Oh, what, like the last two weren't?

ET: Shouldn't Hawkeye remember meeting Spider-Man when discussing Spidey's possible membership in ASM Annual 3?

KB: He never says he doesn't remember him. He says he digs his style, which suggests that he knows something about him, and he suggests calling in Daredevil, because DD's met Spidey a "few" times, which can be taken to mean Hawkeye's simply not so familiar with him that he's got all the dope on him. Daredevil's met him a few times, Hawkeye's only met him once or twice, and doesn't know much more than that he likes Spidey's style. The two times they meet in UNTOLD TALES #17, they're fighting the whole time, so it's not as if Hawkeye would claim to know him well.

The one thing Hawkeye says in that annual that's the trickiest is that he introduces himself to Spidey as if they've never met. But he still doesn't say they've ever met, and they never did shake hands before or anything, so maybe he's just being formal about their first non-violent, kinda-social meeting.

ET: Who is your favorite girlfriend for Peter/Spidey and why?

KB: I liked Betty, because that romance felt very tentative and nervous, a perfect "first love." And I liked Gwen before she became so perfect and bland, and MJ before her dizzy-hipster act got turned into a "laughing on the outside, crying on the inside" thing, making her secretly morose -- if people wanted Peter hanging out with MJ, it's because they liked her as an upbeat party gal, not as a glum, weepy, angst-ridden ball of nerves.

ET: Any chance of ever seeing an Untold Tales of Astro City, or possibly an Astro City Tales series of series a la Grendel Tales? I know that some of the characters are somewhat analogues of established characters (the Furst Family comes to mind), but many of them are different enough that I know I would personally like to see more of them. Some of your mystical characters from Dark Age captured my interest in an out-of-the-ordinary sort of way. (I guess asking for more Confessor stories is pretty cliche at this point, huh?)

KB: I can't see why I'd need an UNTOLD TALES for Astro City. Any time I want to tell a story set in the past, I can go ahead and do it -- like we're doing with the Dark Age right now. And if what you mean is a companion series to get more stories out faster, well, we can't get the one book out on time, so adding another probably wouldn't help...

ET: I was actually suggesting was an anthology format written by others. Matt Wagner sort of opened up his Grendelverse to other writers to flesh it out, and I wondered if you'd ever considered doing the same in order to show some "off the main path" adventures of some of the AC characters.

KB: Nope. Astro City's my book, and I'm no more interested in sharing it with other writers than, say, Lawrence Block is interested in having other authors write Matt Scudder novels. Plus, anyone good enough to do the job doesn't need Astro City anyway; they can make up their own characters.

All right, that's it for this week. Many, many thanks again to Kurt Busiek for taking time out of his busy Superman and Astro City schedule to answer some questions for the blog. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 25-29 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2. Until they retcon all of Untold Tales of Spider-Man right out of existence, Make Mine Marvel!


Monday, July 9, 2007

eBay DTIV "Flaw" Pictures

I had a question on an item I'm currently selling on eBay, item number 220129266273, a copy of Stephen King's The Dark Tower IV: Wizard and Glass. This is the original Donald M. Grant Books hardcover first edition. "Mike" wanted to know if there are any flaws in the book. I noticed four teeny tiny ones, all of which are in the pictures below, even if they can't be seen. I'll describe them picture by picture. Sorry for the blurry nature of these, but I only have a 4 megapixel camera.

Picture the First:
1: A small "dent" in the cover above the pages and near the spine (it's to the right of the crease that allows the book to open). I'm not enough of a book guy to know if that matters.

2: There is also a small, shallow "V" in the shape of the hardcover here. In other words, there is not a perfect arc from the last page to the first.

Picture the Second:
3: There is a small scratch on the pages that makes a small, light streak across them. Unfortunately, this doesn't show up very well in the picture.

4: There is also one page where a one centimeter section was slightly wrinkled right at the bottom, ruining the smooth parallel lines of all the pages together. I can't get it to photograph, though. It's in there, somewhere.

I stand by my assessment of this book as a very, very nice copy of this. However, I have not kept the book hermetically sealed. It has been out on my bookshelf for nine years and I have touched it and opened it from time to time. It has never been read straight through, and I think that the fact that I basically can't show half of the so-called flaws is a testament to the copy's quality.

I hope that helps!


Sunday, July 8, 2007

SM:FBFW ASM 22-24, UTSM 24-25

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 22-24 and Untold Tales of Spider-Man 24-25

Okey-dokey, here we go. The big news on the FBFW front this week is that I've reached the end of Untold Tales. This is good, in that I'll finally be able to make some headway in Amazing, which has seemed to move at a snail's pace to me because of UTSM, but also bad, in that UTSM was a fantastic series that, in some key ways, was superior to the original Lee/Ditko comics it enhanced. But don't worry--we'll get there.

On the Amazing Spider-Man front, we have the Clown and his Masters of Menace showing up to “menace” an art show in ASM 22. In terms of villainy, this issue is a waste. If the Clown is the best leader your group can come up with, go home. In terms of action, the fight scenes are expertly rendered by Ditko--moreso than usual. This is the first issue of ASM that I've read in my current quest where each panel in a fight scene really flowed into the next without exception and where no “shot” seemed inferior to any others. If it weren't for the fact that Spidey's fighting a couple of trapeze artists and the Human Bullet from The Tick, these would be absolutely fantastic fights. Still, it establishes Spidey's supreme agility more decisively than any previous issue, IMHO, and it's worth mentioning. On the character front, we see Peter and Betty making up (for the moment) and JJJ acting like a buffoon, as usual. This issue also features the “foot wearing a red sock with a hole in it” painting. I, too, wish I could draw feet like that.

ASM 23 features “The Goblin and the Gangsters.” This is an inferior Goblin appearance for me because of his rather pedestrian motivations. “I want to be crime-lord of the city!” Whatever, Norman. Get in line. At the same time, this issue does for the Goblin what the last issue did for Spider-Man: it gives the character a chance to demonstrate just how far above average thugs and criminals he really is, thus sweetening the eventual confrontation between the two in ASM 26. I have to add that I love the scene where Peter can't tail the villains because his Spidey suit is wet. Let's just hope we never get a statue of Aunt May wearing a thong and lifting the costume out of the laundry basket. (Shudder.) On the character front, while Ned Leeds may be in Europe, he's still writing to Betty, and Peter finds out. This sort of tension, the “misunderstanding caused by a lack of communication,” is one of my least favorite tricks when done poorly, and I don't feel that Stan uses it well here. It reads like cheap soap opera in this issue.

ASM 24 features Mysterio trying to convince Spider-Man that he's going mad. Whatever. All this issue really has is some Peter/Betty development. They finally talk about the letters, and that conversation reads true to me, especially Peter's sarcastic and conversation-ending response. Liz's attempts to get Petey all to herself just bug me. I have a hard time accepting Liz as that much of a schemer. I know she's been portrayed that way already, but this part does not work, and her thoughts at the end, “Now I'm finally making progress with Petey!”, etc., sound too much like Pasty Walker tripe for me to care. I won't be sad to see Liz disappear for a while after graduation.

Okay. The main event this week: The end of Untold Tales of Spider-Man. First up is the sub-standard #24. In its favor is the fact that it ties up the two major loose ends of the series: Batwing and Jason. Against it stands... everything else in the issue, honestly. DeFalco's script doesn't fit the style of the series. It reads like a bad issue of Spider-Girl. Don't get me wrong--I'm thoroughly enjoying his work on Amazing Spider-Girl. I mean to write a special FBFW column on ASG 8 and how it's a fantastic example of a done-in-one story in the Mighty Marvel Manner. I'm not sure when that'll happen, but it's coming. When DeFalco's on, he's good. When he's off, though... So much of this issue is just heavy-handed, like the alcohol captions during the scene with Flash and his drunken father. We already know that Mr. Thompson is drinking, and the art and the dialog get that across admirably. The captions just push it too far. And the thing is, this issue isn't so much “bad” as in “terrible,” it's bad as in “it doesn't sound like Stan at his best.” Busiek's scripting on this series does. McLeod's art looks phoned-in, which surprises me for two reasons: first, I'm a McLeod fan most of the time; second, his finishes over Frenz's breakdowns in UTSM 25 are fantastic. I have to wonder if Pat Oliffe's departure after last issue meant that McLeod was facing the dreaded deadline doom. Everyone looks far chunkier than they should, anatomy is off, etc.

My biggest problem, though, lies with the whole point of the story, and I'm not sure where to place the blame for this. I just do not buy Batwing somehow managing to “hold the [cure] in abeyance” because his mommy hasn't been nice to him or because he doesn't want to be Jimmy anymore. I understand it as a plot device allowing for a reunion between him and his mother, but I don't believe it for a second, in part because we have been given no reason to believe that Jimmy has had any conscious control whatsoever over any aspect of his transformation thus far. It's not like the Thing, where dozens of cures didn't take over the years and that such constant reversions needed explanation. Also, what's up with Batwing's mother suddenly showing up out of nowhere after so many issues? I wonder if Busiek was hard-pressed to finish the Batwing story in one issue and didn't explain all of this as well as he might have otherwise. Oh, well. If I ever get the chance, I'll ask him about it.

Absolutely everything is different in the next issue, however. The final issue of Untold Tales of Spider-Man is a fantastic issue in every single way. The art by Frenz and McLeod is darn near perfect. It recalls the clean lines of Romita, Sr. and the dynamism of Ditko. I love the use of the polyptychs, where Spidey dodges or jumps around multiple times in a single panel. (That is still a polyptych, right?) They allow for a lot of action in a little bit of space.

More importantly, however, is the writing, which really makes this whole issue a gift to dedicated Spidey fans. There is not a single wasted cameo here. Much of the story, while it feeds the main plot, serves to illuminate or explain other things in Spidey's “future” that every single panel is a gem. As I've said before about UTSM and other prequels at their best: they enhance but do not fundamentally contradict a reader's perception of what happened in a previously published issue. In this issue alone, we've got Professor Miles Warren appearing on-panel with his brother, Mr. Warren. Miles is distracted by a pretty blond outside, who happens to be none other than Gwen Stacy. That will end well, I'm sure. We've got references to Peter's run-in with Johnny Storm at State U., Mary Jane's burgeoning modeling career and her audition at Kingsley Ltd., and Peter being considered for a science scholarship by Prof. Warren. Each of these is a little nugget of gold that builds (even if just a little) some element of future Spidey stories (Warren seeing Gwen for the first time, MJ modeling for Hobgoblin Ltd.) or that reinforces the connections already made (Showing the relation between the two Warrens, referencing the Parker/Storm run-in).

The biggest enhancement, though, has to be the revelation that the Goblin never revealed his true identity to the Crime-Master. Instead, he disguised himself as J. Jonah Jameson! This is great on several levels. First, it reinforces the reader's eventual understanding of Norman's paranoia and his need for complete control of a situation. Second, it pays a little homage to those old “who is the Goblin” guessing games played-out in the letter columns of the 60's and the 80's, because Jameson was a relatively common guess. Third, it creates a sense of poignant irony about the Crime-Master's eventual death, when he tried so desperately to reveal the Goblin's ID to the cops. As with anyone who ever pairs with someone as treacherous the Goblin, the Crime-Master's every effort was completely in vain.

The main plot is relatively standard, but it provides good action and a “new” fight between Spidey and the Goblin before either knew the other's identity. It also provides for a couple of humorous bits like Spidey's meta-fictional question, “Aw, nuts. Is everyone in the entire world here today?” and Jameson's ill-fated attempts to get through a door. Even these latter comedic moments come from a well-thought-out moment in the plot where Norman knows he must change into the Goblin and realizes that he has to hide Jameson, as the two of them cannot be seen in the same place at the same time. Not only is this excellent attention to detail on Busiek's part, but it also allows Busiek to do what he does so well, which is playing with the conventions of the super-hero and turning them on their ear. For most characters, the problem is that the character and his secret ID are never both in the same place. Norman has the opposite problem when the Goblin and his “secret ID” are going to be in the same place. It's a small moment, but when Busiek is really on his game, many of his best comics are loaded with them.

In any case, while I look forward to making greater numerical progress through Amazing and getting to some issues that I've never read (most of them above #50 and up to #175 or so), I will miss having Untold Tales to look forward to. In terms of character development and dialog, this book is really superior to the Lee/Ditko Amazing Spider-Man. UTSM is nowhere near as groundbreaking as ASM, of course, but it was never intended to be. As an homage and an enhancement to early stories, this book is without peer. Busiek is a fantastic writer blessed with the gift of creating the sense of wonder in adults that so many of us had as kids. I haven't liked all of his work, but when Busiek is on, he's absolutely one of the best in the business. I'm not just saying this because he's read this column before, either. He's just that good. If anyone reading this column hasn't read Marvels, Astro City, or Conan, RUN, do not walk, to your local comic shop and buy some of it right away. You won't be sorry.

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Honestly? Despite my Busiek love above, four of this week's five fall short. I'm going to call it even, though, because UTSM 25 is off the scale.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. The best parts of every issue this week are because of the supporting cast. Check-er-oonie!

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. Sigh. This week, he pretty much is. In ASM 24, when Peter's running around, he's just Spider-Man in a suit. Ugh.

All right, that's it for this week. Up two weeks from now will be Amazing Spider-Man 25-29 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual 2, and up next week, a special Q&A session with one of my favorite writers! Until Spidey is a magical spider totem, Make Mine Marvel!