Monday, January 21, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 108-113

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 108-113

Greetings, true-believers! Well, we're back to read about those good old days of Spider-Fandom where there weren't alternate continuities, memories, and deals with the devil. The stories might not always be good, but at least they're honest attempts at having fun. This week we visit some some good-intentioned but horribly cliched Vietnamese stereotypes before moving on to the Gibbon, Kraven, and Doc Ock.

First comes the story that introduces Sha Shan, an (eventual) supporting cast member that I remember from my early years of reading Spidey. It's funny for me to think that I'm actually closer (in publishing time) to when I started reading Spidey at this point in my FBFW reading than we all are in 2008. Anyway, this story is a difficult one for me to read. On one hand, Stan takes time to show Vietnamese who are not dirty Commies. On the other hand, these supposedly “peaceful” folks go crazy when their temple is destroyed and track Flash to the USA. They don't listen to Sha Shan, who is the daughter of the leader they think is dead... Ah, you know what? It's not worth describing. Suffice it to say that the story stirs the same conflicts in me as the Hobie Brown story from a while back.

At the same time, there's a lot to like here. The mere fact that it's Flash they're after makes the story interesting to invested readers. Flash himself is an interesting read at this point, because he's clearly had his world-view altered by his time in 'Nam. No longer should he be written as the simplistic bully. Gwen and Peter go through a bit of an interesting spot, as well, as she finally calls him on the whole “Peter's a coward who always runs away” thing. This, as a complete surprise to me, actually leads to a confrontation between Gwen and May. Gwen basically calls May on her pointless and annoying worrying. As with every change in Spider-Man, however, it doesn't stick... so what's the point?

After this story comes the debut of “the newest Marvel super-star!” In case you don't remember a super-star from ASM 110, they mean the Gibbon. Now, I'm not much of a Gibbon fan, but I have to say that I completely understand where both Spidey and the Gibbon are coming from here, as I have been on both sides of the “laughing at someone” bit. Honestly, can you blame Spidey for laughing when this dude shows up? To Spidey, the super-hero biz is old hat, but it seems like a big deal to Martin Blank. Being a teacher, I've been on one side, and having talked to comics pros (and having the cliched aspirations to the biz that seemingly every comic fan has), I've been on the other.

Then Kraven shows up, and the whole story turns into jungle mind control. With drugs. Yippee.

The next storyline starts with what is, to me, a fascinating concept: Spider-Man wrestling with the simple fact that he cannot save everyone and that being Spider-Man screws up his life in a fundamental way. Now, the story itself is a cop-out in that Spidey's decision to prioritize his search for Aunt May (who has disappeared suspiciously) is eventually folded back into the rash of kidnappings he'd decided to ignore... Eh. Anyway, it would be interesting to see Spidey really struggle with the essential truth that he cannot win. I'm not sure how they'd do it, but Peter Parker has always struck me as a prime candidate for depression--and I'm not talking about a “special issue”--I'm talking an extended period.

And then... Doc Ock shows up and... fight. Instead of the flu this time, Spidey has an ulcer and nervous exhaustion. And... he beats Doc Ock, who seems hideously overused at this point. I mean, even if you're going with the whole “new audience every two years” theory of comics readership, packing Doc Ock after only eighteen months seems like overkill. We'll see if the “Gang War” storyline does anything when I report back next week.

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 average. BTW, I'm not comparing this to Brand New Day until I have a better idea of what's going to happen with that storyline. In any case, this week's stories hold up just fine, especially by the standards of the time. The Kraven issue is pathetic, but... hey.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. Flash makes the first two issues, and Gwen and May get some interesting moments. Yep.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. In many ways, he's Spider-Man without the mask. (I mean, he always is, but there are few Peter Parker flairs in these issues--it's mostly Spider-Man punching and flipping.)

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 114-120! Until Spidey IS a coward, Make Mine Marvel!



Jared said...

I got the Essentials, volumes 6 through 8, a few weeks ago, and it's painful to read Aunt May the way she's portrayed. The senile old bag apparently never sees Ock's goons firing their guns, and is apparently content to assume that these big, dangerous-looking guys with guns are all fine, upstanding citizens.

It's about time someone, namely Gwen, called her out.

Honestly, May was written better in the 1960s cartoon than she was in the comics. That said, she becomes a lot more likeable, to me at least, during the Stern years up to and including the Michelinie and McFarlane era.

In other topics, I'd probably get a good chuckle from the Gibbon. At least some characters you can have fun with, since they're not seriously meant to be credible threats-guys like the Spot, the Gibbon, the Kangaroo, the White Rabbit, and of course the Walrus.

I don't have much issue with these guys being regarded as jokes the way I do with other second-stringers, since they're deliberately created to be funny. It all depends on the context-if the creator actually means for them to be a joke, then by all means play them up for laughs.

Finally, the comment that Spidey can't save everyone is a really interesting aspect, and one that can be interpreted in a lot of ways-Sleepwalker can't do a thing to help Rick Sheridan with his problems with Alyssa Conover, the Darkhawk can't help Chris Powell keep his family from slowly falling apart, the Iron Man armor is powerless to help Tony Stark deal with the bottle, being the Thing and the Hulk is more of a source of misery for Ben Grimm and Bruce Banner than anything else.

Sure, they've saved a lot of lives. Everyone might now be enslaved by anyone from Kang to Cobweb to Doctor Doom to Magneto if they hadn't been there to stop them. Many humans might come to better understand mutants, and a lot of people get peace of mind from knowing that the heroes are out there to help them.

But, again, heroes can often be ambivalent, if not occasionally bitter, about how they've chosen to live their lives. That is, on one level, something I think a lot of people can identify with-what could you have done, if you didn't have to live for someone else?

In real life, everyone from cops and soldiers, to social activists and honest politicians, all the way down to parents who make tremendous sacrifices for their kids, probably wonder...what if?

Eric Teall said...

Well, the Gibbon could have been handled better. Some of these guys are sillier than others, certainly (and Spidey cracking up over the Spot's name is classic), but the Gibbon was, in his first issue, a pretty true-to-life character in how he acted and reacted. I hope he shows up again in my reading and that he is handled as something more than just a monkey man.

Aunt May does become more likable, true, but that doesn't change what a crappy character she is here.

I think the problem with "bitter hero" stories is that they descend pretty quickly into the realm of pathetic self-pity.