Monday, February 25, 2008

SM:FBFW ASM 123-127

Spider-Man: For Better or For Worse?

This Week's Reading List: Amazing Spider-Man 123-127

Aaaand... We're back! Thanks for bearing with me for the last few weeks. I didn't realize that I had quite so much to deal with on the whole Gwen/storytelling responsibility issue. Anyway, we're back to straightforward Spidey goodness this week, although it's interesting to note that this will be our last consecutive week of “All-Amazing, All the Time” for... maybe ever, I guess. Marvel Team-Up is now in the mix, and Peter Parker isn't going to be far behind. Before you know it, we'll be to the marriage and... Aw, why bother with the cheap shots? This week we've got Luke Cage, the Man-Wolf, the Kangaroo, Jonas Harrow, and the Vulture, so let's get moving.

What strikes me as I'm typing this (it's a few days after reading these) is how forgettable they are. I mean, the Man-Wolf story sticks out in my mind because I remember this was turned into a Power! Records Book-and-Record back in the day and it always freaked me out. But does that make it a good story? Omar Karindu would no doubt point out the significance of a sci-fi werewolf opening up the horror genre again (as Morbius had done months before), and he would be absolutely right to do so. But again, does that make it a good story?

(Let me interject here and say that it sounds to me like I'm somehow ripping on Omar, and nothing could be further from the truth, so let my words not be taken that way, okay? Okay.)

What's really going on in these issues are two things: first, Spidey admonishing the readers to move past Gwen (even though he's technically admonishing himself), and second, the creative team struggling to make sense of some of the 60's villains, just as they do today. Let's look at both of these.

“I can't let myself dwell on what's been... or what might have been. I've got to look ahead--try to pull myself together” (ASM 123; page 13, panel 7). All of the issues I read this week have lines like this from Peter or others in stories that take place mere days after his almost-fiancee's death. WTF? Again, I ask: WTF? At what point does someone who's just lost a loved one need to move past it barely a week later? Mary Jane's really pushing for this, Flash is bugging Peter about Harry... Where is the sympathy? At no point do we actually get to see ANYONE sitting down with Peter (including him with himself) and just taking time to accept Gwen's death and come to terms with it. It's not a process that takes a week, and it's certainly not something to yell at someone about, as Mary Jane does in 125, complaining that “Everytime I see you--you're bummed out!

As far as I can tell (and this is just my opinion from reading the story), the real reason for this is because the creative team wasn't sure how to handle the situation themselves. They're supposed to be putting out an action-adventure book, and they've got a main character who, by all rights, should be going through the stages of grief. His friends should be supporting him. Harry, who is secretly turning himself into the next Green Goblin, should be the exception, of course, but everyone's telling Pete to pull out of it, and they're being jerks about it. Conway is really dropping the ball here. If there's actual reasons for people to act this way, he should provide them (or at least hint at them). Instead, the death/grief issue is being made into something so actively unpleasant that, once a few real-world months have gone by and the readers have worked through their own feelings, Conway can just drop it. I realize that the Gwen clone is coming, but once ASM 150 comes and goes, the grief-over-Gwen issue will become the old chestnut of “A while back, my girlfriend was killed, and I really loved her. Man, I feel so bad about that. Oh, well. Time to find the Hobgoblin...” In other words, string it along until you can drop it, and that's what's going to happen with this potential character development. Blech!

In addition to this, the Vulture is somehow becoming more... Vulture-y. He now chews and claws through Spidey's webbing. Maybe this will tie in to the Jonas Harrow subplot they started with the Kangaroo, but to me it smacks of desperation on Conway's part. Too often writers seem to feel that a villain needs to be “deadlier” than ever before, more “extreme” or whatever. It's totally unnecessary. Look, Spider-writers: The Vulture is an old guy in a green suit who steals things. He's a career criminal. Spidey has beaten him in the past, but it's been a near thing. If you decide to use the Vulture for a monthly villain, realize that he's not going to be as all-around-deadly as Doc Ock, and just use that in the story, okay? You don't need to make him into a creature, you don't need to put him in a tux(!). Just... a flying criminal. Okay?

Well, with that said, I'm pretty much out of stuff for this week. More 70's “goodness” to follow next week, as we start with Marvel Team-Up: The Fragmented Collection!

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

1) Spider-Man stories were better then than they are now. Sigh. That sad thing? BND is way better than this tripe.

2) Spider-Man's supporting cast is essential to good Spidey stories. “Who've we got for Spidey to fight?” “Oh, Blaxsploitation-Guy, the Kangaroo, a sci-fi werewolf, and the 'new and improved' Vulture!” “Crap. I know! Let's have Spidey's friends be ass-hats for the next few months!” Sigh.

3) Peter Parker is not just a secret identity. I don't even know what he is this week. Not a remotely realistic portrayal of humanity, that's for sure.

All right, that's it for this week. Up next week will be Amazing Spider-Man 128 and Marvel Team-Up 9, 11, 13, and 17! Until Marvel puts suckers on Doc Ock's mechanical tentacles to make him more “octopussy”, Make Mine Marvel!

Eric

5 comments:

omar karindu said...

I actually go the other way on the Man-Wolf: by the time he was introduced, Marvel was already publishing a supernatural werewolf in Werewolf By Night because the Morbius story had done its work on the CCA.

It looks to me more like Conway or possibly Thomas or Lee were hoping to spin the character off from the start -- John becomes the monster in Sept. 1973's ASM issue, gets a boost from a team-up with Morbius in June 1974's Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1 (which I seem to recall was the first of the "Giant-Size" books of the 1970s), and one month later gets his own series in repurposed horror reprint book Creatures on the Loose.

Basically, Marvel flooded the market as soon as the horror restrictions let up, launching Frankenstein, two different wolf-men, Dracula, Dracula's daughter Lillith, Tales of the Zombie, and the various Omen and Exorcist-inspired Sons and Daughters of Satan in both comics and black-and-white magazines (which, being non-CCA, were used for rather tacky bits of titillation at times).

The Man-Wolf was part of that cash-in, which may explain the relative weakness of the concept in comparison to Morbius, who at least had an interesting moral dilemma in there somewhere. But the Man-Wolf is barely a character, just an off-the-peg werewolf with no personality or motives beyond growling and slashing.

He's also the beginning of a very Conway sort of trend, in which almost every single supporting cast member manages to go villainous at one point or another: Harry becomes the new Goblin, Aunt May sides with Doc Ock against Spider-Man, Professor Warren is the Jackal, and so on. The Man-Wolf stuff is just rather weak, a blatant attempt to spin off a less-than-central Spider-Man character into his own series by trading on Spidey's popularity and the recognizability of Jonah Jameson.

Likewise, the Kangaroo story is a mess. Not only is it one of Stan's more ludicrous villain ideas and a rehash in part of the first Kangaroo story's plot, it's also part of the horribly extended Jonas Harrow mystery plotline that eventually came to a fizzle in ASM #206 (the first Roger Stern issue of ASM). While some of the Harrow-related characters -- Hammerhead and the Will O' the Wisp -- are alright, Harrow himself never seemed as menacing or mysterious as Conway seems to think he is here. For one thing, his plan is rather self-defeating, since the story makes clear that the Kangaroo somply can't steal the isotopes -- how exactly did Harrow think the goon was going to bring the material to him if it's that lethal?

And the Kangaroo himself is a motiveless cipher, a villain whose gimmick appears to be fatal stupidity. I do always get a chuckle out of the ending, in which he's incinerated because he doesn't understand the concept of high-energy radiation.

I do rather like the Luke Cage story in #123, though, especially in the way both Cage and Spider-Man manage to behave in relatively identifiable, human ways. Sure it's an obvious plug for the new guy's series, but Cage and Peter come out of the whole thing with an interesting and, I think, credible bond. I wonder if Brian Bendis recalls that Cage was perhaps the second person Peter really opened up to about Gwen's death?

Jared. said...

Gah, someone beat me to it. Oh well, if anyone does it, I'm glad it's Omar Karindu.

As far as Flash and Mary Jane are concerned, I too raised an eyebrow on seeing them berate Peter the way they are, but explanations are, in a way, possible. Given the context of the era, it's possible that Flash didn't think men should display their emotions openly, and he was trying, in his own clumsy but well-intentioned way, to help Peter along and keep him from breaking down. Maybe he thought that by challenging Peter, he'd give his buddy the motivation to overcome his grief. And as for Harry, Flash was right to be really worried. He may not always be the brightest bulb, but he can be perceptive, and sees that Harry really needs help, and he probably thinks Peter can give it better than him, given that they're closer.

As for Mary Jane, she could easily be trying to deal with her own grief by trying to reach out to Peter. She could have been reaching out for a shoulder that she could grieve in, without showing the pain that, as Madgoblin noted, must have been tearing her apart inside. Similarly, she might have been afraid Peter would fall apart, and tried to keep him from going over the edge. She might have done it in a clumsy way, but she tried.

Luke Cage, at least, I think understands Spider-Man's predicament fairly well, once Spidey finally explained it to him. It was amusing to see someone finally find a way to shut Jameson up when he returned to the office, heheheh. As with so many other things, Madgoblin does a really good job getting the relationship between the two heroes.

As for the villains, there isn't much I can say that Eric and Omar haven't already said, save that I think the Vulture is kind of a loser-he flies. Whoop-dee-doo, so do about a thousand other characters. Same thing with the Kangaroo-another two-bit loser whose powers make better suited for Speedball than Spider-Man. Jonas Harrow always looked kind of goofy to me-like he really needed a shave-and the coke-bottle eyeglasses made him look like a middle-aged nerd than anything else.

Eric Teall said...

I actually go the other way on the Man-Wolf: by the time he was introduced, Marvel was already publishing a supernatural werewolf in Werewolf By Night because the Morbius story had done its work on the CCA.

Well, I stand corrected. Thanks (as always) for the info.

It looks to me more like Conway or possibly Thomas or Lee were hoping to spin the character off from the start.

Oh, good lord. What a horrible thought.

Basically, Marvel flooded the market as soon as the horror restrictions let up, launching Frankenstein, two different wolf-men, Dracula, Dracula's daughter Lillith, Tales of the Zombie, and the various Omen and Exorcist-inspired Sons and Daughters of Satan in both comics and black-and-white magazines (which, being non-CCA, were used for rather tacky bits of titillation at times).

Ah, I remember glimpses of B/W illustrated nippleage when I was 10 or so and raiding my cousins' rooms. It seemed soooo exotic back then... and you're right: soooo tacky now.

The Man-Wolf was part of that cash-in, which may explain the relative weakness of the concept in comparison to Morbius, who at least had an interesting moral dilemma in there somewhere. But the Man-Wolf is barely a character, just an off-the-peg werewolf with no personality or motives beyond growling and slashing.

And Jameson himself had no real motives, either, which can be the other half of the equation. A monster can be a cliche in that situation if the person has something to do (like in the Werewolf show on FOX all those years ago).

He's also the beginning of a very Conway sort of trend, in which almost every single supporting cast member manages to go villainous at one point or another: Harry becomes the new Goblin, Aunt May sides with Doc Ock against Spider-Man, Professor Warren is the Jackal, and so on. The Man-Wolf stuff is just rather weak, a blatant attempt to spin off a less-than-central Spider-Man character into his own series by trading on Spidey's popularity and the recognizability of Jonah Jameson.

Yeah, I'm not anticipating a lot of good comics in the weeks to come. My "tally" for the current set of 20 reviews is not looking good for the post-ASM 90 comics.

Likewise, the Kangaroo story is a mess. Not only is it one of Stan's more ludicrous villain ideas and a rehash in part of the first Kangaroo story's plot, it's also part of the horribly extended Jonas Harrow mystery plotline that eventually came to a fizzle in ASM #206 (the first Roger Stern issue of ASM). While some of the Harrow-related characters -- Hammerhead and the Will O' the Wisp -- are alright, Harrow himself never seemed as menacing or mysterious as Conway seems to think he is here. For one thing, his plan is rather self-defeating, since the story makes clear that the Kangaroo somply can't steal the isotopes -- how exactly did Harrow think the goon was going to bring the material to him if it's that lethal?

Boy, you aren't kidding. I missed the whole Jonas Harrow thing by about 45 issues, so his appearance here was news to me. I only barely know of his existence, and this story doesn't encourage me to find out more!

And the Kangaroo himself is a motiveless cipher, a villain whose gimmick appears to be fatal stupidity. I do always get a chuckle out of the ending, in which he's incinerated because he doesn't understand the concept of high-energy radiation.

Heh. I'd be interested to see a Darwin Awards for the Marvel Universe.

I do rather like the Luke Cage story in #123, though, especially in the way both Cage and Spider-Man manage to behave in relatively identifiable, human ways. Sure it's an obvious plug for the new guy's series, but Cage and Peter come out of the whole thing with an interesting and, I think, credible bond. I wonder if Brian Bendis recalls that Cage was perhaps the second person Peter really opened up to about Gwen's death?

Hm. I didn't feel much of a bond between them at the end of the issue. An understanding between two hotheads, maybe, but that's about it. I also had real problems with Cage busting into the party and threatening to hold everyone there if Spidey didn't show himself. That borders on terrorism, IMO, which robs Cage of much of the sympathy I might have for him.

Anyway, again, thanks for the response. You are a treasure trove of info, especially about the times themselves. I didn't start paying attention to "the industry" until about 1990 or so, so my understanding of much of the 70's and early 80's behind-the-scenes stuff is sorely lacking.

Eric

Eric Teall said...

Gah, someone beat me to it. Oh well, if anyone does it, I'm glad it's Omar Karindu.

I know what you mean. He writes better posts than I do on my own website! He's one of those guys whose posts I always read on places like the SMB.

As far as Flash and Mary Jane are concerned, I too raised an eyebrow on seeing them berate Peter the way they are, but explanations are, in a way, possible.

If a character is acting in a confusing way, one of two things is true: 1) the author has a plan to reveal the reason behind the strange behavior OR 2) the author can't write consistent characters. I'm going to go with #2 in this case, as I don't see any hint of ulterior motive or explanation behind these actions. They're the actions of four year olds, not confused college kids who might lack tact in a particular moment.

Given the context of the era, it's possible that Flash didn't think men should display their emotions openly, and he was trying, in his own clumsy but well-intentioned way, to help Peter along and keep him from breaking down. Maybe he thought that by challenging Peter, he'd give his buddy the motivation to overcome his grief.

Hmm. I'm going to disagree here. Flash isn't completely clumsy in terms of his perception or candor, when the situation calls for it. He fessed up to the principal when Peter attacked him and the gang back in the Ditko days, and he's recently gone through a very emotional time in Vietnam and then his return. That tells me that Flash would be LESS likely to play the dumb jock, not more. Now, were Flash ignoring Peter completely, or leaving when Peter approached, THAT I could understand, as it would imply that he doesn't know what to say but isn't going to be ruled by his mouth as he was in his "youth." But I don't see any thought being put into his actions here.

And as for Harry, Flash was right to be really worried. He may not always be the brightest bulb, but he can be perceptive, and sees that Harry really needs help, and he probably thinks Peter can give it better than him, given that they're closer.

Oh, Flash asking about Harry makes perfect sense. I just can't believe what a jerk he's being here, and for no discernible reason.

As for Mary Jane, she could easily be trying to deal with her own grief by trying to reach out to Peter. She could have been reaching out for a shoulder that she could grieve in, without showing the pain that, as Madgoblin noted, must have been tearing her apart inside. Similarly, she might have been afraid Peter would fall apart, and tried to keep him from going over the edge. She might have done it in a clumsy way, but she tried.

But is this going to be resolved? Is there a method to Conway's apparent madness here? We're not seeing any kind of progression, really. MJ is busting on Peter as of 123 or 124, right after Gwen's death. It's not like we see her comforting him for an issue or two, putting up with him for another issue or two, and finally getting sick of his unwillingness to move on. She puts NO effort into this, and I especially don't see any consistent characterization of her here. She barely sheds a tear for Gwen, but when a girl is killed outside her dorm, she freaks out. Are we given an ounce of a hint as to what's going on in her mind there? No.

This, ultimately, is a serious weakness in the writing at this point, even for the 70's. I expect shallow, even cliched characterization from comics of this time, but I also expect some consistency. Look at how much we knew about Betty Brant or Liz Allen during Ditko's run--cliche? Yes. Consistent and understandable? Yes.

Mary Jane's reactions to Peter, if they aren't soon followed by explanations, amount to six to eight issues straight of busting on the guy whose pseudo-fiancee just got brutally murdered by his best friend's dad/arch enemy while Peter tried to save her. (MJ knows Peter's ID here, according to retcons, even if she doesn't know Norman's.)

Luke Cage, at least, I think understands Spider-Man's predicament fairly well, once Spidey finally explained it to him. It was amusing to see someone finally find a way to shut Jameson up when he returned to the office, heheheh. As with so many other things, Madgoblin does a really good job getting the relationship between the two heroes.

But what does it say that so much explanation is needed to flesh this out? Readers should not have to create explanations for stories to make the stories better or to make them make sense, IMO.

As for the villains, there isn't much I can say that Eric and Omar haven't already said, save that I think the Vulture is kind of a loser-he flies. Whoop-dee-doo, so do about a thousand other characters. Same thing with the Kangaroo-another two-bit loser whose powers make better suited for Speedball than Spider-Man.

Yeah, but the Vulture has been shown to NOT be a loser. Compare him to Blackie Drago, whose skill with the wings was vastly inferior. Toomes may not be written well, but when he is, he's a crafty old buzzard who revels in the power his harness gives him. A flier also has vast advantages over a non-flier, which makes his match-ups with Spidey at least potentially interesting.

(It's important to note, though, that this is NOT the Toomes vulture in this story, which we find out next issue.)

Jonas Harrow always looked kind of goofy to me-like he really needed a shave-and the coke-bottle eyeglasses made him look like a middle-aged nerd than anything else.

I look EXACTLY like Jonas Harrow. Thanks a lot for making me cry. I'm going to go invent a new super-villain and send him after you now, Jared. Beware of Tusk, the Walrus Man.

GOO-GOO-G'JOOB!

Eric

Jared said...

Most of what I read was based off of Madgoblin's analyses, which makes your points all the more damning-that I needed Madgoblin's extrapolations to build on this stuff.

And I'm sorry about the Harrow thing-part of my dislike for him just stems from the fact that he's a lame villain. How about, instead of a supervillain, I punish myself by forcing myself to read the entirety of Maximum Carnage, The Other, and One More Day?

Boy, that'll be painful. Especially when I get to the part where Morlun gouges out Spidey's eye...something that still makes my skin crawl to this day.