Monday, May 16, 2016

1970s pop culture with humor and brains: Marvel's Essential Defenders vol. 3 by Gerber, Kraft, Buscema, Giffen and the gang

Marvel Comics Group- in its phase as a slightly anarchic bastion of experimentation and creativity- published the comics reprinted here from 1976 to 1978,
Leading off this volume we have the second half of Steve Gerber's run. The Steve Gerber stories are SO creative and smartly-written, with Buscema's competent layouts and nice superhero art. The ideas are so weird and original! The inks vary a bit in their outcome, but overall I like the Buscema/ Janson combo. If anything, a bit more subtlety in the art would better compliment Steve's restless wit and canny observations. These are not standard sorts of stories on the whole- the villains are strange but thought-provoking. Plots are both bizarre and driven by commentary about the modern world and individual struggles for identity in sublime pop form. Steve Gerber continued writing in comics and cartoons; after he authored Howard the Duck, Omega the Unknown, Man-Thing, and the team-up adventures of the Fantastic Four's The Thing, he was chief editor for G.I.Joe and Dungeons & Dragons cartoons, as well as writer for cult classic Thundarr the Barbarian. He won an Emmy writing for Batman/Superman Adventures cartoons. He returned to comics at DC with the enjoyable Nevada for Vertigo and the harrowing Hard Time, which picked up his "secretly super child in the system" theme -in prison! He even authored a humorous BBS For Dummies computer guide with a coterie of other writers. The world lost Steve to pulmonary fibrosis- the same poorly-understood disease which took my father's life at 59- in February, 2008. The influence from these comics is understated compared to some of their more famous counterparts a few years later, but both Gerber and Kraft later write good ensembles. Slifer and Kraft team up to script Conway's plot (following Gerber's departure) for a cool Red Rajah arc that, for the first time at Marvel, gets the "female team" concept right! (Slifer himself went on to create DC's Lobo and become show-runner for 80s cartoon classic JEM.) The scene where the heroines converse about their resistance to The Star of Capistan's mind control is the arc highlight. I can't miss talking about Luke Cage's appearances here- still a street-level hero-for-hire, but a distinct voice with a set of experiences that reverberate nicely beside white privileged Nighthawk and the brainy Soviet heroine, Red Guardian. (Dr. Tania Belinsky, aka The Red Guardian, comes into the story through her civilian identity as a surgeon, to conclude the most bizarre hostage situation of the Marvel Age- involving Nighthawk's brain!) The awkwardness of down-to-Earth Luke (and to some extent, Jack Norriss) alongside the bizarre nature of their capers really accents the stories. A parody of 70's self-help fads turns out to be a terrific, if byzantine, villainous plot. Luke's language is less weighted down by "jive" Blaxploitation slang and reflective of a street-smart, self-taught intelligence, beside the wise, bookish and fatherly Stephen Strange.
Deep-dyed comic fans often recall "Who Remembers Scorpio?" as a highlight of 70's Marvel.
Scorpio himself, dark while still comic-book-colorful, has more of a real personality in his arc here than maybe any single antagonist before him in Marvel history. In his self-awareness and personal disgust with the inhumanity of society and its commercial systems, he's a clear precursor to acclaimed modern writing, with motivations and expressions that are both misguided yet realistic and understandable. Dave Kraft writes inventively, no less so here, where even the confrontation in the mighty Marvel manner comes about unconventionally. He nails the Defenders' classic non-team description so well there, as you'll see. Scorpio must've been puzzling and haunting to many young fans, but his existence inspires a sort of introspection that fits squarely with the "college campus crowd" that lent Marvel its early cache of pop coolness. It's unsettling how this young writer poses a comic book super villain- a goofy cliche in the minds of dismissive adults- with authentic depression struggles that seem drawn from some real fifty-two year old. You can be forgiven rooting for his bizarre plan to make his mark work- despite its villainous incarnation, he seeks a society of his own, as he feels profoundly disconnected from socializing. Their issue-long awakening in #50 is brief, but a hint of some offbeat characterization- especially in Gemini, divided in loyalty over the conflict- shimmers through in the most interesting take on the Zodiac I ever read. Perhaps it's just as well the mystique behind his origins remain unrevealed. DAK is still busy drawing realistic characters from real life in his co-writing and editing effort, Yi Soon Shin, a trilogy of comics with Chicago's Onrie Kompan. The draw to the real world in the midst of fantastic entertainment reflects in Kraft's decade-plus long career editing and publishing Comics Interview- now available in hard back volumes.
Kraft gets the advantage of Keith Giffen on art for a while
- the results are uneven, but dynamic! Kraft picks up the intelligent and unconventional, creative vibe from Gerber, having proof-read his books and become friends with Steve, himself. "The Dude" particularly writes great female characters. His Hellcat is actually a successful feminist role model without falling into didactic, manifesto-laden agendas- instead, she (and her teammates) has an actual personality! A sex drive (hinted with a confident wink)! A sense of humor- and empathy! Kraft even turns in a subtle Nighthawk story-and a parallel to the Scorpio-driven critique of modern commerciality- that sets him up with a unique perspective in a way that jibes with Gerber's efforts to distinguish Kyle Richmond from his Batman-clone origins. He sends Valkyrie to college- a storyline that reflects the way classic Marvel would mix the world outside your window with the fantastic. It's cool because both his female leads are not cookie cutter women- they've both moved on from early relationships in an attempt to define themselves. Val's campus forays spark an attempt at collecting some supporting characters besides Jack Norriss for Dynamic Defenders.
Both Kraft and Gerber use the Hulk to great effect
- the hook for little kids to enjoy the book. Hulk also provides comic relief under both authors in his unbridled-id way. His limitations work well within an ensemble. He still maintains the "self-awareness" tone, even in his brilliantly simple dialogue. Kraft seemed to have an affinity for the workings of Marvel's green people-his She Hulk run is different and rather daring for its time, setting another standard, not only for her personality, but as a bench mark for a new kind of heroine. The return to Russia- following an old school misunderstanding battle between Hulk and Namor, with Kirbyesque panache and callbacks to Jack's Fantastic Four work- is also a brilliant way of displaying the changing attitudes from the days of bland evil Commie enemies.
If The Presence isn't a Mao-inspired poet-super-villain, what is he?
There's also an environmental theme about radiation contamination and the oceans, tied by Atlantis to world politics- ambitious, yet still a straight-ahead superhero adventure. The collaborations with Carmine Infantino go from rather ultra-smooth and slick (this may have been Janson's finishes) to an awful, distorted look the next issue. That's too bad, because this is the introduction of Lunatik, a pop-culture-quoting scofflaw with insane and violent vendettas of his own against rule-breakers. This Alice Cooper- inspired menace deserved return engagements; other writers could've constantly updated Lunatik's lyrics-driven lingo to cool effect. No shit, he and Dr. Strange were David (Kung Fu) Carradine's two favorite Marvel characters. The return of Dr. Strange in the last stories is pretty awesome; the rock and roll vibe of the book reaches its climax here, and also brings us Devil-Slayer- another obscure Marvel character with quirky unmet potential. Ed Hannigan turns in pretty solid work, too. My 2010 posts dive into the wealth of Steve's work; I have a couple of new ones referencing DAK's run. This volume's very cool for giving you a glimpse at some under-appreciated efforts to transition from the Marvel of Stan Lee to the modern interpretation. It's better than nostalgia- it's written to entertain all ages, in a way that bears a standard for the sort of comics the late Darwyn Cooke championed famously. Keep in mind, these can also be had at a modest price, as the original singles in color- the black and white reprints here are a decent way to get the stories and see what you like best!

Sacred Fire of Twin Flames by Katrina Bowlin-MacKenzie

Twin flames: it's a beautiful ideal. The struggles of over a dozen couples to reach one another might offer you some insight as to the type of love you hope to find. Do the people in these stories go on to realize this ideal? The book makes the point, overall, how powerful and mystical the attraction can be. There's a lot of work that nonetheless goes into a marriage/ intimate love relationship; that, too, is addressed by many of these stories. The way to build that joy is so personal. I would never say expect only smooth sailing, even when there's sheer poetry in your beginnings together. Yet, you very much must hold on to the magic in those details, and continuously try to re-center yourselves in a joint attraction to those ideals. It's not a conviction to everyone's taste- some people do not find daily romance as strongly in their world of more practical concerns and quotidian interests.
Yet, if an inspiring love life is among your pragmatic goals, there's a scintillating value to keeping reminders of falling in love close at hand. That's this book's treasure.
The clues to how to go forward could be more plentiful- it's good where this book delves not only into the type of relationship you don't want, which it does at length- but also follows you past the initial attraction and honeymoon to show a mystical, revelation quality continuing afterwards. Yet if this book helps you tap into how it all began- or how it all might begin- the essence of appreciating those origins will remind you always of that for which you strive.
If the book can serve to remind any couple how precious their connection, then Sacred Fire of the Twin Flames has served a genuine contribution.
The writing voices are all authentic, born of true experiences. They vary- but this might open the door for more types of people to find in this a story that reflects their individual romance. This is probably behind the choice to spotlight a multitude of people from different walks of life and their history, rather than unifying the style behind the lead author and editor's prose. My copy came pristine and well-made.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Yi Soon Shin: Warrior and Defender

The ultimate test of a work of art, to each individual subjectively, is “how memorable were the impressions this left?” Well, there's no way to forget the fleets of ships, the charge of warriors, the archetype of command from a time when a leader could choose bravely to withstand the threats he takes on alongside the ones he asks to risk sacrifice and chance victory. You felt life and death everywhere, from the brooding scenes of rulers behind the battle front to the absolutely electric warriors themselves, civilization stripped away, fight or flight impulses naked before blades, arrows, cannons, fire, and sea. You can turn the pages at the end and recognize each figure's progress as a character since their montage premiere at the front.
Any feeling of confusion is utterly heightened if you have the experience of reading this for the first time broken up. The truth is, there's a LOT going on here! Even with quiet interludes roiling in their more personal tempest, not a single chapter lags for action- action that is always of building consequence.
That turmoil defines the atmosphere: only Yi Soon Shin's moral certainty, and Japan's drive for conquest, hold these very human characters together between their opposition.
Yet wisdom dictates even the leaders don't know it all, and those most certain make the most evil actions in their absolute certitude. The hero is only certain of what's right: repulse the invasion, or innocents suffer.
“A war is coming and many are going to die.”
Yi Soon Shin's complex morality is no blind ode to nationalism alone: bloated Korean King Sonjo's vices wreak a cycle of woe behind his human shields. This first volume features singularly predatory villains on the Japanese side, but Kompan’s team finds a way to individuate them. For example, Todo Tokotora memorably holds his foes in grudging esteem. Sen Rikyu makes the first death his own because he believes conquering the world will destroy the soul of his people. Baron Sao makes an especially creepy traitor and master of assassins. Their goals and dream collide, rendering both sides all-too-human. Kwon Chung's defense of Yi's flank ends Michiyuki Gurijima's tragic affair with Todo Tokorora, and Song echoes Achilles' dilemma: flee for love, fight and face the certain death swiftly heading his way. This first volume features singularly predatory villains on the Japanese side, but Todo Tokotora memorably holds his foes in grudging esteem. Sen Rikyu makes the first death his own because he believes conquering the world will destroy the soul of his people. Kwon Chung's defense of Yi's flank ends Michiyuki Gurijima's tragic affair with Todo Tokorora, and Song echoes Achilles' dilemma: flee for love, fight and face the certain death swiftly heading his way. The duplicity of Jin in working her survival sets Admiral Song in the sights of Won Kyun, anguished by his comparative lack of glory in his own name. Yi lets Song's weakness for her bring the wrath of fifty chain lashes, for the sake of the thousands that will die without a unified chain of command. Injung's horrific violation stands between her and the support she wants to offer Yi- who is noble enough a friend to her, and faithful to his command, to focus instead on war first. Night and day he weighs consequences and decides from the facts at hand, while Seo refuses to stay dead and stalks him from the shadows. Li Okki challenges the wisdom of Yi's attack, demonstrating the uncertainty of command that Yi answers with grim persuasion. The modern venacular English dissolves a cultural and historic wall, while its realistic cadence joins us with the faithful visual depiction of its time. In so many ways it's characters we've seen time and again- the ones always evoked by war and conflict. Yet, their complete spectrum- echoing the superb Age of Bronze comic books created by Eric Shanouer, but with more intense action and De Los Santos' remarkable colors held lovingly in these high quality gloss pages-brings the types together through individuals you grow to distinguish by their actions. Timpano's attention to body language utilizes his designs superbly, where in less careful hands, characters might have blurred meaninglessly. The lettering, done in a second language by Saavedra, excites and communicates as graphic expression. The captions and quotations facilitate crucial moments ringing in the mind.
Each page fits together within itself as clear sequences- the only way to maintain order amidst the chaotic savagery that invades most every scene. Gio Temprano gives us clear layouts of the establishing shots of the navies, the watery war zone between ships, and spotlights of groups of warriors on each of them.
Finally, the comic is familiar in one other aspect: the classicist layouts take these characters through poses that have conveyed the power of their (largely American) superhero counterparts for generations.
In this story, natural laws apply, which forms a statement about the inherent forces in ordinary mortals when they engage in non-ordinary ways.
Onrie Kompan, the book's initial visionary and writer, provides a personable extra account of creative turns and the friendship and skill brought together. David Anthony Kraft, co-writer and editor, uses a lifetime of observation to supervise every inch printed count towards an ultimate, super comic book. The pin-ups at the back follow Kirby and Ditko's talent for individualizing the fantasy of characters that have paraded in the pages before. These four stories -echoing, magically, the cover drama of Kirby's debut of Captain America in the Marvel Age with #4's tribute to Avengers #4- create the first of a trilogy, so your attachment to the characters will be rewarded with a further, yet finite, arc. The commitment and resolution epitomize an effort for which one might gamble the meaning of one's very existence on its success to move you and remain with you- which is very much in the death-defying spirit of the central character who called for his story to remain alive through readers yet to come. The compactness of the printing schedule, by design and incidence, calls for only the very best, and guarantees consequences for every character.
I recommend reading it with someone whose company you enjoy. My wife's visceral irritation with Won's piggish appetite to feel like a Big Man showed the team sell him as a most despicable ally. Then his haughty charge into a trap in #3 set up the wonder and excitement of the coolest ship visual of the series -in a moment you have to see yourself!
Yi Soon Shin walks the ships of the minds of the modern reader, in a tome set against corruption, embracing human nature and mortality with sheer will to live, and the cry:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Bernie America! Marvel Comics Group 1983: Captain America by J.M.DeMatteis and Mike Zeck with John Beatty

Captain America (#275-289) I have none of these, but I tended to enjoy J.M. DeMatteis very much, the maturity in his themes and humor, too. I picked up almost every issue of his Justice League run with Keith Giffen by 2000, and bought the mini-series sequels, too. My friend Johann and I put together a radio drama based on my script featuring the JLI and the 2000 Presidential Election, a 13-person cast---so J.M. is a developmental influence on my writing, for sure! These stories seem to have a stronger supporting cast of regular folks (a Spider-Man strength), as well a new "man out of time" to explore in Jack Monroe, a.k.a. Nomad, and a man out of the future lost, too, in the (apparent) guest shot for Deathlok. Glad to see Spider-Woman again here, too; this is just before the Jessica Drew version sort of slips off to character limbo for a long time. Her series under Chris Claremont's really good, especially if you like the unique style of artist Steve Leialoha. I liked the reveal of Viper as her mother, but even if it's retconned here, at least their rivalry continues over. Primus, Arnim Zola, Viper, and Baron Zemo all sound well-motivated and interesting, from my preview on the aforementioned Super Mega Monkey. I actually start skimming when I realize how great the stories sound, so I don't lose all element of surprise when, one day, I do get to read them. My jaw dropped when I saw the kinds of prices CAP #275's drawing, and there's no collected edition of the DeMatteis/Zeck run, but the prices do generally come down after that and hey, no rush. You know what sold me? Bernie Rosenthal, Steve Roger's girlfriend at the time, figures out his dual identity as Cap, in a very credible fashion, and then they have to work through it. As silly as the Assistant Editor's Month back-up in #289 looks, it's also meaningful to the overall story. Stood up for Thanksgiving and stuck at her family's gathering, mortified, Bernie daydreams a role playing exercise where SHE is "Bernie America." (That's extra cute now that someone with rather similar professed values is running for President in 2016!) Because the writer and art team treat their character with respect and class alongside the surface whimsy, it's a genuine journey for their relationship (alas, lost to the grind of later years of serial storytelling---it's all up for change in comic books). I have a feeling I would enjoy the entire three years or so J.M. wrote the series. Mike Zeck's a wonderful storyteller, with a strong style (inked by John Beatty) I first discovered in Secret Wars (his work here promises to actually be better!). His team-up with DeMatteis on Kraven's Last Hunt is a signature work to explore. His issues of Marvel Team-Up, along with Roger Stern's impeccable Amazing Spider-Man with John Romita Jr., were my strongest initial connection to the quality of Marvel's output earlier in the year I started collecting comics monthly. I realize Marvel Team-Up is rarely a place for pivotal developments, but the stories J.M. and company told fascinated bright adolescents everywhere. One day, he'd help me not only begin my back issue collecting hobby, but also, to sit down with Dostoevsky. I was in love with 60's counterculture, too---there's another vein often mined in a DeMatteis story.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

An alternative Amazing Spider-Man #148, by Fixaverse (the original Clone Saga revisited in 1975)

#148 Cover: Gwen confronts Spider-Man in freakish pose with spider-abilities. Copy: a word balloon from Gwen. “I know your secrets,” “...and now I'm going to use your own powers to END THIS!”
(Pg. 1-4)When they disappear to Jackal's lair with Gwen this time, she's observing their operations and stoking the Jackal's ego in the most vanilla and pleasant way possible. She pokes around and makes the horrifying discovery: Peter's body! (Pg. 5,6)Ned Leeds and Betty Brant both visit Peter, whose embarrassment actually begins as he's answering the door fresh out the shower, expecting only Ned from the knock and the call ahead, so haha, oops, hi ex-girlfriend. Leeds discusses the as-yet-unfounded notion with Peter that this Gwen is a clone. Ned has been researching into the sudden appearance of this second Gwen Stacy, but Betty's actually spent more time with her, which points to how absurd it is not to go to the source. Ned feels like it's a crime story. He believes someone meant harm to either Peter Parker or Spider-Man or both, and asks if anyone had access to a sample of Gwen's cells. Betty tells Peter Gwen said she was heading to E.S.U. Campus to find some answers, but didn't name her contact. Peter suddenly remembers one day during one of Miles Warren's science classes, Warren had an assistant collect their cell samples: Gwen's, too. (Pg. 7,8) Yet somehow, back at the Jackal's lair, Gwen watches Peter wakes up. At this point in his memories, he reacts normally and gratefully to Gwen being alive. His memories end in their freshman year, when the cells were donated for a class project conducted by Professor Warren, and here is a chance for some version of the two to be together, happy. Oh, gosh, but now she mesmerizes him...and by the moonlight, sinks her teeth into his neck. (Pg. 9, 10)Peter and Ned rush to ESU where they ask Miles Warren about the assistant that he had used that day. Miles tells them it was a man named Anthony Serba. With this information, Ned and Peter split up to try and find Serba. Peter does his searching as Spider-Man, going to an old apartment, finds nothing there but the Tarantula waiting for the attack. (Pg. 11-13)Their fight takes them out into the streets, where Gwen appears, telling Spider-Man she knows his secret. (Pg. 14- 16) She demonstrates spider-abilities of her own, and tremendous strength. Despite this emotionally-confusing attack, Spider-Man deals with this threat and the Tarantula simultaneously. Soon, the Tarantula's own pointed shoes cause his defeat when they cause a torrent of water to knock him out when he sticks them into a water tower. (Pg. 17) Dragging the unconscious Tarantula off to the authorities, Spider-Man stops to call out to Gwen, who sees he is stalked by the Jackal. His Spider-Sense saves him from a clawed attack from behind. But it's Morbius the Living Vampire that swoops down to ambush and knock out the wall-crawler. '(Pg. 18)The Jackal leaps forth angrily, determined to play the spoiler, obsessed with his own plan. Morbius explains that he already knows everything. The Jackal uses his drugs to keep Spider-Man from struggling back to consciousness. “Take me back to your laboratory,” says Morbius. The Jackal then takes off his mask, revealing his true identity, spoken by Morbius: “Miles Warren.” Only now can I tell you: my name for this five issue plotline is, “The Gwenpyre Strikes Back”.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

A More Marvelous Comics Group's Amazing Spider-Man #147, from Fixaverse

This is part of an alternative storyline, reworking the end of Gerry Conway's run up to #150 with some ideas of mine. #147 Imprisoned, the Tarantula creates new razor pointed shoes and uses them in a murderous break-out. A drug tunnel provides him access back to the United States, where he gets a lift back to NYC, where he's picked up by another bus, driven by the Jackal, who is no one, as he says. The planned rendezvous provides the money forward on the job to cover Tarantula's ride handsomely. As Anna and Mary Jane Watson escort the newly-discharged Aunt May from the hospital, she talks to Mary Jane about Peter. Upset, Mary Jane says she hasn't seen Peter since Gwen Stacy's impossible return, which feels all wrong. Aunt May lets MJ know she appreciates and understands her and her feelings for Peter, so don't give up: love can be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Speaking of Gwen, she's preparing to leave Betty Brant's apartment, where she's a guest. Betty herself is leaving for work and asks Gwen where she's going. Gwen says she's asking for help on campus, to get her in touch with someone who can help her get a fix on exactly what's happened to her. Betty asks if she means a therapist. Gwen laughs a little laugh. Betty laughs a little, too. “I'm nosey. Newsroom rubbing off on me. But you can see why a person would worry for you. I'm actually glad you're interested in getting out...for your own sake.” “I don't see how a person could put themselves out like you're doing for me,” says Gwen, “and NOT wonder. I appreciate your concern more than I can say. The one person I trust the most won't even darken this door. Not that I completely blame him.” “You mean Peter?” Betty asks. “I admit, I am surprised he's not here, myself. Yet...I'm not. Can I level with you?” “What could be worse than death? Shoot.” “He's a really sincere guy. But he's not boring. I wish he was. I have never known if he could get the thrill of trying to photograph Spider-Man out of his lifestyle long enough to there.” “Do you have that problem with Ned?” “With us both working, it takes a special effort...but no. I guess that's why I tolerate the lifestyle that goes with his passion for the real story. And look, I'd be happy to go along with you for one of these meetings, if you like. I just happen to be now about three minutes behind, getting to good luck, Gwen.” “Thanks.” Incidentally, we join Peter as he heads to E.S. U. Campus, via webline as Spider-Man, to get some kind of grounding for these notions he's having: what if this is a genetic clone? He's so torn by the desire he feels, to accept the relief that Gwen Stacy is, against the odds, alive. But he feels a terrible, aching paranoia about her missing time. He held her in his own arms, the day she died; she was unresponsive. But he didn't take the time to attempt a resuscitation. He isn't a trained physician. He only knows that, while all of the answers surely lie somehow with this woman, even while he's seen so many impossible things, even the police on the scene said she was gone. He was there. There was no way a person comes back from that. It's just too bizarre. Worse, he can't think of a soul with whom to begin figuring it out. Then, he thinks of Professor Warren and Professor Schmidt, from his biology and chemistry studies, and recalls lectures about clones, grown from living cells, replicas of the original organism---a common practice with plants, studied now with animal cells. In fact, human cells might hold the key to re-creating lost or non-functional body parts, even limbs, just as Dr. Curt Connors explored. Dr. Connors' identity as the Lizard is a reminder of what the dark side of science holds, too. A human clone. Is it even possible? And who could even do such a thing, with what resources? What if there's multiple “Gwens” out there? Horrified, he heads now to the first place he ever participated in genetic studies, the Harinton Building on ESU Campus. In this version, the Jackal doesn't know Peter's Spider-Man. Gwen comes to him while he is simply Professor Warren. In our story, Gwen watched the Jackal, followed him, saw him change to Professor Warren. She wants to know the rest of his secrets, and he wants to tell her. First he seems nearly ready to pass out, himself, a reaction she's come to expect. We know it's because he's been growing her replacement in his spare time. His expression reveals a moment of dark thought; what is not yet revealed is that he is the Jackal, that Gwen knows this, and what he's thinking right now is, “did the clone somehow become free of her gestation chamber?” So he's pretty much GOT to go check that out on the double. He seems manic enough to actually take her there, too; after all, if the cocoon is undisturbed, there's no need to alarm the real Gwen. And he would be glad to get a tissue sample and help her work on her enigma. He expresses he's very glad she's alive, overjoyed, to a degree that she finds awkward. From here in, she seems to willingly stick with him whether he's Warren or the Jackal, which plays right into Mr. Conway's character's wildest dreams. Only, he didn't originate this Gwen Stacy, so now, it's surreal for him in a way it also is for Spider-Man. Spider-Man arrives and sees Gwen with Professor Warren. He slips off to change, to engage them as Peter Parker, lost in what to say. In the artist's best idea of an out-of-the-way place on the way into the laboratory, before he can change, he's attacked by the Tarantula. The two fight across the city streets, soon smashing into a city bus. Everyone aboard flees in panic, except for Gwen Stacy. The bus driver leads her off the bus, and reveals he is the Jackal. Distracted, Spider-Man fails to dodge a toxin-tipped razor boot. When Spidey revives, he finds himself taken to the Brooklyn Bridge. Bound in chains, Spidey hears the Jackal rant about the miracle: Gwen Stacy has returned, as an instrument to destroy Spider-Man, whom he blames for her death. The Tarantula now throws the bound web-slinger off the bridge, as per the Jackal's sick revenge. As Spider-Man shoots a web-line to save himself, the Jackal, Tarantula and Gwen Stacy get away. Before the NYPD take him into custody, a police officer unchains Spider-Man to unmasking him in front of the cameras. This is all the pause Spider-Man needs to rapidly escape. Changing back into Peter Parker, Peter returns to his apartment to find that Mary Jane is waiting for him outside. She tries to talk to Peter – unaware his day has been a macabre, surreal nightmare -- so she makes an ultimatum to him: Choose between her or "Gwen." Spaced-out, exhausted, Peter closes his apartment door on her. By the time his sinking gut tells him to reconsider, he opens the door to find no one there.

Monday, November 30, 2015

No to the 90's Clone Saga, no to Women in Refrigerators: a wild alternative take on the original Spider-Man Clone Saga, by Cecil Disharoon.

For your Spider-phile pleasure, here's an alternate story direction inspired by the end of Amazing Spider-Man #144, featuring the shocking return of Gwen Stacy, as though from the grave. This story, when I first read its reprint, built a "Gwen Stacy returns" subplot that was clearly hair-raising, haunting and cool, though it was six years before I found out what happened next. You can find a synopsis online easily, like -I feel much the same! ASM#145, for those of you who know or want to know the source story, is fine, and out of respect and familiarity, I suggest no changes, not even yet to make Gwen any less vulnerable, as these are distressing circumstances.
Well, it would be nice if the New York Police Department didn't hand Mac Gargan his crime-making outfit and equipment, as it seems ill-advised to treat it just like handing back a wallet and keys. There's a few good places to tighten up plot holes. For one, it's too bad a private investigator, like Mac Gargan, didn't recognize Peter Parker's face from the Daily Bugle, and also, too bad he doesn't suspect he's found Spider-Man, as he was told he would, just in civilian clothes. An interesting problem's introduced but thrown away. Missed opportunities are realistic, though.
How did the Jackal know where to find Spider-Man? We will find out in Conway's original tale how he knows to look for Peter Parker, but space permitting, it might have been cool to see Jackal's method of gathering intelligence. He apparently has some way of knowing Aunt May's in the hospital. I would presume Conway's trying to avoid spilling the beans that the Jackal may be using Gwen, with hypnotic suggestion as his method of interrogating and perpetuating her use to him as an unwitting spy. I do have a secret as to how our Gwen's been spending her nights, besides her stay at Betty Brant's.
In our story, the Scorpion decides to look in on May Parker in his civilian clothes. Peter, however, senses a mild warning and then spots Mac Gargan, whom he recognizes as the Scorpion, as he leaves May's room. He's careful not to be seen, because Gargan might recognize Peter, if he can recognize Gargan. He rushes in to check on her, and even though she's all right, he is ready to go beat the snot out of this super-villain for getting so close to his recuperating, elderly aunt!
When Peter leaves, we follow a nurse seen earlier assisting an attendant of May's, very background, no lines yet, as she walks into the blood bank refrigerator and finds Gwen Stacy. She replies she's impressed by the set-up of the facility, she's just taking a look while Candy-Striping. She suggests sweetly the nurse simply forget it; she promises to get permission next time. The nurse placidly agrees. Scorpion's dialogue can get a twist besides the usual generic rants, as he replies to being accosted after his very first step towards being something besides the Scorpion, which seems unfair and gives Mac Gargan a self-righteious rage with which to strengthen his response. But this is an angry Spider-Man attack all the way, some straight-up vigilante one-two for anyone who would dare threaten his innocent surrogate mother, and in three pages he basically tells Scorpion to shut up and go to sleep. Our next change: Scorpion's not led in simple handcuffs back to the bedside of a woman he's threatened, no sir. That's the original, comedic ending.
He's wearing something a bit more durable. Gwen seems to react strongly to what's occurred with May, and says in a way, it's her fault May's here in the first place. She strides up to the Scorpion and demands to know: who sent him? Instantly, Spider-Man's rushed up to stand between them, still running pretty hot. No way is he going to let any Gwen be harmed by a super villain again. As the Scorpion's led away, he seems dazed; one of the cops comments on him being punch drunk already. He mutters a word; we see his lips move but can't hear him. But Gwen stares intently after him in the foreground of the next panel, as Spider-Man's trying to offer reassurance to a figure that, from her stance, seems fearless. He will wonder in the next issue if this reflects a transformation after returning from death itself, somehow. Has it ever. That's my first part. We are going to have some wild fun on the way to ASM #150. I'll give this a few days, then I'll share my re-writes integrated into ASM #147 and 148.