Wednesday, July 20, 2011

What's Amazing, Spider-Man?

A board friend (who was not bored at the time) suggested the Big Time story arc to me when I asked: "is it a good time to read AMAZING SPIDER-MAN again?" I'd only bought a handful of issues in the past...decade? Yah. Hey, I'd already spent an embarrassing amount (if only I knew shame!) on comics in my lifetime, times were tight and other things called. But I still loved a good comic book classic if I could get a decent deal on it; I'm not a torrent kid, after all. They have a way of suspending over-thought and self-absorption of a sort, these clever mixtures of art and words as story.

My Big Time gambit led me to snag #'s 647 thru 649, and while it was a very different Spider-Man world, I'd missed the familiar faces like (now Mayor!) J. Jonah Jameson, Harry Osborn, Flash, the Black Cat. I was intrigued by Aunt May's marriage to Jonah's father, though it's chiefly taken her safely to the sidelines. Jonah as mayor was a great idea!

It seems, in the issues I then missed, Flash took a decidedly dark turn I won't spoil for you (I'm sure it's all over the 'Net, with the rest) and Marla Jameson died during a Spider-Slayer attack. Spider-Slayers were the general name for the multitude of robots cooked up to create Spidey Heartache and Bruises, and both Jonah (who funded most of them!) and Marla had helped build them before (it's how they met!). As a kid who enjoyed the 1984 Annual written by the long-absent Stan Lee (twelve years!) where the Jamesons married, it was a little poignant. As illustrated painfully by Daily Bugle Publisher Joe Robertson, "Marla's no longer the story..." because the Spider-World was knee-deep already in the next threat.

So, in #656, the first of eleven issues I purchased for an offer of $25, we meet Massacre, a hostage-taking, clinically disfigured individual whose empathic ties to human life have been severed by a brain injury, which left him with a dead wife for whom he could not even grieve (how's THAT for sympathetic villainy?)and a serious psychosis, previously treated by longtime Spider-verse therapist Dr. Ashley Kafka. We also see Spider-Man cope without his spider-sense, the nervous system-centered danger alert that's saved his life nearly every issue. Worse, writer Dan Slott offers numerous problems that crop up with his lost spider-sense: an unexpected example is when his web fastens to unsupported plaster and his swing lands him flat on his back atop a police car. Things proceed downhill from there!

On the cover, you see Peter's solution, which hits him just as he almost hits snide Paladin outside the office of the Night Nurse: if he's going to get hit, he needs some body armor. I personally think the lost spider-sense is a great idea; now he's truly vulnerable to dangers in ways most flesh and blood people are, and there's more room for surprises, adding to his challenge. Besides, I don't know how many times writers conveniently had him ignore his warning sense for the sake of giving the baddies a fighting chance, anyway!

Jonah's feelings are stone cold, in the wake of Marla's death, and he prepares to use the law to put a permanent end to Massacre. That characterization, and Peter's sensible approach to facing this hapless terrorist, deliver a solid story. Marcos Martin's art here and in other stories is so fresh and vivid, with some unique layout ideas and a warm cartoony style for the characters.

A subplot involving Pete's new girlfriend---a forensic crime sleuth---comes to a kind of resolution that insures me she will remain intensely curious about Peter's secret, without the predictable melodrama one might expect. By the end of #661, I had to laugh.

At this point, the biggest plot in the past year at Marvel intersects with the comic, and we're treated first to Peter's reminiscences of times spent with the Human Torch and the Fantastic Four, three very neat little adventures that range from the very relatable and human to the strange frontiers of Fantastic Four exploration...only to tie back in to the world right outside your door, courtesy of gearhead Johnny.

After that deeply hilarious issue ends with a holographic "will" from Johnny conferring his place in the Fantastic Four family to his superhero brother, Spidey then joins the Future Foundation, the present iteration of the FF, and begins a terrific set of adventures that brings a long-favorite "what if?" to life. The cast becomes the appealing present day FF and their precocious children and the strange protege children under their protection. I've never enjoyed Peter working with the FF more; maybe the difference is that he is genuinely a member, and together they are working through the loss of the Torch while facing mutual adversaries in fairly interesting schemes that harken back to the earliest days of Marvel without simply re-treading old plots!

The other thing of note: Peter got black-balled from photography while aiding JJJ, but his luck takes the interesting bounce where he gets a real genius-level science job, extending the cast and plot possibilities (albeit with characters that have yet to really grab me, but it's been sooo busy!!) with Horizon Corp, which is essentially a Marvel Silicon Valley-East Coast outfit.

These comics are trading for about $13 in fine condition on Mile High Comics' site, and I saw some pretty high Ebay bids. The fact that they rock, AND cost me a shade over $2 a piece, gave me immense satisfaction, when I was finally too shagged out to do anything but sit and enjoy them with some music (much provided by my talented and silly friends Eric and Sabrina, who've bombed my phone with tongue-in-cheek covers of childhood favorites for two days!). They share a last name with Peter's new squeeze, Carli Cooper!

The ending of #656 rings home a fundamental change in the character; not the temporary costume change (changed again for his FF initiation, in another funny scene), but the very motivation of the character. A legitimate beef with his depiction is that, while he was written as a youth still grasping maturity in his early days, he was also a victim of the Me Generation's morose tendencies to psycho-analyse themselves in gloomy, self-absorbed ways in the next decade. Guilt, guilt, guilt---it's a pretty shameful motivation. It's actually one that would hamper happiness, if not effectiveness.

No, he realizes how he can apply his brains and try to find a way to win---a way to save everyone. He does this now for the living! "And I'm going to make you proud. You'll see." I always said a love of people, appreciation of life, and more positive traits were the real motivator, ensnared in all that down-on-yourself verbiage some people find necessary to consider themselves "good." Listen, life is worth living for its own merit; saving life is a joy. And it's a fine time to be Spider-Man!!!

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