Sunday, December 24, 2017

Creating Marvels: The Frosty Rider song

The Frosty Rider
by C Lue Lyron

I’m holly, jolly soul
corn cob pipe, and a button nose
and I’ve got two eyes made of coal
but I’m not gonna let’em catch me, no
not gonna let’em melt Frosty the Snowman

Well there must have been some magic
in that old top hat I’m wearin’
playin’ with the village children

But I’m not gonna let police man, no
not gonna let’em stop the Frosty Snowman...

On a freezer train with Karen
rail to North Pole goes on forever
and I’ve got one black magic top hat
but I’m not gonna let’em catch me, no
not gonna let’em melt Frosty the Snowman

Right click and save
download direct!

Christmas card cartoon to David Anthony Kraft

and to my buddy Ed Pettis, who helped me launch the very first Creating Marvels podcast:

Merry Christmas True Believers!

C Lue

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Marvel Comics Con '75 with the Bullpen's own Scott Edelman!

Face front! We're heading back to 1975, alongside the Marvel Bullpenner charged by The Man himself with organizing the whole gasmorgle. Scott discusses the memos and his thoughts on putting together the big weekend of Marvel Comic Con 1975. You can find the lowdown on his career and his podcast, Eating The Fantastic (on iTunes) at ! Enjoy!
First: you can't get in without this, OK?
(Thanks Harold! NOw I'll use this one to get in and double back and hand it back to ya!)
HEre be the link where you may download or stream the 36:51 podcast.


Convention program scans courtesy of Halcyon Harold Parker!

A couple courtesy of Ken Seagal and Wil Alvolis at Marvel Comics 1961-1986 on FB:
That's lil' Ken with STan. Boy, it's so hard to save some of these for the article exclusively, they're all so fun! I have about 47 scans and photos so far, welcome more from anyone. Ken says that's perhaps the one existing photo of a fan with the Marvel Con shirt getting a Lee autograph! Cool, huh? He says I can use it in my Creating Marvels book. Awesome!
aLWAYS, thanks Sam Maronie, copyright SamMaronieEntertainment for his scans. Don't miss his book on pop culture, on sale now! Tripping Through Pop Culture.

And finally, this beauty courtesy of the man you hear in the podcast. This, to me, says Marvel '75 so well.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Marvel Comic Con: 1975! With photographer Sam Maronie: a Creating Marvels podcast

It's pop culture writer/ photographer Sam Maronie! Hear all about his adventures at the first Marvel Comic Con, the spring which saw the return of King Kirby! IN fact, Sam sat down with Jack Kirby, in addition to attending all the panels. Come back in time...

Marvel Comic Con in 1975 was the very first convention hosted by the Marvel Comics Group itself- and Sam Maronie was there! Here's a few minutes with his eyewitness account, including his meeting with Jack Kirby. Sam shot most of the existing high quality photos from the event that you still see today- and continues photographing comics convention the nation over. Sam's also produced a book: Tripping Through Pop Culture: The (Mis) Adventures of a Pop Culture writer, with a cover by the acclaimed Joe Phillips! It's also got a foreword from Scott Edelman, who you see in the silly picture above with legendary inker Joe Sinnott- our next guest on Creating Marvels!

All of Sam's photos are here courtesy Sam Maronie:
© Maronie Creative Services. Used with permission.

Proof they were just letting ANY body in in those days:

Scott Edelman and Joe Sinnott
Sam's book:
Scott with artist Don Perlin, courtesy of Scott Edelman.
Check out his podcast, Eating The Fantastic, on iTunes! His latest guest: Marv Wolfman! He's had many a science fiction writer and editor, to say nothing of tasty meals...join the Anthony Bourdain of Science Fiction (at least in Baltimore!) on our next Creating Marvels!

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Steranko's Captain America: Techniques in a Top-Notch Trilogy

CAP #110 “Alone No More!”

From the first panels, we get the essence of noir, and a very cinematic approach: the figure, against a repeating background, advances to the fore. The deft caption tells us it’s Steve Rogers- the man who is Captain America. The star literally walks up from the anonymous streets, towards a concert appearance poster of his star-spangled public identity, hanging on a wall. If you happened to be a lonely young person yourself, this moody opening is a sure-fire grabber.

Steve lights a pipe- maybe he was depicted smoking occasionally back then still, it’s so out-of-character for the interpretation with which I grew up, but maybe that one was too lilly-white anyway. The dark overcast on his countenance is the beginning of a recurrent visual, where Cap will be presented in silhouette in key moments where our fearless hero feels angst. I love how literally he becomes ‘alone no more’- but we’ll get to the Hulk’s hands bursting through the wall momentarily. I want to stop and focus on the way Steve stands, facing away towards the poster, whose image now contains more nuance than we first saw, more trouble and loneliness in the eyes peering back gigantically. He’s confronting the titanic, larger-than-life nature of his life as Captain America- how it’s separated him from the lot of ordinary men, with their loves, friendships, jobs, concerns, dreams. You might say the image before him is as he sees it: not the poster itself, but staring back at the truth in his own eyes, as Steve sees the man behind the mask in his own mind.
All brilliant-still not two pages in!
I could linger over every page, and let me tell you, I am in my second-only reading of this classic tale, but I can’t stop flipping back and forth now, looking at it with a second vision of its techniques besides reading the story. This guest appearance- by the skinny but limber and powerful Hulk-is just superb. The central dilemma of his existence parades through these pages in seven pages: wild, defensive, incredible, confused, destructive. Straight from his ongoing narrative, Rick Jones appears to try once more to calm his emerald friend, but we’re heading right back to the original switch-off from Marvel’s earliest days (just five years before): Rick will end up beside Cap, leaving the Hulk. First, we have a quick battle, two very reluctant foes with no especial malice, separated only by the bestial nature of the Hulk, united by the nobility of Captain America. Alas, as the night-bound battle concludes- the military once again stymied-Cap can only settle for rescuing Rick, snatching him from the Hulk’s grasp as he leaps away in one fantastic perspective panel. Strangely, Hulk’s unconcerned for Rick- if anything, here, he’s regressed too far to really recognize his human friend.
I make all these observations- I am in such a long line of admirers, I can only hope to pick out something in a unique way, and don’t wish to retell what the tantalizing pages so expertly do! Every single choice not only tells the story, but does so with a deeply thoughtful, unique choice. I am hardly the only one to observe what a pity it is that Steranko couldn’t do a longer run, but he stopped after he got it just perfect- maybe the masterpiece is the point. So many major points, too: it’s not just a well-done tale, but one full of pivotal innovations for the evolution of the strip and adding an enduring villain, at that, in Madame Hydra/ Viper. The Hulk strip’s changed by Rick’s move here (for now- he won’t be going back for a long time), even if the encounter’s one of the endless nightmares he’ll never remember. But the danger also legitimizes Cap accepting Rick into his company: he’s insistent, in his thoughts, that Rick can’t go back to the Hulk! And there’s not a breath taken before Rick shakes up Cap’s world by appearing again in the Bucky costume (with no reference to when he did so previously), defying Cap to give him a chance in plain-spoken dialogue. I love how Cap sees his endangerment of Bucky in Hulk’s imperilment of Rick, too. After all, Cap sees another lost soul in Hulk, someone he wanted to help, who he would’ve gladly protected if only Hulk had not already been enraged by the pursuing military. And yes, there’s something interesting about Cap being at cross-purposes with the military, where he got his beginning: it’s a quiet symbol of how the young people of the day were increasingly divided by the forceful certainty of military deployments, to debatable purposes in the face of eminent threats. Even the Hydra plot to pollute the water is super-timely!
Best of all, between drama and action, it just...never...stops!!! So exciting!!!!
That’s true all the way through this trilogy. Each one has a slam-bang trademark double-page spread- I daresay, from my knowledge of comics history, Steranko innovated those, at least, showed how to do them so memorably. Slender, powerful, graceful anatomy; angles that really make me wonder, every page, if this was the first thing that came to mind, or how often did he play with certain layouts or where from his notes did he draw on them; cool lighting, excellent coloring, characterization, maybe the most inspired Stan Lee scripting you could ask for, and of course, the callback to the original Captain America and Bucky in this new partnership. I love how they both struggle with the new roles, but Rick proves Cap’s gut determination to have faith in him to be spot-on. One more development: the re-establishment of Cap’s secret I.D. All this, and Cap saves the Avengers? We get the first female Captain America villain? OH, my Lord. That’s all I can say.

I am on the fence as to treat these like you’ve never read them and keep from spoilering anything critical, so let me state, if you have never read Captain America #110, 111, and 113, don’t toy with my humble words any further! Get the Visionaries volume, skip the X-Men stories, and dive straight into a comic that defines superhero comics. If you don’t like this, you probably don’t like superhero comics! If you don’t read comics, these epitomize what all the fuss was about. These are the kind of comics that are the reason we have blockbuster movies about the concepts, today: because if you depict events thoughtfully, mix in characterization while ripping the governor off the action, and know how to connect with true “hell yeah!” moments, you can entertain most audiences. I will tell you, comic books, God love’em, are not usually this good. You might find yourself wondering with me how effective Cap’s strategy is, long-term, for his personal life dilemma, but if we are talking about just three comic books, I don’t see how anyone on God’s green Earth could cram anymore excitement and nuance into just 60 pages of material. To say nothing of three awesome covers!

So what else? I like the static foreground element of Rick sleeping while Cap moves away.
Cap’s a master of misdirection. In the first battle with Madame Hydra and company, he uses a victory out-of-sight to come back as a cybernetically-enhanced Hydra goon. He makes the call to send Rick out of the battle to safety, too- which not only protects his untrained partner in the melee, but serves to separate Hydra forces. The conclusion’s nicely sequenced: Rick loses handily to Madame Hydra, who decides to drop him to be washed away rather than “waste a single bullet on the likes of you!” Cap calls for his arm; the rescue becomes a convenient distraction for Madame Hydra’s escape, which is almost certainly her plan.

I like Captain America’s positive assessment of their successes in the end: for one, they’re both still alive, but the contamination plot’s broken up, too. The story’s nicely self-contained while setting up the trilogy: Rick’s succeeded in his audition. Hydra’s depicted as utterly ruthless in their abandonment of their own to be swept away in the sewers. Cap’s decided he will indeed take on a partner- and while this union’ s short-lived, in the upcoming years, that’s the main way he’ll work, especially with Marvel’s first African-American hero, The Falcon!

#111 “Tonight You Live, Tomorrow I Die!”

Steve walks into an arcade for a secret meeting with Nick Fury- seems like a code word might have saved a lot of trouble, but the point made is, if you can contact Steve Rogers, you can create a trap for Captain America. The depiction of the arcade creates menace: the knives, the signs promoting shooting games, even the creepy fortune teller robot- and of course, the cowboy robot, pistol drawn. Steranko uses aspect-to-aspect: time ticks forward suspense-fully in the seconds it takes the eye to move over panels with each detail. It’s great story-telling: he’s laying out the field of the ensuing melee. The usefulness of concealing your shield on your back’s also apparent!
I love the thoughtful sequence where Cap’s demonstrating his fighting technique to Rick. You not only get multi-image acrobatics, but a breakdown of how they’re incorporated to shift from defense to offense to defense.

The brooding Jones becomes collateral in a kidnapping attempt,which merges his characterization of doubts in his role as “Bucky” with an eerie sequence inspired by Dali and psychedelics. First we get one more use of a technique Steranko inspired that gradually disappears from comics after a spell of imitation, where he puts what a character sees in a panel with the character, juxtaposed. In #110, Cap sees a Hydra agent, in a bold graphic colored differently, drawing a bead with his gun, and we see this too, while most of the panel’s focused on a frame of Cap under siege of brute force. In #111, we see the card in Bucky’s hand, as he sees it, poised above him as he’s depicted reading it. This merging of two visual aspects into a single moment in time in a panel works well; it’s tricky if not laid out just-so. It's reminiscent of the Cubist use of the "fourth dimension" technique, composed of differing figures turned in space across an additionally-implied temporal dimension. (In other words, same background space, different figures, and each depiction's a progression!) We’ll get a different variation on the idea when Steve walks in to find Rick kidnapped, then turns from the doorway to spring out at the reader, resulting in a smashed window exit to the street! Most comics storytelling depicts a single figure in a single place, with one clear action- even if an agile movement across the panel is implied with speed lines.

The spring outwards takes us straight to a double-page spread where Cap’s thigh is actually much thicker than his head! But try turning the page to capture the perspective of the body’s twist in the plane of the movements: it totally works. Making anatomical exaggerations look right has a long-standing tradition of artistic headaches. It takes a sharp vision to turn a body in an angle that, particularly at the time, had no models!

Particularly in the Hydra headquarters scenes, Steranko uses bodies and equipment to make unconventional panel borders. Using a quirky view screen to shape a panel is straight out of Kirby, but leave it to Jim to use a sensual leg! He may well have an antecedent in Eisner: I haven’t seen all of Will’s work, but he’d been very playful with graphic designs-merged-with-storytelling.

The ending twist- as revealed in #113’s conclusion-seems very old-school-comics, but the essential idea (of a decoy bearing the physical evidence meant to misdirect one’s foes) could be readily updated many ways. The end of #113 has a neat visual: Steve’s doffing his hood and turning away, concealed, as he explains how his plan has terminated the idea of Steve Rogers being his true identity. When you consider it as the bookend to #110, we’ve got Cap exiting Steranko’s narrative exactly as he came into it: trench-coated solitary mystery man. Undeniable noir coolness.

We’re reminded Captain America’s a soldier, too, in one moment that seems fatal to the Hydra assassins: you know the one, where he tells Buck to shoot his motorcycle fuel tank! Granted, in World War II, most soldiers were not trained to kill, still, though circumstances necessitated what would elsewhere be straight-up hand-to-hand murder. But Cap and Bucky fought their battles on their own terms, not the Code-Approved superhero morality. I think Steranko’s pretty clear, Hydra’s blown to pieces. The unintentional (according to the dialogue) hoisting of Madame Hydra by her own petard is big movie cool. I especially think Cap would try to avoid killing a female combatant at the time, even one so vicious.

I didn’t mind her background story: it moved quickly and added some depth with a touch of grim realism about struggle producing a life of crime. Good symbolism, too: she’s apparently quite beautiful, yet so haunted by her hair-hidden scars that she cannot allow herself to be a beautiful person.

The single “buy” I found difficult is one every super-team writer encounters: how do you knock out beings of differing amounts of strength with a single gassing? It seems like what would anesthetize Thor would kill Hawkeye. And why would it work on the Vision at all? (I think it’s safe to assume he was thought of as a synthetic man at this point, meaning, an artificially-generated physical simulacrum mostly identical to humanity.) You’d never get Iron Man that way, today, either. But it’s not today: it’s 1968 as these pages are inked and lettered. And damned if it isn’t the very essence of all a superhero comic aspired to be in that era, too!

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Marvel Visionary: Jim Steranko, shadows and light

MARVEL VISIONARIES: Jim Steranko, 1999

Whether you’re talking about transforming the sheer optical design of a comics page as a piece of art, pop culture history writing, graphic novel pioneering, or simply raw ideas, there’s no denying the impact of surf guitarist-turned escape artist- turned graphic designer, Jim Steranko. If I have anything critical to say about any of the gentleman’s work, it’s absolutely within the context of his breath-taking contributions. Comics moved on to different styles, sure, but they evolved under the energetic care of the Pennsylvanian wonder. He was so perfectly charming and gracious in person- I can’t overlook that in light of any of his controversial remarks in recent years. I spent an entire afternoon in his company, at a Comic Con before AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. made him so in-demand. I came back to visit awhile the next day, too- he had read the short story I gave him! This experience could shape anyone’s perceptions of a guy. It’s nothing new to gush about facets of Steranko-he brought contemporary graphics style to the late Silver Age of comics, blending pulp sensibilities with modern fashion, design, and ideas that could keep James Bond screenwriters up at night. I found him so personably affable, and there’s no critic likely to have the track record for taking chances- often successfully-you find in him.
Can we say, though, honestly, if we popped open the ‘99 Visionaries volume with great anticipation- and found the X-Men issues therein almost unreadable? The inking’s just not complementary to his layouts, which have flashes of his almost-effortless brilliance. The figures are occasionally bizarre, and Polaris’ gender might rightly be questioned, in her big debut panel in costume. But something about famed Doom Patrol writer Arnold Drake’s script- imitating Stan Lee-style early Marvel conflict-is much more off-putting than the visuals. I’m tempted to defend the double-page spread and much else, but this is not how I’d introduce anyone to Steranko. He loves his wide-spread leg figures, but they’re kind of baffling in their extreme, here. I flipped through both issues, reading pages, and just couldn’t do it. I get how Marvel figured to cash in on anything X-Men, on top of attracting Steranko afficianados. The best thing about these issues is the logo Jim created while doing the covers- for no additional fee. It became iconic!

Things really heat up after that, though.

I’m going to save the Captain America stories for a second installment, because they are easily among the best three issues the title’s ever seen. I’ll go so far as to say I can’t think of a more kickass trilogy of Cap comics! With three unforgettable covers, it’s over way too soon.

So from this volume, we have then two short tales: horror and romance. Digger introduces the Steranko/ Lee story: “At The Stroke Of Midnight!” - a panorama of shadows within and without. The story following is truly so opposite as to seem deliberate! There’s not a shadow found on the pages of the fable “My Heart Broke In Hollywood!”, which looks more like the era’s Day-Glo Peter Max posters. What’s ugly, Victorian and dilapidated in the first one is pretty, Californian and fresh in the second. The one is so guilty, the second, so naive. The panel layouts! Never was the cinematic use of action broken up across a horizontal panel better used by its master in Tower of Shadows #1. Never could you ask storytelling to be better carried by a set of poster/ advertising-like images. It’s the colors and shadowless forms that make this episode in Our Romance #5 look like contemporary album art.
(Pardon, again, the grandiose and carnival-esque language that seems to come naturally with Steranko superlatives: that’s practically the tradition in discussing his work critically- as though we writers are inspired to suit his showman reputation. Is a page, I ask, no less a performance?)

Yep, they’re pretty good.
Next: we'll talk about that Cap trilogy- and how about a podcast interview with the photographer of Marvel Con '75? Oh yes...there's more goodies at Creating Marvels, as linked

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Have a Thunderball: a mystery feint for the Amazing Spider-Man


We’re back on the trail of the Hobgoblin. Problem is, as we’ve seen before, it’s not easy to find- and this time, the crime he begins investigating leads him to an even more powerful menace.

Just like “Confrontations” starts with a confrontation- Peter versus the results of his test, which aren’t posted, Dean Sloan popping up, then Lance Bannon tracking down Parker- and keeps going with that idea, you’ll find an issue based on interruptions, here. Nose Norton’s grooming is interrupted by a creeping Spider-Man, who’s interrupted also his plans to cash in on a secret item beneath his bed! Spider-Man’s going to interrupt its exchange, Frog Man’s – Frog Man!- then an interruption of the collar. This is what Spider-Man means by real consequences in the wake of Eugene’s bumbling heroism! And he would know about that! The gang interrupts the security wagon, and Spider-Man interrupts the pay-off- but again, a villain’s scheme has, at least for part one, paid off. It’s really Thunderball of the Wrecking Crew, and now he’s going to have nearly Thor-class power!

There’s a nice detail added to the Peter Parker subplot. There’s just this one lunch date and the main Spider-Man detective story, along with a third thread revolving around Frog Man’s interruption. The nice part is, Pete sits down with Aunt May and Anna Watson, MJ and Nathan come wheeling up. And when lunch is over, Pete asks May why she says she always thought he and MJ made such a nice couple. After all- that’s a plot dating back to Ditko! May quietly tells him “you’ve both lost so much...” He can’t ask more without an awkward scene, MJ being there. Did Stern have something in mind? There’s something about her sister- we know that from her daydream, last issue.

The Spider-Man subplot involves the Parker luck that causes Spidey to miss the dusk-activated security floodlights that illumine his form from the skylight above the table full of plans, maps Spidey had been photographing. That precedes the ruckus bringing Frog Man bashing through, springing around without control as the bad guys high-tail it. Frog Man’s appeared twice now in Marvel Team Up, determined and unskilled as before. This, is why Spider-Man hates working with others. He comes away, having inspired starry-eyed Eugene Patilo yet again with an artful leap and his assured nature. He’s thinking how the Black Cat also wants to partner with him, become part of a life he came into by accident. Now we’ve handily tied into both other Spidey titles, and away we go!

At least his crime photography approach pays off this time in tipping him to where the heist is going down. He’s got the maps and time tables, pictured. It’s not going to land him any Bugle bucks, though. Guess we can’t have TOO many things run smoothly! You could wonder if we’re heading towards the next Hobgoblin battle until the last pages impressively reveal an empowered Thunderball.

Another Monstrous Class foe’s stomping Spidey’s way: “And He Strikes Like A Thunderball!”

Rarely in the Stern run can Spider-Man hope to throw a punch that’ll save the day.
One reason is, he’ll face an immaterial Will O’The Wisp, or a Tarantula whose inhumane mutation he can’t stop. The Hobgoblin’s so evasive. The Stilt Man’s victory is really the one way Spidey can win, too. Black Cat’s up against her own demons more than physical opponents. But when it comes to physical opponents, never in all the years of Amazing Spider-Man were there more powerful enemies!

Once again, magnificent illustration, and Con Ed once more saves the day. Nothing from which to drop Thunderball, no handy building foundation in which to bury him, Spider-Man finds the one thing on Long Island that can match Thunderball’s power. Yes, he’s using a power plant again as versus The Mad Thinker, but this time his human opponent recognizes that he’s webbed cable to the crowbar, wiring it into the substation generators. But he’s tricking Thunderball into throwing his wrecking ball, and with an application of webbing, Spider-Man uses the enchanted weapon’s penchant for returning to its thrower to lay a circuit of electricity on him that blacks out the county! Too bad traffic’s stalled at horrendous rates. We get one last use of that “hands behind the head, resting” Spider-Man pose Romita enjoys, as he sits in the back of a pick-up truck joining the crowded turnpike. Single plot, action all the way- and surprise! Halfway through the issue, we suddenly meet “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man!”

It’s been a treat talking to y’all. A bit more about the Hobgoblin coming up, the best tour behind the scenes you can possibly get for the next era of Spidey, courtesy Ron Frenz himself, then probably some general commentary on Doc Strange, Cap, Hulk, Thor, and Spider-Man later in the year, in conversations with core Marvel Bullpen alum, David Anthony Kraft.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Daydream Believers: a Spider-Man one-of-a-kind offbeat issue

“The Daydreamers”

A person’s daydreams would provide intense insight into a person’s self-concept, and I wrap this up with the single issue you could really call experimental in form, as it’s the only one of its kind in Amazing Spider-Man! I mean, they’re trying some O.P.O. (Other People’s Opposition), but the stories themselves are not experimental, but solidly reliable Spider-work. Here is the one chance they took creating an issue some folks might hate on the principle that nothing really “happens,” betting it’d be what most readers would truly appreciate, as we are hitting a phase at Marvel where “down time” is being honored and welcomed, at least in the letters pages.

We’re early in the day I planned to write on “Daydreamers,” and first thing I have to say, as my wife lies dreaming a few feet away, is Roger and John really turn the camera around to catch you on this one! They know that, not only the reading experience, but the quality of daydreams the characters inspire, are the measure of influence and enjoyment. They know comics make you daydream. Here, for once, each scene will share one. Such a personal way to get to know these four characters, while mostly celebrating who they are by nature and not slaving away for the movement of a plot. There’s one nigh-revelation here about a sister whose family haunts Mary Jane: that one moment adds such realism to how we can now see MJ, partying and staying too upbeat to feel the sadness follow. She’s barely thought of anyone in her family outside Aunt Anna since we’ve known her, but we peep into an unexpected twist of her guilty conscience beneath the too-earnest pursuit of the good times. She’s enjoying the most absurd manifestation of perfect success as an actress, behaving in silly ways, when this downer of a vision comes crashing through via word association when she’s told she’s ‘standing in the sister’s way,’ that is, a Catholic nun she didn’t even see, for the burning intensity of her inner world’s drama. That makes her a bit like all of us equipped to so internalize things in story. I like how that single page adds more depth to MJ than she’s experienced since Gerry Conway’s tenure. AS you could see when she reflected on how this break-in news might impact Harry and Liz, Stern’s bringing her back with more peeks beneath her facade of carefree ease: it’s a lot of work, having fun. The endings of MJ’s and Black Cat’s daydreams actually contain an idea each that will prove relevant in the continuing development of both ladies.

Peter’s turns out very similar and ends jarringly, but in time for him to stand up for a bullied kid. Even in a happy daydream, he’s reminded of the under-confidence and desperation that has undermined him so many times since. Lately, that’s seemed long ago. Could be the burglar getting away to become part of the Hobgoblin genesis has those days on Pete’s mind again. But some days, even the glistening shield of Captain America, on his best day as a superhero peer after his most absurd success, he still sees the skinny kid! And who should put so much in the hands of someone when “he’s just some skinny kid!” He inspires a nice daydream, himself, in his parting wake.

Black Cat and JJJ have seemingly hilariously positive daydreams that don’t end on a horrible personal note, very fun ones. One thing about Felicia Hardy’s daydream, however: does underscore how, underneath the mask of her beloved Spider, there’s a face of a man she doesn’t know at all. As for JJJ, your love of the JJJ/ Spidey rivalry may have some bearing on how memorably funny his daydream is. But if this was the first place you ever read about these two rivals, the delightful illustrations would tell all you need to know about its latent juvenalia. But never can I remember a more fun embodiment of how JJJ and Spidey feel about having each other as such irreverent presences. If you could only read a single ASM under this team, here’s the most rewarding pick. I think having this issue where “nothing happens” on the other side of that two-parter bespeaks a lot of confidence from the team and faith in their readership.

Structure notes on The Daydreamers: it uses, again, four different plots, delineated cleanly in the four daydreamers. What I admire about this “off-beat issue” as they liked to say is how it’s relevant to what’s going on in Spidey’s ongoing story. I forgot to mention the gym bag/ JJJ fitness kick as an excellent detail added to tease those who’ve longed to see JJJ go all villain-y again, who think this time, he’s the Hobgoblin. I really think that’s why it’s depicted and even referenced here in Pete’s daydream! Looking back, it’s obviously Marla’s influence on Jolly Jonah trying to live healthier.

If it wasn’t kinetic enough a thrill for some readers, maybe it whet their appetite for more Hobgoblin saga. More than likely, if you were just a kid who occasionally reads these, by the time you’ve taken at least a simple flip through, you’d think it’s hilarious. It’s a wonder “Daydreamers” wasn’t the Assistant Editor’s Month entry, you know?

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

A Hobgoblin unmasked !

“Raw Power: The Donovan Hobgoblin tears open Manhattan!”

Standing on the ceiling is part of who Spider-Man both is, and part of his problem approaching the police: he’s blatantly unorthodox! Receptionist Ms. Smithers- a nod to Jan Smithers, a.k.a. Bailey on WKRP?- doesn’t know quite how to dismiss or delay this unnerving presence. He gets attention, but without his full cooperation and accountability- especially, just what IS being stolen here- he’s going to find D.A. Tower unsure of trusting him. Part of that problem is, he’s sure Spidey’s not cluing him in fully, but yeah, Avengers Clearance would be different!

The meeting between the D.A. and Spidey is a perfect recap that suits the plot. Spidey’s trying to figure how to use police information, when he won’t share the crucial information that would tip Norman was the Green Goblin. Nothing of value’s been noticed missing, as District Attorney Tower reports. The Hobgoblin’s very existence is really a secret to the public at large!

He’s out there, testing and looking over his terroristic arsenal. His cold-blooded planning betrays no trace of conscience. He’s no sympathetic villain- he’s not the humanistically-tragic Norman Osborn of Lee/ Romita. He murders to keep and discover secrets. He leads a life, possibly of professional respectability, when he is not in costume. He displays more discernment and control over when he actually suits up to be the Hobgoblin; some covert training sessions with his purloined equipment are suggested. He tests the mayhem-inducing power of the Hobgoblin; he creates a showdown with Spider-Man as likely as anything yet to kill the wall-crawler.

Peter/ Spider-Man’s usually juggling many plot threads, and counting the villain, there’s about four different things per issue.

Peter’s set up for a lunch quartet opposite MJ. He was in the middle of conducting his investigation his usual solo way- the Bugle news morgue, in this case, a type of physical library of issues and notes for investigations at the Bugle.
So you have the investigation he’s launched to find a super-villain no one else knows exists. Then, you have his friends trying to rekindle a relationship with a mutual friend- understandable, nice idea, one that becomes a running joke as Harry and Liz, Aunt May and Anna, and here, Ned and Betty host another impromptu get-together for Pete and MJ! That’s two.

The investigation collides with that main plot, leading out from the bad guys’ secret doings in their hideout. I love how you could honestly wonder if the guy who’s taken up as Hobgoblin didn’t die in the explosion. There’s just enough misdirection to fool with your certainty of this shell game! It’s hard to go back to the very first time I read this and ask myself if I thought this was Lefty or the Hobgoblin, and you don’t have to stop and ask yourself anything!

So, the fourth thread’s the subplot, one that straddles events in Peter Parker, where Black Cat’s been appearing after her return and recuperation, and his appearance in the Avengers. He finds out in Avengers #235 how much Avengers make; I don’t doubt his decision just two issues ago to concentrate more on life as Spider-Man and try to make photography pay. We get three weeks’ passage in a panel that’s always stayed with me, one of the iconic ones of this run! I thought about it as I actually wrote much of this book’s material in July, and at several points in the summer.
That concern for his finances, and his occupation, and by extension, his relationship with the Cat, all represent a single thread tying his professional life concerns and this other facet: how does he really feel about working with other people? We’ll see him over the next two months in Avengers applying in earnest. After that, we’ll see the Black Cat become his partner!

That’s actually a fifth dimension of development, and these fourth and fifth items are folded together in one neat page of web-slinging. His method of travel’s so unique and visually engaging, we often get a strong sense of setting visually while his thoughts wander to pick up subplot threads while actively investigating Hobgoblin.

Like a cold underworld general, he sends another man- an unwitting victim of Norman Osborn’s notes and experiments, left for him by the real Hobgoblin- into a meaningless fray, to stand in his place as both weapon and experiment. First, upon reflection, it’s the real Hobgoblin, seemingly entrusting Lefty Donovan with a chemical experiment meant to turn green. Then it blows up like it did on Norman, so you know a psychosis-inducing event has now befallen either the Hobgoblin or his assistant. The injured party drug out in the yard, his partner goes to cover up remaining elements left in the house for when first responders arrive. Is the explosion the end of this person- or merely the planned cover for the experiment site? Beneath, we’ll find, lies a secreted stowaway bunker of gear awaiting the Hobgoblin. You can only wonder as long as you choose to linger, but the air of mystery’s wonderfully in place! Only the resurrection of patient John Doe will reveal this ploy, while Spider-Man searches for a Lefty Donovan Hobgoblin that’s nowhere found.

The plan goes into motion because, in addition to psychosis from brain damage in the explosion, the Hobgoblin’s hypnosis methods, comic book-levels of effective, possibly aided by some of Osborn’s hallucinogenic compounds, leave our John Doe the irresistible urge to heed the call of the raw power and evil of being The Hobgoblin. Once again, a face goes unseen, in true Hobgoblin fashion- that is, we the readers never come face-to-face with Lefty Donovan, symbolizing his status as a faceless pawn- a cypher in the fascistic clutches of the Hobgoblin. (He never got a really great tagline/ stand-in nick name for his nom de crime.)
After a pair of assaults yielding getaway cars, the obsessive figure is ready to return to the accident scene. Only in the monitor banks for his sensors do we sense the real sinister presence at work! And still, to our eyes, this Hobgoblin’s simply carrying out the rest of his physique-altering experiment, gathering data as he flies- where? To an utter disruption of Times Square!

It is good, by the way, that without spending time re-establishing their history, we get a police detective who knows Spider-Man previously, Lt. Snyder, a creation like Lt. Keating from Stern’s Spectacular Spider-Man run. Even better, Spider-Man was pointed here by Captain Jean De Wolff from midtown! These numerous, identifiable police leaders provide the setting with texture, creating minor supporting characters whose stories with Spider-Man can become unique. Anyway, all that care put into investigating, and in the end it takes no detective to uncover the next Hobgoblin step.

The mastermind unveils the Hobgoblin as his interpretation of Osborn’s creation- a Hobgoblin he fully expects to relay valuable information via sensors Donovan, post-hypnotized suggestion, puts in place while suiting up. He shows Spider-Man what a Hobgoblin can do, and plan A is obviously to defeat and or kill Spider-Man with this pawn- leaving his hands circumstance-free to be clean. It’s only that terrible moment he must guard his secret plans that buys Donovan a very Goblin sort of ending, destruction by glider.

Spider-Man’s chilled to the bone by the killing. He’s positive he encountered a set-up, intended to close the police’s active case about the burglaries, as they have to this point not even had proof positive anyone was using Green Goblin equipment, nor that said equipment could be in play, as the villain simply vanished by their reckoning. It’s pretty confusing, these villainous plans.

Fantastic battle, as always. Something about this match-up- the pyrotechnics, the sheer number of Halloween-inspired tricks?- with super-strength, the Hobgoblin’s mighty close to an even match physically with Spider-Man. Donovan was never taught to escape, I think. He definitely doesn’t foresee how effectively Spidey can turn an enemy’s surroundings into a weapon or trap! Appropriately, it’s the Hobgoblin’s own deadly arsenal that provides his humbling. Being the Hobgoblin, for him, was always going to end up with him powerful and then, dead.

Beside the television set, we see that mask again: itself, a sort of call-back to the days of Steve Ditko’s mystery men, and morally grotesque antagonists. He’s thinking to himself how it’s time to take advantage of the room he’s gained to operate with the cops convinced he’s most likely killed himself fighting Spider-Man (yes, which you, me, and Spider-Man all know DID happen to the Green Goblin, original flavor!). Let Spider-Man suspect: the paranoia will do more damage than any direct plan!
Let the mask sit, like a ghost, like a goblin. Let whoever is really the Hobgoblin carry on with his life as before, on the surface.

Meanwhile, he refines the serum that can give him super-strength and durability without losing his mind. He reads the journals. He sneaks away to practice and plan. Guesses about his life hidden on the other side of his secret passages begin rolling in at mail call. The Hobgoblin could be anywhere, perhaps as close to Peter’s life as was the Norman Osborn Green Goblin himself. Who knew?

Spider-Man realize the Hobgoblin ‘s continued acceleration towards his goals of consolidating the hidden Goblin legacy’s might. He’ll be looking everywhere, up the nostrils of Nose Norton himself if he must. He’s got to find him and force a showdown. But so many weapons did Osborn bring to bear over the years- any of them could fall into his successor’s hands!
Worse, so many plans...and more stolen secrets. One reaches into the history of the strip itself, and sets up, along with “Daydreamers,” the markers in the evolution of J. Jonah Jameson, here since issue #1. I’m thrilled to say, the team will not have us waiting so long after all for the Hobgoblin’s next move – his next device crafted to aid in a decisive personal victory over Spider-Man. And soon, Spider-Man will unexpectedly reveal his identity, in a startling way, to a character we’ve never before seen, too.

But! Not until after a cross-section filled with a train robbery for the Norn-blessed enchanted bar and a theory about using a power known to challenge the mighty Thor! And, an issue full of day dreams. Sound boring?

Friday, October 27, 2017

Spider-Man Ordeals: more Stern/Romita Hobgoblin suspense!


Lefty Donovan cruelly leaves the once-heavily-armed crew with whom he stole chemicals to die in burning creosote-soaked timbers. I’m reminded the Hobgoblin mystery’s tension comes from his devious schemes and ability to murder people for his goals! Realistically, he’s still hurt from the first battle with Spider-Man, seems, so using other pawns would be a way to move forward anyway-but he’s also setting up Donovan to BE the Hobgoblin AND to be his test subject for the Goblin serum.

Enjoying that the Hobgoblin will be Out There for me these October, 2017 nights, so this can become a time ol’ Fright Face can make memorable, as when I was only ten! His hood and mask make him like a living totem of some horrid demon, beyond the grave and madness. The Goblin takes over the minds of men with this equipment’s power and ruthless destructive power. Something makes them fashion their lives and plans around a secret existence of villainy. The avatar, this time, moves freely about with knowledge of his split identity, which the Green Goblin also did up until the Romita debut issues. He had an interesting quandary that could be thread-bare after three or four times, but a threat seeded in a supporting character’s father.

But he didn’t get to move around freely as Norman, self-aware, knowing he is also Gobbie, anymore, for very long each time now, so no long range plans possible. One thing about the Hobgoblin, he can scheme and lurk patiently in his secret identity until he feels the call to danger of his own making, when time comes again for the power of the Hobgoblin. He’s a creepy reversal on many Spider-Man/ Peter Parker tropes. Tarantula and the Cobra and, always, Hyde, displayed secret identities outside their colorful evils. This time, someone’s carrying on his secret identity life in the background of this comic, since the Hobgoblin’s still on the loose. What I find interesting about the second Spidey/ Gobby encounter, for one, is how the arch enemies match wits but don’t meet, face to face! He has the presence of mind to plan ruthlessly with minimally-informed pawns, most of which in this case are saved by Spider-Man, and just in time to apparently lose the Hobgoblin.
The theft of some of the chemicals on the previously-stolen reports leaves no trace of the motive, and a van inside a truck provides the get-away after the crew nearly burns to death in the collapsing warehouse where they just tried to gang up on Spider-Man, now their savior.

Hobgoblin can resist the temptation to get drunk on his power, for as he denies himself that release, he gathers the means to make himself more invincible! I love it that he’s actively pursuing his evolution, coming into his own with the Norman Osborn legacy kit. Most of the time, a villain has to be vanquished before seeking improvements off-screen. Yes, he got hurt fairly badly and only got away after a brief mayhem-filled standstill with the speedy, flexible arach-nerd. But he didn’t get hauled in before all this gets further out of hand, and with his tastes in cut-throat machinations, Spidey must feel these criminal corpses are being laid at the feet of his responsibilities. But by some standards, mind you, killing these criminals was not like killing innocents: Hobgoblin’s killed no innocents nor even, I think, yet harmed an innocent. So, this keeps Spidey from looking too ineffectual: he’s still a building menace, but Hobgoblin’s only killing underworld figures, presumably further from the interest of any loves ones and many of them already living under aliases. Kill the uncaring.

All the times we’ve known of his moves, his agenda has been to acquire more basic Hobgoblin materials and accessories. That’s the unique nature of his crimes: they fall within the objective of acquiring a full complement of the Green Goblin vision, journals, equipment, the works. The Battle Van for street mobility is still only slipping around the edges of the scenes; it will host the final stand of the original Hobgoblin creator’s devising. For now, the Battle Van simply slips smoothly out the back of the truck left abandoned, complete with Spider-Tracer. (IF this was for a more general audience, I’d explain ‘Spider-Tracer’ properly, no? It’s his electronic devices, shaped like his insignia on his back or like a black spider itself depending on the artists, which he uses to home in on the sources of grave peril.)
Our full Q & A with Ron Frenz, the artist here, is our next Creating Marvels podcast!

He keeps his immediate threat isolated to these burglaries. He’s presently a student of Osborn secrets. You wonder a bit how criminally he already thought, to prepare such schemes. He will, in fact, pick up some useful journals divulging an Osborn scheme for black mail. But right now, his origin’s ongoing.
His equipment can be utilized effectively by pawns like Lefty Donovan, securing the false notion the chief schemer’s present driving the get-away truck.

The nice last touch is the returned Mary Jane, meeting up with the Osborns. Those sorts of friendly get-togethers quickly build support cast texture. We end with her hiding her fear related to these violent break-ins so she can enjoy a carefree date with some stranger to us (we never know much about her huge number of contacts outside Pete and friends). The whole thing reminds us how it’s going to eventually ensnare Harry and Liz. They have the nice normal life that can be properly up-ended again by his father Norman’s insane inventions. Just having MJ around raises questions and opinions, and I for one was glad to see one character return who could do so much to tie the contemporary strip to its dramatic twenty-year-history to that point.

Between her and Harry, with Lance, camera in hand, ready with the Flash, and Harry now with that same Liz we’ve seen since probably the Spider-Man origin, to say nothing of the Bugle staff old and new, so good other books guest appear them, it’s so much like old times on this title.
Compared to its 1960s counterpart, I think the crime’s gotten a bit darker and more violent, but that’s really the case with the Hobgoblin more than all the criminal guests from Stilt Man to the end of Stern/ Romita on ASM. His crimes are the most grisly: he’s the one murderer who stays on the loose. He comes and goes like nightmares.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Peter Parker's Options and Confrontations


From page one, Peter’s life as “boy photographer” (over in Marvel Team-Up, where he encounters some Thinker-constructed androids) has been clashing with his threadbare academic career, so he’s rushing to confront the grade posting following his emergency test-taking after bringing Felicia Hardy to safety, in Peter Parker #76. So, with that really dramatic experience with Black Cat so recent, life’s hurling another beautiful woman at Peter Parker’s location- not even Spider-Sense will save him now! Amy Powell, after nearly a year of stories where she clearly thinks mysterious Peter Parker’s naturally playing hard to get, has gone from dictating their last call to pushing their date straight to his house, and grabs the first opportunity to introduce him to what kind of fun’s on the menu. So- what a scene to find, as MJ to unlocks Pete’s door!
But that’s where we end, as romantically-flavored support character stories have replaced the crime comic atmosphere. In fact, next issue’s going to hand the stage over to what action fans would consider “a downtime issue”! Not this one.
“Confrontations” is a surprisingly funny issue! There’s two mad thinkers of sorts, one out to use Peter Parker, the other, to examine and use Spider-Man. He’s pretty agile against the FF-class touch android-12, but back at the apartment, Peter Parker proves less adept at dodging attractive Amy Powell! She’s trying to drive him crazy, which is part of her latest scheme to protect her from a serious relationship with Lance Bannon. This and the Stilt-Man issue are Amazing Spider-Man stretching its action bounds to more comedic material than average. Unless, of course, you’re one of the people who found the Tarantula’s transformation into a giant spider somehow hilarious- I can see that camp! But here, Lance rolls up on Peter, Mad Thinker sets loose a robot to threaten his life out of sheer curiosity- what if the robot actually fried Spider-Man?

So, you have a sequel of sorts based on what J.M. DeMatteis did over in CAPTAIN AMERICA, which provided the androids based on literary figures hidden in the Thinker base Spider-Man encountered in New Hampshire, over in Marvel Team-Up #129-130 (which, itself, tied in Nostradamus, villain of a previous Marvel Team Up story by Bill Mantlo- like this one, it partners Spider-Man with Scarlet Witch and the Vision in a New England setting). This is quickly referenced by Pete’s thoughts and the footnote on the splash page.

For the Thinker to act on data gathered in his base in that recent story sets up the antagonist’s thread nicely! Motivation’s unique and suitable to the Thinker. The fact that someone correlated information that would predict a 93.5% chance of passing over the East Side during a given day might give Spider-Man pause! Especially someone who can build multi-purpose destructive robots who can give the Fantastic Four themselves a run for their money. I love how Spider-Man tries out different strategies and utilizes the knowledge to improvise an effect trap! He doesn’t know how effective throwing those smaller pieces of metal will be when he comes to realize he’s scrambling its radar approach. It’s a battle of wits, complemented by Spider-witticisms. He survives, his secret intact, but Thinker remains at large and secret. Too bad Spidey’s not got access to some files so he can figure out who builds robots like that...he might’ve correlated this work with the one cobbled together from similar parts, in New Hampshire.

Lance pulling up to have words with Peter Parker, for reasons Pete knows not, is the last moment you might half expect him to turn out to be the Hobgoblin. That bears a crazy dynamic, and I can see how for some, Peter’s career freelance rival would be a good counterpart as his arch. After all, he’s one character Roger’s allowed us a little room to despise on Peter’s behalf, though he’s just a guy making a living. While Lance and Pete are having a long-overdue drink, sussing out the sitch, Pete calls Amy to put a kibosh on her ploy.
Amy steamrolls Peter over the telephone, before nearly knocking him over with some over-done kisses beside a front door that opens at the key turn of Mary Jane Watson herself. That’s simply hilarious.

Aside from that comedic love triangle entanglement thanks to Amy Powell, you’ll see a very vulnerable Black Cat land right in the middle of his uncertainty about moving forward in academia. Taking him out again really makes practical sense for the series, because leveling up in college also undeniably ages him. Marvel Time is still allowing some continuous progress at this point, preserving that whole Marvel Universe story. Peter’s story at this point’s quite well preserved: everything in the past is still present and accounted for, while the stories don’t rely on picking up those old threads directly. Yet, the essential affectations by which one knows the Spider-Man story are honored.

The Mad Thinker is another one of those established Marvel villains, and I love how his plot centers around acquiring information, particularly about Roger’s favorite Spider-power, his warning sense. Spider-Man’s thoughts fighting the Android really tickle me! His “hands behind the head, relaxing” pose after flicking the Android off the wall feeds into the occasional Looney Tunes feel.

OH, and how neat is it that the Thinker can be checked into his prison cell to serve time, safely, while his mind continues using a puppet-like body in his lab to gather data and conduct experiments in mayhem? I love him, because he’s intensely curious about his enemies and not merely bent on death. Sitting like the writer himself in the room opposing Spider-Man through his invention, he activates the spider-sense over and over, with a ballistics analysis to give him some clue to the parameters of the mysterious method by which Spidey survives each attack. I like how the villains throughout this run are impressed by Spider-Man’s abilities- well, after Juggernaut’s sunken in a building foundation for near two years’ publishing time, they at least start being impressed after the fact- and Black Cat, earlier, was also quite impressed, on a very personal level! The villains are also pulling off their missions while not beating Spider-Man himself.

The battles are drawn so awesomely every time! I can only say do find these comics if you like Spider-Man- they’re essential! Modern, different, but somehow, preserving what has gone before and highlighting possibilities that have existed within the wider Marvel U, that ongoing collision with villains established elsewhere and a continuity of institutions. It’s not a highly-experimental way of writing Spider-Man: it’s poetically organized craftsmanship. It’s great Spider-Man for a person coming in fresh from some other media like cartoons, and I think it was pretty terrific for diehards who kept finding their way back each month, at least, every few years.

Amy working her charms, unsuccessfully, in the long process of targeting our favorite Boy Photog


Amy steamrolls Peter over the telephone, before nearly knocking him over with some over-done kisses beside a front door that opens at the key turn of Mary Jane Watson herself.
You know she is laughing to herself behind that smile: since when has Peter let his hair down like that? But knowing him as she does, she can see how awkward it all is and decides Pete just might be too much a player for her to just barge in in the future. But most of all, she’s laughing that he’s caught in that impression, and with a pretty hot woman, too! MJ’s not expecting anything with Peter.
But Lance, already asked by Peter to come by at 7:30 before she crashes his party at 8, has the corner on jealousy. He’s really more baffled than anything else! I imagine Amy’s reasonably surprised to see MJ let her self in: just who IS this mystery guy, to get caught up in the independence of two beautiful women? He describes her to incredulous Amy: “we were engaged, once. Sorta.” He’s just figured out Amy’s using him as a revenge-love-interest against Bugle rival Bannon, and now up walks the one woman he asked to marry him- the girl who turned him down.
Yet, Pete did nothing to cause any of this, really. Aside from leave MJ a working key. That’s kinda interesting. I’d say she’s been out of town around a year or so Marvel Time.
I think she’s glad he looks like he’s moved on!
It’s possibly the most realistic issue of Amazing yet. It’s Peter, often in costume, working on problems and taking aboard insights. In true Parker fashion, he gets happy...he crashes down to reality.

Picking a good villain is something this team’s got in spades. They’re even smart enough to swap in some terrorists holding a church hostage, to keep some variety in Spidey’s crime-fighting. I think it’s hard not to go with ‘super-villain’ because they’re colorful and kids inherently like them better overall. I actually rather imagine a modern Marvel wouldn’t take a chance of producing an issue without one. For one, it connects him with common folk, who cheer him on for a change.

Best touch: was it visiting Curt Connors (the Lizard) in his lab with the piece from the android last issue- and realizing a science career will confine him to a quieter life of knowledge? Or is it that moment Dean Sloan walks in, shocked Spider-Man’s hanging on Connors’ ceiling? Spider-Man sees the A grade on Parker’s exam- and kisses the Dean’s head!

All to set up a heavy, real life turning-point ending- not a genre cliffhanger, but a hard choice between dreams. There’s only room for one life- even that of the Amazing Spider-Man!

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man vs. The Vulture: Mad Schemes (Marvel, 1983)

Does the world really need me to make a book about 80’s Spider-Man, cartoons, video games- all of it? I’ll admit freely, if that was paying work, it sounds divine!
But who knows.
Just like, who knows who is this mystery Osborn Industries prowler, with the dangerous idea to utilize Norman Osborn’s instruments of mayhem- and possibly, the secret of Spider-Man, too?

One point worth making: Stern’s underscored how he thinks of the Spider-Sense as Spidey’s unique, defining, most useful power. He’s provided his own set-up for Hobby robbing Spidey of that one secret, most crucial ability. If you’ve been reading all along, he’s set up the more assured, experienced Spider-Man to end his run with the most nuanced, multi-layered challenge yet!

Three story lines mingle with the Hobgoblin mystery to provide texture, to build suspense and provide a passage of time the villain uses to grow as a threat. You have the Amy Powell scheme to mix Peter into her open relationship games with his rival, Lance Bannon; you have May’s boarders and new boyfriend, who are more than just innocents to threaten with car chases; you have Peters grad school doings, as he gradually moves away from school into the work-a-day world and even more full-time Wall-Crawling. That move’s precipitated largely by the advent of the Black Cat, who’s recuperating in these stories after her dramatic mangling in the Peter Parker title- but she isn’t the only factor. These things move so organically, the wonder is how few pages Stern/Romita really has to budget- but without those touches, the Hobgoblin’s a Saturday cartoon story. A Great One, admittedly. This is really the secret to the success of the Hobgoblin legend! Seven issues over fourteen issues, with one divergence into PPTSSM for balance.
Every time Spidey mentions he should be out looking for the Hobgoblin we’re reminded, this is the biggest ongoing threat in his superhero life!

He even sees Hobby in a nightmare- this is what kicks off his visit to Aunt May and Nathan, leading him to battle the Vulture, to search for yet another corrupt business exec who’s been kidnapped. They get the golden parachute, while Spidey has to web-spin his own…

But a parachute might be a great idea for high-dangling Greg Bestman! We don’t quite know why Vulchy’s hot to fry Bestman’s feathers, which builds a bit of mystery leading into the second part. There’s a similar thread in the sympathetic origins given by Stern here and SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING. Here, as is often the case, the character using the devices is the inventor. Dating back to Osborn swindling Mendel Strom, being cheated of money or credit produced a vengeful villain.

There’s no space really to discuss whether the bright-eyed old inventor was already greedy- seems a little pat to suggest getting ripped off made him a thief, though if Adrian Toomes never took a big wad of cash off a desk before, maybe he hadn’t discovered the rush! And I say “villain” but self-interest isn’t always evil. You can believe the Keaton version in HOMECOMING really does want all the best for his family.

But if Toomes has no family, either, perhaps he let his work become everything to him, and this accounts better for why he flips out and becomes The Vulture! He’s still stealing for a lucrative living- like The Cobra, the reason we haven’t heard from him is that he’s after easy pickings and staying away from superheroes, like a reasonable thief. Maybe just having someone he trusted get over on him just left such a bitter taste. After all, he gives up his reasonable scheme, and makes like Mr. Hyde in #232: comes after his treacherous old partner. It’s a re-worked pattern of motives.

I applaud having Spider-Man use strategy, in this case, police helicopters- some air power! That walkie-talkie he borrows from Keating: such a great touch! You have in Keating an time-honored cop who doesn’t like Spider-Man for being a self-deputized super-powered freak scoff law, yet, you have Spider-Man working together with the police.

The Vulture’s story is now a matter of record, too, thanks to that walkie-talkie. He loses to Spidey, but he wins his objective: he terrorizes Bestman, smashes up his convention display but good, and leaves him in no doubt who now is the powerful one of the two, wrapped in a new headache of fraud investigation sure to leave him in knots. If you ask me, mission accomplished!

The Lance/ Amy nude photo shoot is a sign: the times have arrived in this mag!
Not enough? They give you a minute to wonder why Lance Bannon’s passing up dinner with Amy for twilight city scapes and….will his confrontation with Pete be in a Hobgoblin suit?

That’s my thoughts. The art speaks best for itself: have Vulchy and Spidey ever looked cooler in battle? On each valued page, the sense of graphic design brings the drawings together in pleasing layouts. Not to knock your favorite 70’s Spider-Artists, but in the big picture, I think the strip’s never looked better, at least not since elder Romita’s run. But we also get such dynamic positioning and evocative angles, in addition to well-crafted, agile anatomy.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #239: Origins!


The abstract Hobgoblin face in the night sky- the first use of this symbolism for this character- hovers above Osborn Industries, the maker of fine Goblin paraphenalia in the days of Norman O’s secret life. He died with his own equipment- his glider, right, like the first Raimi Spider-Man movie-rammed into his heart.
What dramatizes the birth of the new supervillain, the peril as he acquires deadly new equipment, than to have this never-before-seen Battle Van, come roaring out of the heart of Osborn Industries (New Jersey), with a visage of the Hobgoblin lurking at the edge of visibility? The image says he’s still hidden, he’s literally behind the scenes. He’s a smart villain. He will not reveal himself, but be discovered through Spider-Man (and Roger Stern’s) intimate knowledge of Green Goblin operations.

Not only would this work as an opening scene- in comics, giving it one page was the way to conserve space for cheesecake and other narrative fabric without which the story would be naked. Since it is a single page, it’s got an iconic feel: more than likely, a curious prospective reader finds this after the cover. So the background of this splash page is parallel to #238’s shadow Spider-Man relaxing nearby (no, it’s not alien costume time yet, it’s just a chillin’ shadow, as opposed to a chilling shadow.) #238 opens in Aunt May’s kitchen- soon to be a home for people who feared losing the personality of a residence and the companion of others their age, but living with independence. Here, the Hobgoblin’s bursting like a dagger back OUT of the heart of Osborn Industries- a company greedily stolen from partner Mendell Strom- a new conveyance, a new hi tech weapon, a new, deadly way to create mayhem across town, bursts from its catacomb, where it had laid dormant as its presently-dead creator. It’s all framed by a chain link fence that tells you the scene’s a high security theft. Very nicely played by someone named Romita, I’d say. Two wonderful parallel splash pages are here for what is essentially the two-part debut of the Hobgoblin!

The first year of Stern’s writing has completed his visitation of all arch enemies of interest. He got the Vulture; Mantlo got Doc Ock. Sandman’s reforming- legally-speaking- and the Lizard’s kind of led the way on that one, now appearing as helpful Dr. Curt Connors, cured. Electro gets a bow around here somewhere on Peter Parker- I don’t have all those-but notably, attacks the Avengers during Spider-Man’s guest shot, along with later rogue, the Rhino! Stern used Mysterio the year before in a clever Peter Parker re-visit to the Tinkerer’s seeming alien invasion in Amazing #2. Kraven’s out of favor along with the Chameleon- only Kraven’s Last Hunt could make him a serious threat again. The Beetle also came back in Peter Parker at the end of Stern’s run, using the hapless Ringer as a pawn in a fashion the Hobgoblin will use a criminal pawn to test his strength formula- and leave the world a dead Hobgoblin! So really, the Green Goblin’s the only rogue left untouched- even Looter and Molten Man have appeared not long before in PPTSSM. But as Harry Osborn and Dr. Bart Hamilton have proven, that Goblin gear is just collecting dust until someone picks up the identity. Stern’s way of answering that void is to offer some mystery character- who, with DeFalco’s encouragement, as mentioned on the Epic Marvel Podcast appearance July 14th, 2017, was presented as possibly someone already in the cast, taking up a new identity. All the best parts of what became a rushed and cluttered Goblin identity mystery the first time out come along in a trilogy of story arcs throughout 1983. The references to Spider-Man’s search elsewhere gives Hobgoblin’s story the gloomy background foreboding that gives it its era-defining ubiquity. The Doctor Octopus/ Owl/ return of the Black Cat is the big storyline following Brand: that Peter Parker thread brings a wounded Felicia back into Amazing in #239. Now, Stern’s ready for what proves to be his second and final year of the run. The first year of Amazing, he wrapped up his Peter Parker threads. Now, Romitas Sr. and Jr. team up to deliver a most DC kind of character in the new Captain Marvel in Annual 16, then the initial half. Romita originally joined Amazing working on the unveiling of the Green Goblin; there’s a delicious symmetry to his presence in the shadows of this successor’s evolutionary origin.

What Hobgoblin knows is the major threat in his first appearances: he has knowledge of the Goblin lairs and their secrets. What he’s trying to learn is driving his story. He finally puts together a scheme for his own gain, blackmail contained in Osborn’s journals. He has the full power, physically, and all the weapons, even this unused mobile headquarters, but his battles with Spider-man will cost him his ill-gotten knowledge, especially the fire in ASM #250! From then on, he is more than ever nearly a physical match for the wall-crawler, but he will only search once more in vain for Osborn secrets. The stretch between #238 and 261, those two years, seem the most impact-filled phase. I never felt quite the same excitement about Hobgoblin as I did upon his first actual return under DeFalco/Frenz.

The road there, however, involves shaking Spider-Man, busy with Ock and Felicia to the point of exhaustion in forty-eight hours, with a helpful request to turn on the radio- by Madame Web, herself shown still recuperating, in their first exchange since the Juggernaut attack. He begins realizing how the looter’s systematically ransacking Goblin lairs, but he only knows two places to look! I wonder if the first one we see here’s not the one where Osborn unmasked him- the one where Green Goblin lost his memory and “died” the first time? I know the second one, however, from the infamous clash where Harry Osborn tripped poorly on LSD, as his father finally remembered that hidden identity of his. I probably got to read that story reprinted before I finally laid my hands on an ASM #238 and 239, so I came in appreciating the history behind the lair where Spidey hits jackpot!

In between, we get alternating cheesecake, between Amy’s suggestive photo shoot with Lance Bannon and good ol’ Pete showering and shaving. Amy’s planting the idea that Parker should make Lance jealous. She calls him for dinner, however, after an eleven hour sleep. He hangs up on her! He realized, there’s no time to delay.
Sun’s going down on this third day since the mysterious Osborn lootings have happened parallel to Spidey’s mid-way point in the Ock/ Owl Gang War. The goblin equipment gets an unexpected workout from the inexperienced criminal. His weariness from playing hero so much of late lends Spider-Man a sense of a haze that mulls his battle instincts- this gives Hobgoblin some evasion room, which is good as his only chance involves his many long-range weapons. It’s rightly established how overwhelming this all is for a man of normal powers. Lots of Goblin gear, yes, great glider, but Spider-Man has fought most of these weapons before. If that glove blast didn’t disrupt the power lines under the street, there’d be no distraction to keep Spider-Man at bay!

Rough battle, leaving Spider-Man receding into the shadows, himself, all too aware he’s put an enemy on the run, but the real threats have now multiplied. Hobgoblin’s too sly to have another toe-to-toe dance with this confidently-written Spider-Man- his near-defeat here will spur him to figuring out Norman’s power secret without going mad. The contest set up between them, here becomes personal! A dizzying amount of awe, fear, respect for his foe emerges in Hobgoblin. He still bears caution and cunning, unclouded by megalomania.

Our two-parters before under Stern ended with conclusive wins, but with Brand at most he won the fight for the soul of Will O’ The Wisp, who in turn did what he could to damage corporate villainy. Now, in a manner of which the Code would not have approved two decades before, the villain’s been chastised, but is still quite free to regroup and commit his further crimes. Like the Green Goblin, this one villain’s not going to get punched out and handed to the police! Hobgoblin will prove the most elusive foe of the era. The fact that Stern leaves Spider-Man watching a mask drift from the sunken battle van- but no body-leaves the Hobgoblin’s visage haunting the background once more. His face, as ever, is effective for the ways it is hidden as much as for the ways it’s seen.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Shadows of the Hobgoblin!

Shadows: you notice how important they are while hardly giving them a second thought. There’s simply an undeniable elevation of the game after Stilt-Man-seriously- when we open Amazing Spider-Man #238, from 1982, to discover Roger Stern’s back on full writing chores along with John Romita Jr.- inked by John, Sr! The craft uses that one thoughtful notion, shadows, and classic, nay, archetypal renditions of Pete, May, Robbie, and their masterpiece, the metamorphosis to Goblin. It’s as breath-taking as the original story it echoes, the suspenseful heir to Steve Ditko plotting at his finest, Stan balancing the Being of Spider-Man/ Peter Parker. Interactions? Pitch-perfect. If Brand Saga brought to an end the radical re-purposed string of Avengers and X-Men-based foes (Brand is the greatest, beside the two “actual Spider-Man villains”), here, one stop, Stern makes an actual new Spider-Foe, tangled deeply and unwittingly with defining Spider-Man moments and secrets, a mystery man who we join using the modus operandi of the departed Green Goblin to fashion an identity of new, untold power, discerned by his cold-blooded, reasoning sense of purpose. He’s methodical and ruthless, self-conscious and aware enough to sense the hold the secret Osborn identity incites, but in no way morally scrupulous enough to care what horrid consequences be wrought.

The shadow: as in life, usually so unobtrusive, yet indicative of some concealment of light, an edge bending the visible. The distorted Spider-shadow of the splash page, reflecting, deliberately, a casual Peter Parker, has its usual haunted look merged somehow with a kind of jocularity. The image says it all: the Trickster is soon to visit upon this young man, enjoying a moment of life moving on for his Aunt May, signing for the new boarding house with new beau Nathan Lubensky at her side. Pete is the trickster, too. Pete has often seen a Spider-Man Curse pattern in the trickster ways his trickster persona- and make no mistake, Spider-Man wins by innovating a clever trick in the heat of the moment much more decisively than generally, with fists. They are only one tool, and certainly not one capable of delivering the coup de grace against virtually everyone who’s tried of late to kill or stop him. We enjoy these wins because they celebrate cleverness, with a nice touch of dumb luck that cuts both ways.
But it’s usually an emotionally-fraught moment that drives him to change- well, when he’s not using web-line for the practical alternative for Big Apple travel. But Being Spider-Man means he can do
something any of us would likely think of and long to do, and keep others out of more immediate danger to boot! The shadow’s fallen (that face, so heavily inker Dad Romita’s look, whoever chose to shape it most). Anger, violence, secrets, confrontations, super-human reactions: the shadows foretell them all, across Peter’s face, and soon across the Man Who Would Be Hobgoblin.

But that complacency, contentedness: in the space of half an issue, we uncover why he often seems uncomfortable relaxing and trying to live “normal life.” What if he’s not done all he can because he wanted to enjoy a moment in which the efforts of a loved one are elevated? To Egg Creme Before Lunch status, to be sure, no every day occurrence! Is it so wrong for Peter Parker to lose his temper about the near-murder of his peeps by the getaway bank robbers, hunt down 3 of 4 then turn from the sewers to check on and resume the day with those very people he saved? Why must he pay so?
It’s those actions of his that specifically drive Georgie to the sewers- what a metaphor for all his interactions with crooks he fights- that leave the non-relentless, non-unhealthily-obsessed Peter Parker open to that vulnerability he himself thinks of in passing: he gets fired up when people he cares for are in danger. Ironic, his efforts- Georgie’s just fleeing blindly from a near-impossible pursuer- now for all he knows, he and everyone he cares for could end up in Goblin target sites. Yes, just like Gwendy.

The shadow’s free then to continue, the story ongoing: the shadow of faces, a long time favorite of the genre, soon falls steadily upon the man Georgie contacts with the weird, dynamite hideout haul.
The more realistically you set up the story world around it, the more of its righteous bizarre elements provoke your imagination. In that blank-of-features face, you’re invited to find the Goblin lair, yourself. Once the temptation of keeping it to yourself has its hold, one easily empowers the obsessive, game-playing, experimenting, unkind character becoming Hobgoblin.

It’s not that I’m unaware of Hobby’s intended identity, but to get the story’s full effect, participating in the mystery of it cannot be missed. Making it Anyone At All: if it’s anyone from the cast, the secret loses some of its hold on that idea that the Hobgoblin is The Villain Who Could Be You.
Imagine being able to steal all that shit, crate it up and kill the only lowlife who knew a thing, successfully Red Van – It into New York City, and make it your own. Yeah! You didn’t have to work for it, whatsoever: you checked up on a tip from a creep, so your communications network paid off, but the brain power that made Green Goblin’s cool, lethal arsenal was not your own. Sort of like if Ditko was Norman, too. You didn’t make the Green Goblin. But if you’re Roger Stern, you get how who’s under the hood is where the approach is invented. The villainous plot is where the artist’s creativity comes out! The letter writer who declared Roger Stern is the Hobgoblin not only was funny to add to The Spider-s Web mail bag: he was right!

The hood- a terroristic if rustic touch, and nice Halloween orange, man, maybe a Romita idea? The red eyes in the darkness look’s just iconic, followed closely by the heavily rendered goblin face mask.
The shadow falls on YOU, gentle reader.. Your desire to see a top-notch classic Spider-man story has made you: The Hobgoblin!!!