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!!!

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Brand New Spider-Man: the 1982 Amazing saga and its storytelling elements

One thing I love about the Brand saga in Amazing Spider-Man #231-6 is the way it begins with Spider-Man caught between Cobra and Mr. Hyde, so a main plot, initiated as a Bugle expose-in-progress, actually circumscribes the hero vs. villains plot. Cobra, newly ensconced in his sneaky and lucrative plans to rob police precincts, enjoys his ill gains in a plush apartment. His treasures fit in a vault beneath the fireplace. He glories in his new solo fortunes with the macabre Hyde no longer haunting him. The one man who holds his secret, however, is caught up in his business of trading secrets, connected to dangerous physical and corporate power.

The Brand saga mixes corporate villainy with established super-villains, drawing in Spider-Man through informant Nose Norton, but really pulling in Peter through concern for supporting cast members Ned Leeds and Betty Brant. We get maybe the best use of the Daily Bugle to date, as regular folks ply their heroism against non-powered Brand executives. We also write finis to two recurrent 1970s Spidey villains in memorable fashion. Combined with Peter’s research intern ruse, it’s a terrific use of realistic elements, and together, a very contemporary background of events.

Identity mistakes are thematic in ASM #231: from page one, we’re given an opportunity to mistake Cobra, hiding from the investigating police security, for the wondrous wall-crawler. Little of the fake-out play is necessary to the actual function of the plot, but is rather an enhancing characteristic. The huge figure tromping around looking for someone for revenge, constantly shadowed, is absolutely a call-back to the terror of the Juggernaut in the two issues before: is it possible, in his uncanny unstoppable fashion, he’s free of his concrete prison already? We are pretty much in on the third one: it’s paranoia on Cobra’s part, when he finds Norton wheedling all the money he can out of Leeds for a big tip related to Brand. This causes all the trouble that brings Spider-Man swooping in for a fairly evenly-matched battle with the possibility of collateral damage.

The plot’s begun with a set-up the year before in Peter Parker #57, which is how Marla Madison’s involved, as a scientist kidnapped by Killer Shrike while she’s exploring work at Brand. That’s also where Will O’ The Wisp really came in, too, as he had hijacked the Shrike battle suit as part of his plans to avenge himself on Brand. It’s a fine example of a phenomenon we’ve many of us noted, exemplified in what David Anthony Kraft calls his “DAK verse”- to himself, of course- inside the Marvel Universe, where characters and plots connect and build, novel-like, in later serialized work.

This allows the plot to begin in earnest with Marla, Jonah and Ned all talking over the Brand expose at the Bugle. Marla, presently billed as Bugle science advisor, has started a relationship with JJJ, too, which adds depth to his often-caricatured voice. This is the real plot, swallowed up inside what one might call a sub-plot where Cobra (interrupting Norton’s informant work in fear of betrayal) and Hyde (seeking vengeance for being abandoned) get mixed up with players going forward into the Brand saga.

Norton’s a survivor and a low-life- also, I think, the one original character brought in by Stern, who only creates one other character for his eighteen-issue run- one he’s actually created previously in Peter Parker. (You could include Alfred Bestman in the Vulture’s story...and let’s not forget Monica Rambeau as the new Captain Marvel in Annual 16.) My insight is that Stern’s highly-regarded run doesn’t lean on creating characters, but he’s quite a resourceful storyteller, nicely accompanied by Romita, Jr.’s consistent pencils.
He’s made Norton as a low-key catalyst, the sort of villain whose threat depends solely on knowledge rather than individual power. It’s not a series that depends on a regular supporting cast on the bad guys’ side, though they do bring their supporting players along in a usually faceless fashion. Nose Norton’s key to the Brand series.

That’s why he goes from being an incidental target to a man on the run in #233, titled by JJJ: “Where the #%$@! is Nose Norton?” He’s vanished with the Leeds tip pay-out (funded by the Bugle) AND the tip. A proactive decision to offer a $1500 reward for his return sparks off competition at the Bugle and draws in reporter Ben Urich, too (making waves over in DAREDEVIL). Soon he’s targeted for a set-up and assassination attempt, using the Tarantula, lying low as a smuggler since his appearance kidnapping the Mayor to kick off PETER PARKER #1. The tone’s set this time by these secretive figures, hiding their identities and location.

We’ll get an interesting cross-section of Crime throughout the series-in-a-series: regular scum-level operatives like Norton, to professional criminals like Tarantula to organized legal businessmen to rogue powers like Wisp. (Businessmen with legitimately-recognized enterprises are a favorite villain well for Stern, going back to his Brand stories in Hulk and forward with the Kingsleys. At least he doesn’t vilify Jameson- that’s usually the wrong direction.)

The professional status of the criminals of the Marvel Age had been a gradual innovation. I listened to Dick Cavett’s Watergate. The year the Brand Saga appeared, 1982, a decade after that story broke, now had writers who came of age AFTER The Tet Offense. Nixon’s tapes, filled with vengeance, break-ins, getting even, screwing the other side- the Enemies define the nefarious nature of those in power, and it’s a time of questioning those in power rather than simply defending whomever’s part of the status quo. The Fantastic four and Spider-Man in the days of Lee never fought any corporation, outside fuming over some Daily Bugle headlines. The FF face the wealthy Gideon, but usually FF enemies were too far outside the law to legally hold corporations. And Spidey faced, what, Heavenly Hair Spray?

But foreign and alien and extra-legal powers were not the boundary for antagonism, anymore: now, the institutions of American life held sinister views. Villains were outsiders to power, trying to seize it, until the 70s, when people stopped being proud of the President and the Army and Big Business- when those things began to seem Outside and Other to the actual American Way of Life.

Granted, Loki was prince of Asgard (adopted); Norman Osborn was an industrialist while he was secretly The Goblin!
So, the Tarantula. The very fact that, once he loses the advantage of surprise, Spider-Man’s grown to out-class him becomes a story point, an arc differing from Black Cat, Juggernaut, Hyde, Cobra. I note how many times the immediate past of the villains, before they appear in Amazing, gets a Stern reference. That small bit of detail sets off the idea of their lives between these appearances: it tells you life’s gone on for heroes and villains, alike.

After making the Big Apple itself Spidey’s setting for previous stories, Stern and JR Jr narrow their focus: three issues set around seedy bars, alley ways, a pier, realistic underworld settings- then the next ones center around a secret hi-tech laboratory. Finally, Spider-Man makes his stand again in The City: those high rooftops are a battleground Spider-Man has learned to utilize. It’s Home Turf. It’s where Spider-Man defeats his foes, using the city in each tale. This suddenly will change when Spidey doesn’t know how to use the city to win- against the Hobgoblin. This time, he doesn’t have a Bugle investigation to supplement his curiosity. He’ll beard The Vulture in his own lair, but more generally, Spider-man’s style improvises, using his surroundings towards numerous strategies. Stern’s run climaxes with another battle over knowledge, which ends in victory, but mystery, without closure. Happily, DeFAlco and Frenz would have a chance to do many stories with their own take on Hobby.

The (Staten Island) ferry where Peter joins Ben Urich in his search for Norton (and a $1500 reward) seems a callback to the first Tarantula battle, under Conway nearly 100 issues before, when he was merely a skilled mugger with an organized gang of robbers. His story as a failed revolutionary, under Conway, has led him to this sorry end, living in secret, smuggling for a living. He’s offered a quarter million dollars to find and encounter Norton. When I mentioned Watergate, the cover-up was of course the part of the story that had addicted morning audiences the summer nine years before the Brand Saga. A set-up to plant the idea that Norton’s selling Brand secrets- and the plan to kill Norton with private investigators- converges on Norton’s hiding place, same time as Urich and Parker. It’s a good intrigue!
Peter must slip out after the initial Tarantula attack at the bar where Norton shouldn’t have come downstairs for a beer after all. I laughed that Ben thought Daredevil’s shadow flew overheard, when it was really, as echoed by Urich and Tarantula: “Spider-Man?”It’s a cool looking fight, but an angry Spidey defeats Tarantula decisively. That’s going to set-up an awesome development, as we find out first-hand the sort of secrets Brand Corporation keeps!
Ben hopes Parker shot a photo of whether or not Norton’s seen drawing his gun first, or the investigators (hired by Roxxon, via Brand). The Tarantula’s scooped up when no one’s looking.

This is one issue that might be considered a little...padded. But I can make a case for the value of showing Peter when, not fighting crime per se, he just does something the Spider-Man way. He could’ve dropped down to street level somewhere for his change, but he’s certainly safer making the clothes change up on the Bugle roof, where he swings, musing about quitting the teaching assistant job to make better money with his Spidey/Bugle set-up. (He’s gravitating towards leaving that college world altogether over a year’s issues.)
He can’t really go down and use the front door after he’s changed. So he messes up a steel door, to the maintenance guy’s chagrin (a Bugle mishap that deserves outrage against Spider-Man!). I like how he uses the elevator cable to reach his floor, does even a well-greased cable not hurt his hand? It’s nothing, but it does show Peter’s unorthodox approach to life- I think that speaks to readers. Some of the fun IS imagining how you’d use super-powers to break out of every day rules.

And I’m not trying to introduce the subject of Amy Powell under the rubric of “padding”- I nearly forgot, she’s another new character, meant to set off a year-long subplot. I wonder if Roger knows MJ is coming back to town as he begins to set up the comedic three-way crash-up with Amy, Lance, and Pete? Amy’s encounter with Peter’s speedy reflexes plays into her ongoing calculations about the games she and Lance play to avoid a more serious commitment. It’s not a huge point, but introducing an open relationship seems a social move forward in modernizing the possibilities- maybe it’s something of interest to older readers. I can tell you anything hinting at how the adult world works was plenty interesting to me as a kid comics reader!

Now we’re halfway into the Brand story, with one new addition to the intrigue: Will O’ The Wisp starts wrecking Brand facilities-and a new inker, after stalwart Jim Mooney bows out of the strip. Here, we’ll get a preview of the team on Uncanny X-Men, as Dan Green inks an issue, with a distinct style on the faces. They’re not on ASM much, but I think of them as defining JR Jr. in this era. How about we pick up the trilogy as a group? It’s a distinct change in setting.

Summer, 1982: The trench-coated Will O’The Wisp haunts security at Boston’s Brand (Haunting, Boston Brand? If I mix up my comics companies, I’m a Dead Man).. He’s so powerful: he’s intangible at will, he can become blinding bright and hypnotize people, he can become super strong and forms a ball of destructive power, which is his mode of transportation, too!
We learn he’s an ex-Brand employee, with suggestions- many- to which they never listened. Without hurting anyone else, he blows up the central utilities core, promising more.

Being Spider-Man
Looking at the structure, Wisp gives us an action opening. Aside from a page visiting the wounded Tarantula, the entire story follows its main character, balances Peter and Spider-Man. Like the scene breaking into the elevator shaft, it’s crystal clear Peter’s always secretly Spider-Man, with the abilities in and out of costume. There are several pieces that come together to produce the Marvel newsstand champion of its day. That younger “spinner rack” and “magazine rack” crowd finding Amazing Spider-Man issues in grocery, pharmacy and convenient store outlets- and of course, newsstands- had colorful desires met in this unique package, and when it was done at all, it could delight a young reader. When it’s done at its highest quality, it’s worth analyzing! One element is the identification with Peter as Spider-Man, Spider-Man as Peter.

Being Spider-Man, being Peter Parker, is the central attraction, the preoccupation. It’s always about more than the super-fights every fan young and young at heart thrills to read. But it’s absolutely about that!
How we get there allows us to explore the elements that captivate the imagination as we move into life more from childhood: the little daily life moments, so real, with that Spider-Man approach, whether crossing town, getting a paper, or fending for dinner. People who think that something about Peter’s attitude and bad luck define Spider-Man, I suggest what really makes it his story is simply dealing with daily things that characteristic way! I think this is the basis, too, for Spider-Man the solo operative. Today, he has matured into a dream for clever vehicles and devices to sell under the Spider name, and he’s even been a team member ever since his friendships on Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends! But dealing with day-to-day problems is the depiction by which an era of fans know him best, locked into the inefficiencies of having to figure out everything himself.

So here, we get Wisp opening with a bang, then build back to the suspenseful action ending.
The way everyone converges there, to create further mayhem and hazard, is quite interesting. Brand is a spider of its own kind, a Roxxon Oil subsidiary often dedicated, since at least the days of Steve Englehart’s origin of the Beast, to creating super-powered operatives. We’ve been drawing closer to it, trying to figure out what’s going on mostly from Peter’s perspective. The glimpse over to the villain’s side for the fateful moment James Melvin tells the wounded hired assassin “I can give you the power to BE Spider-Man!” is our last divergence from a plot that moves its main character right along towards a collision with Melvin (Brand), Will O’ The Wisp and The Tarantula.

Being Spider-Man, as I mentioned, is the primary point of telling or reading his adventures: this may apply widely to the various psychological shapes of general Marvel Universe characters, but I’d rather discover their features in the process of zooming in on my favorite childhood character. When the world was still filling with Sinbad, the Lone Ranger, Buck Rogers, Knight Rider, the Duke Boys, the Fall Guy, Magnum, P.I. Robin Hood and Godzilla, I played them all, but recall keeping none as my secret identity so preciously as Spidey!

So, four seasons of Spider-man cartoons, one personal appearance, a birthday cake, a funky live action TV show and 20 or so comics featuring Spider-Man: this is where I was by spring of 1982, when I first caught sight of the Cobra and Mr. Hyde’s exciting appearances at a grocery store stand somewhere Mama and her friend Sue Culberson were double coupon shopping. I’m still playing the Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four board game with my sister at this point! (Remember that one?)

A trip to Kroger unveiled the contents of ASM #234- I probably flipped to the battle! The Tarantula’s horrific fate really unnerved me. I found a later chapter of it, horrified that what had once been a man was now a monstrous man-spider. It called to my imagination, you know? He was not the kind of Spider-Man you, Anton Rodriguez or anyone would want to be!
Peter, while still struggling to survive and grow as a young adult, has a smidge of self-certainty. He’s still self-effacing, but he’s not a self-loather. The team tries to offer us elements that made Spidey great, while modernizing the approach and capitalizing on Pete’s Marvel Time history.
You have to love Peter using his identity as a student to get in the door at Brand, on a suggestion from lab partner Roger Hochberg. JJJ snaps a Havana raging at the wall crawler, and Peter’s flirted with by a sexy blonde who wants to make a Parker rival jealous – you could see these things happening over in Marvel Tales, reprinting the original Spider-Man comics at this time! Deliberate attempt to create a super-villain to stand up to Spidey: see what I mean? It’s all there.

But everything’s got a fresh twist. This time, the villain’s trying to BE Spider-Man! That’s an interesting, ominous promise; it’s not a disguise/ frame-up, but a misguided effort to make a new, villainous spider-man. It’s all going to go wrong, and whether the hazards could’ve been detected and monitored, the process halted before its grisly result, the vengeance of Will O’ The Wisp will create too much chaos. Brand, we’ll discover, accidentally made him a monster without trying; now that mistake cascades. Rodriguez was clearly a cruel, petty man, but the loss of humanity’s horrific.

Wisp, too, is trying to take Spider-Man’s place, without knowing: they are both out to take down Brand. One wants to break a few rules to use the system: Wisp wants to break EVERything! His humanity, too, seems lost. His monstrosity becomes very apparent as he menaces James Melvin at the end of ASM #235. He’s at best an anti-hero. He’s seen by Spidey as a mixed-up guy.

For the second time in the Brand Saga, Peter’s attempt to procure evidence via photography fails. He’s trying to correct the limitations of the auto-shutter by taking these pics himself in the air shaft. He wants to use his cunning for solutions, but is thrown into fighting for his life, anyway!

So, a man who doesn’t value his humanity would risk it to gain more power, a helpless pawn in an experiment disrupted by two men altered by science, struggling with their own humanity. But Peter, at least, is comfortably human, complete with its many discomforts. I like how Peter’s so busy thinking of others that he does the bachelor thing and opens an empty fridge! How cool that his niceness to neighbor Mr. Pincus- apparently no longer in country-western garb- comes back to him when Pinky needs to thaw the fridge? Peter traditionally does get these little breaks courtesy of the very friends for whom he inevitably has risked his entire life.

Peter’s humanity is what strengthens his resolve to save even James Melvin’s life, in part to preserve the integrity and soul of Wisp, aka Jackson Arvad. But he’s not in control of every element: he can pull a punch to the Wisp when he finally gets the drop on him, but he can’t stop James from firing the experimental blaster, nor Wisp from thinking he’s a traitor on Brand’s side. The revolting Tarantula emergent from his power-bath was already set on destroying Spider-Man...who is only trying to save each of them, even if he also wants to foil each plan!

Spider-Man’s battling for his life in the midst of monsters- and so, in a way more reflective of the real world, is the Daily Bugle. They, trying to do the right thing, are being stopped by who they perceive to be the good guys- the defenders of society’s status quo in its fairest sense, working by law. They have ventured into the darkened alleyways- and it’s important that Dr. Marla Madison got involved now in a couple of adventures, set in both places where these are based: the unglamorous
alleys and piers, and the fantastic, promise-of-tomorrow laboratory. Her home base for the story is that third critical setting, where in the publisher’s penthouse, Ned leads us into a meeting that both reveals the fantastic comics history of Roxxon’s schemes and encounters, but also, that collecting evidence might be foiled by this well-intentioned expose. JJJ has a worthy dilemma, after a series of them: respecting his girlfriend’s wishes to accompany Leeds to meet Norton, losing that money to Norton,
offering a $1500 reward (a real JJJ dilemma, trust me!), Urich’s encounter, and now: back away from the hard-earned story, for the sake of trying a lasting case? Jonah’s really Stern’s secret weapon.
JJJ’s actually behaving like he’s learned a thing or two, even if the Stern tenure ends with his attempt to face a past mistake. Treating events to that point as back story: this may have made Marvel seem impenetrable reading to some, unwilling to take on what promises to be many, many puzzle pieces. That is, of course, part of creating Marvels.

Where else might Stern be drawing inspiration? He’s at this point aware he’s in a contemporary environment where the primary media outlet, numbers-wise, is the NBC Saturday Morning cartoon, which he’s probably begun seeing while writing these issues, but I rather imagine he had this plot in mind, probably boiling away as he came on to the book. Wouldn’t I love to ask him? Remember, the pacing of I Love Lucy plays into all this, too- but for that three-part interview, I suggest checking out the Roger Stern Spider-Man Omnibus.

One story of which I was not aware was begun by Stan Lee and completed by Roy Thomas, the first time anyone else wrote an issue of Amazing Spider-Man, much less four: in it, Peter decides his desire for humanity and a life as a normal man- able to marry Gwen and pursue a career, family...outweighs his obligation as Spider-Man. He takes out a formula, itself not fully tested. His accident leaves him with four extra, human, arms. However grotesque, at least Peter’s spider-changes gave him human limbs. The Tarantula? What a mess! If that’s what Peter had become, at his origin or that time with the’s just the most awful way to be a spider-man, if you’ve been a man, you think? But one man performed an experiment with his all know-how and daring in an effort to stop being a spider-man. The other man is subjected to an experiment that underscores his brutal lack of concern for the know-how: he is all daring! But the monstrous deeds of his life reflect his transformation: power has made him less human.

A non-comics source of inspiration may have been the rising consciousness about technology’s fallibility, crystallized in the work of Rachel Carson, the environmentalist. Her controversial work exposing asbestos, as well as DDT and other pesticides, had been a part of the Earth Day movement that had made ecology a household word as Roger Stern came of age. The effects of industrial technology- adverse side effects, environmental ruin- are echoed in the rampant transformation.

One thing about the story in real time: at first it seems the Tarantula might be a new, monstrous form of super-villain. Only as the issues progress do we realize he’s on a collision course with a complete, inhuman change. There’s blame to spread around for the calamity, adding to the horror.

I see the King Kong parallel in Tarantula’s ending- again, so freakin’ horrible! He wanted to EAT James Melvin by the middle of #236. Yick! The fact that Spider-Man himself webbed Melvin in place to rein in the situation with Will O’The Wisp means he accidentally put the crummy corporate executive in the jaws of death! Would serve him right, too, for his part in the Tarantula’s descent to inhuman darkness.

In fact, that’s what the cliffhanger of #235 suggested! Spider-Man’s trying to keep Melvin from being murdered in his own home while reporting to his Roxxon superior. Suddenly, it’s apparent Wisp and Tarantula both walked away from the plunge into Jamaica Bay ending the laboratory confrontation. In fact, since Wisp has taken hypnotic control and posed Tarantula as his guard, Willow’s now the man to beat. The fact that Spidey’s got to reach his decency to really have any lasting victory for fairness means a moral struggle, of a sort he’s not had with anyone since the appearance of the Black Cat.

In fact, he’s been fighting pretty merciless, cold-blooded baddies lately, right up to Wisp here, who I think attracted Stern precisely because of that “must reach his conscience” element I recall when he was created by Len Wein- I’m inclined to say he was designed by John Romita? So, this time Spider-Man’s persuasive (panicky, preachy?), but for the Tarantula, there’s only enough human left in him to want Death, which he’s so long admired.

I remember those Kroger issues- I seem to have found them in two trips, though all three or two of them could’ve been out on the same magazine rack- primarily for how they made me wonder about the possibilities by which one might transform into a spider-man. There are some horrible ways indeed to become what you wanted, that’s for sure.

The fight between Spidey and the Wisp resolves with some ingenuity: no one can use a power plant quite like the wall-crawler. I love how he tricks Wisp- and Jackson Arvad is an engineer, himself, so this is quite careless- into dematerializing his form in time to send it through three banks of generators. Comics science is most often a bit dodgy but it’s fun watching the writers use it unconventionally. The emergency salvation of trapped James Melvin leaves Wisp with the decision he ultimately must face: take a life, or save it. “Perhaps I’m tired of being one of your monsters,” Wisp says in #236, while freeing Melvin from the webbed chimney. While his powers further break the rules, at least send the twisted executive to the police, confessing. When you can subvert the wills of people and you already feel isolated from humanity, it’s pretty hard not to be a monster, but he’ll try.

In closing, Stern proffers the under-rated and previously too-oft-ignored Spider Sense as the greatest and most uncanny Spider-ability. Good on for Spider-Man now realizing that’s a trade secret!
I love when he tests to see if Tarantula has it (no, just those eyes). There’s even an old-time hint of menace and emotional downturn at the Brand Corporation story close: Melvin’s been Wisp-o-Tized into confessing. But the companies are deeply entrenched with real world political power. The TV newscast? Sponsored by Roxxon Oil.

Peter’s gotten over being whiny and off-putting to people personally, and of course, now his friendships with people lead him ever to where danger lurks. Being Spider-Man seems such a necessity, this Parker can’t live without it and he’s not fighting that, even while this shapes a path in life diverging from what Peter Parker seemed most to want. Maybe that was the world he felt safe in, but ask Uncle Ben, it wasn’t so safe. I am glad, at least if he has to miss his going-away party, someone wanted to throw Pete one! It was meant as a goodbye, too, to Stern’s supporting cast over on Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man, as you’ll find discussed a bit elsewhere in this book. I do like how DeFalco’s facilitating Mantlo and Stern and even DeMatteis over at Marvel Team-Up, depicting different parts of Spidey’s life, acknowledging each others’ characters and story lines where appropriate. MTU sort of becomes Aunt May’s boarding house while still giving us a bit of Bugle and its reporters- J.M.’s really into making up non-costumed folk for his stories. Debra Whitman’s dilemma about Peter’s dual identity won’t be resolved here in ASM (too bad), but her quiet fears and imaginings do take a panel. You can add a lot of depth with one intense panel- when you find a moment intense for the character, you acquire definition, right?

It was a real blast checking in on young adult Pete, though. With Stern, wrapping up that crucial first year of stories, he’s not nearly so depressed. His supporting cast is at a high-water mark, in the midst of three well-coordinated titles and a ratings success on Saturday morning, to say nothing of 7-11 Slurpee cups. Still capable of making mistakes (see: most of his relationship with Debra Whitman), but determined to pick up broken pieces with such decency and courage, just as Stan and Steve intended. Peter’s a fine hero, set in a world outside your window. Not unlike the web of a spider, man.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Spider-Man vs. Juggernaut: To Beat the Unfightable Foe!

To Beat The Unfightable Foe!

We’ve traced Roger Stern’s run on the Amazing Spider-Man through his ongoing sagas of the Vulture, the Foolkiller (from our Peter Parker retrospective) and the Black Cat. Continuing with his art team of John Romita, Junior, and Jim Mooney, Stern borrows a lost X-Men foe- another that, following his appearance here, is fully restored to the regular roster of Marvel villains-for the greatest mismatch in the title’s history. Just as I wondered where I’d get the material for my next step of the journey, I discover my local library’s 741.59 stash of graphic novels-including The Sensational Spider-Man: Nothing Can Stop The Juggernaut!
If the O’Neil run was in any way considered a lackluster collection of foes, and the Wolfman run, one where Spider-Man fought enemies at a power level appropriate for his ill-fated live action TV series, Stern roars back with drama and one of several mammoth-powered antagonists-this time, perhaps the most mighty terrestrial enemy. As though very carefully timed, a quick glance at The Avengers, the Fantastic Four, and especially the space-bound X-Men titles tells us what psychic Madame Web discovers: no one’s home but us arachnids.

I noted how eight panel grids, with healthy doses of sevens and nines, too, were the detailed layout of choice particularly in ASM #229. These two issues also make use of the long, thin establishment shot panel along the left borders, packing impressive volume, the illusion of great heights, into many pages. It’s peculiar to this era of jam-packed story telling, this massive amount of panels making use of twenty-two pages to lend an epic sense to the newly-repriced monthly comics. Relying on lots of tiny images of both Spider-Man and the Juggernaut rather than sacrifice story for a wealth of splashes and poster-like panels, we get rather a lot of details of the trucks and buildings- that’s right- thrown at one another.
Spider-Man’s agility’s not short changed in the slightest; in fact, dwarfed though he is in power, the wall-crawler’s nimble postures and impressive gymnastic feats express his own superhumanity. The sheer force of maneuvers like hurtling a three ton wrecking ball sets Spider-Man apart from other street-level fighters, but also builds carefully the force of the Juggernaut. In #230 the panels open up a bit more, including a huge panel of concussive conflagration framed beneath the cold steel eyes of Cain Marko. But he is not Cain Marko, as his friend Black Tom calls him- is he? His indescribable superhuman power has moved him further from human kind, to the point where he’d do something so awful as laser-welding his helmet to his costume, to insure his exercise of elemental fury remains seemingly without weakness. Changed by the Ruby of Cytarrok, he rejects his human name, and, as if his force field shunts his empathy, too, he walks away from the grievously injured Madame Web with the disregard he shows pulverized bricks.
For all the modern sophistication that seems to have accompanied the supporting cast-rich web-slinger, he’s remained a kid favorite since the beginning, and the sheer awe-inspiring scale of his struggle here- the absolute courage and determination and tall-tale compilation of mythology-like detail- has a child-like wonder. Balanced by supporting cast intrigues meant to add adult appeal, such as the open relationship engaged by rival photog Lance Bannon and observational Gloria Grant’s thoughts at the Bugle office, we get a very imaginative kitchen-sink full of urban super warfare tactics as Juggernaut stomps across town to and from his failed kidnapping mission.

There’s a strong sense of Mooney’s distinctive inks at work, as his Spider-Man stylistically resembles the classic wall-crawler drawn by the senior Romita over seven triumphant years following co-creator Steve Ditko’s tenure. I’m particularly struck by moments where a rising, springing Spidey visual also reflects the plucky hero’s attitude- under Romita’s layouts, his dynamism often provides a metaphor for moments of struggle and defeat as well as optimism and determination. The ability to draw every day objects in well-perspective space lends a strong sense of place throughout.

“Nothing Can Stop The Juggernaut!”

I love the variety induced by the creepy nightmare psychic vision that opens the two-part arc. Something about Spider-Man with toes- I’m not sure how that choice was made-throws you off-balance. The floating spider motif replacing his chest insignia and the demonic silhouette of her massive attacker add to the dream-like unreality, capped by someone’s brilliant touch of Web herself now portrayed with no mouth, even as she desperately wishes to scream! Glynis Wein’s sickly green palor and washed-out colors add to the sense of illness in her seeming doom vision. It’s fitting she sees this unrelieved horror image, and no further: this foreshadows a detail at the end of #230, by which she will see the future no more.

We get the diurnal touchstones of Peter Parker’s life: he’s at his apartment when he gets the call from Madame Web, whose powers allow her to cross his Spider-Man business back over into Peter Parker’s. Then we spend a few pages catching up with everyone busy at the Daily Bugle, support characters that reach back to Stan and Steve’s day on the strip. It’s those support characters who are allowed the most opportunity to experience the natural changes and choices of adult hood- I’m thinking particularly about Betty and Ned Leeds, back together. The Bugle allows them each to have relationships, friendships, of their own, adding a layer of storytelling reality. With Ned, Robbie, Jonah and Lance all tying into the coming Brand storyline, we’ll get personable characters functioning as active parts of the action.

Even the remote, demonic Juggernaut- too powerful to be bothered with any puny human efforts at blockade, callous and bored, almost, and devoid of subtlety-has a best friend in Black Tom, who’s engineered the kidnapping of psychic Madame Web. His primary relationship in this story is to play the unstoppable criminal force, transcending the courage and cleverness of the protagonist who proves those qualities while failing time and again.
By this arc, everything that’s classic Stern/ Romita, Jr. arrives. There’s even a fresh lost love to haunt Spider-Man for now, in the form of the Black Cat- which serves to move him forward personally while keeping a familiar element in place. Same could be said for giving him a professional rival in Lance Bannon, ace photog, in place of bully Flash Thompson. That’s a good move: bullies have fallen out of style as the popular kids, but a legitimately-skilled opponent for those action pics provides a relate-able challenge for grown Pete.

We get, with this story, one more echo of classic Spider-Man- one I nearly attributed to the Death of Gwen Stacy, cited by some as the last classic component of what we think of as Amazing Spider-Man comics, but really, it was right there in the origin! He simply can’t stop the Juggernaut from getting to Madame Web. Ripped from her life support system chair, she’s of no use as a hostage, at death’s door. All he can do now is wreak vengeance, with the purpose of stopping the Juggernaut from harming anyone else, or simply walking away from the harm he’s done. It’s the narrative reflection from those two key stories that adds emotional resonance to the sheer challenge of street-level hero versus god-level behemoth, a triangulation that’s so unique and different from those stories sharing its pattern, you probably wouldn’t even see it as such.
But the tragic let-down’s not nearly the same. This time, though Madame Web’s hurt seriously (and you might not at the time have been overly attached to her), Spider-Man’s jumped from a burglar he could’ve easily outclassed past a villain who very much matched him toe-to-toe, to probably the most powerful foe he’s faced alone, and by sheer tenacity, using the city of which he’s always been a part, he overcomes- and we feel unadulterated cheer!
Check out our podcast on podbean/ iTunes! We talk to comics pros and dive into the mechanics and aesthetics of storytelling. Look out, I have a huge ASM Q & A coming with artist Ron Frenz, from the 1984-1986 run!