Friday, May 22, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #95 - September 1998


Free Fall
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Following a recent increase in mob violence, the mayor declares war on guns.  Spider-Man does his part by helping the police stop gun traffickers.  As Peter Parker, he meets Betty Brant at the Daily Bugle to discuss the gun story.  They run into Norman Osborn and his grandson Normie outside of the elevators, shortly before Nitro appears.  Nitro detonates, forcing Peter to shove Betty into the elevator for cover.  The elevator falls to the ground, trapping everyone inside.  After enduring Osborn’s taunts, Peter finally uses his super-strength to move the rubble and enable everyone to escape.  Luckily, Betty is knocked unconscious and Normie looks away, ensuring Spider-Man maintains his secret identity.

The Subplots:  MJ tells Peter that their finances have grown too tight.  She also mentions that Aunt Anna is considering moving back to Florida.  Meanwhile, Kingpin delights in the mayor’s crackdown on guns, boasting that it makes his life easier.  While Osborn is attacked, other crimelords are also targeted by the Kingpin’s hitmen.  Later, Osborn tells a mystery figure on the phone that it’s time for the “gathering of the five” to begin.

Web of Continuity:  Peter has to check into the hospital for broken ribs after escaping the elevator.  While there, Jonah informs him that Fortunato is at the same hospital, near death, following a mysterious attack.  This was perhaps an effort to write Fortunato out of the books, because he seems to disappear after this point.

How Did This Get Published?:  Witness Peter’s speech to Norman on page nineteen.  Yes, it is “painful for us all.”




I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man comments on the unnamed mayor of New York’s focus on “quality of life” crimes, which was a staple of Rudy Giuliani’s term as mayor.



Review:  Admittedly, there is a great hook behind the issue.  Peter and Norman trapped in an elevator together, neither one able to reveal his enhanced strength without compromising his secret identity, should’ve been the setup for a fantastic story.  And, by now, is it a shock to learn that the execution doesn’t live up to the premise?  

Howard Mackie had recently been named as the sole current-continuity writer of the titles following the relaunch, so there was more of an effort on Marvel’s part to push his work on this book.  I recall a few online critics picking up this issue after months away from the titles, and the results weren’t pretty.  It was hard to find anyone willing to defend Peter Parker, Spider-Man at this point.  I’m willing to forgive the clumsy opening pages that focus on the gun crackdown; I realize that they’re mainly there to provide a few pages of Spidey-in-costume action and to give Peter an excuse to go to the Bugle.  I’m willing to overlook the shockingly bland characterization Kingpin has received since returning to the titles, since he’s playing a small role this issue.  I’ll even keep my mouth shut when MJ makes yet another comment about how young she and Peter are (MJ is at least less shrewish this issue.)  But don’t dedicate virtually half of your issue to Norman Osborn if you absolutely cannot write Norman Osborn.  This Norman Osborn isn’t clever enough to get underneath anyone’s skin, nor is he particularly intimidating.  He also isn’t the sweaty-browed, borderline loon from the Stan Lee days.  I have no idea what Mackie was going for when scripting Osborn’s dialogue, unless he was honestly under the impression that Osborn is some form of robot.  Then again, practically every cast member in this book now talks in some unnatural, stilted speech pattern.  And those giant blocks of text…not even Tom Orzechowski could make this pretty.  

Even if you’re able to forgive Howard Mackie for not being David Mamet, the plot mechanics of the issue are also a problem.  Yes, we’re presented with a great predicament for Peter to get out of, but the story immediately gives him a series of copouts that kill the drama.  How will Betty respond when she sees Peter lift the girders?  Who knows, since she was knocked out as soon as Nitro exploded.  What will little Normie see?  Nothing, since Peter tells him to turn his head.  Are the security cameras still working?  Let’s check…nope.  They’re not.  So, you’re all clear, Peter.  Give a thoroughly unsatisfying speech and just get the story over with.  I’m not naïve enough to expect Peter’s secret identity to be revealed before the issue’s over, but shouldn’t the story have some tension running through it?  And if Norman Osborn is going to be the main villain of the titles again, shouldn’t he become a compelling antagonist in some way?  And have schemes that consist of more than just throwing little barbs at Peter while they’re in public?  Okay, that last complaint will be dealt with soon enough, but I'd like to meet the human being who thinks "The Gathering of Five" is a classic Norman Osborn story…

Thursday, May 21, 2015

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #438 - September 1998


Seeing is Disbelieving!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Scott Kolins (penciler), Gary Martin (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man responds to a bank’s security alarm and is shocked to discover dinosaurs inside the building.  The dinosaurs abruptly disappear shortly before the police arrive, and Peter Parker later discovers his camera didn’t capture any images of the dinosaurs.  Meanwhile, Matt Murdock is hired by Gilsoft Games to write work-for-hire contracts for the company’s employees.  While at the software studio, Murdock notices employee Angela Bradford seems oddly unfazed by the announcement.  Angela exits and changes into Synario.  Using her Mobile VR Inducer, she constructs a false reality that will create a distraction while she attempts another robbery.  Spider-Man arrives just as Murdock changes into Daredevil.  After an initial misunderstanding, they unite and defeat Synario.  When the owner of Gilsoft Games and Synario argue over who has the rights to the VR Inducer, Spider-Man simply destroys it.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  The name Synario doesn't actually appear in the issue.

I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man wonders if the dinosaurs at the bank are related to “Godzilla's big screen return.”

Review:  The second one-shot story in a row with a gratuitous guest star and no character subplots.  Fantastic.  Blatant filler is annoying enough when it shows up in Unlimited or another peripheral spinoff, but how did the flagship title end up in such a sorry state?  And didn’t Daredevil just guest star in this book?  Admittedly, DeFalco has devised a better reason for him to appear in this particular story (DD’s blindness makes him immune from Synario’s virtual reality device), but his presence still adds very little to the issue.  There’s really nothing in the story to make it stand out above any other generic fill-in; even the self-aware references to work-for-hire deals don’t lead anywhere.  Synario’s already a disgruntled employee before she finds out the company plans on “stealing” her work.  She hates her boss for ignoring her in favor of his boy’s club, so the ethics regarding corporate vs. creator-owned work aren’t relevant to her specifically.  Synario’s already robbing banks before Matt Murdock even appears, funding her own game company with the help of her VR device.  And it’s clearly the most advanced virtual reality technology in the world, since it’s the size of a Roomba but is powerful enough to convince a bank that it’s been invaded by dinosaurs.  She should already be rich.  Why is she robbing banks?  And didn’t DeFalco already create a VR-themed villainess called Stunner during the clone days?  

With a story this hopeless, the issue would have to possess an incredible artist to save it.  And to be fair, even though the plot is annoyingly simplistic, it does leave room for an artist to have a blast with the visuals.  Scott Kolins is certainly competent at this stage, but he’s not stylized enough to make the various dinosaurs, robots, and monsters particularly memorable.  This is just a dud all around; best forgotten, which it surely is.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #31 - September 1998


More than a Feelin’
Credits:  Todd Dezago (writer), Mike Wieringo (penciler), Richard Case (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  The Rhino launches into a rampage, destroying everything in sight.  Spider-Man attempts to stop him, and discovers that Rhino is only doing this in order to provoke the police into hurting him.  Due to the body armor bonded to his skin, he feels no sensation.  Rhino is desperate to feel anything.  During the chaos, the Lothridge School for the Deaf’s bus is trapped in front of downed power cables.  Using the sign for “friend,” Spider-Man calms Hope and her classmates and helps them escape.  He then uses the power cables to knock Rhino unconscious.

The Subplots:  Billy stops by the Parkers’ home and apologizes for being rude to Peter earlier at the Daily Grind.  Billy explains that he’s moving out of New York City to spend time with his sick mother.

Web of Continuity:  
  • This story is based on the premise that the Rhino can’t remove his armor, even though it’s been removed and replaced a few times over the years.  
  • Billy reveals details of his past to Peter.  Billy was an only child, his parents divorced when he was young, and he feels as if his mother blamed him for the divorce.  He’s left the Bugle and is moving back to Port Jervis to be with her.

I Love the ‘90s:  Doing repairs around the house, Peter compares himself to Bob Villa.  MJ counters that he’s more like Tim Allen.

We Get Letters:  The next issue blurb in the letter column lists Mike Wieringo as next issue’s penciler, even though a brief goodbye note for ‘Ringo was published just one page earlier.
Original art from this issue, as seen on http://www.comicartfans.com/gallerypiece.asp?piece=1039380

Review:  Todd Dezago sticks around for one more issue (a chapter of the not-fondly-remembered “Gathering of the Five” crossover), but this issue marks his final Sensational collaboration with Mike Wieringo.  I wish I had something poignant to say about their run together, but there aren’t too many ways to say “it’s a fun, lighthearted superhero adventure with nice art.”  There is a bit of historical significance to their run, simply because this style of art was still rare in a mainstream comic of the era, and the emphasis on back-to-basics superheroics makes it an early entry in the neo-Silver Age revival of the late ‘90s.  It’s also worth remembering that the Dezago/Wieringo run had its own cult following, and at least a few fans were adamant that Sensational was the best Spider-Man book of this era and didn’t deserve cancellation.

I wouldn’t say Sensational was the highlight of the post-clone days, but more often than not it was an entertaining read.  I think the title often coasted on Wieringo’s art, making any of the fill-in issues feel a bit shallow, and that the dearth of ongoing character subplots ultimately worked to the book’s disadvantage.  The two major subplots from the Dezago/Wieringo run are resolved this issue, and it’s a bit telling that both of them involve new characters that have yet to be properly fleshed out as strong supporting cast members.  I liked the idea behind Hope’s story and think she and her mother had potential as recurring cast members, but even after several appearances, all we really know about Hope is that she’s a cute kid who happens to be deaf.  Her scene with Spider-Man this issue is great, and a nice payoff to a subplot that began several issues ago, but it’s hard to argue that Hope really needs to appear again.  And Billy Walters…did a real point ever emerge out of this?  Billy’s best scenes were the ones that hammered some guilt into Peter for consistently ditching Billy, but was Billy himself that interesting?  Billy’s arc consists of him being overly friendly, getting his feelings hurt, then making up with Peter before going back home to be with his mother.  A mother, we discover this issue, that seems to be emotionally abusive, or darned close to it.  What kind of an ending is that?  Even if Dezago’s ideas weren’t cut short by the reboot, I have to wonder if Billy would ever evolve past his status as the Daily Bugle’s Jimmy Olsen and stand out as a character in his own right.  

It’s a shame that this title never quite struck the balance between the Spider-Man action and the supporting cast.  With more subplots, and a bit more pathos, this potentially could’ve been a classic run.  As it stands, it’s a pretty good run that shouldn’t be forgotten.  If you’re a Spider-Man fan, I would say it’s worth tracking down.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #21 - August 1998


A Real Boy
Credits:  Chris Golden (writer), Mike Deodato, Jr. (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)

The Plot:  Peter and Betty are sent to the Swiss Alps to cover an event hosted by Dr. Walston Kraft, a scientist who specializes in cloning.  Peter investigates Kraft’s home and discovers Frankenstein’s Monster and Ivan the Hunchback are secretly staying there.  He also learns that Kraft has made dozens of clones of the monster’s body.  Betty’s own investigation leads her to believe that Kraft has a connection to his neighbor, a descendant of the original Doctor Frakenstein, Victoria Frankenstein.  Peter investigates her castle and discovers that she’s been kept prisoner there by Kraft.  She reveals to Peter that Ivan pretended to be the monster’s friend in order to trick him into falling for Kraft’s scheme.  Peter returns to Kraft’s and convinces the monster that Kraft and Ivan are using him.  The monster kills Ivan in his anger, and sets fire to Kraft’s lab.  Peter escapes with the monster, who disappears shortly before Peter can introduce him to Betty.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  I seem to recall Marvel labeling this a “retelling” of Peter’s first meeting with Frankenstein’s Monster, but this is clearly set in current continuity, since Betty is a reporter and Billy Walters is even mentioned.

We Get Letters:  The “Next Issue” box in the letters page accidentally runs a teaser for the Lizard story that ran two issues ago.  The same page also jokes that editor Ralph Macchio isn’t paying attention to what’s going on.

Review:  There’s an odd significance to this issue, since Peter only appears as Spider-Man on the cover.  In the story, he rightly decides that Spider-Man showing up in the Swiss Alps while Peter Parker is traveling there would make ace reporter Betty Brant suspicious, so he forgoes changing into costume.  It’s a perfectly logical decision to make, but it’s strange to read a story that doesn’t go through some form of acrobatics in order to get Peter into costume.  Visually, it’s probably not the best decision, since Mike Deodato, Jr. is forced to spend the majority of the issue drawing Peter in what appear to be black long johns.  I wonder now if Deodato was hired for this job after he successfully channeled Gene Colan in Spectacular Spider-Man a few months back.  Unfortunately, this issue doesn’t look much better than the average issue of Unlimited, which may or may not be due to the fact that Deodato isn’t inking his own work.  (It just occurred to me that Marvel could’ve gotten Gene Colan himself to illustrate this issue if they wanted, since he was alive and working at the time.)

The story, like the previous issue, is a somewhat baffling attempt to incorporate ‘70s monster characters into a Spider-Man story.  It’s not bad, since Golden does have a handle on Peter’s character and his dialogue is fine, but there is a sense that Marvel was kind of desperate to fill Unlimited with pretty much anything by this point.  Thankfully, there is some effort to personalize the story as a Spider-Man story, allowing Peter an opportunity to give his own thoughts on cloning and to relate to Frankenstein’s Monster on a deeper level.  I can’t believe I just wrote that, but hey, it’s a superhero comic.  Golden strikes a decent balance between taking the material too seriously and just presenting it as camp, and as bizarre as the premise is, the issue is actually more entertaining than many of the other titles released by the spider-office this month.

Monday, May 18, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #94 - August 1998


Who Was Joey Z?
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  After having nightmares about Joey Z’s death, Spider-Man decides to ask Arthur Stacy to help him learn more about Joey.  He discovers Arthur at his home, recovering from a bullet wound.  Arthur explains that he’s made enemies over the years, and that Jill’s recent inquiry into Joey Z’s past has intensified the efforts of a mystery man to drive him out of town.  Meanwhile, the Kingpin sends Ox on a mission to dissuade Jill from learning the truth about Joey Z.  Spider-Man follows Jill’s trail around town, eventually saving her from Ox and the Kingpin’s men.  After discovering that she’s looking into Joey Z’s past in order to learn more about Spider-Man, he decides to finally talk to her about Gwen’s death.

The Subplots:  During a break in the action, Peter and Jill spend time getting to know each other.  They take a walk around the places Peter used to take Gwen.

Web of Continuity:  
  • The issue opens with a somewhat random introduction from the Watcher.  He speculates on the various ways reality can diverge from this point; one ends with Peter and Jill in love, another ends with her dead.  This is one of the earliest indications that Marvel’s going for a love triangle between Peter, MJ, and Jill (a letter published a few months earlier enthusiastically endorsed this idea.)  Ultimately, the forced “girl trouble” fizzles out a few months into the reboot.
  • Arthur Stacy claims that the gunmen at the Parkers’ home that shot Jill a few issues ago were after him, sending him a message to leave town.
  • Apparently, there’s some confusing continuity regarding Ox and whether or not he’s dead.  This issue tries to establish that this Ox is the one believed dead in Daredevil #86, and that his twin brother currently works with the Enforcers.  Ox isn’t dead because the Kingpin’s men found him “barely alive in that alley many months ago” and nursed him back to health.
  • A montage establishes that Joey Z. had ties to established characters including the Thing (during his Yancy Street days), Silvermane, Sebastian Shaw and the Hellfire Club, and according to Jill, someone named “Mel Phisto.”  (ugh)
  • Spider-Man references the George Washington Bridge as the site of Gwen’s death, even though it’s been consistently named as the Brooklyn Bridge over the years.  The original story called it the George Washington Bridge, even though the artist drew the Brooklyn Bridge, creating years of confusion.  I believe all of the reprints change the dialogue to match the art, reaffirming that the Brooklyn Bridge is the official place of her death.

Review:  I will say that this story is tailor-made for John Romita, Jr., who handles all of the giant hulking figures, firefights, and gritty street scenes just as well as you’d imagine.  Like the previous issue, if you look at the art and don’t concentrate on the dialogue or try to comprehend why these events are happening, it’s mindlessly entertaining.  But anyone with even rudimentary critical thinking skills has to question how on earth Howard Mackie continues to get away with this stuff.  

Absolutely nothing in this issue makes any sense.  Spider-Man is suddenly obsessed with learning more about the “low-level thug” killed in order to frame him, which is already a dubious starting point for the story.  Yes, Spider-Man is the most compassionate of Marvel’s heroes, but the idea that he just can’t live with himself until he learns more about a random dead thug is silly.  And why is he going to Arthur Stacy for help?  He is a private detective, true, but wouldn’t Spidey’s sources on the police force be more help?  Then we have the laughably ridiculous investigation into Joey Z., which never gives any actual answers, but establishes that Joey had connections to almost every corner of the Marvel Universe.  If Mackie’s being intentionally absurd, fine, but most of the humor in these scenes is purely by accident.  Perhaps the issue could’ve told an actual story about Joey Z., instead of this half-comedy, half-street drama nonsense.  Spider-Man attempting to piece together the life of Joey Z. isn’t inherently a bad premise for a story, provided he has a decent motivation and there actually is something worth learning about Joey Z.  A one-shot story that takes the time to develop Joey Z. as a three-dimensional character, making the reader care about him in some way, would’ve at least been an effort to elevate him past the level of plot device.  Plus, I’d love to see John Romita, Jr. draw a mini-Scorsese movie as an issue of Spider-Man.

Another irritating aspect of the issue is the insane idea that Jill is going to learn more about Spider-Man by investigating Joey Z.  Spider-Man’s apparently the only character in the Marvel Universe with no previous ties to Joey Z., so what was she hoping to find?  Out of every character ever introduced in the history of these titles, why has she singled out Joey Z. as her source for information on Spider-Man?  Why is she suddenly risking her life to learn information she’s exhibited no interest in over the course of her numerous appearances?  

As I’ve said many times by now, Jill’s a blank slate of a character, which makes the attempts to shoehorn her into a love interest role even more painful.  Her allegedly poignant moments with Peter this issue just consist of them reenacting things he did with Gwen years earlier.  Jill has no identity of her own.  Ox even threatens to throw Jill off the bridge Gwen died on, an act that Spider-Man has to acknowledge would be too cliché.  She’s Gwen’s cousin, and every aspect of her character always relates back to Gwen, even the dismal attempts to make her a romantic rival of MJ’s.  And who in their right mind thought the readers actually wanted a storyline teasing the possibility of Spider-Man cheating on his wife?  Every aspect of this story is just wrongheaded, and unfortunately, it’s merely foreshadowing what’s to come in the titles.

Friday, May 15, 2015

SPIDER-MAN: MADE MEN - August 1998


Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), Norman Pelchle (art), John Kalisz & Digital Chameleon (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Ben Urich writes a novel on New York’s underworld.  He tells the story of Paul Falcone and Tommy Kavanagh, two childhood friends who took different paths.  As an adult, Paul becomes an undercover FBI agent while Tommy attempts to gain influence with the local mobsters.  When Kingpin returns to town, Tommy seizes the opportunity to join his side.  Kingpin’s return sparks a gang war between the Rose, Fortunato, Silvermane, and Hammerhead.  Paul’s undercover work uncovers a plan to wipe out the Kingpin and his men, but his bosses refuse to act.  Paul quits the FBI and races to the Kingpin’s skyscraper.  The hitmen sent by Fortunato are stopped, but Kingpin demands Tommy prove his loyalty and kill his friend Paul.  Tommy shoots Paul, but the Kingpin fatally punishes him for hesitating.  An injured Paul stays with Tommy as he takes his final breath.  Kingpin exits to meet with Norman Osborn, who strikes a temporary truce with him.  Ben Urich finishes his novel, but decides to hide it in a locked drawer.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Ben Urich describes himself as a “cub reporter” at the time Hammerhead gained his adamantium skull from Jonas Harrow.  This doesn’t seem to work within continuity, since Ben is clearly well into middle age.  According to Ben, his mentor, Frank Milner (yes, Frank Milner) was killed by Hammerhead after becoming too invested in a story.
  • Kingpin’s skyscraper is now in ruins, which is apparently a reference to another gang war story written by Howard Mackie during the Kingpin’s exile.
  • Joey Z. is established as Fortunato’s former driver.  Paul, Fortunato’s nephew, has taken the job as a part of his undercover assignment.

Production Note:  This is a bookshelf format one-shot with no ads, priced at $5.99.

Review:  There was a segment of fandom that used to argue that Howard Mackie wasn’t necessarily a bad writer, he just happened to be better at crime stories than superhero stories.  Made Men is a crime story and…it’s not necessarily bad.  Even if it’s filled with mob movie clichés, Made Men is at the very least competently executed, something that can’t be said for the average issue of Peter Parker, Spider-Man lately.  This was Marvel’s attempt, pre-Quesada, to do a darker, “grounded” story that downplays the superhero elements in favor of the established underworld of the Marvel Universe.  The one-shot can’t make it to the end without a few superhero cameos (they appear on a double-page splash, fighting against the mob violence in front of the Kingpin’s skyscraper), but ultimately this is a story about “the neighborhood” and the lives impacted by mob violence.  It’s a Marvel attempt to do Sin City, without the excessive violence or bizarre humor, right down to Norman Pelchle’s Frank Miller riff (never mind that it more closely resembles Scott McDaniel’s Daredevil art.)  I’m sure some would argue that it’s not “true” noir, whatever that means, but Mackie captures the appropriate mood and structures a story that’s far more coherent than his typical superhero work.  My preference for the big Kingpin comeback story would be for it to be a story about the Kingpin, however.  He’s a far more interesting character than any of the other mob bosses used to replace him, and if Mackie truly does have a knack for crime stories, I think his efforts would’ve been better suited focusing on Marvel’s real crime boss and not the various pretenders.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #261 - September 1998


Goblins at the Gate Part 3 - Bad Business
Credits:  Roger Stern (plot), Glenn Greenberg (plot/script), Luke Ross (penciler), Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  The Green Goblin prevents Hobgoblin from unmasking Spider-Man, demanding he take his brother Daniel and go.  At their secret meeting place, Hobgoblin soon realizes that Norman Osborn already knows Spider-Man’s secret ID.  Osborn then reveals that he knows Hobgoblin was lying about having another copy of his journal.  When Osborn boasts that he’s already gained control of Roderick Kingsley’s corporate empire, Hobgoblin lashes out.  Their fight starts a fire in the warehouse, but Spider-Man is able to escape with Daniel Kingsley.  During the subsequent battle inside the warehouse, Spider-Man catches an obstructed view of the new Green Goblin’s face, Norman Osborn and the new Green Goblin escape, and Hobgoblin slips away while Spider-Man rescues firefighters from a collapsing wall.  Later, Roderick Kingsley relaxes on a Caribbean beach.

The Subplots:  An irritated Betty is unable to find Peter while she investigates the case.  Later, an exhausted Spider-Man is incapable of giving her a comment when he exits the burning warehouse.

“Huh?” Moment:  Hobgoblin doesn’t have time to unmask Spider-Man, but he does have time to grab some of Spidey's excess webbing, wrap it around his body, and pick Spider-Man up and fly away with him to his next destination.

Review:  Unfortunately, the finale turns out to be the weakest chapter of this arc.  I don’t mind the initial cheat that prevents Hobgoblin from unmasking Spider-Man (as the story points out, Osborn already knows his secret ID, plus the scene is a clever hint that the mystery Green Goblin is a friend of Spidey’s).  However, the subsequent cheat mentioned above is just ridiculous.  Hobgoblin has a good five minutes to take off Spider-Man’s mask, but instead he goes through an elaborate procedure to tie Spidey to his glider, just to (hopefully) unmask him later.  Would it really have been so unthinkable to actually reveal Spider-Man’s secret to Roderick Kingsley?  If you’re ending the story with Kingsley, again, retiring from supervillainy, that means the plot development isn’t going to have any immediate ramifications anyway.  It’s just a piece of info that Kingsley could file away for the future, a threat that lingers over Spidey’s head that could be paid off in a later story.  It would also add more significance to this arc, which is largely an exercise in illusion of change as it turns out.  The only real plot advancement is Kingsley’s release from prison, which merely leads to him retiring on the beach again (which I think is exactly where he began in Spider-Man: The Hobgoblin Lives!)

Another annoyance -- the identity of the mystery Green Goblin is almost exposed, but of course no actual revelation is made.  How annoying did this mystery Green Goblin plot turn out to be?  I’m not blaming Stern and Greenberg since I know they inherited this plotline, and it’s also my understanding that they actually wanted to resolve the mystery.  Someone at Marvel should’ve had the good sense to listen to them, because as a mystery, or just a basic story, this all amounts to nothing.  Osborn isn’t the Goblin anymore, a man in the shadows is brainwashed into taking his place, the stories hint that it could be either Flash or Harry Osborn, and then…nothing.  It’s time for a different series of half-baked mysteries that have no real resolution.

Making this worse, Norman Osborn never appears as the Green Goblin during the story arc.  He does get into a physical altercation with Hobgoblin, and appears in one panel wearing the mask and flying away on the new Goblin’s glider, but that’s all we get.  Was it unreasonable for me to assume that the first meeting between the original Green Goblin and the original Hobgoblin would involve a vicious battle between the two of them…as the Green Goblin and the Hobgoblin (no stand-ins allowed)?  Did Marvel have an editorial edict that Norman Osborn couldn’t appear as the Green Goblin at this time?  If not, it’s hard to understand why this arc didn’t deliver on such a basic expectation.

So, yeah, the finale doesn’t live up to the promise of the earlier chapters.  I feel obligated to say that I didn’t hate this chapter, I just think it wimped out.  There are still moments to enjoy, such as Spider-Man’s efforts to save the firefighters even though it means letting Hobgoblin go, and MJ’s little speech to Peter at the end that eases his hurt feelings.  (Why other writers couldn’t realize that MJ works much better in this role than as his shrewish, no-fun wife I’ll never understand.)  Betty and Flash are also used well throughout the arc, even if the storyline ultimately doesn’t have an impact on either character.  The supporting cast is still present in the story, adding some humanity and making their presence felt.  Just like the previous chapters, this really does feel like “Classic Spidey,” regardless of my issues with specific plot points.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #260 - August 1998


Goblins at the Gate Part 2 - Spider in the Middle
Credits:  Roger Stern (plot), Glenn Greenberg (plot/script), Luke Ross (penciler), Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Osborn spares Hobgoblin’s life after he offers to hand Osborn his business empire, and the remaining Osborn journal.  With Osborn’s help, Hobgoblin locates his brother Daniel, who is in protective custody.  Osborn sends his new Green Goblin to follow Hobgoblin.  Spider-Man also learns of Daniel’s location from Detective Lou Snider and soon confronts Hobgoblin there.  The new Green Goblin interferes during Hobgoblin’s fight with Spider-Man.  Spider-Man is knocked unconscious by one of the Green Goblin’s darts, giving Hobgoblin an opportunity to unmask him.

The Subplots:  Billy Walters walks past a closet that Peter and MJ (who just brought Peter a change of clothes) are exiting.  He gets the wrong idea.  Peter and Flash have a brief disagreement over Osborn’s stewardship of the Daily Bugle, which is ended by Betty.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Hobgoblin blames his brother, Daniel Kingsley, for his capture following the events of Spider-Man: The Hobgoblin Lives!  
  • Detective Lou Snider is an obscure character going all the way back to Roger Stern’s run on Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man.
  • Billy needs to use the dark room, even though (I'll repeat) he’s a reporter, not a photographer.

Review:  This does read like a lost Roger Stern Spider-Man comic, which on a very basic level makes the storyline a success.  When characters like Lou Snider start showing up, you know that you’re getting a story by Spidey fans for Spidey fans.  The brief touches with the supporting cast, such as Peter and Flash’s short argument and the lighthearted romantic scene with Peter and MJ, also create a sense that this is a “real” Spider-Man story.  The other stories from this era rarely feel so well rounded.  The elements of what makes Spider-Man unique occasionally appear, but overall the titles can’t seem to find a balance between the villains, supporting cast, and subplots.  There actually isn’t a real “subplot” as such so far in the arc, but the chapters still take the time to check in on the supporting cast members, relate their pasts logically to what’s happening in the main story, and give Peter and MJ small romantic moments.  You wouldn’t think this would be so hard, but it seems to rarely happen in the post-clone era.  My only real complaint is that Norman Osborn has yet to appear as the Green Goblin during this arc.  The faux-Goblin storyline is automatically irritating because I don’t recall it ever having a real conclusion, but even worse is the fact that Marvel went to such great lengths to resurrect Norman Osborn, only to pass the Goblin mantle on to a mystery character.  So now, Norman Osborn sits behind a desk and plays Kingpin while a shadowy figure does the fighting for him.  That’s not what anyone really wanted to see, is it?  And isn’t part of the appeal of this storyline the basic wish fulfillment of the original Green Goblin and original Hobgoblin in a classic supervillain fight?  The story’s almost over and the audience is still waiting for the true Green Goblin to do something.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #259 - July 1998


Goblins at the Gate Part 1 - Survivor of the Big Lie!
Credits:  Roger Stern (plot), Glenn Greenberg (plot/script), Luke Ross (penciler), Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Norman Osborn goes on a publicity tour for his book, “Survivor of the Big Lie.”  Roderick Kingsley sees a televised interview and is incensed that Osborn is free while he’s incarcerated.  He informs his lawyer that he has one copy of Osborn’s journal left, which will prove Osborn truly is the Green Goblin.  Kingsley hopes to give the information to the DA in exchange for parole.  Word leaks to Osborn.  Soon, Kingsley is released to a secret location to discuss the plea bargain, but is ambushed by the Green Goblin.  Spider-Man intervenes, but is shocked when Kingsley sides with the Green Goblin and attacks him.  Kingsley escapes with Green Goblin, and is taken to meet Norman Osborn.

The Subplots:  Jonah is still eyeing the handgun he keeps in his desk drawer, cursing Norman Osborn’s name.  Jill Stacy senses something sinister about Osborn when watching his TV interview.  Peter and MJ’s romantic night alone is spoiled when Betty Brant arrives and tells him about Roderick Kingsley’s plan.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Apparently, this issue marks the debut of Willis Gottfried, Roderick Kingsley’s lawyer.
  • Norman Osborn’s book has somehow dispelled the public’s belief that he was ever the Green Goblin.
  • The Green Goblin seen this issue fighting Spider-Man is presumably the same replacement who appeared during “SpiderHunt.”

*See _________ For Details:  Kingsley’s entire collection of Osborn journals was supposedly destroyed in Amazing Spider-Man #251.  The prison guard that Betty Brant used as an informant in Spider-Man: TheHobgoblin Lives! #3 notifies her of Roderick Kingsley’s potential plea bargain deal.  

I Love the ‘90s:  Osborn appears on the “Reggie & Katie May Show,” which is a parody of Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee.  MJ later remarks to Peter that Party of Five is a rerun tonight, so you know what that means…

Miscellaneous Note:  Glenn Greenberg wrote a hypothetical introduction for this arc, discussing its origin and evolution, when it was reprinted in the second edition of Spider-Man: The Hobgoblin Lives!  You can read it on his blog.

Review:  The premise behind this storyline is a sound one -- the original Green Goblin is back, and the original Hobgoblin has been revealed, yet no one has done a story featuring them together so far.  Thankfully, this arc isn’t being handled by some of the, well, less consistent writers assigned to the titles during this era.  Roger Stern himself has agreed to return, co-plotting a story spearheaded by Glenn Greenberg.  That leaves some hope that the arc won’t be as directionless and half-hearted as many of the other stories from this period.  And the Black Tarantula won’t show up.

The first chapter picks up where Hobgoblin Lives! left off, which was itself a sequel to the earliest Hobgoblin material penned by Stern back in the early ‘80s.  The current status quo of the titles is also reiterated, explaining in careful detail to the reader what Norman Osborn has been up to lately.  (Which admittedly, isn’t much.  He wrote a book and faked the kidnapping of his grandson.  Yeah, he annoyed Spider-Man with the $5 million bounty, but Osborn himself hasn’t gotten his own hands dirty in months.)  That leaves the reader with a hefty amount of exposition in the first chapter, which isn’t a huge problem, but it does make for a rather slow opening.  My major reservation going into this arc is if Roderick Kingsley is a strong enough villain to justify the years of build-up and continuity games that went into the Hobgoblin reveal.  I thought Hobgoblin Lives! was a lot of fun, but the weakest element was actually intended as the series’ selling point; Roderick Kingsley as the true Hobgoblin is just a difficult pill to swallow.  Yeah, I know that was the plan all along, but I also think Tom DeFalco had good reasons for ditching it.  I also have to question if Luke Ross is the best artist to be doing this story.  Given his McFarlane influence, he would presumably draw a fearsome Green Goblin, but his Goblin is actually a bit tepid this issue.  Ross, to his credit, is drawing a pretty fantastic rendition of the supporting cast at this point, so I don’t want to single him out for criticism.  I just wish he brought some of the energy he injected into villains like Mad Jack into the Goblin.  

All that said, the first chapter of the arc is a decent opening.  There’s a classic Spidey feel to the issue, with various supporting cast members popping in and out, old plotlines being addressed, and the promise of a Green Goblin/Hobgoblin confrontation.  In comparison to the largely forgettable work being done in most of the other titles, it’s a relief to read a story that actually feels connected to the history of Spider-Man, keeps the supporting cast members in-character, and has more than a little ambition going for it.