Wednesday, November 26, 2014

SPIDER-MAN/KINGPIN: TO THE DEATH - November 1997


Credits:  Tom DeFalco (plot), Stan Lee (script) John Romita, Sr. (penciler), Dan Green (inks), Steve Oliff (colors), Bill Oakley (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man is framed by a series of lookalikes who have super-strength and web-shooters that fire bullets.  Daredevil suspects Spider-Man is innocent and offers to help him investigate the scheme.  They soon discover that a scientist working for the Kingpin, Dr. Mindella, has created Death’s Arrow, a drug that induces super-strength before causing death.  While fighting the Kingpin’s men, Daredevil is exposed to the drug.  Kingpin takes advantage of Daredevil’s confused mental state and uses him as a secret weapon against Zoltaro, a terrorist who has arranged to purchase a supply of Death’s Arrow.  Spider-Man crashes their exchange, as Zoltaro and Kingpin turn on each other.  Spider-Man is able to inject Daredevil with the antidote and spare his life.  Kingpin kills Zoltaro and safely escapes, while Dr. Mindella is arrested.  Later, Peter Parker submits photos clearing Spider-Man of his doppelgangers’ crimes.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  Captain America and the Fantastic Four appear in a scene that has various Marvel heroes attempting to apprehend the framed Spider-Man.  This means the story must take place after Amazing Spider-Man #430, which features Spider-Man’s relieved response to the return of the Fantastic Four and the rest of the “Heroes Reborn” characters.

Creative Differences:  Zoltaro is referred to as a “gang-lord” on the back cover, but portrayed as a terrorist in the actual story.

I Love the ‘90s:  Rosalind Sharpe, the head of Matt Murdock’s legal firm, says that a Spider-Man trail could potentially be “a bigger case than OJ!”

Production Note:  This is a forty-eight page bookshelf format comic, with a cover price of $5.99.

Review:  Marvel would occasionally boast of Stan Lee “returning” to Spider-Man throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s, although most of these comics were plotted by someone else and only scripted by Lee after the art was completed.  To the Death is no exception, with Tom DeFalco stepping in to provide a story for John Romita, Sr., who agreed to pencil the comic as his big return to Spider-Man.  (I believe it was promoted as his final Spider-Man comic.)  Daredevil is here essentially because Romita demanded it -- Romita makes clear in the one-shot’s text piece that he considers Daredevil Marvel’s best character.  Why Kingpin maintains a top billing when Daredevil is truly the co-star is beyond me.  I wonder now if this was intended as Kingpin’s major return to the Marvel Universe, or at least the Spider-Man line, and no one thought to change the title as the plot evolved.  (Kingpin's appearance in the recent Batman crossover of course isn't an "official" return.)

Unfortunately, the Kingpin’s role is interchangeable with any mobster character, or just generic supervillain really, which is a major reason why the story feels like nothing special.  Marvel could’ve made the six-dollar comic more of an event if it truly served as a reintroduction of the Kingpin and impacted future issues of Daredevil or the Spider-Man titles.  Instead, it’s a glorified fill-in plot with Kingpin as the very generic villain.  Spider-Man, for the most part, doesn't fare much better.  Stan Lee became famous in the '60s for making the heroes, and even some of the villains, well-rounded fictional characters with distinct personalities.  Spider-Man only feels uniquely Spider-Man in this one-shot when he concocts a quickie antidote that will save Daredevil at the story’s end.  The Kingpin is a ruthless thug, but also an intelligent businessman, a patriot in some regards, and a father and husband with a complex relationship with his family.  The plot exploits none of these elements.  Instead of wanting to stop a terrorist, Kingpin’s motive for double-crossing the ridiculously named Zoltaro is that he simply wants to keep Zoltaro’s money and the drugs he just sold him.  Surely, as a “legitimate businessman,” the Kingpin must know that this kind of stunt will ruin his reputation and kill any future deals.  Statistically, spurned terrorists tell at least fifteen other vaguely Middle Eastern terrorists when they’ve had bad business dealings with an American imperialist pig.

There’s also the utterly gratuitous plot element concerning the fake Spider-Men.  Not only does this idea feel like it belongs in a different story, but it’s too dumb to be taken seriously.  Why do the fake Spider-Men have super-strength and bullets that shoot out of their wrists?  Why would they take this drug, which is fatal within a few hours of ingestion, when they can blast machine gun fire out of their wrists?  I realize that Marvel wanted Romita to draw as many heroes as possible in the one-shot, so Spider-Man’s been framed in order to set up their appearances, but is this really the best excuse DeFalco could think of?  If you are going for the Marvel Universe vs. Spider-Man plot, why isn’t that the main story?  Who cares about Zartan-O the terrorist when you could have more pages of John Romita drawing every Marvel hero?  Also, of all the heroes, why is Daredevil the only one smart enough to even suspect Spider-Man has been framed?  And did Tom DeFalco not realize that he was using a nearly identical plot in Amazing Spider-Man #429?

The one-shot does have John Romita’s art going for it, though.  If you just want Romita drawing Spider-Man and Daredevil, this is exactly what you’re looking for.  The characters are all well-constructed and consistently on-model, and it’s interesting to see how Romita conforms to the larger eyes Spidey developed post-McFarlane.  In a perfect world, Spider-Man’s look on the cover would be an excellent model for future artists to follow.  I don’t think the paper stock really does Steve Oliff’s colors any favors; the preview pages I saw in Wizard looked great, and Oliff’s work on Spawn at this point was considered the best color art in the business, so it’s a shame that the published book looks so drab.  The Spawn paper stock of this era, which was very glossy but didn’t have that obnoxious glare that’s so prevalent in comics printing, would’ve been perfect for this book.  Also, as ridiculous as the plot is, I have to give Stan Lee credit for a decent scripting job.  He manages to work in a crack or two regarding the more cliché elements of the story, but the relentless jokiness that often appeared in his later scripting jobs is mostly gone.  He’s not given much to work with, but Lee still delivers a perfectly competent script that’s old school but just shy of corny.  Honestly, his dialogue is more plausible and natural than most of DeFalco’s work from this period.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

SPIDER-MAN UNLIMITED #18 - November 1997


All My Pasts Remembered!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)

The Plot:  In Queens, Peter and MJ discuss the past of Dr. Octopus, as do obit writer Dilbert Trilby and Ben Urich at the Daily Bugle.  Inside Dr. Octopus’ underwater headquarters, Lady Octopus also reviews the career of Dr. Octopus.  Due to the gaps in his memory, Dr. Octopus must rely on Lady Octopus’ recaps of his life, which help to fuel his hatred of Spider-Man.  

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Matt Murdock is established as Dr. Octopus’ original lawyer after his first arrest, which I believe to be new information revealed this issue.
  • This is unexpected...the ultra-obscure Dilbert Trilby was used years later as a part of the viral marketing campaign for Sony's The Amazing Spider-Man 2.
  • Lady Octopus reveals that Kane killed Dr. Octopus before she could update his most recent memory files, which is why Dr. Octopus doesn’t know Spider-Man’s secret identity.  Lady Octopus was keeping Ock’s memory files so that he could one day use a VR avatar like Stunner’s.

Review:  I doubt stories like this did much to discourage Unlimited’s reputation as filler, but I do have some fondness for recap comics.  Before the days of abundant reprint volumes and digital downloads, recap comics were often your best bet for finding out the details of comics published before you were born.  I can remember rereading the Jean Grey funeral issue of Classic X-Men numerous times and never growing bored as a kid.  This was the entire history of the X-Men (at that time) all summed up in one comic.  That’s a big deal to a kid.  If you’re a fan of Doc Ock but don’t know too much about his early appearances, or the retconned origin material, then everything you would want to know is here.  I also have to give Joe Bennett credit for his work during the flashback material.  His interpretations of Spider-Man are still occasionally inconsistent, but most of his pencils this issue are solid.  The splash page of a ‘90s style Spider-Man swinging past a montage of angry Dr. Octopuses looks great; I wish we could’ve seen this Bennett during those endless Amazing Spider-Man fill-ins.

The story also works in the origin of Lady Octopus, explaining in detail how her past intertwines with Ock’s, which is something I personally appreciate as someone who never read her origin story and only vaguely remembers her from the Clone Saga.  The character work isn’t as strong as DeFalco’s previous Dr. Octopus story in Unlimited #3, but Otto Octavius is still fleshed out fairly well during the issue.  He’s violently anti-social, yet has a soft spot for non-threatening females, especially ones that play to his ego.  This helps to explain the blind devotion of both Lady Octopus and Stunner, two characters Octavius seems to genuinely care for.  I’m not sure why DeFalco felt the need to revive these characters, but if they’re going to be around, it’s nice to have their motivations summarized for everyone who couldn’t keep up with the clone insanity.  



The Secrets of Dr. Octopus!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Pat Olliffe (penciler), Al Williamson (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)

The Plot:  The details of Dr. Octopus’ metallic arms are revealed.  

The Subplots:  None.

Review:  I’ll defend the main story, but this really is filler.  The last thing you should follow a recap story with is one of those instructional back-ups, even if it’s done in the retro-style of Untold Tales of Spider-Man.  These primers can also be fun for new readers, but I tend to think they should only be attached as back-ups in comics with an original story.  As is, the reader is getting essentially nothing new out of this comic.



Her Name was Stunner!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Joe Pimentel (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Jack Morelli (letters)

The Plot:  Dr. Octopus watches the comatose Stunner and reflects on her life.  He leaves her a rose.

The Subplots:  None.

Review:  More recaps!  Doc Ock stares at Stunner and reflects on how similar her past is to his.  There is something to the Ock/Stunner relationship, the idea that she’s essentially a female version of him that’s been remade as a Playmate bodybuilder with technology, that has potential.  Not that a four-page back-up is really going to explore those depths.  The extra pages this issue really should’ve been dedicated to an actual story.

Monday, November 24, 2014

BATMAN/SPIDER-MAN - October 1997




New Age Dawning
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Graham Nolan (penciler), Karl Kesel (inks), Gloria Vasquez & Heroic Age (colors), John Costanza (letters)


The Plot:  Batman follows Talia to New York, where she meets with the Kingpin.  Talia offers Kingpin a chance to join her father’s organization in exchange for a cure for his sick wife, Vanessa.  Spider-Man discovers Batman as he spies on Talia.  The heroes agree to join forces.  Kingpin accompanies Talia to Tibet to meet her father, Ra’s al Ghul.  Spider-Man and Batman follow.  As the heroes fight al Ghul’s men, Kingpin presses the button that should cause New York to be flooded.  Instead, it destroys al Ghul’s satellite.  Kingpin reveals that he’s been plotting against Ra’s al Ghul for months and that he invited Spider-Man and Batman along.  Ra’s al Ghul congratulates Kingpin and allows the heroes a safe journey home.  Later, Talia sends Batman a cure for Vanessa, stolen from her father’s scientists.  


The Subplots:  After being reunited with the Kingpin in Paris, Vanessa Fisk is now dying of what appears to be cancer.  Later, Ra’s al Ghul reveals that she was infected with a virus he designed to mimic cancer.  Before leaving for Tibet, Peter nervously tells MJ at his “favorite diner” Mickey’s that he’ll be gone for a while.


Web of Continuity:  This story is set after the Clone Saga, and after the Batman crossover “Contagion.”  


I Love the ‘90s:  Ra’s al Ghul is exploiting fears about the new millennium by triggering natural disasters across the globe.


Production Note:  This is a forty-eight page, bookshelf format one-shot on glossy paper.  The cover price is $4.95.


Review:  This is DC’s contribution to the Batman/Spider-Man crossover series; the first chapter was published by Marvel in 1995 and set shortly before the Clone Saga.  While J. M. DeMatteis wrote both chapters, he seems less interested in a psychological examination of the heroes this time, instead focusing on Kingpin and Ra’s al Ghul.  DeMatteis plays up the idea that both men are utterly ruthless but also surprisingly human, a concept dramatized very well in a conversation between Talia and Vanessa Fisk.  Both women have a hopeless belief that their partner can change, but both are blinded by love, be it paternal or romantic.  Kingpin is unexpectedly allowed to play the hero in the story, which is a great fake-out after DeMatteis goes out of his way to give him a plausible justification for working with Ra’s al Ghul.  I don’t remember where exactly it was established that Kingpin refuses to work with terrorists, ones targeting New York at least, but it’s a great character bit, one that J. M. DeMatteis puts to excellent use here.  There’s an interesting dynamic between Ra’s al Ghul and Kingpin, as Ra’s al Ghul is viewed as a more “honorable” villain than Kingpin, yet Kingpin is the one who’s pragmatic enough to realize just how revolting Ra’s al Ghul’s actions really are.


Because the villains receive so much of the focus, Batman and Spider-Man are often left in the background.  DeMatteis plays the heroes’ personalities against one another very well, but it’s clear that this story isn’t meant as a deep exploration of these characters.  DeMatteis covered that territory in the first chapter, which is explicitly in-continuity (with this specific crossover), so he isn’t going to repeat himself.  Spider-Man even tells Batman that they’re going to skip the obligatory hero vs. hero fight, because they did that the last time they met.  The first chapter had fantastic artwork from Mark Bagley, who draws a Batman that’s just as iconic as his Spider-Man, which sets the bar very high for Graham Nolan.  Nolan does perfectly competent work throughout the comic, but it’s hard to deny that his Batman far exceeds his Spidey.  Nolan’s Batman is an angular, black creature of the night when needed, and the brawny Neal Adams action hero whenever the story requires him to step out of the shadows.  Nolan’s Spider-Man is…straight out of Marvel Team-Up.  There’s nothing particularly wrong with it, there’s just a sense that we’ve seen this version of Spider-Man numerous times before.  Nolan’s art serves the story very well, but the pages featuring Spider-Man just don’t have the same impact as the Batman pages.  Perhaps that’s fitting for the DC chapter, but I'd love to see a Spider-Man that looks just as good as Batman.

Friday, November 21, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #87 - January 1998


Enemies…A Love Story?
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man and Paul are buried under a building demolished by the Shocker.  Spider-Man saves Paul from the debris and they then sneak away in the sewers.  At ESU, Spider-Man tries to develop a solvent that will dissolve the Trapster’s glue, but they’re soon discovered by Shocker and Trapster.  The villains are ready to strike again, when Trapster receives word that the hit is off and they’ll be paid double to leave Spider-Man and Paul alone.  Elsewhere, Donovan Zane confirms the hit has been cancelled, which pleases an employee of Norman Osborn.

The Subplots:  Jimmy-6 tells MJ that he’s only looking for a place to recover and won’t hurt anyone.  Suddenly, an armed man attacks the Parkers’ home.  Jimmy-6 interrogates the gunman, but he swallows a cyanide capsule and dies.  Jimmy-6 sees a goblin tattoo on the gunman's arm.  MJ discovers Jill was shot during the attack.

Web of Continuity:  Spider-Man spontaneously mentions the video of him beating Norman Osborn and the price Osborn’s put on his head, the first reference to these events in this title.

I Love the ‘90s:  The Trapster carries a pager.  A pager and a cell phone, which I don’t quite understand.

Miscellaneous Note:  The blurb on the cover is of course a reference to the Beatles song “Carry That Weight.”

Review:  I guess there’s a “strange bedfellows” theme this issue, as people who can’t stand one another are paired together and forced to either work collectively or merely survive.  Not a bad premise, but Mackie’s inability to write entertaining, or even slightly plausible, banter amongst Spidey/Paul and Shocker/Trapster kills the issue.  Like always, the art is attractive, especially the sequence that has Spider-Man lifting the debris to save Paul, but the story is just a chore to finish.  After a tedious issue-long chase sequence, the story simply ends when the villains get a phone call on the next-to-last page.  Norman Osborn (presumably) doesn’t want these guys dead, so that’s it.  Everyone go home.  All of the interactions between the characters are just flat, and the attempts at humor are shockingly hackneyed.  There’s even an “Oh, no!  I have to give this dude mouth-to-mouth to save his life…but I’m a dude!” bit in here.  The only scene that’s even slightly amusing comes on the final page, when Spider-Man figures out an ingenious way for him and Paul to liberate their glued feet.  They take their shoes off.

Alternating with the Shocker/Trapster story is a subplot involving Jimmy-6, which has abruptly swerved from him threatening MJ with a gun to saving her life when a mystery man attacks the house.  It’s hard to find a coherent story in here.  Jimmy-6 was attacked by mobsters last issue, who may or may not be working for his father Fortunato.  After arriving at the Parkers’ house, an armed man suddenly appears, so of course these plots are related, right?  Apparently not, since the villain has a goblin tattoo, which means it’s just a massive coincidence.  I can appreciate that Mackie is playing around with audience expectations, but the subplot feels more like a series of random events than a story.  The goblin tattoo is particularly annoying.  For one thing, the art isn’t clearly a goblin; it could just as easily represent the Jackal, which is the last villain I want to be reminded of post-Clone Saga.  Secondly, since when do Norman Osborn’s men tattoo themselves with their boss’ supervillain disguise?  Who could be that dumb?  Also, why is Norman Osborn ordering Peter and Paul to be saved, while simultaneously sending gunmen to kill MJ, Anna, and Jill?  There’s no logic in this.  

What really kills the subplot, however, is the lethargic execution.  MJ shows absolutely no emotion during the entire episode.  Her dialogue consists of “You need a doctor.”  “Whatever you say.”  “That would be great.”  And when she discovers her alleged best friend has been shot, this inspired line:  “You’re going to be fine, Jill.  Aunt Anna, call an ambulance.  Now.”  All of the blame can’t be laid on Mackie, to be fair, since Romita has decided to give MJ barely discernible facial expressions during the entire subplot.  Why I can’t begin to understand, but the result is a subplot that involves Spider-Man’s wife nonchalantly discovering a wounded mobster in her home, being taken hostage, dodging bullets from a mystery gunman, then discovering her best friend is possibly dying, and yet through it all she looks lost in an Ambien haze.  It’s a bizarre storytelling decision to say the least.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #86 - December 1997


The Span of Years
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)


The Plot:  The Shocker finds Spider-Man and Paul at the bridge and attacks.  Paul is knocked off the bridge, but Spider-Man manages to save him.  As Spider-Man helps Paul to the ground, their arms are suddenly glued together.  The Shocker’s new partner, the Trapster, emerges.


The Subplots:  While MJ is visiting Jill, Arthur Stacy receives a mysterious package.  Arthur is shocked by its contents.  Later, when MJ and Jill arrive at the Parkers, they see Aunt Anna is nervous.  Jimmy-6, recovering from a bullet wound, reveals himself.


Web of Continuity:  
  • Jimmy-6 is a minor character from the Ben Reilly days.  A mobster who was somewhat friendly with Ben, I seem to recall him as a pet character of Howard Mackie’s.
  • The city is now under a torrential downpour, even though there wasn’t a drop of rain in the previous issue.  Spider-Man has a jokey line of dialogue that tries to cover for the mistake.
  • Spider-Man comments that he’s always been able to defeat the Shocker, which ignores the fact that the Shocker defeated Spidey in his very first appearance.
  • You'll notice that I've skipped around, reviewing other titles during this storyline.  I felt the need to touch base on other storylines occurring "between the pages" of Spectacular #250; plus, something happens to Jill later in this arc that makes it difficult to place in continuity.


Miscellaneous Note:  The Statement of Ownership lists the average sales at 140,059 copies with the most recent selling 117,895.


Review:  Ignoring the fact that it isn’t supposed to be raining, the opening page of this issue really is gorgeous.  The image of rain pelting a frantic Spider-Man, the depth Romita creates, the moody colors…this is good stuff.  Following the opening splash is a double-page spread of Spider-Man racing towards Paul as images of Gwen slowly descend the pages and a menacing Green Goblin laughs hysterically while overlooking the chaos.  Even if Romita is often given mediocre material to work with, these little flashes of brilliance are sometimes worth the price of admission.


I can still find lots to complain about, though.  Little pet peeves, like the Shocker retroactively being labeled a “loser” on the level of the Trapster, and the return of even more Ben Reilly-era characters that probably should’ve been forgotten, might be unique to just me.  I could look past these elements.  The issue has more severe problems.  The dialogue is just as stilted and hard to believe as usual, and I’m now under the impression that Mackie is just making up Paul’s story as he’s going along.  This issue, Paul suddenly declares that he was never planning to commit suicide, which begs the question of why he was threatening to do it last issue.  And only a few pages after this revelation, Paul then declares that he was willing to let Shocker kill him earlier, but now that he knows Shocker’s motivated by money, he won’t let that happen.  So, he can’t decide from page to page if he was planning on some form of suicide, but it’s all irrelevant now because having learned of the Shocker’s capitalistic motivations, he’s spontaneously regained the will to live.  Yes, this all makes perfect sense.  


What’s also grating about the Paul Stacy story is how unsurprising the more sane moments are.  Of course Paul’s chosen the Brooklyn Bridge to throw himself off of.  Of course he finds the will to live, and of course he ends up getting knocked off anyway.  And Spider-Man, of course, manages to save him and not repeat the mistakes of Gwen’s death, even though he rescues Paul in the exact same way, which should’ve resulted in his neck snapping.  The only elements of the story that aren’t easily predictable are the ones that stem from Paul’s erratic characterization.  Even if the art’s great, it’s hard to forgive much of this material.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #431 - February 1998




The Carnage Cosmic
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  The Silver Surfer, fighting off the symbiote’s influence, flies away.  Spider-Man takes a comatose Cletus Kasaday to the hospital and discovers he has stomach cancer.  The symbiote has been keeping Kasaday alive for months.  Eventually, the Silver Surfer regains control of his body and convinces Spider-Man to help him reunite the symbiote with Kasaday.  Spider-Man reluctantly agrees, and soon Carnage is reborn.  The Silver Surfer uses his powers to encase Carnage in an unbreakable shell, then flies away.

The Subplots:  After speaking to Martha, who’s angry that Robbie seems more interested in discerning Carnage’s motives than he does in her, Robbie tenders his resignation to Jonah.  Meanwhile, MJ faints in front of her friends Jill and Shantal after seeing a news report of Spider-Man facing the possessed Silver Surfer.

Web of Continuity:  A flashback within the symbiote’s consciousness reveals that Silver Surfer once lead Galactus to a planet inhabited by beings bonded with the symbiotes’ ancestors.

*See _________ For Details:  Spider-Man calls the Avengers Mansion for help, but only Jarvis is there.  A footnote says we’ll see a new Avengers team in Avengers (vol. 3) #1.  Later, he searches for X-Man in Washington Square Park.  He’s accosted by X-Man’s “pseudo-cult,” with a footnote pointing to X-Man #34.  I remember one of X-Man’s many, many new directions had him as a “messiah” street prophet, but I don’t recall him having a rabidly devoted, violent group of followers.

Review:  Thankfully, it’s over.  I will say that DeFalco does a decent job of contrasting the Silver Surfer’s pacifistic demeanor with the symbiote’s bloodlust during one scene, but there’s really nothing here to change my mind that this entire story is misguided.  Since DeFalco doesn’t seem to have any affection for Carnage, I’m assuming he’s been revived to boost sales (Marvel had to know that the post-Clone Saga books just weren’t working by now), but surely this is not the story Carnage fans wanted.  If you’re just suffering through the Carnage material to check in on the supporting cast, you get an even more intolerable Martha Robertson, and the final, final decision of Robbie to quit the Bugle.  I have no idea why DeFalco has invested so much time into this subplot when it doesn’t seem to have any consequences for the main storylines, nor does he have much of a grasp on either Robbie or Martha.  Neither character has shown much personality in DeFalco’s stories; it’s hard to have any investment in what happens to them either way.  And MJ pops up merely to faint at the sight of the story’s villain, on television, which is probably the second most obvious thing you can do to the hero’s love interest.  The first, of course, is to make her an unlikable shrew.

Crammed in-between the incongruous guest star and the misused villain is a quickie moral dilemma for Peter.  Out of nowhere, (I’m assuming this info hasn’t been revealed earlier) we discover that Cletus Kasaday has terminal stomach cancer, and only the symbiote can keep him alive.  Peter’s left with the dilemma of allowing Kasaday to die, or reuniting him with Carnage and putting innocent lives at risk.  The quandary, and the annoyance he feels after fruitlessly searching for help against the now cosmically powered Carnage, has him deciding yet again that he just can’t be Spider-Man anymore.  This retirement lasts all of one page, which is probably a record, when Peter changes his mind and decides to face Surfer-Carnage.  This exemplifies one of the stranger aspects of DeFalco’s work during this era -- many of these ideas are classic Spidey (so “classic” it’s arguable they should be retired), but the execution is so mangled it’s impossible to care.

The moral dilemma is solved for Peter by the Silver Surfer, who tells him that his only alternative is for Carnage to possess the insanely powerful Silver Surfer instead of a normal human.  This assumes that the Silver Surfer isn’t mentally or physically strong enough to resist the symbiote, which is dubious, but whatever.  The justification gives Spider-Man an out for the story’s ending, and just to tie things up, the Surfer even encases Carnage in an energy shell so that he’ll never bother anyone again.  Never, ever.  It’s all nice and tidy and now let us never speak of it again.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #430 - January 1998


Savage Rebirth!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Joe Bennett (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  Budget cutbacks initiated by Mr. Pogue enable Carnage to escape Ravencroft.  He travels to the Daily Bugle and assaults Martha Robertson in an elevator.  Spider-Man races after Carnage.  Their fight is interrupted by the Silver Surfer, who is passing by.  Carnage’s symbiote has an instinctive reaction to the Silver Surfer; it leaves Cletus Kasaday’s body and escapes into the sewers.  Silver Surfer follows, but emerges possessed by the symbiote.  He declares that he is now the “Carnage Cosmic.”

The Subplots:  MJ is still annoyed at Peter for appearing as Spider-Man while a bounty is on his head.  Jacob Conover meets with Norman Osborn, while Robbie Robertson unsuccessfully tries to get Jonah to open up.

Web of Continuity:  
  • This mysterious “Mr. Pogue” appears to be the new head of Ravencroft.  This month’s issue of Spectacular brings us the young Dr. Garrison as the director of Ravencroft, although the dialogue did establish that his position was temporary.
  • Cletus Kasaday says that his symbiote has a “race memory” of the Silver Surfer and that its species is terrified of him.
  • Billy Walters makes one of his very rare appearances outside of Sensational Spider-Man.  Joe Bennett unfortunately seems to think Billy is around thirty-seven years old, and has given him Bon Jovi’s hair circa 1993.

*See _________ For Details:  The issue opens with Spider-Man enthusiastic that the Avengers and Fantastic Four are alive.  A footnote points towards the Heroes Reborn: The Return miniseries.  After Spider-Man swings past the Thunderbolts’ HQ, another footnote advises us to read Thunderbolts #10 to learn the real story behind the team.

How Did This Get Published?:  Tom DeFalco’s Silver Surfer dialogue is a testament to stilted, tin-eared superhero scripting.  As the Silver Surfer saves the MIR space station from an asteroid:  “A single blast of my power cosmic can easily reduce that massive rock into insignificant shards -- but I must make certain that I incinerate any shard which might strike the station!  It is done!  Those brave Cosmonauts are safe!  I must return to the planet Earth where other startling events now claim my attention.  Though my heart soars at the miraculous return of the Fantastic Four -- I am most curious how this joyous news will affect my deepening relationship with Alicia Masters, the Thing’s former girlfriend.”

Creative Differences:  An inserted narrative caption on the opening page states that although Spider-Man isn’t sure how the Avengers and Fantastic Four survived Onslaught, he did help in their return.  This is another hand-lettered caption that stands out, very obviously, with Comicraft’s work.

Review:  Oh, dear.  Not this one.  I’m sure we were all looking forward to the day the Silver Surfer would team up with Spider-Man against Carnage, right?  There’s something to be said for the occasional oddball guest star, but the Silver Surfer has absolutely no place in a Carnage story.  Carnage stories are, arguably, barely even Spider-Man stories, since they involve a serial killer/monster that preys on random innocents.  He certainly isn’t a villain suited for Silver Surfer, who’s almost exclusively associated with Marvel’s cosmic cast by this point.  Plus, Silver Surfer’s insanely powerful, so one flick of his wrist would easily turn Carnage into a pile of dust.  

In order for Carnage to present any kind of threat  -- and DeFalco actually wants this to stretch past one issue -- DeFalco has to avoid a straightforward confrontation and actually give Carnage the Surfer’s powers.  Carnage, the ‘80s horror movie monster brought to comics, now has cosmic powers, which he inevitably isn’t going to use to accomplish anything.  So, now we’ve got a story that doesn’t really work as a Spider-Man, Silver Surfer, or Carnage story.  Connecting the alien roots of the symbiote to the Silver Surfer isn’t necessarily a bad idea, if you are going to be inserting the Silver Surfer into this, but every other aspect of this team-up feels horribly awkward.  And, even ignoring the Silver Surfer angle, the reader is left with one of the worst Carnage stories yet.  Not only is his escape from Ravencroft extremely unimaginative (and pathetically easy), but Carnage’s big plan after his escape is to go to the Daily Bugle for…some vague reason, and then to walk around the block until he’s spotted by Spider-Man.  And that scene with Martha Robertson in the elevator is simply terrible.  Not only is the scene so rushed it lacks any drama, but Carnage inexplicably leaves her alive -- if you’ve ever read a single Carnage story, you know that’s not his M. O.  Martha survives with only a cut on her arm; apparently, there wasn’t enough blood for Carnage to write one of his trademarked threats on the wall, so he added his blood to hers.  Why DeFalco felt the need to stress this I don’t know, unless he really wants to emphasize that Martha hasn’t been hurt.  If DeFalco isn’t willing to kill or harm Martha, then he shouldn’t have put her in this scene.  Or, at the very least, he should’ve come up with a great distraction to keep Carnage from finishing the job.  Having Carnage suddenly change his mind about killing, conveniently while stuck in an elevator with an established cast member in the middle of an ongoing subplot, is ridiculous.  (A few minutes after leaving the elevator, Carnage changes his mind again and decides he does want to go back to murder.)

Regarding the subplots, and the art, I’m left repeating myself.  The same subplots are being recycled once again, so MJ’s a nag, Martha’s a nag, Jonah’s acting unusually distant, Robbie is concerned, and Peter’s conflicted about donning his Spider-Man costume.  If I didn’t care by now, certainly there’s nothing here to change my mind.  And Joe Bennett’s art is still not up to the promise we’ve seen in Spider-Man Unlimited.  Ugly faces, strained anatomy, rushed backgrounds, and an inconsistent Spider-Man from page to page.  This is just dire work, all around.