Wednesday, August 20, 2014

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #19 - September 1997

 

The Return
Credits:  Richard Case (plot, pencils, inks), Todd Dezago (script), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  A young woman named Akasha Martinez comes across a fragment of the Living Monolith and is instantly knocked unconscious.  She soon recovers, however, and spends a day with her father at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Peter Parker is there with MJ to photograph the new Egyptian exposition.  When Akasha encounters the Egyptian artifacts, she’s overwhelmed with power.  She steals the Eye of Horus and proclaims herself the Living Pharaoh.  As Spider-Man, Peter tries to stop Akasha from harming the museum patrons, but discovers she’s stronger than he initially thought.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  
  • The Living Monolith originally called himself the Living Pharaoh before growing to giant size.
  • The Chronology Project lists this two-parter as yet another arc taking place before Spectacular Spider-Man #246, even though it was published months later.  I’m skeptical about this, since Peter does make a reference to Jonah being “nearly out of his mind with everything that’s been going on lately,” which I think was likely a reference Jonah’s injuries and Norman Osborn buying the Bugle.  However, it could possibly be interpreted as an allusion to Tom DeFalco’s Bugle storylines in the build-up to Amazing Spider-Man #425; the assassination plot against Robbie, the Angela Yin/Dragon Fly drama, etc.

I Love the ‘90s:  Scully and Mulder are at the hospital interviewing Akasha’s friends, although the colorist seems to be going out of his way to mis-color them.

"Huh?" Moment:  Akasha repeatedly tells her friends to “atch up” when bike-riding in the opening scene.  I can only assume the letterer misspelled “catch up” and then copy and pasted his typo repeatedly.  It appens, man.  It appens.

Review:  Sensational is usually fun, but there are times when it just feels like it’s too light for its own good.  The book’s always low on subplots and psychological drama, so when you get issues like these that lack both elements entirely, it’s usually up to the art to save the day.  And while Richard Case is a competent fill-in for Mike Wieringo, he’s…well, no Mike Wieringo.  I honestly wouldn’t complain about having Case on any of the Spider-books, especially when I think about some of the questionable fill-in art this era produced.  This just isn’t as visually innovative as the ‘Ringo issues, and it’s not as if we’re being graced with an incredible villain in the first place.  

I don’t necessarily mind reviving the Living Pharaoh as a college-age female, but I think she’s a hard sell as the villain for a two-issue arc.  We know virtually nothing about Akasha before she becomes the Pharaoh, so there’s just no investment on the reader’s part in seeing her go back to normal.  And as a threat, she shoots some energy beams out of a staff and that’s essentially it.  No clear motivation, unoriginal powers, and a virtual blank in her civilian form.  Not a great villain at this stage.  None of this means this is a terrible comic; it’s well-drawn and there are a few decent gags, but it’s hard to muster up the energy to care too much about the story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #84 - October 1997


Nothing Stops the Juggernaut!
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  Spider-Man creates a web-net to stop his fall.  He’s discovered by a group of kids that includes Devon Lewis.  The Juggernaut suddenly walks by with a rare sword he intends to sell.  Assuming Spider-Man wants to fight, he attacks.  Devon steals the sword, thinking he’s helping Spider-Man.  The NYPD soon arrives and deals with Juggernaut while Spider-Man searches for Devon.  After he convinces Devon to give Juggernaut the sword, Juggernaut leaves peacefully.


The Subplots:  Devon’s friend JC tells Spider-Man that his mother is a doctor, and he thinks Spider-Man’s vertigo is caused by an inner-ear infection.  Spider-Man gets medicine from JC’s mom and finds his vertigo is cured.


Web of Continuity:  Devon Lewis is the son of the owner of the Daily Grind, the coffee shop that employed Ben Reilly.


*See _________ For Details:  The Juggernaut says he received this sword from “a bunch of lowlife Welchers in the Middle East.”  The footnote points towards Incredible Hulk ##457.  He claims that he’s selling the sword in order to pay for Black Tom’s hospital bills, following the events of Generation X #25.  Oddly enough, the footnotes cite Marvel Team-Up #150 as an example of Spider-Man and Juggernaut meeting in the past, as opposed to the more famous Amazing Spider-Man #229-230, or the more recent crossover in X-Force #4/Spider-Man #16.

I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man tells Devon that this is not like a Xena adventure.


Review:  Wizard had already begun declaring Amazing Spider-Man #229-230 as a modern-day classic during this era, which might’ve influenced the decision to pit Juggernaut against Spider-Man once again this issue.  After all, John Romita, Jr. drew that original story, and it would be fun to see how he handled a rematch in his modern style, right?  And, yes, I have to acknowledge that visually this is a stunning issue.  Any JRjr Spider-Man collection wouldn’t be complete without this story, which exhibits his expressionistic “blocky” style as well as any other comic I can remember.  Both Spider-Man and Juggernaut are large, bold figures that are bigger than life in an appropriately comic-book way, much larger than I can ever imagine Romita getting away with back in the Jim Shooter days.  Which isn’t to say that the gigantic images stand in the way of the storytelling, as Romita maintains Spider-Man’s unique body language throughout the issue, and manages to work those large figures into a multi-panel page when he has to.  Credit also goes to Gregory Wright for doing some of the finest color work at Marvel during these days.


Unfortunately, there’s really no story for Romita to work with here.  Juggernaut stumbles across Spider-Man by pure coincidence, they fight for no real reason, Spider-Man makes sure Juggernaut gets his sword back, and everyone goes home.  Sure, the fight scenes are fun, but what a lame justification for a fight.  And an even lamer ending, with the villain simply walking away for the second issue in a row.  The threadbare plot might’ve been saved if Mackie could create some kind of a dynamic between Spider-Man and Juggernaut, but their tête-à-tête is just a chore to read.  When it isn’t utterly boring, it veers into the vaguely incomprehensible.  


Spider-Man:  You are serious about all this sick friend stuff…aren’t you?


Juggernaut:  Yeah!  What -- I can’t have a friend?  You of all people got nerve name-calling!


Spider-Man:  What are you talking about?


Juggernaut:  Yeah…well…I’ve been havin’ a tough year.


What?  What is this supposed to mean? How is there a connection between Juggernaut telling Spider-Man that he isn’t in a position to name-call (which he clearly wasn’t doing), and then Juggernaut spontaneously declaring that he’s having “a tough year”?  I guess the idea is that Juggernaut is overly-sensitive to criticism because of this alleged “tough year,” but even that doesn’t make a lot of sense.  Spider-Man’s obviously not insulting him, he’s been trying to avoid a fight for the entire issue, and suddenly Juggernaut a) thinks Spider-Man is calling him names, and b) decides to blame his non sequitur response on a “tough year.”  I don’t want to harp on this, but Mackie’s dialogue exchanges often have these brief moments that make little-to-no sense.


Following the Juggernaut fight, which essentially amounts to pretty filler, we’re graced with a resolution to the vertigo subplot.  Revealing that it was actually an inner-ear infection and not a vampire’s bite is a respectable twist ending, although I think the vertigo bit has been used so many times by now, in all of the titles, that resolving it with a dose of antibiotics is somewhat anticlimactic.  Also, it gives MJ an invitation to nag Peter once again, since he didn’t go to the doctor when she originally told him to.  Why does MJ nag so much in the titles now?  Was this an editorial edict?

Monday, August 18, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #83 - September 1997


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


The Plot:  Spider-Man makes his way to an open window, but the Shocker suddenly appears and blasts him.  After Spider-Man catches himself again, Shocker stuns him by simply walking away.  Spider-Man lingers until the piece of the building he’s holding on to collapses.  Meanwhile, Robin Vega confronts Paul Stacy.  She warns him that she could kill him but has chosen not to.  The Friends of Humanity burst in and attack Robin.  Paul’s apartment building catches fire, and he soon proves himself a hero when he risks his life to save a young girl with Robin.  Robin defeats the FoH members and brands “Mutie” on their foreheads.


The Subplots:  MJ meets with her therapist, but is frustrated when Peter doesn’t arrive for their counseling session.


I Love the ‘90s:  MJ tells Dr. Reandeau (who never appears on-panel) that she and Peter are no different from “most other young married couples in the ‘90s!”


How Did This Get Published?:  Robin Vega to Paul Stacy:  “You look frightened, Paul.  As though you’ve never actually faced a woman whose mutant powers allow her to convert herself into living metal.”  Smooth exposition, there.  I guess I should be happy she’s using contractions, though.



Review:  I’ve always loved that cover, and the interior art is also great.  Romita has to convey for the entire issue that Spider-Man’s suffering from vertigo while hanging off a building, but rather than going the obvious route and draw some wavy buildings or undulating panel borders, he instead uses the page layout to give you a sense of scale.  Long, skinny panels help to convey how high up Spider-Man is, emphasizing just how terrifying tall buildings actually are, especially if you happen to be clinging for your life on the side of one.  The vertigo itself is represented by some fuzzy lights around Spider-Man’s head, which might seem like a copout, but I think it’s a much smarter move to emphasize Spider-Man’s location and to represent the disorientation with standard artistic shorthand.  Conveying an actual sense of vertigo is virtually impossible in the static medium of comics (How often did you really feel vertigo when the mutant Vertigo used her powers and an artist just drew circles everywhere?), but you can create scale.  Spider-Man truly feels like he’s in danger this issue, and to Mackie’s credit, it actually is a nice use of this vertigo subplot that’s been hanging around for months.


I’m, let’s say, less charitable about the rest of the issue.  MJ’s subplot consists of her whining about Peter yet again, which is unfortunately turning into her default state in many of these post-clone issues.  There’s nothing wrong with the concept of Peter and/or MJ exploring therapy, but Howard Mackie just isn’t the writer best suited to write them.  And the Shocker’s appearance in the issue is annoying to say the least.  First of all, revealing that he’s the mystery figure from the previous issue is a bit of a cheat, since I don’t believe Herman Schultz has ever been shown with long hair before.  Secondly, he has no real motivation to even be here.  He wants to kill Spidey, then decides it’s too easy at the moment, brags about his new “deal” that won’t make him a loser anymore, and then leaves.  That’s compelling. 

Finally, the Paul Stacy/Robin Vega subplot continues to drag the book down, as Mackie is incapable of making either character engaging or sympathetic in any way.  Robin is an oppressed mutant cliché, and Paul is just so poorly defined he’s impossible to take seriously as a character.  Paul’s lack of identity is an intentional plot point, granted, but it’s not as if his search for self is coming across as authentic in any way.  He goes from terrorizing an innocent woman to saving a little girl in the course of one issue, all the while reminding us at every opportunity that he sure hates that Spider-Man.  I think the original idea behind Paul was to play him up as an “intellectual” bully for Peter, as opposed to Flash, but Paul never comes across as particularly bright.  We’re just told that he’s smart.  And Peter was forced to deal with Flash because they were stuck in high school together.  Peter’s an adult now; it’s not as if he absolutely has to tolerate this guy.  He could easily hire a new tutor, and it’s not as if the stories have convincingly sold us on the idea that Peter really needs a tutor, or that he’s particularly invested in returning to school anyway.  We know Peter’s back in school because the creators are nostalgic for that era, but it would be nice to have a justification within the stories. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #82 - August 1997


You’ve got to Have Friends (of Humanity?)
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  Aspiring Friends of Humanity leader Donovan Zane recruits Paul Stacy.  As the FoH grows in popularity, a riot breaks out between pro and anti-mutant students.  Spider-Man tries to stop the violence but discovers campus police are better suited for the job.  Zane knows of a mutant on ESU’s campus, Robin Vega, and sends Paul to harass her.  As Peter Parker, Spider-Man discovers that Robin is going to lethally retaliate against the FoH.  He meets Paul on a rooftop and tries to talk him into leaving Robin alone.  Paul angrily walks away, just as Spider-Man’s vertigo returns.  He falls off the building and desperately clings to the side.


The Subplots:  MJ reminds Peter that they have a counseling session that night.  In the shadows, a mystery man with long hair watches Spider-Man.  When he sees Spider-Man clinging for his life, he thinks to himself that it’s a perfect opportunity for them to talk about “old times.”


How Did This Get Published?:  When Robin suggests a stuck door is locked, Paul responds: “Don’t be absurd!   This is my office as Dr. Lanning’s senior student assistant.  It has never had a lock!”  That’s just one example of a character this issue suddenly rejecting the use of contractions.


Review:  There’s nothing wrong with introducing a Friends of Humanity chapter on the ESU campus.  It helps to move Spider-Man’s world closer to the wider Marvel Universe, and opens the door for new stories involving Peter’s campus life.  Trying to use the FoH as the main villains in a story, however, is much trickier.  It’s one thing for the FoH to be stirring up trouble as an ongoing subplot, but a group of bigots with placards is not going to be a credible threat for Spider-Man.  Mackie does throw in the accusation from Donovan Zane that Spider-Man is also a mutant, which has potential (and was actually used years later by Marvel as an April Fool’s Day prank), but not surprisingly it’s squandered here.  


Ignoring the fact that Spider-Man vs. students is visually dull, the story also fails to make the reader care about any of the people involved in the FoH’s schemes.  Robin Vega is a cipher, a character obviously created simply to be “The Mutant” for this story with no real personality traits.  She goes from declaring that she’s never even tried to use her powers before to announcing she’s going to literally kill anyone who harasses her in the course of one page.  She’s also the second random mutant introduced in the Spider-books in recent months, since Sensational Spider-Man has already revealed that Ben Reilly’s love interest Desiree is a mutant.  Desiree could’ve just as easily filled the role needed for the story, paid off a dangling plotline, and not come across as a too-convenient new character brought in just to play the victim.


Mackie’s dialogue has the tendency to steer towards…well, “robotic” is the best way I can put it, and it’s unfortunately in full display this issue.  Donovan Zane is supposed to be the FoH’s charismatic new leader, but he can’t seem to muster a coherent argument against mutants, even though the public at the time thinks mutants killed the Avengers and Fantastic Four.  Instead, he attempts to recruit Paul by going on a villainous diatribe against an unwanted hybrid in his garden.  Yes, we get the metaphor, but it’s so clumsily delivered it makes the entire scene laughable.  And Paul is so poorly written it’s hard to discern why he abruptly wants to join a hate group, aside from a few lines about him blaming everyone with superpowers for his uncle and cousin’s deaths.  Paul’s suddenly obsessed with his uncle, who he claims was his best friend, even though they lived on different continents and he died when Paul was probably still in high school.  We’re also supposed to believe the Jill is now MJ’s best friend, simply because she uses those exact words to describe Jill this issue.  That’s the height of lazy writing.  Jill has yet to exhibit a single personality trait since being introduced, we don’t even know what her major is supposed to be even though she’s been defined solely as “college student,” and suddenly she’s best friends with the lead character’s wife.  How could they possibly expect the audience to buy this?  And, again I ask, why was the task of fleshing out the Stacy family left to the writer with the weakest characterization skills?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #425 - August 1997


The Chump, the Challenge, and the Champion!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  Electro annoys the Rose by ignoring his plans, leading the Rose to tell Spider-Man, via the Daily Bugle, how to find him.  Spider-Man prepares to face Electro by devising a non-conductive costume and webbing.  He teams with X-Man to stop Electro, and in spite of X-Man’s insistence that Electro should be killed, Spider-Man tries to talk Electro out of unleashing an electrical bomb on the city.  Realizing that Spider-Man feels responsible for his life, Electro gets his revenge by dropping to his apparent death in the river.


The Subplots:  Robbie Robertson is still fighting with his wife, who wants him to quit the Bugle.  Peter’s excessive aspirin use has aggravated his ulcer.  Aunt Anna’s homemade cure later gives him relief.  MJ is annoyed with Peter for abandoning his family responsibilities while searching for Electro.  He promises to be a better husband after Electro is defeated.  Peter misses another class at ESU.  Paul Stacy refuses to share his notes from Professor Howard’s lecture.  Meanwhile, the Rose hires the True Believers away from Black Tarantula.  Later, they rob Dr. Octopus’ grave.


Web of Continuity:  
  • Tom DeFalco is so dedicated to the idea that Morbius’ bite gave Spider-Man headaches, he’s made Peter’s aspirin usage a plot point.  (Does aspirin work on vertigo as well?)  Spider-Man’s ulcer goes all the way back to a storyline in the 1970s.
  • This is the first title to acknowledge Jonah’s hospitalization, which happened months earlier in Spectacular Spider-Man.
  • At ESU, MJ meets former Bugle interns Phil Urich and Meredith Campbell for the first time.  I’m guessing they’re here to introduce the subject of Jonah’s hospitalization, because they certainly don’t play a large role in upcoming issues.


I Love the ‘90s:  Electro refers to X-Man as a “Leonardo DiCaprio wannabe.”  Later, Electro also releases a giant-sized “NOT!” after pretending to surrender.


Review:  Does anyone remember when Steve Skroce was supposed to be the regular artist of this book?  I only have fuzzy memories, to be honest.  The book has suffered a great deal in the past few months without a regular artist, as almost every issue has had “Generic ‘90s Fill-In” written all over it.  Amazing, more than any other title, needs a consistent portrayal of Spider-Man and his supporting cast, and without that the book just felt like it was stranded in limbo.  Now that Skroce has returned, I’m reminded that I actually like his interpretation of Spider-Man quite a bit.  He’s obviously a fan of the Ditko-style “multiple Spideys in the same panel” shot, and I really like the way he handles Spider-Man’s eyes and web pattern.  It’s a nice blend of the traditional and the post-McFarlane look, I would say.  His version of Peter Parker and most of the supporting cast is also fine, with the major exception of MJ, who he has yet to get a handle on.  She looks like a Halloween witch decoration during her brief scenes this issue.  Skroce can draw attractive females at times, so I’m not sure why he has such a problem with a character who’s actually intended to be a knockout.


Of course, this title has had numerous problems that have had nothing to do with fill-in art lately.  DeFalco has gone off on an odd tangent with the True Believers, and his big Rose/Black Tarantula gang war arc has become a drag on the book.  The subplots have also been tepid, with Peter fearing bad grades again while Robbie is getting nagged by his wife.  MJ also turns into a nag this issue, suddenly deciding that Peter is spending too much time as Spider-Man.  None of these ideas are that great to begin with, but it’s especially annoying when two subplots in the same issue revolve around a character getting nagged by his bossy wife.  Maybe there’s some other marital dynamic we could explore?


In more recent issues, DeFalco’s turned much of the focus on to Electro, starting with the reasonable premise that a souped-up Electro now wants to prove that he isn’t a loser.  Playing up Electro’s low self-esteem enables DeFalco to also emphasize Spider-Man’s compassion, one of the traits that I’ve always liked most about the character.  Spider-Man of course wants to stop Electro from setting off a bomb, but he also feels genuinely bad when he realizes that he’s also been taking his frustrations out on the villain, which has only aggravated the situation even more.  I don’t know if X-Man is really the best character to be representing the other point of view (which is “just kill the idiot before he hurts anyone”), but if we’re stuck with the idea of Spidey and X-Man being pals, I guess that’s a good enough role for him.  


So, yes, Spider-Man has a legitimate character arc to go through during his fight with Electro.  DeFalco is usually very good about tying the character conflict and the physical conflicts together.  But as the resolution to a fairly lengthy arc, the execution feels a little flat.  This is all material J. M. DeMatteis covered very well in his “Light the Night” arc, and while DeFalco is clearly using it as inspiration, he hasn’t added anything to the original story.  The problem of “Too Much Spidey” also rears its head again, as DeFalco expects us to believe that Spider-Man’s been searching tirelessly for Electro for weeks, even though none of the other titles have bothered to mention it even once.  There are so many Spider-Man books going in so many directions at this point, it’s impossible to get the sense that any one event is dominating his thoughts.  A super-charged Electro should feel like a big deal, as should Jonah being hospitalized, or Robbie considering retirement, or Flash dealing with alcoholism, or the Chameleon discovering Spider-Man’s secret ID, or Kraven returning from the grave, but instead every book is now so segregated it feels like there’s no center.  (Notice that I only listed plotlines from two of the books in that list.  Which is a sign that the other books were either wisely staying out of the way or were too un-ambitious for their own good, I guess.)  With no center, it’s much harder to believe that you’re reading about the lives of Peter Parker and his friends and family.  And without that you’ve got a collection of somewhat random Spider-Man stories, which isn’t enough to carry a line of titles.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #248 - August 1997


From the Shadows
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (plot), Mark Bernardo (script), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green & Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  John Jameson is released from custody, as Jonah recovers in the hospital.  While Spider-Man ponders the case, he’s attacked by jungle animals sent by Kraven.  Later, he visits Jonah in the hospital and is shocked when Jonah refuses to let the guards arrest him.  Meanwhile, Ashley Kafka uses hypnosis to discover what happened to John.  They realize he was mesmerized by Mad Jack.  While touring his subconscious, John faces Man-Wolf.  At the offices of Norman Osborn, Mad Jack refuses payment for torturing the Jamesons.


The Subplots:  Flash Thompson visits his parents and has an argument with his bitter father.  


Web of Continuity:  
  • Lots of vague Mad Jack/Jameson continuity established this issue.  Jonah tells the police he doesn’t know Mad Jack; they assume he’s lying.  When Mad Jack later visits him in the hospital, Jonah asks him, “doesn't the past count for anything?”  Mad Jack reveals that he showed Jonah his face in the elevator before beating him.  Jonah still doesn’t believe it’s the person he saw.  Later, Mad Jack sneaks into the Jameson’s home and stares longingly at an old photo of Jonah’s wife Marla.
  • Jonah has an unusually emotional connection to a book of poems by (who else?) Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • I believe this is Norman Osborn’s first appearance following his second death in Peter Parker, Spider-Man #75.  Mad Jack tells Jonah that the price that must be paid is the Daily Bugle, which sets up Osborn’s next move.
  • Ashley Kafka claims that she’s worked with Spider-Man “for years.”  Later, Spider-Man remarks that Kraven committed suicide “years ago.”  More evidence that no one was under the impression that time had stopped moving in the Marvel Universe during these days.


I Love the ‘90s:  The police compare John Jameson’s evasive answers to Bill Clinton’s.  While leaving the police station, John is asked by a reporter if he hates his father and if this is a “Menendez brothers thing.”  Later, while being attacked by jungle animals, Spider-Man makes a comment about starring in Jumanji 2.


Review:  So, Spider-Man’s role in this issue mainly consists of him being attacked by an ape and a lion for three pages.  The rest of the story is devoted to the Mad Jack plotline, which is now being used as a setup to reintroduce Norman Osborn.  That’s probably not the best way to use your protagonist, but it could be forgivable within the context of a larger storyline, assuming the ultimate payoff is worth the effort.  Knowing how the Mad Jack/Jameson material ends, or “ends” should be in quotes I guess, that does make the zoo pages slightly more annoying.  Plus, the new Kraven being teased never really amounted to much, anyway.  Ignoring all that, there is good material this issue.  Jonah and Spider-Man have another memorable scene together, as Jonah exonerates him of the crime and actually tells the guards to leave him alone.  I’ve always liked the scenes that humanize Jonah without taking the idea too far.  Leaving Jonah alone with the book of poems, reflecting on…whatever the connection between Mad Jack and Marla is supposed to be, is a strong way to close the scene.

There’s an interesting wrinkle to the old Jameson/Spidey feud since we now have John Jameson romantically involved with Ashley Kafka, which means there are now two Spidey supporters within the family.  When Marla reverts to Jonah’s old standby of blaming Spider-Man for everything, it’s not so easy for her to get away with it.  John knows that if Spider-Man says he saw him suffocating Jonah, it must be true.  This leads to a session of hypnotherapy that you’re only going to get in comics, as John and Ashley both (somehow) enter his subconscious and face very literal representations of his fears.  Man-Wolf even makes an appearance, and while I can totally understand why DeMatteis has selected him to represent John’s dark urges, it does seem like an odd continuity reference to throw into an unrelated story.  (Just a few issues ago, the editorial responses in the letter column seemed openly dismissive of ever bringing Man-Wolf back.)  Luke Ross’ Man-Wolf does look pretty intimidating, though, so that could be enough justification for the cameo.  Overall, I have to give Ross credit for continuing to evolve on this title.  He’s usually able to find the right balance between cartooning without hindering the drama at this point, and he’s been doing a great job with the villains lately.  His interpretation of Spider-Man still feels off to me, though.  It seems as if he’s trying to merge a McFarlane-style Spider-Man with a more traditional look, and the results don’t do either style justice.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #247 - June 1997


Mad Jack
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green & Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  Spider-Man checks on Jonah in the hospital and discovers Mad Jack is in the area.  He tries to pursue Mad Jack but is immobilized by his vertigo.  Later, Mad Jack’s cat Maguire brushes up against John Jameson’s leg.  John begins to act strangely.  Spider-Man, meanwhile, has a rematch with Mad Jack outside of the hospital.  Mad Jack has an opportunity to let Spider-Man fall to his death, but instead saves his life.  Spider-Man realizes their fight has been a distraction, so he bursts into Jonah’s hospital room to check on him.  He discovers John smothering Jonah with a pillow.


The Subplots:  MJ is distracted in her Psychology course following her encounter with the Chameleon.  Flash tries to grow close to Betty, but ends up annoying her at work.  Following her rejection, he flirts with a young blonde.  


Web of Continuity:  Mad Jack refers to himself by that name, as opposed to “Jack O’Lantern,” for the first time this issue.  He drops numerous vague hints about his origins, none of which I believe were ever paid off.  Mad Jack claims that his problem is with the Jamesons and not Spider-Man, that he “knows hell” more than Spider-Man understands, that Spider-Man doesn’t know the “forces” he’s dealing with, and that he’s “more alike” Spider-Man than he realizes.  Mad Jack’s cat, Maguire, also fails to set off Spider-Man’s spider-sense.  This little tidbit might’ve been Tom DeFalco’s inspiration to eventually tie Mad Jack with Mysterio, since Mysterio’s mist is also supposed to disrupt Spider-Man’s spider-sense.


Review:  Even if we know that J. M. DeMatteis was just making this Mad Jack stuff up as he went along, and that the ultimate resolution turned out a mess, I still find myself enjoying the Mad Jack issues.  Luke Ross’ interpretation of the character has always grabbed my attention, perhaps evoking some nostalgia I have for the McFarlane era, which is odd because I thought his efforts to replicate McFarlane’s Spidey were hit or miss.  His Mad Jack just looks cool, though.  Cartoony and excessively detailed with that unusual McFarlane-esque texture…and his head is on fire.  That just speaks to my inner nine-year-old, I guess.  


DeMatteis still hasn’t decided what exactly Mad Jack is supposed be, which means we get an entire issue of him dropping vague hints as he tries to convince Spider-Man he’s not a villain, while exhibiting powers that are either magical or based on illusion.  The idea that Mad Jack only cares about the Jamesons is already contradicted by his previous appearance, menacingly staring at MJ at night, so it’s not a good sign that anyone’s paying close attention to the continuity.  Even if the Mad Jack mystery is already starting to fall apart, there is some solid material relating to Jonah and the rest of the cast.  DeMatteis has a great handle on the Spider-Man/Jonah relationship, capturing the nuance that the two of them actually like having one another as a foil.  Jonah’s never more alive than when he has Spider-Man to kick around, so Spidey knows that the best thing he can do to cheer him up is to break into his hospital room and viciously insult him.  It’s a great callback to the Stan Lee days.  John Jameson and his stepmother Marla also have a nice moment together, the kind of human moment between minor supporting cast members that seems too rare during this era of the titles.  I do find the Flash/Betty material kind of tedious at this point, and it seems as if no one can give MJ a decent subplot in these days, but overall this is a strong issue.