Thursday, February 25, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #1 - September 1985

Give Me A Hand, Future Max!

Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Tony Salmons (art), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Spider-Man faces a robot committing a jewelry heist. He kicks off the robot’s head, but it manages to escape. The robot is Future Max, the invention of Max, a boy with a degenerative nerve disease. Max gives the jewelry to his neighbor Beatrice through a hole in the wall. He’s afraid to meet her face to face because he’s ashamed of his leg braces. At a school science fair, Max meets Peter Parker, who is impressed with his exo-skeleton. A con man also notices the exo-skeleton and tricks Max into building him a model. Peter later connects Max’s work with the robot he fought earlier and visits his home as Spider-Man. He’s attacked by the con man, who now has advanced robotic armor. With Max’s help, Spider-Man uses a water tower to short-circuit the armor. Later, Peter gives Max advice as he meets Beatrice for the first time.

The Subplots: None. It's an annual.

Forever Young: Peter reflects on how much fun he had at science fairs during high school.

I Love the ‘80s: One of the big, tough thugs who picks on Max is wearing a Police t-shirt.

Review: I’ve always been a fan of Ann Nocenti, even though this is the first Nocenti comic I’ve reviewed. Unfortunately, this is a very early job that only shows hints of what she’ll accomplish in Daredevil. There are a lot of solid ideas here; and even though Max could’ve easily become a dull cliché, Nocenti effortlessly makes him a sympathetic figure. His connection with Peter Parker is also a nice touch. Peter didn’t have a serious illness, but he was a target of bullies and felt inadequate around the opposite sex. I’m sure there have been dozens of stories about him connecting to a nerdy teenager over the years, but making the outcast a disabled genius who creates a robot that he siphons parts off of to use as braces as his disease worsens is uniquely Nocenti.

The problem is, Nocenti is too sympathetic towards everyone in the story. The con man isn’t just a con man; he’s a failed actor, crushed by the stress of New York, who just has to show off his various dialects while fighting Spider-Man. Rather than showing any contempt towards the criminal who just took advantage of a kid and is destroying city blocks with hi-tech armor, Spider-Man actually feels sorry for the guy. More galling, he totally forgets that Max built a robot and was looting jewelry stores with it! Not only does Spidey forgo any effort to reclaim the property or convince Max to do the right thing, he doesn’t even mention the robberies during his final touching words with the kid. Yes, it’s sweet that Peter gives Max advice on girls and that Beatrice accepts him, but there’s a big “oh, come on” here. Seriously, Spider-Man doesn’t care at all that this kid is a thief? Nocenti later became known for rather…unsubtle political messages in her comics, but this takes the “soft on crime” liberal stereotype to a new level.


Jeff said...

That cover by Charles Vess is gorgeous.

wwk5d said...

Yeah, I've noticed that this series so far has some great covers. I like # 3 and 4 as well. Not gorgeous as this one, but very nice and def grab your eye...

Teebore said...

Nocenti later became known for rather…unsubtle political messages in her comics

Hmm, like what? I'm embarrassingly ignorant of that kind of behind-the-scenes stuff/critical reaction to comic writers before the last ten years or so.

I've always had a fondness for her work as well.

G. Kendall said...

This interview addresses some of the response:

Some of Nocenti's early work, like this issue, seems to suggest it's perfectly okay to steal from rich people.

Teebore said...

Cool, thanks for the link!

So it sounds like Nocenti was a Red, eh? :)

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