Wednesday, April 21, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN Annual #2 - September 1986

Wake Me Up I Gotta Be Dreaming

Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Arthur Adams (art), L. Lois Buhalis (letterer), George Roussos (colorist)

The Plot: The New Mutants chastise Warlock for watching too much television and not experiencing life. He heads into New York City, where he encounters scientists Dr. Karl and Dr. Reni Weber. Karl convinces Warlock to give him a small sample of his body, which Karl hopes will make him rich. When Karl experiments on Warlock, he absorbs too much energy and behaves erratically. After taking Reni hostage, Warlock morphs into giant imitations of Godzilla and King Kong. Meanwhile, Spider-Man rescues animals freed from a lab by an activist group. He notices Warlock, but is unable to help. Spider-Man convinces Karl to return the missing piece of Warlock’s body. Soon, Warlock blasts off into space, explodes with energy, and returns home. After seeing a biased editorial against Spider-Man, Warlock declares he won’t watch TV again.

The Subplots: None.

Review: In some ways, this is a precursor to several issues of Nocenti’s Daredevil run. Nocenti wants to tell a story about animal experimentation, but has to wrap it up in a traditional superhero narrative. The results don’t quite work, and while she still stumbled with preachy “issues” stories in Daredevil, she did have a better idea of what she was doing by that point. Here, the message doesn’t seem to go any deeper than “animal experimentation is bad.” When Spider-Man points out to one of the Animal Liberation Front members that animal experimentation saves human lives, and even the ALF members have probably benefited from it, the retort is, “I’d rather die with the animals!” Apparently, this is supposed to be the winning argument, as Spider-Man has no response and even begins to question if he could be considered a type of animal experimentation. Putting an animal’s life on par with a human’s isn’t the most rational position to take, and even if the writer sincerely agrees with it, there’s nothing in the character’s established persona that leads me to believe he would buy into the idea. Peter Parker isn’t an established vegetarian, and hasn’t been portrayed as someone with strong attachments to animals in the past. If anything, his past indicates he would firmly side with the scientists on this issue. ALF, by the way, is a real organization. I don’t know if Nocenti used them intentionally, or how well-known they were in 1986, but it’s still odd to see them in a comic book, instead of a stand-in group.

Aside from the heavy-handed message, there is some good material here. All of the characters have personalities and no one is portrayed as two-dimensionally bad. Karl wants to make money off Warlock, but he does still genuinely care about him, and feels bad when Warlock has a negative reaction to one of his experiments. Straight-laced Karl and his messy wife Reni are a cute couple, and Nocenti manages to make them feel real over the course of just a few pages. There’s also the idea that everyone in the story is using Warlock (Karl for money, Reni to “play Fay Wray” and have an adventure, and Spider-Man for money as well, through photographs). They’re not bad people for doing these things, but they of course feel guilty when they briefly believe Warlock has died. Not surprisingly, large sections of the story are just excuses for Arthur Adams to show off. I’m not sure if Marvel could legally get away with Warlock impersonating Speed Racer’s car, David Letterman, Godzilla, and King Kong today, but it was fun while it lasted. It’s too bad the printing and coloring of this era don’t begin to do Adams justice.

You’re Lying, Peter Parker!

Credits: Ann Nocenti (writer), Mike Mignola (pencils), Geof Isherwood (inks), L. Lois Buhalis (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: In a dream, Peter Parker’s home is invaded by Hobgoblin, Kingpin, Black Fox, the alien costume, and Black Cat. He has to lie continuously to Aunt May and Jonah Jameson to cover his dual identity. He’s awaken by a phone call from Mary Jane, who’s upset he missed their date. She doesn’t believe his lie. He quickly calls Aunt May and the Daily Bugle, telling more lies, as he prepares to go out as Spider-Man. He vaguely remembers a nightmare but is glad he can’t remember it.

Review: Mike Mignola and Arthur Adams in the same comic? If John Byrne and Frank Miller did pin-ups, this could’ve been an early Legend imprint comic. This may be a back-up story, but it has a stronger idea and better execution than the main story. If any hero is going to feel guilty about lying to his friends and family, it’s going to be Spider-Man. Nocenti cleverly paces the story so that Peter is lying in almost every panel, as the stakes of his dream go higher and higher.

The idea of the hero as a liar has to be treaded lightly in order to keep him sympathetic (and heroic), but the story manages not to take the concept too far. The only time we see Peter lying for any reason other than to cover his dual identity is when he tries to cover for missing his date with Mary Jane. It’s subtly played, but the idea is there. Peter is lying to someone who already knows his secret identity, who doesn’t need to be “protected” from the truth. Dishonesty has become a standard aspect of his relationships, and he’s having trouble distinguishing when or not a lie is appropriate. I only wish Nocenti had more room to explore the idea.

2 comments:

wwk5d said...

"Mike Mignola and Arthur Adams in the same comic?"

Seriously, reason enough to check it out.

Teebore said...

Indeed.

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