Monday, November 22, 2010

WEB OF SPIDER-MAN #56-#57, November-December 1989


Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: At ESU, Peter Parker tries to develop a new web fluid, but the results are too corrosive. He’s distracted by a white supremacist rally, which is soon interrupted by an enraged Rocket Racer. After pulling him away, Spider-Man learns that Bob Farrell, the Racer’s secret ID, and his family had an encounter with the racists earlier that day. Later, both Spider-Man and Rocket Racer witness the skinheads’ bombing of the Afro-American Studies building. Racer confronts their leader, Eddie the Cross, and accidentally breaks a vial of Peter’s corrosive web fluid over his head. Eddie escapes, and later emerges as the skinless villain Skinhead.

The Subplots: Mary Jane’s friends suggest she audition for a soap opera. J. Jonah Jameson learns that Thomas Fireheart is buying out shares of the Daily Bugle in a hostile takeover.

*See _________ For Details: After the events of Spectacular Spider-Man#155, Peter believes Robbie Robertson is dead. (He fell out of a helicopter after Tombstone forced him to escape from prison, but of course, he turns out to be fine).

I Love the ‘80s: Well, a certain Seinfeld star has learned that “Afro-American” isn’t really used anymore. Peter wonders if Michael Keaton also has problems as a superhero. Later, he deems he’s too bored to watch Arsenio. There’s also a panel that has Spider-Man explaining the difference between good skinheads and bad skinheads. “Most skinheads are no more racist than anyone else. Heck, the skinhead style started with an appreciation of black West-Indian music.” I can’t imagine a story today going out of its way to acknowledge the non-racist skinheads, so I guess the bad ones have ruined the term for everybody.

Creative Differences: A re-lettered word balloon emphasizes that Peter knows Nathan Lubensky is dying, after he initially thought Aunt May received the negative test results.

Review: Yeah, I know…one of the few black people Peter Parker has ever known just so happens to run into problems with skinheads. You could argue that this isn’t the best way to use Rocket Racer (especially since Spider-Man has to repeatedly lecture him not to resort to violence and to stay calm), but I actually enjoy Conway’s interpretation of the character. As a kid, Rocket Racer’s name, gimmick, or costume never really appealed to me, but I’ve always liked him as a character. For years, I was convinced that with a new gimmick Rocket Racer could at least be as a credible a hero as any of the New Warriors. Looking back, it would have to be Conway’s characterization that made me feel that way, because I’m almost positive he wrote the only Rocket Racer appearances I read as a kid. The idea of an ex-con putting his past behind him and restarting his life isn’t new, but Conway’s portrayal is believable, and pitting him against people scummy enough to harass his mother and sister makes him an easy hero to root for.

Flesh and Blood

Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)

The Plot: Skinhead morphs into a shapeless mass of flesh and absorbs his fellow Nazis. Meanwhile, Rocket Racer and Spider-Man research Skinhead’s past and learn that he’s actually Jewish. At his childhood home, Skinhead emerges to kill his rabbi father. Spider-Man targets the skeleton within Skinhead’s form and eventually knocks him unconscious.

The Subplots: A delirious Kristy escapes from the Eating Disorder Unit and visits the Parkers. They bring her back to the hospital, where a doctor orders them to stop enabling Kristy. MJ gets firm with Kristy, telling her she isn’t going to watch her kill herself.

Web of Continuity: Peter and MJ are now moving in to their SoHo loft, which is upstairs from Harry and Liz’s apartment. The building is a converted factory, so the loft is essentially an empty floor with no actual rooms. This presents a problem for Peter when he’s wearing his costume around the house and company arrives. The events of the other Spider-titles, specifically the scenes that actually introduce the loft, have to happen “between the pages” of this storyline, since the Parkers were still living with Aunt May, and unaware of the loft Harry was setting up for them, last issue.

Creative Differences: Marvel staffer Dwayne McDuffie apparently didn’t care for this storyline, or the introduction of Night Thrasher in New Warriors. His response was a pitch entitled Teenage Negro Ninja Thrashers (I should point out that Rocket Racer doesn't have any type of stereotypical speech pattern in these issues, and I don't think Night Thrasher did, either).

I Love the ‘80s: Kristy is repeatedly referred to as a “bulimic-anorexic,” a term I’ve never heard, but was perhaps an early idiom for plain ol’ bulimia.

Review: So, Eddie the Cross, a self-hating Jew, can now morph into a shapeless blob and absorb people in his new identity -- Skinhead, the White Redeemer. Pure. Genius. Gerry Conway has crafted a Spider-Man tale that combines an after-school special with a B-movie threat, and guest-stars the Rocket Racer. And while you can’t deny the camp factor, I do genuinely believe this is a well-crafted story. Conway focuses on “the barriers to happiness a man carries within himself,” as we learn that Eddie has spent his life as an outcast, first searching for his identity as a fierce Zionist before rejecting his heritage and embracing Nazism. Rocket Racer grew up without a father, leading to a low self-worth that told him that his dreams of college were pointless, and that his only future was in crime. Racer now wants to prove himself as a scientist and a superhero, but he’s haunted by the mistake that’s left Eddie as the Skinhead. Spider-Man tries to console Racer, but he also feels guilty about creating the web-fluid that mutated Eddie (…and how exactly did that work again?). Plus, in his personal life, he has no idea what to do with Kristy. Personally, I find these dilemmas much more interesting than the perpetual “rookie/na├»ve young person” predicaments that Marvel can’t seem to let go of. Why can’t a younger hero look up to Spider-Man? Why shouldn’t he offer counsel to a reformed criminal who wants to do the right thing? And who says Rocket Racer has to be a joke character, anyway? But, no, Spider-Man’s destined to face the same problems over and over again, and Rocket Racer’s reformation has to be ignored so that he can be used as a throwaway, retro-joke villain*. Hooray for progress.

*That's a snarky reference to an early Tangled Web issue, but apparently his more recent appearances have been more respectful of his character. I still say it's only a matter of time before he shows up again as a wacky '70s throwback villain, though.


Anonymous said...

"I can’t imagine a story today going out of its way to acknowledge the non-racist skinheads, so I guess the bad ones have ruined the term for everybody"

There was actually a British film made a few years back, called "This is England" that dealt with that distinction.

wwk5d said...

At least Rocket Racer has been mutilated or lost a limb or been ass-raped by some hot writers pet character...yet.

Anonymous said...

There was an early-ish issue of The Punisher with a letter from a positive skinhead group that distanced themselves from the racist type featured in an earlier story. The editorial response was something along the lines of "We're sorry and we'll do our research better next time'. I don't know if that any influence on this issue or if it's just a coincidence.

Either way, This is England is an excellent movie.

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