Monday, November 12, 2012

THE ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN Part Four - December 1994

Written by David Michelinie

The Plot: Henry Pogue is a small town journalist who’s dying of cancer. Determined to make his final weeks matter, he has a contact arrange a job with the Daily Bugle. While on an assignment with Peter Parker, he declares his final story will be the revelation of Spider-Man’s secret identity. Later, during an encounter with a protectionist terrorist group, Peter is forced to reveal his super powers in front of Henry. Peter debates over how to protect his secret, and finally decides to appeal to Henry’s humanity. Peter’s words convince Henry that glory is meaningless and that his life has mattered. A few weeks later, Henry’s obituary is penned by guest writer Peter Parker.

Review: This might be the story from the anthology that most people recognize, since an abridged version of it ran as a flip-book in Amazing Spider-Man. If you’ve only read the abridged version, you haven’t missed much (a few more pages of action and a brief intro to Henry were cut out), but reading the full version reminded me once again of what a great story this is. Fame and glory honestly don’t matter, and if there’s any superhero who understands that, it’s Spider-Man. Henry’s realization that his life has had meaning even if he’s destined to die anonymously is handled particularly well by Michelinie, without descending into predictable schmaltz.

There are rumors that David Michelinie originally planned to have Peter Parker’s dual identity revealed during a massive storyline throughout Spider-Man’s thirtieth anniversary, which would explain why he’s thought through just how badly this would impact Peter’s life. As Peter explains to Henry: “Bottom line is, telling the world who I am will destroy me, possibly destroy the people I love, and almost certainly destroy any hopes I have of helping anyone in the future! Is that a fair price for your fifteen minutes in the spotlight?” The idea that Peter would ever choose to reveal his secret ID is still insane to me, and another example that justifies my dismissal of post-2000 Marvel continuity (Yes, I’m still complaining about something that happened six years ago. I’m also writing about a book that was published eighteen years ago, so this shouldn’t be that much of a shock.)

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Courier
Written by Robert L. Washington III

The Plot: Spider-Man picks up a liver needed for a girl’s surgery from an ambulance stuck in traffic. He makes his way to Brooklyn, only to be intercepted by Chance. Chance steals the canister for his employer, not realizing that the liver is meant for a young girl until Spider-Man screams at him in anger. Chance turns around and rescues Spider-Man and an innocent man from the building he ignited when covering his escape. He returns the canister to Spider-Man, but only after flipping a coin for it.

Miscellaneous Note: The title of this story is a reference to the book Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which is best known now as a Gary Oldman movie.

Review: I never noticed Robert L. Washington III’s name until his obituary turned up a few months ago on comic book news sites. It’s horrible to think that he went from professionally writing comics, and at least one prose story featuring one of the most famous characters in the history of pop culture, in his twenties to homelessness and an early death in his forties. Is “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Courier a lost classic? Nope, but it’s a solid story with not one but two twist endings. I think that Washington spends a little too much time trying to justify how “realistic” web-slinging actually could be in New York City (for those of us outside the city, it’s not particularly compelling), but he revives my interest in the story once Chance is brought into the picture. Chance is one of my favorite obscure, hopefully-not-dead, villains and his presence here helps to break up the monotony of the usual suspects of Doc Ock, Vulture, and Mysterio. Chance has a bizarre sense of honor, so it’s fitting for the character to go from setting a building on fire to betraying his gangster boss and returning the stolen liver within a few pages. Not that he’ll just give the liver away; he still has to flip for it. Then again, Spider-Man discovers in the story’s final twist that maybe Chance cares more than he lets on. This wouldn’t work for most villains, but Chance is enough of an eccentric to pull the idea off, and Washington sells the concept very well.


kerry said...

Surely Chance is just waiting for a team-up with Dominic Fortune?

thinkingcog said...

Just wanted to second the whole dismissal of the last few years of Marvel continuity. I penned an article about CivilWar through to Dark Regin a few years back for a website and they refused to run it to it's controversial nature.

The gist of it was basically, how the Marvel universe, in a desperate attempt to chase relevant topical issues really become a depressing place. I'm all for sophistication but I never felt like visting there anymore, all the fun was sucked out and I maintain that Marvels edge over DC was always its more brash anarchic nature but they've lost me these last few years. Shame.

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