Monday, November 11, 2013

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #242 - January 1997

Face Dancing
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), John Stanisci (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  The Chameleon takes advantage of Dr. Kafka’s kindness and knocks her unconscious.  Disguised as Kafka, he convinces John Jameson to give him his gun, and then shoots him.  Later, he disguises himself as Peter Parker, pitting him against a holographic Dr. Octopus, which attracts the attention of Spider-Man.  When he touches Chameleon’s clothes, the chemical coating knocks him unconscious.  Spider-Man wakes in a padded cell, being told by Dr. Kafka that he’s actually a writer named Herbert Fillmore Smith.

The Subplots:  Jonah Jameson is still being stalked by Mad Jack.  Flash Thompson’s alcoholism subplot begins, as he spends the issue beating himself up for not accomplishing as much as Peter.  Spider-Man takes him web-slinging across the city in an effort to cheer him up.  A new Kangaroo also makes a brief appearance as a quick throwaway villain in the issue’s opening.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Flash Thompson identifies his age as twenty-five.  In just a few years, John Byrne will be adamant that his classmate Peter Parker couldn’t be any older than twenty-two.  (Marvel’s obsession with Peter and his supporting cast being as young as possible hadn’t set in when this issue was published.)
  • Chameleon knows of a “connection” between Spider-Man and Peter Parker, as revealed in the “Lifetheft” storyline in Amazing Spider-Man.  That’s why he disguised himself as Peter when trying to attract Spider-Man’s attention.
  • Jonah Jameson’s wife Marla makes an appearance.  As many readers will point out, Luke Ross has totally ignored her established appearance and just draws her as MJ's twin.
  • This issue marks the first time Flash Thompson and Foggy Nelson meet.  Foggy’s dating Liz Osborn at this time, a relationship springing out of the Daredevil title.

*See _________ For Details:  The original Kangaroo died in Amazing Spider-Man #126.

I Love the ‘90s:  Spider-Man remarks that Flash looks as happy as “Bob Dole at a Hollywood party.”

Review:  It’s not the creative team’s fault that Ashley Kafka has been keeping Chameleon in the basement for the equivalent of twenty issues, that’s just the way the chronology worked out.  One problem with the line during the post-clone era is the sheer amount of material being produced.  Even Spider-Man Team-Up was still around during these days, a book that only the hardest of the hardcore completists even knew existed.  (Yes, I’m making fun of Spider-Man Team-Up again.)  It’s hard for any title to gain momentum when it seems as if Spider-Man’s life is headed in four different directions at once, in addition to all of the random one-off adventures he’s having in the lower-level spinoffs and miniseries.  Dr. Kafka hiding Chameleon in Ravencroft’s basement is quickly forgotten when it’s just one of a thousand Spidey continuity points existing simultaneously.  Eventually, Marvel does recognize this problem (Bob Harras specifically, I believe) as almost all of the spinoffs are cancelled and the focus returns to two “main” Spider-Man titles in 1998.  Those books turned out to be awful, of course, but I think the tighter continuity did help the relaunched Spider-Man titles maintain some momentum in the early months.

Speaking of the relaunch, one of the most controversial elements was Marvel’s determination to turn back virtually all of the supporting cast’s character development, leaving Peter’s friends and family with the same personalities they had back in the early Stan Lee days.  Fans especially hated the return of bully Flash, which is why it’s so surprising to see that J. M. DeMatteis went down virtually the same direction years earlier with nary a peep from the readers.  In J. M. DeMatteis’s defense, there is an in-story explanation for Flash’s behavior (he’s partially drunk), and Flash does at least correct himself after insulting Peter, but it’s a little odd that Peter is so accepting of his behavior.  Rather than recognizing that Flash is putting him down because he’s been drinking, Peter acts as if Flash always talks about him this way.  That hasn’t been the case since 1970 or so, which does make this scene rather annoying from a continuity purist point of view.  I also question if Flash really needs an alcoholism storyline, considering that they were probably already overdone in comics by 1996.  Plus, Flash’s lack of direction in life had already been addressed a few years earlier by David Michelinie and Gerry Conway, and even earlier than that by Tom DeFalco, so this subplot isn’t off to a great start.

The main story works better than I expected, thankfully.  I’m not a fan of DeMatteis’s portrayal of Chameleon as a shell-shocked mental patient, so I’m glad he’s dialed it back and just allowed him to be a fairly straightforward villain again.  A particularly ungrateful one at that, as Dr. Kafka has risked her entire career to keep him out of custody and continue his treatments, and he responds by knocking her face against a brick wall.  Dr. Kafka is obviously a pet character of DeMatteis’s, one that you would expect him to always treat as being right, so the story’s automatically more interesting when she turns out to be dead wrong.  Chameleon also comes across as more menacing than he has in years, which is a step that needed to be taken after years of him talking to himself in a padded room.  I do think the drama, and some of the character moments, are hindered by Luke Ross’s inconsistent art, but overall this is an entertaining issue.  Definitely more exciting than some of the tepid plots we’re seeing in the other titles.

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