Wednesday, January 30, 2013

X-MEN Episode Eighteen - November 20, 1993


Repo Man
Written by Len Wein

Summary:  Wolverine is kidnapped by Alpha Flight at the bequest of General Chasen, who wants to study Wolverine’s adamantium skeleton.  Wolverine appeals to his former friend Vindicator, and his wife Heather Hudson, for freedom.  Heather refuses to continue the invasive tests, but Chasen ignores her objections.  Alpha Flight reacts to Wolverine’s cries of pain and disobeys Chasen’s orders.  They fight Chasen’s android guards as Wolverine defeats Vindicator and escapes.  Meanwhile, Magneto and Xavier are ambushed by Vertigo of the Savage Land Mutates.

Continuity Notes
  • This is the “classic” interpretation of Alpha Flight:  Vindicator, Shaman, Sasquatch, Snowbird, Northstar, Aurora, and Puck.
  • Wolverine flashes back to the Weapon X project.  The Professor from Barry Windsor-Smith’s Weapon X serial appears, taunting Wolverine as adamantium is bonded to his skeleton.  Wolverine escapes, and is later rescued in the wilderness by the Hudsons, in a scene virtually identical to his origin story in the comics.
  • Domino, Nightcrawler, Archangel, Cannonball, Psylocke, Quicksilver, and Scarlet Witch (the last two together) all make brief cameos as Jean uses Cerebro to search for Professor X.  Domino is wearing the outfit Greg Capullo designed for her, circa X-Force #23, which is surprising when you consider the issue was only a few months old when this episode aired.  Cannonball is also seen in his current X-Force costume, and with blond hair.  When he appears years later in one of the final episodes, he has brown hair and is a neophyte mutant with no connections to any X-team.

“Um, Actually…”:  Wolverine implies that Alpha Flight is a mutant team, when only two of these members (Northstar and Aurora) are mutants.

Saban Quality:  The animators seem simply unable to draw the maple leaf on Vindicator’s costume correctly.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  Wolverine’s adamantium bonding process is completely bloodless, as opposed to the Weapon X serial.  No bears are killed, either.

Review:  Isn’t it cool that Wolverine’s creator got to write his origin story in the cartoon?  Of course, the origin we’re actually seeing is a combination of stories by Chris Claremont and Barry Windsor-Smith, but it’s nice to know that Hollywood offered Len Wein some recognition for creating/co-creating Wolverine and the New X-Men.  (Perhaps a better plot would’ve been a flashback story retelling the events of Giant-Sized X-Men #1, since Wein did write that one, and this is an era of the X-Men’s past the cartoon usually ignored.)  Even if Wein isn’t writing “his” Wolverine, the punk teenager with claw-gloves, he still has a grasp on the character Wolverine evolved into.  This is easily one of the better Wolverine episodes, if not the best.

And for fans of the comics, it’s a huge thrill to see Alpha Flight make an appearance.  Readers were still getting over the excitement of seeing a faithful X-Men adaptation on television; seeing obscure characters like Alpha Flight reenacting a story from the Claremont/Byrne days was more than many of us would’ve ever expected.  Looking back, there isn’t a lot of time spent exploring Wolverine’s relationship with the team, and Vindicator comes across as a bigger jerk than he ever did in his initial appearances, but Wolverine’s connection with Heather remains unchanged.  The conflict of a scientist who’s loyal to her country but also to her friend is another example of the show going where kids’ TV normally wouldn’t, and the voice acting benefits the material by remaining fairly restrained and natural.  Unfortunately, I don’t think the show utilizes Alpha Flight again, although I think this episode created enough of an impression to help convince Toy Biz that a market existed for Alpha Flight toys.  Again, something that just seemed unthinkable at the time.

Having Len Wein as a writer on the series introduces the possibility of other comics writers contributing to the show.  Both Roy Thomas and Gerry Conway have written for television.  So has Marv Wolfman.  (Conway and Wolfman both wrote early episodes of the FOX Spider-Man series, and a few Batman episodes.)  And I recently discovered that Larry Hama was writing for the revamped Jonny Quest during this era.  Surely he would’ve been an easy fit for any Wolverine-centric episode of the show.  I wonder…what if one of the producers contacted Chris Claremont about writing for the series?  He was on the outs with Marvel at the time, and numerous fans were still anxious for him to one day return to the X-Men.  What if he made his grand return to the X-Men via the cartoon show?  Did Marvel have veto power over the writers?  Would Bob Harras have objected?  What if Claremont orchestrated a season-long arc similar to the “Shattered Star” era of Uncanny X-Men #249-269?  What if he used the cartoon as his chance to finish the 1991 Shadow King storyline with his original ending that left Xavier and Wolverine dead?  Just imagine if he used the cartoon to introduce the Neo?  Could you imagine that as a third season premiere, right after Eek the Cat?

Monday, January 28, 2013

X-MEN Episode Seventeen - November 13, 1993



Red Dawn
Written by Francis Moss & Ted Pedersen

Summary:  Omega Red is resuscitated by a group of Communist generals determined to rebuild the USSR.  Colossus seeks the X-Men’s help, but finds only Jubilee is home.  She travels with him to Russia, leaving a note behind for the others.  Wolverine soon arrives to aid Colossus, revealing that he faced Omega Red during the Cold War.  When Storm and Rogue finally arrive, Omega Red is defeated when Storm uses her powers to force him into another cryogenic sleep.  The Russian mutant Darkstar places the generals in custody, and Colossus returns home with his sister.  Meanwhile, Xavier and Magneto evade dinosaurs in the Savage Land.

Continuity Notes
  • Presumably, Rogue and Storm are returning from Africa, following the previous episode.
  • An image of Captain America appears on a video monitor during the flashback to Omega Red’s creation, hinting at Omega Red’s comic book origin (he was Russia’s response to America’s super-soldier program).  Later, Maverick is shown fighting alongside Wolverine during his first encounter with Omega Red.
  • The producers clearly used Fabian Nicieza and Andy Kubert’s storyline from X-Men #17-19 for inspiration.  Not only do the armored soldiers (the ones that killed Colossus’ parents) appear, but Jubilee is wearing the same jacket and snowsuit in the episode that she wore in the comics.  Plus, Darkstar appears in both stories, as she’s obligated to do any time mutant heroes visit Russia.

Saban Quality:  Wolverine is wearing his current costume during his flashback to his days as a Cold War secret agent.  He’s even wearing his “X” belt buckle, decades before the X-Men are actually formed.

"Actiiing!":  Storm, as she attacks Omega Red:  “Forces of nature’s cold – FREEZE!!!”  The way Colossus continues to pronounce “my family” and “Illyana” has always cracked me up, as well.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  The tanks the generals send to conquer Colossus’ town shoot laser blasts instead of mortar shells.

“Huh?” Moment:  Jubilee’s firecracker powers somehow manage to effortlessly remove anti-mutant graffiti from the walls of a convenience store.

I Love the '90s:  Colossus refers to Russia as his “newly-freed homeland.”

Review:  After hinting at Omega Red’s existence twice, viewers finally discover who the pale steroid-freak with unbelievable hair is supposed to be.  (They’ll have to wait a few years for Maverick to make a real appearance, while Deadpool remains a vague mystery figure.)  Colossus also returns, teasing fans of the comic yet again that he might join the X-Men, even though the producers apparently had no interest in ever altering the cast of the show.  I’ve stated before that Colossus’ voice acting is a major drag on his appearances, but there are a few entertaining moments between him and Jubilee this episode.  I assume the story is structured so that Colossus only meets Jubilee in the beginning simply to force her to fly a jet to Russia by herself.  It’s a silly gag, but I liked it.

Omega Red’s first appearance in the comics was notable because it also introduced one of the very first flashbacks to Wolverine’s past, an angle this episode curiously chooses to gloss over.  Without the Team X material, the basic story of Omega Red is pretty tame.  He has no personality traits outside of “evil” and doesn’t create much of a conflict for the team.  At the time, however, simply seeing Omega Red on television felt exciting.  This was a character, less than two years old, that would never be on an obvious list of villains to appear on an X-Men animated series.  If the producers were willing to use Omega Red, then surely any character from the canon could appear.  Not necessarily in good stories, mind you, but the unpredictability was a lot of fun.  

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencap.

Friday, January 25, 2013

X-MEN Episode Sixteen - November 6, 1993



Whatever It Takes
Written by Julia Jane Lewald

Summary:  Storm and Rogue travel to Tanzania to investigate a tear in the Astral Plane.  There, Storm encounters Mjnari, a boy she helped deliver during her youth.  Mjnari is now a mutant with speed powers, and an ability to see the Astral Plane entrance that resides in Mt. Kilimanjaro.  The Shadow King emerges, possessing Mjnari and demanding Storm volunteer to take his place.  Mjnari rebels against Shadow King by tricking him into the Astral Plane shortly before its tear heals, sealing him within.  Meanwhile, Wolverine tracks Morph to Brazil, and after a violent encounter, decides he isn’t ready to return to the team.  In Antarctica, Magneto and Xavier escape an avalanche and emerge in the Savage Land.  

Continuity Notes
  • Storm’s released from the hospital at the start of the episode, after missing all of the action in “Till Death Do Us Part (Part 2).”
  • The Shadow King makes his animated debut.  His past with Storm is taken directly from the flashbacks in Uncanny X-Men #117.  Storm also helped a woman give birth to a boy named Mjnari in Uncanny X-Men #198, although that story was set in the present and was not a flashback.
  • Beast theorizes that Bishop’s time traveling has created this tear in the Astral Plane.  I think the producers have only a vague idea of what the Astral Plan is supposed to be.
  • Bloodscream and Roughhouse make a brief cameo, exiting the bar in Brazil as Wolverine enters.  Later, Morph shapeshifts into Deadpool, Omega Red, and Maverick while taunting Wolverine.
  • The Savage Land makes its first appearance on the series.  Sinister has somehow blocked Xavier and Magneto (who was also tricked by Morph into traveling to Antarctica) from using their powers after they enter, and an unintended side effect is Xavier’s ability to walk.  This never receives a satisfactory explanation; I assume he’s able to walk simply to make his adventure with Magneto easier on the writers.

Saban Quality:  Storm checks the pulse of infant Mjnari by slamming her head on his chest twice.  The model for teenage Storm during this scene is also the same one used for adult Storm during the rest of the series.

Review:  I used to view “Whatever It Takes” as one of the weaker episodes of the second season, but it actually holds up better than I remembered.  My major issue with the story was the bizarre treatment of the Astral Plane, which is just as bad as I remembered, but the rest of the episode is fairly enjoyable.  It’s nice to see an episode dedicated to Storm’s past so faithfully adapted from the comics, right down to her childhood encounter with the Shadow King.  Before Shadow King became something of a joke in the comics, I remember being genuinely disturbed when I read his appearances as a kid (this was before every villain had become a murderous sadist), and it’s fun to see him on the show simply because he’s such an obscure character you would never expect to see him in a television adaptation.  The Astral Plane plot is just ridiculous, though, right down to Mjnori somehow developing the simultaneous mutant powers of super-speed and psychic vision.  And why exactly do the producers think the Astral Plane is a place you can physically travel to…and get trapped inside?  Introducing Shadow King and ignoring his link to Xavier is also a mistake, although this is rectified in a later episode.  

Speaking of Xavier, hey, he can walk again!  This is obviously nonsense, but I’ve always enjoyed his ongoing subplot with Magneto this season.  The show captures what’s inherently cool about the Savage Land, and pairing Xavier with Magneto for a multi-episode arc was a smart move on the producers’ part.  The other subplot addressed this episode is Wolverine’s pursuit of Morph, which seems to be over almost as soon as it’s begun.  All it takes is one fight with Morph to convince Wolverine that he isn’t ready to rejoin the team, a lesson you’d think he would’ve learned last episode.  Still, Cal Dodd is able to play Wolverine’s disappointment and frustration very well, and it’s always encouraging to see one episode impact the next.  Like I’ve said before, this is a major reason why this show really felt like an X-Men cartoon in the early years.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

X-MEN Episode Fifteen - October 30, 1993


Till Death Do Us Part (Part 2)
Written by Michael Edens

Summary:  The X-Men escape their traps and regroup at the mansion.  Wolverine exposes Morph in his disguise as Professor X, forcing him to run away.  The team follows Morph to Sinister’s island, where he’s holding Cyclops and Jean captive.  The team fights Sinister’s enforcers, the Nasty Boys, and frees Cyclops and Jean.  A confused Morph escapes, but Wolverine vows to find him.  Meanwhile, Professor Xavier and Magneto meet in Antarctica, and are soon ambushed.

Continuity Notes:  

  • The Nasty Boys make their animated debut.  The Marauders will later return as the accepted goons for Mr. Sinister in the comics, but the Nasty Boys were newer characters at the time, and perhaps perceived as more appropriate for a younger audience.
  • Morph assumes his identity as the priest from the previous episode, helpfully informing Cyclops and Jean that their marriage is invalid.
  • According to Mr. Sinister, Cyclops and Jean’s offspring will grant him access to great power.  This was the only thing approaching a motivation for Sinister at the time in the comics; later, we’ll learn that he wants Cyclops and Jean’s child as the ultimate weapon against Apocalypse.
  • Sinister claims he’s followed Cyclops and Jean their entire lives, leading to a series of flashbacks to their childhoods.  The first image of the X-Men in their original uniforms appears when Cyclops fights the Super-Adaptoid in his flashback.

"Actiiing!":  Cyclops’ emotional speech to Sinister ends with this clunker:  “Just…stay away from my friends!!!”

“Huh?” Moment:  The Friends of Humanity are able to neutralize Jubilee’s powers by simply tying her hands behind her back.

Review:  I just realized that the Cyclops/Jean wedding from these episodes likely inspired their wedding in the comic.  After all, Bob Harras was still involved as a consultant at this time, and we know for a fact that the initial idea behind “Age of Apocalypse” came from a story conference between Harras and the show’s producers.  This could also explain why many felt the marriage came out of nowhere at the end of 1993; it’s not as if the fans were privy to these story conferences, after all.  Wouldn’t it be interesting if it took the FOX cartoon to finally marry the couple?  (Oddly enough, several seasons pass on this show before they officially marry, missing any tie-in with the wedding in X-Men #30 by a few years.)

Anyway, the second season debut is resolved with the heroes predictably escaping danger and rescuing their friends, although Professor X remains in jeopardy and Wolverine leaves for a “Hunt for Morph” subplot.  The portrayal of Morph, or “Dark Morph” as I believe he’s officially known when under Sinister’s thrall, was pretty rare in the days of cartoon characters always on the side of pure right or pure wrong.  Morph’s inner battle could come across as pure cheese, but the performances actually sell the concept.  The confrontation between Morph and Cyclops, the person forced to leave him for dead in the series’ opening storyline, is easily a highlight of the episode.  I often poke fun of Cyclops’ voice acting in this series, but Norm Spencer does a credible job in this episode, bringing a humanity to the character that was often missing.  

The animation is also noticeably improved this episode.  The background designs on Sinister’s lab are truly impressive, evoking the eerie feel from the character’s earliest appearances.  I love the freakish, weird plant/animal hybrids that Sinister uses as his lab equipment in the episode, along with the bug that climbs into Morph’s ear and somehow releases his dark side.  The comics abandoned this element of the character once his Victorian origin was established, but I miss seeing Sinister as this total mystery figure with alien paraphernalia.  We should also be thankful that whomever did the Dick Dastardly voice at the end of episode thirteen is gone, replaced with an appropriate baritone and an accompanying electronic enhancement that reminds me of the Batman: The Animated Series’ Mr. Freeze.  This is a fine debut for Sinister, although in retrospect, I don’t think he ever lives up to these two episodes as the show progresses.

Monday, January 21, 2013

X-MEN Episode Fourteen - October 23, 1993


Till Death Do Us Part (Part 1)
Written by Mark Edward Edens

Summary:  Friends of Humanity leader Graydon Creed foments anti-mutant hysteria by faking a mutant attack on President Kelly.  Meanwhile, Cyclops and Jean are married, unaware that their minister is Morph in disguise.  Under the influence of Mr. Sinister, Morph lays traps for the team.  Ultimately, Gambit is left unconscious after kissing Rogue, Jubilee is ambushed at the Friends of Humanity’s headquarters, Beast is trapped inside the Danger Room, Professor Xavier is tricked into traveling to Antarctica, and Storm is sent to the hospital after being shot by police during an anti-mutant riot.

Continuity Notes:  

  • Graydon Creed, the Friends of Humanity, and Mr. Sinister make their official debuts on the series.  Sinister is still given the odd organic equipment, and sharpened teeth, from his earliest appearances in the comics.
  • A brief flashback to the events of the second episode shows Mr. Sinister rescuing Morph’s injured body on the grounds of the Mutant Control Agency.
  • Mole, a surviving Morlock who appeared during Louise Simonson’s X-Factor run, has a cameo as one of the FoH’s victims.  He claims that he has no actual powers, he just looks strange, which ignores his ability in the comics to tunnel through walls.
  • Jubilee’s foster parents from the first episode can be seen as guests at Cyclops and Jean’s wedding.  Oddly, the prejudiced judge from Beast’s hearing in episode number three stands behind President Kelly as he gives a speech on mutant rights.

“Um, Actually…”:  Senator Kelly never became President in the comics, although his position on mutants did soften at around this time during his comic appearances.  Years later in 2000, the comics ran a storyline about Kelly running for President that ended with his assassination.

Approved By Broadcast Standards:  The Friends of Humanity, and police, fire “energy weapons” as opposed to actual guns.

I Love the '90s:  Morph jokes that he’s “Makin’ Copies!” before impersonating Wolverine inside the mansion.

Miscellaneous Note:  The closing credits now feature a series of clips from the show, replacing the CGI models and profiles from the first season.

Review:  I remember the wait for the second season debut was excruciating.  The first season of the show surpassed all expectations (even if it did compare unfavorably to Batman), so everyone was eagerly anticipating the late October start of the second season.  When word leaked that Morph would be back, the anticipation became even more unbearable, especially amongst kids who weren’t familiar with comic book characters returning to life.  

Looking back, Mark Edward Edens stands out as the best writer of the first season, so I’m glad he’s returned to write the second season premiere.  As he demonstrated last season, Edens is extremely skilled at balancing various plotlines and juggling the large cast of characters.  The plot’s advanced virtually every minute of the episode, as two new threats to the team are introduced, a “deceased” member returns, numerous characters are left in cliffhangers, and Xavier is sent on the first step of his season-long adventure in the Savage Land.  I feel sorry for whoever had to adapt this episode in the X-Men Adventures comic book, because this would be a lot to cram into twenty-two pages.  (Had X-Men Adventures given up on adapting one episode per issue by this point?  I know at some point they had to, because the plotting of the show was often just too dense.)

The tone of this opening two-parter is surprisingly dark, right down to the gloomy color palate, which is a stark contrast to the look of the majority of the first season.  The episode begins with Wolverine “killing” Cyclops in the Danger Room while Cyclops and Jean exchange vows, and that’s the lightest moment of the show.  Morph is now insane, a new foe named Mr. Sinister lurks in the background, and the Friends of Humanity are doing the Saturday morning equivalent of mutant lynchings all across America.  The FoH consists of former followers of Senator Kelly who have now embraced the even more extreme views of Graydon Creed, and even if they do carry energy blasters instead of rifles, they’re rather effective in their role as generic anti-mutant thugs.  (It occurs to me that the X-Men movies could’ve followed up on Kelly’s supporters after the first film, and introducing Creed as their new leader wouldn’t be a bad avenue to explore.)

So, the second season is off to a strong start.  Actually, I only recall one or two flops in the second season.  Let’s see if the episodes stand up against my memories of the eighth grade…

Credit to http://marvel.toonzone.net/xmen/ for the screencap.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #6 - July 1996



The Ultimate Responsibility
Credits:  Dan Jurgens (story/pencils), Klaus Janson (finishes), Gregory Wright w/Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Jessica watches as Spider-Man rescues civilians from a burning building.  When he nearly dies saving two boys from a collapsed roof, Jessica realizes that Spider-Man really is a hero.  She gives him the incriminating photo she took earlier and leaves.  She later visits the Parkers’ gravesite, making peace with her father’s lies and learning a lesson about responsibility.

The Subplots:  Desiree talks Ben into taking her to lunch.  He reveals to her that he sees through her fa├žade and knows how lonely she truly is.

Production Notes:  This is the first issue without glossy paper.  Marvel downgraded the paper quality in their $1.99 books this month, claiming that extra pages would compensate for the lower-grade paper stock.  The extra pages turned out to be ads for other Marvel books.  (Yes, I've complained about this before.)

Review:  Dan Jurgens departs the title, directly connecting his final issue with his first one by mimicking its title and opening splash page, only now Jessica is the focus of the story.  Jurgens thankfully doesn’t kill Jessica off, the fate that usually awaits any new cast member that discovers the hero’s secret ID, and instead goes with the “cynic learns a lesson about heroism” story.  It’s a little schmaltzy, but the execution’s better than some of Jurgens’ other “sentimental” works.  There’s a pattern of Jurgens giving Spider-Man some pretty tame threats to deal with in this book (muggers, armed robbers, now a fire), so it’s disappointing that after seven issues, we’ve barely seen Spider-Man fight any recognizable villains from his rogues gallery.  Mysterio only appeared for a few pages, Rhino even fewer, and Molten Man was mainly there to kill time before the forgettable Gaunt debuted.  Jurgens does deserve credit for trying to restore some of the focus on a supporting cast, but most of the new characters debuted in this series are either poorly developed or too reminiscent of existing characters to truly be engaging.  This issue, for instance, reveals that aspiring actress Desiree creates a fun-loving, sexy persona in order to hide her insecurities and loneliness.  I know what you’re thinking, but this is totally different because Desiree’s a blonde and not a redhead.

So, Dan Jurgens has left, but this series will not go through a lengthy Web of Spider-Man-esque period of fill-ins and inventory stories.  A new creative team is named very quickly, even if Marvel isn’t quite sure what to do with the franchise yet…

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #5 - June 1996


Collisions with the Past
Credits:  Dan Jurgens (story/pencils), Klaus Janson (finishes), Gregory Wright w/Malibu (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man trails Multivex Corporation’s financial controller and rescues her from a group of muggers.  She reveals to him that Multivex is funded by Osborn Industries.  From Peter Parker, Spider-Man learns that Liz Osborn’s stepbrother Mark Raxton, formerly the criminal Molten Man, now runs Osborn Industries.  He engages Raxton in a fight, which leads to the pair crashing into a hidden chamber that houses a mysterious cyborg.

The Subplots:  Ben Reilly’s been framed by Multivex for burning down the Daily Grind.  The owner, Shirley, talks to her insurance agent as Jessica and Desiree debate Ben’s guilt.

Web of Continuity:  Since the previous issue, the mysterious Multivex Corporation has emerged and targeted Ben Reilly’s life.  This storyline concludes in Amazing Spider-Man #412.  

*See _________ For Details:  Molten Man’s origin was given in Amazing Spider-Man #28.


Creative Differences:  The mystery cyborg, and the manipulator destroying Ben’s life, is soon given the name Gaunt.  He was originally intended to be Harry Osborn, back when “Blood Brothers” was going to be the penultimate chapter of the Clone Saga.  Following Bob Harras’ promotion to line-wide editor-in-chief, Gaunt was revealed as a revived Robot Master, and absolutely did not become the true architect of the Clone Saga.

Review:  That cover is probably my favorite piece of Jurgens’ Spider-Man art.  Did you notice Spider-Man’s eyes on the cover?  Not too small, not too big, with a cool swoop that goes up the edges?  I think this design for his eyes is the perfect way to go.  Unfortunately, it’s the eye design that Jurgens has designated for “squinty Spider-Man” or “thinking really hard Spider-Man.”  It’s not his default eye design.  As much as I enjoy Jurgens’ art on this book, I never liked the giant, bug eyes he gave Spider-Man.  It didn’t seem to suit his art style, nor did it really match the eye design McFarlane popularized when he first gave us giant Spidey eyes.  Giant, bug eyes don’t exactly evoke the “classic” era Jurgens is trying to revive, anyway.

Is there anything besides eye design to discuss this issue?  Not really.  It’s interesting to read the behind-the-scenes chaos in “Life of Reilly” today and know that Gaunt was originally going to be the villain behind the clone fiasco and a revived Harry Osborn.  And it looks as if the pace of the titles has picked up in the other Spider-Man books, given the recap of the previous chapters of “Blood Brothers.”  Sensational was apparently stuck with the dull chapters, though, since the previous issue didn’t touch the Multivex plot at all (spending most of the issue on a jewelry store heist and more fun with the skeleton), and this issue mostly sets up the final chapter…of a storyline that wasn’t allowed to have a real conclusion because the Clone Saga was to be extended six months.  So, outside of a brief Spider-Man/Molten Man fight that Jurgens handles very well, there’s not much here.  

Oh, and who decided that Mark “most-of-his-adult-life-in-prison” Raxton should be running Osborn Industries?  The last time I remember seeing Molten Man in a story, Harry Osborn gave him a pity job lifting boxes or something.  Who would take this guy seriously as a CEO?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #4 - May 1996


Shooting Spider-Man
Credits:  Dan Jurgens (story/pencils), Klaus Janson (finishes), Gregory Wright w/Malibu’s Hues (colors), Richard Starkings & Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Jessica explains to Ben why she hates Spider-Man, but he has to abruptly abandon the conversation and stop a jewelry store robbery.  After saving the final hostage from a gunman, he goes into the alleys to change.  After he notices Jessica taking his picture from a nearby rooftop, he tries to explain that Spider-Man did not kill her father.  She refuses to listen and runs into the building.

The Subplots:  Peter sells Jameson a photo of Spider-Man carrying the stolen skeleton, but learns that having the photo isn’t enough to extinguish Jameson’s interest in the story.  Later, Peter and Ben bury the skeleton in a corner of a Queens cemetery.  They discuss the tests that confirmed Peter is the clone, a result Peter now disputes.  Angry that Ben is defending Seward Trainer, Peter abruptly leaves, vowing to do his own investigation.

Web of Continuity:  Ben’s boss, Shirley, complains that she’s having a hard time verifying Ben’s Social Security number.  Ben questions why this wasn’t fixed by Seward Trainer during his adventure in cyberspace.

*See _________ For Details:  The burglar, Jessica’s father, died of a heart attack in Amazing Spider-Man #200.  Jessica’s convinced herself that Spider-Man strangled him instead.  Spectacular Spider-Man #226 is the infamous issue that “confirmed” Peter Parker was a clone.  Shockingly, it’s about to be retconned.

Review:  This begins “Blood Brothers,” the crossover that was setting the stage for the end of the Clone Saga…before Bob Harras became editor-in-chief and ordered that Ben remain Spider-Man until the “Onslaught” crossover finished, and that Norman Osborn be revived and named the mastermind behind the events.  So, essentially, we’re wasting more time here.  It is somewhat gratifying to see Peter Parker reflect the audience’s reaction to Seward Trainer’s test results and finally question if this man he doesn’t know at all could be trusted to tell the truth, but even this scene is forced and unconvincing.  It reads as if someone in editorial has decided that Peter and Ben should turn against each other at this point, so that’s what Peter dutifully does.  

Another awkward plot element in this issue is the introduction of Ben Reilly’s false identity problems, an issue that was pretty obviously dealt with during the horrid issues that set up Ben’s reclamation of the Spider-Man role.  If the point of sending Seward Trainer into cyberspace wasn’t to set up a new false identity for Ben, then why did the readers have to suffer through that crap?  Even Jurgens has Ben question why the false identity Trainer created isn’t holding up.  I don’t know if this subplot was ever resolved in the other titles, but I’m guessing it’s here to hint that maybe Trainer wasn’t all he claimed to be?  It’s a necessary step in invalidating the test results that labeled Peter a clone, but it’s an obvious copout.  Clearly the creators intended Trainer to be a credible source of information, or they wouldn’t have used him to validate the identity of the “real” Spider-Man.

Finally, the Jessica subplot continues along the most obvious path imaginable.  Jurgens probably knew at this point that he only had an issue or two left, so he’s moving the storyline up to the point that Jessica discovers that Ben is (oh, no!) Spider-Man.  The execution is noticeably weak, as Ben idiotically ignores his spider-sense and unmasks in public, just as Jessica takes a photo of his naked face.  There is precedent for this kind of plot convenience, such as Nick Katzenberg discovering Peter’s secret ID in a similar fashion in an earlier issue of Web, but that’s no excuse.  (And at least the letter column at the time acknowledged the screw-up.)  Maybe this subplot could’ve worked with more time to properly develop, but so far it’s added little to a book that’s already something of a mess.