A Prelude in Red
Credits: Howard Mackie (writer), Dan Fraga (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: George Stacy investigates a mysterious series of deaths; deaths his brother Arthur blames on mutants. George arranges for Arthur to work security for Osborn Industries, but his job is threatened when Arthur investigates the disappearance of Osborn employee Nels Van Adder. When armed men attack his home, Arthur blames Norman Osborn, but George is skeptical. That night in the plant, the brothers are ambushed by the mutated Van Adder. To save George’s life, Arthur has to shove Van Adder into the nearby river. Osborn later attempts to make peace with Arthur, but he refuses.
The Subplots: A young Peter Parker visits the Osborn plant with Uncle Ben and Aunt May. Norman is impressed with Peter’s scientific knowledge.
Web of Continuity:
As established back in the Stan Lee days, George Stacy and Norman Osborn are friends.
Nels Van Adder is the “Proto-Goblin” you see on the cover, although he’s never called that in the issue.
Mutants are still considered an urban legend at this point in continuity, one George Stacy doesn’t believe in.
Osborn blames his former partner Mendel Stromm for Van Adder’s condition, even though Osborn’s the one that’s been experimenting on him. At the end of the story, Osborn finds the notes he’s been looking for hidden within Stromm’s desk, which presumably ties into the Green Goblin’s origin story.
Review: Yes, Dan Fraga drew a Flashback issue. And it’s actually not bad at all. I’m not sure if Fraga’s style had already evolved by this point or if he took a less Liefeld-y approach specifically for Flashback Month, but it’s a welcome change from what you might remember from the Extreme Studios days. There’s still a cartoony element, but the figures are much more realistic and the faces are attractive, exhibiting a bit of an Arthur Adams or Mike Wieringo influence. My only real complaint is the Backstreet Boys hairdo he’s given Arthur Stacy, which looks ridiculous on a character that’s supposed to be a middle-aged security expert and private eye.
And what about the plot? Howard Mackie looks Flashback straight in the eye and says, “I’m not doing a Li’l Peter Parker story.” Fair enough. Peter’s relegated to a tiny cameo while Mackie explores the dynamic between long-dead supporting cast member George Stacy and his younger brother, new supporting cast member Arthur Stacy. Mackie hits home the idea that Arthur is a paranoid conspiracy theorist, an aspect of the character that I don’t think is mentioned again until the “Next Chapter” relaunch of the books almost two years later. The villain of the piece is Norman Osborn, experimenting on one of his employees while he’s still trying to perfect the Goblin Formula. I can’t think of any obvious continuity problems with the concept, even if some might argue that Mackie’s reaching a bit to find a supervillain for the issue. As far as continuity implants go, I think this one is inoffensive enough.
As I’ve stated many times, I don’t consider Mackie to be a strong character writer, so going into this I wasn’t expecting the George/Arthur material to be the highlight of the issue. The character work isn’t great, but it is better than most of Mackie’s material from the era. He gets across the idea that George is the straight-laced, responsible brother, while Arthur is always exploring a wild idea or chasing a conspiracy (i.e. he’s the screw-up.) The ideas are never subtle, but they work well enough for a one-shot story. At this point, this probably is the best story to feature the revived Stacy family, although I can't say Mackie goes anywhere with the momentum.