Thursday, August 14, 2014

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #425 - August 1997

The Chump, the Challenge, and the Champion!
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Steve Skroce (penciler), Bud LaRosa (inks), Bob Sharen (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Electro annoys the Rose by ignoring his plans, leading the Rose to tell Spider-Man, via the Daily Bugle, how to find him.  Spider-Man prepares to face Electro by devising a non-conductive costume and webbing.  He teams with X-Man to stop Electro, and in spite of X-Man’s insistence that Electro should be killed, Spider-Man tries to talk Electro out of unleashing an electrical bomb on the city.  Realizing that Spider-Man feels responsible for his life, Electro gets his revenge by dropping to his apparent death in the river.

The Subplots:  Robbie Robertson is still fighting with his wife, who wants him to quit the Bugle.  Peter’s excessive aspirin use has aggravated his ulcer.  Aunt Anna’s homemade cure later gives him relief.  MJ is annoyed with Peter for abandoning his family responsibilities while searching for Electro.  He promises to be a better husband after Electro is defeated.  Peter misses another class at ESU.  Paul Stacy refuses to share his notes from Professor Howard’s lecture.  Meanwhile, the Rose hires the True Believers away from Black Tarantula.  Later, they rob Dr. Octopus’ grave.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Tom DeFalco is so dedicated to the idea that Morbius’ bite gave Spider-Man headaches, he’s made Peter’s aspirin usage a plot point.  (Does aspirin work on vertigo as well?)  Spider-Man’s ulcer goes all the way back to a storyline in the 1970s.
  • This is the first title to acknowledge Jonah’s hospitalization, which happened months earlier in Spectacular Spider-Man.
  • At ESU, MJ meets former Bugle interns Phil Urich and Meredith Campbell for the first time.  I’m guessing they’re here to introduce the subject of Jonah’s hospitalization, because they certainly don’t play a large role in upcoming issues.

I Love the ‘90s:  Electro refers to X-Man as a “Leonardo DiCaprio wannabe.”  Later, Electro also releases a giant-sized “NOT!” after pretending to surrender.

Review:  Does anyone remember when Steve Skroce was supposed to be the regular artist of this book?  I only have fuzzy memories, to be honest.  The book has suffered a great deal in the past few months without a regular artist, as almost every issue has had “Generic ‘90s Fill-In” written all over it.  Amazing, more than any other title, needs a consistent portrayal of Spider-Man and his supporting cast, and without that the book just felt like it was stranded in limbo.  Now that Skroce has returned, I’m reminded that I actually like his interpretation of Spider-Man quite a bit.  He’s obviously a fan of the Ditko-style “multiple Spideys in the same panel” shot, and I really like the way he handles Spider-Man’s eyes and web pattern.  It’s a nice blend of the traditional and the post-McFarlane look, I would say.  His version of Peter Parker and most of the supporting cast is also fine, with the major exception of MJ, who he has yet to get a handle on.  She looks like a Halloween witch decoration during her brief scenes this issue.  Skroce can draw attractive females at times, so I’m not sure why he has such a problem with a character who’s actually intended to be a knockout.

Of course, this title has had numerous problems that have had nothing to do with fill-in art lately.  DeFalco has gone off on an odd tangent with the True Believers, and his big Rose/Black Tarantula gang war arc has become a drag on the book.  The subplots have also been tepid, with Peter fearing bad grades again while Robbie is getting nagged by his wife.  MJ also turns into a nag this issue, suddenly deciding that Peter is spending too much time as Spider-Man.  None of these ideas are that great to begin with, but it’s especially annoying when two subplots in the same issue revolve around a character getting nagged by his bossy wife.  Maybe there’s some other marital dynamic we could explore?

In more recent issues, DeFalco’s turned much of the focus on to Electro, starting with the reasonable premise that a souped-up Electro now wants to prove that he isn’t a loser.  Playing up Electro’s low self-esteem enables DeFalco to also emphasize Spider-Man’s compassion, one of the traits that I’ve always liked most about the character.  Spider-Man of course wants to stop Electro from setting off a bomb, but he also feels genuinely bad when he realizes that he’s also been taking his frustrations out on the villain, which has only aggravated the situation even more.  I don’t know if X-Man is really the best character to be representing the other point of view (which is “just kill the idiot before he hurts anyone”), but if we’re stuck with the idea of Spidey and X-Man being pals, I guess that’s a good enough role for him.  

So, yes, Spider-Man has a legitimate character arc to go through during his fight with Electro.  DeFalco is usually very good about tying the character conflict and the physical conflicts together.  But as the resolution to a fairly lengthy arc, the execution feels a little flat.  This is all material J. M. DeMatteis covered very well in his “Light the Night” arc, and while DeFalco is clearly using it as inspiration, he hasn’t added anything to the original story.  The problem of “Too Much Spidey” also rears its head again, as DeFalco expects us to believe that Spider-Man’s been searching tirelessly for Electro for weeks, even though none of the other titles have bothered to mention it even once.  There are so many Spider-Man books going in so many directions at this point, it’s impossible to get the sense that any one event is dominating his thoughts.  A super-charged Electro should feel like a big deal, as should Jonah being hospitalized, or Robbie considering retirement, or Flash dealing with alcoholism, or the Chameleon discovering Spider-Man’s secret ID, or Kraven returning from the grave, but instead every book is now so segregated it feels like there’s no center.  (Notice that I only listed plotlines from two of the books in that list.  Which is a sign that the other books were either wisely staying out of the way or were too un-ambitious for their own good, I guess.)  With no center, it’s much harder to believe that you’re reading about the lives of Peter Parker and his friends and family.  And without that you’ve got a collection of somewhat random Spider-Man stories, which isn’t enough to carry a line of titles.

1 comment:

Matt said...

Good points about too many titles and directions. As I've said before, I'm a fan of this era, but there were definitely too many titles to keep straight.

If Spider-Man was going to continue to have four books a month, then those titles either needed a stronger editor guiding them (Ralph Macchio seems like a nice guy, but also a very "hands-off" editor), or to just follow the method of the Superman stuff you just started reviewing, and treat the four titles like one weekly series, with the writers collaborating on every detail.

They had done this to some extent during the Clone Saga, and while there were hiccups in that storyline's long-term continuity, the week-to-week connections were usually pretty strong.

(Obviously the overall story quality of the Clone Saga is its own discussion which has been waged here in the past, so I won't get into that again.)

I thought paring the Spider-Man line down to two series in 1999 was the right choice. Unfortunately, handing those series to Howard Mackie and John Byrne was not the best idea (though if you'd asked me beforehand which ongoing Spider-writer I would've wanted to see as the sole author of his exploits, I actually would've chosen Mackie, as I loved his PETER PARKER at the time).

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