Friday, August 15, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #82 - August 1997

You’ve got to Have Friends (of Humanity?)
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Aspiring Friends of Humanity leader Donovan Zane recruits Paul Stacy.  As the FoH grows in popularity, a riot breaks out between pro and anti-mutant students.  Spider-Man tries to stop the violence but discovers campus police are better suited for the job.  Zane knows of a mutant on ESU’s campus, Robin Vega, and sends Paul to harass her.  As Peter Parker, Spider-Man discovers that Robin is going to lethally retaliate against the FoH.  He meets Paul on a rooftop and tries to talk him into leaving Robin alone.  Paul angrily walks away, just as Spider-Man’s vertigo returns.  He falls off the building and desperately clings to the side.

The Subplots:  MJ reminds Peter that they have a counseling session that night.  In the shadows, a mystery man with long hair watches Spider-Man.  When he sees Spider-Man clinging for his life, he thinks to himself that it’s a perfect opportunity for them to talk about “old times.”

How Did This Get Published?:  When Robin suggests a stuck door is locked, Paul responds: “Don’t be absurd!   This is my office as Dr. Lanning’s senior student assistant.  It has never had a lock!”  That’s just one example of a character this issue suddenly rejecting the use of contractions.

Review:  There’s nothing wrong with introducing a Friends of Humanity chapter on the ESU campus.  It helps to move Spider-Man’s world closer to the wider Marvel Universe, and opens the door for new stories involving Peter’s campus life.  Trying to use the FoH as the main villains in a story, however, is much trickier.  It’s one thing for the FoH to be stirring up trouble as an ongoing subplot, but a group of bigots with placards is not going to be a credible threat for Spider-Man.  Mackie does throw in the accusation from Donovan Zane that Spider-Man is also a mutant, which has potential (and was actually used years later by Marvel as an April Fool’s Day prank), but not surprisingly it’s squandered here.  

Ignoring the fact that Spider-Man vs. students is visually dull, the story also fails to make the reader care about any of the people involved in the FoH’s schemes.  Robin Vega is a cipher, a character obviously created simply to be “The Mutant” for this story with no real personality traits.  She goes from declaring that she’s never even tried to use her powers before to announcing she’s going to literally kill anyone who harasses her in the course of one page.  She’s also the second random mutant introduced in the Spider-books in recent months, since Sensational Spider-Man has already revealed that Ben Reilly’s love interest Desiree is a mutant.  Desiree could’ve just as easily filled the role needed for the story, paid off a dangling plotline, and not come across as a too-convenient new character brought in just to play the victim.

Mackie’s dialogue has the tendency to steer towards…well, “robotic” is the best way I can put it, and it’s unfortunately in full display this issue.  Donovan Zane is supposed to be the FoH’s charismatic new leader, but he can’t seem to muster a coherent argument against mutants, even though the public at the time thinks mutants killed the Avengers and Fantastic Four.  Instead, he attempts to recruit Paul by going on a villainous diatribe against an unwanted hybrid in his garden.  Yes, we get the metaphor, but it’s so clumsily delivered it makes the entire scene laughable.  And Paul is so poorly written it’s hard to discern why he abruptly wants to join a hate group, aside from a few lines about him blaming everyone with superpowers for his uncle and cousin’s deaths.  Paul’s suddenly obsessed with his uncle, who he claims was his best friend, even though they lived on different continents and he died when Paul was probably still in high school.  We’re also supposed to believe the Jill is now MJ’s best friend, simply because she uses those exact words to describe Jill this issue.  That’s the height of lazy writing.  Jill has yet to exhibit a single personality trait since being introduced, we don’t even know what her major is supposed to be even though she’s been defined solely as “college student,” and suddenly she’s best friends with the lead character’s wife.  How could they possibly expect the audience to buy this?  And, again I ask, why was the task of fleshing out the Stacy family left to the writer with the weakest characterization skills?

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