Wednesday, August 13, 2014

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #248 - August 1997


From the Shadows
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (plot), Mark Bernardo (script), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green & Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft (letters)


The Plot:  John Jameson is released from custody, as Jonah recovers in the hospital.  While Spider-Man ponders the case, he’s attacked by jungle animals sent by Kraven.  Later, he visits Jonah in the hospital and is shocked when Jonah refuses to let the guards arrest him.  Meanwhile, Ashley Kafka uses hypnosis to discover what happened to John.  They realize he was mesmerized by Mad Jack.  While touring his subconscious, John faces Man-Wolf.  At the offices of Norman Osborn, Mad Jack refuses payment for torturing the Jamesons.


The Subplots:  Flash Thompson visits his parents and has an argument with his bitter father.  


Web of Continuity:  
  • Lots of vague Mad Jack/Jameson continuity established this issue.  Jonah tells the police he doesn’t know Mad Jack; they assume he’s lying.  When Mad Jack later visits him in the hospital, Jonah asks him, “doesn't the past count for anything?”  Mad Jack reveals that he showed Jonah his face in the elevator before beating him.  Jonah still doesn’t believe it’s the person he saw.  Later, Mad Jack sneaks into the Jameson’s home and stares longingly at an old photo of Jonah’s wife Marla.
  • Jonah has an unusually emotional connection to a book of poems by (who else?) Percy Bysshe Shelley.
  • I believe this is Norman Osborn’s first appearance following his second death in Peter Parker, Spider-Man #75.  Mad Jack tells Jonah that the price that must be paid is the Daily Bugle, which sets up Osborn’s next move.
  • Ashley Kafka claims that she’s worked with Spider-Man “for years.”  Later, Spider-Man remarks that Kraven committed suicide “years ago.”  More evidence that no one was under the impression that time had stopped moving in the Marvel Universe during these days.


I Love the ‘90s:  The police compare John Jameson’s evasive answers to Bill Clinton’s.  While leaving the police station, John is asked by a reporter if he hates his father and if this is a “Menendez brothers thing.”  Later, while being attacked by jungle animals, Spider-Man makes a comment about starring in Jumanji 2.


Review:  So, Spider-Man’s role in this issue mainly consists of him being attacked by an ape and a lion for three pages.  The rest of the story is devoted to the Mad Jack plotline, which is now being used as a setup to reintroduce Norman Osborn.  That’s probably not the best way to use your protagonist, but it could be forgivable within the context of a larger storyline, assuming the ultimate payoff is worth the effort.  Knowing how the Mad Jack/Jameson material ends, or “ends” should be in quotes I guess, that does make the zoo pages slightly more annoying.  Plus, the new Kraven being teased never really amounted to much, anyway.  Ignoring all that, there is good material this issue.  Jonah and Spider-Man have another memorable scene together, as Jonah exonerates him of the crime and actually tells the guards to leave him alone.  I’ve always liked the scenes that humanize Jonah without taking the idea too far.  Leaving Jonah alone with the book of poems, reflecting on…whatever the connection between Mad Jack and Marla is supposed to be, is a strong way to close the scene.

There’s an interesting wrinkle to the old Jameson/Spidey feud since we now have John Jameson romantically involved with Ashley Kafka, which means there are now two Spidey supporters within the family.  When Marla reverts to Jonah’s old standby of blaming Spider-Man for everything, it’s not so easy for her to get away with it.  John knows that if Spider-Man says he saw him suffocating Jonah, it must be true.  This leads to a session of hypnotherapy that you’re only going to get in comics, as John and Ashley both (somehow) enter his subconscious and face very literal representations of his fears.  Man-Wolf even makes an appearance, and while I can totally understand why DeMatteis has selected him to represent John’s dark urges, it does seem like an odd continuity reference to throw into an unrelated story.  (Just a few issues ago, the editorial responses in the letter column seemed openly dismissive of ever bringing Man-Wolf back.)  Luke Ross’ Man-Wolf does look pretty intimidating, though, so that could be enough justification for the cameo.  Overall, I have to give Ross credit for continuing to evolve on this title.  He’s usually able to find the right balance between cartooning without hindering the drama at this point, and he’s been doing a great job with the villains lately.  His interpretation of Spider-Man still feels off to me, though.  It seems as if he’s trying to merge a McFarlane-style Spider-Man with a more traditional look, and the results don’t do either style justice.

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