Tuesday, October 14, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #85 - November 1997


Little Lies
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), Andy Smith (penciler), Art Thibert (inks), Mark Bernardo (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  MJ convinces Peter to join her and Jill on a night out.  To Peter’s surprise, Paul Stacy is also at the nightclub.  MJ tries to force the two to talk, but an irritated Paul walks away.  Peter follows him, and soon discovers that the Friends of Humanity have hired the Shocker to kill Paul for leaving the group.  As Spider-Man, Peter saves a crowd from debris created by the Shocker, but can’t find the villain after he disappears.  Spider-Man searches for Paul, and finds him on the Brooklyn Bridge contemplating suicide.

The Subplots:  Aunt Anna almost discovers Peter’s Spider-Man costume in the laundry.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Paul Stacy’s hair has gone from blond, to an odd shade of green, to now red over the course of his appearances in these titles.  He’s not established as a member of a Green Day cover band or anything, so I’m left to believe that no one can decide what color hair he’s supposed to have.
  • Billy Walters makes a brief cameo, in perhaps his first appearance outside of Sensational Spider-Man.
  • The Shocker is explicitly hired as a hitman this issue, although I can’t think of any other time he’s performed murder for hire.  I could be wrong, but isn’t Shocker normally more of a bank robber/jewel thief?

Production Note:  The cover lists Art Thibert as the inker, while the credits list Scott Hanna.  A future issue confirms Art Thibert is the inker.

Review:  My impression that this era of Spider-comics had horrible fill-in art probably originates with this issue.  I wasn’t buying any of the books by late 1997, but I did somehow end up with a copy of this issue.  And after looking through the first few pages, I was pretty appalled.  Peter has a manga face, his muscles are so jacked that his t-shirt is glued to his bulging abs, MJ is anorexic, and Aunt Anna has suddenly dropped a hundred pounds and morphed into the ‘90s cartoon’s model of the character.  Looking at the issue today, I can see I was a little hard on Andy Smith.  There are certainly problems with the art, but I can now see it’s more “inconsistent” than “eye-searingly terrible.”  There are moments when Smith draws the civilian cast quite well, although oddly it seems that Paul Stacy, Arthur Stacy, and FoH leader Donovan Zane look more polished than Peter Parker.  MJ, at least, grows more on-model as the issue progresses.  Smith’s Spider-Man also looks fine, and he does a decent job on the (very) brief fight between Spider-Man and Shocker.

What really turned me away from pursuing the titles during this period was the issue’s story.  The issue does open with a nice scene, featuring Aunt Anna almost stumbling upon Peter’s secret ID while trying to help with the laundry.  I realize that this is the most obvious bit you can do with Anna, or anyone else living in the Parkers’ home, but I’m glad it’s here.  It’s classic Spidey, and it’s the first time we’ve seen Aunt Anna do much of anything since permanently joining the supporting cast.  The basic conflict of Peter and MJ needing their own place but not being able to afford it is, again, classic Spidey and it’s the type of drama we don’t see enough of during this era.

Unfortunately, we are getting plenty of the drama the books don’t need this issue.  Notably, the Stacy family.  Jill’s annoying simply because she’s so bland, but at least she isn’t as insufferable as Paul Stacy.  No part of Paul’s characterization makes any sense.  He’s a bitter loner, fine, but the idea that he’s so obnoxious because his cousin and uncle died over five years ago is insane.  (And that’s generously applying Marvel Time to the deaths of George and Gwen.  In real life, Paul’s angsting over something that happened in the early ‘70s!)  If we’re to believe the exposition we’re told this issue, Paul was happy, outgoing, and close to his father and sister until the deaths of George and Gwen.  He’s been a brat ever since; and yet, if he hates his immediate family so much, why did he recently move across the ocean with them?  And how was he so close to these family members that lived in another country in the first place?  When was this bond formed?  How close Paul was to George and Gwen doesn’t even appear to be consistent within this issue.  One reason Paul gives for hating Peter was that he was able to grow close to George and Gwen, while Paul lived far away.  So…they weren’t close?  Which undermines his entire motive, of course.  

It’s just such a simplistic view of a character -- he hates the world because two supporting cast members in the franchise died back in the ‘70s.  Nothing else defines him at all, except his inconsistent hair color and facial hair, I suppose.  I’m sure part of the problem is that Paul's development has been assigned to Howard Mackie, whose characterization skills are usually lacking on his best day, but it’s hard to imagine the character ever really working in the books.  He’s defined solely by his relationship with two long-dead characters, and it’s a retconned relationship the audience never got to see in the first place.  Honestly, who cares?  As if all of this wasn’t tedious enough, the issue ends with yet another callback to the Brooklyn Bridge.  Of course if Paul is abruptly going to contemplate suicide, a characterization swerve that essentially comes out of nowhere, he’s going to do it on that stupid bridge. 

1 comment:

Matt said...

I agree with everything you said about Paul, though I do still think that the Stacy family -- or at least the idea of them -- was an intriguing addition to Spider-Man's cast. I just wish the other books had used them more since, as you note, Howard Mackie controlled them pretty much exclusively.

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