Thursday, November 20, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #86 - December 1997

The Span of Years
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  The Shocker finds Spider-Man and Paul at the bridge and attacks.  Paul is knocked off the bridge, but Spider-Man manages to save him.  As Spider-Man helps Paul to the ground, their arms are suddenly glued together.  The Shocker’s new partner, the Trapster, emerges.

The Subplots:  While MJ is visiting Jill, Arthur Stacy receives a mysterious package.  Arthur is shocked by its contents.  Later, when MJ and Jill arrive at the Parkers, they see Aunt Anna is nervous.  Jimmy-6, recovering from a bullet wound, reveals himself.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Jimmy-6 is a minor character from the Ben Reilly days.  A mobster who was somewhat friendly with Ben, I seem to recall him as a pet character of Howard Mackie’s.
  • The city is now under a torrential downpour, even though there wasn’t a drop of rain in the previous issue.  Spider-Man has a jokey line of dialogue that tries to cover for the mistake.
  • Spider-Man comments that he’s always been able to defeat the Shocker, which ignores the fact that the Shocker defeated Spidey in his very first appearance.
  • You'll notice that I've skipped around, reviewing other titles during this storyline.  I felt the need to touch base on other storylines occurring "between the pages" of Spectacular #250; plus, something happens to Jill later in this arc that makes it difficult to place in continuity.

Miscellaneous Note:  The Statement of Ownership lists the average sales at 140,059 copies with the most recent selling 117,895.

Review:  Ignoring the fact that it isn’t supposed to be raining, the opening page of this issue really is gorgeous.  The image of rain pelting a frantic Spider-Man, the depth Romita creates, the moody colors…this is good stuff.  Following the opening splash is a double-page spread of Spider-Man racing towards Paul as images of Gwen slowly descend the pages and a menacing Green Goblin laughs hysterically while overlooking the chaos.  Even if Romita is often given mediocre material to work with, these little flashes of brilliance are sometimes worth the price of admission.

I can still find lots to complain about, though.  Little pet peeves, like the Shocker retroactively being labeled a “loser” on the level of the Trapster, and the return of even more Ben Reilly-era characters that probably should’ve been forgotten, might be unique to just me.  I could look past these elements.  The issue has more severe problems.  The dialogue is just as stilted and hard to believe as usual, and I’m now under the impression that Mackie is just making up Paul’s story as he’s going along.  This issue, Paul suddenly declares that he was never planning to commit suicide, which begs the question of why he was threatening to do it last issue.  And only a few pages after this revelation, Paul then declares that he was willing to let Shocker kill him earlier, but now that he knows Shocker’s motivated by money, he won’t let that happen.  So, he can’t decide from page to page if he was planning on some form of suicide, but it’s all irrelevant now because having learned of the Shocker’s capitalistic motivations, he’s spontaneously regained the will to live.  Yes, this all makes perfect sense.  

What’s also grating about the Paul Stacy story is how unsurprising the more sane moments are.  Of course Paul’s chosen the Brooklyn Bridge to throw himself off of.  Of course he finds the will to live, and of course he ends up getting knocked off anyway.  And Spider-Man, of course, manages to save him and not repeat the mistakes of Gwen’s death, even though he rescues Paul in the exact same way, which should’ve resulted in his neck snapping.  The only elements of the story that aren’t easily predictable are the ones that stem from Paul’s erratic characterization.  Even if the art’s great, it’s hard to forgive much of this material.  


Matt said...

Well it makes sense that Spider-Man doesn't repeat the Gwen mistake, considering that he's had plenty of practice, saving what feels like about a hundred people from falling off the darn bridge since she died!

I don't have as many issues with Howard Mackie as you do, but any time any writer feels the need to go back to the bridge and "redeem" Spider-Man by having him save someone from falling, I just can't stand it. It's been done to death. All editors should be instructed to automatically veto any Spider-Man story that involves that scenario without even hearing the rest of the pitch, and probably to fire the writer that pitched it, too. Blackballing said writer from Marvel and perhaps from the entire comic book industry would not be a bad idea, either.

Harry Sewalski said...

Matt - while we're at it, Spidey having to hold up a large weight (such as a collapsing building) should also be vetoed. Thankfully, it's not as grating or as frequent as bridge homages, but it still rubs me the wrong way whenever I see it (especially seeing as how I doubt anyone could top the Lee/Ditko original).

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