Friday, November 21, 2014

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #87 - January 1998

Enemies…A Love Story?
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  Spider-Man and Paul are buried under a building demolished by the Shocker.  Spider-Man saves Paul from the debris and they then sneak away in the sewers.  At ESU, Spider-Man tries to develop a solvent that will dissolve the Trapster’s glue, but they’re soon discovered by Shocker and Trapster.  The villains are ready to strike again, when Trapster receives word that the hit is off and they’ll be paid double to leave Spider-Man and Paul alone.  Elsewhere, Donovan Zane confirms the hit has been cancelled, which pleases an employee of Norman Osborn.

The Subplots:  Jimmy-6 tells MJ that he’s only looking for a place to recover and won’t hurt anyone.  Suddenly, an armed man attacks the Parkers’ home.  Jimmy-6 interrogates the gunman, but he swallows a cyanide capsule and dies.  Jimmy-6 sees a goblin tattoo on the gunman's arm.  MJ discovers Jill was shot during the attack.

Web of Continuity:  Spider-Man spontaneously mentions the video of him beating Norman Osborn and the price Osborn’s put on his head, the first reference to these events in this title.

I Love the ‘90s:  The Trapster carries a pager.  A pager and a cell phone, which I don’t quite understand.

Miscellaneous Note:  The blurb on the cover is of course a reference to the Beatles song “Carry That Weight.”

Review:  I guess there’s a “strange bedfellows” theme this issue, as people who can’t stand one another are paired together and forced to either work collectively or merely survive.  Not a bad premise, but Mackie’s inability to write entertaining, or even slightly plausible, banter amongst Spidey/Paul and Shocker/Trapster kills the issue.  Like always, the art is attractive, especially the sequence that has Spider-Man lifting the debris to save Paul, but the story is just a chore to finish.  After a tedious issue-long chase sequence, the story simply ends when the villains get a phone call on the next-to-last page.  Norman Osborn (presumably) doesn’t want these guys dead, so that’s it.  Everyone go home.  All of the interactions between the characters are just flat, and the attempts at humor are shockingly hackneyed.  There’s even an “Oh, no!  I have to give this dude mouth-to-mouth to save his life…but I’m a dude!” bit in here.  The only scene that’s even slightly amusing comes on the final page, when Spider-Man figures out an ingenious way for him and Paul to liberate their glued feet.  They take their shoes off.

Alternating with the Shocker/Trapster story is a subplot involving Jimmy-6, which has abruptly swerved from him threatening MJ with a gun to saving her life when a mystery man attacks the house.  It’s hard to find a coherent story in here.  Jimmy-6 was attacked by mobsters last issue, who may or may not be working for his father Fortunato.  After arriving at the Parkers’ house, an armed man suddenly appears, so of course these plots are related, right?  Apparently not, since the villain has a goblin tattoo, which means it’s just a massive coincidence.  I can appreciate that Mackie is playing around with audience expectations, but the subplot feels more like a series of random events than a story.  The goblin tattoo is particularly annoying.  For one thing, the art isn’t clearly a goblin; it could just as easily represent the Jackal, which is the last villain I want to be reminded of post-Clone Saga.  Secondly, since when do Norman Osborn’s men tattoo themselves with their boss’ supervillain disguise?  Who could be that dumb?  Also, why is Norman Osborn ordering Peter and Paul to be saved, while simultaneously sending gunmen to kill MJ, Anna, and Jill?  There’s no logic in this.  

What really kills the subplot, however, is the lethargic execution.  MJ shows absolutely no emotion during the entire episode.  Her dialogue consists of “You need a doctor.”  “Whatever you say.”  “That would be great.”  And when she discovers her alleged best friend has been shot, this inspired line:  “You’re going to be fine, Jill.  Aunt Anna, call an ambulance.  Now.”  All of the blame can’t be laid on Mackie, to be fair, since Romita has decided to give MJ barely discernible facial expressions during the entire subplot.  Why I can’t begin to understand, but the result is a subplot that involves Spider-Man’s wife nonchalantly discovering a wounded mobster in her home, being taken hostage, dodging bullets from a mystery gunman, then discovering her best friend is possibly dying, and yet through it all she looks lost in an Ambien haze.  It’s a bizarre storytelling decision to say the least.


Harry Sewalski said...

With regards to Romita artwork, I've always found his lack of facial expression to be one of my pet peeves when it comes to his artwork (along with blocky figures). Am I in the minority on this? I do like JRJR, but I just can't get behind his facial expressions.

Anonymous said...

I maintain that OMD/BND is one of the stupidest stories ever written in Spider-Man, but reading all these reviews about MJ makes me think that writers really didn't know what to do with her. A lot of BND opponents think it's ridiculous that Marvel was hell bent on making Peter single again, but my god, MJ was kind of a ball and chain. I mean really, what are your options? Either make her a nag like what's been done here, or make her super supportive of Spidey and doey-eyed at everything he does. What else? Give her a costume and bring her along on adventures? She's either gonna get left at home most of the time, and when that isn't happening, she's going to be targeted by villains. She's worse than a damsel in distress, really.

I dunno, reading this makes me rethink my stance a little bit. No one wanted to see Indiana Jones or James Bond get married, and I can't help but think that Spidey is much different.

That said, having Mephisto retcon the marriage is still really stupid. The studio that gave us the Clone Saga just couldn't pull off a divorce story, I guess.

G. Kendall said...

I don't blame the marriage for the weak writing during this era. J. M. DeMatteis is still doing a good job with MJ, and on the rare occasions that Dezago gives her more than two lines, she comes across pretty well. I'm not sure what happened to DeFalco during this time, since he's one of the first writers to round out MJ's personality, but she really is a drag in his stories at this point. It seems someone made a conscious effort to insert marital problems into the books, and DeMatteis was the only writer who seemed to care enough to keep MJ sympathetic.

I like MJ as the person who can provide a "civilian" perspective on the insanity of Spider-Man's life, and I don't mind her occasionally trying to talk Peter out of going out as Spider-Man, provided she has a good reason. And I think MJ's an entertaining character in her own right when written properly. When MJ was allowed to just act like MJ the marriage wasn't a problem.

wwk5d said...

Yeah, see how MJ was written during the early to mid-90s. Yes, she nagged occasionally, she was a damsel in distress (remember her rich stalker?), but it was balanced out by giving the character her own subplots and storylines and family (her bulimic cousin, her modeling/acting career, etc). Was every storyline a winner? No. But the character felt more like a character, instead of just an appendage to Peter/Spider-man.

Writing MJ isn't as hard as it seems. It just takes effort and someone who isn't lazy.

Anonymous said...

But a bulimic cousin and an acting / modeling career don't sound like things I really care to read about in a superhero comic book. Maybe it's just me.

Anonymous said...

I think it's just you. I mean, I enjoyed reading stuff like that, since it grounds the book in a bit of reality. Much like Peter's money problems, dating problems, etc. If it was just superhero stuff non-stop, it would be repetitive and boring.

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