Saturday, November 15, 2014

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #251 - November 1997


Son of the Hunter!
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Al Milgrom (inker), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  Kraven attracts media attention by foiling a bank robbery.  Spider-Man searches for Kraven only to be ambushed by Kraven and his pet elephant.  Spider-Man touches a drugged dart, which renders him unconscious.  Kraven takes aim and boasts that, unlike his father, he uses real bullets.

The Subplots:  Security footage of Spider-Man attacking Norman Osborn airs on the news.  The Daily Bugle runs a cover offering one million dollars for Spider-Man’s capture.  Robbie Robertson knows that something is wrong with Jonah, but Jonah refuses to admit it.  Flash Thompson tells Betty that he’s going to enter rehab.  Norman overhears and tells Betty that he admires Flash.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Anna Watson is now opposed to Spider-Man after seeing the security footage.  I don’t know if this was an intentional effort to match the ‘90s Spider-Man cartoon, which always portrayed Anna as an irrational Spidey hater.
  • The new Kraven identifies himself to Spider-Man as Alyosha Kravinov, Kraven’s son and half-brother of Vladimir Kravinoff, the Grim Hunter.
  • A news report on the new Kraven’s activities says that Kraven’s suicide in “Kraven’s Last Hunt” occurred two years ago.  Since “Kraven’s Last Hunt” was published ten years ago at that time, that places One Marvel Year as five years our time, which is close to how I imagined it as a kid.

I Love the ‘90s:  Mayor Giuliani is said to be demanding an investigation into Spider-Man’s attack on Norman Osborn.

Review:  Ah, so now we’re back to the Norman Osborn plot, which has to be ignored for numerous issues if you want to follow these titles chronologically.  You also have to disregard Spider-Man’s paranoia regarding Chameleon discovering his secret identity, and the possible resurrection of Kraven, in order to cram in all of those AmazingPeter Parker, etc. comics.  It’s hard to deny that Spectacular has the most interesting plots at this time, but it’s not an easy fit for the rest of the franchise.  The events in Spectacular should be reflected across the line, but at this point, the other writers are barely acknowledging its existence.  I understand that Marvel wanted each book to be independent after years of perma-crossover, but it’s reached the point that every title feels like it’s in its own universe.  (And some of them occupy very boring universes.)

The Kraven plot finally gets around to Spider-Man’s confrontation with Alyosha, the second son to carry on his father’s legacy.  J. M. DeMatteis once said in an interview that he perhaps went to the Kraven well one time too many during this stint, and he may be right.  I like the more “savage” Rasputin look for the new Kraven (those leopard-print capris are finally gone), and there is a great visual of Kraven riding an elephant over New York’s skyscrapers that opens the fight scene.  However, the character ultimately doesn’t amount to anything, and it’s easy to argue that all of these Kraven offspring are undermining the death of the original.  Does it matter that much if Kraven is dead if more Kraven Kids are just going to emerge every few years?  There also seems to be some last minute rethinking of the new Kraven, as the “hero” angle played up on the cover isn’t acknowledged in the issue.  Kraven does stop a group of bank robbers, but it’s explicitly done to attract Spider-Man’s attention.  It’s certainly possible this story was originally about New York turning on Spider-Man and embracing Kraven, but those threads never come together in the issue.

Norman Osborn’s tenure as the Daily Bugle’s co-owner begins predictably with a reward for Spider-Man’s capture.  DeMatteis portrays Jonah as being reluctant to go in this direction, which Robbie points out is a little odd given some of the previous anti-Spidey headlines he’s run.  Jonah’s still acting strange, and it’s hard to tell if it’s due to possible threats against his wife or outright brainwashing.  Luke Ross’ panel-to-panel continuity is occasionally hard to decipher.  Whenever Jonah seems to question his decisions, the panel abruptly shifts to him snapping to attention like a terrier responding to a dog whistle.  Jonah then proceeds to go along with whatever Osborn wants him to do.  If these were clearly signaled brainwashing hints, I would have a better idea of how these scenes are supposed to read.  I get the idea that Osborn is going to make the Bugle more aggressively anti-Spider-Man, but the Jonah scenes feel more confusing than intriguing.  

The best moments in the issue are when DeMatteis lets the characters react to the numerous plot threads.  Betty Brant is allowed to have a real conversation with Flash, one that does a lot to flesh out her character and give a more coherent direction for future stories.  Essentially, she’s sick of trying to “fix” every male in her life and she’s terrified at the thought of nursing Flash through his alcoholism.  No one has known what to do with Betty for years at this point, and it’s a relief to see someone strike a balance between “emotionally unstable cult member” and “tough-as-nails machine gun toting roving reporter.”  MJ’s characterization also returns thankfully to normal, as she assures Peter not to worry about Osborn or the Chameleon revealing his secret identity…and then proceeds to worry on her own in private.  The standard idea of MJ putting on the happy face while living in silent pain rarely appeared in this era; somehow in-between issues she turned into The Nag.  It’s refreshing to read MJ acting like herself for a few pages.  As I’ve stated before, I’m not a fan of the revived Norman Osborn or Flash alcoholism storylines, but there are moments when DeMatteis’ character work is enough to make them seem like worthwhile ideas.

2 comments:

Jeff said...

I think the returned Norman stuff doesn't work until Jenkins gets ahold of it further down the line. Then it REALLY works. Honestly, I consider Jenkins run a stone cold classic.

Matt said...

I liked some of Paul Jenkins' Spider-Man, but it felt at the time as if nearly every other issue was a "very special" story about Peter remembering Uncle Ben. The main draw of that run for me was the art of Mark Buckingham.