Saturday, January 17, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #88 - February 1998

Who Did Joey Z?
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  A minor hood named Joey Z is found dead, wrapped inside a replica of Spider-Man’s webbing.  Peter is called to photograph the scene.  As he leaves, he catches a glimpse of the Green Goblin on a rooftop.  Spider-Man finds only a pumpkin bomb when he reaches the top, and is soon forced to flee from two pursuing police officers.  Later, after another Goblin sighting, Spider-Man confronts Norman Osborn in his office.  Osborn again accuses Spider-Man of attacking him, and Spider-Man leaves.  Spider-Man spots the Goblin once again, just a few yards away from Osborn, but he suddenly disappears.  Later, Spider-Man leaves a sample of his webbing with Detective Snipes, then visits Arthur Stacy for help.

The Subplots:  Peter and MJ discuss Osborn’s scheme at the Daily Grind.  Devon remains a Spider-Man fan.

Web of Continuity:  I’m not sure if the disappearing Green Goblin that debuts this issue is the mysterious new Green Goblin that later appears in the titles (at one point intended to be a brainwashed Phil Urich).  The mystery is dropped after the relaunch begins.  Also, this issue marks the debut of Detective Snipes, who is investigating the murder.

Production Note:  This issue has an unusually slick cover.  I don’t know how the production process changed this issue, but I wish the other Marvel books from this era felt so slick.

Review:  There’s no cover copy to announce the fact, but this issue is a prelude to the upcoming “SpiderHunt” crossover.  “SpiderHunt” has Norman Osborn offering a reward for Spider-Man’s capture, following the discovery of Joey Z’s webbing-covered body.  As Peter points out this issue, he’s recently been framed by the Kingpin in the Spider-Man/Kingpin one-shot, and Osborn’s already placed a bounty on Spider-Man following the events of Spectacular Spider-Man #250.  Essentially, we’re getting regurgitations of stories that either just ran, or aren’t even resolved yet.  Thrilling, isn’t it?

Is this really the only scheme the writers could develop for Norman Osborn?  He sets Peter up, offers a reward, then he…does the same thing, but bumps up the price?  What kind of an evil genius is this?  I understand that Osborn was forced on the creative teams of this era, and I doubt anyone was enthusiastic about using him again, but surely more could’ve been done with the character.  Mackie, to his credit, early in this issue does squeeze some tension out of the Osborn/Peter dynamic, with Osborn lording over the crime scene while Peter takes pictures, doing everything he can to unnerve Peter...but by the story’s end Osborn is just a tedious nuisance again.  The only bit we’re seeing with Osborn, over and over again, is him teasing Peter with the threat that he just might reveal his secret identity to the world.  I think the inspiration for this routine is a scene in Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2, which has an increasingly unhinged Osborn taunting Peter during a dinner with his friends.  That scene is fantastic, a variation of it is even in the first Spider-Man movie, but it’s one scene within a specific context.  Osborn is already sweating like mad when this happens, barely able to contain himself.  It’s not as if he consciously had this knowledge for weeks and kept torturing Peter with it; he was able to maintain himself for perhaps a few hours before he put the costume back on and directly attacked Peter.  Playing Osborn as this cool manipulator who can just dangle this threat over Spider-Man’s head like the Sword of Damocles is essentially remaking Osborn into a different villain.  Somehow Osborn’s been cured of his bipolar disorder and been reborn as a knockoff Kingpin.  Who wanted to see that?

While the stilted dialogue and repetitive plotting don’t do the storyline any favors, John Romita, Jr. sells the mood like a pro.  Every page of the issue evokes an ominous atmosphere, created by Romita's  fantastic ability to play with shadows and various weather effects.  Snow is usually used as shorthand in comics to establish a happy holiday mood, but when it’s played against pitch-black backgrounds and shadowy street corners, the context is changed entirely.  This is a cold, miserable night; one that no sane human being wants to be out in.  The plot might not be entirely coherent, Spider-Man spots a few fake Goblins and has a fruitless confrontation with Osborn before giving up, but the visuals help to sell the idea that this is an unusually dark Spider-Man story and that things aren’t going to be getting brighter soon.  I can just imagine how much more effective the mood pieces in Spectacular Spider-Man of this era would’ve been had Romita been the artist.

1 comment:

Matt said...

This is one of my all-time favorite Romita Jr. Spider-Man covers.

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