Sunday, January 18, 2015

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #254 - February 1998

Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (plot), Tom DeFalco (script), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  Professor Angst sends his disciple Sir to the Daily Bugle, allegedly to kidnap Norman Osborn, but in truth to abduct Spider-Man.  While in Angst’s custody, Spider-Man fights against his physical and mental torture.  Eventually, Spider-Man breaks free of his bonds and attacks Sir.  Angst stops the fight and prepares to return Spider-Man to Osborn; however, Spider-Man recovers from the sedative and attacks Angst as well.  He leaves Angst with a message for Osborn, then destroys his equipment.  Later, Angst confides in Norman Osborn that he doesn’t like the influence Spider-Man has had on Sir.

The Subplots:  Robbie Robertson officially quits the Daily Bugle.  Jonah refuses to discuss the issue with his employees.  In Jonah’s desk drawer is a gun that he’s apparently saving for Norman Osborn.  Later, Osborn meets with Ben Urich and assigns him the task of discovering the Green Goblin’s “true” identity.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Norman Osborn asks Peter if he’s heard about the murder of small-time criminal Joey Z.  Norman was with Peter in PPSM #88 when he photographed the crime scene!
  • MJ and Peter’s conversation reveals that Aunt Anna thought MJ was being intentionally absurd when she told Anna that Peter is Spider-Man last issue.
  • Ben Urich wrote a book called “Legacy of Evil” (also the name of a one-shot, set shortly before the events of the Clone Saga) that revealed Norman Osborn as the real identity of the Green Goblin.  Osborn is uncharacteristically generous towards Urich this issue, telling him he appreciates his attempt to discover the truth, even if he got the answer wrong.

*See _________ For Details:  Sir previously appeared as an escaped Ravencroft patient in Daredevil #364.  Reading this issue, I had no idea Sir is transgender.

Review:  A rarity for J. M. DeMatteis during this period, it’s a done-in-one story instead of a multi-part epic.  I’m not sure how Tom DeFalco ended up in the scripting role this issue, but fortunately he’s less corny here than he has been lately in Amazing, even though he’s not suited to write the gothic narration I assume DeMatteis envisioned when plotting the story.  DeFalco does utilitarian work, not dragging the story down really, but perhaps not fleshing out the concepts that DeMatteis had in mind.  Sir is a good example, since the ending leads us to believe that he’s experienced a life-altering event after spending time with Spider-Man, but the script leading up to this point has done very little to sell this idea.  Ultimately, I think the major hindrance to the story would be Luke Ross’ art, which demonstrates yet again that psychological drama isn’t his forte at this stage in his career.  Ross has been getting much better as the months have progressed on this title, but this issue is an unfortunate step back into the overly cartoony/slightly sketchy stylized look from his earlier issues.

More engaging than the main story are the Daily Bugle subplots this issue.  So far, Norman Osborn as the Bugle’s co-owner hasn’t amounted to much, but this issue ramps up the drama and actually gives you the impression that all of this is going somewhere.  I don’t think it is, ultimately, but hopefully the creators can squeeze some entertainment out of this concept before the relaunch comes.  While it’s been a nuisance plot in Amazing for a while now, Robbie Robertson quitting the Bugle has real impact here and is played as the traumatic event is would actually be within the Bugle newsroom.  A lingering continuity issue regarding Ben Urich and Norman Osborn is also addressed, and thankfully not in the most predictable manner possible.  Norman doesn’t try to kill Ben or even harm him in any way for writing “Legacy of Evil,” he just wants Ben to discover the “true” story behind the Green Goblin.  This opens the door for potentially interesting material for the underused Ben Urich, even though (again) I don’t think anything comes from it.  Finally, we discover that Jonah isn’t taking Osborn’s abuse lying down…he’s got a 9 mm slug with Osborn’s name on it hiding in his desk drawer.  You’re almost tricked into thinking this is all going somewhere!

While it’s frustrating that the Norman Osborn/Daily Bugle setup eventually fizzled out, I’m even more annoyed by the casual dismissal of the previous issue’s cliffhanger.  After a frustrated MJ revealed Peter’s secret ID to Aunt Anna, her response was to think it was a joke and to realize that she’s been behaving ridiculously lately?  And we discover all of this off-panel?  That’s even worse than a copout, it’s a copout the creators didn’t even bother to show us firsthand.

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