Monday, January 26, 2015

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #256 - April 1998


Through the Looking Glass
Credits:  J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  The White Rabbit hijacks the airwaves and announces her ransom demand for Grizzly and the Gibbon.  The mayor laughs in disbelief.  Peter and MJ see her announcement, leading Peter to adopt the impromptu disguise of the Bombastic Bag-Man.  He crashes the White Rabbit’s hideout, but allows Grizzly and the Gibbon to have the final victory over her.  When he returns home, MJ unveils the new costumed identity she’s created for him, Prodigy.

The Subplots:  Norman Osborn obliquely threatens Jonah’s wife again when he refuses to be interviewed for Osborn’s biography.  Flash, meanwhile, grows closer to Osborn.  Aunt Anna reveals to MJ that she was married at eighteen and that her infidelity killed the relationship.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Peter does have the Dusk suit at this point, but he isn’t near home when he sees White Rabbit’s ransom demand.  
  • MJ is stunned to discover Aunt Anna was married.

I Love the ‘90s:  One of White Rabbit’s flunkies tells her she’s a better actress than Pamela Lee, which was briefly Pamela Anderson’s professional name while married to Tommy Lee.  Later, there’s a reference to Al Gore and boring speeches, Grizzly claims that not hitting White Rabbit would be considered sexist in the ‘90s, Peter wonders if he’ll get a cartoon on FOX, and MJ speculates that Leonardo DiCaprio and Jim Cameron will make a Prodigy movie one day.

Review:  It’s another Spectacular issue that’s clearly intended as a comedy, even though the subplots are just as serious as ever.  I maintain that this is an odd choice to make, creating issues with such bizarre tonal shifts they read as schizophrenic.  Maybe other readers are able to make the leap from caring about Flash’s recovery from alcoholism to laughing at the White Rabbit’s sardonic actors-for-hire henchmen back to sympathizing with Anna Watson’s painful past, but the tonal shifts just get on my nerves.  I don’t mind inserting comedy into the stories, but entire plots that are plainly intended as farcical comedies should probably be done as standalone issues.  And while I do find most of the White Rabbit material pretty amusing, I think the Bag-Man joke falls a little flat.  I understand that it’s a reference to a DeFalco/Frenz issue of Amazing, but in my opinion that hurts the joke because we’ve already seen it before.  Couldn’t Spider-Man devise a different wacky get-up?  

There is one aspect of the issue that sets it far above the rest of the titles of this era -- MJ is actually acting like MJ.  She’s supportive of her husband while also being upfront about her own misgivings regarding his life as Spider-Man.  And she’s funny, compassionate, and slightly quirky.  She’s, heaven forbid, a well-drawn female character with a distinct personality who doesn’t exist merely to insert hackneyed drama into the hero’s life.  What a concept.

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