Tuesday, March 10, 2015

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN Annual ‘98 - July 1998

Duel with Devil Dinosaur
Credits:  Tom DeFalco (writer), Tom Lyle (penciler), Robert Jones (inks), Mike Rockwitz (colors), Dave Sharpe (letters)

The Plot:  Peter covers the discovery of Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur with reporter Noel Beckford.  Ringmaster, in disguise, enters and produces paperwork forcing Dr. Thomas Marles to turn custody of Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur over to him.  Peter realizes that Ringmaster used his hypnotic powers on various judges in order to receive the ruling.  He observes a performance by the Circus of Crime featuring the prehistoric duo, but is shocked when Ringmaster doesn’t use his powers to rob the audience.  As Spider-Man, however, he discovers that other members of the Circus are committing crimes across town.  While trying to free the hypnotized Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur, Spider-Man’s forced to fight them during one of the Circus’ performances.  When Moon Boy comes to his senses, he helps Spider-Man defeat Ringmaster and his allies.  Later, Peter Parker accompanies Noel and Dr. Marles to the Savage Land, where Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur will now live.

The Subplots:  Dr. Thomas Marles and Noel Beckford develop a romance over the course of the issue.  Noel tells Peter she’s going to stay with Dr. Marles in the Savage Land and help his research.

Web of Continuity:  
  • As far as I can tell, this issue marks the debuts of both Dr. Thomas Marles and Noel Beckford.  Their exploits will become legendary.
  • Moon Boy recognizes Peter Parker’s scent on Spider-Man, making him the latest character to learn Peter’s secret ID.

*See _________ For Details:  Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur were discovered in New York following the events of Ghost Rider #81.

I Love the ‘90s:  Moon Boy has learned English from watching TV, so his dialogue is littered with references to Buffy, Xena, and Party of Five.  He also declares that he’s “all jiggy now” during a fight scene.  Spider-Man complains that he could’ve had a “quiet evening at home with Ally McBeal” instead of fighting the Circus of Crime.  Later, he works in a “Happy, happy!  Joy, joy!”  Spider-Man’s also as dubious about the Ringmaster going straight as he is that James Cameron will “hire Leonardo DiCaprio to star in a major motion picture based on my life!”  No, but Sam Raimi will hire Leo’s best friend for the part in just a few years, Spidey.

Review:  I’ve been down on DeFalco’s Amazing Spider-Man work for a while now, but I have to admit this is a fun annual.  Moon Boy and Devil Dinosaur are just goofy enough without going overboard, and having Spider-Man face off against his (very) occasional foes the Circus of Crime adds some novelty to the story.  At least they’re not the Shocker, a vaguely defined mystery villain, or the latest goon hired by Norman Osborn.  Tom Lyle might not be an obvious choice of artist for a story packed with Kirby characters, but I’ve always likes his interpretation of Spider-Man and he’s able to handle the action pretty well.  I wonder now why Tom Lyle wasn’t used more often during these days, because it’s hard for me to imagine anyone preferred Joe Bennett’s rushed ASM work to what Lyle produces here.

If DeFalco had been producing light-hearted, Silver Age inspired superhero work with a few engaging character subplots thrown in while writing the monthly title, maybe we all would’ve been better off.  There’s no great depth here, but the story feels like something we might’ve seen in Untold Tales of Spider-Mana one-shot adventure with Spidey being pitted against obscure foes and guest stars the audience doesn't normally associate with the hero.  Admittedly, Dezago and Wieringo were doing something very similar in Sensational at the time, which might’ve been why DeFalco opted for that bizarre gang war/ninja action direction in ASM.  Two books going for traditional Spidey fun wouldn’t have been a bad thing, however, and with a focus on more compelling subplots, I think a decent number of fans would've returned to Spidey during this era.  


Matt said...

For some reason it seems like the Circus of Crime (or at least the Ringmaster solo) were all over the place in the late nineties. I had never read so much as a single new comic featuring them in my lifetime, and then suddenly they were in THUNDERBOLTS, SPIDER-MAN, HULK, and -- X-MEN? Maybe not, but I feel like Chris Bachalo drew them in something around this time.

Anonymous said...

They appeared in Generation X of all places, that might be the Bachalo work you're thinking of.

Generation X turned into such a weird book.

G. Kendall said...

Yes, and Tom DeFalco also wrote that GEN X fill-in. Joe Casey also used the Circus, or at least the Clown member, in the M-Tech DEATHLOK series.

Matt said...

Ah yes, the GEN X issue is what I was thinking of. So DeFalco used the Circus there and here, and Casey used them in HULK and DEATHLOK. Funny.

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