Thursday, March 5, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #92 - June 1998


Stuck in the Middle with You!
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft’s Kiff Scholl (letters)

The Plot:  Dusk helps Trapster defeat a group of assassins known as the Waiters.  He tries to grow closer to Trapster, but is unable to get him to confess to Joey Z’s murder.  Eventually, Trapster declares that he has something to show Dusk.  He takes Dusk to one of Norman Osborn’s secret labs and threatens Osborn’s life.  When Dusk tries to talk him out of it, Trapster turns on him.  Dusk ends up with confessions from both Trapster and Osborn on tape, but his secret recorder is broken during his fight with Trapster.  When Trapster regains consciousness, Dusk convinces him to confess to Joey Z’s murder.  Trapster agrees, but keeps Osborn’s role a secret as a bargaining chip against him.

The Subplots:  Norman Osborn defends Peter when Professor Howard criticizes his work.  Aunt Anna is homesick for Florida.  Paul Stacy grows increasingly hostile.  Jill wonders if Paul’s taking his medication.  

Web of Continuity:  I believe Anna’s idle thoughts on Florida foreshadow her leaving the titles again.  (Although, I seem to recall her sticking around in the early reboot issues, so maybe the creators didn’t go through with it.)  Bizarrely, this issue implies that Aunt Anna is the one paying the mortgage on Aunt May’s old home.  Why wasn’t it left to Peter?

How Did This Get Published?:  It’s hard to choose which snippet of Mackie Robot Speak to highlight this issue.  Here’s a clunker from Jill:  “I’m fine, but…have you found out anything more about this Joey Z. and his connection to Spider-Man?  I feel as though we are so close to uncovering a clue to his involvement in Cousin Gwen’s death.”  And I feel as though no actual human being talks like this…

Review:  So…that’s the end of “Identity Crisis?”  Two of the other chapters showed Peter definitively giving up an alternate identity and embracing Spider-Man again, but we don’t even get that much in the final issue.  The resolution we do get is a rather feeble payoff, since the Trapster isn’t any better off at the end than he was before he teamed up with Dusk, and he hasn’t had a convincing arc that sells the idea of him confessing anything.  Are we to believe that he’s really any safer from Osborn in prison?  What kind of a resolution is this?  And there’s little else in the issue to redeem the lame ending.  The issue opens with Dusk and Trapster vs. the Waiters, joke assassins that dress like actual waiters, but with idiotic face paint and haircuts.  After that, Mackie touches base with the Stacys, the fruitless Professor Howard subplot reappears, Peter and MJ have a brief moment, and there’s a small attempt to flesh out the Trapster as a character.  There is a one-page conversation between Dusk/Spider-Man and Trapster that leads me to believe that maybe Mackie was on to something and could’ve developed the Trapster into a more believable character, but that promise was short-lived.  I will say that MJ is more likable, by the standards of this title, during her scenes this issue.  She’s still nagging Peter, this time about money, but she doesn’t come across as abrasive and out-of-character as she has in previous Mackie stories.  And the revelation that Paul Stacy apparently has some kind of mental problems does at least explain his erratic behavior since his introduction.  It’s odd that it’s taken over a year to get this revelation, though.

Overall, I have to say that “Identity Crisis” goes down as one of the lesser events in Spidey history.  It’s not offensively dumb, and it’s gimmicky in an entertaining way, but the execution is sloppy all around.  Apparently, no one was paying close attention to the final product, since story points repeat endlessly throughout the event, and the continuity between chapters is often shoddy.  Three of the four new personas are considered potential employees by Norman Osborn!  How did that idea get repeated once, let alone twice?  And is there a reading order to these issues that makes any sense?  Some chapters end in cliffhangers, others don’t.  Major characters, like the Trapster, inexplicably disappear and reappear in-between chapters.  Major plot points are introduced and forgotten by the next chapter.  (Shouldn’t Peter be concerned now that the Black Tarantula is targeting his wife?)  Granted, there are some fun moments in the storyline, and at times the event did manage to break up some of the era’s monotony, but almost every chapter reads like a rough draft.  I think readers have a reasonable expectation of consistency when buying into a linewide event like this, and that’s something the spider-office did not deliver.

6 comments:

Matt said...

I think the answer to all your rhetorical questions about the haphazard continuity is Ralph Macchio. I know I said this before, but I seriously never realized until reading your reviews how bad a mess it was. I always thought his reputation as being lazy was a joke to amuse readers!

Comicbookrehab said...

I'm surprised Howard Mackie wound up becoming the main Spider-Man writer once the "Chapter One" reboot kicks in; this is clearly the work of someone who is just..typing situations for the reader to glance at, assuming nobody's going to care or notice.

Matt said...

I think it's just that he knew the right people. Mackie started at Marvel as Mark Greenwald's assistant, and I believe Gru and Ralph Macchio were close friends (they were a writing team together in the seventies).

When he was promoted to full editor, Mackie handled the Avengers line at the same time Bob Harras was the X-Men group editor in the late eighties. They may have developed an office friendship in that way (in fact it could have gone back further as I believe Harras was Macchio's assistant around the same time Mackie worked for Gru).

That said, even Chris Claremont seemed to think highly of Mackie. I distinctly recall a WIZARD interview with Claremont around this time, when he was Marvel's editorial director, in which he lauded Mackie's work on PETER PARKER as "just aces."

(In fact if you Google Chris Claremont Howard Mackie "just aces" you will find a transcript of the article in a Yahoo! group. Good thing he used that distinctive phrase which I remember seventeen years later. There's some other interesting stuff in there too, regarding how he looked at Marvel at the time.)

Personally, as I've said before, Mackie was my favorite Spider-writer of the four at this time, especially following DeMatteis' departure. If you had asked nineteen year-old me, in June of 1998, which one of the four should stay if the other three had to go, it would have been Mackie (though I would've angsted over the choice since DeFalco was still acknowledging Clone Saga continuity, but ultimately PETER PARKER was my favorite Spider-title month in and month out).

I know there's no accounting for taste, but I had liked nearly everything Mackie did on Spider-Man dating back to "Name of the Rose" in WEB. For me, Kavanagh was awful but Mackie was great. After the reboot, though, I felt he severely plummeted in quality -- but I attributed that initially to John Byrne, until Byrne left the titles and Mackie was still pretty bad.

Comicbookrehab said...

This DOES explain Mackie writing for DC Comics around the beginning of the "New 52" era, since Bob Harras became part of the editorial staff. Tom DeFalco even wrote Superboy and Hawkman scripts there.

I remember the WIZARD interview with Mackie in the summer of '98..he came off as being in the middle - he had a grasp of who Spider-Man was and the stories that could be told with the character...but may have said all that he had to say about the character long ago. "Old villains will introduce new villains, have Peter work in a lab where he could create new gadgets, use Venom as a villain again, tell street-level stories in one book, grand-scale superhero tales in the other.." - all those ideas sound fine..until we saw what the final product.

G. Kendall said...

I recall an IRON MAN letter column where Howard Mackie listed Bob Harras as the godfather of his daughter, so it's safe to say they're close.
In Tom DeFalco's interview book, Mackie said that his initial scripts at Marvel were always rewritten at the editor's insistence. Over the years, he wasn't asked to rewrite anymore, so he joked that he must've gotten pretty good. It seems pretty obvious that Macchio was NOT asking Mackie to rewrite these scripts; they all read as first drafts.

Comicbookrehab said...

Having read that Yahoo! groups transcript, I'm reminded that Claremont wasn't firing on all cylinders, either; he had just ended "Sovereign 7" at DC, and I imagine this consulting role at Marvel faded out after his run on "Fantastic Four" AND soft reboot of the core X-Men books soured. His best days were also behind him; his scripts also read like 1st drafts as well - his dialogue and captions seemed relentless in the pursuit of killing any attempt at creating pace or suspense.