Monday, March 30, 2015

SPIDER-MAN: THE MUTANT AGENDA #0 - February 1994


Credits:  Stan Lee (writer), Larry Lieber & Fred Kida (artists)

Summary:  Brand Corporation CEO Neil Landon hosts a conference on mutations.  Peter Parker attends, wondering if he can learn about his own powers.  He’s seated next to the Beast, who distrusts Landon’s motivations.  The Hobgoblin interrupts the conference and causes a panic.  As Spider-Man, Peter places a tracer on Hobgoblin’s glider.  With Beast, Spider-Man follows Hobgoblin to Brand’s research facility, where Hobgoblin steals a folder of research.  Beast is captured by Brand’s guards, while Spider-Man follows Hobgoblin to Landon’s office. He discovers Hobgoblin blackmailing Landon, threatening to release info on the “mutant genocide” Landon is planning.  Landon pulls a gun on Hobgoblin, but Spider-Man leaps to take the blast.  He awakes inside a cage with the Beast.  Hobgoblin reappears and accidentally frees the heroes while searching for Landon.  Spider-Man tries to swing away with Landon, but Hobgoblin’s pumpkin bomb forces them to fall into a chemical vat.  Landon emerges as a monster.  Beast subdues Hobgoblin and Spider-Man suggests Landon seek the X-Men’s help to deal with his mutation.

Continuity Notes:  
  • Landon's first name is Neil in the strip, and Herbert in the comics. He also appears to be 20 years older in the newspaper strip's continuity.
  • This storyline is set in the continuity of the Spider-Man newspaper strip.  Originally, this lengthy story arc was supposed to cross over with the Spider-Man: The Mutant Agenda miniseries making it the “first ever comic book-newspaper strip crossover.”
  • The specific strips covering the newspaper’s “Mutant Agenda” storyline ran from December 6, 1993 to February 26, 1994.
  • For the record, Spider-Man isn’t harmed by the chemicals in the vat because his costume covers him from head to toe.  Also, the gun Landon shoots Spidey with was set to “stun,” of course.

Production Note:  This is a forty-eight page comic, going for the standard cover price of $1.25.  Why, you ask?  Because half of the pages are blank.  The rest of the comic has previews of upcoming Spider-Man comics, and a reprint of the newspaper strip’s version of Spider-Man’s origin.

Miscellaneous Note:  Although the cover date reads February, the indicia list March 1994 as the month.

Review:  I recall Marvel promoting this miniseries in the fold-out inserts that ran in all of their titles in late 1993, and while I might seem to be the target audience for a limited series featuring Spider-Man and the X-Men, I can only recall an overwhelming sense of apathy.  Even at this early age, I was wary of the glut of X-product (Spidey-product, too, come to think of it) and didn’t want to waste my limited funds on a tossed off mini that clearly wasn’t going to be impacting the main titles in any way.  The idea of the comic series crossing over with the newspaper strip wasn’t much of an enticement either; to this day, I’ve never seen the Spider-Man strip in an actual newspaper.  Why would I buy a limited series that wasn’t even going to provide me with a full story?

As it turns out, the crossover element of the two “Mutant Agenda” storylines fell through early on.  The strip’s story is totally self-contained, so no reader was left confused by only getting a fraction of the storyline in this specific format.  But due to what I’m assuming were legal issues, kids purchasing this comic didn’t get much of anything.  Half of this comic is blank because they expect you, the reader, to physically cut the Spider-Man strip out of the newspaper and tape it on to the blank pages.  That’s seventy-two strips -- if you missed one, tough luck -- you’re expected to track down and preserve in-between the covers of a cheaply printed early ‘90s Marvel comic.  I’d like to give Marvel the benefit of the doubt and assume that the original plan was for the actual strips to be included in this issue, but they discovered later the syndicate wouldn’t allow them to be reprinted, or perhaps the deadlines were blown.  I’d hate to think the original plan was to sell kids a blank comic.

Thanks to the miracle of the internet, all of these strips have been compiled and scanned.  And how lucky we are.  Actually, this is less goofy than I was expecting it to be, even though it’s filled with the awkward writing that’s common in newspaper adventure strips (such as Peter spontaneously explaining to MJ who the Beast is a few days before he actually appears in the strip. “He's okay -- for a mutant!” Peter tells her, which is perhaps a joke, but it just feels wildly out of character).  Lee spends the first few days patiently explaining the Marvel concept of mutants to his “civilian” audience, then moves on to his story of the evil CEO and the returning villain who wants to blackmail him.  It’s odd to think that plotting to kill mutants is considered blackmail material in the Marvel Universe, but maybe the rules are different in the strip’s version of the MU.  I will say that it’s a relief to see the Hobgoblin have a scheme that actually requires him to use his brains; blackmailing a CEO feels like something he would’ve done in his earliest Roger Stern appearances.  And the story, by the staid standards of adventure strips, is relatively fast-paced.  Much of it is an involved chase sequence, and the Hobgoblin does make a decent showing for most of the adventure.  If the plot sounds familiar, that’s because much of it appeared a year later in the Spider-Man animated series.  Landon even becomes a monster in both stories, although in the strips, he’s much smaller and isn’t subdued by a random telepathic mutant who’s shoved into the plot.  In the strip, turning into a hideous freak is enough motivation for Landon to stop the fight.  Hopefully, the strip didn’t use this arc as an excuse to reintroduce Landon as an ongoing antagonist, one with a shocking resemblance to Two-Face.


The Origin of Spider-Man
Credits:  Stan Lee (writer), John Romita, Sr. (artist), Joe Agostinelli (colors)

Summary:  Student Peter Parker is bitten by a radioactive spider during a school experiment.  Realizing he has spider powers, he makes money as the costumed performer Spider-Man on various television shows.  During a robbery at a television studio, he allows a criminal to go free.  Days later, his uncle is killed by a burglar.  When he captures the burglar, Spider-Man discovers that he’s the man he could’ve stopped earlier.  Spider-Man realizes his uncle died because he shirked his responsibility.

Continuity Notes:  In the newspaper strip’s version of Spider-Man’s origin, the fateful experiment happens at Peter’s school, and he’s an active participant in it.  The implication seems to be that he’s in college instead of high school.  Peter’s also trying to get a job as a Daily Bugle photographer before he gains his powers in this origin story.  Spider-Man’s realization that he can’t cash a check made out to “Spider-Man” is also moved up from the comics’ timeline.  (As Bob Ingersoll points out, his agent could’ve avoided this problem by just having the checks made out to “Cash.”)  Finally, wrestler Crusher Hogan has been renamed Crusher Clark.

Review:  In one of the earliest outside-media adaptations of Amazing Fantasy #15, the comic strip goes through the motions and presents the basics of Spider-Man’s origin.  This was originally published in the ‘70s, and it’s interesting to see what aspects of the origin aren’t quite considered sacrosanct yet, such as the missing phrase “With great power…”  Stan Lee plays around with the continuity, touching on some issues that AF #15 didn’t address while also setting the stage for the basic Spider-Man status quo.  I suppose nothing’s harmed by Peter’s motivation to work as a professional photographer before he becomes Spider-Man, but some of the changes are arbitrary (such as Dave, the lab partner present when the spider’s irradiated.)  The most obvious difference from the comics is John Romita, Sr.’s interpretation of Peter Parker.  He’s already twentyish, handsome, and not wearing glasses in this origin story, which noticeably undermines the impact of his transformation.  I suppose Lee wanted to start the comic strip with Peter at college age and didn’t want Peter to have years of unrevealed adventures as Spidey in the strip’s backstory.  That’s reasonable, I guess, but it does lessen the significance of Peter's transformation into Spider-Man.  Still, it’s fun to see a run of the Lee/Romita strips reprinted, and up until recently, this was your only shot at reading them.

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