Monday, May 18, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN #94 - August 1998

Who Was Joey Z?
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  After having nightmares about Joey Z’s death, Spider-Man decides to ask Arthur Stacy to help him learn more about Joey.  He discovers Arthur at his home, recovering from a bullet wound.  Arthur explains that he’s made enemies over the years, and that Jill’s recent inquiry into Joey Z’s past has intensified the efforts of a mystery man to drive him out of town.  Meanwhile, the Kingpin sends Ox on a mission to dissuade Jill from learning the truth about Joey Z.  Spider-Man follows Jill’s trail around town, eventually saving her from Ox and the Kingpin’s men.  After discovering that she’s looking into Joey Z’s past in order to learn more about Spider-Man, he decides to finally talk to her about Gwen’s death.

The Subplots:  During a break in the action, Peter and Jill spend time getting to know each other.  They take a walk around the places Peter used to take Gwen.

Web of Continuity:  
  • The issue opens with a somewhat random introduction from the Watcher.  He speculates on the various ways reality can diverge from this point; one ends with Peter and Jill in love, another ends with her dead.  This is one of the earliest indications that Marvel’s going for a love triangle between Peter, MJ, and Jill (a letter published a few months earlier enthusiastically endorsed this idea.)  Ultimately, the forced “girl trouble” fizzles out a few months into the reboot.
  • Arthur Stacy claims that the gunmen at the Parkers’ home that shot Jill a few issues ago were after him, sending him a message to leave town.
  • Apparently, there’s some confusing continuity regarding Ox and whether or not he’s dead.  This issue tries to establish that this Ox is the one believed dead in Daredevil #86, and that his twin brother currently works with the Enforcers.  Ox isn’t dead because the Kingpin’s men found him “barely alive in that alley many months ago” and nursed him back to health.
  • A montage establishes that Joey Z. had ties to established characters including the Thing (during his Yancy Street days), Silvermane, Sebastian Shaw and the Hellfire Club, and according to Jill, someone named “Mel Phisto.”  (ugh)
  • Spider-Man references the George Washington Bridge as the site of Gwen’s death, even though it’s been consistently named as the Brooklyn Bridge over the years.  The original story called it the George Washington Bridge, even though the artist drew the Brooklyn Bridge, creating years of confusion.  I believe all of the reprints change the dialogue to match the art, reaffirming that the Brooklyn Bridge is the official place of her death.

Review:  I will say that this story is tailor-made for John Romita, Jr., who handles all of the giant hulking figures, firefights, and gritty street scenes just as well as you’d imagine.  Like the previous issue, if you look at the art and don’t concentrate on the dialogue or try to comprehend why these events are happening, it’s mindlessly entertaining.  But anyone with even rudimentary critical thinking skills has to question how on earth Howard Mackie continues to get away with this stuff.  

Absolutely nothing in this issue makes any sense.  Spider-Man is suddenly obsessed with learning more about the “low-level thug” killed in order to frame him, which is already a dubious starting point for the story.  Yes, Spider-Man is the most compassionate of Marvel’s heroes, but the idea that he just can’t live with himself until he learns more about a random dead thug is silly.  And why is he going to Arthur Stacy for help?  He is a private detective, true, but wouldn’t Spidey’s sources on the police force be more help?  Then we have the laughably ridiculous investigation into Joey Z., which never gives any actual answers, but establishes that Joey had connections to almost every corner of the Marvel Universe.  If Mackie’s being intentionally absurd, fine, but most of the humor in these scenes is purely by accident.  Perhaps the issue could’ve told an actual story about Joey Z., instead of this half-comedy, half-street drama nonsense.  Spider-Man attempting to piece together the life of Joey Z. isn’t inherently a bad premise for a story, provided he has a decent motivation and there actually is something worth learning about Joey Z.  A one-shot story that takes the time to develop Joey Z. as a three-dimensional character, making the reader care about him in some way, would’ve at least been an effort to elevate him past the level of plot device.  Plus, I’d love to see John Romita, Jr. draw a mini-Scorsese movie as an issue of Spider-Man.

Another irritating aspect of the issue is the insane idea that Jill is going to learn more about Spider-Man by investigating Joey Z.  Spider-Man’s apparently the only character in the Marvel Universe with no previous ties to Joey Z., so what was she hoping to find?  Out of every character ever introduced in the history of these titles, why has she singled out Joey Z. as her source for information on Spider-Man?  Why is she suddenly risking her life to learn information she’s exhibited no interest in over the course of her numerous appearances?  

As I’ve said many times by now, Jill’s a blank slate of a character, which makes the attempts to shoehorn her into a love interest role even more painful.  Her allegedly poignant moments with Peter this issue just consist of them reenacting things he did with Gwen years earlier.  Jill has no identity of her own.  Ox even threatens to throw Jill off the bridge Gwen died on, an act that Spider-Man has to acknowledge would be too clich√©.  She’s Gwen’s cousin, and every aspect of her character always relates back to Gwen, even the dismal attempts to make her a romantic rival of MJ’s.  And who in their right mind thought the readers actually wanted a storyline teasing the possibility of Spider-Man cheating on his wife?  Every aspect of this story is just wrongheaded, and unfortunately, it’s merely foreshadowing what’s to come in the titles.

1 comment:

Comicbookrehab said...

It's as if Howard was writing his take on "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" without Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.

And one of the potentially greatest Spider-Man dialogues happens off-panel: did Spidey tell Jill about the "Snap!" or does he believe she died first from the shock of the fall?

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