Friday, May 15, 2015

SPIDER-MAN: MADE MEN - August 1998

Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), Norman Felchle (art), John Kalisz & Digital Chameleon (colors), Comicraft’s Liz Agraphiotis (letters)

The Plot:  Ben Urich writes a novel on New York’s underworld.  He tells the story of Paul Falcone and Tommy Kavanagh, two childhood friends who took different paths.  As an adult, Paul becomes an undercover FBI agent while Tommy attempts to gain influence with the local mobsters.  When Kingpin returns to town, Tommy seizes the opportunity to join his side.  Kingpin’s return sparks a gang war between the Rose, Fortunato, Silvermane, and Hammerhead.  Paul’s undercover work uncovers a plan to wipe out the Kingpin and his men, but his bosses refuse to act.  Paul quits the FBI and races to the Kingpin’s skyscraper.  The hitmen sent by Fortunato are stopped, but Kingpin demands Tommy prove his loyalty and kill his friend Paul.  Tommy shoots Paul, but the Kingpin fatally punishes him for hesitating.  An injured Paul stays with Tommy as he takes his final breath.  Kingpin exits to meet with Norman Osborn, who strikes a temporary truce with him.  Ben Urich finishes his novel, but decides to hide it in a locked drawer.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  
  • Ben Urich describes himself as a “cub reporter” at the time Hammerhead gained his adamantium skull from Jonas Harrow.  This doesn’t seem to work within continuity, since Ben is clearly well into middle age.  According to Ben, his mentor, Frank Milner (yes, Frank Milner) was killed by Hammerhead after becoming too invested in a story.
  • Kingpin’s skyscraper is now in ruins, which is apparently a reference to another gang war story written by Howard Mackie during the Kingpin’s exile.
  • Joey Z. is established as Fortunato’s former driver.  Paul, Fortunato’s nephew, has taken the job as a part of his undercover assignment.

Production Note:  This is a bookshelf format one-shot with no ads, priced at $5.99.

Review:  There was a segment of fandom that used to argue that Howard Mackie wasn’t necessarily a bad writer, he just happened to be better at crime stories than superhero stories.  Made Men is a crime story and…it’s not necessarily bad.  Even if it’s filled with mob movie clichés, Made Men is at the very least competently executed, something that can’t be said for the average issue of Peter Parker, Spider-Man lately.  This was Marvel’s attempt, pre-Quesada, to do a darker, “grounded” story that downplays the superhero elements in favor of the established underworld of the Marvel Universe.  The one-shot can’t make it to the end without a few superhero cameos (they appear on a double-page splash, fighting against the mob violence in front of the Kingpin’s skyscraper), but ultimately this is a story about “the neighborhood” and the lives impacted by mob violence.  It’s a Marvel attempt to do Sin City, without the excessive violence or bizarre humor, right down to Norman Felchle’s Frank Miller riff (never mind that it more closely resembles Scott McDaniel’s Daredevil art.)  I’m sure some would argue that it’s not “true” noir, whatever that means, but Mackie captures the appropriate mood and structures a story that’s far more coherent than his typical superhero work.  My preference for the big Kingpin comeback story would be for it to be a story about the Kingpin, however.  He’s a far more interesting character than any of the other mob bosses used to replace him, and if Mackie truly does have a knack for crime stories, I think his efforts would’ve been better suited focusing on Marvel’s real crime boss and not the various pretenders.

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