Monday, July 20, 2015

PETER PARKER, SPIDER-MAN Annual ’98 - October 1998

The Night They Killed Big Bear…It was in the Stars
Credits:  Jack Morelli (writer/ letters), Joyce Chin (penciler), Andy Lanning (inks), Christie Scheele (colors)

The Plot:  Disgraced former boxer Sam “Big Bear” Lincoln works as a janitor at the Hayden Planetarium.  He’s murdered by agents of the mobster Alphonse Scarpetti, who thinks Sam is going to reveal Scarpetti’s connection to an infamous murder.  Later, Bugle sports reporter Max Igoe attempts suicide.  Spider-Man saves his life and Max confesses he feels responsible for Sam’s murder after interviewing him for a book.  Before he died, Sam sent an audio tape to his friend MacKinley Stewart.  Scarpetti’s men ransack Mac’s apartment, stealing the tape and leaving Mac for dead.  Mac’s friend, Elektra, investigates the attack and soon encounters Spider-Man at Scarpetti’s home.  They leave with the audio tape, which gives them the clues needed to find evidence Sam left hidden at the planetarium.  While there, Spider-Man and Elektra are attacked by Scarpetti’s enforcer, the wraith-like Silencer.  Using magnetism from a broken meteorite, they defeat the Silencer and capture the evidence needed to put Scarpetti in prison.  Elektra is unable to enjoy the victory, however, after Mac dies from his injuries.

The Subplots:  None.

Web of Continuity:  Due to events of her solo series, Elektra is wanted on several counts of murder.  She claims the Kingpin framed her.

*See _________ For Details:  Mac is apparently Elektra’s love interest from her ‘90s series.  A footnote says he previously suffered major injuries in Elektra #19.

How Did This Get Published?:  One narrative description during the Silencer fight scene:  “From the inky black of himself, the grim phantom draws gleaming twin fighting blades…and the cruel storm whose foreboding approach they had sensed…erupts!”

"Huh?" Moment:  Spider-Man’s way of telling Max Igoe he isn’t a mind reader is to claim he isn’t Professor X.  Professor Xavier doesn’t have a public identity at this time, so Igoe wouldn’t have the slightest idea what Spider-Man’s referring to.

Review:  At the very least, you can’t accuse this story of being padded.  That’s not to say it’s convoluted either, there’s just a lot of material to take in over the course of thirty-eight pages.  Jack Morelli, a name I primarily recognize as the letterer of Mark Gruenwald’s Captain America run, seems excited to tell a noir story about a washed up boxer with ties to the mob, a story that somehow requires Spider-Man and Elektra be thrown into it.  Spider-Man’s connection through the Daily Bugle isn’t that much of a stretch, admittedly, but somehow Elektra has her love interest from her cancelled ongoing pulled into this affair.  Why isn’t immediately obvious, unless someone at Marvel was just adamant that the poor guy get killed off and this was the only comic available to do it.

Spider-Man has a long history of appearing in mobster stories, of course, so it’s easy to give Morelli the benefit of the doubt at the beginning of the issue.  It soon becomes clear, however, that Spider-Man’s not the star of this story, and since none of the generic goons are any kind of a threat to him, a supernatural menace has to be shoehorned in.  That’s the Silencer, a villain whose gimmick has already been taken by Cloak, the Shroud, and probably a dozen other characters.  He’s a needless distraction in a story that’s already packed, and every scene with him just drags.  Also holding the issue down is the unremitting narration, which seeks to remind us on each page just how hard-boiled this story is supposed to be.  A few of the lines are kind of clever, but the overall batting average is rather low.  This is a script in desperate need of some red ink.  

I’ll give it credit for being different, however.  The tone is a marked departure from the standard material being produced by the spider-office during these days, and there are a few glimpses of a solid idea in here.  Joyce Chin is also an interesting choice as penciler, given that her work at this time is oddly reminiscent of Liam Sharpe’s.  It’s hard to accept this as Spider-Man art, but her pencils fit the mood.  Generously, this could be written off as an experiment; one that doesn’t quite work, but isn’t a total loss either.


Anonymous said...

I enjoy the 1998 "team-up" theme for the annuals. (Avengers/Squadron Supreme, Captain America/Iron Man, and so on.) I don't know how they sold - they never repeated the experiment again - but the novelty of it at least set them apart in a period where annuals were struggling to prove they had a reason to exist. It was a call-back to the days of team-up comics - which were also filler, but fun filler.

Unknown said...

In regards to Mac's death I think that might have been the point. This is exactly the same thing they did with Danny Ketch's Ghost Rider in Spider-Man #93. In both cases a character whose series had just been cancelled popped up in the Spider-Man books and the appearance was used to restore their traditional status quo.

For Ghost Rider that meant a mysterious origin and being bound to Danny Ketch. For Elektra it's being a loner with romantic designs on Daredevil. By doing this they keep a consistent continuity and use a higher selling book to bring attention back to the character so their title can be relaunched.

I don't know that I'm right here. But if I am I much prefer this technique to modern Marvel just having the character appear with unexplained changes.

wwk5d said...

Wow, that art looks rough. Especially the cover...

Harry Sewalski said...

@Unknown: I see why you'd prefer it, but I think that it can be a bit of an issue for readers who weren't following the cancelled character/series. If I (hypothetically) was reading Spider-Man in the 90's and then read the Ghost Rider issue, why should I care if I'm not a fan of the character?

It's a bit of a mixed bag. If there's no resolution to a cancelled series, it means that when the character next appears, they're either inexplicably back to normal - as appears to be the case with Hercules in his upcoming series - or their subplots and changes need to be addressed, which drags down the series they're starring in for people who didn't read the cancelled series.

I know that a few years back when Hawkeye and Mockingbird - excellent series, in my opinion - was cancelled, Jim McCann got a few miniseries to write to tie up everything, though after the first I stopped picking them up. I think that it wasn't a bad solution, and if a series is cancelled before its subplots can be finished, doing a mini or even a one-shot to wrap things up wouldn't be a bad idea. Fans get at least some sort of resolution, although I suppose it'd have to be rushed, and people who aren't interested in the series don't have their own plots interrupted to wrap things up from another title.

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