6.16.2015

Spider-Man: 1984 (After Secret Wars)

SPIDER-MAN in the 1980s, pt. 6 of 12.



As we mentioned last time, Marvel's big '84 event was Secret Wars, which came out in January and ran for twelve issues. But the first issue came out with a May cover date, so today we'll be looking at all Spider-titles with May-to-December cover dates. All of these issues took place after the still-yet-to-be-published conclusion of Secret Wars, which for us just means:

1. NEW COSTUME


Spidey's old costume was irreparably damaged while Battleworlding, so he used what he thought was an alien fabric-mending machine at the heroes' home base. What happened instead was the machine spit out a ball of sentient alien symbiote, which grafted on to Peter as its host. 

Overriding a strong reaction from his spider-sense, he grows to love his new costume, particularly its ability to transform into theater-ready street clothes.

Also: no more carrying his camera and wallet around like some peasant - the costume stores these in non-dimensional-space, like a Bag of Holding.

The new costume has an aphrodisiac-effect on the Black Cat. Which makes sense since she only likes Spidey when he's in costume. I have several questions of shall-we-say an Alan Moore-ian nature about this aspect of their relationship, but they freaked me out when I started writing them. The water is deep - I think something big is swimming around down there. You go first, I'll keep watch.

Looks like they beat New 52 Batman and Catwoman to shameless rooftop bangin' by a good 27 years.
The costume begins to turn on its host - or perhaps the other way around.
When it starts to violate him in his sleep, Peter takes it to Reed Richards to examine. Whereupon it is discovered:

This is hardly the end of the alien costume saga. People liked the visual, for one, so Spidey sews himself up a non-alien version that he sometimes wears in the next few years, for no other reason than hey fuck you it's comics! And I'm cool with that. And of course, the alien itself finds a new host in Eddie Brock in 1988. 

All in due time.


2. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN 90 - 97
Written by Al Milgrom (90 - 97). Penciled by Al Milgrom and Jim Mooney (90 - 96), and Herb Trimpe (97). Annual #4 written by Bill Mantlo and Bob Denatale. Penciled by Sal Buscema, Kerry Gammill, and Ron Randall.

A lot happens in these issues. There's a new villain (The Answer), a Cloak and Dagger multi-parter, Silvermane coming back from the dead, and the Blob shutting down traffic and blubbering in the streets on New York. (Who's going to move him? Fade to black. I didn't screencap it, I'm afraid.) But mainly this stretch of issues belongs to Spidey and the Black Cat.

Another date night where I have a lot of questions. 
Spider-Man can't get over the fact that she got her powers from the Kingpin, and the Black Cat can't believe her boyfriend has to put up with JJJ's bullshit and, like, work and stuff. Classic love conundrum. They make a go of it for awhile, but ultimately it's not in the cards for Peter and Felicia.

Peter feels threatened by Felicia's superior photography skills. I can read between the lines.
Instead of going on a bender, Peter sublimates:
 

The annual is worth a mention. A former boyfriend of Aunt May's is released from prison and begins contacting her. 

Aunt May dated Mike Hammer? Seriously? Looks just like him. (Also in 1984)

To quote our friends at supermegamonkeymind, "After indulging in some nostalgia for awhile, she gently sends him packing. Simple enough, and not so bad, but still unnecessary.
Besides, the only thing we need to know about Aunt May that happened before Amazing Fantasy #15 is that she used to selfishly keep a mermaid prisoner."


Spidey reflects on his year.
 
3. MARVEL TEAM-UP 141 - 148
Written by Tom DeFalco and Jim Owsley (141), Cary Burkett (144, 146 - 148), David Michelinie (142 - 143), Tony Isabella (145). Penciled by Greg LaRocque (141 - 148), with Mike Esposito (142 - 143). Annual #7 written by Louise Simonson and Bob DeNatale; penciled by Paul Neary and David Mazzuchelli.


I hadn't thought about these issues since they originally came out. They're not bad. I wouldn't recommend you drop everything and go and read them, but they're fun. J.M. DeMatteis' presence is missed. David Michelinie makes an ominous appearance in the credits. More from him later in the series.


There are some highlights, though. I admire Burkett's attempt to create some plot throughlines - the multi-issue intrigue with the Black Abbott, for example, later murdered by Scourge and even later brought back to life. Comics. - while keeping the constant guest-star gimmick.

I love the flashback to Ditko-style memories with the Torch.

That "constant guest-star" gimmick made MTU occasionally feel like The Love Boat or Love, American Style, only for costumed super-types. But as with World's Finest or Brave and the Bold, it also allowed for some off-the-radar offbeat stuff.

4.  AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 252 - 259
Written by Tom DeFalco (252 - 259) with Roger Stern (252). Penciled by Ron Frenz (252, 255-259) with Brett Breeding (252), and Rick Leonardi (253 - 254).

The best stuff is as always showcased in ASM. I'm going to skip over a lot of what I loved at the time like the Red Ghost and his Super-Apes - who can resist Super-Apes? Not this guy. - or the Puma:


But after this brief interlude from the annual -

Notable for being scripted by Smilin' Stan Lee.
God bless the ever-loving crap out of you, Stan Lee.

let's just get back to:


As mentioned last time, Roger Stern didn't have the best working relationship with Danny Fingeroth, so he handed the title over to Tom DeFalco. DeFalco (who had been Roger's Spider-editor before) knew Stern wanted Roderick Kingsley to be the Hobgoblin. But he didn't like this. Neither do I. (Actually, Stern planned to have him be Roderick's evil twin brother - which I like even less - but it didn't quite turn out that way. At least at first. As always, I am ignoring everything that happened after 1990 in Marvel continuity, including Stern's later work with Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives, where he got his original wish.) DeFalco wanted him to be the Kingpin's son, Richard Fisk, aka The Rose.

The purple-masked chap on the left. How does he keep his glasses on?

Had DeFalco gotten his way, the panel above would have later been revealed as a misdirection. Or something. As we'll see down the road - it's all explored in Back Issue 35 if you want the full story now - DeFalco's career ended up taking a much different path. All that happened in '84 was that the Hobgoblin returned and partnered up with the Rose.



Ron Frenz was for the longest time my favorite Spider-Man artist. Even though I was regularly seeing Steve Ditko's work in Marvel Tales, I didn't quite grok at the time that Frenz was doing as much of a Ditko homage as he was. It still looks great, but I see it with different eyes in 2015. 

And for the record, the best Spider-artist is Jazzy John Romita, Sr. Not that you need me to tell you. Who else could it be? I can see Ditko getting the Neil Armstrong vote, but JRSR developed Ditko's work into the definitive version. Plenty of great artists have come down the Spidey pike, of course, not the least of which is Jazzy John's son, JR the junior, who re-defined Spidey's look for a new era starting in the mid-90s. But above them all and you can print this on currency is John Romita, Sr. 

5. PETER PARKER SOAP OPERA


Flash Thompson is a little like the Steve Sanders of the Spideyverse. The rest of the cast come and go, but Flash never leaves. Lots of Flash drama in this stretch of stories. His marriage to Sha-Shan (above) is troubled by a so-far-unrevealed dark secret. He tries to confide in Peter, but the sudden appearance of the Black Cat in Peter's bathroom forces Peter to shove Flash out the door. This rubs Flash the wrong way, and when he later sees Peter meeting with Sha Shan (ironically to discuss what might be wrong with Flash and how to help) he becomes convinced they're making a fool of him.

Enter - a meet-cute of sorts, although it's more a meet-again-while-fleeing-danger - Betty Leeds.
who just so happens to be alienated from her husband. AND she's "Puny Parker's" girlfriend from high school - a plan begins to formulate in Flash's mind...


Meanwhile, Peter's still on the outs with Aunt May over dropping out of college. And Nathan's attempt to patch things up is ruined when Spider-Man is late meeting them for lunch on account of fighting Jack O'Lantern.


And, of course, alien costume or not, Spider-Man still has to wash it.

and he still can't catch a break on the food in his fridge.

Peter barely has time to process breaking up with the Black Cat before Mary Jane drops a few bombshells on him: 

the biggest of which is she knows he is Spider-Man.
This slow burn of reintroducing Mary Jane has a big pay-off in the years to come.

Lastly, this cracked me up:


Peter is seen hammering boards over the window and wall the Puma demolished. But every issue establishes his busy-body landlady who's always pestering him:


Are we to believe Mrs. Muggins - who is depicted as something of a lush - is so besotted she's failed to notice this? If so, Peter's complaints about her are really overstated; the occasional harassment for house guests and late rent is a small price to play for an oblivious landlady. Especially when you're exiting and entering your apartment via bathroom skylight to lead your double life as a crimefighter. 

6. "NO PLACE TO RUN"

I wanted to end things by showcasing this offbeat little back-up from Marvel Team-Up Annual 7. Arthur Berman and his wife have moved to the burbs from Manhattan to get away from the super-powered shenanigans that made their lives a never-ending cauldron of life-threatening anxiety. But (Rod Serling voice) they are about to discover  there's 


In the years to come, this sort of "What life must really feel like if all of these stories were actually happening" tale would be told many times, from light-hearted takes on it such as Dwayne McDuffie's Damage Control to more substantial explorations like Alan Moore's and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen. This is just a little one-off at the end of a MTU annual, seemingly forgotten, hardly in the same league as Watchmen, of course. And yet it so simply and clearly reflects both Cold War anxiety (with Crimson Dynamo being one of the few overt Soviet threats in the Marvel Universe) and the widening self-consciousness that comics underwent in the 80s.

Mazzucchelli hit paydirt with his later collaborations with Frank Miller. Bob DeNatale ended up leaving comics by the end of the 80s and branching into butoh dance, music, and film. 

~
NEXT: The Year Doctor Emmett Brown Broke the Time Barrier!

5 comments:

  1. (1) I loved the black costume back then, and I still love it today. The original red suit was (and is) so great that there was never any need to redesign a new one for the character. But if you were going to do a new one, that black one is about as good a one as could have been done, I bet.

    (2) "The water is deep - I think something big is swimming around down there. You go first, I'll keep watch." No way, dude. Seems dangerous at best.

    (3) Good God. That DOES look just like Mike Hammer. How great is that?

    (4) My best guess regarding the purple-masked fella's glasses: magnets. Either that or sheer willpower.

    (5) I like that Black Panther / Crimson Dynamo stuff. I bet that played perfectly in 1984. By the way, a pretty good version of that type of superhero storytelling is "Marvels," which takes a street-view look at the Marvel Universe. A definite recommendation.

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    1. (1) Absolutely. I quit reading before Carnage, but I always thought that was a pretty cool costume, as well. But for the black one, there's a great character sheet by Mike Zeck out there somewhere, but I couldn't find a suitable picture of it. I could scan it in from my American Comic Book Chronicles: the 80s book, but that'd entail lugging it all the way to work. Heck to the no - that thing weighs a damn ton.

      (2) We'll just stay up here and let the younguns fish it out.

      (3) I'm glad you agree! I thought maybe it was my own projection after all the Mike Hammer blogs.

      (4) Both are reasonable. Question withdrawn.

      (5) Oh yeah, Marvels is pretty cool. I wasn't reading Marvel at the time, but I made time for that one, Earth X, and 1602. Those were my exceptions-to-the-rule for the 90s and most of the 00s.

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    2. I remember "Earth X" being a thing that seemed cool. Wasn't that around the time Marvel introduced (reintroduced...?????) The Sentry? I suspect there is plenty of good stuff I'm unfamiliar with. For example, I'm highly intrigued by this current Spider-Gwen thing; I know nothing about it except the title, but I love that.

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    3. Earth X the original mini-series was great fun for me. It was described by someone as "perfect if you prefer to think Marvel continuity ended around 1987." Hey, that's me! Well, maybe 90, 91 or so.

      It's my understanding that they did several sequels which didn't seem all that interesting to me. But I loved the first series.

      I love the Sentry, too - actually, I know nothing about the Sentry except I picked up the mini-series as a pos purchase because I liked the Silver Age throwback art. When I finally got home and read it, I really enjoyed it, but I have no idea how it fits into any other Marvel stuff.

      Spider-Gwen? First I've heard of it.

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    4. My understanding of Spider-Gwen -- which is admittedly based solely on hearsay -- is that it is set in a parallel universe in which it's Gwen who gets bitten by the spider and gains the powers, rather than Peter. Apparently she will be folded into the new continuity once this new Secret Wars thing is over. It's a cool idea, so I give it a thumbs-up and hope that it isn't in fact a big pile of suck.

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