7.07.2015

Spider-Man: 1985

SPIDER-MAN in the 1980s , pt. 7 of 12.


Wow, 1985 already? The year Dr. Emmett Brown invented time travel? The year the Goonies found the treasure of One-Eyed Willy? Secret Wars II and Live Aid and glasnost? And Crisis? (Can't forget Crisis - though it was off my Marvel-Zombie radar at the time.)

My apologies for the delay in getting this together for you. It's been a busy few weeks here in the far future of 2015.


1. MARVEL TEAM-UP 149 - 150
Written by Louise Simonson (149-150). Penciled by Brett Blevins (149) and Greg LaRocque (150). 

GUEST STARS:  Cannonball, the X-Men. 


Marvel pulled the plug on MTU in 1985. (Cover date, that is - you know the drill.) These last two issues are fine - Cannonball is written in the customary-for-its-time Wal-Mart Southern dialect a la Rogue or whomever else: "Ah'd get lost for sure if ah rode the subway!" he thought balloons to himself at one point. "Ah'm halfway there already, but man! Mah city shoes are killin' me!" Ugh. 

And Juggernaut returns from his two-parter-fight with Spidey (see 1982) for a re-match.

Marvel Team-Up was a big part of "my" Marvel, even though I only read it actively for a handful of years. But it (and Marvel Two-in-One) filled in much of the Marvel map for me that I wouldn't have seen otherwise, so I'll always see them through that lens. That said, it ended its run in more workmanlike fashion than epic finish. Perfectly fine comic-book-ing and all, but so it goes.


"- and love story -?" That jumped out at me. Because, what?

2. WEB OF SPIDER-MAN 1 - 9
Written by Louise Simonson (1 -3), Danny Fingeroth (4 - 6), Peter David (7), and David Michelinie (8 - 9). Penciled by Greg LaRocque (1 -4), Jim Mooney (5), Mike Harris (6), Sal Buscema (7), and Geoff Isherwood (8 - 9). ANNUAL written by Ann Nocenti and penciled by Tony Salmons. 

A good, offbeat tale. (Nice overview here.)

Jim Owsley, who now goes by the name Christopher Priest, explains how he came to be editor of the Spider-line:

"Within days of my promotion, Shooter called a meeting to divvy up the Marvel line and figure out what I would be doing. The new kid on the block usually gets licensed books, like The Transformers and The Dazzler and so forth. But nobody wanted Spider-Man. Everyone was happy doing their thing: the X-people wanted to stay X-people. Roger Stern was happy with the Avengers, Mike Carlin had Fantastic Four, among other things. (...) As the new kid, I absolutely should not have been given Spider-Man, the corporate high-profile franchise, but Shooter ultimately found himself in the position of either having to force somebody to take the line, or give it to the new kid.

"I am told the thinking was that I couldn't do any harm. The books were all being written by veteran Marvel staffers: Executive Editor DeFalco on Amazing, Editor Al Milgrom on Spectacular, and X-Men editor Louise Jones (now Simonson) on Web, soon to be replaced by exiting Spider-Man editor Danny Fingeroth. With these pros solidly in place, all I had to do was play traffic cop. And, had I done that, I'd probably still be at Marvel today. (...) Saddling me with several beloved staffers as creative talent on books that constituted over two million dollars of Marvel's bottom line was a very bad idea."

We'll get to that more next time, but as per usual I had no idea about any of this behind-the-scenes stuff at the time. What I did notice was a dramatic shift in visual design. Which was apparently Owsley's main contribution (well, positive contribution, though he's perhaps too hard on himself, above) to the Spider-titles, as he notes elsewhere: "fabulous covers by top artists of the day." 


I associated all of this only with Web, though I can see now with the benefit of hindsight that it was part of a tripartite editorial decision for each series to get a bold new look: bringing in Mark Beachum, eventually, to Spectacular, and Frenz/Rubenstein's Ditko pastiche on Amazing. On Web, it amounted to veteran inker Jim Mooney becoming penciler, and Greg LaRocque, whose pencils Mooney had previously been inking, becoming inker. 


The new combo worked quite well for Web, for my money, but as you can see from the credits-roll above, it didn't last long. Web took a little time to find its groove.

2a. ALIEN COSTUME


If Web #1 is a love story, as advertised at the end of MTU, it's only on account of its last few panels. Before we get there, though, let's recap a little:

1. Spider-Man gets a new costume on Battleworld in Secret Wars.
2. Mr. Fantastic tells Spidey his new costume is actually an alien symbiote.
3. After being confined at the Baxter Building for awhile, it escapes -
and hungers for revenge.

In Web #1, after making its way into Peter's closet in other titles, it attacks Spidey, and they flail around like Ash with his hand in Evil Dead 2, just while swinging from webs between skyscrapers. 


Remembering how Reed Richards was able to force the costume off of his body by blasting it with sound, Peter takes himself to a bell tower. 

It works, but he falls unconscious from the attempt.
"The alien costume is intelligent. It has learned to feel."
FEELINGS.

Outside of spending some quality time with Peter in his tighty-whities, I didn't quite get a "love story" vibe from this issue. Sure, it saves him, but is that all it takes to be a love story? Regardless, subsequent events with the costume - not to mention subsequent expansion of the symbiote race in general, primarily by Brian Michael Bendis - demonstrate that the honeymoon doesn't last.


2b. NIGHTMARE

My favorite issue of this first year of Web's existence is this dream-sequence gem by Peter David and Sal Buscema.


Peter has a dream where - 

among other things -

he is relentlessly pursued by the Hulk. It turns out that it is actually classic Doctor Strange villain Nightmare who is being pursued, and he has called out to Peter for help. Which Peter provides, until the very end, when Nightmare decides Peter's too good an assistant to let go.



But, with some more help from the Hulk's rampaging dream-consciousness, let go he does, and Peter wakes up at issue's end, no worse for the wear.

NERD ALERT: From our friends at supermegamonkeymind: "Nightmare tells Spider-Man that 'thanks to that cursed Earth magician Strange, I'm being pursued by a dream manifestation of Bruce Banner's sleeping mind'... except Banner's persona doesn't exist anymore, due to the events of Hulk #299."

It's true. Hulk #299 came out almost a year before Web #7. Dream-privilege works as an affirmative defense, but I chuckled at even pointing it out. That's the sort of thing I miss about letter's pages. 

3. PETER PARKER SOAP OPERA

For God's sake - do not arm the innocent.

3a. THE AGONIZINGLY DRAWN-OUT BREAK-UP OF THE BLACK CAT AND SPIDER-MAN

Okay, this really has been going on for far too long.

The Kingpin agrees.
They finally pull the trigger on splitting up in '85, though of course Felicia Hardy will be around for years to come, right on down to the present.
 (I assume.)


3b. THAT CAD FLASH THOMPSON



Not much changes with Flash. He and Betty are still circling one another, he's still hiding his trying to play pro football from Sha Shan, and he still thinks Peter and Sha-Shan have something going on.

3c. SPIDER-MAN'S LAUNDRY WOES CONTINUE



3d. NEW NEIGHBORS

The ongoing wacky-neighbor subplots play out in the form of three nymphettes - Candi, Randi, and Bambi - who are always sunbathing or partying up on the roof when Spidey needs to use the skylight-entrance / exit to his apartment.


MADAM! I'M OFFENDED BY YOUR QUESTION.
I, uhm... hrrm.

There's a bit of visual inconsistency with these ladies. Here they are at the end of the aforementioned "Nightmare" story:


I mean, you'd be forgiven for thinking the three panels above depict entirely different people.


4. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN 98 - 109
Written by Al Milgrom (98 - 100), Cary Burkett (101 -  102), Peter David (103 , 105 - 109), and Bill Mantlo (104). Penciled by Herb Trimpe (98 - 99), Al Milgrom (100), Juan Alcantara (101), Larry Leiber (102), Vince Giarrano (104), Luke McDonnell (105 - 106), and Rich Buckler (103, 107 -109). 
ANNUAL written by Peter David and penciled by Mark Beachum.


Prince was so huge in the mid-80s. Not that this is Prince, I'm just saying - anyone who picked this up at the time knew exactly what the score was.

The annual introduces "Ace," who will return for another annual in 1986. He's a gang leader who somehow out-fisticuffs Spidey.

Sure he's revealed to be a mutant. But it's a little ridiculous.

4a. THE DEATH OF JEAN DeWOLFF



Al Milgrom was gently nudged off the title - leading to alienation between Owsley and Milgrom for years to come - and eventually replaced by Peter David, who hit paydirt with the explosive Death of Jean DeWolff saga at year's end. This was a harbinger of the more violent and gritty stories that would be routine across Marvel and DC within the next few years.


At the time, though, this was explosive, cutting-edge stuff.

The Sin Eater (the chap with the shotgun) is basically just that: a dude with a shotgun. And plenty of issues. He was inspired by the identically-named character in The Incredible Journey of Dr. Meg Laurel with Lindsay Wagner. Peter David has said he wanted to do a "Spidey meets Hill St. Blues" sort of story, and this fit in well with Owsley's attempt to make SSM a home for more "grown-up" sort of stories. Owsley also wanted to shake things up and gave David the directive to kill Captain Jean DeWolff, known to fans as Spidey's only ally in the police force.


This is Betty Brant, not Jean DeWolff -
hell of a cliffhanger, tho. (From #109) We'll see how it ends next time. (Hint: Betty's probably not dead.)

I don't think anyone at the time (or since) was a huge Jean DeWolff fan. She was a safe character to knock off - familiar but not wildly popular. But it was a definite shock, if only for the over-the-top manner with which she - and every other victim of the Sin-Eater's - was dispatched. I'm glad it wasn't Robbie or JJJ or Aunt May or anyone longer-established. Reading all of these issues for this series, I came to like the Captain more than I ever had previously. Her unrequited love for Spidey gave her a little vulnerability, and she was a useful ally. I felt her loss a little more keenly in 2015 than I did 30 years ago. 


4b. THE SPOT

Before Al was removed from the book he did a few issues with this character he created, The Spot:


Probably the most overtly Ditko-visual-esque character this side of the unfortunately-named Speedball.

Worth a mention - he's not the most brilliantly-written or conceived character around or anything, I just liked the over-the-top Steve-Ditko-ness of it all. He appears to still be around, as well.

Owsley's instincts were probably right in removing Milgrom from SSM. His work was dragging. I have a lot of respect for Al as an editor, inker, and just as a comics professional, but if I'm being honest, neither his pencils nor his storytelling ever really did anything for me.




5. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 260 - 271
Written by Tom DeFalco (260 - 261, 263, 265, 268 - 271), Bob Layton (262), Craig Anderson (264), and Peter David (266 - 267). Penciled by Ron Frenz (260 - 261, 263, 265, 268 - 271), Bob Layton (262), Paty (264), Sal Buscema (265), and Bob MacLeod (267).


ANNUAL written by Louise Simonson. Penciled by Mary Wilshire.

What can we ascertain from the credits roll? Shouldn't that read 260 - 271 written by DeFalco and penciled by Frenz? They were the main creative team on the flagship title, but apparently, DeFalco, who was known as something of a wizard in keeping everyone else on-time at Marvel, kept running late, necessitating a lot of fill-in issues. 


Some of which are up to par with the regularly-scheduled programming. Like this one, where Spidey has to web-swing out to Queens, only to realize you can't really web-swing in Queens.

From the way Owsley tells it (and is attested to elsewhere) a fill-in gig seemed like crunch-deadline work but fun. Let's say you're a freelancer with a good working relationship with Marvel who lives in upstate New York or Maine or wherever. Imagine getting the call from Spider-Man's editor - our normal guys are running late; want to come down to NYC on our nickel? We'll set you up at the Tuscany on E. 39th or everyone's gone for the weekend so you can use any office you want in the Bullpen.

Uhm. Yes, please.
#267 also has some fun Human Torch/ Spidey interplay. As always, I love when they run into each other. I hope eventually Sony and Disney reach an agreement and make a Spidey/ Torch buddy comedy. Even if the characters in question end up being played by Malia and Sasha Obama. (Maybe even especially.)

5a. AUNT MAY

No.

5b. FROGMAN and SPIDER-KID

You remember the kid who idolized Doc Ock and raided the town for comics and candy? He's back, though slightly different.



Also, remember Frog-Man? Or Leapfrog, whatever his name was? He's back, too.


They end up fighting (with the Toad) over the right to be Spider-Man's friend.


Leading to the formation of a new super-group:

"The Spastic Three!" That is something else. Simpler times. Anyway, they can't all be first round picks. This is actually kind of a fun little story, as goofy as it is.

But as has been the case for the past few entries, all other events in Spidey's life are overshadowed by...


5c. THE HOBGOBLIN


Another awesome chapter of the Hobgoblin saga. He's hooked up with the Rose to take over all gambling in the city (which sets up next year's Yet-Another-Gang-War with the Kingpin), and he hunts for the last of Norman Osborn's journals. (His copies were all destroyed while battling Spider-Man, if you recall.) That's what leads him to check in on Harry, in the panels above.

DeFalco clearly enjoyed teasing the readers with the Hobgoblin's secret identity. The top two prospects are conspicuously mentioned here:

1) Ned Leeds.
2) Lance Bannon.
Nice segue.

Quick re-cap: Roger Stern, the character's creator, intended the Hobgoblin to be Roderick Kingsley, or his evil twin. When DeFalco took over the title, he decided he wanted the villain's secret identity to actually be Richard Fisk, aka the Rose. 

Kinda makes this whole Hobgoblin/ Rose partnership difficult to square, doesn't it? But apparently DeFalco had a plan to throw readers off track and make it all make sense, he just never got to implement it, as we'll see next time.

When Owsley took over as editor, he demanded to know who the Hobgoblin was. DeFalco didn't want to tell him (there is some dispute as to how many other people were in the room at the time) so he said "Ned Leeds," to throw him off. Problem was, Owsley thought this was for real, and this caused many complications down the line, the most immediate being that he'd edit out all the "superfluous" scenes with Richard Fisk that DeFalco kept adding to every issue. 

Like Stern before him, DeFalco was thwarted by his own cleverness in setting up a phony trail of clues.
DeFalco was/is very much a Bronze/ Copper Age writer. as evidenced by the dialogue he put in the Hobgoblin's mouth.
Fun times.
I love when Spidey wraps things up. And I never tire of spectral memories taking shape and hovering over the background skyline. (Either in Spidey or in real-life.)

The last three issues of cover-date-1985 are worth a mention:

In 269 - 270, Spidey takes on Firelord - and wins. (Man did this piss people off at the time! A herald of Galactus? Beaten by our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? Blasphemy!) And this nice Crusher Hogan story from 271, asking and answering a question no one really posed.
  
~

NEXT: 1986 - the decade's most explosive year for the industry, though not necessarily for Peter Parker. See you then, Spider-friend. And as always, keep your web-shooters clean and your Spider-duds cleaner.


4 comments:

  1. (1) I love all of those "Web of Spider-Man" covers. That series was introduced at the height of my adolescent comic-book phase, and I probably had more issues of that than any other title. Probably eight or nine issues...! Including most of the ones covered here, although I missed that rad-sounding Hulk-dream-sequence issue.

    (2) I'd think arming the innocent would be mostly a good idea, in case they need to defend themselves against The Prowler or Puma or whoever, but I guess I can see Spidey's logic.

    (3) "...to 'thump' her." -- I see what they did there. Bless 'em.

    (4) I wish they had somehow gotten the rights just to have that BE Prince. I bet he'd've been down for it, too. Shoots energy blasts out the end of his guitar or whatever. That'd've been terrific! He'd drive a Red Corvette when he wasn't using his Purple Rain motorcycle. Ah, I'm freaking myself out with how awesome that could have been.

    (5) I only ever had the middle two issues of that Sin Eater arc, but I recently acquired copies of the bookend issues. Looking forward to giving them all a read one of these days. Interesting to see that those were written by Peter David; between his Star Trek novels and his work on the Dark Tower comics, I've ended up reading quite a lot of work by him. And apparently that started even sooner than I'd thought!

    (6) That panel of a dejected Spidey-Man at a bus stop is glorious. You don't get that sort of gold at DC, nosir.

    (7) Didja hear the news that Aunt May will be played in the new movie by Marisa Tomei? I can understand why the film versions are steering clear of the white-haired-old-lady version of the character, but for me, that's really the only Aunt May my mind fully accepts. But I like Marisa Tomei, so she's okay by me.

    (8) LOVE that cover to Amazing #263.

    (9) "The All Wiener Squad"!!!!! Gold.

    (10) I keep hoping I'll see some spectral memories in the skyline, and it keeps not happening. Maybe the skyline of Tuscaloosa isn't conducive to it.

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    1. (4) (6) and (8) Agreed 1000%. Especially 4. I doubt His Purple Majesty would've allowed it, but it would've been insanely great.

      (7) I did. Made me feel pretty damn old! But a younger Aunt May is an investment, I guess, if they're going to keep her in the franchise for a few years. I thought Sally Field and Martin Sheen were the best-cast Aunt May and Uncle Ben yet.

      (7.5) It still blows my mind that they're rebooting the damn thing so soon. Two movies with Andrew Garfield and that's it? Sheesh. I thought he was a pretty good Peter Parker, myself. Tobey, too, sure. Ah well.

      Glad you enjoyed/ are enjoying these. I always get to a point with these decade-crawls where suddenly the task I jumped into so enthusiastically seems to stretch ahead of me forever. But, I'm over the hump. 1986 will be two parts, most immediately, and then the end is in sight, more or less. Or at least closer.

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    2. I definitely understand the downside of blog-overreach. I'm sure these posts have been hard work to pull together, but they read effortlessly -- keep 'em coming!

      I thought the core casting on the two recent Spider-Man movies was excellent. The movies, for me, did not in any way live up to that casting. I was okay with the first one, but I thought the second one was awful. I'm confident Marvel can do better.

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  2. Not living up to the casting is a perfect way to put it. Exactly!

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