SPIDER-MAN in the 1980s , pt. 10 of 12
Greetings, Spiderphiles. Do you like behind-the-scenes scuttlebutt and opinionated blathering of questionable importance, served up with a healthy side of screencaps? You came to the right place, true believer! Let's start with what came last.
1. I AM SPIDER
1987 wrapped up with this three-story crossover (Web 33, SSM 133, ASM 295) by Ann Nocenti and Cyndy Martin (and covers by Bill Sienkiewicz.)
I was confused as hell by this at the time. This time around, not so much confused as overwhelmed. The most compelling hook of the story - Spidey! Insane!
- is relegated to intermission music while a complex story about people we've never met before plays out over three issues. It's not a bad complex story about people we've never met before; it's just not really a Spider-Man story.
2. MARVEL BULLPEN SHAKE-UP
Only months after Owsley removed DeFalco and Frenz from ASM, he himself was removed as Spider-Man editor and replaced with Jim Salicrup (current Editor-in-Chief of Papercutz). Owsley remained with Marvel (and Spider-Man) as a freelance writer throughout '87 and beyond.
|A complicated situation to say the least:|
Frenz went over to Thor, with DeFalco as writer, but Asgard wasn't the only place DeFalco was going in '87.
When Cadence, the owners of Marvel since the late 60s, was liquidated in 1986, New World Pictures took over. I distinctly remember reading this in a Bullpen Bulletin in late '87 and doing a double-take: the guys who made Freddy Krueger now had Marvel? Plenty of my friends felt the same way. Imagine the movies we were going to get now! It didn't take long to be thoroughly disappointed. Bryan Singer's X-Men - arguably Marvel's first successful realization in a medium other than comics, cartoons, or videogames - was still many years away.
According to Jim Shooter - I just spent 15 minutes looking for the right blog entry to link to and couldn't find it; sorry, folks - he spent most of 1987 embroiled in whistleblowing the shenanigans of Cadence.
Shooter is a polarizing figure among both fans and professionals in the Bronze and Copper Age comics community. I'll leave it to others to triangulate the right perspective on his exit from Marvel - the end of the Shooter era as it impacts this series of posts is: here come a whole lot of fill-ins.
The post-Shooter era began when Tom DeFalco was promoted to Editor-in-Chief, and he would preside over some of Marvel's most profitable years.
Unfortunately, not in time to stop:
3. THE DEATH OF THE HOBGOBLIN
In previous posts, I've tried to sketch out both the as-it-happened-ness of the Hobgoblin story arc as well as the behind-the-scenes stuff (Stern intended the Hobgoblin to be Roderick Kingsley; DeFalco, Richard Fisk; Owsley, Ned Leeds (based on DeFalco's misdirection). This time around, the as-it-happened side of it is easy: it stunk. Literally no one was happy with either Amazing Spider-Man 289 (written by Peter David, penciled by Alan Kupperberg and Tom Morgan, and R.I.P., Alan Kupperberg) or Spider-Man vs. Wolverine, (written by Jim Owsley and penciled by Mark Bright), the two stories that tell the story.
Spider-Man vs. Wolverine happened first. Peter returns to his hotel room and finds Ned tied to a chair and killed in Berlin -
|where he and Wolverine are involved in intrigue. (In the Cold War, simply being in Berlin meant intrigue.)|
This was done while DeFalco and Frenz were still on ASM. Says Frenz (in Back Issue 35): "I can't speak to why he did it, but I can speak to the way he did it: he kept it a big secret until we felt screwed." Peter David was called in to write the other part of it, and he maintains that the way the Hobgoblin died (he's taken by surprise by a team of the Foreigner's mercenaries, some of the best-trained in the world) makes sense. I'll grant it makes sense - anything can happen; anyone can be surprised - but it's just awfully anti-climactic. Put another way, just because something technically is realistic doesn't make it the right storytelling choice.
Not that he had much latitude; he was brought into things only after the Hobgoblin was impetuously killed - "to piss off DeFalco" - by Owsley. "He even had him killed by some unnamed terrorists, because this is how much thought Owsley had put into it." David dressed up the corpse the best he could and gave it a decent burial.
|Peter is unaware that Ned is the Hobgoblin until ASM 289, when the Kingpin shares with him his intel.|
Almost immediately, Jason Macendale (the artist formerly known as Jack O'Lantern) takes over the Hobgoblin identity.
He was a poor substitute for the DeFalco/Frenz or Stern/JRJR character, but the Hobgob'o Lantern at least kept the brand alive. I looked forward to his appearances - it was better to see this version of the Hobgoblin than dwell on how the original version got so derailed.
Later, after I stopped reading Spidey, Stern came back to the title and retconned things to his original conception of the character (i.e. Roderick Kingsley). If you want to explore more on that, there's this here read from chasingamazing - great stuff. I don't know any of the 90s stuff except by reputation.
Let's have a look at how the Spider-titles fared all of this turmoil.
4. WEB OF SPIDER-MAN 22 - 33
Written by Len Kaminski (22) with David Michelinie (23 - 24) with Stefan Petrucha (26), Larry Leiber (25), Dwight Jon Zimmerman (27), Bob Layton (28), Jim Owsley (29 - 30), J.M. DeMatteis (31 - 32), and Ann Nocenti (33). Penciled by Mark Silvestri (22), Jim Fern (23), Del Barras (24), Larry Leiber (25), Tom Morgan (26), Dave Simons (27), Steve Geiger (28 - 30), Mike Zeck (31 - 32), and Cindy Martin (33).
Short answer: not too well.
There are some decent plots here and there and some cool covers (I picked my two non-Kraven's-Last-Hunt favorites above, by Beachum and Vess, l to r) but yeah, this is a fill-in year, and it shows. Considering the other stuff we have to look at, there's really not much point in detailing much beyond that understandable-but-disappointing fact.
I suppose you could say the same for the annual:
|which is not a story, just an Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe-style overview of Spidey's life with a focus on his lesser-seen foes.|
I often recommend the comics of my childhood (which included whatever reprints of 60s and 70s Marvel I could get my hands on) as good ways to get into a character. To that end, something like this would be great fun and very useful for the young Spider-fan seeking to know more. But the scene's so different now I wonder if there's even a point to recommending it? I realize I sound like a garden variety 40-year-old re: "back when things were real, man" but all I mean is that the Marvel I was reading in 1987 was still one big ongoing story since the 60s: no reboots, no retcons, just organic growth across the line. It made sense to be self-referential and to fill in even the most minute details of Spidey's past and every other Marvel character's, too; everything had a bearing on the present.
But once you start rebooting your universe, that sort of continuity-knowledge seems... well, pointless, or enjoyable only for its own sake. Until "Curator of Obsolete Comics Continuity" is a job, maybe it's more sensible to focus on broad strokes and/or individual stories or creators.
5. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN 122 - 133
Written by Peter David (122 - 123, 128 - 129), Roger Mackenzie (124), Danny Fingeroth (125 - 126), Len Kaminski (127), Bob Layton (130), J.M. DeMatteis (131 - 132), and Ann Nocenti (133). Penciled by Rich Buckler and Malcolm Davis (122), Dwayne Turner (123), Greg LaRocque (124), Jim Mooney (125), Alan Kupperberg (126 - 129), Jim Fern (130), Mike Zeck (131 - 132), and Cyndy Martin (133).
Pretty much the same story as Web:
|Not bad, but definitely a fill-in year.|
|This Lizard story from 127 is fun.|
The Black Cat returns in a triple-cross scenario for a few issues - when last we see her, she's on a cruise with the Foreigner, drink in hand, soaking up the sun.
Only Mary Jane sensed her true motives in trying to reconnect with Peter, but her concerns are written off as jealousy. Naturally.
6. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 284 - 295
Written by Jim Owsley (284 - 288) with Tom DeFalco (284 - 285), Peter David (289), David Michelinie (290 - 292), J.M. DeMatteis (293 - 294), and Ann Nocenti (295). Penciled by Ron Frenz (284), Alan Kupperberg (285 - 286, 288 - 289), Erik Larsen (287), John Romita, Jr. (290 - 291), Alex Saviuk (292), Mike Zeck (293 - 294), and Cyndy Martin (295).
The gang war... Spidey's 3rd or 4th in the 80s alone - remember the Owl/ Octopus war from a few posts back? Of course you don't; I don't, either, for eff's sake. Enough with the goddamn Gang Wars. This one spreads over 5 issues of ASM is probably a victim of the Owsley/DeFalco conflict. But even had it gone off as originally conceived, it's still overall repetitive, with Daredevil swooping in at the end to have the moral-conflict with Spidey via fisticuffs.
|It's mostly a re-tread of the Death of Jean DeWolff saga.|
|I appreciate the effort to make it an epic conclusion to the Hobgoblin saga -|
|but it doesn't quite happen.|
Extra points for tying it in (somewhat) to the aftermath of the Born Again storyline over in Daredevil, but it's still somewhat misguided. Richard Fisk (The Rose) is explored a bit in Web 30, which is a cross-over to these events. It's pretty good - mainly, though, I'm just a bit indifferent to the younger Fisk. YMMV.
Check out Spidey's threads - keep in mind, this in 1987:
|I love it.|
The soap opera angle this time around is rather minimized. Mainly because of the events in the next section.
|Speaking of, Peter's thought bubble here really cracks me up.|
Mainly, it's the big Flash/Betty wrap-up. (No mention of what happens to Sha-Shan, at least not yet. When last we saw her she was giving Betty Leeds the stink-eye at Flash's prison.)
I don't have much to say about any of this, so here are just some screencaps.
|Enlarge for strange posters.|
After Ned's death, Betty retreats into a world of denial, and she and Flash seem to end on a promising note. Time will tell.
|Peter and MJ finally decide to tie the knot.|
|Not without some initial complications...|
But they eventually work it out, and a date is set. The wedding takes place in the ASM annual (written by David Michelinie, penciled by Paul Ryan) and the honeymoon in SSM (written by Jim Owsley, penciled by Alan Kupperberg). The honeymoon one is meh, so I'm skipping it, but the ASM annual has some fun moments of pre-nuptial anxiety.
|And this dream sequence:|
Stan Lee envisioned a trifecta of media exposure, with the newspaper Sunday strip culminating in the wedding the same week the annual came out and a live staged wedding at Shea Stadium with all the major media outlets attending. But things got out of synch. Here's Jim Shooter:
"The bulk of the work on that issue was done during my final days at Marvel, during which my attention was elsewhere, and, for that matter, I was elsewhere quite a bit. (...) The deal was signed in January of 1987. I was usually either upstairs, waging war against Marvel’s corrupt top management people who had been kept in place after the sale, or out in L.A. meeting with New World Pictures principals Harry Sloan and Larry Kupin, and CEO Bob Rehme, working to help forge a positive future for Marvel Comics under the new regime, and oh, by the way, one that included me."
The whole story is fun and more blah blah here. Including video footage of the actual wedding itself.
In a year where the Hobgoblin dies and Spider-Man gets married, it says something that the most memorable story came out after them. Namely:
9. KRAVEN'S LAST HUNT
Web 31-32, ASM 293-294, SSM 131-132.
Kraven was never one of Spider-Man's A-list foes. Says Mike Zeck (who drew Spidey's black and white costume better than anyone) from that Back Issue I keep quoting: "I think readers and authors alike pretty much dismissed Kraven as just some clownish lower-tier bad guy who would just reappear with the same shtick from time to time. I was floored when I read the "Last Hunt" plot and found at last an totally defined and respected character in Kraven."
Hear, hear. The story was something J.M. DeMatteis had come up with for an unused Batman story, and he modified it to fit the character of Kraven upon learning Kraven was Russian.
JMD: "For me, a total Dostoevsky fanatic, the idea that Kraven was Russian and had the same tortured, Russian soul that the great Dostoevsky characters had, unlocked this door in my head and suddenly I had a new understanding of the character."
I feel kind of bad that I focus so much on J.M. DeMatteis' 80s work. The man's got so much more on his c.v. One of these days, I really have to catch up on all his New 52 stuff. Until then, I'm happy to shine the occasional lantern on some of his Marvel work. Between Defenders, Cap, and JLI, and this, he was one of the most impactful writers of his generation for me personally.
This story fits into its era quite well. Actually, almost too well - it's a bit like opening an unsealed tomb from 1987. Taking a well-established character and adding dark layers to him was very much of the era, as was the style of narration DeMatteis and Zeck employ here, with the captions approximating multiple states of mind.
|Some of it ages better than others, but overall, this is still a powerful story and remains the definitive Kraven story of all time.|
|Visual puns/ transitions: also very much in the air in '87.|
Much has been made of the darkness of the story (a recap for the uninitiated: Kraven finally succeeds in beating Spider-Man. He drugs him and buries him alive. He assumes his identity and beats a bloody, tortured swath around town, even rescuing Mary Jane from would-be attackers at one point. Meanwhile, Vermin is on a killing spree. All the plots threads converge when Spidey re-awakens...) Was it just the darkness of the era? Here's more from JMD:
"I was in the middle of a divorce, (...) the darkest, most painful period of my life. The darkness in that story, and also the struggling for the light that Peter Parker does in the context of the story, had nothing to do with Dark Knight or Swamp Thing or Watchmen. (...) It was me, expressing through the metaphor for the superhero story what I was going through in my life. I felt as buried alive as Peter Parker. I felt as insane as Kraven. And I felt as much a dweller in the darkness and the sewers as Vermin."
"His whole obsession with Spider-Man was a reflection of his mental illness. His last line before (the resolution) was 'They said my mother was insane.' But (the resolution) was not an act of honor. That was an act of insanity."
Love that "They said my mother was insane" bit. So cinematic. I decided not to screencap it and keep it somewhat ambiguous because if by some strangeway you don't know how it all ends, you'll enjoy discovering it for yourself.
|"The story is primarily about Peter Parker and his journey into the light and the power of simple human love. The reason Peter makes it out is because he has Mary Jane in his life, and that is his salvation."|
NEXT: 70s Spidey super-scribe Gerry Conway returns! And the debut of some guy named McFarlane... everything changes.