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!

6.11.2015

Spider-Man: 1984 (Before Secret Wars)

SPIDER-MAN in the 1980s, pt. 5 of 12.


A lot was happening in 1984. Miami Vice, Transformers, Terminator, Born in the USA, Purple Rain, Madonna, you name it. In the comics world, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared, not that I had any idea of that at the time. My big comics event of '84 was:



I've seen some puzzling reviews of Secret Wars over the years. Here's one of them from The Comic Book Heroes by Jones and Jacobs: "No one could either love it or hate it." Really? Everyone I know either loves or hates it. Me, I love it - I don't have much choice; my ten year old self is sitting on my shoulders ready to Gone Girl me if I say any different. Not that I have to pretend; I sincerely think it's a fine piece of comics entertainment. Particularly for its time and place. More than its sequel (1985) or The New Universe (86-87) Secret Wars is Jim Shooter's crowning achievement as Marvel's ringmaster: ladies and gentlemen, the greatest show on Earth -- !


A proper overview is beyond my scope today. The only thing we need to know is that it was in Secret Wars that Spider-Man changed costumes.


"You mean I've been waiting since I was eight years old to draw Spider-Man and now he's got a new costume?" - Ron Frenz. (American Comic Book Chronicles: the 1980s by Keith Dallas.)

That happened in Secret Wars #8 (cover-date Dec), but the new costume first appeared in ASM #252 (cover date May), so readers had lived with it for awhile. In fact, by the time Spidey got the black costume in SW, he was already back in his old duds:


Four issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Marvel Team-Up were published with an '84 cover date before Secret Wars, and eight after. Today we'll look only at the former.

SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN 86 - 89
Written by Bill Mantlo. Penciled by Fred Hembeck (86) and Al Milgrom (86-89). 

Things start off with Assistant Editor's Month, a carefully planned event designed to appear as a spontaneous celebration of mayhem: Marvel's assistant editors unleashing havoc while their bosses were at San Diego Con. Spectacular Spider-Man readers were treated to this one-off from Fred Hembeck -

sort of a Matt Groening for the 80s Marvel bullpen.
But the above aside, Spidey's relationship with the Black Cat take center stage here.

Spidey begins to realize there might be trouble ahead when he shows her his apartment:

and her reaction to his revealing his identity is less than supportive.

His reservations about her only wanting the Spider-side of his life aside, what really sinks their relationship is her lack of super-powers. To rectify this, she goes around town seeking some way to power herself up. After being rejected by the likes of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, she eventually finds a mysterious benefactor who tells her to meet him at the laboratory of the late Harlan Stillwell. (The guy who created The Fly.) She gains her x-factor, at the cost of a favor owed (she discovers) to the Kingpin.

How all of this will play out is interrupted, of course, by Spidey's being whisked off to the edge of the universe for SW. So we'll save that for next time.



MARVEL TEAM-UP 137 - 140
Written by Mike Carlin (137) Tom DeFalco (138), Cary Burkett (139), Bill Mantlo and Tom DeFalco (140). Penciled by Greg LaRocque (137 - 138), Brian Postman (139), and Ron Frenz (140).

MTU celebrates Assistant Editor's Month by briefly making Aunt May the Herald of Galactus.

She hooks him on Hostess Cream Pies; hi-jinks ensue.

Guest-starring Aunt May, Franklin Richards, The Sandman (in his first role as a former criminal struggling to go straight - also features the re-appearance of The Enforcers, a gang of crooks from the early Lee/Ditko days), Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Daredevil.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 248 - 251
Written by Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco. Penciled by John Romita, Jr. (248 - 250) and Ron Frenz (251).

Things kick off with #248, which features the fondly remembered tear-jerker "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man."

Which we'll get to in a second, but let's look at the first story in the issue. Namely:
 

As a showcase for JRJR's burgeoning skill set - particularly with action set pieces - it's perfect. 

Plus, Thunderball was such an interesting contradiction - he was part of The Wrecking Crew, sort of a construction gang gone wild, but he had this Asgardian angle and often spoke in mustachioed super-villain-ese.

But the issue is remembered mainly for Spidey's visit to his biggest fan, Tim, a young boy in the leukemia ward. They look through Tim's scrapbook, and when Tim asks some hard questions, Peter answers by unmasking. 

Tim takes it a little more graciously than the Black Cat.

But the main focus of these pre-SW issues is the resolution of the first Hobgoblin storyline.

I love that "It's great! Steal it!" business.

The Hobgoblin takes another page from Norman Osborn's journals and learns how to disable Spidey's spider-sense with one of his gas bombs. He attempts to blackmail several people, including JJJ (for having a hand in creating one of The Scorpion, whom we'll be seeing more of in this year's ASM annual), but Spider-Man relentlessly pursues him. Finally, his lair - including the rest of Norman's journals - goes up in flames, and after a spirited battle van chase -

he and Spidey crash into the drink.

Great stuff. Roger Stern was in the process of leaving the title - he and new Spider-editor Danny Fingeroth didn't see eye to eye on things - but when Tom DeFalco (former Spider-editor and new executive editor to all Marvel titles, 2nd in Bullpen hierarchy to Shooter himself) took over as writer and more or less followed the gameplan Stern had created. With one important exception, as we'll see next time.

Fun fact - in the 80s, no one would have batted an eye at Peter Parker walking around in a midriff-bearing tank top and denim cut-off shorts.


As was the case in MTU and SSM, the last few pages of ASM 251 are dedicated to the SW lead-in:


MARVEL TALES #166

I had all the other Marvel Tales issues published this year, but for some reason this one has always stuck with me.


Re-reading it in 2015, I'm not exactly sure why. It's a rather standard affair. Not bad, but not especially mind-blowing for me. I did like the bits from Peter Parker's high school graduation and this final bit of melodrama with Liz.


QUESTPROBE #2


I never had any of these Questprobes. They were a joint venture between Marvel and Scott Adams' Adventure International. I remember their being hyped up in the Bullpen Bulletins a few times, but that's about it. It's all very primitive-looking to 2015 eyes, but on a different level of the tower, perhaps they're another generation's Oregon Trail.

The curious can watch a walkthrough here. I made it through 6 minutes.

~
NEXT: The rest of '84.