Wednesday 15 September 2010

Spectacular Spider-Man #2. The Goblin Lives

(Cover from November 1968.)

"The Goblin Lives!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by John Romita/Jim Mooney.
Inked by Frank Giacoia.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.

OK, so the big news I’ve been trumpeting about the site isn’t that big at all but it does mean the one glaring omission from its pages is finally filled as I’ve managed to get my hands on the one comic I hadn’t reviewed but always knew I needed to.

Long before the launch of 1976’s Spectacular Spider-Man, there was another comic of that title. Launched in 1968, it was one of Stan Lee’s early forays into larger format comics aimed at a slightly older (and wealthier) age group.

As it only lasted two issues, we have to conclude the world wasn’t yet ready for larger format comics aimed at a slightly older and wealthier age group. Still, no good deed is wasted. The story from issue #1 was recycled to create Amazing Spider-Man #116-118, and the second at least gave us the return of Spider-Man’s deadliest foe.

Spectacular Spider-Man #2 gives us a mammoth fifty-eight page epic as the Green Goblin makes his first comeback since his memory loss.

Attending a George Stacy slide show about the Green Goblin, Norman Osborn starts to get distinctly uncomfortable.

Then he gets sweaty.

Then he gets unconscious.

Next thing you know, his memories stirred, he’s back in full-on psycho mode and out to get his revenge on everyone’s favourite web-slinger.

For me, the tale has three highlights. The first being the scene where Norman Osborn’s tormented by his own half-memories, in hospital, before suddenly realising he’s the Goblin. You can practically hear thunder and lightning crashing around you as he suddenly sits bolt upright in bed, the Goblin's image looming maniacally behind him.

Second highlight’s the dinner party Osborn then throws, at which he taunts and teases Peter Parker in front of his closest friends. I seem to remember the scene being recycled in the original Spider-Man movie but this does it better, as Osborn seethes, scowls and leers his way through it. His insanity virtually a physical force thrusting itself out of the pages at you.

The third highlight’s the one that lets us know the strip’s well and truly arrived in the late 1960s, by having the Goblin use a psychedelic pumpkin on our hero. This sequence is terrific as Spider-Man’s tormented by visions of the Goblin, monsters, his own friends and finally gigantic versions of his main enemies. The double-page spread Romita and Mooney gives us here’s a wonder to behold and reminds us of Romita's mastery of the art of visual story-telling.

But what can be a threat can be a salvation as it gives Spider-Man a solution to the problem of how to get rid of the Goblin without killing Norman Osborn.

Turning the tables, Spidey uses a psychedelic pumpkin on its creator, reasoning that inflicting such a device on a mind with an already weakened grip on the cliff-face of sanity will send it plummeting and force Osborn to return to normal. It’s strong stuff, both visually and spiritually. Had any super-hero ever before set out to defeat a foe by snapping his mind?

This story’s fab. Unlike the Richard Raleigh tale, which was pretty routine, it’s like a pure distillation of all that made Spider-Man tales of this era great, with Peter Parker’s personal and heroic lives so hopelessly entangled on every level. I don’t know if it’s the best Spider-Man tale of its era but it’s certainly one of them and, perhaps as much as any other tale, it captures the very essence of what Spider-Man was about in those days. It’s also something of a tour de force by Romita and Mooney who, given the larger format, really do seem to have been inspired to give their all.

Great Thought Balloons Of Our Time: "How can I subject this gorgeous creature to the Green Goblin?" (Peter Parker, of Gwen Stacy.)

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #5. Man-Thing and the Lizard

(Cover from July 1975.)

"Beware The Path Of The Monster!"

Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Ross Andru.
Inked by Mike Esposito/Dave Hunt (Hunt uncredited).
Letters by Arty Simek.
Colours by Petra Goldberg.

Curt Connors really is a wally. Leaving aside the fact that, in this tale, he and writer Gerry Conway both seem to have forgotten that his surname's spelt "Connors" and not "Conners", he's merrily experimenting with a gas that could turn him into the Lizard, when, surprise surprise, he knocks over its container and promptly grows an arm, a tail and more scales than a tank-full of goldfish.

Still, it's an ill wind, and at least it gives him a chance to make another bid for taking over the world.

As part of that plan, he decides to use his control of swamp creatures to control the Man-Thing.

Sadly for him, Manny's not as easily controllable as he expected and the rapacious reptile and the muck monster end up fighting, as Spider-Man does battle with alligators and snakes, before it's all sorted out by a failed businessman who does the usual necessaries with Dr Connors' antidote.

The failed businessman, gone down to the swamp to kill himself, actually feels like the least Conway part of the tale and seems to be an attempt by him to import a bit of the feel of the Man-Thing's own comic, with someone blundering into the swamp in need of salvation and finding it through an encounter with the monster and other strange beings. The truth is the move doesn't really work because, for it to do so, the story would've needed to centre around him and and his problems and back-story but, this being a Spider-Man tale, he's too much on the sidelines for that to happen, and so his subplot feels like a bolted-on extra rather than a central plank of the tale.

Interesting that, unlike the other Giant-Size Spider-Mans, this tale ties in with the continuity of the monthly titles, with Peter Parker spending time with the newly resurrected Gwen Stacy. I assume the powers-that-be felt the return of Gwen Stacy from the dead was simply too big a story to be ignored.

And that's it. I've finished again. As far as I can make out, that's every annual and special published in the appropriate time-period reviewed. As far as I can make out, the only things left are the two 1960s Spectacular Spider-Mans. As I don't have a copy of either of them and they aren't in the Essential Spider-Mans and I refuse to read comics off a screen, it looks like I'm going to have to wait till I can get my hands on copies of them before I can offer my long-awaited (by me) opinions. Given my usual levels of poverty, this could take some time but at least it gives me something to look forward to.

Saturday 26 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #3. Doc Savage

(Cover from January 1975.)

"The Yesterday Connection!"

Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Ross Andru.
Inked by Mike Esposito.
Lettered by Ray Holloway.
Colours by George Roussos.

If ever a story was going to have a tough time making me dislike it, it was going to be this one, for the simple reason that it features 1930s' adventurer Doc Savage. It's not that I love Doc Savage. It's that, the 1970s Ron Ely movie apart, I don't actually know anything about him. I don't even know if he's literally made of bronze. So, anything that allows me to see the legend in action's going to grab me.

From how he goes about things in this tale, with his secret lab, speeding automobile, gadgets and blatant wealth, he appears to have a distinct Bruce Wayne vibe to him. I'm not sure about his seeming army of assistants though. With all of those knocking around, his section of the tale seems somewhat overcrowded. And not a woman among them?

Fortunately, a woman soon appears to fill that particular gap in Doc's life, as a half-naked, light-blue space-babe called Desinna appears in order to enlist the aid of first him and then Spider-Man in dealing with a giant energy being called Tarros.

While Doc Savage more or less falls for the tale Desinna spins him, Spider-Man's made of more cynical stuff and does the exact opposite of what she wants. Enabling Tarros to take the treacherous Desinna back to her own world of Saku. It's a pleasing twist that, when we're expecting Spidey to have a fight with the monster and finish the battle Doc Savage started forty years earlier, instead he helps the thing. Of course, there's the point that Spidey might know Desinna's been economical with the truth but that doesn't actually mean Tarros is a good guy, and Spidey has no way of knowing just what fate the monster has in store for Desinna as he takes her away. Oh well, I suppose we just have to put it down to his spider-sense or something. Or maybe we just have to accept that super-heroes always get things right, despite all evidence to the contrary.

This is the issue where we learn that Spider-Man has a lot more learning than we even knew he had. Not content with being one of the world's great scientific minds, it turns out he can decipher Morse Code and has a knowledge of comparative languages that enables him to get the gist of what the alien Tarros is saying. Loiks, is there anything Peter Parker can't do?

Like Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 where our hero never actually got round to meeting the character he shared the cover with, in this issue Spider-Man never actually meets Doc Savage and his cohorts. Whereas in that earlier tale, the non-meeting was a weakness, here it's a good thing. The only way for such an encounter to happen would've been for time travel to be involved and, for me, Spider-Man and time travel never sit comfortably together. It's fine for the likes of the Fantastic Four or the Avengers but Spidey's world should always be that bit more humdrum than theirs.

Of course, even the chance to learn more about Doc Savage can't blind me to all flaws and there is one quibble. I'm not sure about the fact that, unlike Doc Savage, Spidey sorts out the situation because, unlike Savage, he lives in a time when men know that women aren't always trustworthy. Really? Has he never read any of those hard-boiled detective novels that were so big in Savage's time?

Or what about all those old pulp magazines - you know, the sort that Doc Savage used to appear in - where, whatever else she might be, the one thing the beautiful dame isn't always is trustworthy?