Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #148.The Jackal and the Tarantula

Amazing Spider-Man #148, the Jackal and the Tarantula throw a chained Spider-Man off a bridge as the Gwen Stacy clone watches
(Cover from September 1975.)

"Jackal, Jackal... Who's Got The Jackal?"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Art by Ross Andru.
Inks by Esposito and Hunt.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Petra Goldberg.

There are well over a hundred frames in a typical comic book but a single frame is all it takes to define an issue. Steve Ditko allegedly quit Spider-Man in protest at the Green Goblin being revealed to be Norman Osborn. God alone knows what he'd have done had the Jackal been revealed to be Professor Warren.

And yet that's exactly what happens here.

Amazing Spider-Man #148, the Jackal reveals he is Professor Warren

Happily, Ross Andru didn't quit in protest but you wouldn't have blamed him if he had. It has to be the stupidest revelation in the history of literature. A twist that must have been born of desperation. All these months there's been the mystery of who the Jackal was and what he was about, so Gerry Conway had to come up with something. And it seems like, in the end, this was the only thing he could think of. Not only is it ludicrous but it deprives us once and for all of Professor Warren who's been a good old reliable mainstay of the strip for years. The only worse person it could have turned out to have been was Joe Robertson.

That aside, what did I actually make of this tale? It's a good, solid story with some nice character stuff, that seems to fit more than usual into its twenty pages without feeling at any point, crammed in. There's even time for Peter Parker to take a nice relaxing bath.

There's also time for a good old fashioned punch-up, plus the revelation that Spider-Man's spider-sense only works when he's being snuck up on by people it already knows to be his enemies. How it already knows them to be his enemies is anyone's guess.

Amazing Spider-Man #148, Mary Jane Watson and Peter Parker argue

Highlights of the issue are Mary Jane going round to Peter's place to give him a piece of her mind, and Spidey's fight in the dark with the Tarantula. Exactly why Spidey's so eager to get the fight out into the daylight is another matter, seeing as how his spider-sense should give him a vital advantage in the gloom but the fight's pretty cool while it lasts, allowing Andru to make an appropriately Ditkoesque use of light and shade. Good to see the Spider-Signal getting a rare outing too. I suppose it had to come in handy for something at some point.

One final point is that I don't understand this issue's title at all. I have the feeling it's a reference to some sort of catchphrase but, if so, I don't have a clue whose catchphrase it might be.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #147.The Tarantula's back

Amazing Spider-Man #147, the Tarantula attacks Spidey in the streets of New York
(Cover from August 1975.)

"The Tarantula Is A Very Dangerous Beast!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Esposito and Hunt.
Lettering by Sam Rosen.
Colours by Stan G.

Latest in the long line of stupid things for the New York prison authorities to do is stand by like lemons while the Tarantula makes a pair of steel-spiked shoes in the prison workshop. He tells us he's been working on these things for months.


And at no point has it occurred to the guards that allowing a man, notorious for stabbing people with his footwear, to make pointy steel shoes might be a bad thing? They even do nothing while he's stood there, speaking aloud, in front of them, about his plans. Needless to say he promptly uses them to escape - followed no doubt by a dozen other super-villains who've presumably also been using the prison workshop to rebuild their criminal careers.

That aside, this is a story of distinctly surreal tastes, with Spider-Man and the Tarantula fighting each other on a bus as the driver completely ignores their presence before tearing off his head to reveal himself to be the Jackal - not to mention the presence on the vehicle of Gwen Stacy.

Except it's not Gwen Stacy. It's a clone and, for all our hero knows, there could be a whole army of them out there.

Actually, that would've been a pretty good storyline but it was not to be. For now, there's only one clone in sight; one who seems to be under the Jackal's complete control, judging by the way she just stands there, a strangely lunatic blankness on her face, as the villain flings our hero off the Brooklyn Bridge in echo of the original Gwen's demise. All put together, it feels more like a dream our hero would have than any kind of objective reality. And it's all the better for that. I love this story. It's one of my favourites from the Ross Andru/Gerry Conway era precisely because of its madness.

On less dramatic but just as crucial matters, it's nice to see Mary Jane and Aunt May having a heart-to-heart, with the older woman giving MJ some sound advice. Interesting that, despite believing the Gwen clone to be the original article, Aunt May would appear to be fully on Mary Jane's side in the battle for Peter Parker's heart.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #146. The Scorpion

Amazing Spider-Man #146, the Scorpion threatens Aunt may as she lies in her hospital bed
(Cover from July 1975.)

"Scorpion... ...Where Is Thy Sting?"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Art by Ross Andru, John Romita and the Gang.
Lettering by Joe Rosen.
Colours by Don Warfield.

Looks like chief Wiggum's in charge again.

If stupidity's a disease, the Spideyverse has the plague. First up, we get the Scorpion. Having been told that, if he crashes into Aunt May's hospital room, he'll find Spider-Man there, he instead finds Peter Parker. Enraged that Spider-Man isn't present, he goes on a rampage around the curiously empty building. For some reason, it never seems to occur to him that Spider-Man might not spend twenty four hours a day welded into his spider-suit and might, gasp, be in his civvies.

For some reason, he also seems not to recognise Peter Parker - even though, when we first met Gargan, all those years back, he was tailing Peter for J Jonah Jameson who wanted to know how he was always where Spider-Man was. Hmn, let's see; Peter Parker, always seems to be where Spider-Man is and you've been told Spider-Man will be in that room. Why on Earth would you draw any link between those twin facts?

Second up, matching Scorpy in the brainless stakes, are the New York City Police Department. Get this; the Scorpion's robbed a bank. They're looking for him. Where have they not thought to look?

That's right.

His official address. The place where it transpires he's got the money stashed, in money bags, in his closet. It's hard to know who's the stupider here, the police or Gargan. Oh well, at least now Spider-Man's tipped them off, they might actually have a chance of be finding the loot - if they can only get their act together enough to buy a map to get them there.

How did the Jackal know the Scorpion was going to be outside Santonio's house? We're never told.

How did Santonio know that, at the very moment he switched his TV on, Spider-Man was going to be on it? We're never told.

Where's Gwen Stacy staying? We're never told.

Oh. No. Hold on. We are. She's staying at Betty Brant's. At last we've been told something.

We've also been told something else.

The Jackal knows Spider-Man's true identity.

And he's on a revenge schtick for Spidey's seeming involvement in murder.

I've come to the conclusion from this tale that normal rules of story-telling don't apply to comic books. This story's dumb. This story recycles bits of the recent Molten Man storyline. This story's full of plot holes and things happening for the sake of them happening. It's full of people doing implausible things and knowing unknowable facts. And yet, despite all this, there's something about it that grabs me. The only letdown is the comedy ending of the Scorpion being forced to apologise to Aunt May. I'm starting to think there's no hope for me.

There is, however, more than hope for Ross Andru who does another sterling job (with a noticeable assist from jazzy John Romita.) Highlight on the art front has to be the Scorpion climbing the side of the Chrysler building as Spidey watches from a distance. Why's he climbing the Chrysler building? Aw, who cares? Like I said, it's a comic. The normal rules of story-telling don't matter. All that matters is that's is how to use a vertical panel.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #145. Scorpion

Amazing Spider-Man #145, the Scorpion returns
(Cover from June 1975.)

"Gwen Stacy Is Alive ...And, Well?"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Goldberg.

Bad decisions. We make them. We hate them. But, without them, would we ever have such a thing as drama?

Gwen Stacy's back and as cloying, clinging, wimpy and needy as ever. Still, I suppose if you don't have a clue what's going on and why your boyfriend's threatening to kill you for "pretending" to be yourself, you would be feeling somewhat vulnerable. So, maybe for once, we should cut the girl some slack in the wimp department.

And perhaps we should also cut Peter Parker some slack because, pretty much the first thing that strikes you this month is the affirmation of his tendency to do the exact opposite of what he should be doing. He wants to know why a dead girl's suddenly appeared at his apartment, so he abandons her, turns into Spider-Man and goes swinging off round town; when you would've thought the obvious thing to do would be to question this "imposter" and find out where she's from and who sent her. Oh well, like Gwendolyn, I suppose you can argue he's somewhat disoriented and can't be expected to act logically.

But yet again Gerry Conway's in the mood for comebacks because, not only does an ex-girlfriend reappear but so does an ex-foe.

The Scorpion.

Now, if Peter Parker's just made a bad decision, here's where the whole concept of "Bad Decision" goes into over-drive. When Mac Gargan checks out of jail, we see him being given a package and a suitcase. When he gets, "home," he opens the case to reveal it contains his Scorpion outfit.

That's right, upon releasing him, the authorities actually give a dangerous super-villain a costume whose only possible use is the committing of crimes! I've spoken before about the incompetence of prison officials in New York but this is ridiculous. Things are so bad that I'm starting to wonder if The Simpsons' Chief Wiggum's in charge of the place.

That aside, the Scorpion's always been one of my favourite villains, mostly because he nearly killed Spider-Man in their first meeting. It might not be much of a character recommendation but it's the sort of thing you want from a good villain. Frankly, his 2nd appearance, in Amazing Spider-Man #29, was a bit of an anti-climax but here he's back to giving Spidey a good bashing.

Conway gives our hero the excuse that he's tired from fighting Meteor Man in Marvel-Team-up #33, a tale that, somewhat clumsily, is supposed to have happened during a lull in the events of this issue. Such are the continuity nightmares of giving your hero more than one mag to fight in each month but I like to think Scorpy would've thrashed him anyway. The only disappointment with his return is that, in Andru's hands, he lacks the sheer sense of evil madness he had on his first appearance. But still, beggars can't be choosers.

The Scorpion's lack of madness aside, to me, Ross Andru's art in this issue's sensational. Probably the best he's produced yet. His layouts now have a total freedom, so the story practically leaps out of the pages at you and Spider-Man's protracted fight scene with the villain is so full of movement, you start to feel like you're watching the thing in real time. You actually have to make a conscious effort to remind yourself that you're still looking at stationary images and that nothing is actually moving.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #144. Gwen Stacy returns from the dead

Amazing Spider-Man #144, Gwen Stacy returns from the dead
(Cover from May 1975.)

"The Delusion Conspiracy"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Ray Holloway.
Colours by George Roussos.

Drama without climax has no purpose, and life without love has no meaning. If so, this tale must be proud and high of head because it has not just one climax, it has two. One's as big an anti-climax as it is anti-cyclone. The other's like being punched in the face by Mike Tyson.

But time for that later. First there's a villain to be dealt with because, after last issue, the Cyclone has both J Jonah Jameson and Joe Robertson captive. Of course, he could've had Spider-Man captive too but, for no noticeable reason, chose to spin off out of there when he had the American defeated. What kind of fool is he? Doesn't he know from war films - and super-hero comics - that an American's never beaten?

Clearly not because now Peter Parker has a chance to go into action.

And, what action it is.

He drops in on the local hardware store.

I like this. I like the lulls in the tales. They're what make it interesting for me.

In school they taught me the French drive on the left, that they say maintenant when they mean "now" and that they eat nothing but croissants. One thing they never taught me is how great French hardware stores are. I've been in my local hardware shop many times and not once have they had such a thing as a gigantic fan on sale.

Come to think of it, for what purpose would such a fan be used? The only one I can think of is, "wind tunnel." So, for anyone who has a wind tunnel in their home, this store would be the store from heaven. Regardless, whatever its original intended purpose, it doesn't matter because a giant fan is all Spider-Man needs to stop the Cyclone.

That's right, France's greatest super-villain of them all's stopped by a giant fan and, having read this tale at least four times now in my life, I still don't have a clue why. As for Spider-Man using a tape recorder to fool JJ and Robbie into thinking both he and Peter Parker are present at the same time....

While it's nicely drawn, you don't get the feeling Messrs Conway and Andru were exactly pulling out all the stops when they produced this tale. In fact, if not for what happens right at its end, it'd have every feeling of being some sort of filler.

And that's where love comes in, and that's where the second climax comes in, one that flips the tale's worth on its head and sends it from filler to landmark as Peter returns home to find he has a surprise visitor.

Amazing Spider-Man #144, Peter Parker returns to his apartment to find Gwen Stacy back from the deadGwen Stacy.

We shouldn't be shocked. Bearing in mind that people come back from the dead all the time in comics, we shouldn't shocked.

And yet we are. Why? Because the death of Gwen Stacy wasn't just any comic book death. It was the first of its kind, its aftermath so potent we must have felt certain this was one corpse that wouldn't be walking.

But it is.

And there'll be more of it next issue.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #143. The Cyclone

Amazing Spider-Man #143, the Cyclone
(Cover from April 1975.)

"And the Wind Cries: Cyclone!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by Jan Cohen.

"You Americans," declares our villain. "You can never keep from interfering in matters which do not concern you."

Joe Robertson, there's a man. There's a man with a son who seems to have disappeared without trace but who doesn't seem to have noticed.

Then again, perhaps he has his mind on other things. After all, if there's any doubt left that he must know Peter Parker's secret identity, it has to be gone after this issue. Why else would he ask Aunt May's favourite nephew to accompany him to France and help the kidnapped J Jonah Jameson? He's practically telling Pete to his face, "I know you're Spider-Man. That's why I need you there."

Does our hero pick up on this?


Does our hero go to France?


And, wouldn't you know it? By an incredible coincidence, the trail he has to take to follow Robbie to the kidnappers just so happens to take him past all the most famous landmarks in Paris; just like his trip to London took him to Big Ben, and his trip to Montreal took him to the Expo 67 complex. Although, in this case, one of the sites of Paris seems to be the Parc des Princes, which must have been brand new in 1975, so at least there's one bit of originality in there.

As for the villain of the piece, we can tell the Cyclone's French because he looks down his nose at Americans. So, no stereotyping there then. Oh well, at least Gerry Conway resists the temptation to have him yell out, "Zut Alors!" in times of stress. So comics must be getting more sophisticated.

Speaking of getting, "sophisticated," Pete and Mary Jane are getting a bit, "sophisticated," themselves as, on the domestic front, they get to share their first ever kiss. Is it really their first? I assumed they'd been all over each other like rabbits for months.

It just goes to show, in this strange and mysterious world of ours, you can never know people as well as you think you do. Well, unless you're Joe Robertson. In which case, you clearly know Peter Parker inside out.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #142. The Mysterio imposter

Amazing Spider-Man #142, the fake Mysterio
(Cover from March 1975.)

"Dead Man's Bluff!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Joe Rosen.
Colours by L Lessmann.

A wise man once said, One, two, three, simple as ABC - or words to that effect. Gerry Conway would no doubt have agreed, judging by the fact that, when it came to villains, he seemed to have three main missions.

One; bring them back. I've already discussed this previously, with the likes of Molten Man, Doc Ock, Kangaroo, et al returning.

Two; kill them. Over the previous couple of years, he'd polished off the Green Goblin, the Kangaroo, the Molten Man, Hammerhead, Dr Octopus and probably a whole bunch more that have completely slipped my mind right now.

And, three; replace them. Already, before this issue, he'd given us a new Green Goblin and a new Vulture. Now we have a new Mysterio. Why he did this is anyone's guess, bearing in mind that his stand-ins were never a patch on the originals and clearly were never meant to be.

But ersatz villainy aside, the tale's biggest weakness is that we see J Jonah Jameson on the phone to the fake Mysterio, talking about how he's got Spider-Man so confused he thinks he's fighting a ghost. This does somewhat destroy the impact of the climax's big reveal that Mysterio's not a ghost.

On top of that, it has to be said, the, "JJ hires a villain to defeat Spider-Man," plotline has been done to death over the years and was in no way needed here. We already have a motive for the new Mysterio to attack Spider-Man - however flimsy. We didn't need another one piled on top of it.

For that matter, how Mysterio's device projects an image of the Jackal at Spidey when the villain can't possibly have heard of the green garbed one, let alone possess images (moving or otherwise) of him, is anybody's guess.

Nice to see more Peter and Mary Jane scenes. I know you're supposed to read super hero books for the action and the derring-do but I derring don't. I have to confess my main reason for reading these tales is the glimpse into Peter Parker's private life. Maybe I'm reading the wrong comics. Maybe I should be reading romance mags instead.

I'm not sure how the new Mysterio's mask would make his head invisible, bearing in mind it only covers the front part of his head. Also, the contraption for supporting the Mysterio dummy, down at the docks, should've been easy for Spider-Man to spot, even with a bit of mist blowing around.

But, in the end, what does any of this matter? Because it all pales into insignificance besides one single panel. Who was that figure we spotted, walking away from Peter Parker as he left the Bugle?

One thing's for sure. Whatever it might seem, it can't be Gwen,.

Can it...?

Monday, 14 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #141. Mysterio

Amazing Spider-Man #141. Mysterio, Dr Octopus, the Jackal, the Vulture and Morbius
(Cover from February 1975.)

"The Man's Name Appears to be... Mysterio!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by Petra G.

You'd have thought that, by now, Peter Parker would've realised that, when it comes to villains, death's a mere inconvenience.

But then, for Peter Parker, cars are an inconvenience.

That's right, true believer, the Spider-Mobile's back and as unworkable as ever.

Granted it isn't back for long and, while it's here, its limitations become all too apparent as it effectively paints a huge target on Spider-Man for the police to chase. But, as I've said before, I've always had a soft spot for the thing. I think it's just the look of it. Somehow it looks like a car Spider-Man should be driving. None of that sleekness or hi-tech for him, just an awkward, ungainly, useless buggy. Exactly where he's been keeping it the last few months is anyone's guess but pretty soon he's keeping it at the bottom of the river where he, no doubt, would feel it belongs.

But now it all gets worse because it's not just his car he's having problems with, it's his marbles.

And that's the thing. How many times has he come up against Mysterio and how many times has the menacing master of illusion had a plot to make him think he's gone mad? And still, after all these times, he falls for it again, thinking he must have lost his mind just because he's told the villain died in jail a year ago. Hey, Petey, the Vulture died in jail years back and that never stopped him from coming back. Come to think of it, Doc Ock's died on more occasions than he's tried to marry Aunt May and he always come back.

On the art front, highlight of the issue has to be the truck driving along the wall, to almost run our hero over.

Highlight after that has to be MJ out of hospital and, in some nicely rendered scenes, getting to reacquaint herself with our hero, not to mention finally drawing the Charlie Brown analogy the strip's been crying out for for years. You can't get away from it, under all that show, and on top of those heels, Miss Watson's a bright girl.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #140. The Jackal and the Grizzly

Amazing Spider-Man #140, the Jackal the Grizzly and Peter Parker has an explosive spy device attached to his arm
(Cover from January 1975.)

"...And One Will Fall!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Goldberg.

For a so-called science nerd, Peter Parker moves in surprisingly glamorous circles. First he has a girlfriend who's an actress, now we get to meet his new neighbour Gloria Grant who's a model. Bearing in mind that he used to live in a rent-free apartment with the son of one of the city's wealthiest businessmen, and nearly became the nephew of one of America's deadliest criminals, it seems like he can't get within a million miles of the mundaneity the rest of us achieve without even trying.

But, before you get the notion that it's all glam and glitter being a super-hero, don't forget that, sometimes, mad fiends put tracking devices on you that'll destroy your arm if you try to remove them.

It has to be said, the first segment of this tale, dealing with the Jackal's device, doesn't have any real reason for being there. It makes no difference at all to the outcome of the plot, and what should have been an issue-long development is almost instantly despatched to become little more than padding. A shame because it was a great idea with a bucketload of potential.

Beyond that, the Jackal's motives don't really add up. If he wants to use Peter Parker to lead him to Spider-Man, then why tip him off about the plan, guaranteeing that Petey will avoid Spidey like the plague?

There's also the obvious question of Pete's other identity. It's no secret (to us anyway) that he wears his costume under his normal clothes - especially when he's expecting action - which poses the question of how the Jackal and the Grizzly didn't find the sleeve of Pete's spider-suit under his clothing when they fitted him with the device.

It's also a shame the flashback reveals that JJ got Max Markham banned purely for selfish reasons. Every so often, over the years, we've been allowed to glimpse a nobler, more principled, side to the Bugle publisher and it would've been nice if this had been the case here.

Spider-Man reasons that the Grizzly must be wearing an exo-skeleton because he was once just a wrestler and therefore can't have any superpowers of his own. I'm not sure I follow that logic. After all, the vast majority of super-villains used to just be ordinary people. It doesn't mean they don't have genuine powers now. Still, its a nicely rendered conclusion to the tale and Ross Andru handles the action scenes superbly, especially the Grizzly's attack on his former gym colleagues.

At the end of the day, it's easy to pick holes in such stories but I've said it before and I feel it's worth reiterating, despite its lapses in logic and, often, continuity, this era of Spider-Man's easily my favourite. There's a wit and a sophistication to it that enables it to somehow rise above its flaws and become oddly compelling. Never before had Peter Parker and his cast felt so like living, breathing three-dimensional characters that you might actually bump into if you paid a visit to New York.

Amazing that this tale is only the Jackal's third appearance in the pages of Spider-Man and yet he already feels like a long-term villain.

Friday, 11 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #139. The Grizzly

Amazing Spider-Man #139, first ever appearance of the Grizzly
(Cover from December 1974.)

"Day of the Grizzly!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by Jan Brunner.

A low-budget TV show tells me, every Saturday, that animals do the funniest things. It's a shame no one's ever told the people at Marvel, where animals just seem to want to kill Spider-Man. Over the years we've had the Rhino, Dr Octopus, the Beetle, the Kangaroo, the Lizard, the Vulture, the Chameleon and pretty much everyone but the Hamster. And now, we get the latest addition to our menacing menagerie. We get the Grizzly.

But everything in its order. Before a man can fight, he must first find a home. After one issue living with Flash, Peter Parker lands himself yet another apartment. How he finds it's something of a mystery. Early on, we're told Liz Allen's found it for him but, when he catches up with her, she's just in the act of buying the newspaper which contains the ad.

That aside, it's an oddly straightforward tale whose lack of twists and turns makes it feel nothing like its twenty pages in length. Such simplicity might leave some feeling they're not getting their money's worth. But, you know what? I like it for that. There must be something about me. I like the previous issue for being straightforward in its plotting and I like this one too. I sometimes get the feeling that, if there were a story where all Peter Parker did was walk from one end of the room to the other, it'd be my favourite tale of all time.

But, of course, this is The Amazing Spider-Man and so something happens. The Grizzly happens.

In truth, he's not that new. He's basically the Rhino in everything but name. And, if the Rhino comes to mind for us, we're clearly not alone as Spidey complains that a blow that's had no effect on him would have dropped the aforementioned rogue. It poses the obvious question of why Gerry Conway didn't just bring back the Rhino but the answer becomes clear later in the tale when we find out he's a mere lackey for another villain - and the Rhino was always too obdurate to settle for being anyone's lackey.

On the pictures front, there's two stand-out moments for me. There's a nice panel where J Jonah Jameson opens the office door to see the Grizzly looming over him and promptly slams it shut again. It's the sort of character based tongue-in-cheek scene that Andru was so good at. There's also a lovely panel where Spidey, in pursuit of his ursine foe, swings past the Chrysler Building.

In truth, my one complaint about this issue would be that, towards its conclusion, Peter Parker gets knocked out way too easily. I mean, despite knowing it's a trap, he just stands there while the Jackal - who must be in full view to do it - hits him in the stomach. Oh, Peter, will you never learn? Clearly not. Not as long as the plot demands that he doesn't.

Amazing Spider-Man #138. The Mindworm

Amazing Spider-Man #138, the Mindworm
(Cover from November 1974.)

"Madness Means... The Mindworm!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencis by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Annette Kawecki.
Colours by Petra Goldberg.

Landscapes. They're not just rectangular things that come in wooden frames. They're also a state of mind. And, in this tale, we find a whole new landscape for our hero, as Spider-Man moves to a new part of New York - and, while he's at it, enters a whole new realm of story-telling.

It's impossible to think of any Spider-Man tale in this run that's so far removed from the norm. In terms of mood, plot and the nature of its villain, maybe it's just me but, apart from the lack of over-verbosity, this could be a Don McGregor tale. You could stick the Mindworm in a Killraven story and his basic nature wouldn't look out of place. It leads to one of the strangest Spider-Man stories ever told, an oddly low-key missive with the Mindworm trying to drain the emotions/souls from a now zombie-esque community. In fact, so odd is it that, if the issue had climaxed with Spidey waking to discover it was all a dream, you wouldn't have been surprised. Because of this oddness and eerieness, I do have to see it as one of the most compelling stories of its era.

On other matters, nice to see Flash Thompson and Peter Parker not only getting on with each other these days but actually sharing an apartment. It just goes to show how the characters have developed over the years that this seems a perfectly natural development rather than forced.

It does raise one question, however.

Is Flash's new mellowness part of that natural progression? Or have months of having his emotions drained by the Mindworm led to it? Needless to say we're given no answers, possibly because it was a matter that hadn't occurred to Gerry Conway. It would've been nice if it had. The idea that Flash and the other residents had somehow been left as better people through the Mindworm's feeding would have had an appealing irony to it.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #137. Harry Osborn's Green Goblin

Amazing Spider-Man #137. Harry Osborn, the Green Goblin
(Cover from October 1974.)

"The Green Goblin Strikes!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Goldberg.

Elementary, my dear Miss Watson? Not when you're the Amazing Spider-Man. We're told, at the tale's start, that Spidey's been out searching for Harry for two nights in a row and come up with nothing. Then, later in the issue, our hero finally thinks of where to search for him.

His house.

Somehow I don't think Sherlock Holmes needs to fear the competition just yet. Happily Harry's secret hideout is indeed his house and, there, the ensuing mayhem breaks out.

I'm still not sure how Spidey works out that it's Aunt May who's the target of Harry's bomb. He says it's because Harry referred to his planned victim as Pete's, "Most dear." But how was Harry to know our hero regarded May, and not MJ, as his most dear? Plus, given that Petey stole his girlfriend (MJ) from him - and his father's involvement in the death of Pete's previous squeeze - I'd've thought Mary Jane was a nailed-on cert for assassination.

But, whatever the ins and outs of it all, the real strength of this issue is Ross Andru. His use of "camera" angles and character poses is remarkable, especially when Spider-Man and the Goblin fight each other. Their moves are practically a demented form of ballet. And I love the splash page of Gobby closing in on the truck. Like Gil Kane before him, freed from the constraints of gravity that affect real people, Andru seemed to be revelling in the freedom the characters gave him.

Speaking of lacking gravity, MJ's so much cooler in this issue than Gwen ever was. If it'd been Gwen in the hospital bed, she'd have spent all her time simpering and whining and demanding to know just where Pete had disappeared to while she was laid up, then have started drivelling on about how she wished she could believe everyone else was wrong to think him a coward. Come to think of it, if I'd been his girlfriend, I'd have been simpering and whining and demanding to know where he'd been.

But not our MJ. She's made of stronger stuff. Despite having been blown up in the previous issue, we find her full of humour - even when Pete runs out on her. And what's best is she's clearly got a chemistry with Aunt May that Gwen completely lacked.

Good to see Harry reveal Peter Parker's secret identity to the world and have no one believe him; although the reason no one believes him - he's too young to be a villain who's been around for so long - makes no real sense bearing in mind that, in Marvel continuity, Spidey and the Goblin can't have been around for more than two or three years.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #136. The Green Goblin Mark 2

Amazing Spider-Man #136, Harry Osborn, the New Green Goblin
(Cover from September 1974.)

"The Green Goblin Lives Again!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by L Lessmann.

Cakes. You can have them and eat them. This issue proves that, in every way possible. How do you bring back the Green Goblin while not devaluing his death?

Easy. Have someone else adopt the guise.

But that isn't as simple as it might sound. We all, I'm sure, remember Blackie Drago, the second Vulture who was never a patch on the original?

Then again, maybe we don't. He wasn't around for long before the creators saw the error of their ways and brought back the inimitable Mr Toomes. And, as for the third Vulture. Can anyone, off the top of their head, even remember what he was called?

So, the Goblin. How do you replace Spider-Man's greatest ever foe with one who isn't going to feel similarly ersatz?

Easy. You replace him with Harry Osborn. Of course, you have to send him mad first - for no normal man can be the Goblin - and Messrs Conway and Andru have more than done that. The Harry we're confronted with is a raving lunatic. Logically, Harry can't work as the Goblin. He's not had the years of practice and experience the original had and he doesn't have the super-strength his father seemed to possess. The original had been showered in experimental chemicals that, presumably, enabled him to slug it out, toe to toe, with Spidey. How Harry can take a punch from Spidey without his head being knocked off is anyone's guess. But somehow, it doesn't seem to matter. The sheer vengeful madness of Harry Osborn somehow makes you willing to turn a blind eye to such blatant logic holes.

On the art front, the thing that leaps out at me this issue is Ross Andru's ability to capture the mood of his characters. Even when Spidey's in his mask, you're never left in any doubt what he's feeling.

Oddity of the tale has to be its ending. I'm not quite sure what it has to do with anything. It comes across like the story lacked a neat resolution and so Andru had to add an extra scene to make it feel like the issue had wrapped up properly.

Amazing Spider-Man #135. The Punisher and the Tarantula

Amazing Spider-Man #135, the Tarantula and the Punisher
(Cover from August 1974.)

"Shoot-Out In Central Park!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Frank Giacoia.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by L Lessmann.

There aren't many Spider-Man stories I despise.

This is one of them.

Don't get me wrong. It's perfectly well written and Ross Andru's art is as good as - if not better than - ever. The problem's down to one man.

The Punisher.

Having brought him back at the climax of last issue, the tale adopts a pattern that would become familiar, with the Punisher showing up, thinking Spider-Man's a criminal, trying to kill him and then, having seen the error of his ways, teaming up with him.

And therein lies the problem. While it's easy to believe the Punisher would be willing to team up with Spidey, it's hard to see why Spidey would want to do likewise with the Punisher. Leaving aside the fact that the gun-toting nut-job keeps trying to kill him, the man's a psycho. Take the scene where he and our hero crash the Tarantula's lair. The Punisher instantly opens fire with a machine gun.

That's right, he tries to cut the villain down in a hail of bullets.

Now, the Tarantula might be a nasty piece of work but since when is Spidey going to be happy working with a man whose first instinct is to kill? Unfortunately, there's a moral bankruptcy to the tale. You can argue about whether it's right or not to kill those who are happy to kill others. What can never be claimed is that Spider-Man's happy to see men die. He isn't. No matter who he's come up against, he's never once tried to kill. He even refused to kill the Goblin, a foe he had every reason to want to send to the cemetery. Now, we're supposed to believe he's happy to team up with a man whose whole philosophy must logically be repugnant to him. It's a tale that really needs a proper investigation of the rights and wrongs of the Punisher's mentality, not a cheery acceptance of his ways.

On other matters, Peter Parker tries to disguise his true identity by claiming his disappearance during all the action was down to him having fallen overboard. Leaving aside the fact that, during such a long gap, the boat would've left him far behind, as Spider-Man was last seen jumping into the same water, it's hard to see how he thinks this is going to fool anyone. While it fools MJ, it doesn't con Flash. Big surprise. Turning up in the same place that Spidey was last seen is practically screaming out at everyone, "Hey, look at me! I'm Spider-Man!"

Not that the other passengers are bright enough to work that out. They have to be the most uniformly stupid bunch of people assembled in one place. Having seen our hero fighting the Tarantula and knocking him out - not to mention rescuing a crewman who fell into the water - they then decide Spidey was in league with the villain and try to lynch him. Some people simply don't deserve saving.

Still, there's one good thing comes out of this issue. Its climax; as Harry Osborn finally makes the move into becoming the Green Goblin.

Amazing Spider-Man #134. The Tarantula makes his debut

Amazing Spider-Man #134, Tarantula, first appearance, attacks Spider-Man on a boat
(Cover from July 1974.)

"Danger Is A Man Named... Tarantula!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Adnru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by L Lessmann.

Mayors. They don't build 'em tough in New York - at least not in the world of comicdom.

Where most politicians would refuse to deal with kidnappers; here, the city's chief seemingly can't wait to get the Tarantula and his men the money they want. Suddenly, I see why Spider-Man's home town's crawling with more criminals than you can shake a fist at. With jellyfish like that in charge, it must seem like paradise to them.

Still, not to worry. If our politicians won't save us from low-life, there's always the Punisher.

That's right. After an absence of just four issues, Frank Castle is back - and just as stupid and blinkered as always. It's interesting that, at this stage, he's still being billed as a villain, on the cover.

As for the official rogue of the piece, I've always had a soft spot for the Tarantula. In retrospect, it seems astonishing that it took so long into his career before anyone came up with an evil counterpart to Spidey - especially one called Tarantula but it seems that, sometimes, even the obvious can elude everyone.

So, now that he's here, is this brand new villain actually any good?

It depends what you mean by good. I mean, OK, there's no denying that, compared to Spider-Man, he's distinctly second rate, devoid of super-powers and, when you get down to it, little more than a New World version of Batroc the Leaper (or should I say Batroc ze Leepair?). And it's disappointing that what should be Spidey's new arch-nemesis is so easily disposed of. Basically, one punch and it's all over. You can't help feeling that Conway, Andru and Marvel Comics completely threw away a golden chance to create an all-time great villain here.

But, whatever his physical failings, there's an appealing nastiness about him and he has a cool costume. Plus, the venom in his shoes is clearly unbelievably strong because, at one point, it even manages to make the spider emblem disappear from our hero's chest. Man, that's mighty stuff.

On the supporting character front, nice to see Liz Allen completely unbothered by last issue's death of her half-brother. You know? The half-brother whose welfare she was so concerned about? Please, Miss, Gerry Conway's ignoring characterisation again.

Also nice to see Mary Jane back to being flippant in the face of danger. Although, the way Ross Andru draws her when she declares that the boat must be being hi-jacked does make her seem somewhat demented - and, frankly, a bit frightening.

Flash Thompson, after all these years, is finally starting to suspect that Peter Parker's really Spider-Man.

Harry Osborn, after all these years, finally knows that Peter Parker's Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man #133. The Molten Man

Amazing Spider-Man #133, the Molten Man returns
(Cover from June 1974.)

"The Molten Man Breaks Out!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Goldberg.

Superman's a jerk. I know this because there's a website dedicated to the fact.

Sadly, he's not the only one. If there's anything this tale proves, it's that Spider-Man can match him, jerkness for jerkness. Even after he knows why the Molten Man's stealing bits of meteorite, he still keeps trying to stop him. Why? By stopping him he's reducing the chances of Raxton being cured, and therefore increasing his menace.

Speaking of the villain, just what's going on with his speech patterns? One moment he's talking like one of the Kingpin's hired goons, the next he's talking like Dr Doom. It comes across like, in different parts of the tale, he's being written by two different writers who lacked the time to swap notes.

Interesting that, last issue, we were told it was radio-active rocks that were causing Peter Parker's brush with death. This issue we're told it's radiation from Raxton's body. Perhaps Gerry Conway thought better of last month's explanation. After all, would deadly, radio-active meteorites really be publicly displayed in glass cases at a museum? There's no denying it makes more sense to blame it on Moltie instead.

Unfortunately, despite that, the rocks still seem to be heavily radio-active anyway. Looking at inconsistencies in the tale - and in Raxton's speech patterns - I'm wondering if it actually had more than one writer. Did editor Roy Thomas have a hand in some parts? Or could Gerry Conway simply not make his mind up about a number of things? Either way, like the damp squib of a death Raxton endures, it's a somewhat disappointing finale to a tale that started so well.

As for the hospital intern who abandons the seemingly dying Peter Parker, to deal with a, "Much more important," matter, I trust he won't be keeping his job for very long.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #132. The Molten Man

Amazing Spider-Man #132, the Molten Man returns - and so does Liz Allen/Allan
(Cover from May 1974.)

"The Master Plan Of The Molten Man!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Art by John Romita/Paul Reinman/Tony Mortellaro.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Goldberg.

There are times when you just wish Spider-Man would shut up and think before he acts. This issue's a case in point as Gerry Conway continues his seeming quest to revive every old foe our hero has ever met. This time round we get the Molten Man.

And what a welcome return it is. I have to confess that, in the past, Moltie's never really lit my candle but, here, he's terrific, a man driven mad by his affliction, more interested in finding a cure for his plight than causing trouble but forced by his very nature to be a menace. You can't help feeling that, at a time like this Spidey should be more interested in helping Mark Raxton than in fighting him but, like I say, he doesn't always seem to believe in thinking before he acts.

And where does that policy leave him?

It leaves him lying at death's door as the tale draws to a close.

Will he learn anything from this?

Of course he won't.

A welcome return too for Liz Allen/Allan. You could hardly claim she's been missed in all these years but it's oddly pleasing to see her back again. I was going to knock Conway for having Peter say that Mary Jane and Liz never got on in the past, on the grounds that, as far as I was aware, they'd never even met. How wrong I was. There they are, in issue #25, having a pointed, if brief, encounter. Clearly Conway had a better memory for these things than I have.

Really, my only quibble with this tale is the heat issue. Spider-man seems able to hit the 300-degree Molten Man with impunity and to be hit with impunity. Peter Parker having a few blisters or the odd bit of heat rash after their encounter might at least have been some acknowledgement of the difficulties involved in battling such a foe.

Amazing Spider-Man #131. Dr Octopus & Aunt May's wedding

Amazing Spider-Man #131, Aunt May, wedding dress, Dr Octopus
(Cover from April 1974.)

"My Uncle... My Enemy?"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Golderg.

Telly Savalas. He knew of what he spoke.

So, Spider-man flings itself as far into the realms of the unlikely as it could have done had Peter Parker discovered the entrance to Narnia in the back of his wardrobe. Maybe Gerry Conway was saving that storyline for later. It turns out that, unknown to her, Aunt May's inherited a Canadian island containing a nuclear reactor - as you do - so it's off to Canada for the lot of them.

Dr Octopus, meanwhile, seems somewhat confused. We're initially told he wants the island because it contains a nuclear reactor with which he can create weapons to terrorise the world but then, later, he's startled to discover the island contains a nuclear reactor. If he didn't know that, why was he so desperate to get the island in the first place? For that matter, Hammerhead clearly doesn't know the place contains a nuclear reactor either (or even seem to know what a nuclear reactor is!) so the pair of them seem to be battling over a barren lump of rock without either of them having any reason to think it's worth having.

For that matter, where are the plant's workforce? Since when is a potential atomic bomb left unattended?

On top of that. Only last issue it was established that Spidey can't drive. Now he's flying a jet.

And what's happening with Hammerhead? Here, he leaps, feet first, into the world of the lame. After last issue's partial rehabilitation, where he was happy to kill people - even his own flunkies - this issue his men are armed only with stun guns. Stun guns? This is supposed to be a ruthless killer.

Aunt May's stupidity hits new levels as, even as Doc Ock is calling his men dolts in front of her and threatening to have them done away with, she still doesn't seem to register that he might not be the nicest man in the world. Even Octopus producing a secret helicopter - and a secret island - from nowhere doesn't seem to make her seriously question him.

And since when can, "the slightest vibration," cause a nuclear reactor to explode? What idiot designed that thing?

Mary Jane Watson leaves the party, Amazing Spider-Man #131The odd thing is that, despite the ludicrousness of it all, I actually don't mind this story that much. I mean, I could tear it apart all day long but it's a comic book and comic books are an odd sort of art form. Where novels, movies and TV shows can be destroyed by silliness, comic books are strangely immune to it. In fact, they often feed on it. Let's face it, Galactus and the Silver Surfer are pretty ridiculous but that never stopped their first appearance in the Fantastic Four from being a classic. In truth, my real gripe would be that this issue's pretty much action from start to finish, whereas, the appeal of Spider-Man has always lain most in its quieter moments.

This means that the true highlight for me is actually well away from the action.

Back in New York, at the tale's finale, Mary Jane and Betty Brant discuss MJ's relationship with Peter Parker. In a masterful piece of visual story-telling, Ross Andru uses light, shade and a few snowflakes to unveil a darker, more troubled side to MJ than we've ever seen before. I told you Telly Savalas was right. A picture really can paint a thousand words and, here, Ross Andru proves it.

Amazing Spider-Man #130. Hammerhead, the Jackal and Dr Octopus

Amazing Spider-Man #130, Hammerhead, the Jackal and the Spider-Mobile
(Cover from March 1974.)


Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Artie Simek.
Colours by P Goldberg.

Spider-Mobile Spider-Mobile. What are we to make of you? So like the Batmobile in so many ways but, in so many ways, not.

Maybe there's something wrong with me but, reviled as it is, I actually like the Spider-Mobile. I mean, I wouldn't want Spidey to have spent the rest of his career driving around in it. It would've somewhat hampered the style of a man we're used to seeing swinging from skyscraper to skyscraper but I can't help feeling that people tend to miss the point of it. It's supposed to be naff. It's supposed to be a travesty. It's supposed to be an embarrassment. It's supposed to be the worst idea ever. And being lumbered with it is exactly the sort of thing that would happen to Spider-Man. It wouldn't happen to Superman. Can you imagine the Thor-Mobile? And it definitely wouldn't happen to the Hulk. But poor old Spidey, that's the way his cookie crumbles. It does also give us a chance to be reminded that our hero can't drive and doesn't care.

On the villain front, Hammerhead's back, the Jackal's back, Dr Octopus is back. We can hardly complain of being short changed this month. In truth, between them, they feature for a surprisingly small percentage of the tale. But that's fine. This issue is prologue to bigger things and it's not like we don't get much action in the meantime.

I'm a lot happier about the return of Ock than Hammerhead but anvil face is handled pretty well this tale. Possibly because we don't get to see a lot of him and also because his men suddenly have laser beams and jet packs and die if they try to say his name. It at least moves him away from the just-a-1930s-style-gangster portrayal we were given on his previous appearance and almost into a modern day Fu Manchu.

As for the tale's conclusion; it's completely ludicrous. It's just about believable that Aunt May might want to marry Doc Ock. She has, after all, singularly failed to spot him for what he is ever since she first encountered him. But would she really not tell her own nephew?

But you know what?

I love it.

Yes, it makes no sense but, to have a hero's closest living relative marry his deadliest enemy who then becomes his uncle is a twist so audacious, ridiculous and Spider-Manny that I just can't resist it.

Amazing Spider-Man #129. The Punisher makes his debut

Amazing Spider-Man #129, first appearance of the Punisher and the Jackal
(Cover from February 1974.)

"The Punisher Strikes Twice!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by J Costanza.
Colours by Dave Hunt.

Clint Eastwood’s got a lot to answer for. In Britain, he inspired the comics world to give us Judge Dredd and, in America, he inspired it to give us the Punisher. I have to say, things may have been bad in the UK in the 1970s but, on this occasion, the Brits came out smiling, having got a character of wit, satire and imagination where the poor old US had to settle for a man in black just out to shoot anyone he took a disliking to. Still, at least we didn’t get Spider-Man coming up against a comedy orang utan. Even the power of Clint wasn’t up to that.

And so it is, that in this tale, we get not one but two new characters; the Jackal and the Punisher. The Jackal’s an odd cove. He seems to be fairly clearly modelled on the Green Goblin, having the same mentality and, apparently, motivations; leading you to assume at first that he must be Harry Osborn.

But then we see Harry back at the apartment he shares with Peter Parker, ranting on to himself about being the Goblin. As Conway was clearly determined, even at this stage, to bring the Goblin back, it does make you wonder why he didn’t just make Gobby the antagonist of the next few tales. Perhaps he felt it was too soon. Or perhaps he wanted to prove he too could successfully create such a character. Whatever it was, bearing in mind the outcome of the whole Jackal storyline, it would’ve made more sense and not done as much damage to the strip’s believability if it had been Harry.

As for Frank Castle, the Punisher, what a loop-fruit he is – not to mention being mind-bogglingly stupid. If he can’t work out that a character who calls himself the Jackal might not be a man to trust, you hold out little hope for him. In retrospect, you do have to wonder why a man who’s so clearly wrong on so many occasions managed to end up with a comic of his own. Still, its a strange world out there and perhaps, in complex times, people want a simple (or even a simple-minded) character to root for.

On the art front, I can’t deny that Ross Andru’s my favourite Spider-Man artist of them all and, to my mind, this is the issue where he hits his peak period, capturing both Peter Parker’s everyday tribulations and Spidey’s action scenes perfectly. The simple truth is I could look at his artwork all day long when it’s like this.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #128. The Vulture - or is it?

Amazing Spider-Man #128, the 2nd Vulture
(Cover from January 1974.)

“The Vulture Hangs High!”

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by J Costanza.
Colouring by M Brand.

So, in the end, it all comes down to look-alikes.

It has to be said it's a not-altogether satisfactory conclusion to the tale. What're the chances that Dr Shallot's mutation machine would just happen to make him come out looking and (presumably) sounding exactly like the original Vulture? What're the chances that Christine would be identical to her recently murdered flatmate?

There's also the question of Spider-Man's fall at the start of the tale. As we've seen him survive falls from great heights before, and its been long established that he can make parachutes from his webbing, there can't have been anyone convinced he was going to die. Well, apart from Spidey who seems to have completely forgotten that he can make a parachute and thus creates a trampoline - something else it's been long established he can do.

For that matter, the webster's not the only one who seems to be suffering amnesia about the extent of his abilities. The Vulture also seems to have forgotten he has claws that can tear through the "protective" webbing Spider-Man throws around Mary Jane to keep him at bay.

Spidey also does something monumentally stupid at the finale, where the exposition dump he launches into gives Christine so many clues to his true identity that she - or Shallot - would hardly have to be Miss Marple to find out who he really is. Again, it's Conway having characters doing things to service the needs of the story rather than things they'd actually do.

So, all in all, while the issue has a nice feel to it and is appealingly drawn by Ross Andru who's really getting into the strip now, it has to be put down as a bit of a failure.

Oh well, at least next issue promises so much more.

Amazing Spider-Man #127. The Vulture - or is it?

Amazing Spider-Man #127, the Vulture and Mary Jane Watson
(Cover from December 1973.)

"The Dark Wings Of Death!"

Words by Gerry Conway.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Giacoia and Hunt.
Lettering by Tom Orzechowski.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

Yo ho ho. It's December. Time to get the turkey out and remember old friends. Or at least to get the Vulture out and remember old foes.

Or is it?

There's something different about the Vulture this time round. He's more bird-like than once he was - and seemingly more homicidal. He may have been ruthless in the past but he never seemed the type for the cold-blooded murder of women in the streets.

I have to admit I've always had mixed feelings about this tale. On the one hand, I like the fact that Spider-Man enters Murder She Wrote territory with what's basically a whodunnit. Off the top of my head, I'm not sure he's ever done that before and it's a nice precursor to Conway's subsequent career in television.

But what seems all wrong is the portrayal of Mary Jane as a woman cowering in her apartment, refusing to go to the police because she's too scared. This is a woman who's encountered numerous threats in her time in the strip and seemed fazed by none of it. Suddenly, she's a cowering, trembling wreck. Having got rid of Gwen Stacy, Conway seems here to be writing MJ as though she were the late departed blonde. Much as I like his era on the title, it has to be said there are times when the behaviour of his cast seems to be more dependent on the needs of the story than on their own inherent character.

Then again, the depiction of our hero's a little odd too. Knowing that Mary Jane's on the Vulture's hit list, after losing track of him you'd expect the wall-crawler to head straight back to her apartment and make sure the villain doesn't get her. Instead he goes over to see the Human Torch, to have a laugh and a joke working on the Spider-Mobile. Oi! Parker! Your new squeeze could be getting murdered while you do that, you plank!

For that matter, the Vulture's also acting a little oddly. Escaping from a police net and blinded by Spider-Man's webbing, he grabs our hero, thinking he's grabbing the woman he came to ESU to get. Why? Why did he think Spidey was this mysterious Christine woman when she was nowhere in sight only seconds earlier?

One person acting in character is Harry Osborn - well, in the character he's recently become. His descent into madness and evil continues apace and that for, some of us, is a more than welcome sight.


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