Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #110. The Gibbon

Amazing Spider-Man #110, first appearance the Gibbon and origin
(Cover from July 1972.)

"The Birth of the Gibbon!"

Words by Stan Lee.
Art by John Romita.
Lettering by John Costanza.

At the start of this tale, Stan Lee declares the Gibbon to be, "One of the greatest new superstars in the Mighty Marvel Universe." He doesn't just say it once, he says it twice. Whether he really believed this hyperbole is anybody's guess but he was clearly wrong.

Martin (the Gibbon) Blank was never in the running to knock the likes of Spider-Man and Wolverine off their plinths of popularity. But that's only fitting. His entire ability to hold our attention comes down to his total irrelevance. Indeed, he's an oddly haunting character. In so many ways he echoes Hobie (The Prowler) Brown, a character so beaten down by the injustice of his life that the only escape he perceives is to wear a bad costume and run around town not totally sure if he's a hero or villain, just as long as he's not a nobody.

But Hobie Brown's "tragedy" was never really that. However bad things got for him, he always had the ingenuity, and the love of a good woman, to help him turn things around. The Gibbon's alone, despised and ignored, doomed to a life of failure; the one talent he has - the agility of an ape - being the very thing that's held him back as people have labelled him a freak. Thus his despair at the climax, as Spider-Man can't even be bothered to fight him but leaves him alone on a rooftop, his attempts to be first a hero and then a killer, both thwarted. There can rarely have a been a character so bleakly drawn in all of comics and it's a tribute to both Lee and Romita that they were willing to excavate so far beneath the skin of a putative, "villain."

It's also a tribute to them that they were willing to make Spider-Man's treatment of the Gibbon so crass. To anyone with a functioning brain it'd be obvious that what the Gibbon needs most is the one thing he's never had - a friend. But, no, Spider-Man, with that customary ability to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, acts like a complete jerk, ridiculing him and dismissing him, even as the man's trying to kill him; leaving his foe's psyche to implode into a sense of total despair. One of the appeals of this series is that it's hero isn't always as clever as he should be and here's a perfect example of him putting both feet in it completely.

Away from the action, there's a nicely rendered dream sequence by John Romita. He was never flamboyant but he really was a master story-teller. And there's the revelation that Gwen Stacy still calls Aunt May, "Mrs Parker," even after all these years.

But there's one more character in our little tragedy. Who can it be, this figure at the story's very end, the sinister pair of eyeballs with plans for Martin Blank?

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