Saturday, 2 January 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #151. The Shocker

Amazing Spider-Man #151, shocker, flooding sewer
(Cover from December 1975.)

"Skirmish Beneath The Streets!"

Words by Len Wein.
Art by Ross Andru/John Romita.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

Symbolism. You can find it everywhere. Spider-Man flings his clone into an incinerator, and the last trace of the Jackal storyline's consigned to history. Despatched too with that deed is the Gerry Conway era that spawned it because, after thirty nine issues, the writer's gone for good.

And he'll be missed.

He had many flaws; a total disregard for anything that resembled logic, a love of ludicrous plot developments and a tendency to change his cast's characterisation to suit his story's whims, but he also captured a sense of those characters as real flesh and blood people, as well as pushing the strip in new directions, introducing a harder, more modern edge and revitalising it with the aftermath of Gwen Stacy's death.

It's amazing to think that, at this point in the title's history, a full thirteen years after Spider-Man's creation, the odd guest slot aside, the strip had had just two writers. Maybe that explains its surprising level of consistency and readability over such a long period. Or maybe it was just something inherent in the character and the set-up.

Regardless, right from the start of this tale, we're promised a new era, with Len Wein in charge.

And how have things changed in this new era?

Well, not a lot. In fact, it's a month for the return of familiar faces, with John Romita helping Ross Andru on the art chores, Harry Osborn back from the sanitorium and the the Shocker zapping things for no good reason. Not only that but we get the return of a familiar trope as Peter Parker can't go to a party without having to sneak away to deal with trouble. It seems like Wein was determined to make the "new era" as reassuringly familiar as he could - or maybe he just wanted to have fun playing with as much of the established train set he'd just inherited as he could. Either way, it's not yet a new era. It's business as usual and, bearing in mind the mostly classic status of what's gone before, who's really going to complain about that?

Despite the return of the Shocker - who happens to be one of my favourite villains despite never quite making the major leagues - centrepiece of the tale is actually J Jonah Jameson and his attempts to play host to Ned and Betty's engagement party. Needless to say, it's a task he's completely unsuited for as he orders his guests to drink nothing but Dr Pepper's and bans them from playing his records - and even sitting down. The other standout moment is Peter Parker changing into Spider-Man while hanging from a helicopter. Both are reminders that, even in a super-hero book, a scene doesn't have to be about action to grab you.

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