Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #153. A man called Paine

Amazing Spider-Man #153, Longest 100 yards American college football, Spidey clutches little girl as the bullets fly
(Cover from February 1976.)

"The Longest Hundred Yards!"

Words by Len Wein.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Mike Esposito.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein.

If the last couple of issues have seen Len Wein trying to make as little a splash as he can on the strip, here's where he makes so big a splash, he practically empties the whole pool.

Suddenly the man announces his arrival, with a story that can only be viewed as a deliberate classic. Spider-Man takes an almost total back seat as the story concentrates on Dr Bradley Bolton and the kidnapping of his young daughter. The girl's been abducted by a creep called Paine. It's a corny name but there's nothing old style about him.

What a startlingly nasty piece of work he is, sadistic, duplicitous, cowardly and far more contemptible than any of the super-villains our hero's ever faced. A man who kills for no reason other than that he can.

And the story's focus on Bolton, a supporting character we've never seen before, marks the tale out as something unusual. An issue striving for something more than the usual pat action-adventure.

It also has to be said the dialogue in this issue's superb; from Bolton's initial conversation with Ned Leeds and Peter Parker (get the small details, such as him remarking on the shape of the goalposts), as he tells of his past as a college footballer, to Peter and Mary Jane's on-off relationship.

Mary Jane sits watches from the standsRoss Andru's artwork rises to the challenge too, more restrained than normal, as he gets the chance to concentrate on telling the story of our characters rather than just doing super-heroics but still making full use of angles and composition. There's a beautiful panel where we see Mary Jane looking down from the stands as the men discuss Bolton's past. I've always had a feeling that, deep down, in some way Mary Jane once symbolised death, and here she seems to cement that role, hanging, like a cloud in the background, over the last carefree moments of a doomed man,

Of course, there are minor quibbles. However good he was at football, it seems highly unlikely Bolton would be able to run near-on a hundred yards into machine gun fire before being hit.

But none of that matters. What matters is the tale of a man seeking redemption for a minor past failure, through the ultimate self-sacrifice for the thing he loves most.

As for Spider-Man, just for once our hero isn't on time. He finishes off the villain but too late to save the day.

There's an ambition here, a desire to instill a depth and an emotional punch you rarely see in comics and it sets a benchmark that perhaps the strip would subsequently struggle to live up to.


cease ill said...

too bad nothing else in Wein's run will live up to this standard. I think the constraint of writing super-hero comics, with their needs and cliches, not to mention the monthly pace with multiple books, obscures the simple need for a great story, built on human elements. That's no problem here. i would've missed the presence of a super-villain here, as a kid, but what a well-wrought issue....complete with "Kung Fu Fighting" (MJ: "They're playing our song!" Pete: "Our song is Kung Fu Fighting?" Just a touch I recall; haven't read this in fifteen years now!

I think you're right about Marvel Method and the artists deciding supporting cast subplots. Would be fun to ask Wein or Conway today.

The Cryptic Critic said...

I love the "Kung-Fu Fighting" thing too. It's a nice bit of characterisation.


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