Aug 18, 2012

Spider-Man: The Anniversary Syndrome

Next week, Spider-Man celebrates his 50th anniversary, and Marvel's commemorating it with the giant-sized Amazing Spider-Man #692, by Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos, and a bevy of other creators.  Obviously, Spider-Man's celebrated a few anniversaries before.  For his 25th, he met Venom for the first time; for his 40th, Amazing Spider-Man returned to its original numbering just in time for #500.  But the biggest deal Marvel's ever made over a Spider-Anniversary was back in 1992, for his 30th.  Of course, in 1992, Marvel would take any possible excuse to add on a shiny cover and some extra features, so it's perhaps no surprise that this was such an event.  There were four-count-'em'-four ongoing Spider-Man books at the time, so each one got a super-sized anniversary issue, complete with backup stories, a pull-out poster, and a holographic cover.  Holograms get a bad rap, but these are actually very nicely done, although as can be seen below, they don't actually scan very well.

All of the covers look like this, with varying background colours, so I'm just gonna scan this one.

The festivities kicked off in June with Spectacular Spider-Man #189's The Osborn Legacy, by J.M. DeMatteis and Sal Buscema.  Right from the start of DeMatteis' run on the book, Harry Osborn had been reverting to his Green Goblin persona, and in this issue he goes completely off the deep end, imprisoning his wife Liz, his son Normie, and his brother-in-law Mark Raxton (aka the Molten Man) in his lair so they can all have a nice meal together.  Spider-Man's not on the guest list, but he drops by anyway; as can be expected in a Sal Buscema-drawn issue, it ends in fisticuffs.  It's one of the high points of DeMatteis' Spider-Man work, and Buscema's expressive art does a really great job of highlighting Harry's madness, Liz' fear, and little Normie's childlike glee.  I could spend the whole post talking about this issue, but suffice to say, it's excellent and if you're going to pick up one of these issues, this should be it.

This is about as sane as Harry gets in this issue, so buckle up.

It also has a nice Charles Vess Spider-Man/Hobgoblin poster, and a DeMatteis/Bob Hall backup focusing on Aunt May, which is very good, but I can't fully recommend it because it opens with an image of May that will haunt your dreams.


In July, we got Web of Spider-Man #90.  The Spider's Thread, by Howard Mackie and Alex Saviuk, features Spider-Man running into Galactus, getting knocked out, and waking up on a movie set with his old agent, Maxie Shiffman.  It seems Spider-Man's showbiz career never ended, and both he and Maxie are Hollywood big shots now...but then things start getting strange.

Really strange.

It turns out that the whole thing is an elaborate trick perpetrated by Mysterio, who's gone a little loopy on account of inhaling too many of his own hallucinogens, and is trying to kill Spider-Man, believing him to be his first illusion.  Maxie is real, though.  Although he's been a success, professionally, his wife Trudy died the year before, and Mysterio provided him with an illusory version of her in return for his cooperation.  At the end, Spider-Man takes out Mysterio with a left hook to the fishbowl and comforts his old friend.  It's a surprisingly touching story, and I like it a lot.  Oddly, the issue is short on the bonus features, with only a Rick Leonardi poster of Spider-Man and Spider-Man 2099.

Amazing Fantasy #15 was cover-dated August, 1962, so it's only appropriate that the biggest 30th anniversary issue would be August, 1992's Amazing Spider-Man #365!  The flagship!  The big show!  Our main story in this issue, Fathers and Sins, concerns the Lizard, who, after being controlled by voodoo priestess Calypso in Todd McFarlane's best-selling (but in retrospect not-that-great) Torment story, has regained his human mind and is trying to regain his human body via a sample of Billy Connors' DNA, which makes an amusing parallel to the just-completed Dan Slott/Guiseppe Camuncoli No Turning Back storyline in ASM.  Anyway, this story is...okay.  It's thoroughly competent all around, and Bagley does a nice rendition of the obligatory "Spider-Man lifts a huge amount of rubble" scene.  On the whole, though, the Lizard stuff is kind of forgettable; the only reason anyone would talk about this issue now is the b-plot, where a mysterious man and woman are trying to find May and Peter Parker.  This had been running through the past few issues of ASM, but on the last page of the main story we find out who they are:

"And/or robotic versions thereof."

As we now know, these were in fact not actually Peter's parents, but robot spy parents, commissioned by Harry Osborn to royally f*** up Peter Parker's life.  It's...not the best-regarded chapter of the Spider-Man saga, as it introduced ludicrous sci-fi elements into Peter's personal life, making the book seem even more like a ridiculous soap opera than it did before.  Not to mention that it led to Spider-Man completely abandoning his Peter Parker identity, becoming "the Spider"; and that led right into the Clone Saga.  So maybe just get Peter a gift certificate next time, guys.

And now on to our backup features, of which there are a ton:
  • A nice Bagley Spidey/Venom/Carnage poster
  • The Saga of Spidey's Parents, a Stan Lee essay about the genesis of ASM Annual #5, which introduced Richard and Mary and their backstory.
  • How I Created Spider-Man, a Michelinie/Aaron Lopresti story where J. Jonah Jameson discusses his (very wrong) theories on Spider-Man's origins while Lopresti essentially redraws Amazing Fantasy #15 to provide a contrast.  It's amusing enough, although Lopresti's art is pretty rough - he would eventually get much better.
  • I Remember Gwen, Mary Jane's recollections of Gwen Stacy as plotted by Stan Lee, scripted by Tom DeFalco, and drawn by John Romita, Sr.  It's pretty good, and the Romita art is lovely.  It's "dedicated to the memory of Gwen Stacy", though, which is just weird.  Also, there's a retroactively amusing bit, reproduced below.
  • A Friend in Need, a Prowler story by Tom DeFalco and Tod Smith, which is just kind of inexplicable.  I really like the Prowler and all, and it's a good story, but this seems like a weird fit for an anniversary issue, as if it was supposed to be slotted into a contemporary Spider-Man annual or something.
  • Spider-Man: The First Thirty Years, an essay by comics historian Peter Sanderson about the history of Spider-Man.
  • And to top it off, a five-page preview of Peter David and Rick Leonardi's Spider-Man 2099. 

But we're not done yet!  September's Spider-Man #26 gives us With Great Responsibility--!, by Tom DeFalco, Ron Frenz, and Mark Bagley, in which Spider-Man battles Stewart Smalls, a petty crook with a stolen force field projector.  Throughout the story, Spider-Man also crosses paths with Jimmy Costas, a young man, who, much like Spider-Man, had his life greatly shaped by his uncle.  But his uncle, well...

"Luckily, I dress exactly like him, too."

What a twist!  The idea of a relative of the burglar re-entering Spider-Man's life would crop up again four years later, when Ben Reilly met and romanced Jessica Carradine, the burglar's daughter. The issue also contains These Great Powers!, a DeFalco/Bagley piece where Peter explains his powers to Mary Jane, and a Ron Lim poster featuring the somewhat puzzling combo of Spidey, Captain America, and the Silver Surfer.  So overall, it's pretty good, although the small army of inkers it took to finish this thing kind of makes the art a little choppy.  Also, Mary Jane is into some weird stuff:


So overall, Spectacular is the clear winner here, with Web coming in second.  Spider-Man is okay, and Amazing would be forgettable if it weren't for the goofy last-page shocker.  Can Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos best these issues?  I guess we'll all find out next week.

1 comment:

  1. " Can Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos best these issues? I guess we'll all find out next week."

    The answer is - No.