Friday, October 13, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #28

The Menace of the Molten Man


The Molten Man / Mark Raxton

Supporting Cast

Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, Aunt May, J.Jonah Jameson, Spencer Smythe, Principal Davis, Mrs Watson, Mr and Mrs Allan, and a chorus of teachers, parents and schoolkids. Betty Brant does not appear. 

Spins a web, Any Size

Spider-Man makes a thick rope out of webbing to tie Raxton’s wrists together. He has to wait several minutes for it to harden, which is not a characteristic it has had before.


Peter Parker has still not retrieved his Spider-Man costume. He has not seen Flash Thompson or Principal Davis since the fight in issue #26. The Principal says the fight happened “the other day”, but Peter tells Liz it happened “last week”. If Amazing Spider-Man 26/27 took place on a single Friday, it is reasonable to think that this one begins the following Monday morning. 

There are no serious continuity problems:

9.30 - Peter arrives at school

12.00 (”a few hours later”) Class dismissed to prepare for graduation
1300 (”later”) Peter visits Spencer Smythe’s lab
1500 (”a short time later”) Pete goes to Aunt Mays house
1530 Graduation ceremony


P2 “Our story begins with the savage impact of a falling feather…”

A very clear dig at Steve Ditko for leading with a “soap opera” thread rather than a "super-villain" thread. 

P2 “There’s Liz Hilton..”

Peter is so pleased that he has sorted things out with the Principal; so worried about his row with Betty; and such a lady’s man that he has forgotten Liz Allan’s name. (Or else it’s a typo.)

“I bet she has something to do with Flash getting me off the hook.”

Peter has no understanding of Flash Thompson’s sense of honour; and no conception that Liz might really be disappointed in him because he tried to out-macho Flash.  

P10: “You should have told me sooner…I’d have baked a cake.”
“If I’d have known you were coming I’d have baked a cake” was a hit song for Eileen Baker in 1950.

P11 “You’re not exactly fighting a Maypole Dancer.”

Some American schools do keep the English tradition of a dance on the first of May. While Morris dancing is associated with adult men, Maypole dancing is mostly done by little girls. 

“I hope your blue cross is all paid up…”

i.e I hope you have medical insurance

P12 “Since you’re in costume, I’ll create a similar effect.”

From 1961, all U.S Army personnel were issued with special purple underwear made from Reed Richard’s unstable molecules. This ensured that they could retain a modicum of decency in the event of their being exposed to gamma radiation. Fortunately, Raxton's body size doesn't change after his exposure to the metal alloy, so his clothes still fit him. However he deliberately rips his pants above the knee, leaving himself in ragged brown shorts. It isn't clear why he does this: it is highly probable that Smythe’s molten alloy would have covered up Raxton's genitals, in the same way that Galactus’s “silvery substance” covered up Norrin Radd’s. (I assume that's the first thing a gentleman would check.) The next time we meet Raxton, he will be wearing a fashionable pair of molten Speedos. 

P17 “Betty Brant isn’t here! She must be more angry than I thought”

Students at the present day Forest Hills high school get five tickets for their graduation (which they may share with friends if they choose). Peter has only invited three guests: his Aunt, one of his Aunt's friends, and his girlfriend, who doesn't show up.

P19 “I can’t wait to dash home and tell my daughter, Mary Jane, about it!”

Although we have met Mrs Watson's niece, this is the first time we learn that she has a daughter of her own. It is relatively unusual for cousins to both have the same name: perhaps Mrs Watson and her sister both named their daughter after some recently deceased relative? You can see why Peter is panicky at the thought of having two different women named Mary Jane Watson in his life. (Or else it’s another typo! Stan really wasn’t paying attention this month!) 

I warned you that the magisterial ten issue run from Amazing Spider-Man #24 - #33 had one low-point, and this is it. After half a dozen issues of in which multiple sub-plots are carefully woven together, this issue reverts to the tired “big fight with a bad-guy” format — a nine page intro and a seven page fight scene. And sadly, neither the villain, nor the fight is particularly interesting. 

One Mark Raxton, who seems to be either a scientist or a lab assistant, accidentally gets coated with a “liquid metal alloy”. (This presumably means “a mixture of metals which becomes liquid at very low temperature”. Such alloys do exist and are used as cooling agents.) As a result he becomes “an actual molten man”. You might have hoped that a “molten” man would be someone who could somehow dissolve into a puddle of liquid, but in this case it just means “with metal skin”. When Spider-Man turns out the lights (which is literally the most interesting thing which happens in the whole issue Raxton’s copper skin seems to be visible, which may suggest that the “liquid metal alloy” is supposed to be red-hot in some way? As a result of becoming an “actual molten man” Raxton acquires the interesting power of, er, being really, really strong. He’s more or less impervious to Spider-Man’s fists; but he’s not strong enough to break Spider-Man’s webbing (once it has had a chance to get hard). 

In fairness; the set-up to the story is quite well done. We are still in the realms of soap-opera, with each story following on directly from the previous one, and the reader being expected to remember characters from two or three months ago. So it’s quite cool that Peter Parker uses his common sense and goes to Spencer Smythe’s lab to try to retrieve the Spider-Man costume that he left in the tentacles of the robot; and it’s great fun when the robot tries to entangle Peter Parker because it is programmed to attack when there is anything “spidery” nearby. Raxton’s initial transformation is relatively dramatic. (Maybe because of the Science and the Glowing, I kept thinking of Captain Atom.) But once he leaves the lab, everything becomes very pedestrian. Raxton finds he is strong — strong enough the toss cars around and crush them with his fists — and that he is also very cross and very mad. “I’ve been given power! Power beyond my wildest dreams!” he rants, presumably deciding that his best course of action is to role-play a parody of a super villain. He goes back to his apartment and tries to think up a “really big crime” so as not to waste his power. 

We never find out to what “really big crime” a man who is strong enough to lift actual cars might be suited, because Spider-Man turns up and after a brief attempt at talking to him ("there aren’t any real serious charges against you yet”) they settle down to punching each other for a bit. 

It is possible to make a decent episode of Spider-Man out of a big fight scene and not much else. (Next month's Scorpion story will demonstrate that very nicely.) But for a fight scene to work, there need to be dramatic stunts; clever dialogue; an ingenious denouement; and something riding on the outcome. This fight seems largely to consist of two characters hitting each other, for no more reason than that one guy is a hero and one guy is a villain and villains and heroes are meant to have fights. There’s a bit where they crash through the wall and fall downstairs; that’s okay. And there’s the bit where Spider-Man switches off the lights and relies on his Spider-sense to fight Raxton: that's okay too. There are some frames showing Spider-Man’s red and blue costume and the Molten Man’s yellow skin against a black background: they are quite pretty. On the cover, all we can see of Spider-Man is the web markings on his suit and the spider-insignia. That's very pretty indeed: it must have looked incredibly distinctive alongside all the other comics books on the newsstand that month. There was a fashion in the 70s for “black light” posters, which this cover rather resembles. 

We know that Stan Lee worked by looking at Steve Ditko’s finished artwork and thinking up captions and speech bubbles that fitted in with what had already been drawn. When both men are fired up, this can create a sense of melody and counter melody, of Stan’s words pasting and extra layer on top of Steve’s imagery. When neither of them is really trying, you get a painful sense that the characters are standing around telling each other things that the artwork has already showed us perfectly well.

In the old time radio serials, characters would often tell each other what was going on, to make up for the lack of visuals. “That girl. Tied up on that rickety old chair in the corner of this sleazy bar-room. It’s Lois Lane. Well, that shady looking guy will talk when I lift him off the ground with one hand. Like this!” (That is where you get catch phrases like "Up, up and away..." and "Hi-ho silver, away...." from.) Reading this issue, you could almost believe that Stan Lee thought he was writing a radio script:

—He’s not just chompin’ his gums. I’d better use my webbing!

—So! You’re forced to resort to your artificial Spider web, eh! Well, this is what I think of your webbing…and of you!”

—It wouldn’t stick to his slick molten skin! Now what do I do?

According to Origins of Marvel Comics, before Stan Lee came down from heaven and saved us, “So, you wanna play, huh?” was regarded as a fairly good piece of hero/villain banter. The above seems to be of about the same caliber.

In some panels, Lee goes to the other extreme — he lets his pen run away with itself to such an extent that he forgets he’s scripting two adversaries having a fight. 

— Must you be such an eager beaver?? Even Doc Ock used to stop to catch his breath now and then!!

— When I’m through with you, you’ll wish you were fighting one of your old-time pushover enemies!

— Now wait a minute! I feel real sentimental about my old sparring partners! So let’s hear you speak a little more respectfully about them!

—I knew it! You’re nothing but a full time nut! 

The final quip from the Molten Man suggest that Lee himself realizes that the exchange has gone completely over the top. 

We are warned that Spider-Man’s webbing won’t stick to the Molten Man, and that his punches don’t get through his metal skin, so the solution — to make a web rope and tie him up with it — is at least logical. Spider-Man leaves Raxton for the police to deal with, although it isn’t clear what they are going to do once the webbing dissolves. (Won’t the Molten Man just punch his way out of any jail cell?) Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about that, and we can toss this comic to one side, without further thought. Perhaps “The Jeopardy of Generic Man” would have been a better title?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What of Magna Carter? Did she die in vain?

"(Bristol Music Trust) acknowledge that not everybody agrees with (changing the name of Colston Hall). Well that's very magnanimous of them, isn't it? But it doesn't begin to remotely acknowledge the fact that the vast majority of Bristolians are totally and completely against any name change. I know of literally nobody who is in favour of it. 

The trust is insulting generations of Bristolians by instructing us to begin viewing Colston in a totally different way from the one we have all grown up with. 

The Colston Hall is part of Bristol's historic fabric. We've lived happily with it for centuries. We have no problem with it. The tiny majority that do, presumably not Bristolians should obviously clear off and go and live somewhere else...

There is therefore only one that the decision to change the name of the Colston Hall can be reversed, and that's by replacing the present Bristol Music Trust with a board of true blue Bristolians who value their city's heritage and will forbid any change...#

Bristol, speak up! Make your voices heard by the council and put a stop to this preposterous nonsense once and for all. 

if you don't then I'm afraid you deserve everything you get." 


Edward Colston did much to improve the lives of those living in Bristol in those very different times (no welfare state) and...he shouldn't be judged by today's standards.... 

No reasonable person could condone slavery, but you can't change history by changing a name....

(Slaves) were captured by their fellow countrymen and sold in chains, hundreds at a time, for money or trade goods. Without these slavemasters as they were called, there would have been no slave trade. So who was to blame?

P Collins

Saturday, October 07, 2017

Appendix: The Biggest Surprise of the Season...

There is a persistent oral tradition that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko disagreed about the identity of the Green Goblin, and that it was this artistic disagreement, rather than any dispute over wages or credits, that caused the end of their partnership.

How well does Stan Lee's version of events, half a century after the fact, match what we know about what was going on at the time?

The rest of this appendix is currently only available to my wonderful Patreon supporters, who pledge to pay me $1 or more each time I write an essay. Why not join them?

Wednesday, October 04, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #26 and #27

The Man in The Crime Master's Mask
+ Bring Back My Goblin To Me


The Crime Master and the Green Goblin

Supporting Cast:

Aunt May, J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, Frederick Foswell, Principal Davies, Patch, Mr Bush Bushkin, Norman Osborn (un-named)and a chorus of policemen, gangsters and storekeepers.

Spins a Web, Any Size

Peter uses his web as adhesive to hold his store-bought Spider-Man suit together. 

He uses his webbing to create a make-shift gas mask to get through the Crime Master's poison gas.


The story follows directly after last issue: Aunt May hasn't had time to put the costume in the trash can. Peter eats breakfast and heads straight to the Bugle before school; he must go to the costume shop after school has finished. (Either Jameson works very long hours, or Parker gets to the office after the night shift is coming to an end.) All the other events are said to happen "minutes" after each other. Peter tells Aunt May he has no school the next day. The action of the story must take place between 3.30PM and early evening on the last Friday before graduation.

2.00 Parker searches for the lost Spider-Man suit.
7.00 Breakfast with Aunt May
7.45 At daily Bugle 
8.30 Arrives at school
15.30 Visits costume shop
16:00 Fights villains, captured, escapes etc. 
20.00 Takes Aunt May to the cinema.

Peter Parker’s financial situation

The Daily Globe thinks that Peter Parker’s pictures are “terrific”; there is no suggestion that they are short-changing Peter, so he probably gets $2,000. 

A movie ticket probably only costs $1, and a bag of popcorn would only have been a quarter, so it’s hard to see how his treating Aunt May set him back more than $3.00.


26/1 Is the title The Man in the Crime Master's Mask supposed to recall the Three Musketeers and The Man in the Iron Mask?

26/2 Parker has ditched his red pajamas, and now seems to be sleeping in his trousers and a white t-shirt. 

26/2 “A Spider-Man without his costume is like a Beatle without his hair.” 
The Beatles were touring the USA in the summer of ‘65, still sporting their “mop top” haircuts.

26/2 “It could only happen to me!” 
Having cleverly sacrificed one costume and stupidly allowed Aunt May to find another one, Peter nevertheless regards his costumelessness as a trick of malignant fate. 

26/5 “Come home by bus if it rains”. 
Is Aunt May under the impression that Peter is going to walk all the way to Madison Avenue, or does she think that buses are drier than subways? 

26/9 “Just what I need - in the window of this costume store.”
In 1954 a Brooklyn Halloween costume company is known to have been selling costumes which looked a little bit like Ditko’s iconic Spider-suit. In 1964, Marvel licensed the same company to make official Spider-Man Halloween costumes - the first piece of Marvel Comics merchandising. Was Ditko obliquely referencing this by showing Spidey suits on sale in a costume shop? 

There is also a Green Goblin mask on display.

“Why don’t you take that Frankenstein suit? They’re selling like hot-cakes!”
Actually, Frankenstein is the name of the scientist who created the monster, not the monster itself. 

“I want it give it to my den mother as a house warming gift!”
A den mother is the adult female leader of a Boy Scout group — roughly equivalent to the English “akela”. Parker’s joke is more than usually meaningless.

“It sure feels good to be back in action again! I feel like an eagle that’s been let out of a cage! I might as well face it… Being Spider-Man is just plain habit forming! It’s like going out with girls…I can’t give it up!”
It is no more than twelve hours -- or nine pages -- since Peter Parker last went into action, but from the reader’s perspective a whole month has past. In issue #18 being Spider-Man was a matter of fate, or destiny; here it is an addiction. Parker comes close to admitting that there is something sexual about it — at any rate, that it’s to do with adulthood and manliness.

26/19 “Now, while you are still groggy, I’ll finish you with one carefully thrown stun-bomb!” 
A stun bomb would presumably disorientate its target with a loud bang and a flash; both Spider-Man and the Goblin expect a direct hit with one of these weapons to be fatal. 

27/2 “The gas which knocked me out is finally wearing off!”
Spider-Man was not knocked out with gas, but with the Green Goblin's stun-bomb.

27/3 “Even chains can’t take away my ever-lovin’ spider-strength!”
Everloving is a generic intensifier (c.f “Ever-lovin’ blue-eye Thing!”) It may originally have been a circumlocution for God (”the Ever Loving Father”) or more vulgarly a euphemism for motherfucking

27/3 “The way my luck has been running lately, someone would think I spend all my time walkin’ under ladders and breaking mirrors!”
Once again, Spider-Man regards a very specific situation as evidence that the universe is out to get him. On the next page, when the police arrive (because they have been tipped off by Patch) the narrator tells us that this is “the stroke of luck that Spider-Man had hoped for". 

27/4 “I feel like Steve Reeves in one of those Italian Costume movies!” 
One of the iconic scenes in Hercules (1958) has the hero tying chains around the pillars of the temple and pulling them down (suggesting that someone had him confused the Romano-Greek Hercules with the Biblical Samson.) The sequel was entitled Hercules Unchained (1959).  

27/8 “That joker’s too much of a dead-eye dick to take any chances with!”
Dead-eye is a common expression for marksman; Dead Eyed Dick may have been the name of a wild west pulp hero. (Dick Deadeye is a villainous character in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S Pinafore.) 

“Well, where he goest, Spidey will goest!!”
The Old Testament Ruth famously remains loyal to her kinswoman Naomi, saying “Whither thou goest I will go, and where thou lodgest I will lodge”. Perry Como recorded a popular song quoting the Bible passage in 1959. 

(”Oh, but Andrew: if Peter is Jewish, as you keep saying, why would he quote the King James version of the Bible?" 

"Because the standard Jewish Publication Society English translation of the Tankah followed the American Standard Bible very closely, which in turn generally followed the Authorized version.") 

27/11 “That reminds me! I haven’t had time to call Betty Brant for days! I wonder if she’s angry!”
As a matter of fact, Peter saw Betty only this morning, and they shouted at each other.

27/14 “I’ll leap up to the wood! Like a Spider-Man should!”
A very weak reference to a TV cigarette advert: “Winston taste good like a cigarette should.” (It was castigated by grammar pedants for not saying "tastes good as a cigarette should".)

27/17 “Copy boy! Bring this article on the M.M.M.S to the feature editor!” 
The M.M.M.S — the Merry Marvel Marching Society — was a fan club that Stan Lee was plugging in the letter columns. In the 1970s UK edition this line was changed to “bring this article on FOOM..”

27/20 “I simply adore a movie that makes me cry!” 
Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton's Sandpiper came out in the spring of 1965, so maybe that's what May and Peter go and see. It could conceivably have made Aunt May cry, but it is by no means a remake. 

Peter Parker takes Aunt May to the movies by bus. There must have been movie theaters in Forest Hills, so perhaps he has taken her to one of the larger cinemas in central New York? If so, it's a little stingy of him not to pay for a taxi home. 

The 1964 Amazing Spider-Man Annual consisted of a 40 page story with six villains and dozens of guest stars, rounded out with some features and posters. It was so big and bold and long and loud that it still stands as the definitive Spider-Man story, if not the definitive Marvel Comic. 

The 1965 Amazing Spider-Man annual consisted of a 20 page Doctor Strange story and some reprints. 

But at the same time that this lacklustre annual was hitting the stands, the very first two part Spider-Man story was appearing in the regular monthly comic. There had previously been stories with immediate sequels and a thematically linked trilogy, but issue #26 is the first to end on a continued-next-month cliffhanger.

The story is structurally lopsided. Part 1 ends with a mighty cliffhanger as the Green Goblin presents the defeated Spider-Man to the assembled gangsters of New York. But part 2 consists of the police turning up and arresting everyone, Spider-Man failing to catch two different villains, and an extended wrap up. It’s been called a nine-page fight with an eleven page denouement. 

The ending of issue #26 feels awkward. The natural position for the “next issue” box would be the bottom right of the page but it is stuck awkwardly on the left, to avoid covering up the figures of Spidey and the Goblin. If Ditko had intended the issue to break at this point he surely would have left room for a caption running along the bottom of the page? A gangster in the background asking “what’s gonna happen next?” makes the whole thing feel even more forced.

This final panel is pretty much redrawn as the splash page to issue #27. But the figures of Spider-Man and the Green Goblin look stiff. Ditko normally revels in crowd scenes, but the thugs in the audience look sketchy and hastily drawn. Stan Lee makes no real attempt to orientate new readers into the story, and the title Bring Back My Goblin To Me is entirely meaningless. (It could just as well have been called Jack and Jill Went Up the Goblin or By Dawn’s Early Goblin.). 

If The Man in the Crime Master’s Mask was intended to be a 40 page annual everything falls into place. We have a 9 page set-up about Peter Parker’s costume, his last days at school, and about the Crime Master taking over the mobs; 21 pages of Spider-led action; and a 9 page wind down. Note how gently Ditko takes it at the end. The Crime Master gets his comeuppance on page 12; Foswell is cleared on page 14; but the promised revelation about his “strange secret” is held back till page 20. A full six pages is taken up with Peter ditching his wet costume, retrieving his camera, selling his photos, and deciding to give Aunt May a little treat. This is not how you pace a 20 page comic. But as a single 40 page story it all hangs together beautifully. The day starts with Peter Parker snooping around Aunt May’s room trying to find his Spider-Man costume, and ends with them coming home on the bus after going to the pictures together. 

Maybe Stan Lee felt the Crime Master story was unsuitable for an annual and hastily commissioned the Doctor Strange story as a filler. Maybe Ditko had the Doctor Strange story lying around and Stan felt he might as well use it. But what is undeniably true is that The Man in the Crime Master’s Mask makes sense as, and should always be read as, a single 40 page epic.

The splash page to issue #26 — one of Ditko’s simplest and most effective — shows Spider-Man sitting in a giant question mark, surrounded by smaller question marks. But what is the question that he is trying to answer? 

Behind him, is man in a brown suit and a full face mask. (“Ah, it’s Rorschach” says anyone who started reading comics after 1985.) Next to him, hands on hips, laughing at Spider-Man is our old friend the Green Goblin. In between the two of them is Frederick Foswell, who grows more dandyish on each appearance. When we first met him, he was one of those weasily thin newsmen with a little yellow dicky bow but no jacket. Now he seems to have a velvet suit and frilly shirt to match the tie. He may even have acquired a ‘tach. And what colour is that suit? 

Ah yes. Green.

Three issues ago, we were invited to suspect that Foswell was the Green Goblin. This month's splash repeats the suggestion. All the way through the story, we are encouraged to think that Foswell – with his criminal background and his false-backed wardrobe – is the Goblin. Misquoting Winston Churchill, Stan Lee asks us “Can Spider-Man solve this dark riddle. cloaked within a grim puzzle hidden beneath the shadows of a deadly enigma??" The answer turns out to be “No, he can’t.” Spider-Man completely fails to work out who the man in the Crime Master’s mask is: the cops turn up in the final reel and tell him. And neither the police, nor Jameson, nor Spider-Man ever discover the strange secret known only to Frederick Foswell, although Stan and Steve share it with us on the final page. 

The Green Goblin and the Crime Master have made a pact to make themselves bosses – kingpins – of all the criminal gangs of New York. This is a very similar set up to The Goblin and the Gangsters, only three issues ago, when the Goblin tried to set himself up as sole king of crime. The former story suffered slightly because Spider-Man did not have enough to do: the Green Goblin’s plan fell apart due to his own hubris, and would have done so even if our hero had not been involved. The Man in the Crime Master’s Mask also places Spider-Man at the edge of the action. The villains fall out; the Crime Master decides to make himself kingpin without the Goblin’s help. Just as the mobs are about to acknowledge the Crime Master as their leader, the Goblin shows up and challenges him… But they have all been betrayed by one of their own number! The police show up on the basis of a tip off from an informer and everyone is arrested. The Goblin gets away; the Crime Master is shot by the police a short time later. The day has been saved, but not by Spider-Man. 

The excellent wrinkle is that, just before the meeting, the Goblin encounters Spider-Man and knocks him out with a stun bomb: he proves himself worthy to be king of crime by presenting the mob with the unconscious hero. “Anyone who can capture Spider-Man can boss me around any day!” says one of the mobsters. So while Spider-Man isn’t at the center of the story, he is intimately and dangerously mixed up in it. 

The story is full of good stuff: Spider-Man caught in the cross fire as the Goblin and the Crime Master shoot at each other; Spider-Man plummeting from a building, suffocating from the Crime Master’s smoke bombs; the Crime Master evading Spider-Man in a chase through the New York sewers. And, of course, no-one does piers and warehouses and back-streets and grotesques like Ditko. Look at panel 7 on page 2: constructed like a 3D stage set, with the mooring posts in the foreground; the tiny figures of the Goblin and the Crime Master on the pier; and the skyscrapers of New York in the distance. Artwork like this makes me feel homesick for New York, although I have never been there. And look at Ditko’s “camera” work: the longshot of the two villains; the second shot from slightly above them and the close up for the Crime Master leaving the scene as the Goblin flies away.

While the story doesn’t weave multiple plot threads together as intricately as last month's did, it does contain the pay-off to a subplot which has been bubbling away for five issues. Spider-Man now has no costume…so he buys one from a costume shop. But the cheap material instantly shrinks, so he sticks his mask, his gloves, and his socks onto the main suit with webbing. So when the Goblin tries to remove his mask…he can’t. Because it is stuck. An element of farce in the middle of a rather serious story; and a very logical answer to the question “Why don’t the bad guys rip off Parker’s mask when they capture him.” 

But we're not really interested in the Goblin's latest attempt to become head of the Thieves Guild. What we're interested in his his secret identity, the secret identity of the Crime Master, and the (wink!) strange secret of Frederick Foswell. This part of the plot is a structural reworking of The Enforcers, from issue #10. In that story a man in a mask and a hat tried to take over the mobs: all the clues pointed to him being J. Jonah Jameson. A last minute twist revealed that he was Frederick Foswell. This time around, a man in a mask and a hat tries to take over all the mobs and all the clues point to him being Frederick Foswell. A last minute twist reveals that he is – er – nobody very interesting at all. 

The story is less like a whodunit and more like a conjuring trick. A proper mystery lays out all the clues, presents all the information, and challenges the reader to come up with a solution. But this depends much more on misdirection, on fooling the reader. We see the Crime Master threatening the other bosses; we see a shadowy figure in a dingy apartment, removing a disguise; we hear him say “The game I am playing is a very dangerous one” and then we see that it is Foswell. Very well: Foswell is the Crime Master. A bit later, Spider-Man checks out the apartment (having hidden a tracer plot-device in Foswell’s hat) and finds the false backed wardrobe where he keeps his disguise. Suddenly, a shot is fired through the the Crime Master. Which fairly positively confirms that Foswell is the Goblin. After both the Goblin and the Crime Master have escaped from the big fight,  Spider-Man presents the results of his careful investigation to J. Jonah Jameson: “I want to warn you about Frederick Foswell! I’m sure he’s either the Green Goblin or the Crime Master… I’ve no proof yet – but I know he’s mixed up in this somehow!” And, of course, he is right. Foswell has always known that the Crime Master is Lucky Lewis, a gangster apparently well known to Jonah Jameson and the police, but who Peter Parker and we readers have never heard of before. Lewis shot at Spider-Man thinking he was Foswell. Only on the very last page do we find out that Foswell was....the informer who betrayed the Crime Master to the police. That's the disguise he was hiding in his wardrobe. 

No ground work has been laid; nothing has been foreshadowed. Right up until Foswell reveals his secret, Stan and Steve are pointing in the wrong direction and saying “look over there!” If anyone dares say “Cheat! The Crime Master was no-one we’d ever heard of, and we still don’t know who the Goblin is!” Lee can smile one of his creator smiles and say “We never said we’d tell you who the Goblin is. We said we’d reveal the secret of Frederick Foswell...”

Stan Lee has a very ambivalent relationship with “real life”. At the top of page 13, the Crime Master is shot by the police while resisting arrest. (Foswell has kindly acted as bait, to draw him out.) He decides that he will “have the last laugh” and reveal the Green Goblin’s identity. “His real identity” he explains, and then expires. One of the police helpfully points out that this is ever so slightly an incredible cliché “Boy! If I saw that happen in a mystery move I’d laugh at how corny it was!” But at the bottom of the same page, after the disappointing revelation that the Crime Master is Lucky Lewis, Spider-Man thinks: “In real life, when a villain is unmasked, he isn’t always the butler or the one you suspected! Sometimes he’s a man you didn’t even know!” 

In the space of a single page, Lee has expressed the view that the denouement is too much like a story and that it is not story-like enough. I am always inclined to take meta-textual remarks of this kind as not-so-subtle digs at Steve Ditko.

There is a persistent oral tradition which says that Stan and Steve disagreed about who the Green Goblin would eventually turn out to be. According to some versions, it was this artistic difference, rather than a dispute about pay or credits, which led to the dissolution of the partnership. There are a number of reasons for thinking that the story is not literally true but the essence of the tradition is that the two men differed over whether the Amazing Spider-Man should follow story-logic or real-life logic. Lee wanted the Goblin to be someone Spider-Man already knew because that would surprise and delight the readers. Ditko wanted the Goblin to be an unknown, because that is how it would probably be in real life. Lee’s response (50 years after the event) is unanswerable. In real life, super-villains like the Green Goblin don’t exist. But isn't it strange to hear Stan Lee -- so proud of having "dreamed up" a realistic superhero -- now blaming Steve Ditko for wanting to make Spider-Man too realistic.

The unmasking of the Crime Master is done according to Ditko’s model. It isn't quite true to say that he is “no-one important” or “just some guy”. We are told that Lucky Lewis is a powerful and infamous gangster. It’s just that neither Lee nor Ditko has bothered to put him in the story up to now. It would have been a much bigger cheat, and a much bigger disappointment, if Spider-Man had pulled off the Crime Master's mask and discovered that he was, say, Liz Allan. That kind of thing is just a cheap way of creating the appearance of a clever twist without going to the trouble of setting up a clever puzzle; of giving your villain an importance he hasn't earned. (A decade later, Gerry Conway "revealed" that the Jackal was in fact Peter Parker's old science teacher Prof. Warren. It didn't make him any more interesting.)

If Peter Parker is the center of the universe and everything revolves around him, then it makes excellent sense for people from his private life to keep turning out to be super villains. But the entire point of the Man in the Crime Master’s Mask is that he isn't and it doesn't. Spider-Man doesn’t solve the mystery; Spider-Man doesn't catch any of the bad guys. If anything, he's a background character in the story of Frederick Foswell's. So of course the Crime Master is someone who Foswell knows and Parker doesn't. For this month at least, life really is like that. 

Thursday, September 28, 2017

At-Bristol is going to be re-branded as We The Curious.
It has been called At-Bristol for hundreds of years. "At" is a beloved and popular preposition. True, it did once come at the end of a sentence, but we cannot judge prepositions by modern grammatical standards.
Who's idea is this politically correct pandering to definite articles and first person plurals? It is a plot by curious people, or "Communities" as I suppose we have to call them nowadays to stop us using good old Anglo Saxon words like "at".

From now on we will all have to drink Flwethecurious Whites in coffee shops and teach children that "The Cwethecurious Swethecurious on the Mwethecurious"? Make no mistake, the PC Brigade will not stop until they have banned us from saying With, From and Upon.
I once heard the chairman of the board saying that his train left "at" two clock. Hypocrite!
Can these people prove that they and their parents unto the third generation were born in Bristol and never left the city limits? If so what right do they have to change the name of a beloved millennia old (or at least Millennium Square) institution?
At-Bristol will always be At-Bristol to red blooded born and bred Bristolians. If you don't like it, you should go back to Iraq.
Will no-one think of the children?

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

people of a certain age might remember that episode of Grange Hill where Pogo got the cane for running a "homework service" i.e doing school work that other kids could pass of as their own and charging them money for it. 

the headmistress described it as a "thoroughly nasty business".

you may not ply your trade in the boys toilets or behind the cycle sheds, and you may demand fifty quid a time rather than a bag of sweets from the tuck shop, but if you make your living writing university style essays and selling them to students to pass off as their own, then you're still engaged in a thoroughly nasty business. 

so if you work for one of these disgusting companies can you please stop using the comments section of my blog to swindle gullible and dishonest people out of their cash. 

it really isn't any more convincing if you say "Gee [Andrew] I am a big fan of [Doctor Who] although I have never watched it and I really like what you say about it" before the "come and look at my website" part. 

i can't call in the deputy head to whack across the knuckles but I can systematically delete all your nasty little messages. 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #25

Captured by J. Jonah Jameson

Dr Smythe and his robot

Supporting Cast: 
J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Liz Allan, Flash Thompson, Aunt May

Spins a web, any size: 
Spider-Man somehow uses his web to turn an empty Spider-costume into a puppet. He sprays liquid webbing over the robot for no very clear reason. 

Peter Parker's Financial Situation
Peter Parker sells some pictures of Spider-Man stopping a burglary at the beginning of the episode, the first successful sale he has made since #22. It doesn’t seem that J.J.J was very excited — maybe he paid as little as $500?

The story starts a few hours after last issue finished; with Peter Parker leaving Liz Allan’s home and returning to Aunt May, who has, as she promised, waited up for him.  It appears to be a school day; which suggests that the events of issue #24 took place over a weekend; which further suggests that Betty works on Sundays.  


P2 "I’d better retrieve the Spider-beam which I left on a roof ledge yesterday!”
Peter Parker left the beam on the rooftop at about 10AM according to our chronology, and went off for his date with Liz at about 8PM. So he must have stayed out "studying" until well past midnight -- in which case Aunt May has waited up very late indeed!

P3 “There was the loveliest Joan Crawford movie on the late show”.
If Aunt May is over 70, she would remember Joan Crawford as the “quintessential flapper” from the 1920s and 30s, rather than the rather psychotic figure in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962). Which channel had a late-night silent movie slot in 1965?

p 3: “Must be someone important”. 
This is the first time Spider-Man has clapped eyes on Norman Osborn. Did Ditko intend us to overhear something more important than that Norman was taking out an advert in the Bugle?

P4 “My name is Smythe”.
He won’t be identified as “Spencer Smythe” until issue #28

P6 “And Betty is mad at me now…”
Peter has forgotten that yesterday morning, he was the one who was mad at her for writing to Ned Leeds.

P5 The robot is set up to home in on spiders using a “Geiger-counter like" system; it homes in on Peter’s “greater Spider-Power”, on his “spider-impulses” and on his “aura”. This strongly confirms our theory that Spider-Man is attuned to something that I have called “the Spider-Force”. 

P6  “Did I tell you chicks how I helped ol Spidey get the last laugh on that phony psychiatrist a few weeks ago?”

It has taken Smythe at least 21 days to work out why the robot grabbed Peter Parker rather than the spider, and for J.J.J's legal team to draw up a contract. During that time, Peter's dates with Liz have become a regular thing. (Connie tells Flash that Peter dated Liz "last night.) Or maybe Stan Lee just isn't paying attention.

P7 “ A fight?? Oh, Perish forbid! I just what to talk to my old buddy, that’s all!”
“Perish Forbid” — facetious combination of “Heaven forbid1” and “Perish the thought!”. It probably originated on a radio show called Easy Aces — which was mostly driven by Jane Ace’s malapropisms. (”I’m your awful wedded wife”; “He doesn’t drink, he’s a totalitarian”.) Easy Aces had been off air for 20 years by this point; it isn’t clear if Flash is trying to be funny, or mangling his cliches accidentally. 

P10 “How did he get here so fast! I didn’t even have time to put my shoes and gloves on!”
Ditko has shown that Spider-Man is in a hurry, by illustrating him running across a roof while putting his socks on. Stan Lee tells us that Spider-Man is in such a hurry that he hasn't put his socks on. This is an example of a redundant caption -- one that adds nothing whatsoever to the picture.

P13 “I’ve never liked Spider-Man — or any silly costumed adventurers.”
Betty has calmed down a lot since issue #11 when she couldn’t bear to be near Spider-Man because of his connection with her brother's death.  

Page 16 “Don’t you want to see you bookworm boyfriend eat crow…” 
Eat crow = climb down, be humiliated. I assume that crow is one of the ingredients in "humble pie". Note that Flash has accepted that Liz has dumped him and is officially dating Peter. 

“Well, hel-lo dere”

Catchphrase of comedian Marty Allan

p19  “We received a call about suspicious looking character hanging around” 
The other kind of Stan Lee caption. It is clear what is happening in the picture: a cop sees Flash loitering and moves him on. But Stan invents an unnecessary detail: someone has actually seen Flash hanging around and called the police on him. 

Douglas Adams said that P.G Wodehouse is not regarded as a great writer because, while his prose is about as perfect as English prose can be, his subject-matter is relentlessly trivial. J. Evans Pritchard famously argued said that the greatness of a work of art was the product of two criteria: how artfully its objective has been rendered, and how important that objective was. Perfection multiplied by importance equals greatness. This is in fact a more prescriptive statement of Goethe’s famous critical criteria: “What is this work of art trying to do? How well does it succeed? And was it worth doing in the first place?” Pritchard assumes that there is some Platonic idea of a “great work” against which you can judge, say, one of Byron’s sonnets and find it wanting. Goethe asks you to attempt to be objective: to take the text on its own terms before making value judgments. Adams clearly felt that Wodehouse’s perfect prose was quite sufficient to make him unconditionally great, regardless of what he was writing about. For him, form trumps content every time. 

It may be that Amazing Spider-Man #24 is a silly story. It may be that the very famous Master Planner trilogy outranks it on the importance axis. It may be that heavy, angsty tales – ones where Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man, or some member of the Stacey family bites the dust — are what Spider-Man is all about. (Sam Raimi evidently thought so, which is why Spider-Man II is so relentlessly depression.)  But for my money, Captured by J. Jonah Jameson is the most perfect story Lee and Ditko ever produced. It’s full of joy and fun and thrills and exhilaration and giving the bully a bloody good kick up the arse. It’s a meticulously orchestrated farce in which every move sets up the punch line. It's ludicrous; but we never doubt that our hero is in serious danger. It is executed just about as well as a comic book can be. 

Someone called Smythe turns up at the Daily Bugle with a robot which he says can defeat Spider-Man. For once Mr. Jameson isn’t crazy about the idea. 

“I’m not getting mixed up with any more nutty mad scientists! Every time I listen to one of you nitwits I end up being a laughing stock!” 

In point of fact, Jameson has only ever hooked up with one scientist, mad or otherwise — Dr Farley is issue #20, which resulted in the creation of the Scorpion. But it is literally only 12 hours since he facilitated a plot by known criminal Mysterio to discredit Spider-Man. It would make much more sense for him to say “I fell for Dr Rinehart; I’m not falling for you too.” Ditko’s artwork could in fact carry that meaning. But Lee prefers to refer back to a generic past: one in which Jameson is “that guy who’s always being fooled by mad scientists.” 

The second panel on page 4 encapsulates the whole story: Smythe persuades Jameson; Jameson resists Smythe; Peter looks quizzically at the robot; Betty stands back and watches. It’s as if Ditko is squeezing as much information into one panel as he possibly can. Perhaps we should call it hyper-compression: the very opposite of the cinematic decompression so fashionable today. 

Once Smythe has been introduced, we pause for about a page. (When you are telling a story over 20 pages, you can afford to pause for a page.) Ditko adds an additional layer to the story before it has even got off the ground. Spider-Man being chased by a silly robot would doubtless have been fun. The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain (#8) was great fun. (I always assumed that Smythe’s robot was green because the Brain was green and because it was coloured green on the cover of the UK reprint. It is actually gunmetal grey. There is a precedent for gun metal gray things turning out to be green. I like green better.) We can see that the robot is ridiculous; Jameson can see that the robot is ridiculous; Parker can see that the robot is ridiculous. So it is Peter Parker who persuades James to hire the obviously useless piece of hardware. So when the robot really does come after Spider-Man; and when it turns out to be very dangerous indeed, he has only himself to blame. Much has changed since Amazing Fantasy #15, but one thing remains constant: Peter Parker is a dick. 

It may be, as Betty says, that Jameson has a reason to hate Spider-Man. But we have long forgotten what that reason was, and so has he. Jameson wants to capture or beat or defeat Spider-Man to get his revenge on him for making a fool of him the last time he tried to capture or beat or defeat him. And Peter, at some level, is getting off on this. He wants Jameson to hire the useless robot “to get even with him for all the trouble he’s caused me in the past."

Not power. Not responsibility. Just a rather petty personal vendetta. Peter wants Jameson to cause him trouble, so that he can make a fool of Jameson, to punish him for causing him trouble. Jameson wants to cause Spider-Man trouble because he’s made a fool of him whenever he’s caused him trouble in the past. I don’t want to come over all Fifty Shades of Grey, but sometimes the victim really is asking for it. And it isn’t always clear who the victim is.

Peter Parker believes he is the most important person in the world. He acts as if he’s the star of the comic and everyone else merely the supporting cast. In issue #4 he was blaming God when he had a bad day, although he now prefers to blame someone called Fate. In the last few hours, he has experienced some good things (stopping a crime and making a sale) and some bad things (facilitating a new super-villain, and upsetting his girlfriend). When the good stuff happens, he puts it down to a “lucky break” and generalizes that the whole universe is on his side. ("Everything is going my way for a change!”) When the bad stuff happens, he thinks he has been singled out for “bad luck” and decides that everyone is against him. ("My luck runs the gamut from bad to hopeless!”) He may have a lot of power: but he is really not very good at taking responsibility. 

There is a sub-plot. It is also about bullying. Flash knows that Peter has been dating Liz, and is furious. He wants to call Peter out; fight with him; settle the matter like gentlemen after school. Peter is not interested. He's more worried about the killer robot he has stupidly unleashed. By page 9, Peter Parker’s two worst enemies will be chasing him down the same street. 

Has Peter Parker transgressed the Schoolboy Code by having a study date with Liz? It isn’t clear if Liz was ever officially going steady with Flash, or whether she ever officially dumped him, or whether that makes any difference. Liz certainly initiated last issue’s date, and as far back as issue #4 Flash accepted, although he didn’t like, that Liz had the right to go out with Peter if she really wanted to. Flash doesn’t behave very well — he makes himself look ridiculous, chasing Peter down the street with a mob of kids shouting, “yipee”, and hanging around outside Peter’s front door until he is actually moved on by the police. But he issues a challenge, more or less, telling Peter than he will wait for him after school. And when Peter avoids the fight — literally runs away — Flash is primarily interested, not in catching Peter and hurting him, but in getting him to admit that he is “chicken” or “yellow.” Flash’s dominance have been challenged. He needs either a duel or a submission. Peter gives him neither.

We complained last time that the plots and sub-plots were weakly pulled together: but this time it all runs like clockwork. Peter is jumpy because he knows Jonah’s robot is going to come after him; he leaves school in a hurry to change into Spider-Man. Flash and the other kids assume that he is running from the fight. This leads to one of the all time great farcical situations: a mob of boys are chasing Peter; the robot is also chasing Peter; and (just to make things more confusing) three bystanders are chasing the robot. 

This isn't just a great gag: it's essential to the architecture of the story. The robot homes in on on the spider-force. So whenever Peter Parker is near the robot, his secret identity is compromised. Ditko needs a reason why the robot doesn’t simply home in on Parker and reveal his identity to the world. The solution — so brilliant we probably don’t even notice there is a problem — is that there is a gang of boys between the robot and Peter Parker.

The robot itself is a well-tempered plot device. It functions have been precisely defined in order to get us to the denouement that Ditko wants. If it were just a piece of hardware, then Spider-Man would fight with it and eventually beat it. But it has four unique characteristics. 

1: It infallibly homes in on Spider-Man

2: It shoots out metal cables which are too strong for Spider-Man to break. Never mind that we have seen him bending steel and breaking chains: it is established from the get-go that the robot has special cables that Spider-Man can’t break. 

3: It moves fairly slowly. Spider-Man can outrun it fairly easily. But that’s all he can do. If he stops, the robot will immobilize him. 

4: It’s a robot. Spider-Man gets tired. The robot doesn’t. 

So the issue turns into a chase. Spider-Man runs from the robot; the robot chases Spider-Man. (In a way, this is yet another issue without a proper fight.) 

And while this is happening, a few blocks away, a separate plot  -- one which has been building up for no less than ten issues -- finally comes to the point. Again, we can easily overlook how intricately this has been constructed. The Flash mob, along with Liz Allan, having lost Peter Parker, decide to go and wait for him outside Aunt May’s house. Meanwhile, Betty Brant tries to help Spider-Man (by pulling the plug on the robot's remote control panel) with the result that J.J.J sends her home from work — freeing her up to go round to Peter’s house and seek his aid. Naturally, she arrives just as Liz is about to knock on Peter’s door. 

This is the first time Liz and Betty have been in one place without Peter present, and they don’t even pretend to be polite. ("Sometimes it's hard to get rid of all my admirers! Although I'm sure you don't have that problem!") And just as things are about as awkward as they could possibly be, Ditko makes matters worse. It turns out that Aunt May has another guest…

Ditko’s timing is quite brilliant here. We see Liz and Betty walk up the garden path. We see them in Aunt May’s doorway. We see them, back to back, the eyebrows positively vampiric with bitchiness. (Is it just me, or have their breasts got larger and more pointed in this scene?) We flip round and see Aunt May, all smiles. And then, face obscured by a strategically placed pot-plant is…the long expected Mary Jane Watson. Stan Lee’s annotations are perfectly judged. “Girls, I’d like you to meet Mary Jane Watson" says Aunt May. Pause. “She just dropped in to visit my nephew.” And then, the final frame: Liz and Betty, eyebrows flaccid, looking stunned. Betty thinks Peter is dating Liz; Liz wishes she could be dating Peter; and both of them now think that Peter is dating M.J. Peter has refused to meet M.J. because (chauvinistically) he assumes that anyone Aunt May approves of will be old-fashioned and plain. In fact, she’s a looker. It’s a situation worthy of Wodehouse, if not Oscar Wilde. 

Note that Mary Jane has traveled some distance to see Aunt May. She may be the niece of Aunt May’s neighbour, Anna Watson, but she evidently lives in another part of town. Any suggestion that she was literally the girl next door while Peter Parker was growing up is a later accretion. 

In this episode, J. Jonah Jameson is either reduced to a cartoon character, or else revealed to be actually insane. His dialogue gets madder and madder as the issue goes on, “Today I feel like a man of destiny…” “I’ll probably be asked to join the Avengers…” “This is a day the poets will write ballads about…” Spider-Man, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically silent. A typical Spider-Man fight scene involves our hero trading wise-cracks with the villain: but this time we stay almost entirely inside Peter Parker’s head: 

How do you like being on the run, you costumed freak? How does it feel to be up against your superior?

I've got to get some rest soon! But how?? He won’t let up for a second!

There are several reasons for this. Spider-Man is losing. He doesn’t have time to think up jokes because he’s running from the robot. Jameson is not only Spider-Man’s nemesis: he’s also Peter Parker’s boss. The thought bubbles keep Peter Parker present throughout the fight, just as the janus-face keeps Spider-Man present in Midtown High or Aunt May’s kitchen. It isn't Spider-Man the iconic superhero who is on the run: it is Peter Parker, the school kid with the crazy powers, wearing the silly costume. And the more maniacal Jonah sounds, the funnier it will be when Spider-Man finally beats him. If Parker were responding with both barrels of Spider-snark, we might even feel a little bit sorry for J.J.J. 

“Did I sound that corny when the boot was on the other foot” thinks Peter Parker, as J.J.J childishly chants “he flies though the air with the greatest of ease”, the old circus standard. Yes, Peter: yes, you did. (It was back in issue #8 when you invited yourself to Johnny Storm’s party.) 

It sometimes seems that when he puts on the mask, Peter Parker disappears and a comedic spider-persona takes over. And this spider-personality sounds a lot like Stan Lee. It makes remarks which make no sense coming from a high school senior, but perfect sense coming from a forty five year old comics hack. (In issue #35, it will go so far as to refer to Irving Forbush, an un-funny in-joke that Stan Lee has been milking since 1955.) Lee was well aware of this, and happily had photos and drawings commissioned in which he, Stan Lee, was the one in the Spider suit. But J. Jonah Jameson, with his cigar and is ‘tache and his typewriter....and his Madison Avenue office and his habit of underpaying his freelancers and hogging the credit for himself, is unquestionably an affectionate parody of Stan Lee. (Betty Brant has more than a passing resemblance to his secretary Flo Steinberg. It’s been said that the unctuous editor of the Daily Globe in issue #27 is meant to be D.C. boss Carmine Infantino). Perhaps Lee was consciously sending himself up; perhaps Ditko was slyly cocking a snook at his boss. But what’s clear is that the Jameson voice and the Spider-Man voice are both exaggerated versions of Stan Lee’s own voice. They are far too similar to be able to trade one lines with each other. 

And anyway: it’s funny for Spider-Man, who normally dishes out a barrage of not very funny sarcasm, to be on the receiving end for once. For this issue at least J. Jonah Jameson has become Spider-Man’s evil mirror image. 

Once again, this story takes Spider-Man to the point of apparent defeat, and flips things round at the very last moment. Everything has been perfectly set up. The very first scene established that Jonah would be operating the robot by remote control. So, once the robot has caught Spider-Man, Smythe and Jameson have to rush from Madison Avenue to Forest Hills in a taxi, giving our hero maybe half an hour to turn the situation round. 

Mr Jameson! What have you done to his head??! 

I didn’t do anything. He hasn’t got a head!!

I have never been exactly sure what Spidey is supposed to have done. He’s uses his wall crawling powers to remove and access panel from the robot, and then uses Science to reprogram it. He travels half way across town to retrieve his clothes, and somehow uses his webbing to stiffen his costume, so that he can operate it like a marionette with thin strands of web. (“By using my web, anyone can make life like, instant puppets" he explains. Er..okay.) But this doesn’t matter. The joke is the absolute deflation of J. Jonah Jameson. It isn’t just that Spider-Man gets away. Jonah is allowed think he is caught him right up until the last second, when he tries to unmask him. 

Of course, to pull this off, Peter Parker has to sacrifice a costume. But Ditko has that covered as well. In the opening scene, remembering that time he couldn’t follow Frederick Foswell because his costume was in the wash, Peter Parker sews up a spare. 

But in the final scene, oh no — Aunt May finds the new costume! (Bad Aunt May, snooping around behind her grown up nephew's bookshelf! But equally, bad Peter, leaving his room in a mess for his old Aunt to tidy!) Next issue will start out with Peter Parker not having any costumes at all.

Back in issue #22, we found that Peter Parker applied the same school-boy code that governs his relationship with Flash Thompson to fighting crime as Spider-Man: he couldn’t hit a woman under any circumstances whatsoever. This issue, we find that a similarly childish morality governs his relationship with Aunt May. He can mislead her and deceive her and keep things from her provided he doesn’t tell her a direct lie. “I can’t believe that you suspect me of being Spider-Man” doesn’t count as “an actual untruth” whereas presumably “I am not Spider-Man” would do. He’s a terribly bad witness: Aunt May assumes that he’s going to wear the costume to a fancy dress party, but he immediately starts burbling about his secret identity (”look under my coat sleeves….no costume! Now would he ever go out without it?”) If May didn’t think her nephew was Spider-Man before this conversation, she almost certainly does afterwards. 

This issue is how I will always remember Spider-Man. Exhilarating. Clever. Smart. Funny. Shooting off into subplots you weren’t expecting. And that makes this, in a way, a sad comic to read. Is there any real reason why these capers and shenanigans couldn’t have continued for another 50 or 100 issues? But the clock is ticking. The Final Chapter is only eight issues away.