Showing posts with label 2018. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 2018. Show all posts

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Amazing Spider-Man #36

Where Falls The Meteor

The Looter [Meteor Man] Norton G. Fester

Supporting Cast: 
Gwen Stacy, "Sally", Flash Thompson

The story unfolds over nine or ten days.

Page 6/7 - The Looter robs a bank and "In the days that follow" he becomes a one man crime wave.

Page 10-12 - The Looter robs the museum, but is foiled by Spider-Man.

Page 15 = "The next day" he goes back to the scene of the crime to make a better plan.

Page 16: Four days later he tries to rob the Museum a second time: "But the Looter doesn't show up that night—not the next—nor even the next. However at the end end of the week when the exhibit is about to close..."

Assuming "the end of the week" is a Friday and working backwards, this give us something like:

Day 1: Bank robbery
Day 4: First museum robbery
Day 5: Returns to Museum
Day 9: Second museum robbery.

Only a small amount of time has passed since last issue (battles with Kraven and the Molten man are still "recent").

So if the fight with the Molten Man takes place on Monday September 20th 1965, we could place this one between Wednesday 22nd September and Friday 1st October. Peter Parker is about 6 weeks into his first term at college.
Peter Parker's Financial Situation
Peter mentions in passing that he hopes to sell pictures of the fight to Jameson, although he is not actually seen taking any.

page 1 "When I become as famous as Darwin — Galileo — Aristophenes — I'll pay you back with interest."
Darwin discovered evolution. Galileo proved the sun was the center of the Universe. Aristophenes may be related to Aristophanes, who wrote Ancient Greek comedies.

"With this I might solve the riddle of the universe."
Fester seems to regard "the riddle of the universe" and "the origins of life in the universe" as synonymous. The term "riddle of the universe" (which also troubles the Silver Surfer) seems to come from a nineteenth century biologist named Ernst Haeckel who thought "Die Weltr├Ątsel" ("world riddle") "was "how does matter give rise to consciousness?" 

"Maybe I'll accidentally stumble over something... like Isaac Newton."
The laws of motion were not an accidental discovery: according to folklore an apple fell on Newton's head which set him thinking about what made the apple fall. Alexander Fleming's discovery of antibiotics would be a better example of serendipity. Stan Lee, naturally, thinks that scientific discoveries leap fully formed into the minds of men of genius. 

p 4 "Everyone had a chance to get to know each other .. and to form close friendships...except Mrs Parker's bad luck nephew."
In issue #34, the other students have turned against Peter Parker because he was blanking them, and because he is too proud to explain the reason. Stan Lee seems to be overwriting issues #30 - #33, perhaps in order to make Peter Parker Less Of a Dick.

p5 "I'm in your English Lit class!"
Some colleges do require science majors to take additional courses in the humanities, but it is never again suggested that Peter has studied poetry or drama to graduate level. (And anyway, would Peter really have been missing lab work, but attending literature seminars?) Stan never went to college and imagines that universities are just like high schools. Eleven years on, in #185, it will turn out that E.S.U requires academic students to take a gym class.

p6 "Oh no! Not again! Will I always be thought of as nothing but an egghead??
"I don't want another Betty Brant situation developing again. She only liked me for my brains too."
There has been no suggestion that Peter and Betty broke up because Betty only cared about Peter's brains. Either Peter is chauvinistically shifting the blame onto Betty, or Lee is again overwriting the last few issues and replacing them with something simpler.

p8 "It has to be the night that the Looter is probably out playing pinochle"
A Rummy type card game with an element of bidding

p12 "Come back, little sheba"
This is the title of an undistinguished Burt Lancaster movie from 1952. 

p17 "Us Spider-Men are a hardy breed"
Spider-Man used this phrase back in issue 19. I still think it must be a quote and I still can't work out where it comes from.

Last month, Ditko trailed this issue with a picture of a new supervillain. Quite a striking pictures: a white body suit with purple collar and sleeves and a spooky mask that recalls the Ringmaster's Clown.  But he evidently declined to tell Stan Lee anything else about the character. So Stan was reduced to writing placeholder text. 

"A swingin' super-villain so different, so new, we can't even tell you his name yet." 

This turns out to have been an ironic choice of words. This month's villain is not characterized by novelty and uniqueness. Stan claims that there was a disagreement -- or at any rate, a last minute change of mind -- about what to call him. Possibly Stan wanted him to be The Meteor Man but Steve insisted on The Looter. ("Looter" is an Ayn Rand buzzword.) A better name might have been Generic Man.

A hiker finds a recently crashed meteor. Back at home, he smashes it with a mallet, and releases an undefined Alien Gas which gives him super strength and super agility. There are, of course, only two career paths available to super strong individuals: robbing banks, and stopping people from robbing banks. Our hero goes for the former, knits himself a silly costume and adopts The Looter as his sobriquet. After a brief crime wave, he starts to fret that his powers may only be temporary, and tries to steal another meteor from a museum. His first attempt is foiled by Spider-Man, but he escapes. On his second attempt, Spider-Man defeats him and hands him over to the police. 

This is so thin that it hardly counts as a plot. Spider-Man is purely reactive: the Looter tries to do a crime and Spider-Man tries to stop him. The elaborate origin sequence does little but set up a McGuffin. The Looter needs a Meteor to top up his powers, but it would have made no difference if he had needed some radioactive isotope or the One Eye of the Little Yellow God. The museum setting gives Ditko an excuse to show Spider-Man leaping through a mock-up of the solar-system, but that's about all. The fight itself is mildly diverting, at least compared with last issue's punch-fest; the denouement, with Spider-Man fighting one handed while the Looter tries to float away on a hot air balloon is very nearly exciting. In a few places, the in-fight repartee is a little bit funny

--You must be mad, talking that way while you battle for your life

--I must be mad to be in this line of endeavor in the first place

But most of the dialogue, like most of the story, is the most predictable kind of Spider-snark. ("Have you ever considered medical help because of your anti-social tendencies?") Nothing wrong with it, but we've heard it all before. 

There is the slightest hint of a sub-plot: Gwen Stacy (who has literally acquired devil's horns) meets Peter at the museum and tries to make a romantic pass at him. But when she sees him running away to turn into Spider-Man, she naturally assumes that he is a coward. A new plot-machine is beginning to coalesce: Peter outwardly looks down on Gwen because she has taken against him for no reason; Gwen outwardly looks down on Peter because he is a coward and snob; but both of them are secretly attracted to the other. This one could run and run.

From the very beginning of the comic we are invited to laugh at the Looter and not take him seriously as a villain. He has a silly name: Norton G Fester. He is selfish and egotistical: he thinks that the meteor will reveal the solution to the riddle of the universe but he mainly cares that it will make him rich and famous. When the meteor gifts him with superpowers he immediately decides to use them to steal money, but then adds, in passing, that given time he will probably also conquer the world. His idea of experimenting on the meteor is to attack it with a mallet. When he wants to test his agility, he is shown sticking his bum out like a chicken before awkwardly jumping in the air. Once he has acquired superpowers, he starts to use the most cliche-ridden villainous dialogue imaginable.  ("You should have realized that resistance would be completely futile against one as powerful as I!") But while most villains either try to come up with ripostes to Spider-Man's sarcasm, or else make melodramatic speeches at him, the Looter seems perpetually to be forgetting his lines -- "Huh? Who said that?" "Out of my way...I said out of my way!" "Again—what does it take to stop you?" It's as if we are watching someone cos-playing a Marvel super-villain, not very convincingly.

I wish I could save this story. I wish I could prove that it is not a very poor episode of Spider-Man but in fact a very sophisticated parody of a Spider-Man comic. If Spider-Man can renounce "with great power comes great responsibility" in issue #34 and crack jokes only Stan Lee understands in #35 then why shouldn't the whole concept of a super-villain origin story be the next edifice to come tumbling down? Once we have acknowledged the absurdity of bank robbers in white leotards, perhaps we can get back to what Spider-Man was originally meant to be -- a kid trying to deal with superpowers in an otherwise rational world, 

With a bit of stretching, Norton G Fester could even be read as a bizarro-world inversion of Peter Parker himself. Parker is a bona fide science genius: Norton thinks he is, or wishes he was. Like Parker, Fester has few friends and no-one takes him seriously. When he tries to borrow money from the bank or get investment from a science lab, he is pretty much laughed at. When he rants "They mock me because I am too smart to work...too clever to hold down a job!" we might hear echoes of the younger Peter Parker's fear of being laughed at. When the bank won't lend him money, he says "You'll be sorry! You'll all be sorry!" which is of course just what Peter Parker said to his classmates all those years ago. While Norton J Fester is ranting about being an unrecognized genius, Peter Parker is refusing to date Gwen's friend Sally because she is only interested in his brains! 

Fester's language after he inhales the magic gas is rather reminiscent of Peter Parker's after being bitten by the magic spider: 

Parker: "What is happening to me? I feel .. different as though my entire body is charged with some fantastic energy" 

Fester: "Why do I feel so different...As though some superhuman power is coursing through me." 

And like Spider-Man Fester has a weird belief in Fate which amounts to an awareness that he is a comic book character with a pre-set role to adhere to. Spider-Man famously performed an aria which concluded "I now know that a man can't change his destiny, and I was born to be...SPIDER-MAN." Fester announces: "Now I realize why I never made it as a scientist. I was never cut out to be a scientist..I was born to be a master criminal...A super-criminal...I was born to be... The Looter." 

This above all: to thine own self be true.

There may also be some conscious irony in the mechanics of Fester's origin. He hits the meteor with a hammer and chisel, in the hope that he will discover the secret of the universe by accident. It is certainly true that people in the Marvel Universe keep on acquiring amazing abilities as a result of being struck by lightening on top of pylons; exposed to gamma bombs and knocked down by trucks. So the idea that Fester deliberately tries to have accident in the hope of triggering an Origin makes a funny sort of sense. 

I would love this to be right. I would love the Looter to be consciously intended as an inverted shadow of Spider-Man. But while Stan Lee had many strengths as a writer, subtlety was not something he was known for. If he had spotted that Fester was the Anti-Parker I am sure he would have said so.

No: superhero comics have a very limited vocabulary. The Looter's origin resembles Spider-Man's origin because all characters' origins resemble all other characters' origins. Humble beginnings. Mocked and derided. Senseless accident. Powers. Decision.

Why can this kid climb up walls?

I don't know. Because science, I guess.

It's not the origin which defines a character; it's what comes afterwards. Peter was bitten by a radioactive Spider and became a hero. The Looter was bitten by a radioactive meteor and did absolutely nothing at all.

Maybe something better will come along next month.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

Pledge £1 for each essay. 

Leave a one-off tip

Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copyright holder.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Amazing Spider-Man #35

The Molten Man Regrets...

The Molten Man (Mark Raxton)

Supporting Cast
J.J.J's new secretary

Spider-Man #35 must happen after Spider-Man #34, so the earliest the attempted robbery at the jewelry store can take place is September 6th. 

Not very much time has passed since #35 because Jonah's secretary is still new and hasn't learned everyone's names. The big fight with the Molten man cannot take place after September 20th. 

The opening scenes took place "months" ago. Raxton was arrested on Peter Parker's graduation day, June 25th, 1965. He must have been released very quickly indeed for "months" to have passed. Perhaps he spent only a week in prison: July 2 - Sep 6 could just about be called "months". 

Raxton robs the jewelry store "many days" after his release. July 2 - September 6th is 64 days, which certainly counts as "many". 

"As the days slowly pass, day after day" Spider-Man keeps tabs on the Molten Man (p8) "Finally..." he catches him committing a crime. If Spider-Man is keeping tabs on the Molten Man from Sep 7th—Sep 20th, then twelve days have passed.

With a bit of squeezing, that gives us:

June 25th 1965: Molten Man captured 
July 2: Molten Man released 
(September 5th): Spider-Man fights Kraven 
September 6th: Spider-Man foils jewelry heist
September 7th - September 20th: Spider-Man keeping tabs on Molten Man.
September 20th: Big fight with Molten Man

Peter Parker's financial situation 
Peter sells photos of the Molten Man to Jameson, but doesn't bother to haggle. 


Title: "The Molten Man Regrets..."

Nothing in the story suggests what it is which the Molten Man feels regretful about. There is a Cole Porter song called Miss Otis regrets (about a woman who is lynched for shooting her lover) but that doesn't seem especially relevant.

p4 "It's a heckuva place for a skeet-shooting set up" 

i.e. It's real gunfire, not a rifle range, that I can hear.

p6: "Iron! Iron's a metal!" 
It's nice to know that Peter is not letting his science scholarship go entirely to waste. 

p10: "Shucks. I hoped you'd think I was Yogi Berra" 
Yogi Berra was a former baseball star and current manager of the New York Yankees. His one-line gags and malapropisms would have appealed to both Stan Lee and Peter Parker. ("I am not going to buy my kids an encyclopedia. They can walk to school like I did.")

"Minutes later, a scene which occurred a few months ago is repeated anew..."

The Molten Man Regrets is so obviously a re-run of The Coming of the Molten Man that Stan can't resist pointing it out. The cop who finds the defeated Molten Man can't resist pointing it out either. Last month's story was a little bit lackluster; but this month's gives the impression that everyone involved has just stopped trying. Indeed, it starts to look as if Stan and Steve are actively sabotaging each other's work.

Spider-Man's least interesting adversary, the Molten Man, is released from jail. He tries to rob a jewelry store, but Spider-Man stops him. Then he tries to rob a safe, but Spider-Man stops him again. They have a fight and Spider-Man wins.

And that's literally it. There is no sub-plot; barely any plot of any kind. None of the supporting cast appear. There is a fight, and some scaffolding to provide a reason for the fight. And the fight itself amounts to Spider-Man punching the Molten Man, the Molten Man punching Spider-Man, and Spider-Man finally tying the Molten Man up with some extra strength webbing, exactly as he did last time. 

Stan Lee knows that this is a lot different from the intricately assembled psycho-noir tales about the Master Planner, the Cat and the Crime Master. "It's change-of-pace time once again" he cries "so climb aboard for the action...!" It's clear enough what he really means: "The last few issues have been too slow moving, and they haven't had enough fight scenes."

In case we are in any doubt, he says it twice:

"This one is for the real old-fashioned dyed-in-the-wool Spidey fanatics who like to see ol'web-heard fighting as only he can."

"Old-fashioned." The comic has changed recently, but this issue is getting back to what it used to be in the early days.

"Real." The people who liked the recent issues aren't the true fans: their opinions don't really count.

"Fighting." The real fans are the ones who buy the comic to see a one-to-one sparring match between Spider-Man and a super-villain. From now on, that is what the comic will be about. Real fans will like this. The people who do not like this are not real fans.

Last issue's Kraven story followed the familiar 9-9-2 structure: nine pages of plot and subplot; nine pages of fight; and a two page wrap up. Peter Parker didn't put his Spider-Man costume on until page 10. Stan Lee felt the need to apologize for this. Twice

"We'll admit this has been a pretty long introduction, but once the action gets started we'll more than make up for it" 

"Okay, web-spinners. You've been patient with us till now and here's where it starts paying off."

Curiously enough, this issue's story follows pretty much the same structure. The first nine pages are plot exposition; Spidey confronts the baddie on page 10; the fight lasts until page 18; and pages 19 and 20 are about Peter Parker after the fight has ended.

So what was Stan Lee apologizing for? The nine page introduction to the Kraven story consisted of the villain formulating his Evil Scheme. But they also showed Peter Parker visiting Aunt May in hospital; Peter Parker trying to patch things up with his college mates; Betty Brant having a terrible dream and deciding to leave town; Peter worrying about the fake Spider-Man and Aunt May inviting Mrs Watson for tea. The introduction to the Molten Man story, on the other hand, shows Raxton planning his scheme; Raxton robbing a jewelry store; Peter Parker realizing that the thief must be the Raxtpm; Peter Parker planting the tracer on Raxton's suit; Peter Parker following several false trails... 

Stan Lee is not apologizing for the lack of fight scenes in #34. Stan Lee is apologizing for the existence of anything else. The true old fashioned dyed in the wool Spider-Man fanatic objects to scenes involving Aunt May, Gwen Stacey and J. Jonah Jameson. The true old fashioned dyed in the wool Spider-Man fanatic wants a fight with a villain and nothing to distract him from it. The true old fashioned dyed in the wool Spider-Man fanatic is, in fact, one of those letter hacks who wanted less romance, less drama, less mystery and less soap opera. 

And Stan is going to give them what they want. 

I hope they were satisfied. But from where I'm standing a fight without a subplot makes for pretty boring reading. The Molten Man punches Spider-Man and then punches him again and then punches him again. Then Spider-Man punches the Molten Man. And they provide a running commentary for anyone watching on the radio: 

--First, using the metallic power of my molten body I'll crush all the fight out of you with an unbreakable bear hug.

--You're just whistling in the dark, Moltey. You can't beat me that way! No bear hug can stop my webbing from zipping up to the ceiling and sticking there 

--What good'll that do you? 

--I was hoping you'd ask? 

--You're bluffing! 

--Think so? Just watch...

You end up wishing they would just shut up and kill each other quietly. 

And amazingly, for the first two pages of the dreadful fight scene, this is exactly what happens. Molten Man punches Spider-Man in the chest. And instead of going through the usual "I am punching you in the chest" "Oh, punching me in the chest now are you?" rigmarole we just get a big sound effect: "Thwop!" Then he punches Spider-Man on the jaw, and it goes "Puh...twee!". Then Spider-Man punches the Molten man and it says "Brrakkk!" And so on. (The Molten Man Regrets...was published in the same month that the Adam West Batman TV show debuted, complete with its infamous on-screen kapows and zaps. But since comics were written two or three months in advance, this has to be marked up as an "interesting coincidence".)

But of course, it isn't sufficient for Stan Lee to write two pages with nothing but sound effects. He has to tell us that he is going to write two pages with nothing but sound effects. And in telling us, he breaks the fourth wall in a particularly egregious way:

"And now, we promised Artie Simek we'd let him go wild with sound effects for a page or two, so here goes".

Artie Simek was the letterer on most Marvel Comics. Stan Lee had a slight tendency to make fun of him on the credits page, in the way that singers sometimes make fun of drummers. The hero and the villain are making dramatic "kapow" sounds as they punch each other; and Stan Lee chooses this moment to take us out of the story and remind us that someone is writing the sound effects in over the pictures. He shouldn't drawing our attention to the sound effects in the first place. Kapows and Kaks work best when you hardly notice they are there. If there is a Ka-bopp sound effect, that ought to be because it is the exact sound which Spider-Man's fist makes when it hits metal...not because the guy with the typewriter knows that the guy with the fountain pen likes writing in really big letters.

It gets worse. 

The fight rambles on. The pugilists start taunting each other. And Stan decides the moment has come to drive a fully fledged wreaking ball through what remains of the fourth wall.

--Once I've beaten you, there'll be nobody left to stop me!

--Don't kid yourself! There's always Irving Forbush!

--Who's he?

--Forget it! It's an in joke!

Any pretense that we are listening to words spoken by a character named Peter Parker has been abandoned. We are just looking at words being written onto a drawing by Stan Lee.

The very first comic I ever read included an advertisement for the FOOM magazine and fan club which introduced itself this way:

"FOOM is the whackiest most way out idea since Irving Forbush combed his hair in the pencil sharpener....Stan (the Man) Lee is head FOOMER, Jaunty Jim Steranko is minister of inFOOMation and rascally Roy Thomas and your other bullpen biggies will be sharing the fun..."

It also had a letter from Stan Lee—not called a soap box, but instead headed "Stan Lee sounds off!"

So face front frantic one, Marvel is on the move again...And now on behalf of the whole batty Bullpen to all you Titanic True believers everywhere....we'll never let you down, O Keeper of the Faith, 'cause we're nothing without you! Excelsior!

Marvel Comics have always worked at two levels: there is an inner world, the superhero comics themselves, and there is an outer world, the world of Bullpen Bulletins and letters pages and house ads. Of course, the pulse pounding pageantry of the stories are the reason we carry on reading: but the frame, where Stan Lee chomps his cigar and talks nonsense is a very large part of what gave Marvel Comics their unique ambiance. 

Stan Lee in particular spoke his own lingo; simultaneously incredibly pretentious and comically self-deprecating. Some of it comes from the military ("Face Front!" is what a Sergeant tells a squaddie on parade); some of them have an Arabian Nights zing to them (Keeper of the Flame; Effendi) and some of them are the kinds of things that middle aged men might imagine hippies saying to each other (Hang loose! Stay cool! Whacky! Batty!). But you don't need to know what any of this stuff means; and even if you do, it's still pretty senseless. I now know what strange device Henry Wandsworth Longfellow had on his banner; and what is written on the Great Seal of the United States. (This is a useful thing to know if you are ever on Who Wants To Be a Millionaire). I know that Jim Steranko was an escapologist and stage magician who drew a small number of ground-breaking issues of Captain America and SHIELD in the early 70s. I know that Roy Thomas was one of Stan Lee's acolytes, the person to whom he was gradually handing most of the editing and scripting duties. I even know that a bullpen is a kind of baseball clubhouse, not an esoteric writing implement. But I didn't know any of those things in the olden days. "Excelsior" and "E Pluribus Marvel" were just words. Roy Thomas, Jim Steranko and Irving Forbush were just names. Magical words; magical names; part of Stan Lee's patter, part of the gift-wrap which Spider-Man came in. 

Irving Forbush turns out to have been a free-floating joke. A decade before the Fantastic Four, Stan Lee had tried to launch a funny magazine, called SNAFU, his answer to Mad. (He never completely abandoned the idea. The American comics I used to see carried adverts for a something called Crazy.) The magazine sometimes carried a byline "Founded by Irving Forbush, 1871" and "Losted by his brother, Melvin Forbush, the previous year." The slender joke came about because the Saturday Evening Post (home of all those wholesome Norman Rockwell covers) used to claim to have been "Founded by Benjamin Franklin".

Irving and Melvin are fairly generic American Jewish names. Irving Forbush was evidently intended to be a counterpart to Mad Magazine's Alfred Neuman mascot. When SNAFU folded, Stan Lee took the name with him, like Christopher Robin's swan. Some years later, when Marvel did an execrable self-parody comic called Not Brand Ecch! the Irving Forbush character morphed into a superhero called Forbush Man. He has continued to appear intermittently ever since. The Everything-2 website describes him very well as "an old fannish gag, a remnant of the original 60s era Marvel, a vision of the company which no longer exists."

"The best idea since Irving Forbush combed his hair in the pencil sharpener" is neither more nor less meaningless than most of what Stan Lee says. 

So: by having Spider-Man reference Irving Forbush, Stan Lee has literally crossed a line; the frame has bled into the picture. The frame is fun precisely because it is a contrast with the comics themselves. Inside the comic, it really matters to you that Aunt May is definitely, definitely going to die this time and Galactus is probably going to eat the whole world; but then you flip the page and find Stan and Steve shooting the breeze with you and your remember that it's not really real and everything is okay. 

I think we all understand the rules. Spider-Man can move upwards and appear in the frame: there is nothing at all odd about seeing a picture of Spider-Man on the letters page saying "Don't forget to order next week's issue from your newsagent". But of course, no-one would imagine that Peter Parker, while fighting Doctor Octopus, would suddenly remember that time he had to swing across a letter column and remind people to renew their subscription. It patently doesn't work like that. Stan Lee cannot flow downwards and become a character in one of his own comics: if he could, he really would be God. (There are one or two occasions when Jack Kirby and Stan Lee appear as characters in the Fantastic Four: but they are very much presented as jobbing artists of the previous generation; none of the "hang loose Irving Forbush Excelsior" Marvel-speak seeps through.) Lee's voice, the voice of the narrator is everywhere present; but only as an observer. He can hear the characters' thoughts, but they can't hear the captions. Indeed, it is an artefact of the Marvel Method that the Lee-Narrator is only ever an observer: he sees what the reader sees and hardly ever says "I know something you don't know." Last month, the Secretary With No Name wondered to herself why Betty Brant left so suddenly, and the Lee narrator chips in "And so do we, young lady. And so do we." That third person plural is a marker of Stan's meta-textual technique. 

So it is a sin of the first order to show Peter Parker referencing Stan Lee's most pointless in-joke in the middle of a fight. Yes: the mask has slipped before. We have noticed that when he is not wearing the mask, Peter Parker can seem a lot like Steve Ditko, but when he puts it on, he starts to talk like Stan Lee. And yes, once a narrative has been breached it is always possible for more narrative to patch it up. (Maybe Peter Parker saw a copy of SNAFU when he was eight years old, recalls the Irving Forbush character and is wildly wondering if Mark Raxton, who is slightly older than him, remembers it as well.)

But to me, it breaks the spell in a very fundamental way. Spider-Man is no longer my buddy who I could conceivably go and meet if I ever went to New York. He is just some pen and ink sketches. And around the sketches is white space which an aging hack is filling with whatever gibberish comes to mind. 

There is worse to come.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

Pledge £1 for each essay. 

Leave a one-off tip

Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copyright holder.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Amazing Spider-Man #34

The Thrill of the Hunt

Kraven the Hunter

Supporting Cast:
Betty Brant, Anna Watson, Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson, Frederick Foswell, J.J.J's new Secretary (un-named)

The action takes place over about a week: 

Day 1 (Night): Peter Parker starts studying again. (page 4) 
Day 2: "The next day" Peter Parker visits Aunt May in hospital (p4) and goes back to college (p5). That evening he hears the report that Spider-Man has attacked JJJ (p6)
Day 3 -6: "In the days that follow" the false Spider-Man makes more attacks.  
Day 7: "Finally" Spider-Man decides to take action. 

Since the cuts and bruises on Peter Parker's face have healed, a few days must have elapsed since the end of The Final Chapter. If issue #33 took place in the early hours of Sunday, 29 August 1965, The Thrill of the Hunt probably takes place between 1st September and 8th September. 

The fight between Spidey and Kraven takes place after dark; Aunt May and Mrs Watson are having tea and think Peter is at the cinema. Aunt May thanks him for coming home early. 

6PM: Mrs Watson comes round for tea; Peter sets out
7PM  Fight between Spider-Man and Kraven
9PM  Foswell reports capture of Kraven to Bugle
10PM Peter gets home.

Note that Jameson's new secretary is still in the office at 9PM: he's expecting her to work a 12 hour shift, while protesting that he isn't running a sweat shop. 

Peter Parker's finances
Peter doesn't bother selling any pictures of Kraven to J.J.J: he has not spent the thousand dollars that he got at the end of last issue.

p6: "It's the Chameleon's last hideout..the one he used when the two of us teamed up...I've got to trap Spider-Man before I myself am discovered...for I have been sentenced never to return to these shores."
In Amazing Spider-Man #15, the Chameleon brought Kraven to New York  to defeat Spider-Man. They were both deported at the end of the episode. Kraven was last seen in a prison cell with the rest of the Sinister Six, but was presumably put back on a boat immediately thereafter. (The Chameleon is currently concentrating on helping the Leader defeat the Hulk.)

p8 "The world's most amazing super-hero, contentedly munching a mcintosh apple..."
It is unclear why Stan Lee bothers to specify the brand of apple. Mcintosh were a popular red-coloured fruit grown near New York. Steve Jobs named a famous brand of computer after them.

p13 "It's him!"
"Tsk, tsk. You mean "It is he"! Nothing infuriates me as much as bad grammar!"
One would not say "Him is climbing the wall" (unless one were referring to Adam Warlock) so logically one should not say "It is him who is climbing the wall" and therefore not "It is him". Similarly, you wouldn't say "Me is climbing the wall" (unless you had been raised by Kala the she-ape.) But in practice, everyone says "It is him" and "It is me."(Germans say "Ich ben is!" but the French say "C'est moi!".) Most grammar experts recommend that one follows common usage in all but the most formal situations.

The follow-up to the Very Famous Master Planner Trilogy is not irredeemably bad: it is just a bit meh. The Scorpion story, which came straight after the End of Spider-Man triptych was also a bit meh. So it was possible to read this story and hope that Ditko and Lee were merely pausing for breath before embarking on their next epic.

Kraven the Hunter decides that it is time to have another go at killing Spidey. On page #1, he is treating it as a personal challenge ("the greatest prize of all is still denied me") but by page #7 he is thinking in terms of a personal feud ("it is worth the risk to destroy the one I loath most of all in all the world"). He brews up one of his jungle potions which gives him the power to stick to walls, puts on a Spider-Man suit, and threatens J. Jonah Jameson. Jameson redoubles his newspaper campaign against our hero.

Last time a baddie dressed up as Spider-Man, Peter Parker assumed that he had become a  somnambulant split personality and went running to a psychiatrist. This time, more reasonably, he thinks "Someone is impersonating me!'' As soon as he ventures out, he encounters the fake Spider-Man who reveals himself to be Kraven. They chase each other around an old building for a bit, and when Kraven catches up with him, they have a fight. Spider-Man wins, Kraven admits the ruse ("Whatever else I may be...I am a man of honour!") and Jameson is left feeling pretty stupid. Again.

There is a very small wrinkle. An angry mob follows Spider-Man into the building where he and Kraven are sparring. Not very much comes of this: Spidey ties up half of them in webbing and punches the other lot out. The script quite definitely says that the mob are criminals with a grudge against Spider-Man ("most of the nails Hogan gang") But I wonder if Ditko intended them to be a mob of angry citizens?  Page 9 panel 5 shows the General Public being whipped up into a state of mild annoyance by one of J.J.J's editorials ("someone should put that masked wall crawler out of circulation once and for all") and on page 11 we see three mean looking guys deciding to "get rid of him once and for all". (They look very mean indeed: some of them have picked up sticks and several of them do not seem to be able to afford shirts.) So isn't it more likely that Ditko intended them to be ordinary members of the public, fired up to take the law into their own hands by Jameson's incendiary writing? Without this, it is hard to see much point to the "fake Spider-Man" plot thread. On the other hand, Spider-Man is shown quite happily punching the mob, which is hard to credit if he thinks they are just angry proles.

And that is pretty much all that happens. Aunt May is all smiles after her silly old operation; by the end of the issue she is sitting down to a good old fashioned chat with Mrs Watson over tea and cookies. Betty Brant decides to leave town for good. Jonah gets a new secretary. And Peter Parker continues to sabotage his own social life. He tries to be nice to his fellow students who not unnaturally tell him to get lost, since he's been blanking them since the first day of term. Peter could easily have explained what happened. Flash may be a bastard, but Gwen and (as we will find out in a few issues) Harry are basically fair-minded people who would have given him the benefit of the doubt. Instead he blames a situation which he himself created on a malignant supernatural force -- "the old Parker luck" -- and slinks away to catch up on his lab work. "I guess I can't blame them for thinking I'm the prize crumb of the year!" he explains to a bell jar "But I sure don't intend to beg them for a chance to explain." 

Oh. Peter. Parker. Stop. Being. Such. A. Dick.

There is, however, one point of interest in the issue. It is only a clue to a road not taken but it is an interesting road and an interesting clue.

Amazing Spider-Man #34: For about three panels, Peter follows 
"rational self interest".

After seeing Aunt May and finishing school, Peter Parker hears police sirens. He is just about to jump into action as Spider-Man, but then he thinks "Aww, come to think of it, why bother?" He doesn't need the photo-money because of the rather generous fee he took from J.J.J. last issue; and he would rather visit Aunt May and study.

"Aww, come to think of it, why bother?" As slogans go, it's not quite up there with "With great power comes great responsibility."

You might expect that this would lead to some tragic conclusion or moral lesson: that something would teach him that he can never say "why bother?" when Spider-Man could be helping out. But nothing comes of it at all. He decides to let the world turn without him for one night, and it does.

Peter Parker really did cast of his albatross and exorcise the ghost of Uncle Ben last month. He no longer feels that his great power gives him responsibility for the whole of the rest of the world. He turns his back on a crime and looks happier than we have ever seen him in months. Maybe it has taken Ditko 34 issues to finally refute the ending of Amazing Fantasy #15. Peter Parker is going to pass by on the other side when he could have helped someone. And that's okay.

That was the message that Ditko tried to give us in The End of Spider-Man. If it comes to a straight choice between being Peter Parker and being Spider-Man, Peter Parker is much happier just being himself.

Of course, it doesn't come out like that. The fake Spider-Man forces him to go into action (perhaps that, in narrative terms, was the point of it) and the issue ends with him telling a passing tree that "Spider-Man I've always been...and shall always long as I live."

But perhaps this was where Ditko wanted to take the story. Freed from his liberal guilt, Peter Parker no longer has to play the hero: from now on he's just a crime photographer making an honest living.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copyright holder.

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Thursday, December 06, 2018

Doomsday Clock #8

I think I finally understand. 

Geoff Johns wants to write about the DC Superheroes—Superman, Batman, Shazam and all the rest. Those are the characters he cares about; those are the characters he has a feel for. 

Or perhaps those are characters who, whatever their origins, have been folklorized. Characters who have bounced from writer to writer and from medium to medium for nearly a century. Characters who are bigger than any one creator. Batman isn't Bob Kane's Batman, and possibly never was: he is just Batman. Each writer writes the Consensus Batman and passes him on to the next writer, knowing that Consensus Batman has changed, ever so slightly, under his brief custodian-hood. The Watchmen characters haven't been, and shouldn't be, folklorized in that way: they belong too much in a single text. It makes sense for Geoff Johns to be writing about Firestorm in the way that Geoff Johns would write about Firestorm. It makes no sense whatsoever for him to be writing about Doctor Manhattan in the way that he imagines that Alan Moore would have written about Doctor Manhattan, had Alan Moore not comprehensively killed him off and said very publicly that there shouldn't be any more Doctor Manhattan stories. So obviously, the DC Universe scenes work and the Watchmen scenes don't. 

Or perhaps that's just what we've been conditioned to think by the movie/publishing complex. 

Perhaps the comic that Geoff Johns really wanted to write was the seventeenth reboot of the DC Universe, bringing back Kid Flash and the original Justice League and possibly making the whole thing slightly less dark and slightly more Silver Agey. Perhaps someone Upstairs said he could only write his reboot if it included the cast of Alan Moore's graphic novel, and he agreed. Or perhaps he realized that his story needed a super-god to muck around with history and challenge Superman, and found himself thinking "Wouldn't it be a wheeze if my God Like Being was Doctor Manhattan?" 

Or perhaps none of these things are true. What certainly is true is that this episode has very much more fluidity and characterization and, oh god, dare I even use the word, fun than the previous seven issues of Doomsday Clock. 

Or perhaps Superman and Batman and Lois Lane and Firestorm are fun and interesting characters no matter what you do with them. Perhaps the Watchmen characters are, out of the context of that one particular text, actually quite boring. 

Or perhaps that's just what we've been conditioned to think. 

In this issue, the subplot which has been simmering away in the background since issue one pushes its way to the front of the stage. The Watchmen cast are almost entirely absent. Geoff Johns takes the trouble to write in some exposition about the DC characters and the current state of the DC Universe. This enabled me to keep track of which superhero was who and therefore have a fairly good idea about what was supposed to be going on. "Firestorm wasn't created by some secret government programme, Lois" says a bespectacled news reporter in an old-fashioned blue suit "Ronnie Raymond and Prof Martin Stein were in a nuclear accident which fused them together. Ronnie's in control of the body, and the professor advises him telepathically." 

Perhaps it is in the nature of classical comic book characters to explain the plot to each other in short sharp sentences. The Watchmen characters, being realistic, can't be expected to tell each other things they already know, so we can only find out what is going on through the medium of oblique flashbacks and sidelong glances. An interesting Watchmen/DC crossover would have played on that. Imagine Superman having a Doctor Manhattan style reverie, taking us back to Krypton and Kansas in non-sequential flashbacks, while Rorschach says "I'm trying to fill the shoes of a hero who never really was! Gosh, how ironic!" 

Or perhaps Alan Moore did that years ago, under the title of For The Man Who Has Everything. 

The overwhelming majority of DC superheroes are American. Meta-textually, this is because DC Comics are published in America and the overwhelming majority of DC Comics readers are American. However, people inside the comic book universe have started to realize this; and they have developed a theory that all the superheroes (apart from Superman) have been created by the American Government, and should therefore be regarded as military weapons and regulated by treaties. The appearance of a superhero (apart from Superman) anywhere in the world could be regarded as an act of war. This is the Superman theory. It may have been deliberately created by Lex Luther to make life hard for Superman, but on the other hand it may not have been. 

In this issue, the previously exposited Firestorm has been illegally superheroing in Russia, lost control of his powers, and turned an entire innocent crowd to solid glass, which the Russians take to be an act of war. Firestorm takes refuge in Kahndaq, a sanctuary for superheroes ruled by Black Adam. The last time I looked, Black Adam was the evil opposite of Captain Marvel. He now seems to be a kind of edgy good-guy who Superman treats with cautious respect. Superman and Firestorm work out how to use the latter's powers to make the crowd of glass statues human again, and Superman uses his innate nobility and charisma to get the Russians on side; but just when everything is going to be okay the army and Batman arrive, there is shooting, and the statues get smashed. 

The episode begins with Ozymandias, who has possibly somehow got inside the Oval Office, pulling a secret file off a shelf and saying "This will do nicely". Halfway through the episode, Lois Lane gets a memory stick containing footage of the Justice Society, who she has never heard of, and the final page has Ozymandias sitting in front of a bank of TV screens. (I like the fact that the high tech bank of TVs he had in Watchmen have been replaced by several different widescreens and some tablets.) Last issue he said "I have a plan"; this issue he says "It begins". If this is all too subtle, the alternative cover (all comics have lots of different covers nowadays) shows Ozymandias as a puppeteer, controlling marionettes representing Superman and Doctor Manhattan. 

So: the situation has been engineered (somehow) by Ozymandias. I think that what is supposed to have happened in the final panel is that Ozzy has somehow let off a Nuke or at any rate a Very Big Bomb in Moscow, but made it look as if the explosion is Firestorm losing control of his powers. He thinks that engineering a war between the US and Russia will force Superman to stop Doctor Manhattan. Stop him from doing what? I have rather lost track. Superman is certainly the biggest name hero in the DC cosmology; but I don't see why he is thought capable of challenging Doctor Manhattan, who is very nearly literally a god. 

But doubtless this will all be cleared up sometime before the summer of 2019. 

Or perhaps that's what we've been conditioned to think.

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

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Watchmen and Doomsday Clock are copyright DC Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copyright holder.

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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Doomsday Clock # 7



Comes from: The DC Universe, 36th Century
Group affiliation: Legion of Superheroes
Powers: Telepathy
Objective: Keep history running according to the correct time line from her future perspective.


Comes from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Group affiliation: Ozymandias
Powers: Being a badass
Objectives: Help Ozymandias locate Doctor Manhattan.


Comes from: The DC Universe, 1945
Group affiliation: The Justice Society
Powers: Used to be able to summons up a magic genie.
Objective: Reestablish contact with his magic genie. Believes the green lantern (see below) is related to his lamp.

Magic Items: Green lantern

The green lantern once belonged to the golden age Green Lantern who was Johnny Thunder's team mate in the Justice Society. (However due to the intervention of Doctor Manhattan, the golden age Green Lantern never existed and was therefore, presumably, never in the Justice Society. The green lantern has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles due to its contact with Doctor Manhattan.)



Comes from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Group affiliation: Himself
Powers: Rich genius.
Objective: a: Find Doctor Manhattan;
b: Persuade him to return to the Watchmen Universe
c: Prevent Watchmen Universe being destroyed in a nuclear war for real this time.

Magic Items:

1: Nite Owl's Owlship

Automatically deposits Ozymandias at the exact spot in the multiverse where the plot requires him to be.

2: Bubastis

Bubaastis was killed by Doctor Manhattan but has been cloned by Ozymandias. The Bubastis kitten has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles due to the original's contact with Doctor Manhattan.


Comes from: The DC Universe, present day
Group affiliation: Himself
Powers: He is ther goddamned Batman.
Objectives: a: Prevent Ozymandias destroying the world.
b: Catch crooks.



Comes from: The DC Universe, present day
Group affiliation: Leader of all the criminals in Gotham City
Powers: Mad, evil. Has more or less infinite supply of former Batman bad guys under his command.
Objective: Kill ther Batman


Comes from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Group affiliation: Doctor Manhattan
Objective: Last orders were to kill Bubastis

The Comedian was killed in the Watchmen universe, but has been resurrected in the present day DC Universe by Doctor Manhattan

The Comedian has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles due to his contact with Doctor Manhattan.


Come from: The Watchmen Universe, 1992
Powers: Unclear
Group affiliation: Came to the DC Universe with Ozymandias with the intention of helping him solicit Doctor Manhattan's aid. Currently allied with the Joker


When the scenario begins, Mime and Marionette and a severely wounded Comedian and ther Batman are located in the Joker's secret base.

Ozymandias will pick up Saturn Girl, Johnny Thunder and Rorschach in the Owl Ship.

Bubastis is attracted to anything and anyone which has been impregnated with McGuffin Particles (i.e anything which has been touched by Doctor Manhattan.) This should eventually lead the party to the Joker's base.

If all the objects and people impregnated with McGuffin Particles (e.g Bubastis, the Comedian and the green lantern) are brought together then Doctor Manhattan will be forced to manifest.

When Doctor Manhattan manifests he will info dump the following facts:

1: Ozymandias does NOT have cancer after all; this was a ruse to persuade Rorschach to join his scheme.

2: Rorschach's parents' marriage was destroyed by his father's involvement with Kovacs. This information was withheld from him by Mothman.

3: Manhattan refrained from killing the Marionette during the bank robbery not out of simple compassion but because he used his precognizance to see what her child would do in the future.

4: Marionette is pregnant again; Manhattan will not say which child the prophecy refers to.

5: Manhattan knows that he will encounter Superman in one month's time: his precognizance fails at this point and he does not know if this means he will be killed, or that he will somehow destroy the world.

Once it is clear that Manhattan will not intervene to save either Watchmen-earth or DC-earth, Ozymandias will announce that he has a plan of his own.

Because the last one went so well.

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

Pledge £1 for each essay. 

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Watchmen and Doomsday Clock are copyright DC Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copyright holder.

 Please do not feed the troll.