Monday, December 7, 2009

Marvel 1974 Week--Amazing Spider-Man #139!!

As we continue our trek through 1974, it's important to remember just how big and prolific Gerry Conway was at the time.

Despite being only 22, he was writing Amazing Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, Thor, Marvel Team-Up, and several short stories for Marvel's B&W magazines. Earlier, he had scripted the first Werwolf By Night story, the first Man-Thing story, and the first issue of Tomb of Dracula. As Conway hopped between Marvel and DC in the mid 70s, he wrote and wrote and wrote some more. The January 1977 issues of all of the following comics were written by him:
Avengers, Defenders, Captain Marvel, Iron Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, Ms. Marvel, Logan's Run, Superman, and Action Comics. That's some impressive output, folks.

But his most influential run was certainly his 3+ years on Amazing Spider-Man. Begun when he was just 19, in those 39 issues Conway created the Punisher, along with a myriad of new villains; hastened (if not created) the Bronze Age by killing Gwen Stacy; killed the Green Goblin; and brought Gwen Stacy back as a clone (along with a Peter Parker clone...sigh). It's safe to say that his run impacted the entire industry, and still reverberates through the Spidey mags today.

Why, then, did I never really like his Spider-Man stories? Maybe it was because of issues like this one:

Ah, Gil Kane....As we discuss the issue, let's make note of this cover caption:

Sadly, there was no money back guarantee with this captionWe'll discuss how true that is later. Let's get into the story:

Nothing happening here...Beware that caption about Spidey having "many things to worry about"--it's a hint of what's coming.

And who else besides Conway created this puppy?

Our creatorsAh, Ross Andru. He was the artist on Spider-Man when I started reading it, and was the artist on most of the back issues I could scrounge up. I was mostly a Marvel rat then, so I wasn't at all familiar with his DC output...I just knew him as "the Spider-Man artist." So, perhaps some of this can be chalked up to youthful nostalgia, but I always thought Andru did the best job of portraying Spider-Man's panel-busting athleticism and acrobatics.

I reprint the next two pages in whole...click if you really want to read them...but my point is that:

Nothing to see here...
ZZZZZWe have two solid pages of nothing--literally nothing--except Spider-Man swinging around feeling sorry for himself. He can't find an apartment, his best friend is his worst enemy, he feels guilty for doing so well after Gwen's death, he's broke, he hates J. Jonah Jameson, he's worried about graduation from college "in a few years"...good God, the man won't stop whining. And that's an awful lot of neuroses to stuff into two pages...

So that's two problems I had with Conway's Spider-Man right there--the soap opera was sometimes amped up to a redonkulous degree, and sometimes his pacing was...well, lacking in urgency, shall we say?

We've just spent the first three pages of the story having Spidey just opining to himself...and the next two and a half pages are spent doing absolutely nothing except watching Peter Parker apartment hunting. Seriously!!

Sure, a 3 1/2 room 'tenement' with its own bathroom...
And with Rent control...Wait a minute...3 1/2 rooms...in New York City...for $110?!? What the hell are you whining about, Parker??

It's pretty hard to feel sympathy for Parker when his rent is less then 1/4 mineGo ahead, Conway...rub it in!!

Well, something's bound to actually happen now, right?!? Nope. Parker drops by the Daily Bugle to spend two pages shooting the breeze with his co-workers. And we get to see every moment of it. Thanks, Gerry.

Finally, by the end of story page 7:

He's looking for the bathroom?
Perspective--he fit on the elevator??Thank heavens.

Oh, when Roy's editor's note says they'll explain later, he means next issue...don't worry, I won't leave you guys hanging like that.

So we give Robby Roberston a shot at the spotlight while Parker rushes off to change his clothes...but it doesn't work out to well:

Every good city editor knows how to fight bears
Ouch!Then, comedy, J. Jonah Jameson style:

Oh, Jonah, your cowardice is amusingWhich the Grizzly doesn't take to kindly to:

No wonder the newspaper industry is dying, what with the expense of constantly repairing the office after super-villain visits
The Bugle should have unbreakable windows installed by now...Of course, Spider-Man rescues Jonah. And then, finally, on page 11 we see some Spider-Man action other than moping around:

No way is Grizzly as strong as Rhino, guys
Some days you get the bear...But the Grizzly is tough:

Some days the bear gets youSo Spidery uses his speed and agility to keep from getting hit:

Ross Andru rocks
And again, Ross Andru rocksYet Peter soon learns the park rangers were right: Don't Mess With The Bears:

Better not say that to HulkThe Grizzly wins and stalks off (without finishing Spider-Man or finishing of JJJ...go figure)...

They never stay to check, do they?But of course, Webhead was only faking, so he could plant a tracker on the guy:

Soon to be used to frame Spidey for murder...Spidey...um...traces the tracer, and Conway gives us a fairly unique reason for why Peter Parker became Spider-Man:

Oh, yeah, and Uncle Ben dying had a little something to do with itYeah, that whole great power great responsibility thing? Just ignore that...I became Spider-Man to avoid thinking about my problems. Boo hoo.

Here's another hallmark of Conway's run: Parker's spider-sense goes off...and Peter chooses to ignore it.

Seriously...why have a Spider-sense if you never listen to it??So he walks right into a trap:

You were warned, Peter...
Judo chop!!And our big reveal?

Man, the Jackal looks like a prancing idiot...Now, this was the first time Spider-Man has actually seen the Jackal, but he's heard the voice before, and knew of his existence. And since the Jackal had been lurking in the background for the past year, I say we give the cover blurb a "fail" on its promise of a "surprise supervillain" (although, the cover blurb's not Conway's fault...).

I promised not to leave you hanging...next issue it will turn out that the Grizzly is really ex-professional wrestler Maxwell Markham. Jameson started a press crusade denouncing his violent ways, and so the governing board of wrestling (snicker) banned Markham. Really. Apparently, there was so little news back then, front pages "exposes" of professional wrestling would sell papers:

News was scarce before A-Rod came to townSo Markham hooked up with the Jackal, who made him a power-boosting exo-skeleton he could wear beneath a big bear suit. Because Miles Warren was not merely a brilliant biologist, you see, but also a super mechanical engineer, and...

Anyway, this two-parter barely had one part's story, and as a result #139 was insanely padded with whining and real estate...which is why everyone bought Spider-Man comics, right?

I don't want to sound too hard on Conway. While this issue was lack-luster, it was hardly bad, poor pacing and overdone soap opera aside. And this issue was a bit of an aberration, as most of his issues were better than this one.

Still, for a run of such stunning significance and importance, both to Spider-Man and the industry, I always did feel the quality of the stories never quite reached heights it should have.

But Ross Andru rocked.

Oh, a special answer from the letters page: When Chad B. Goyette of Long Beach CA complained about Marvel re-introducing a new Green Goblin so soon after the death of the first, this was the reply--

Again, where's my money back guarantee?LIARS!! LIARS!! LIARS!!!!

ELSEWHERE IN THE MARVEL UNIVERSE:
Speaking of Conway and Spider-Man:

Spider-Man ordering gods around...This month's Bullpen Bulletins told us that Conway and Len Wein had "swapped" writing duties on Fantastic Four and Marvel Team-Up, "mainly so that [Conway] can handle virtually all of the many Spider-Man pages that are unleashed by the House of Marvel each month."

The swap didn't really take with Wein and the FF, as he lasted only 1 1/2 issues therebefore Roy Thomas re-took the reins. Conway lasted longer, as this was the first of his 11 issues. His run spotlighted spome of the more obscure corners and lesser lights of the Marvel universe--Valkyrie, The Frankenstein Monster, Son of Satan, a team-up featuring the Human Torch & Doctor Strange--and was usually pretty fun (perhaps being divorced from the soap opera of Amazing helped...).

This issue, of course, featured the famous scene of Hercules towing Manhattan back into place. Talk about your core marvel universe...


Where'd they get a chain that big?

1 comment:

C.K. Dexter Haven said...

The 1970s was a time of endless baby boomer self exploration. That glorious time when pampered, college-educated brats attempted to "find" themselves through "EST" and "Primal Scream Therapy." Is it any surprise that Peter Parker--who was a solipsistic S.O.B. from the git go--touched the hearts of baby boomers everywhere?

;)