The Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco and Frenz
Part 5 – The End, For Now
Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz were in the midst of a seminal run as the creative team on Amazing Spider-Man, when Jim Owsley took over as editor of the book. DeFalco claimed that Owsley was purposefully sabotaging the book in an effort to fire him. Owsley claims that DeFalco and Frenz couldn’t stay on schedule and he had to scramble to find people that could get the book out on time. The result was a run of inconsistent comics, alternating between all-time classics to extreme mediocrity. It’s kind of a fascinating look at how creative differences behind the scenes can derail a comic book series. Fans old enough to understand that real people were creating these stories, and be critical of them, would probably just assume that DeFalco and Frenz were dropping the ball, not realizing what they were going through with an editor that was (allegedly) out to get them. Interesting things to consider, next time you're blasting a comic book writer on a message board.
The arguments over deadlines, and the identity of the Hobgoblin, had reached the point of no return. DeFalco and Frenz would not be around much longer.
Let us mourn their end together.
Amazing Spider-Man #282
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Rick Leonardi; Inker: Bob Layton; Editor: Jim Owsley
J Jonah Jameson hires X-Factor to capture Spider-Man.
I liked: Leonardi is starting to look like the penciler I fell in love with. The innocence of young love, so easily smashed by asshole Cyclops. Joe Robertson finally telling Jonah to eat his shorts, or whatever.
I disliked: I love the work the Simonsons did with X-Factor, but did anyone think that a book with the original 5 X-Men was going to work. It was already the only Stan and Jack book that failed the first time around. (I’m aware All New X-Men is pretty good, but I don’t care. The Beast sucks.) Anyway, it’s still better than Starman.
|Mary Jane is such a tease.|
Amazing Spider-Man #283
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Inker: Bob Layton; Editor: Jim Owsley
On the lookout for the fugitive Flash Thompson, Spider-Man crosses paths with the Absorbing Man and Titania.
I liked: The references to Roger Stern’s classic Masters of Evil storyline he was gearing up for over in Avengers. Shared universe! That Titania was pathologically scared of Spider-Man for beating her down during Secret Wars.
I disliked: Nothing to do with this comic, but back to the point about referencing other stories. Some modern day comics fans like to complain about crossovers and tie-ins because “the companies force you to buy everything to know what’s going on,” but it was the same back in the ‘80s. All those caption boxes weren’t there just for information. They wanted you to buy those comics. Just in DeFalco and Frenz’s run alone, you had Secret Wars and Secret Wars II tie-ins, an X-Factor appearance, multiple references to Roger Stern’s Avengers book, and a reference to Daredevil’s fall in “Born Again.” Next issue begins a five-part storyline dealing with the fallout of Kingpin fleeing the country following the events of “Born Again.” They didn’t do this to be clever, they wanted you to buy all those comics. In short, the lesson is, stop fucking complaining about comics, they’re supposed to be fun! (Sorry, I get really frustrated that there isn’t a single place on the internet where you can go to talk positively about comics without somebody feeling the need to try and bring everyone down. Unless it’s Starman, because then it’s justified.)
Hobgoblin identity update: Ned Leeds sets off Peter’s spider sense multiple times, and continues to be uncharacteristically aggressive. Roderick Kingsley’s office sets off Peter’s spider sense, because inside he’s furnishing the Hobgoblin with pumpkin bombs.
Mary Jane relationship update: Peter and Mary Jane do have an awkwardly close moment while at a diner.
|It’s still a long stretch from holding hands to proposing, marriage fans.|
This was the last issue of the DeFalco and Frenz team, with Owsley finally firing DeFalco sometime after this issue was produced. An unceremonious end to a great creative team. Lots of ups, a few downs, mostly due to Owsley himself. All of it was still much better than Starman. More on DeFalco and Frenz below, but I’m going to continue on with the "Gang War" storyline, since it plays off of so much what DeFalco had established during his time on the book.
Amazing Spider-Man #284
Plot: Tom DeFalco; Script: Jim Owsley; Storytelling: Ron Frenz; Pencils: Brett Breeding; Inks: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Jim Salicrup
Part one of the "Gang War" storyline. With the Kingpin having disappeared, various criminal organizations throughout New York battle for control of the underworld.
I liked: Plotted by DeFalco and with layouts by Frenz, this technically still counts as part of their run. This was a tense, well-plotted beginning to an all-out gang war between the Rose, Silvermane, Hammerhead, and the Arranger. I’ve always enjoyed anytime the gangs are going hard after each other in the Spider-Man book. It creates a real warzone type of feel in the streets of New York. The action moved quickly right off the bat, with Silvermane and Hammerhead seemingly being removed from the board just in this first issue.
Spider-Man continues to delude himself into thinking that’s he quitting, with a couple of great moments in this issue. First, he gets frustrated with himself because of his first instinct to always get involved.
Then, he finally realizes he can’t just sit by and let the city descend into chaos. The positive about anytime Peter whines about wanting to quit is that it can eventually give you a great moment of him deciding he can’t sit idly by while people get hurt.
I disliked: Owsley fires DeFalco and then takes over as writer of the book? Hmm, that doesn’t seem weird at all. (All things considered, after a little too much flowery prose in the first few pages of the comic, Owsley does a pretty capable job of scripting after that. It’s pretty seamless with the voice DeFalco had on the book.)
Hobgoblin identity update: Ned Leeds sets off Peter’s spider sense again, and continues to be extremely hostile. Roderick Kingsley is feeding information about the Rose’s operations to Captain Chris Keating.
|Mary Jane’s jokes are always about how easy she is. I will admit, they seem like they’re a little more than just friends by this point. Congratulations, marriage fans.|
Amazing Spider-Man #285
Plot: Tom DeFalco; Script: Jim Owsley; Pencils: Alan Kupperberg; Inks: Jim Fern; Editor: Jim Salicrup
Part two of "Gang War." The Punisher enters the fray, and the Rose aligns himself with the Arranger, forcing Jack O’Lantern and Hobgoblin to work together.
I liked: The absolutely fantastic cover by Mike Zeck. The Punisher is an obvious choice to include in this storyline.
I disliked: Seeing that cover and then opening up the comic to see Kupperberg artwork. (Sorry, no offense to Kupperberg, he was a serviceable artist, but you know how much I love Zeck.) After a strong first issue, the momentum and action came to a screeching halt this issue, with not much happening between the major gang characters. A storyline like this really needs to move fast to accurately capture a feeling of danger.
Hobgoblin identity update: Richard Fisk finally makes an appearance in the Spider-Man books. Ned Leeds tells Joe Robertson he’s been secretly working on a big story for the Bugle, but it involves Soviet Spy activities during the Cold War (setting up Spider-Man vs. Wolverine).
I didn’t understand: Hammerhead was seemingly killed in the last issue, but appears on the very first page of this one without any explanation. I wouldn’t expect Hammerhead to really be killed, but without so much as a line of dialogue about how they survived, or even that they were attacked, it seems like Owsley forgot about it more than it was part of a plan.
Story: Jim Owsley; Pencils: Alan Kupperberg; Inks: Jim Fern and Art Nichols; Editor: Jim Salicrup
Part three of "Gang War." The identity of the Rose is revealed, and he is forced to take more direct involvement in the war than he ever intended.
I liked: Spider-Man spending the night cuddled up with a bum.
Peter wondering to himself why Mary Jane is always around (I do too, go home occasionally, geez).
I love a good fight in the rain.
I disliked: The pace of this storyline is still off. If the speed slowed down to a walk last issue, it slowed down to a crawl for the majority of this storyline, until the climax in the rain. This could have been a classic storyline if DeFalco or Frenz had been given the chance to finish it. (Or if Brian Azzarello or Ed Brubaker wants to give it a shot for modern times. Comics should do more remixes on old storylines. It works for rappers.)
Hobgoblin identity update: Lance Bannon passes up a hot news tip for something else he can’t avoid. The tip involves a situation where the Hobgoblin is expected to be, which is about the only reason Bannon would pass up a chance to take photos for a story. Richard Fisk is now eliminated as a potential suspect.
The Rose identity update: Not much time was spent on seeding clues for the identity of the Rose, since DeFalco never considered it to be a priority, or even intended it to be a mystery. Besides, he was already busy with the Hobgoblin. Revealing Richard Fisk as the Rose works well for what we know about the character. His ties to the Kingpin, as his son, would naturally make him want to strike out on his own and establish his own criminal empire, while also being sure not to cross his father, as the Rose has been shown to do. Fisk’s likely upbringing as a child of wealth would be in line with the Rose’s goals to maintain what he considered a higher class of operation, along with his unwillingness to get his hands dirty. DeFalco had originally intended Roderick Kingsley to be the Rose, which would have worked as well, for many of the same reasons, especially with Kingsley having been shown to hesitate mixing it up with the big boys thus far. DeFalco had interestingly intended for Richard Fisk to be his Hobgoblin, which works well for the ambition elements of both characters, but I really don’t think he made sense as a costumed supervillain. It wouldn’t have been a terrible idea, but I’m pretty satisfied with the way it eventually all played out.
Amazing Spider-Man #287
Script: Jim Owsley; Pencils: Erik Larsen; Inks: Art Nichols; Editor: Jim Salicrup
Part four of "Gang War." The Kingpin is returning to New York, and Daredevil distracts Spider-Man long enough to ensure it happens.
I liked: The art by a young Erik Larsen. He’s clearly young and raw, and most likely trying to adhere to a house style, but you can definitely see some of the talent shine through. (I love the ongoing feud between Larsen and John Byrne. At what point are we going to realize that John Byrne has gone insane? When should we be worried?)
For some reason, this guy diving into the water from up high, so he doesn’t break his neck on impact, has always stuck with me. It’s such a random thing to remember. I suppose because I didn’t understand as a kid that falling into water from any height could actually seriously hurt you.
I disliked: Almost everything. This issue begins with an out-of-place commentary on drug use. (It’s a good message for the kids and all, but has no place here.) Another weird bit on how giving a bum a Rolex watch will eventually lead to a few less indigents being killed and off the welfare roll. The main storyline has become an absolute train wreck. No sign of Hammerhead or the Punisher since part two, Kingpin comes back an issue early, this dude Alfredo comes in out of nowhere. Daredevil is pulling the “he knows better” routine on Spider-Man, going so far as to dress up in a fat suit to prevent Spider-Man from obstructing the Kingpin’s return.
This issue represented a serious degradation in quality for what once began as a very promising storyline. "Gang War" doesn’t even accurately describe what is happening in this story anymore. More like Gang Disagreements. Very disappointing, but not as much as Starman.
Hobgoblin identity update: A much calmer Ned Leeds apologizes to Peter for his recent behavior, blaming it all on his marriage troubles with Betty. (Since we can assume that Owsley has already killed off Ned Leeds in the upcoming Spider-Man vs. Wolverine one-shot, this could be seen as him eliminating Leeds as a suspect. Since Owsley believed that DeFalco intended for Leeds to be the guy, this could also be seen as a little jab at DeFalco by suggesting it won’t be Leeds after all. The problem with that is Kingsley has already been eliminated, having been seen in the same rooms with the Hobgoblin, with no reason for us to believe he had a brother yet. Fisk is definitely out of the running.) Lance Bannon is shown exiting a meeting with Kingsley, who has already been established as an ally of the Hobgoblin. He seems determined that Mary Jane forget that she ever saw him there also. (If Owsley truly was trying to eliminate Leeds, that leaves Lance Bannon as pretty much the only established suspect remaining.) Kingpin completes a pre-arranged deal with the Hobgoblin. Hobgoblin provided him with the identity of the Rose, in exchange for information on Soviet spy operatives during the Cold War, the very thing Ned Leeds claimed to be investigating last issue. (Now, I have absolutely no idea what Owsley was trying to do.)
Amazing Spider-Man #288
Script: Jim Owsley; Pencils: Alan Kupperberg; Inks: Jim Fern; Editor: Jim Salicrup
Part five of "Gang War." The Kingpin puts his house in order, and Daredevil once again uses Spider-Man to help him do it.
I liked: Mary Jane and Black Cat fighting over our webbed lothario. Peter doesn’t exactly seem like a guy that’s ready to settle down with one woman and pop the question, only two issues from now.
|Uh no, MJ, I’m pretty sure that is not what every man wants…|
This is a nice and succinct sequence by the Kingpin. The kind of brevity you don’t often get in comic books.
That’s a nice Spider-Man in that second panel.
But the number one thing I liked most, was that this abomination of a storyline finally ended.
I disliked: Who cares anymore, this storyline was a hot mess.
I didn’t understand: Not only does Daredevil helping the Kingpin at all after what he just did to him (in Born Again) very unlikely, the levels in which he goes to while doing it makes him look like a Cyclops-level prick. I usually love the Spider-Man and Daredevil relationship, except for the times when the writers deem it necessary for Daredevil to treat Pete like a naïve child.
Hobgoblin identity update: Ned Leeds sees that Lance Bannon has a bunch of Hobgoblin photos all over his wall. Leading Bannon to make up a lie, and think to himself, “I’ve got to be more careful! If anyone ever suspected…” Bannon goes to Ned’s apartment to return a notebook he left behind, and sees Flash Thompson through the window. Immediately after that, the Hobgoblin is inside, bitch slapping Flash senseless. (At this point it could still be Ned, mad about Flash’s continued affair with Betty, or Lance, still holding a grudge for the comments Flash made on TV.) Betty walks in, and is shocked into unconsciousness when she sees the Hobgoblin’s unmasked face. (Still could possibly be Lance, but Ned is going to be way more traumatic for her to see in that costume.)
It was at this point that Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter fired Jim Owsley as the editor of the Spider-Man books, and replaced him with Jim Salicrup. This was Owsley’s last issue as a Spider-Man writer or editor. According to Shooter, he fired Owsley because his tenure as an editor was a train wreck, and Owsley even admitted he wasn’t good at the administrative stuff (scheduling). They both agreed he was better off as a writer (which he was).
So now, DeFalco, Frenz, and Owsley were all off the book. The identity of the Hobgoblin had now been handled by three different writers, all with different agendas, and was reaching the point of incomprehensibility.
For DeFalco and Frenz, it was an unceremonious end to an entertaining run, but they would work together again. First, doing their best Lee and Kirby impersonations on The Mighty Thor, and many years later, returning to the spider universe with the alternate reality Spider-Girl series (they may have done more, but you know, I’m not going to research it or anything) starring Peter and MJ’s daughter Mayday Parker. (They would even bring the original Hobgoblin into that series, with him not being used at all in the main Marvel universe at the time.)
It may not have ended well, but their impact on the history of Spider-Man cannot be understated. The black costume, alien symbiotes, and Mary Jane’s reveal would all have a major impact on the characters to this very day. Silver Sable became a significant character in the ‘90s, headlining her own series for 35 issues. The Amazing Bag-Man is a joke that continues to be referenced and enjoyed. The Rose and new Bugle editor Kathryn Cushing played key roles in the spider books for a time. Last but not least, is their contribution to the ongoing mystery of the Hobgoblin. They ably continued the high bar set by Roger Stern, which is something that cannot be taken for granted considering the lows the character would reach under future writers. They did an excellent job with the Hobgoblin, and the stories still hold up to this day, no matter how much the resolution of his identity was bungled. But that’s a story for next week.
One last time, for those keeping track:
DeFalco and Frenz legacy points moments:
- Mary Jane knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man
- The Amazing Bag-Man
- Mary Jane has a jacked up family
- Silver Sable
- Spider-Man whups Firelord’s ass
Next week, quite possibly the most fascinating, and screwed up, resolution to a long-running mystery in the history of comics. The Hobgoblin is unmasked, finally!
And read Duy's Starman retrospective here.