Aug 19, 2013

Back Issue Ben: Carrion

Back Issue Ben is a column written by Ben Smith for the Comics Cube! See his archives here.

Carrion, Wayward Son
Back Issue Ben

If someone were to analyze what comics I choose to share with you here in this dirty little corner of the internet we like to call Back Issue Ben (not the same as Back Door Ben, because…well just don’t go to that website) they might think I make a conscious effort to track down and read every John Byrne and every Bill Mantlo comic I can find. But I promise you this, I am nowhere near that organized. It just keeps happening. (One of these days I need to research and see if Byrne and Mantlo did a comic together.)

This week, Mantlo, with the help of veteran Jim Mooney and a plucky young upstart by the name of Frank Miller, unveils another forgotten magnum opus, most likely relegated to the bargain bins of your local comics establishment. If all you know of Carrion is the horrible ‘90s era and Maximum Carnage stuff, then I promise you this, nothing could be that bad. It can only get better from there, and better begins at the very beginning.

But enough talk, let’s beat this corpse into submission.

Spectacular Spider-Man #25. Writer: Bill Mantlo; Artist: Jim Mooney; Inker: Frank Springer; Editor: Bob Hall

Big M and a council of the Maggia crime family listen to a pitch from the mysterious Carrion, who volunteers to bring them the head of Spider-Man, claiming to have intimate knowledge of said target.

(Nice play on the Kansas song “Carry On, Wayward Son” with that issue title, kudos. It reminds me of Supernatural, because they always use that song to summarize the season before every big season finale episode. Seriously, watch Supernatural. Duy refuses, please flood him with emails.)

Big M rejects his proposal, and orders his men to kill him. Carrion is surrounded by hired goons, but he makes quick work of them by pulling out his deadly “Red Death” dust. A thug gets off a shot, but the bullet travels right through Carrion, without any effect. After dispatching that nuisance, Carrion turns back to Big M, wondering if his answer is still the same.

Thinking that Carrion would represent a danger to his rule of the Maggia, Big M maintains his rejection, and tries to get rid of him with a trap door (I love how they’re conveniently always standing right over the trap door), but Carrion simply hovers above it, and then disappears in a cloud of brimstone.

The rest of the issue finds White Tiger beating up on some local gang members, and Spider-Man tangling with a Maggia enforcer named the Masked Marauder, and his ridiculously named Birdroid weapon (which changes from a bird shaped drone plane type thing, to a humanoid robot, and back).

We do get this well-done panel of a classic Spidey pose though.

The issue ends with the Marauder hitting Spidey in the eyes with his opti-blasts, blinding him.

My brain thoughts: Every time you thought Mantlo might break through and give you consistent greatness, he drops a Birdroid on you.

Spectacular Spider-Man #26. Writer: Boisterous Bill Mantlo; Penciler: Gentleman Jim Mooney; Inker: Fearless Frank Springer; Editor: Jo (Cool) Duffy

A blinded Spider-Man struggles against the Masked Marauder and his Birdroid robot as they try to rob a bank. They escape, and Spider-Man struggles to make his way around without his eyesight, relying on spider sense and luck.

Elsewhere, Betty Brant and Mary Jane (currently rivals for Peter’s affections) arrive at his apartment at the same time. As they verbally spar on the way up the stairs, the ominous figure of Carrion waits inside (apparently he knows Peter’s secret).

White Tiger does some things.

Spider-Man runs into Daredevil, who saves him from a deadly fall. After depositing him on a nearby roof, Spider-Man trips over backwards on a pigeon coop, leaving Daredevil to inquire what’s wrong with him.

Daredevil is shocked at Spider-Man’s admission that he is blind.

My brain thoughts: Is it racist of me to say that I find White Tiger completely boring? They were really trying to push him in these early Spectacular Spider-Man issues, and I just found him tedious. I like the female version better. That makes me not racist, right? Right?!?

Spectacular Spider-Man #27. Writer: Bill Mantlo; Guest-penciler: Frank Miller; Inker: Frank Springer; Editor: Mary Jo Duffy

(This issue is notable for being the first published Daredevil work of Frank Miller.)

Spider-Man continues to bounce around confused, with Daredevil having to save him once again from a deadly fall. Frustrated and angry, Spider-Man lashes out, but Daredevil is able to easily dodge his blows until he can calm him down. Being blind himself, Daredevil can sympathize with Spidey’s situation, and dials up an ophthalmologist for help.

Back at Peter’s apartment, Betty and Mary Jane part on friendly (if deluded) terms.

Peter’s landlady Ms. Muggins notices Peter’s door is open, and finds the place has been ransacked, and an ominous message left written on the wall.

The ophthalmologist believes Spider-Man’s eyes will make a recovery, but can’t guarantee a full one.

A still frustrated Spider-Man decides to lead Daredevil to the Marauder, since he was able to get a spider tracer on him during their initial confrontation.

You can really see some of Frank Miller’s future
industry-leading talent shine through in some of these panels.

They track down the Maggia, and Daredevil goes busting in to bust some heads.

Unfortunately, Spider-Man is sent flying by the (still ridiculous) Birdroid (which is equipped with a bomb) and falls to his doom.

My brain thoughts: Betty and Mary Jane are insane if they think they can remain friends while chasing after the same guy. That has never worked in human history. (Can I just say, I think I might be the only one that prefers flighty but confident Mary Jane without all the later baggage of a hard knock life back story. Also, the marriage sucked. Get over it, people.)

Spectacular Spider-Man #28. Writer: Bill Mantlo; Artists: Frank Miller and Frank Springer; Editor: Allen Milgrom

Spider-Man manages to snag the Birdroid with his web, and is carried off for a ride. Daredevil takes on a crowd of Maggia thugs by himself, but evens the odds by taking out the lights.

The Masked Marauder thinks he can take out Daredevil by blinding him the way he did Spider-Man, but that’s not going to do much against DD.

Spider-Man uses his spider sense to deactivate the bomb on the Birdroid (which is still so very stupid) and Daredevil takes out the Marauder. Bringing the Birdroid down safely in Central Park, Daredevil tracks down Spider-Man just in time for his eyesight to start coming back.

Back at Peter’s apartment, the police and Peter’s friends have arrived to worry over his fate (kind of an odd investigative tactic for the police).

Spider-Man snags some clothing through his window, and makes his way into the scene as Peter Parker. He plays everything cool, and side-steps Betty’s advances by agreeing to stay with his friend Hector Ayala (White Tiger). Hector tells him to just meet him at the campus library later tonight. As Peter approaches the library that night, his spider sense goes off. The security guard is out cold, and he finds Hector on the floor, unmoving, with the words “ASHES TO ASHES, PARKER” written across him.

Peter turns around just in time for Carrion to send him falling to the first floor with a mighty swing of his arm. He calls Peter a murderer, and reveals that he knows he is Spider-Man. Not having time to waste pretending, Peter fights back using his powers. Carrion continues to make comments about Peter being faster than he remembered — clearly they have met before (in his mind).

Peter throws a table at Carrion, but it turns to ash at his touch. Carrion boasts that he has “absolute dominion over all that lives, or once lived.”

Holly Gillis, love interest of Hector Ayala, hears the commotion and comes investigating. When she turns on the lights, it momentarily blinds Peter’s still-recovering eyes. This gives Carrion the chance he needs to get a stranglehold on Peter, preparing to execute him for the crime of murder.

My brain thoughts: Finally make the transition from the horrible saga of the Birdroid, to Carrion taking the spotlight. Frank Miller was still pretty raw at this point, but he’d continue on to bigger and better things. (Like misogyny and racism.)

Spectacular Spider-Man #29. Writer: Bill Mantlo; Artist: Jim Mooney; Inker: Frank Springer; Editor: Al Milgrom

Carrion has Peter by the throat, as art student Holly Gillis looks on. Peter is able to break free, but doesn’t have much left in the tank after the events against the Maggia earlier in the day.

Holly finds the unconscious Hector and begs for him to be okay. Carrion turns his attention to them, considering killing his friends the way he claims Peter killed his (another clue).

Peter tackles him away, and convinces Holly to get Hector out of here and get help. She does, and Peter turns around to find Carrion floating in the air. According to him, “my nature is such that the very air repels me away from it… a rather macabre form of levitation!”

Also, he can repel objects away from him, sending books and even bookcases flying at Peter. (Carrion is starting to seem like the Nightcrawler of Spidey villains. New powers introduced every single issue.) Carrion plans to torment Peter, so that he will beg for the death he will eventually grant him. Peter leaps toward the ghastly villain, only to get a faceful of red death as Carrion disappears, sending Peter crashing through the window and landing in the bushes outside.

Hector has recovered, and turns into the White Tiger, just in time for Peter to collapse in his arms from exhaustion. Peter wakes up to being checked over by the campus doctor.

Back on campus, Peter bumps into science undergraduate Randy Vale. Randy goes from that chance meeting, to the ESU science building, where he meets up with…Carrion.

Peter strolls around campus, out in the open, hoping to draw Carrion out. Little does he know the White Tiger is trailing him, hoping to keep him safe.

However, a figure in a garish winged costume comes swooping out of the sky behind the Tiger, incapacitating him. Randy, going by the name Darter, radios back to Carrion to let him know the Tiger has been neutralized.

With that out of the way, Carrion makes his move on Peter, confronting him on campus. Peter slips away to change into Spider-Man, while wondering why Carrion doesn’t set off his spider sense (another clue). Spider-Man finds Carrion atop the gym building, where Carrion taunts him about not being able to graduate with his class because of his missing gym credit. (Ouch, low blow.)

The fight carries over to the inside of the gym, where they are soon joined by a tussling Darter and White Tiger. Carrion accuses Spider-Man once again of murder, stating “you murdered them both—by fall and by fire.” (Have you figured it out yet kids?)

Spider-Man still refuses to understand who he is supposed to have murdered, until Carrion drops the bombshell, charging him with the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Professor Miles Warren.

My brain thoughts: Have you figured out everything yet? Conway’s little Clone Saga story (brought about by a mandate from Stan Lee to return Gwen Stacy to life) just kept producing story after story over the years for the characters. I always liked Carrion as a young lad. He kinda looks like a Green Goblin that has been left out in the sun too long. Plus, he has a pouch, which is just supreme confidence on the part of a villain. Not everybody can sport a pouch like that. He does his own thing, that guy. Too bad they would ruin him later on.

Spectacular Spider-Man #30. Writer: Bill Mantlo; Artist: Jim Mooney; Inker: Frank Springer; Editor: Al Milgrom

Spider-Man is shocked at Carrion’s claims, not knowing how he could possibly know about the circumstances of Miles Warren’s death.  (Darter and White Tiger also continue their bout, but who really cares…)

Spider-Man dodges Carrion’s death touch, and his deadly red death dust, some of which melts the bleachers when it hits (best to avoid that stuff, I think).

Spider-Man flees the basketball courts (Mantlo should have thrown in a panel of Spider-Man dunking, just because) to the swimming pool, but is knocked into the water. Holding on to the side railing, Carrion puts his foot down on Spider-Man’s hands, burning them with his touch.

Sinking to the bottom of the pool, Spider-Man hits the bottom and braces to jump out, breaking free from the water and laying a massive punch across the face of Carrion.

(I don’t know if it was inspired by this scene, but when I was younger, whenever we would go to the pool I would always pretend to be Spider-Man, locked in chains and sinking, only to break free and defeat the villain. Only I think it was always Dr. Octopus in my make believe battles. Also, I still do this.)

Spider-Man grasps the diving board with his still burning hands, and Carrion falls into the water. True to nature, the entire contents of the pool bubble and explode, repulsed by the horribleness of Carrion.

Darter and White Tiger continue their fight.

Carrion moves toward Spider-Man, planning to finish him off. But White Tiger has maneuvered Darter into flying right into his master, sending them falling into the empty pool. White Tiger jumps to Spidey to help him up, but Carrion has recovered quickly, and sends Tiger tumbling to the bottom of the pool, knocking him out.

Carrion sends another handful of crimson dust into Spider-Man’s face, knocking him out.

Sometime later, Darter recovers to find he has been left behind, beginning to doubt if he can trust Carrion to carry through with the promises that were made to him.

Carrion carries the unconscious body of Spider-Man into Miles Warren’s former lab, where the clones of Gwen and Peter were created.  Carrion takes a sample of Spider-Man’s blood, and injects it into a nearby chamber.

He slaps Spider-Man back to consciousness, and finally reveals what Spider-Man has so far been unable to guess — that he is the living clone of Professor Miles Warren.

My brain thoughts: I have to say, the thought of Miles Warren making a clone of Gwen Stacy, and maybe doing all kinds of sick things to her, made me sick to my stomach as a kid. At the very least he got to see her naked. I was really creeped out by the thought of that.

Spectacular Spider-Man #31. Writer: Bill Mantlo; Artist: Jim Mooney; Inker: Frank Springer; Editor: Al Milgrom

Peter, unmasked and captive of Professor Warren’s clone Carrion, tries to convince him that he’s wrong about Peter’s guilt in the murders of Gwen and Miles. Miles Warren himself had realized this before the end. Carrion remains unconvinced, and reveals that telepathy is what enables him to know Peter’s every thought. (Another power. I think he’s passed Nightcrawler by now.)

Carrion lays down the flashback, revealing how Miles Warren had injected a cell sample into a clone casket before leaving to confront Spider-Man for that one final time. But something went wrong, the casket never opened, and so the clone body reached old age, died, yet somehow remained alive in the special fluid of the casket. Randy Vale stumbled upon the body, and freed it from its living prison. (And doesn’t seem all that shocked by the situation to boot. I’d be a little freaked if a ghoulish clone was threatening me.)

Vale agrees to help Carrion get his revenge, in exchange for spider powers. While he reported back to Carrion on Peter’s movements, Carrion tested out his deadly abilities. Carrion goes on to explain how he just extracted a blood sample while Peter slept, and injected it into the protoplasmic pre-clone in the nearby chamber. The tentacled pre-clone blob monster breaks free from the chamber, and moves toward Peter.

As it slowly envelops Peter’s body, Darter comes darting (couldn’t resist) in, accusing Carrion of lying to him. He takes a shot at Carrion, but it travels harmlessly through his body, and then Randy catches a faceful of red death dust.

Darter’s blaster hits the ground, fortuitously sending off a shot that frees Peter from his shackles. Peter jumps free of the creature, just in time to see Randy’s face melt away (Mantlo sure did like to sneak the in gore into his innocent little ‘80s comics).

Peter puts his mask back on, and jumps into battle as Spider-Man. Carrion threatens to kill all his loved ones after he kills him, starting with Aunt May (bad move).

Spider-Man and Carrion are locked in combat when White Tiger arrives on the scene. The blob, having crawled across the ceiling, leaps down on top of Spider-Man.

White Tiger lunges at Carrion, but is punched clear across the lab, knocking over equipment, and creating a fire, separating him from Carrion and Spider-Man. (Does White Tiger accomplish anything in this storyline? He’s the Wonder Man of the Spider-Man universe. And that’s not easy, with Tobey Maguire around.)

Spider-Man, completely surrounded by the blob-like creature, struggles to break free. (I enjoyed his thought “here lies Spider-Man…killed by osmosis.”) Spider-Man triumphantly breaks free, and jumps clear of the creature.

 The creature moves towards the next closest victim, which is Carrion.

White Tiger escapes from the fire through the window, greeting the police arriving outside (I always found it odd that the police had no problem working with every other costumed vigilante other than Spider-Man).

Inside, Carrion tries to levitate away, but the creature is too fast, pulling him into its grip. Carrion scrambles to get free, reaching for anything to grab a hold of. Unfortunately, he only grasps the whitened skull of Randy Vale, and finds himself surrounded by the creature and the fire.

The smoke is getting to be too much, so Spider-Man breaks free through a window, and crawls out into the freshly falling snow.

Exhausted, Spider-Man lies there in the clean, soothing snow, ready for next month’s new adventure.

My brain thoughts: Things got a little weird at the end here, with tentacle’d blob monsters adding a little sci-fi strangeness that contrasted with the previous chapters in the story. The original Clone Saga gave birth to so many things. It’s like the octomom, if one of the babies was Kaine, and another was Spidercide.

My final brain thoughts: Oh so ridiculous Birdroids, the importance of ophthalmologists, delusional women, Spider-Man water play, the dangers of face melting, and carnivorous clone blobs.

The Clone Saga was the story that just kept giving and giving throughout Spider-Man’s history. For the most part, there was some pretty excellent stuff that came out of it. The original Carrion, depicted here, counts on the excellent side, in my opinion.

One of the most interesting things about the anger over Ben Reilly being revealed as the real Spider-Man in the ‘90s, is how beloved all that stuff seems to be now. I’d almost hesitate to guess that fans should let a story finish first, before they throw a big fit about it (maybe not in the case of Reilly though, as the backlash and low sales were probably what kept him from taking over the role). Another funny thing about fans supposedly quitting on the character, is how many times it’s happened to Spider-Man throughout his publishing history. First it was how Stan Lee was ruining him (really, his co-creator?), then the black costume, then the marriage, then the Clone Saga, then One More Day, then One Moment in Time, and now Superior (with I’m sure many more in between). It seems like with all this swearing off Spider-Man forever, he wouldn’t continue to be Marvel’s flagship character. I’ve always tended to be a go-with-the-flow type of reader. As long as I’m entertained, I’ll read it. (Unless it’s Norman Osborn’s sex face, or Daredevil and the Black Cat hooking up, those just make my stomach churn.) I can appreciate passion as much as the next person, but after a certain point, you have to ask yourself as a fan and as a reader, are you enjoying yourself? If not, maybe it’s time to find something else to do with your time. If a company, or creator, isn’t making stories that you enjoy, don’t take it so personally, because it’s not. There are plenty of other things to spend your time on (like Back Door Ben).

I’ll step down off the soapbox for this week. Join me next time, for more comics. I think it’s Claremont’s turn!

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Ben, I remember Mantlo and Byrne worked on some Marvel Team-Up issues.

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