Jul 30, 2015

Guest Appearances and Semi-Plugs: The 80s Marvel Method of Dealing with Continuity

Back Issue Ben's been covering the severely underrated Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz Amazing Spider-Man run, which, while not critically acclaimed these days, left a lot of permanent marks on the history of your favorite wall-crawler not named Gwen Stacy. But one thing that struck me while putting his posts together is the way 80s comics used to acknowledge each other's continuity. Before the Big Event became a staple, the way a company would give an illusion of a larger universe is to have the characters drift in and out of each other's books, much like how in real life, you and your friends drift in an out of each other's stories.

Marvel was especially good at coordinating such incidences, partly because it was built into their DNA—Stan Lee and Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko had the Fantastic Four meeting the Hulk and guest-starring in Spider-Man, for instance, fairly casually, while DC books were looser, with the individual books going about their own business until it was time to bring the characters together in a team book like Justice League of America—and partly because Marvel's main characters were all pretty much in New York City.

Ben didn't really highlight the instances in his retrospectives so much, so I'll call 'em out here as highlights. In Amazing Spider-Man #277, in a narrative interlude to give Peter Parker a break from fighting the Hobgoblin, DeFalco and Frenz have Peter visiting a broken down Matt Murdock (that's Daredevil, for the five of you who didn't watch the excellent Netflix show), who's having his life torn apart by Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin of Crime.

Peter then visits the Kingpin afterwards to threaten him, not really getting anywhere.

This is all in reference to the now-legendary "Born Again" storyline in Daredevil, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, one of the most well-regarded superhero stories of all time.

Spider-Man's interlude here, in his own title, serves several purposes. First, it shows that yes, these superheroes are in fact a part of a larger universe, and yes, logically speaking, a superhero can reach out to another in a time of need. Second, it does provide an automatic "out" (weak as it is, but that's just something you take with these shared universes) for Spider-Man to not get involved, thus leaving Daredevil's story independent and overall unaffected — "Born Again" is enriched by this interlude, as is the feeling of the Marvel Universe as a cohesive whole, but nothing is taken away if you don't know of this issue's existence. Third, it plants seeds for a possible plot down the line between Kingpin and Spider-Man. Fourth, it's a good plug for Daredevil's book!

Side note #1: the Kingpin moving from third-class Spider-Man mob boss villain to first-class Daredevil villain was a stroke of genius. What other "villain transplants" can you think of that were successful? Which ones didn't pan out so well? And which ones haven't happened yet, but you'd really like to see? I kinda wanna see Poison Ivy as a Wonder Woman villain.

Maintaining individual narrative integrity on each title while at the same time creating the feeling of a larger universe does, when viewed as a whole, make the foundations of the universe look spindly at times, such as when Spider-Man is fighting Firelord in Amazing Spider-Man #269-270, and Peter, hopelessly outmatched, tries to find the Fantastic Four, only to remember that they're off-world.

This wouldn't be so glaring (and in this case, they actually were off-world at the time in their own book) if the Fantastic Four didn't happen to be off-world just about every time he was outmatched and needed their help. Spider-Man's other "hopelessly outmatched" story, for example, where he fights the Juggernaut, has him trying to call the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, and the X-Men, none of whom are in New York City at the time. I don't know if they actually were or weren't in their own titles, but if they weren't, I'm going to chalk that up to editorial coordination and not just a stroke of blind luck.

But these are things you just have to accept if you're going to buy into this whole "shared universe" thing, much like, yeah, you just have to accept that Iron Man and Thor aren't showing up in Winter Soldier, because then it would take away from Captain America being the agent of resolution for the narrative. That's okay, and it does highlight the times when the other characters who need to be there actually do show up. At the end of the Firelord story, the Avengers show up to take Firelord away.

And in Avengers #258, which follows that issue of Amazing Spider-Man, we pick up right where we left off. Here's the cover.

And here's part of the scene that comes in the middle of the comic, when the Avengers get back to New York City.

The Black Knight is not easily accustomed to change.

Spider-Man's story, in the sense that he is the protagonist, as it regards Firelord, is over, and Firelord then becomes the Avengers' problem, while Spider-Man goes about his own life. In this Avengers storyline, early on in Roger Stern and John Buscema's legendary run on the title (not the part that would become legendary), Hercules sets Firelord straight and the flame-headed herald of Galactus joins Earth's Mightiest Hero to fight against Nebula. That's it. Being beaten up by Spider-Man one week, fighting a space pirate with the Avengers the next.

Side note #2: Can you think of a better superhero comics/pro wrestling analogy than Firelord to Kane? Firelord is a former herald of Galactus, with similar power levels to the Silver Surfer, and made his debut fighting Thor, but, since then, he gets beaten up all the time. Kane made his debut fighting the Undertaker, is basically the Undertaker with fire, but also gets beaten up all the time. It's like whenever they show up, it's because the writers want to build up a new character by having them beat Surfer/Taker, but they know it'd be ridiculous, so they take the incredibly beatable substitute.

This sort of interlocking type of continuity was already in play since at least the 60s, but it was in the 80s when that interaction seemed to be at its most coordinated. For me to say I'm nostalgic for it would be a lie—my prime comic book collecting/reading time was in the mid-90s, when they were beginning to move away from this type of thing (hell, for a time in the mid-90s, Marvel pretended like they had five different universes, complete with five different editors for each line, including the Spider-line, the Avengers line, the X-Men line, the "magic" line, and the cosmic line). Comics like Spider-Verse replicate the feeling a tad, with each title showing a different hero fighting a different part of the big battle, all forming a bigger whole, but those are limited to events and expected interactions. It's not quite the same thing as Peter Parker just randomly visiting Matt Murdock in the Spider-Man title, to see what's going on in the Daredevil title. There do seem to be more guest appearances now, but they still seem independent — a Thor appearance in Captain America may have very little reference at all to what's going on in her title.

I like the 80s Marvel Method of random guest appearances and interactions, but I also acknowledge that it likely wouldn't work in today's market. Such a method derived so much utility from the interlocking schedules. Spider-Man visiting Daredevil to check out what was happening in "Born Again" doesn't really work if "Born Again" is over. In the 80s, you got your comics as they came out; missing them meant you might not be able to find a copy at all, so part of the fun was getting them on time. These days, with so many people waiting for collected editions, or with back issues so readily available either via comic shops or the oh-so-very-convenient digital methods, the comic book reading audience is not guaranteed to be reading on a weekly basis. Even event comics, when they interact with regular series, tend to derail the regular series unless you've been reading the event comic. Loki: Agent of Asgard is a great example of this — it started out strong and with a lot of momentum, but its continuous ties to Axis and Secret Wars have derailed the title, perhaps not for those who have been keeping up with the title (and with Axis and Secret Wars) as scheduled, but for those who have been buying the paperback collections. Because the collections don't come out in the same order as the single issues, the collections end up suffering because there is a feeling of not getting a full story, at times.  As such, the 80s Marvel Method isn't really viable.

But when I read an 80s comic and I see it interlocking with another 80s comic, I think it's fun. It bring back a sense of randomness and gives me a little mark-out moment. I don't think it's that big a deal, really, things not being done that way anymore, because I don't see how it works today, but it's a small thing that makes me smile. Maybe as a human being, I can see it as a reflection of how people interact and drift in and out of each other's stories. Maybe, just as a professional, I admire the coordination. Or maybe, just maybe, as a fan, I just think it's fun.

Jul 27, 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco and Frenz, Part 4

The Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco and Frenz
Part 4 – The Hobgoblin Revealed?
Ben Smith

The year was 1986, Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz were creating a definitive run on the flagship Marvel comic book, the Amazing Spider-Man. The black costume and the Hobgoblin’s identity were key plot points, and Firelord got his ass kicked. But behind the scenes turmoil with editor Jim Owsley, and Secret Wars II tie-ins, would throw a monkeywrench into the proceedings, resulting in the remarkably mediocre run of stories covered last week. A run of stories that puts a serious dent in my claim for DeFalco and Frenz as one of the all-time great creative teams on the book. Yet, my determination and resolve is on par with Spider-Man himself, and I remain confident that the book can correct course and return to its entertaining ways. With a certain orange-hooded goblin set to make his dramatic return, it’s a good bet that we will discover that to be true.

Enough talk, throw on your frictionless bodysuits and read some comics with me.

Amazing Spider-Man #275
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finished Art: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Jim Owsley

After a string of recent failures, Peter Parker has decided to quit being Spider-Man, but the Hobgoblin reappears for one final battle.

I liked: How they used a reprint of Spider-Man’s first appearance to represent Peter telling Mary Jane his origin story. Mary Jane actually convinces Peter to stop whining and go fight the Hobgoblin.

The little nods to the Sin Eater crowd incident, and Gwen Stacy falling to her death, were well done. I always love when they do a good job of representing Spider-Man’s speed and agility.

I disliked: I know Peter Parker is always a little whiny, but he gets especially whiny anytime they do a story where he’s decided to quit being Spider-Man.
Hobgoblin identity update: Betty asks Joe Robertson if he can stop sending her husband Ned Leeds out on undercover assignments, but he doesn’t have any idea what she’s talking about. Ned and Flash Thompson have an altercation in the street over Betty, right before one of them clearly dons a Hobgoblin costume in a state of agitation. Hobgoblin picks Flash’s girlfriend Sha Shan purposefully out of a crowd to use as a hostage.

Favorite panel:
I’ve said it once or twice before, but I love the way Frenz draws Hobgoblin.

Amazing Spider-Man #276
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finished Art: Brett Breeding; Editor: Jim Owsley

Spider-Man finally unmasks the Hobgoblin, and discovers it’s his old high school rival Flash Thompson.

I liked: Along with the ongoing mystery of the Hobgoblin’s secret identity, DeFalco and Frenz also unintentionally created a second mystery with the true identity of the Rose. I love the way Hobgoblin refers to Spider-Man’s life as “miserable,” it’s like he knows him.

I disliked: The Human Fly makes a strange side appearance before being shot down by a mysterious attacker. The Fly was far more prominent a villain in my mind as a kid than he should have been. I think I just got overly excited for anyone I had the first appearance of, especially in Spider-Man’s world, since all his major villains and supporting characters were established so early on.
I didn’t understand: Why they immediately disproved that Flash Thompson could really be the Hobgoblin, by showing that he was framed by the real Hobgoblin at the end of the issue. They should I have run with that reveal for a little longer.
Hobgoblin identity update: Hobgoblin trashes the Hobgoblin in a public news broadcast, drawing the attention of Roderick Kingsley and Lance Bannon, providing them both motive to target Flash Thompson if they were the Hobgoblin. Ned Leeds still has motive, due to Flash diddling his wife.
Favorite panel:
That’s conceited of her.

Amazing Spider-Man #277
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finished Art: Bob Layton; Editor: Jim Owsley

Still distraught over the unmasking of Flash Thompson, Peter Parker visits a broken Matt Murdock still reeling from a full on assault by the Kingpin. He decides to visit the Kingpin himself, as Spider-Man.

I liked: I’ve always liked the Spider-Man and Daredevil friendship, so DeFalco taking some time out to acknowledge what was happening to Matt Murdock in the seminal Born Again storyline was one of the great examples of how comics referenced each other well in the ‘80s. Spider-Man webbing Kingpin to his chair after their little talk was a nice touch. The backup story written and drawn by Charles Vess had some beautiful art.
I disliked: The story wasn’t long enough to dislike much, but you could say this was a complete throwaway as far the current ongoing storylines in Spider-Man were concerned. If one were to complain about such things.
Favorite panel:
Again, I always love these perspectives.
Amazing Spider-Man #278
Plot: Tom DeFalco; Script: Peter David and Jo Duffy; Pencils: Mike Harris; Inks: Vince Colletta; Editor: Jim Owsley

The mysterious Scourge of the Underworld has been targeting low-level supervillains, and has turned his sights on Flash Thompson right in the middle of a Daily Bugle interview by Peter Parker.

I liked: I’ve always liked the web backpack.

I disliked: This is a hodgepodge of a creative team (that did a decent job) so either DeFalco and Frenz were really struggling to produce the book on a monthly basis, or Owsley really was sabotaging the book to justify firing DeFalco.
Hobgoblin identity update: Joe Robertson makes note of the change in Ned Leeds overall demeanor. Hobgoblin really has a mad-on for Flash Thompson.

Amazing Spider-Man #279
Written By: Tom DeFalco; Penciled By: Rick Leonardi; Inked By: Vince Colletta; Edited By: Jim Owsley

In a solo Silver Sable tale, she develops a personal vendetta against a local gang, while clashing with the mercenary Jack O’Lantern.

I liked: Silver Sable. I have no idea why I wouldn’t have liked her when I was younger. Also, thinking about it, I’m pretty sure Jack O’Lantern was at one time one of my favorite villains, maybe even my second favorite under Hobgoblin.

I disliked: Nothing. You could complain about the lack of Spider-Man in the core Spider-Man comic (due to him being assumed dead in a situation over in Web of Spider-Man, I miss that level of coordination) but that would just be silly.
Favorite panel(s):

I love the choreography of this sequence, and the “no… just you” line is bluntly matter of fact, which is perfect for Silver Sable.

Amazing Spider-Man #280
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Layouts: Ron Frenz; Pencils/Inks: Brett Breeding; Editor: Jim Owsley

Silver Sable hires Spider-Man to help her take on Jack O’Lantern, only for them to find the Sinister Syndicate waiting for them instead.

I liked: The chaotic energy of the fight between Spider-Man, Silver Sable, and the Sinister Syndicate was captured very well. As soon as they knock one villain down, there’s another right on top of them. There’s something appealing to me about a big superhero slugfest in the middle of a deserted amusement park.

I love that Silver Sable was about to get it on with this dude before Spider-Man interrupted them.

I disliked: Once again, the perpetually broke Spider-Man turns down an offer to get paid to help take down a supervillain he’d normally fight for free, because… reasons.
Hobgoblin identity update: Roderick Kingsley meets with the Hobgoblin in his office. Later, the Hobgoblin leaves a building in his civilian identity and runs into Mary Jane, and they know each other well enough to walk and talk together.

Favorite panel:
This might be the pinnacle of the terrible looks for Mary Jane in this run.

Amazing Spider-Man #281
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Story Layouts: Ron Frenz; Pencils/Inks: Brett Breeding; Editor: Jim Owsley

Sandman arrives to help Spider-Man and Silver Sable against the Sinister Syndicate. After breaking Flash Thompson out of jail, Jack O’Lantern draws the ire of the real Hobgoblin.

I liked: The kinetic battle between Spider-Man and friends against the Sinister Syndicate continues to be extremely entertaining. I really felt the pressure of them being overwhelmed and outnumbered by the Syndicate. Hobgoblin versus Jack O’Lantern was pretty great (and probably made my little head spin around when I was a kid). Flash Thompson on the run is an intriguing concept.
I disliked: This panel of Silver Sable drowning was eerily prescient of her eventual death at the hands of the Rhino during “Ends of the Earth,” and it made me sad.

Favorite panel:
Half-man, half-tanks have always been appealing to me, going back to
some movie I saw as a kid that I can never remember the name of.

This week was a solid group of stories, punctuated with a fun two-parter of Spider-Man and Silver Sable fighting for their lives against the Sinister Syndicate. A nice rebound from last week’s subpar collection of tales. The inconsistent creative team struggles continued, lending some credence to DeFalco’s claim that Owsley was purposefully sabotaging his work on the series. Frenz would have to be really slow (or have something else happening in his life) to get two months of the book off and still only be able to provide layouts for those Sinister Syndicate comics. I’m inclined to side with DeFalco and Frenz on this one, since they clearly had few problems getting the book out on time when Fingeroth was the editor. At this point, Ned Leeds was the obvious pick to be revealed as the Hobgoblin, which was just how DeFalco wanted it. Unfortunately, DeFalco wouldn’t be around long enough to execute his actual plan for the reveal, and Peter David would have the unenviable task of resolving a mystery several years (and two previous writers) in the making.

For those keeping track, DeFalco and Frenz legacy points moments:

  • Mary Jane knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man
  • The Amazing Bag-Man
  • Symbiotes!
  • Mary Jane has a jacked up family
  • Silver Sable
  • Spider-Man whups Firelord’s ass

Next week, DeFalco gets fired!

Jul 20, 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco and Frenz, Part 3

The Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco and Frenz
Part 3 – The Hobgoblin Returns
Ben Smith

The year was 1985, Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz were creating a definitive run on the flagship Marvel comic book, the Amazing Spider-Man. The black costume, the Hobgoblin, and Mary Jane were all key elements of the stories, and would have long-lasting impact on the series. The secret of the Hobgoblin’s true identity was yet to be revealed. Yet, all this creative and commercial success would come under attack from the most unlikeliest of places, recently appointed Spider-Man group editor Jim Owsley.

According to DeFalco, Owsley was repeatedly changing the deadline schedule on them, ordering more and more fill-in issues to make up for the supposed slack by the creative team. According to Owsley, they were frequently late, putting him in the hot seat with Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter. Jim Shooter claimed not to know anything about what was going on, which he’s been known to do. Regardless, there were already two fill-in issues among the comics I covered last week, which I skipped for being irrelevant. Those paying attention will notice from where I’m beginning this week, that I’m also skipping a couple more issues from where we left off last week, due to those comics being handled by substitute creative teams (even though one of those comics featured the Toad and Frog-Man fighting over the right to be Spider-Man’s sidekick). This would only be the beginning of Jim Owsley’s alleged meddling with DeFalco and Frenz on Spider-Man, eventually leading to the end of all three on the book.

But for now, the fun continues.

Amazing Spider-Man #268
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finished Art: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Jim Owsley

In a Secret Wars II tie-in, after the Beyonder turns an entire building into gold, the government tries to get rid of the gold as quickly and secretly as possible, and Spider-Man must intervene before the Kingpin steals a portion of it for himself.

I liked: The elite military unit deployed to help clean up the incident bears some resemblance to a certain Real American Hero being published by Marvel comics at the time.

I disliked: Other than it being a Secret Wars II tie-in, it’s basically an entire issue about ensuring the global economy doesn’t fall into chaos due to a sudden influx of gold. Nothing screams pulse-pounding action like economics.

Amazing Spider-Man #269
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finisher: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Jim Owsley

Spider-Man is trapped between the misunderstood Firestorm and a group of humans that assume him to be a dangerous mutant.

I liked: The fact that Firestorm came to Earth to get some pizza.

The synergy these old comics had with the anti-mutant television broadcast pulled from the Dazzler graphic novel, with the requisite caption box pointing you to pick up that book for more. (For everyone that complains about the prominence of crossovers and the subsequent tie-ins in modern comics, I think they’re forgetting the impact those caption boxes had on young readers. I had to try and get every comic referenced in those boxes that I possibly could. They were a subtle but effective marketing tool.)
I disliked: I know Frenz was trying to channel Ditko with his Spider-Man, but the tie and sweater vest combo is a little much.

Favorite panel:
Hey Spidey, get your hands off his firestaff!

Amazing Spider-Man #270
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finished Art: Bob McLeod; Editor: Jim Owsley

Spider-Man is chased throughout the city by an enraged Firelord.

I liked: When I was a kid, Spider-Man beating Firelord was just further proof that he was the toughest superhero of them all. I didn’t think anyone could beat Spider-Man.

As it stands, this is probably the most famous story from the DeFalco and Frenz team. Along the same lines of the classic Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut, Spider-Man is matched up against a far more powerful character, but finds a way to dig deep and win in the end. Thus, I must award it:

DeFalco and Frenz legacy point moment: Spider-Man whups Firelord’s ass!

I also love little moments of comedy to break up the action, and while this one may be a bit of a cliché, it works well.

I disliked: Some people might argue that Spider-Man defeating Firelord is unrealistic, but I would just remind them that it’s Firelord.

Favorite panel:

This drawing of Firelord getting pegged with a chuck of rock, with the “Fwokk!” sound effect, amused me more than it probably should have.

Amazing Spider-Man #271
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finished Art: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Jim Owsley

Crusher Hogan, the man Peter Parker wrestled after first getting his powers, stands between a young boxer and an enforcer named Man-Slaughter.

I liked: Aunt May asking Peter to keep an eye on Nathan Lubensky, and Nathan getting severely beaten when Peter has to leave and help Crusher as Spider-Man. It’s a great representative situation that no matter how hard Spider-Man tries, someone is always going to get hurt.
I disliked: However, Nathan Lubensky is one of the most unlikeable characters in Spider-Man history, so I don’t feel all that bad for him. Aunt May guilt-tripping Peter about them growing apart is kind of unfair too. Old people man, I swear, you’re too old to drive!
Hobgoblin identity update: Ned Leeds continues to be extremely busy and uncharacteristically hostile, arguing with his wife Betty at work. Lance Bannon sets off Peter’s spider sense. Mary Jane is working for Roderick Kingsley’s modeling agency. A shadowy figure inside the Kingsley building sees Peter Parker outside and recognizes him as a Bugle photographer.
Favorite panel:
Mary Jane looks pretty good here, for once.

Amazing Spider-Man #272
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Sal Buscema; Finished Art: Kyle Baker; Editor: Jim Owsley
Spider-Man faces a new bank robber named Slyde, the master of friction.
I liked: How a man developing a non-stick cooking pan, gets fired, and decides to use his technology to create a frictionless super suit that he uses to skate around town and rob banks. Only in comics.
I disliked: Buscema and Baker is an interesting substitute art team, but it makes it feel like another fill-in issue that is just treading water on the ongoing storylines. The Hobgoblin has been absent for 7 months of publication time at this point.
Favorite panel:

Amazing Spider-Man #273
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finished Art: Josef Rubenstein; Editor: Jim Owsley

In a Secret Wars II tie-in, Spider-Man and the Puma team up to try and take on the Beyonder.

I liked: This ad:

I disliked: I know its Spider-Man’s thing to never have any money and to not take handouts, but the hand-wringing he’s been doing for 6 months about this gold notebook he took is getting ridiculous. What is there to feel guilty about exactly? Cash the damn thing! There’s no person on Earth that wouldn’t take $40k when they’re broke and didn’t really do anything wrong to get it. On top of that, Puma offers him a $5,000 retainer just to work with him, and he turns it down. I understand you have to find ways to make Spider-Man suffer, but it shouldn’t involve him being an idiot.
Favorite panel:

That’s just a weird thing to say.

Amazing Spider-Man #274
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Layouts: Ron Frenz; Finishes: Joe Rubenstein; Finished Pencils: Tom Morgan and James Fry; Additional Finishes: John Romita Sr.; Background Inks: Russ Steffens; Art Assist: Jack Fury; Editor: Jim Owsley

A wager between the Beyonder and Mephisto, for the Beyonder to delay destroying the multiverse for another 24 hours, all rides upon Spider-Man’s sense of responsibility.

I liked: Despite the Secret Wars II connection, this was a pretty decent exploration of Spider-Man’s determination, which is arguably his greatest super power. First you have to beat him down with the weight of expectations and past failures.

But then you have him rise up and soldier on anyway, much to the shock of those pulling his strings.

It’s a solid Spider-Man scenario we’ve seen over and over again, most recently done to good effect in Avengers vs X-Men (Spider-Man refuses to go down against a Phoenix-powered Colossus). It’s usually cool to get a tour through the past of Spider-Man, with Norman’s Green Goblin and Gwen Stacy (before turning into a harpy) making hallucinatory appearances.

I disliked: This was obviously a classic rush job, with a slew of pencilers and inkers working on the issue, and the resulting artwork is uneven, to say the least.

Favorite panel:

It was always cool (at the time) to see the classic Green Goblin show up, and I would be shocked if Romita Sr. did not ink this page.

Outside of the classic Firelord two-parter, this was a pretty unremarkable and unmemorable stretch of comics. Knowing about the problems between DeFalco and Owsley, I have to assume the behind the scenes conflict was probably affecting the creators performance on the book. Or maybe they just hit a bit of a dry spell, stalling for time on the Hobgoblin saga. It’s possible they were stalling until Secret Wars II was finished running before getting into anything significant. Maybe Owsley was right and the problem was with DeFalco and Frenz. It is strange for so many artists to have to work on one issue, and I can’t help feeling a little of that falls on Frenz. Then again, it could be Owsley working hard to sabotage the creative team, so who knows. All I do know is, if I had been reading this on a monthly basis, I’d be pretty annoyed at this point on the lack of movement with the Hobgoblin. Even reading it now, it’s pretty annoying. Thankfully, Hobgoblin is back center stage starting with the very next issue, which we’ll get into next week.

For those keeping track, DeFalco and Frenz legacy points moments:

  • Mary Jane knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man
  • The Amazing Bag-Man
  • Symbiotes!
  • Mary Jane has a jacked up family
  • Silver Sable
  • Spider-Man whups Firelord’s ass

Next week, more Hobgoblin!

Jul 13, 2015

The Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco and Frenz, Part 2

The Amazing Spider-Man by DeFalco and Frenz
Part 2 – Turbulence
Ben Smith

The year was 1984, and Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz were forging a pantheon-level Spider-Man run as the creative team on Amazing Spider-Man. They introduced the controversial new black costume, and then got rid of it as early as possible. The Hobgoblin returned from his decisive defeat at the hands of Spider-Man, but his identity was still a well-guarded secret. Mary Jane revealed that she knows Peter Parker is Spider-Man, and Aunt May continued to avoid her nephew because of his decision to drop out of school. DeFalco and Frenz were producing one of the more entertaining runs in the history of the character, introducing aspects that still resonate and are relevant to this day, and yet it isn’t often mentioned as one of the legendary tenures. I consider this to be a full blown tragedy, and have decided to explain to all three of you still reading this, exactly why. (My love for this run has absolutely nothing to do with this being the time when I first started reading Spider-Man comics. Nothing! Okay, maybe everything, I've already written too much to go back now.)

Anyway, I went over all this last week, so let us continue.

Amazing Spider-Man #259
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Inker: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Danny Fingeroth

Mary Jane finally reveals her troubled past to Peter, while the Hobgoblin returns to the
public eye in full force.

I liked: The Hobgoblin truly looked amazing (no pun intended) under the pencil of Frenz. I loved the way he’d leave the entire face in shadows under that orange hood, with only two glowing eyes shining through. I’m pretty sure it’s the main reason I love wearing hoodies to this very day.

I disliked: For a contingent of fans, Mary Jane revealing her troubled family history made her a more interesting character, but I believe it was the first step into turning her into yet another boring supporting character like any other in comics. They turned an exciting and interesting female character into yet another standard girl next door, with the requisite abusive father and a pregnant sister she abandoned. This, along with Parallel Lives, ruined Mary Jane as a character for the next 25 years. It’s with great hesitation I award the following:

DeFalco and Frenz legacy point moment: Mary Jane has a jacked up family!

As far as back-stories go, it fits, so it’s not a terrible job in execution by DeFalco; it just unfortunately helped lead into her becoming Spider-Man’s wife, which we can all agree made Mary Jane an unbearable mess for 20 years. And for everyone that believes Mary Jane would never leave Peter, as was revealed in the retcon story One Moment in Time, here’s what she truly believes about love:

True love means nothing in the face of reality, fits in perfectly with her finally deciding she's not strong enough to be in a relationship with Peter if he's going to be Spider-Man. Accept it, nerds!

Black costume update: Reed Richards theorizes that the black costume, still captive in his lab, might be capable of emotions, such as love or hate.
Hobgoblin identity update: The Hobgoblin refers to Harry and Liz Osborn as old friends.
Mary Jane relationship update: Peter momentarily considers that Mary Jane could become something more, before dismissing it since he’s in love with the Black Cat. And because Mary Jane went on a date with someone else immediately after baring her soul to him.

Amazing Spider-Man #260
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Inker: Joe Rubinstein and Brett Breeding; Editor: Danny Fingeroth

Spider-Man intervenes in the Hobgoblin’s attack on Harry Osborn, leading to a prolonged battle across New York. Liz Osborn and Mary Jane are kidnapped by the Rose’s goons.

I liked: The way the Hobgoblin steadily approaches Harry, panel-by-panel, in this scene.

Frenz continues to do his best Ditko impersonation, with some panels looking like they were copied straight out of those original Spider-Man comics. I love a good battle with the Hobgoblin through the streets and skies of New York.
I disliked: Spider-Man spends a full two pages thinking to himself, recapping all his current problems. I said it last week, it was unfortunately just the style of the time, but that doesn’t make it any easier to slog through now.
Hobgoblin identity update: While the Hobgoblin is fighting Spider-Man, Betty Brant calls her husband Ned Leeds at a time when he should answer, but he doesn’t. Lance Bannon also continues to be unreachable.

Favorite panel(s):

Hobgoblin and Spider-Man locked in deadly combat, inside a women’s public restroom.

Amazing Spider-Man #261
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Finisher: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Danny Fingeroth

Spider-Man saves Harry, Liz, and Mary Jane from the Hobgoblin, but will it be at the cost of Harry and Liz’s unborn baby?

I liked: The shots of Hobgoblin’s hideout with multiple costumes neatly pressed and hung on a rack, and an extra mask displayed on the desk.  I like a villain with a sense of neatness.

Spider-Man cutting loose on the Hobgoblin. He so rarely cuts loose.

I like the idea of Hobgoblin finally moving on from his obsession with looting all that he can from Norman Osborn, and maybe focusing on new goals.

I disliked: Okay, this is a little too ’66 Spider-Man cartoon for me:

Hobgoblin identity update: The Hobgoblin knows Mary Jane Watson by name.
Black costume update: The costume escapes from Reed Richards’ containment tube.
Favorite panel:

I love it when artists show Spider-Man from this perspective.

Amazing Spider-Man #262 was an inventory issue written and drawn by Bob Layton, about a guy accidentally getting a picture of Peter in costume with his mask off.

Amazing Spider-Man #263
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Inkers: Brett Breeding and John Beatty; Editor: Danny Fingeroth

Spider-Man fan Ollie Osnick decides to become the sidekick Spider-Kid, but needs a little intervention from the man himself when he gets himself into some real danger.

I liked: That the popular girl in Ollie’s school is named Jane Lane. That Peter wears the black costume that Black Cat made for him, because he left his red-and-blues soaking in the sink for too long.

I disliked: How they got the hopes up of every geeky fat kid by having Ollie get the girl in the end.
Black costume update: Black Cat made Peter a black costume substitute, designed after the alien symbiote.
Favorite panel:

Eat it, Mary Jane “true love” fans.

Amazing Spider-Man #264 was another fill-in issue by a different creative team.

Amazing Spider-Man #265
Writer: Tom DeFalco; Penciler: Ron Frenz; Inker: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Jim Owsley

Spider-Man intervenes on the behalf of the Black Fox, when he’s being chased by a mercenary group led by Silver Sable.

I liked: The debut of long-running character Silver Sable.

DeFalco and Frenz legacy point moment: Silver Sable!

I love her attitude about life, responding to a comment about how she could have been killed with “anything is possible.” As a kid, I didn’t like Silver Sable that much. I don’t know if it’s because she didn’t have any powers, or because she’s a female, or because I assumed she was an older (in age) character. Whatever the reason, I like her now, and I like the idea she might be the same age as Spider-Man, and have that “whatever happens, happens” attitude about her life.
I disliked: Spider-Man being somewhat gullible by letting the Black Fox escape, because he’s an old man and Peter has issues with his elderly aunt and uncle. It looks like this is when Owsley took over as editor of the spider books, which would be catastrophic for the ongoing mystery of the Hobgoblin’s identity. For more on that you should track down the absolutely fascinating roundtable interview about it in Back Issue magazine #35, July 2009.
Favorite panel:

Like I said last week, the feedback on the black costume was initially so bad, that (Marvel Editor-in-Chief) Jim Shooter demanded that DeFalco get rid of it as soon as possible. To get rid of it, they revealed that the costume was actually an alien symbiote trying to permanently graft itself to Peter’s body. When the costume actually debuted in Amazing Spider-Man, the reaction was so positive, that DeFalco had to reverse course and bring the costume back, by having the Black Cat make him a cloth version because she liked the look so much. The symbiote would escape from Reed Richards, and try once again to bond with Peter, before he used the noise and vibrations of a church bell to help rip the symbiote off of him (in the now classic of Web Spider-Man #1) for good. The costume would eventually merge with Eddie Brock, becoming the villain (and sometime hero) Venom.

The identity of the Hobgoblin was still a hot topic of discussion for fans, and was slowly becoming more controversial behind the scenes. Roger Stern had his own plan for the secret identity of the character he created, but left the book before he could sufficiently seed those clues. DeFalco didn’t think Stern’s choice would resonate with fans enough (and it didn’t later on) so he proceeded with his own plan. DeFalco kept his plan a closely guarded secret, which was fine with editor Danny Fingeroth, but when Jim Owsley took over as editor, he became increasingly more meddlesome when it came to the identity of the Hobgoblin, among other things. It all led to one of the most convoluted identity reveals in the history of comics, which Roger Stern himself felt he needed to return and fix (finally getting the go-ahead ten years after the reveal). The original resolution, and the fix, led to a long history of fake Hobgoblins and false reveals that eventually later writers (like Dan Slott) were able to use to their advantage. More on this next week.

For those keeping track,DeFalco and Frenz legacy points moments:
  • Mary Jane knows that Peter Parker is Spider-Man
  • The Amazing Bag-Man
  • Symbiotes!
  • Mary Jane has a jacked up family
  • Silver Sable
Next week, more Spider-Man!