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!


Josh Mayfield said...

I just found your blog after searching for people's thought on the DeFalco/Frenz run, which I also think is highly under rated. Keep up the good work! Can't wait to see more! In the meantime, I'm going to peruse your archive. I like the cut of your jib, sir.

Josh Mayfield said...

Found your blog via a random Google search to see if anyone thought DeFalco/Frenz was an severely underrated run. Glad I found you. Keep up the great work! Looking forward to reading more!

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