Wednesday, June 11, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #49

"ENTER: THE SMUGGLER!"
Writer: Roger Stern | Penciler: Jim Mooney | Inker: Bruce Patterson
Letterer: Rick Parker | Colorist: Ken Feduniewicz | Editor: Denny O'Neil
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Saturday afternoon at Empire State Univerisity, Peter Parker has trouble concentrating on grading papers. When fellow teaching assistant Phil Chang spots him in the office, Phil takes Peter out for a day on the town. But Phil soon spots Tommy Li, a member of the White Dragon gang, which Spider-Man had supposedly shut down some time before. Suspecting Tommy is up to something, Peter and Phil pursue him. But when Tommy hops into a van and drives away, Peter ditches Phil, changes to Spider-Man, and gives chase.

The wall-crawler loses Tommy in the Holland Tunnel, but later that evening tracks him down at the White Dragons' old hideout, where he has gone to ground. Spider-Man forces Tommy to lead him to his new gang, a group headed by "The Smuggler", a super-strong, super-durable criminal. Spider-Man takes out the Smuggler's gang and then battles the villain himself, eventually winning. But as our hero attempts to web up the Smuggler, his web-shooters run dry and he is left holding his foe by one strand of webbing, unable to reload one-handed.

The Sub-Plots: As the issue opens, Peter is concerned over the Daily Globe going out of business and over Madame Web learning his secret identity. Soon after, as they leave the ESU campus, Phil implies to Peter that Deb Whitman has a crush on him.
Later, between his afternoon chase with Tommy and catching up with him at the White Dragon hideout, Peter calls Aunt May, who informs him that she is engaged and invites him to the nursing home to celebrate.

Continuity Notes: Both the fall of the Daily Globe and introduction of Madame Web are noted to have occurred in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #210. Phil tells Peter that Spider-Man shut down the White Dragons in AMAZING #184-185, and Spider-Man notes #184 again when he corners Tommy at the gang's hideout.

Spider-Man later describes the Smuggler as "the most resilient guy I've faced since I tusseled [sic] with Luke Cage!" A footnote here directs readers to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122. A second note states that Cage now co-stars in POWER MAN AND IRON FIST, "soon on sale monthly."
This issue features the first appearance of the Smuggler, though it is not the first story to feature the man behind his mask. The Smuggler will soon be revealed as Erik Josten, an ex-mercenary who gained ionic powers through the same process that created the Avengers' Wonder Man. At one point Josten attempted to call himself Power Man, which led to a beating at the hands of the real Power Man, Luke Cage. Josten is perhaps best known for his subsequent identity of Goliath, under which guise he will serve as a member of the Masters of Evil during Stern's AVENGERS run, and even later as Atlas of the Thunderbolts.
Uncle Rog Speaks: “When I accepted Denny’s offer [to write SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN], I did it on the condition that the book’s logo be fixed. If you look at the first 42 issues of SPECTACULAR, you’ll see that the first leg of the ‘M’ in ‘Spider-Man’ slants to the right. It looked as though it was about to tip over. When I pointed that out to Denny, he went into production, and the ‘M’ on the logo master was straightened up. So right off the bat, I knew that if I did nothing else in comics, I at least got that logo fixed!” -- "Not Amazing, But Spectacular", BACK ISSUE Magazine #44, 2010

Top: The original, "crooked" logo. Bottom: The repaired logo.
How did no one notice how awful the top version was for 42 whole issues??
Spectacular Spider-Mail: Roger Stern steps in to answer the letters, as we finally get our first column devoted to one of his issues. This time it's #43, Stern's debut on the title. Kudos abound for Stern and guest penciler Mike Zeck. One reader complains that the Spider-titles have had poor inter-series continuity, which Stern and editor Denny O'Neil (who also writes AMAZING) promise to fix. Another reader takes issue with the fact that SPECTACULAR has had too many fill-ins lately, and Stern notes that he's been on board for five issues in a row now and "hope[s] to be here for a long time to come."

Lastly, one letter on issue 44 sees print as well, as a funeral director picks apart inconsistencies seen at Malachai Toomes' crematorium headquarters during the Vulture storyline.

Also On Sale This Month: Spider-Man battles Namor in AMAZING #211, then joins forces with the Fantastic Four to meet future New Mutant Karma in MARVEL TEAM-UP #100.

My Thoughts: After the strong Belladonna storyline, Stern flouders just a bit here. The scripting is fine -- Spider-Man's voice is right on, as usual -- but the story itself is nothing special. Stern drops sub-plots almost entirely in favor of an issue devoted to one of the oldest Spider-Man formulas -- Spidey sees bad guy, chases bad guy, loses bad guy, goes home for a while, then goes back out and finds bad guy. Unfortunately the proceedings are devoid of any real excitement and the whole thing comes across as phoned in.

I don't blame Stern entirely for this, though. The story may be uninspired, but the artwork does nothing to elevate it. Jim Mooney is one of my all-time favorite Spider-Man inkers, but his penciling here leaves much to be desired. The fight with the Smuggler should be a lot more entertaining than it reads as, but Spider-Man is a bit too nonchalant, and the tiny panels by Mooney and Patterson don't really lend any sense of strength of the characters. We're being told, rather than shown, that the Smuggler is a tough customer.

There are a handful of bits I like in the story, though. The first comes when Spider-Man attempts to lob a spider-tracer at Tommy's fleeing van, but pegs a passing pigeon instead. It's classic Spider-Man luck, and for those who think it's just a bit too far-fetched, please Google "Randy Johnson seagull". I'll wait.
Next is Peter's reaction when Aunt May tells him she's engaged. Stunned silence and disbelief as he thinks to himself, "She's getting engaged?!?" May raised Peter, so this is basically his mother telling him she's getting remarried. It's a powerful moment, and even cramming the reaction into small panels, Mooney is able to convey just how stunned Peter is by pulling the "camera" out abruptly after Aunt May gives him the news.
Also of note is the fact that when Spider-Man finds the plans for the Smuggler's scheme, he considers that his unseen foe must be "quite a planner." This seems to go against most depictions of Erik Josten that I've ever seen. He's usually portrayed as little more than muscle for more intellectually capable villains. In fact, I believe there was a sub-plot in THUNDERBOLTS which had him doubting his self-worth as anything more than a brainless follower. But the Josten presented here is the brains of a global smuggling operation, whose knack for such things impresses Spider-Man. One wonders when the regression of his intelligence began.

Lastly, in perhaps my favorite moment from the issue -- or at least, tied with the pigeon bit -- the issue's cliffhanger is quintessential Spider-Man from the Stan Lee/John Romita playbook. The web-slinger has defeated his enemy, but -- just his luck -- he doesn't have enough webbing to bind him, so he's left holding him as he struggles to figure out what to do next.

Note: This issue also contains part one of a three-part back-up serial starring the White Tiger. I will cover all three White Tiger installments in one post in a couple weeks.

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