Wednesday, June 18, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #51

"ALIENS AND ILLUSIONS!"
Writer: Roger Stern | Artists: Marie Severin & Jim Mooney
Letterer: Jim Novak | Colorist: Christie Scheele | Editor: Denny O'Neil
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: The aliens bring Peter Parker before Mysterio, who straps him into a machine which uses a combination of nausea-inducement and holography in an attempt to make him reveal the location of Dutch Mallone's loot. But Peter feigns passing out, so the aliens stick him a cell while Mysterio forumulates a new plan. He sends the aliens to the Restwell Nursing Home to kidnap Debra Whitman, who has just finished giving a statement on Peter's abduction to the police.

Meanwhile, Peter changes into Spider-Man and escapes from his cell to explore the aliens' "spaceship". He soon realizes the whole place is merely an elaborate set, and the aliens themselves are men in disguise. When our hero sees that Mysterio has Debra as his prisoner, he uses Mysterio's own technology to confuse the villain with holograms. Debra escapes her captor and Spider-Man swings in to finish off Mysterio and the "aliens". He then returns to his cell and changes back into Peter Parker just in time for Debra to release him.

The Sub-Plots: Not a sub-plot per se, but Spider-Man continues Peter's habit of being incredibly insensitive to Deb as he informs Mysterio that he doesn't care what happens to her since she's not his friend.
Continuity Notes: Peter informs Mysterio that Dutch Mallone's treasure was eaten by silverfish, as discovered in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #200. Mysterio does not believe him. Subsequently, during a flashback explaining how Peter got into this predicament, he recalls first battling Mysterio's alien allies in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2.

Mysterio later recalls that he had Aunt May under his control, circa AMAZING SPIDER-MAN issues 193 - 199. This was an extended sub-plot by writer Marv Wolfman, which eventually led into the Dutch Mallone/burglar story in issue #200.

Spider-Man questions one of Mysterio's men, who explains what happened to the "aliens" after AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #2 -- and reveales that Mysterio himself was one of those aliens, allied with the Tinkerer, before he adopted his own costumed identity.
Later, as he attempts to locate the real Spider-Man among an army of holographic duplicates, Mysterio states that he nearly defeated our hero in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #199 by shooting him "full of enough drugs to kill an elephant herd."
Lastly, for those who -- like me -- take a weird interest in these sorts of things, it's worth noting that this story, set on Sunday, concludes the weekend that began on Saturday in issue #49. Spider-Man chased Tommy Li and learned Aunt May was engaged on Saturday afternoon, tracked down and battled the Smuggler Saturday night, slept, then met Deb at the Restwell Nursing Home and was kidnapped by Mysterio Sunday at lunchtime, and finally defeated Mysterio later that same day.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "I saw Deb [Whitman] as like a female equivalent of the pre-Spider-Man Peter Parker. And I have Frank Miller to thank for that. I remember Frank telling me that when he was drawing AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #14, he was having trouble getting Deb's face, until it occurred to him that she was a female version of the old Peter Parker -- right down to the same style of glasses. ... She and Pete were drawn together because they were so much alike, but a real romance was never in the cards. I intended for them to be good friends and co-workers, but that was it." -- "Roger Stern, the Spectacular Spider-Writer", MARVEL SPOTLIGHT: SPIDER-MAN, Marvel Comics, March 2007

Also On Sale This Month: The Wingless Wizard threatens our hero in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #213. MARVEL TEAM-UP #102 pits Spidey and Doc Samson against the Rhino.

Spectacular Spider-Mail: Everyone loves Marie Severin's artwork and a fan compares Stern's writing to the glory days of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the sixties. Another reader, however, is unimpressed with Belladonna as an antagonist for the wall-crawler.

My Thoughts: Retroactive continuity as you like it! Roger Stern is one of the best when it comes to this sort of thing, and his explanation for the aliens works perfectly. I think a lot of people, at least behind the scenes, had issues with a grounded hero like Spider-Man fighting aliens in his second comic. Len Wein started the ret-con rolling by revealing in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #160 that the Tinkerer had faked being an alien for his own reasons. Stern follows logically from this revelation to explain away the other aliens as well. And he even gives Mysterio something of an origin in the process, which includes the nifty revelation that they had crossed paths before Quentin Beck donned the fishbowl helmet.
The one thing that remains troublesome is the aliens' spacecraft as seen last issue. After dragging Peter out of the restaurant, they board the vehicle, which is shown on-panel -- with Peter inside, so it's not a trick to fool him -- taking off and flying away. Perhaps this was a disconnect between Stern and Romita, because, as Severin depicts in this story, the entire ship is simply one big set. And Mysterio seems unlikely to have the resources to construct an actual, flying, fake spaceship. Maybe the ship never left the lot behind the restaurant? Perhaps holograms simply made it appear to take off for the benefit of onlookers? The world may never know.

In other news, this is a strong issue for young Debra Whitman. She's been a carpet for Peter to walk back and forth across for the past several issues, so it's nice to see her get a little assertive here. Mysterio kidnaps her from the rest home, prompting her to realize that if she doesn't take action and stand up for herself, no one else will. To that end, she bashes Mysterio over the dome with a scale model of Cloud City (nice touch on Severin's part) -- cracking the glass and forcing him to spend the rest of the story bare-headed -- and she even gets to "rescue" Peter at the story's conclusion.
Seeing Debra in action here elicits memories of her role in the early nineties SPIDER-MAN animated series on Fox, where she was a supporting cast member and classmate of Peter Parker's, and she generally played a more proactive role than in the comics, where -- even despite occasional flashes of assertiveness as seen here -- she mostly remains a meek shadow of a person. It would have been nice if the writers could've plotted out an arc where she finally gains some real self-confidence, because it's just sort of depressing to continue reading about her as she is. And the way Bill Mantlo eventually writes her out of the series, which we fortunately will not cover in this series, is just disgraceful (but Mantlo does a lot of terrible things during his time with Spider-Man, so that's par for the course as far as his writing is concerned).

Also, why is Debra wearing that ugly orange jumpsuit on this otherwise beautiful Frank Miller cover? She spends the entire issue in the dress pictured above.

...But first, we'll cover a series of three back-up stories from the past few issues of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, leading into that story.

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