Wednesday, July 2, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #55

"THE BIG BLOW OUT"
Writer: Roger Stern | Penciler: Luke McDonnell | Inks: Jim Mooney
Letters: John Morelli | Colorist: Roger Slifer | Scrutiny: Denny O'Neil
Wake-Up Calls: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Robert Hunter, also known as the villainous Nitro, is released from government custody thanks to an uninformed hotshot lawyer hired by Hunter's well-meaning daughter, Virginia. Nitro immediately goes on the lam and makes plans to track down his enemy, Captain Marvel. He robs a bank to get the cash he will need in order to find Marvel, but runs afoul of Spider-Man while there.

The wall-crawler leads Nitro to a warehouse owned by Chemico, Inc., where he uses various gases in an attempt to stop the villain. Spider-Man finally succeeds by forcing Nitro to explode near several canisters of nausea gas. When Nitro re-forms himself following this most recent explosion, he is rendered sick by the gas he has reabsorbed into his body. The police arrive to take Nitro away.

The Sub-Plots: Peter sneaks out of his apartment building when the landlady, Mrs. Muggins, comes banging on his door for the rent. Peter later worries that his rent may increase soon due to a recent fire at the building.

Arriving at ESU, Peter makes good on last issue's intention to apologize for Deb Whitman for running out on her recently, but she gives him the cold shoulder in response. Marcy Kane comes to work with yet another exotic item on her head, this time a "tam-o-shanter" hat (complete with a kilt and argyle socks to round out the ensemble). Steve Hopkins makes plans to finally get to the bottom of the mystery.
Continuity Notes: Footnotes abound this issue! Peter notes that the fire at his building occurred in AMAZING #214 -- "a few weeks ago". He also recalls running out on Deb in issue 215, and then seeing her with a "hometown preppie friend" in #216. Additionally, he reminds us of his intention to apologize to her "yesterday" in the previous issue of SPECTACULAR.
Nitro states that he has been imprisoned since CAPTAIN MARVEL #34, and Virginia's lawyer tells him that Captain Marvel was recently in New York but is now in Denver, per events in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT #12.
Later, when Nitro attempts to rob the bank, the police show up and Peter initially decides to let them handle the seemingly ordinary, elderly criminal. But when Nitro explodes, Peter recalls the death of his Uncle Ben following previous inaction on his part and hopes no one has been killed.

During the fight with Nitro, Spider-Man remembers dunking the Scorpion in the water once to stop him in a Stan Lee/Steve Ditko story, though no footnote is referenced.

Lastly, for those who care to know, Nitro says that he was empowered by the Lunatic Legion, a force of aliens who used him as their vanguard in an attack on Earth. Though not stated here, the Legion is part of the Kree Empire, longtime Avengers foes. Also, Nitro lives in notoriety these days as the catalyst that set off the superhero CIVIL WAR in 2007.
Uncle Rog Speaks: “The thing is, when I started writing Spider-Man, he had already battled, say, Doctor Octopus about a dozen times. But, if our hero had to face someone like Nitro -- a menace who can blow himself up again and again -- suddenly, it wasn’t just a matter of “How does he beat this guy?” It was “How does he stay alive long enough to beat this guy?” -- SPIDER-MAN BY ROGER STERN OMNIBUS Introduction, Marvel Comics, 2014

Spectacular Spider-Mail: Readers weigh in on the Mysterio two-parter from issues 50 and 51, and seem particularly pleased to see Deb Whitman stand up for herself in those pages, however one reader is getting exasperated with the number of times Peter has stood Deb up at this point. Compliments are also paid to Frank Miller's recent covers. Stern informs readers that he personally reads every letter received by SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, and informs one fan, when asked, that John Byrne will arrive to provide artwork for issue 58.

Also On Sale This Month: Spidey is stuck in the middle as Hydro-Man battles Sandman in AMAZING #217. Captain America drops in on the web-slinger in MARVEL TEAM-UP #106.

My Thoughts: Stern spends a number of issues during his time on SPIDER-MAN pitting the webbed wonder against other heroes' enemies. Nitro is one of the best of these match-ups; not just because he provides a challenge the likes of which our hero has never before encountered, but also because the way in which Spidey ultimately defeats him -- luring him to a chemical warehouse and trying different gases on him until one works -- plays beautifully to Peter's strength as not just a scientific prodigy, but specifically a chemistry student. It's a really cool showing by the web-slinger as he uses knowledge acquired from his "day job" to beat Nitro.
It's fortunate that the action is so strong this issue, because the sub-plots are far less satisfying. How many times can Peter stand up or run out on Deb before it gets monotonous? I'd say we passed that line some time ago. A reader on the letters page even complains about this pattern, as noted above. I imagine part of the problem is that Deb, at this point, is in a state of transition from the "B" book, SPECTACULAR, to the "A" book, AMAZING. When Stern came aboard, she was a longtime supporting cast member on this series, with few appearances in AMAZING. But as of Denny O'Neil's debut as AMAZING's regular writer, she became the primary love interest over there. Stern is, therefore, suddenly stuck in a holding pattern, following O'Neil's lead rather than taking Deb in his own direction.

The other sub-plot visited here, the saga of Marcy Kane's headgear, remains one of the least compelling recurring bits in the series since Stern took over. Certainly this is due in large part to the sporadic appearances by the sub-plot. It dates back to 46 now, but has only been touched on a few times. It should have been done in two or three issues rather than being drawn out like this.

But a couple lackluster sub-plots are easy enough to live with when the issue's primary story is as enjoyable as this one. You don't hear a lot about the Spider-Man vs. Nitro story, probably because it lives in the shadow of the upcoming Juggernaut issues, which we'll see when Stern jumps over to AMAZING. I can't help thinking this issue would be better remembered if the art were more up to snuff. Luke McDonnell is usually a pretty good artist, at least in my recollection, but his layouts here, though containing occasional flashes of quality, are mostly drab and uninteresting. As a result, the story -- while well-plotted and scripted -- becomes a minor footnote in Spider-Man's history.
Next Issue: Spider-Man meets Jack O'Lantern.

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