Monday, July 7, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #56

"THE PERIL... AND THE PUMPKIN?"
Words: Roger Stern | Layouts: Jim Shooter | Finished Art: Jim Mooney
Letters: Janice Chiang | Colors: Bob Sharen & George Roussos
Editing: Dennis O'Neil | Again: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Spider-Man sees the terrorist called Jack O'Lantern carried into Bellevue Hospital and snaps some pictures, then heads for the Daily Bugle. The next day, Jack O'Lantern's men attempt to spring their boss from the hospital's prison ward, but the terrorist instead decides to hold the hospital hostage. Informed of the situation by Aunt May, whose fiance Nathan is at the hospital for physical therapy, Peter Parker changes into Spider-Man and infiltrates Bellevue. He takes out Jack O'Lantern's men, saving the hostages, then defeats Jack O'Lantern himself.

The Sub-Plots: The Marcy Kane plotline finally comes to an end as Steve Hopkins positions himself over the door to the chemistry department offices and snatches her scarf when she enters, discovering that she has a wig on as well. Marcy runs away but Peter follows, and Marcy tells him that her hair used to be blonde when she was young, but that it went dark so she began to dye it instead -- until her doctor told her the dye was harming her hair and she needed to stop. When Peter tries to cheer her up, Marcy realizes that perhaps he's not as bad a person as she had previously believed.

So that happened.
Later, Aunt May asks Peter to come stay with her during the Bellevue hostage situation, but he instead goes into action as Spider-Man. When Peter finally arrives at Aunt May's nursing home after the crisis is over, she tells him he let her down and decides that she doesn't mean anything to him anymore, then instructs him to leave.
Continuity Notes: Jack O'Lantern's incarceration at Bellevue follows from an appearance in MACHINE MAN #19, where he was defeated by the eponymous hero following an attempt to hold an embassy hostage. Spider-Man notes that he encountered Machine Man previously in MARVEL TEAM-UP #99.

A scene at Bellevue finds the head doctor making his rounds. He visits both the Vulture and Nitro, still recovering after their encounters with Spider-Man in issues 45 and 55, respectively. It is also noted that Bellevue security has been increased following the Prowler's escape in issue 48.
Lt. Kris Keating and his Special Powers Task Force put in another appearance, staking out Bellevue during the hostage crisis. Spider-Man spares a moment to taunt Keating before entering the hospital.
The wall-crawler's method of entry involves hitching a ride on a passing seaplane as it takes off, and then parachuting down to the hospital roof. As he descends, our hero notes that he hasn't created a web-parachute in some time.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "...Jack O’Lantern appeared in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN because I liked the character when Tom DeFalco and Steve Ditko introduced him in MACHINE MAN. I thought he would be a great villain to fight Spider-Man. 'Look! A brand-new Ditko bad guy versus Spider-Man! Let’s see what happens.'" -- THE ROGER STERN INTERVIEW: THE TRIUMPHS AND TRIALS OF THE WRITER, 2006

Also On Sale This Month: Remember Hydro-Man and Sandman? They've merged into a giant mud monster in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #218. MARVEL TEAM-UP #107 introduces Spider-Man to the savage She-Hulk.

My Thoughts: Another issue, another sub-par art job. This time layouts are provided by editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, moonlighting due to the fact that no one else wanted the job. Shooter's artwork is perfectly serviceable, but that's really all it is. It's been documented many times over the years that Shooter was a strong proponent of clear storytelling over all else -- which is fine -- but as a result there's very little flair in his work. It's page after page of stiff poses and mostly unexciting action. I'll grant that he's a step up from some of the other fill-ins we've seen, but he's no Marie Severin or John Romita, Jr. It should be noted, however, that Jim Mooney's superb inks keep all the characters perfectly on-model as always, and really help to polish Shooter's lackluster efforts.

Stern's story, however, is enjoyable despite the less-than-stellar artwork. As noted above, Jack O'Lantern was created by Steve Ditko and Tom DeFalco in the pages of MACHINE MAN, and pitting Spider-Man against a newly-minted Ditko villain is a really cool idea. Jack even feels more like a Spider-Man character than not, which helps. The wall-crawler cleans his clock relatively easily here, but that doesn't detract from the fun.
The sub-plots step up a notch this issue, as well. First, the Marcy Kane storyline finally comes to an end, albeit with an infuriatingly silly resolution. After so many scenes of build-up going back nearly a year, this is what we get? She used to be blonde and now she's not, so she hides it? I've seen it speculated that Stern may have had other plans for this storyline, such as Marcy perhaps going through chemotherapy. That would've made a lot more sense and been a much better, and more emotional, payoff; plus if plans were changed behind the scenes, it could account for the long delays in revisiting the plot. But in any event, the resolution as seen here is just ridiculous. If chemo was the original idea but it got squelched by editorial, I'll give Stern a pass. Otherwise, there's no excuse for such a terrible conclusion.

We also get a bit I love, where Peter has an opportunity to hold Jonah Jameson over the fire. We frequently see Spider-Man antagonize Jameson as an outlet for Peter's frustrations with the man, but we rarely see Peter himself getting away with such behavior. This issue, however, features a fun scene where Peter arrives at the Daily Bugle late at night as Jameson laments the fact that no one has any photos to go with the Jack O'Lantern story he's about to publish. Peter comes to the rescue and forces Jameson to pay him on the spot for the exclusive photos, while his fellow Bugle employees look on in enjoyment.
Lastly, the Aunt May bit to close out the issue is pure classic Spider-Man. The final scene between Peter and May reads like vintage Lee/Ditko/Romita, and is just the sort of thing I love to see in a Spider-Man comic. The final panel, one of the best Shooter efforts this issue, and written perfectly by Stern, is Peter Parker at his angst-ridden best.
Next Issue: Another unexpected guest-villain.

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