Wednesday, July 9, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #57

"THESE WINGS ENSLAVED!"
Roger Stern: Words Beyond Compare!
Jim Shooter: Layouts That Are Fair! | Jim Mooney: Artist With A Flair!
Jim Novak: Letterer Extraordinaire! | Ben Sean: Colorist, If You Care!
Denny O'Neil: Editor With Gray Hair! | Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: En route to a high society bash at Jonah Jameson's penthouse, Spider-Man is accosted by a glowing yellow energy cloud. After it departs, he realizes it was probably his old foe, Will-O'-The-Wisp. Then, with the cloud gone, the web-slinger proceeds on his way. At the party, Jameson's girlfriend, research scientist Marla Madison, accepts a job working for the Brand Corporation. But the party breaks up when the bodyguard of James Melvin, Brand's president, reveals himself as the mercenary Killer Shrike and kidnaps Marla.

The police detain the party guests for some time, trapping Peter among them. Finally, when Melvin departs, Peter changes to Spider-Man and follows him to a Brand factory in New Jersey, where Killer Shrike has taken Marla. Shrike's costume is possessed by Will-O'-The-Wisp, who has been rendered non-corporeal and needs Marla to restore him to normal. Spider-Man allows Marla to do her work and holds off the Brand guards when they interfere at Melvin's order.

Finally Will-O'-The-Wisp is restored to normal and escapes, but not before wiping Marla's memory of the entire incident and destroying the factory.

The Sub-Plots: Peter calls Aunt May to apologize for his behavior last issue, and May forgives him but ends the call in a hurry so she can watch Family Feud with Nathan. Peter calls her again later as she and Nathan are watching Dallas.
Though not overtly identified as a sub-plot yet, this issue marks the beginning of a Brand Corporation storyline which will continue into Stern's tenure on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in a few months.

Continuity Notes: A footnote obliquely recalls Peter "letting down" Aunt May last issue. Shortly thereafter, Will-O'-The-Wisp's history is recapped as an amnesiac experiment of the sinister Dr. Jonas Harrow who now exists with no molecular adhesion. Wisp was created by Len Wein and Ross Andru during their run on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in the late seventies.

Marla Madison is also a creation of Wein and Andru, having first appeared as an associate of Jameson's in one of his "Spider-Slayer" schemes. She is identified here as "[the] nation's leading electro-biologist."

At the party, Peter spies Roderick Kingsley with a centerfold model on his arm. Unfortunately, one of Kingsley's exes in in attendance as well, leading to an unexpected tiff for the seedy fashion mogul.

When Killer Shrike appears (here called also by his true name, Harold Simmons), Peter recalls battling him alongside the X-Men's Beast, an ex-Brand employee, in MARVEL TEAM-UP #90.

When Jameson learns that Brand may have been involved in Marla's kidnapping, he threatens to expose them, prompting Melvin to remind Jameson that Brand is a wholly owned subsidiary of Roxxon, a name familiar to anyone whose perused my Michelinie/Layton IRON MAN reviews.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "Jonah Jameson was fun, but you can't make him too human or he doesn't work anymore. I had fun doing things with him and Marla, making him look a little more human around her so that he seemed even more of a bastard around Peter." -- COMICS CREATORS ON SPIDER-MAN, Titan Books, 2004
Also On Sale This Month: Peter Parker goes undercover in prison in AMAZING SPiDER-MAN #219. MARVEL TEAM-UP #108 joins Spidey with Paladin, while MTU ANNUAL #4 finds Spidey, Power Man, Iron Fist, Moon Knight, and Daredevil up against the Purple Man in a tale written by none other than Frank Miller.

My Thoughts: I really like this story. As a single, done-in-one issue, it's one of my favorite's from Stern's time on SPECTACULAR. Humanizing Jameson, as Stern notes above, is one of those things that works great when done sparingly, and Marla is always a wonderful way to bring out that side of the curmudgeonly publisher.

Though Will-O'-The-Wisp's situation is easily discerned before being confirmed near the story's end -- indeed, Stern basically spells it out for readers -- the execution makes for an eerie tone throughout the story. Killer Shrike's battlesuit is possessed by the Wisp and only Shrike knows that he isn't operating under his own power. The deserted lab makes for a creepy location for the final battle, and of course the ethereal Wisp himself is one of the stranger of Spider-Man's foes.
I've never liked the Wisp's visual design -- it seems to me that a disembodied spirit should not be a long-haired hardbody when in his corporeal form -- and the character himself has always been too weird and just generally uninteresting to me, so it's a testament to Stern's ability that he makes a Wisp story not only interesting but, as noted above, one of my favorites from the Stern canon.

The layouts by Jim Shooter are head and shoulders above his work last issue, as well. I don't know if he just devoted more energy to them this time or if he went "looser" and let Jim Mooney fill in more of the blanks, but whatever he did, his effort here looks nothing like last issue's borderline amateurish work. The action and poses are far more creative, and he pulls off Stern's "bits" with, as the credits say, flair.

Among those bits are a classic Spidey moment in which the web-slinger mopes about renting a tuxedo for Jameson's party and then nearly drops several stories to the ground during his first encounter with Will-O'-The-Wisp. The Kingsley material is fun as well, as is possibly the best scene in the issue -- Spider-Man realizing mid-fight that he needs to call Aunt May back, webbing up the Roxxon guards, dialing her on the phone and chatting before hanging up to finish the fight. It's just a beautifully done and very funny moment.
A minor spotlight on Jonah Jameson, fun Spider-Man antics, and all wrapped up in an interesting story with lovely artwork -- it's hard for a Spider-Man story to get much better!

Next Issue: John Byrne shows up for the first installment of Stern's final multi-part storyline in the pages of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN.

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