Monday, July 21, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #60 - PART ONE

"BEETLEMANIA!"
Storytellers: Roger Stern, Ed Hannigan, & Jim Mooney
Letterer: Diana Albers | Colorist: George Roussos | Editor: Tom DeFalco
Grand Vizier: Jim Shooter

The Plot: The Beetle easily outclasses the weakened Spider-Man one-on-one, forcing the webbed wonder to retreat. Beetle kidnaps the Gibbon and departs as well. Later, Beetle sends out word for Spider-Man to meet him at the Kreller Building in Manhattan or the Gibbon will die.

Spidey arrives at the Kreller Building, which Beetle had previously rigged with a revolving roof, to find Gibbon manacled to a large "X". The web-slinger fights Beetle while also trying to free Gibbon. Eventually Spider-Man gets lucky and snaps off one of Beetle's antennae, which overloads his battlesuit and stuns him. Gibbon, now free, decks the Beetle with one punch and receives the public's accolades as Spider-Man heads home to rest.

The Sub-Plots: Peter bumps into a distraught Greg Salinger on the ESU campus, and momentarily believes Greg has set off his spider-sense.
Soon after, Deb Whitman invites Peter to dinner at her apartment, where her boyfriend Biff Rifkin is watching her new TV set. When Peter wonders how Deb could afford a top-of-the-line "25-inch Sony color console", Biff speculates that she probably brings home an annual salary of 18 thousand dollars a year before taxes, which seems like a king's ransom to Peter.
Continuity Notes: The Gibbon recalls being KO'd by Spider-Man in one punch last issue. Beetle also invokes last issue as he thinks about having Spider-Man's fighting style programmed into his onboard computer, and again as he remembers the web-slinger's fight with the Gibbon.
In between fights with the Beetle, Peter returns to Empire State University via the sewers. As he showers and washes the stench off of his costume in the gym locker room, he has an encounter with Coach Barnstorm, last seen in MARVEL TEAM-UP #108.
Lt. Kris Keating and his special powers task force put in an appearance at the Kreller Building, where they fall prey to the Beetle's revolving rooftop, which removes them from the fight before it begins.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "Keating is with this super SWAT team which operates throughout the city whenever something incredibly huge is going on. Like, 'Uh oh, the Rhino's tearing up Wall Street again. Let's go get 'em!' They bring out the big guns that Tony Stark designed, they try to blow away the Rhino and it doesn't work. ... Keating is a real hardnose type of guy and doesn't cotton to various things; everything has to be by the book." -- "The Amazing Roger Stern", FANTACO'S CHRONICLES SERIES #5, FantaCo Enterprises, 1982
Also On Sale This Month: Speed Demon runs circles around the web-slinger in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #222, then Spidey encounters the Devil-Slayer (and the Defenders) in MARVEL TEAM-UP #111.

My Thoughts: Yup, I was right. This could've, and should've, been a two-parter. Part one features the Beetle using the Ringer as a pawn to get intel on Spider-Man. The story worked perfectly within its running time. Part two brought in the extraneous Gibbon and then the Beetle finally attacked on the last page. Now, in part three, Spider-Man fights the Beetle, runs away, forgets the Gibbon even existed, watches some TV, then goes out to resume his fight with the Beetle. Parts two and three could have easily cut the Gibbon and lost very little, then been combined into a single chapter.

That said, I have to note that I love the end of this issue, with the Gibbon knocking out an already helpless Beetle, then receiving all the credit from Lt. Keating and the public at large. It's a classic Spider-Man ending in the Mighty Marvel Manner.
So unfortunately the Beetle trilogy is a miss for Stern. The best thing to come out of it is the Beetle's redesigned battlesuit, created by John Byrne. I have always thought the original Beetle looked unbelievably clumsy, awkward, and ugly. This new armor is sleek, streamlined, and menacing. This is the Beetle.

The other great thing to come out of this storyline is some stellar artwork. The first installment, by Byrne, I praised in my review of issue 58. The second chapter was weak, but the third is gorgeous. Ed Hannigan is a great penciler; his characters are energetically bouncy and his action is fun to follow. And Jim Mooney can make any artist's Spider-Man look like a beautiful John Romita Spider-Man, so his work combined with Hannigan's is a delight.

Fortunately, even when his plotting is off, Stern's scripting is great. In fact, thanks to the wonderful Hannigan/Mooney team combined with Stern's wordcraft (along with some of the series' best lettering thus far as well), this issue features a magnificent splash page, easily the best from Stern's run thus far, evoking an unbelievably strong late-sixties Stan Lee/John Romita vibe:

So it's not all bad. Analyzed in a vacuum, this story is fine. The problem is, it can't be looked at that way since it's the third chapter of a trilogy. And while the art is strong, the story is not. It's the opposite of the majority of Stern's SPECTACULAR work so far, in fact -- where normally his excellent writing has been let down by sub-par artwork, here we have some beautiful visuals applied to a poorly-plotted story.

Fortunately, we're only one issue away from Stern's jump to AMAZING, where his writing will be accompanied every month by equally excellent artwork.

Next Issue: In addition to "BEETLEMANIA!", this double-sized sixtieth issue also features a back-up retelling of Spider-Man's origin, which we will cover on Wednesday before moving on to #61.

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