Wednesday, October 1, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #242

"CONFRONTATIONS!"
Scripter: Roger Stern | Artists: John Romita, Jr. & Kevin Dzuban
Letterer: Diana Albers | Colorist: Bob Sharen | Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: The Mad Thinker, incarcerated in a maximum security prison, projects his consciousness into an android body at his hidden lair and learns that Spider-Man recently fought a rogue robot from one of his laboratories. The Thinker, having heard rumors of the wall-crawler's spider-sense, sends another robot to his normal stomping grounds to test him.

The robot attacks Spider-Man as he blows off some steam at the East Side Con Edison plant. The automaton unleashes weapon after weapon against Spider-Man, but he avoids every assault and eventually defeats the robot by tricking it into dropping a pair of huge generators on itself. Spider-Man grabs a small fragment of the robot's shell and heads home.

The Sub-Plots: Peter heads to Empire State University to see if he passed his final exam. While there, Professor Sloan reminds Peter that he needs at least an 80% on the test to stay in the graduate program, then informs him that the tests are not yet graded.

As he leaves ESU, Peter thinks about the Black Cat's near-death experience at the hands of Doctor Octopus's gang, then Lance Bannon corners him to have it out over Amy Powell. Lance explains that he and Amy have an open relationship and that he believes Amy is using Peter to make Lance jealous. Peter tries to call Amy to clear things up, but instead she makes a date with him for that night. Peter instructs Lance to meet him at his apartment before the date so they can have it out with Amy together.
But Amy arrives at Peter's apartment first and begins making out with him, against Peter's wishes. They're interrupted, however, by the arrival of Mary Jane Watson (dressed in a painfully eighties women's suit that makes Amy's off-the-shoulder sweater look positively modern in comparison), who had already stopped by the apartment earlier that day searching for Peter.
Continuity Notes: As he approaches ESU, Peter notes that he just spent a few days in New Hampshire in MARVEL TEAM-UP #129 - 130, and that he took his final on the same day the Black Cat was shot, in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #76.

It's noted in the same scene by Professor Sloan that Debra Whitman quit her job as his secretary to move home, another development from SPECTACULAR. The gist, not noted here, is that she suffered a nervous breakdown after learning that Peter and Spider-Man were one and the same, so Peter tricked her into believing they were separate people in order to restore her sanity. Another horrendous gem from the hack pen of Bill Mantlo, of course.
But I suppose I shouldn't complain too much -- at least Debra didn't turn out to be a frikkin' alien like Marcy Kane! My gosh, Mantlo was just the worst Spider-Man writer ever.

In his lair, the Mad Thinker recalls past encounters with the Fantastic Four, the original X-Men, and the Avengers, though no issue numbers are cited. A footnote to MARVEL TEAM-UP 129 shows up, though, as he views footage of Spider-Man fighting his android in New Hampshire. Later, he notes that the android currently pursuing Spider-Man is of a model which once almost bested the Fantastic Four in issues 70 - 71 of their own series.
Lance refers to last issue's coffee date between Peter and Amy as having occurred "the other day." Also, for those who care, Amy works at Bloomingdales.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "I didn't have any firm plans for [the Mad Thinker], but I probably would've brought him back, if there weren't any [conflicts] with the FANTASTIC FOUR office. ... [The Thinker] was this sort of crazed mastermind that tries to figure out every angle, but he can't figure out Spider-Man. It drives him crazy." -- The Spider-Man Crawlspace Podcast, episodes 35 & 37, 2008

The Spider's Web: The finale of the Brand Corporation epic is covered in this month's letters. The Tarantula's death is declared "moving", a "tragedy", and "exceptionally well done". Also, the writer who had a letter published in AMAZING #37, who was then name-checked by a correspondent in issue 236, writes in to praise Marvel and wonders how many other readers have been with the company since the beginning.

Also On Sale This Month: Jonah Jameson steals the spotlight in PETER PARKER #80, while Spidey and Frog-Man meet the White Rabbit in MARVEL TEAM-UP #131 (this has to be written by J.M. DeMatteis, right??).

My Thoughts: This is, unfortunately, artistically the weakest issue since Stern jumped over to AMAZING, at least of the stories drawn by Romita. I'm unfamiliar with Kevin Dzuban, but his inks are not at all compatible with the story's pencils. His lines are too thin and scratchy, he draws Spider-Man's eyes much differently from Romita and all his other inkers, and his faces are just not very attractive. They're almost Kirby-esque in their freakishness, particularly one shot of Amy during the issue's final scene.

I've always liked the plot for this one, though. It's kind of a throw-away story, but I love the idea that Spider-Man is minding his own business when this robot appears from nowhere and attacks for no apparent reason. By the story's end, the wall-crawler still has no idea what just happened. And while, as we will see next time, he attempts to analyze the small robot chunk that he held onto, he will get no answers. And since neither Stern nor any subsequent writer will ever follow up this thread, the attack will remain one of the minor mysteries in Spider-Man's life. I wonder if he ever thinks back to this day and wonders what the deal was with that random robot attack?
The sub-plots are what really make this story worth reading, though. The long-simmering Amy Powell storyline comes to a head, Peter and Lance have it out, and we get a look-in on Peter's graduate studies, even though the ESU setting and characters are ostensibly the purview of Bill Mantlo over on SPECTACULAR.

And on top of all that, we have the return of Mary Jane Watson, just in time to walk in on Peter making out with another woman -- a woman with whom he doesn't want to be entangled due to her relationship with his chief rival at the Daily Bugle. I don't know if Stern had just finished watching an episode of THREE'S COMPANY when he wrote this one, but all I can say is bravo -- any time Peter Parker's life begins to resemble Jack Tripper's, that's a major league win in my book.

Next Issue: A momentous decision in the life of the webbed wonder.

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