Monday, October 6, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #243

"OPTIONS!"
Story by: Roger Stern | Art by: John Romita, Jr. & Dave Simons
Letters by: Diana Albers | Coloring: Bob Sharen | Edited by: Tom DeFalco
Overseen by: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Spider-Man pays a visit to Dr. Curt Connors at Empire State University to analyze the fragment he grabbed from the Mad Thinker's android. Unfortunately, Connors is able to provide no answers. Afterward, the web-slinger patrols the city, takes out a group of terrorists who have seized a church, and eventually returns to ESU to inform his lab partner, Roger Hochberg, that he has decided to quit graduate school.

The Sub-Plots: If that main plot description seems a bit thin, it's because this is pretty much a sub-plot-centric issue, as Stern catches up on various aspects of Peter Parker's life. First off, the Amy Powell storyline finally comes to its close. After several issues of Amy toying with Peter to make Lance Bannon jealous, Amy storms out of Peter's apartment when Mary Jane Watson barges in. Lance pursues Amy and the couple eventually reconciles over coffee, finally admitting to one another that they are in love at that the games they've played have gone on long enough.
Mary Jane officially returns to Peter Parker's supporting cast this issue. She has been helping her Aunt Anna adjust to life in Florida and tells Peter that she's uncertain how long she'll remain in New York, but I don't believe she ever leaves the cast for any significant amount of time following this issue (at least until she's believed dead for a while around 2000 or so). She also returns the key to Peter's apartment which allowed her entry last issue, presumably to avoid interrupting another unsolicited make-out session.

Peter attempts to get Mary Jane to stay for dinner, but she has other plans and departs, leading to Peter thinking "@#☆xxx%!" Later, as Spider-Man visits the Black Cat in the hospital, she makes the mistake of calling Spider-Man "Tiger", and when the wall-crawler hears Mary Jane's pet name for him, he asks the Cat not to use again and hastily departs.
During Spider-Man's meeting with Dr. Connors, Professor Sloan enters the room with a stack of freshly graded exams and the web-slinger takes a peek at his test. Seeing that he passed with an "A", Spider-Man gives Sloan a peck on the forehead and jovially leaves the university.
Most importantly, however (and most creatively illustrated by way of the clocks in the background of every panel), is the scene in which Spider-Man swings around the city for hours, first dismayed that Mary Jane has returned while he is dating the Black Cat, and then struggling to figure out how he can afford to pay the Black Cat's hospital bills while remaining a full-time graduate student and continuing his exploits as Spider-Man. Something has to give, and ultimately the webbed wonder decides that in order to devote himself full-time to photography, at least until the Black Cat's bills are paid off, he must quit the graduate program.
Continuity Notes: Peter tells Amy that Mary Jane has a key to his apartment because they were "sorta" engaged at one time. Which is a one-sided version of the story -- in actuality, he proposed and she turned him down. Later, Peter tells MJ that his apartment was robbed a few weeks ago, in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #72.
At Dr. Connors' lab, Spider-Man explains his fight with the Mad Thinker's robot last issue ("this afternoon"), and when Dr. Sloan enters the room it's noted that he and the web-slinger have met in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #36.
While visiting the hospital, Peter reminds the Black Cat that she was shot in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #76. He also drops in at the Daily Bugle to develop photos of the church incident and runs across Ben Urich, working late.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "I figured, 'we'll bring Mary Jane in and she's going to be the old girlfriend.' You know, they had something there for a while, but that's in the past now, but they're still friends. In fact, I wanted to do ... stories where Mary Jane is trying to set Pete up with other girls." -- The Spider-Man Crawlspace Podcast, episodes 35 & 37, 2008
Marv Wolfman Speaks: "When the decision was made to graduate Peter, I felt that we needed to forget how old he actually was. I planned to put him in graduate school, and just leave him there." -- COMICS CREATORS ON SPIDER-MAN, Titan Books, 2004

The Spider's Web: The Hobgoblin is a resounding success, if this sampling of letters regarding issue 238 is anything to go by. The artwork by the Romitas is praised as well, and we have our first guess as to the Hobgoblin's true identity as a reader speculates that he can be none other than J. Jonah Jameson.

Also On Sale This Month: PETER PARKER #81 features Cloak and Dagger back in action again, and MARVEL TEAM-UP #132 finds Spidey side-by-side with Mr. Fantastic.

My Thoughts: I really have no idea what Roger Stern's relationship with Bill Mantlo was like at this point in time. For all I know, it was quite amicable. But it's hard to read this issue and see anything other than Stern reasserting his dominance as the "alpha" Spider-Man writer.

Recall that when Stern was on SPECTACULAR, he was quite clearly taking his cues from Denny O'Neil on AMAZING when it came to things like Peter Parker's job and relationships -- and even which supporting cast members he was allowed to use and develop. As well he should have been, with AMAZING being the "main" book. But for the past few months, it's felt very much like Stern, even as the AMAZING writer, is still taking his cues from someone else. Spider-Man is now seriously dating the Black Cat -- a development which Mantlo introduced in SPECTACULAR. Indeed, the Cat's Stern-written "death" was undone by Mantlo before Stern could get to it himself. Plus we've seen reference after reference to the Owl/Dr. Octopus storyline from SPECTACULAR. Certainly this is a long-running plot which should be paid some lip service, but it feels like the dominant thing in Spider-Man's life right now, which shouldn't be the case since it's going on in the secondary book.

Lastly, and most recently, we've learned that in the pages of SPECTACULAR, Peter blew off Professor Sloan and possibly failed his final exam due to his concern over the Black Cat. This is fine soap operatic drama, and the ESU setting is, in theory, supposed to belong principally to SPECTACULAR -- which is why, for me, it's a delight to see Stern co-opt the plot from Mantlo. It's almost as if he says, "Setting Pete up to fail, eh? Think again -- he aced the test, but he's dropping out of school. Try writing about ESU now, Bill!"

With one simple story, Stern has upped the stakes in his cold war with Bill Mantlo. He's removed the entire premise on which the other writer's series was conceived, and he's reminded Mantlo that SPECTACULAR takes its cues from AMAZING, and never the other way around. Stern had to put in his time in order to graduate from the little sister title to the big leagues, and so must Mantlo if he wishes to truly control Spider-Man's destiny.

Or, like I said, maybe they were great friends and I'm just reading too much into this.
Next Issue: Before moving onto the next AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, let's take a look at three pages of AVENGERS #235, written by Stern and featuring our wondrous web-slinger, in a special bonus Tuesday post tomorrow!

1 comment:

  1. "In a Midtown Manhattan coffee shop", going through someone's love interests who have names like Sheila, Alma and Binky... yet again I feel things reminding of a television show. Meanwhile, several floors up they are probably moving Alex's sofa.

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