Wednesday, October 8, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #244

"ORDEALS!"
Writer: Roger Stern | Artists: John Romita, Jr. & Klaus Janson
Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: Bob Sharen | Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Osborn Industries' corporate headquarters in Manhattan is the victim of an armed robbery by a group of thugs. Spider-Man gets wind of this and investigates, sneaking into the local police precinct to learn that the culprits were after assorted chemicals. When a call comes in about another robbery in progress at a waterfront Osborn warehouse, Spider-Man heads that way to challenge the robbers. But the goons' leader, watching from a nearby truck, sets the warehouse ablaze with a pumpkin bomb. Spider-Man rescues the robbers and turns them over to the police, then pursues the truck but finds it empty, its occupant having switched to a smaller van to escape.

Returning to the docks, Spider-Man gets the escaped ringleader's name -- Lefty Donovan -- and realizes that he must be the Hobgoblin. However, Donovan returns to the Hobgoblin's headquarters on Long Island, where the villain, still recovering from his initial bout with Spider-Man, greets him and reveals that the chemicals Donovan has acquired will endow him with the same physical strength possessed by the original Green Goblin.

The Sub-Plots: Peter goes through with his decision to take a leave of absence from the Empire State University graduate program, spending a long morning waiting in lines and getting signatures on his paperwork (these are the "ordeals" to which the issue's title refers). Before signing off, Professor Sloan tries to change Peter's mind, but when his student refuses to budge, Sloan thinks to himself that it's unlikely he will ever see Peter again.

While Peter struggles to complete all the paperwork for his leave of absence, Mary Jane enjoys lunch with Harry and Liz Osborn, in Manhattan for the Osborn Manufacturing stockholders' meeting. Harry invites Mary Jane to come visit the Osborns at their new home on Long Island, while Liz attempts to set Mary Jane up with Peter, causing Mary Jane to politely end the conversation.
Mary Jane is seen dating a man named Jeff at the issue's conclusion. She's still rocking her horrible eighties fashion taste, thanks to Romita, in this case wearing a pantsuit with a bowtie to a Broadway show. She becomes concerned when she sees a headline about the Osborn robbery, but when Jeff asks her what's up, she puts on her party girl face and reminds Jeff that she's "never serious about anything..."

Hobgoblin Clues: The decoy truck Spider-Man catches up with is driven by a pretty sophisticated-looking robot device, implying Hobgoblin has strong mechanical engineering skills, or at least has access to someone with same.
Also, Donovan meets the Hobgoblin at a "recently rented summer house" on Long Island -- a very nice looking house, too, of the sort only someone with a decent fortune might be able to afford for any extended period.

Continuity Notes: The Black Cat is still recuperating in the hospital, and as Spider-Man leaves her bedside, she believes he's risking his life too much against foes like Dr. Octopus, the Punisher, and the Hobgoblin.

This issue marks the final appearance of Professor Sloan until a one-panel cameo in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #301 (which, in turn, is his final appearance ever to date).

As he reads about the armed robbery at Osborn's headquarters, Spider-Man considers that it does not match the Hobgoblin's established modus operandi of late night raids, as seen in AMAZING #239. In order to get to the police report on the robbery, the wall-crawler attempts to visit Jean DeWolff at the Midtown precinct house, but she is gone for the day so he avails himself of the record in her absence.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "The thing that I tried to introduce into the series was that Spider-Man would interact with different cops, depending upon what part of the city he was in. If he was in Midtown, well, that was Captain DeWolfe's precinct. If he was down in the Village around ESU, he might run into Sergeant Snyder." -- "Roger Stern, the Spectacular Spider-Writer", MARVEL SPOTLIGHT: SPIDER-MAN, Marvel Comics, March 2007

John Romita, Jr. Speaks: "I was so happy that Klaus [Janson] was working with me, because I was a fan of his stuff. And we didn't get a chance to work together again until about seven years later on the Punisher. But, yeah, I was thrilled to have him work on an issue of SPIDER-MAN." -- MODERN MASTERS VOLUME 18: JOHN ROMITA JR., TwoMorrows Publishing, 2008

With all due respect to Romita, I disagree here. I love the Jansen/Romita team these days; it's like they were made for each other. But at this point, Jansen's scratchy, dark inks do not mesh well with Romita's clean style. He puts in some fine efforts and certain panels look great, but overall I much prefer the likes of Jim Mooney or John Romita, Sr. on this vintage of Romita, Jr.

The Spider's Web: Praise for the Hobgoblin continues to pour in, and we get the readers' first guesses as to his true identity. This month, speculation includes two votes for J. Jonah Jameson, and one each for Dr. Bart Hamilton (the third Green Goblin), the Kingpin's son Richard Fisk, Jack O'Lantern, Peter's lab partner Roger Hochberg, the Chameleon, and Lance Bannon.

Also On Sale This Month: Cloak, Dagger, the Punisher, and the Kingpin feature in PETER PARKER #82, while Spidey makes a fivesome of the Fantastic Four in MARVEL TEAM-UP #133.

My Thoughts: After giving the Hobgoblin storyline four issues to rest, Stern returns to it, though Spider-Man and his new foe do not cross paths directly here. Instead we see the Hobgoblin using a proxy, armed with some of his weapons, to steal the chemicals he will need to duplicate the process that gave Norman Osborn the power to go toe-to-toe with Spider-Man on a regular basis. Stern is wise to hold the Hobgoblin in reserve here. He's still a new character, and while fans may have clamored for another direct confrontation with Spider-Man, this glimpse of an appearance, lurking behind the scenes while Donovan carries out his bidding, serves to ramp up the mystery. We want these two to come face-to-face again, but Stern wants to be sure it's a special occasion when they finally do, and he's not going to rush it for anyone.
So the result is a suitably mysterious tale in which Spider-Man is initially unsure whether the Hobgoblin is even involved in the Osborn robbery or whether it's just a coincidence. Indeed, he actually rules out the Hobgoblin until Donovan flings razor bats and a pumpkin bomb at him from his truck. But once he believes Donovan to be the Hobgoblin, Spider-Man is on his trail and will really not let up for the remainder of Stern's run on the character. This is a long-term mystery at play in the best possible fashion, with clues slowly dropping into place as the plot simmers, teasing us . Stern isn't idling, but he's not going overboard, either. The pace is perfect.
Otherwise, this issue is mostly all sub-plots. Mary Jane and the Osborns turn up again, while Peter goes through with the momentous decision he made last issue, to take a leave of absence from graduate school. And as to that latter point -- since I spent last issue's review on my theory about Stern asserting his dominance over Bill Mantlo, I suppose I should also note, for the record, that I don't like the idea of Peter Parker leaving school. In theory, as a sub-plot to played out over a year or so, it's fine. And that may well be what Stern had in mind. But unfortunately, Stern leaves the series before that story can be resolved. The reason Peter was placed in graduate school in the first place, as noted in the quote from Marv Wolfman last time, was to keep him young. To move him out of an environment where everyone knew it should only take him about four years to move on, and put him someplace he could remain indefinitely.

Unfortunately, removing Peter from school ages him. He's no longer tied to ESU, so he no longer "has to be" in his early twenties. This is, in my opinion, the beginning of the road that would lead to Peter getting married. And while I have nothing against him as a husband and I believe some decent stories came out of that era -- I grew up on married Spider-Man, after all -- I ultimately believe that marrying Peter Parker was a mistake because it removed a great deal of the soap opera angst from the series. No more love triangles. No more revolving romantic interests to keep things fresh. Try doing a story about Amy Powell using a married Peter against Lance Bannon, and it paints both Amy and Peter in a much more negative light. The marriage robbed Spider-Man of several of his best sub-plot hooks, and it came about due to an unintentional aging of the character triggered, however innocently, by removing him from graduate school.

That's all in the future, though. For now, Stern's decision to pull Peter out of school is, as noted above, a decent idea for a short-term sub-plot. It's just a shame we won't see Stern bring that plot to an end.

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