Wednesday, October 29, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #248

"AND HE STRIKES LIKE A THUNDERBALL"
Writer: Roger Stern | Pencil Breakdowns: John Romita, Jr. | Finishes: Brett Breeding
Letters: Diana Albers | Colors: Bob Sharen | Editor: Bob DeNatale
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Spider-Man battles Thunderball, eventually defeating him by luring him into an electrical substation and using his body to close a high-voltage circuit.

The Sub-Plots: None to be found in either of this issue's stories.

Continuity Notes: Thunderball tells Spider-Man that he received his powers from an Asgardian Norn Queen. The wall-crawler, despite having met Thor numerous times at this point, believes the story to be "hooey".

Thunderball recalls the origin of the Wrecking Crew in DEFENDERS #18, and notes that he's been uncharacteristically weak lately, as seen in IRON MAN #171.

The Spider's Web: Assistant Editor Bob DeNatale provides a brief column on the genesis of these "Assistant Editor's Month" stories. Then readers react to Peter's decision to leave graduate school in issue #243. And one fan asks if John Romita, Jr.'s recent appointment as penciler of X-MEN will affect his work on Spider-Man, resulting in a statement that Romita will simply have both series on his regular schedule. Liars!!

Also On Sale This Month: "Assistant Editors' Month" hits PETER PARKER #86 with a story written totally straight, but drawn in the cartoony style of Fred Hembeck -- then Spider-Man takes a break from MARVEL TEAM-UP to allow Aunt May and Galactus to headline the title.

My Thoughts: The issue's first feature is a simple all-action affair. Spider-Man versus Thunderball is another Stern story pitting the wall-crawler against a mega-powerhouse like Juggernaut and Mr. Hyde. But Stern keeps things fresh by having our hero defeat each villain in a different way. Juggernaut was literally unstoppable, so Spider-Man dropped him in some quick-drying cement. Hyde was not as strong as Juggernaut, but still more than a physical match for the wall-crawler, so Spidey taunted him into defeat. And now Thunderball, whose power level is someplace between those other two, is defeated by Peter Parker's scientific expertise.
Stern also uses the story, as he often does, to explain away the fact that Thunderball has recently been depicted in a less than flattering light. He should be strong enough to fight Thor, but Iron Man knocked him out with one blow. So Stern has Thunderball realize that the key to his power is the Wrecker's crowbar, and that the longer he and the other members of the Wrecking Crew are separated from it, the weaker they will become. It's a quick and easy explanation and it gives the Wrecking Crew an in-universe reason to remain together as a team despite their frequent interpersonal squabbles.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #248 also features a second story, a classic eleven-page outing from Stern and Ron Frenz:

"THE KID WHO COLLECTS SPIDER-MAN"
Writer: Roger Stern | Pencil Breakdowns: Ron Frenz | Finishes: Terry Austin
Letters: Joe Rosen | Colors: Christie Scheele | Editor: Bob DeNatale
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Through the framing sequence of a "human interest" column by the Daily Bugle's Jacob Conover, Spider-Man visits with a young man named Tim Harrison, who is the wall-crawler's self-proclaimed biggest fan and owns a number of souvenirs relating to his idol's career. Spider-Man answers all of Tim's various questions, and even reveals his secret identity to the young man when asked.

After the pair says their goodbyes, Spider-Man departs Tim's room and slumps over, head in his hand, as he stands atop the wall of the Slocum Brewer Cancer Clinic. The final segment of Conover's column explains that Tim has leukemia and will only live for a few more weeks.

Continuity Notes: Spider-Man explains his origin to Tim, from the radioactive spider bite to the murder of Uncle Ben. They also discuss the web-slinger's brief career as a television star, and Spider-Man chuckles at a Daily Bugle retraction printed after Jonah Jameson's claim that Spider-Man was actually Electro was proved false.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "['The Kid...'] was a story I just literally woke up with one morning. In fact, it was so fully formed that I was certain that I must have been remembering some other story. I was afraid that my sleeping brain had half-recalled a Superman story that I’d read as a boy and substituted Spider-Man into the mix. For a few days, I went around buttonholing other writers and asking them if they remembered the story. When none of them did, I figured that I must have come up with the thing myself. I didn’t even write it down at the time, because I could see it so completely in my mind." -- THE ROGER STERN INTERVIEW: THE TRIUMPHS AND TRIALS OF THE WRITER, 2006

Ron Frenz Speaks: "I went with the heavy 'Ditko' feel because I felt, as a heavy character piece with little super-hero action, the look would immediately identify and clarify the Spider-Man character." -- "The Creators that Collected Spider-Man", BACK ISSUE! #10, 2005


My Thoughts: "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" frequently appears on "Best of Spider-Man" lists, and I believe Stan Lee himself once named it as his favorite Spider-Man story not written by him. It's easy to see why this story gets such praise. It tugs at the heartstrings, to be sure. It's hard to read it without getting misty; I know I've never gotten through it without needing to wipe "something" from my eye. The ending is a twist, revealing Tim's condition only on the final page, but this simply adds to the story on subsequent readings. The first time through, readers may be wondering why Spider-Man is sharing everything, even his true identity, with a kid he's never met. The last page provides an explanation and an emotional punch at the same time.

But, reading the story again, readers find that Stern has peppered in bits and pieces that give that ending even more importance. Tim swears he will keep Spider-Man's secret "for the rest of [his] life" and that they'll be buddies "to the end." Peter sheds a tear as he hugs Tim before leaving, possibly the biggest giveaway as to the story's ending, but also something easily puzzled over if a reader isn't paying careful attention.

Special kudos should be paid as well to the art of Ron Frenz -- soon to become the regular AMAZING SPIDER-MAN penciler -- who turns in a brilliant Steve Ditko pastiche and beautifully conveys Spider-Man's wordless grief over Tim's condition with some simple facial expressions and body language over the final pages.

Amid battles with Juggernaut, the Vulture and the Hobgoblin, this quiet tearjerker of a story may well be the crowning achievement of Roger Stern's work with Spider-Man.

Next Issue: Let's return briefly to the pages of PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, as Bill Mantlo gives us his take on the Hobgoblin in issue #85 of that series. This should go well...

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