Wednesday, November 19, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #252

"HOMECOMING!"
Plot: Roger Stern | Script: Tom DeFalco
Pencil Breakdowns: Ron Frenz | Finished Art: Brett Breeding
Letters: Joe Rosen | Colors: Glynis Wein | Editor: Danny Fingeroth
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: One week after disappearing into the huge alien structure in Central Park, Spider-Man emerges from it in a new black costume, with Dr. Curt Connors in tow. After returning Connors to his family, the web-slinger catches up on his personal life as Peter Parker and patrols the city in his new outfit. While out and about, he bumps into a pair of quarreling teens and takes them up above the city, letting them see the environment, good and bad, that they take for granted.

The Sub-Plots: Spider-Man's black costume is somehow alive, responding to his thoughts by disappearing and changing into street clothes when necessary.

Despite having taken several photos of his adventures on Battleworld, Peter decides that he can't sell them to any respectable newspaper or magazine, both because Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four advised all the kidnapped heroes to keep their adventure a secret from the general public and because the photos are simply too unbelievable to be taken seriously.

Peter also gives Aunt May a call to check in and agrees to join Nathan and her for Sunday dinner.

Continuity Notes: At the issue's start, Jonah Jameson and Robbie Robertson discuss the missing superheroes, and Jameson compliments Robbie on his work since taking over the Daily Bugle's editor-in-chief position last issue while also giving him some advice on page composition.
The Beyonder, mysterious mastermind behind the Secret Wars, lured all the heroes to his citadel in Central Park, as seen with Spider-Man's arrival last issue. The villains, on the other hand, he plucked forcibly from wherever they were at the time. Dr. Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard, was one of these villains. A footnote of course directs readers to the MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS limited series to read about the pair's exploits on Battleworld.
When Spider-Man returns Connors to his Manhattan apartment, they are greeted by the doctor's wife Martha and son Billy. Billy, previously seen as a pre-teen, seems much taller and older at this point. His aging will continue into the nineties before he is eventually and inexplicably retroactively reverted to pre-teen status sometime around the turn of century.
The Black Cat pops by Peter's apartment while he's out, indicating to those of us solely reading AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that she must have learned Spider-Man's true identity in the pages of SPECTACULAR. She is looking for her paramour's help regarding a situation with the Kingpin, who recently endowed her with superpowers.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "As I recall Jim Shooter wanted to temporarily change Spider-Man's costume as part of the SECRET WARS miniseries. I suggested that the costume be alive ... which was something that Chris Claremont and John Byrne had once planned to do with Iron Fist, by the way.

"At any rate, we'd originally planned for the Black outfit to last only three or four issues."
-- Spider-Fan.org Interview with Roger Stern, 1996
Ron Frenz Speaks: "At that point, I was just going from freelance project to freelance project. ... I got 'The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man,' then they called and said they needed some fill-in issues on the book for six issues. John Romita, Jr. was going to go do X-MEN, and the original plan was he would get that book on schedule and come back to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in about six months time." -- "Black and White and Read All Over: The Spider-Man Extreme Makeover", BACK ISSUE! #12, TwoMorrows Publishing, 2005

Jim Shooter Speaks: "I wanted every SECRET WARS participant to come back a little changed by their experience. ... A fan had suggested a new, black costume for Spider-Man a year or so prior to SW. That was his entire contribution, the words 'black costume.' His suggestion was that it was a high-tech suit made for Spider-Man by Reed Richards. I bought the 'black suit' idea from him -- my recollection is that we paid him $500. I had a note to myself in my desk drawer for a long time -- then when SECRET WARS came along, I said, 'Aha! Now would be a good time to use this.'" -- JimShooter.com blog posting

The Spider's Web: Danny Fingeroth plugs SECRET WARS for readers who wish to learn the origin of Spider-Man's new costume, then turns things over to the fans, who give their thoughts on issue 247 and on Peter's Parker's love life. One letter writer wants Peter and Mary Jane to get get back together, while another wants Mary Jane to become a supervillain and get killed off, clearing the way for Spider-Man and the Black Cat to stay together.

We also get a cute letter from J. Jonah Jameson himself, providing his own guess as to the Hobgoblin's identity: that menace, Spider-Man, of course.

Additionally, the annual statement of ownership appears, telling us that AMAZING SPIDER-MAN printed an average of 470,527 issues per month over the last year, and sold 202,633 per month in that same time.

Also On Sale This Month: Black Cat searches for the missing Spider-Man in PETER PARKER #90, and in MARVEL TEAM-UP #141, our hero models his new duds for Daredevil.

My Thoughts: As noted last time, this is really the start of the Tom DeFalco/Ron Frenz run on Spider-Man, rather than the end of the Roger Stern run. Klaus Janson is gone, and with him goes the artistic uniformity that linked the first Frenz issue to the final Romita Jr. one. But Brett Breeding provides a wonderful, polished look to Frenz's breakdowns, which results in a far superior finished result than either of Frenz's previous collaborations with Stern, inked by Terry Austin and Janson.

My understanding is that Frenz was somewhat disappointed when he took over AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and found that the title character would be wearing a new costume, as he had been excited to draw the original. It's a sentiment I certainly understand; the Ditko costume is an icon. But I have to note that Frenz, assisted by Breeding, draws a fantastic black costumed Spider-Man here.
As far as the writing goes, even if this is a Stern plot, it feels more like DeFalco gearing up to take over the title. His scripting, which already evidenced some of his trademark tics last issue, is even more "full-on DeFalco" here. ("That's the thing which kidnapped the heroes!" a bystander observes when the Beyonder's structure reappears in Central Park. "Which" may be correct grammar, but no one would construct a spoken sentence that way off the cuff!) Peter also has a taste for anchovies on his pizza, which I believe is something DeFalco was known to eat in real life.

There is one nice Stern-ism in the plot, though. But really I suppose it's a Stan Lee-ism, when you get right down to it: In a classic instance of the "ol' Parker luck", upon returning from Battleworld, Spider-Man goes to grab the clothes he stashed in a tree the week before, only to find that his jacket and pants are gone and a bird has built a nest from his shirt.

Overall this is a story where nothing much happens; a quiet transitional issue from the previous creative team to the new one. Roger Stern has officially left AMAZING SPIDER-MAN now, turning the character's destiny over new masters. A cavalcade of writers -- some good, others great, and still more not-so-wonderful -- will work on Spider-Man between now and Stern's brief return in 1996, including but not limited to DeFalco, Peter David, David Michelinie, Gerry Conway, Todd McFarlane, J.M. DeMatteis, Howard Mackie, Terry Kavanagh, and Todd DeZago. And while I enjoyed a great number of these gentlemen's takes on the web-slinger, for my money the last time Spider-Man truly and definitively felt like the classic Stan Lee/Steve Ditko/John Romita character was the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN run by Roger Stern and John Romita, Jr.

Next Issue: A quick summary of the years between now and 1996, when Roger Stern will return to Spider-Man's life.

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