Monday, July 20, 2009

The Comics Code Authority: Revised to Relax, part 2

Amazing Spider-Man #125, October 1973
Gerry Conway/Ross Andru & John Romita/Tony Mor

Doug: We’re back with the conclusion of our first foray into Marvel’s post-Comics Code Authority monster mash! In this entry we’re closing out the two-parter that introduced the malevolent Man-Wolf, really John Jameson – son of that perpetual Spidey pain-in-the-butt J. Jonah Jameson!

Doug: Last time I didn’t mention that I had the Power Records Book and Record Set (“It’s Fun to Read as You Hear!”) for this story. I was saving for this go-‘round because I remembered that it contained the origin of the Man-Wolf; however, when I went down to the ol’ Sanctum Sanctorum to pull it off the shelf, lo and behold it sported the cover from ASM 124! What the heck?? Upon reexamination, I remembered how watered down these books were! The comic that comes with the 45 rpm platter is only 20 pages in length – hence, they’ve condensed two issues into one. What’s gone, you ask? Why, only the splash pages with the creator credits, all mention of the deaths of Gwen Stacy and Norman Osborn, any scenes that delved into characterization of the cast, most of the physical violence, and just about anything else that would have rated this tome above what a youngster might have found on The Electric Company! Hey, wait! Since this was advertised as a reader – the back cover has a text box that includes, “It’s been especially designed so that you can read the story and follow the record word for word. This is a real learning aid and creates a desire to read as it entertains… The action comes alive as you read!!” – perhaps tying it in with Spidey Super-Stories or the Electric Company was the goal. Makes sense temporally.

Doug: In the actual comic, the splash page just leaps at the reader. Penciling chores have shifted to one Ross Andru, my Spider-Man artist. Yes, he was the regular when I started buying my own books. I always felt like Andru was the “happy medium” between John Romita and Gil Kane. Andru’s style was somewhat quirky like Kane, elongated, wiry… but without some of the Kane annoyances like the nose up-shots and the rigormortis-like fingers. Following is a link to Ross Andru’s Spider-Man work; you can see that he was the Spidey artist for the better part of five straight years!

Doug: Inks are shared by John Romita and Tony Mortellaro. Romita’s influence is felt even more so than in the previous issue, especially on Mary Jane’s face. I don’t know that anyone draws prettier girls than Romita, Sr. Nick Cardy maybe…

Karen: I have to say, that Romita exerts a strong influence on the art here – if I was shown that splash page without the credits, I would have assumed Romita was the penciller. Later in the book, I can see more of Andru’s work in the way the figures are posed, but Romita’s style is still quite evident.

Doug: The cover of this story recalls (again) the recent death of Gwen as Peter cries out while attempting to save a young lady from the clutches of the Man-Wolf, “No! NO!! I won’t let you die – not like Gwen --! Not like Gwennnn!” However, although Peter’s continued grieving is a major subplot within, he doesn’t utter that particular line in the scene the cover references. Wait a second! Did I just say that the cover referenced a scene within the book?? Wow – must be the Bronze Age!!

Karen: I used to be able to remember just about every comic I owned based on the cover – they were always distinctive and served as a preview to the story within. The last few years, I haven’t been able to recall a single cover – sometimes I go to the comic store and can’t recall if I have bought a particular issue or not – because the covers are all so similar.

Doug: I thought the origin of the Man-Wolf was pretty formulaic, as were the scenes showing his first nights “on the prowl”. Again, as I said last time, any “wolf violence” is for the most part implied. There is no blood at all, although Conway does write when the Man-Wolf attacks a back alley junkie, “But, before the Man-Wolf can complete his attack in the manner of the beast he’s become…” That’s about as bloody as it gets.

Karen: It’s similar to how the Hulk was treated when he went on a rampage: somehow, no one was ever hurt! Stan just didn’t want any real violence in the books. Although in the case of the Hulk, he was clearly viewed as a hero. Man-Wolf here seems more like a helpless victim than anything else.

Karen: Speaking of ‘bloodless’, how about the supposedly terrible cut the Man-Wolf inflicted on Spidey? Peter goes on about it and how he might become “anemic”, but again, there’s no blood shown.

Karen: Considering how modern books have no thought balloons, it’s almost funny to see Spidey thinking about Gwen while he’s fighting the Man-Wolf! Really these two issues were probably more important for the way Peter was dealing with the deaths of Gwen and the Goblin than for his fights with the Man-Wolf. Peter really got no sympathy or support from his buddies. Conway’s portrayal of Mary Jane is probably more in line with the way she had been characterized up to that point – sort of flippant and superficial. Even so, she and Flash Thompson are not nearly as understanding towards Peter and Harry as you would expect such close friends to be.

Doug: JJJ is again portrayed as you’d expect him to be – all bluster, somewhat cold, on Spidey’s tail like no other. He does have a few scenes where he’s somewhat sensitive, but those seemed almost out-of-character. I didn’t feel like Conway convinced me that Jonah was really all that concerned for his son’s well-being. And actually, Spider-Man picks up on that and there is a great dialogue between he and Jonah after the climax of the story.

Karen: The way I read it, Jameson cares, but only to a point. His reputation and his paper will probably always come before anything else, including his son. After reading this issue, it sure feels like Peter’s life was filled with a lot of unpleasant people!

Doug: Overall, I had a very good time returning to this tale. Conway’s scripts were not fantastic, but they were solid. I was in familiar territory with characters I love. Classic characters untainted by all of the junk that’s gone on in the Spider-verse over the past 15 years. In that regard, this was like coming home. And while the Man-Wolf has certainly proven to be a forgettable Spidey villain – John Jameson has appeared in many more comics in human form than he has in wolf form – it was interesting to question just what the big deal had been through all the years when werewolves were not allowed.

Karen: It was a fun story, but I realized that there is no real explanation given for why Jameson was turned into the Man-Wolf. He finds this strange rock on the moon, somehow manages to get it away from NASA, and for some reason it turns him into a werewolf! Now that’s pretty weak no matter how you cut it. It wouldn’t be til many years later that the story behind the moon rock was written, in Creatures on the Loose and Marvel Premiere. But whatever the origin, Marvel had its second wolfman, which is what Stan wanted!


Chris PV said...

One of my favorite things about the stories immediately following the death of Gwen Stacy was watching MJ gradually grow up and become more responsible. She goes from this party girl with nothing more important than a good time to someone who legitimately cares for Pete. I even kind of liked her rejecting his first marriage proposal at the time, because it was so obvious to me that he was just clinging to her because of Gwen.

Doug said...

Mary Jane is one of Marvel's stable of characters who was allowed to grow and develop organically over a long period of time. She may be the company's biggest success story in regard to characterization. It's unfortunate what editorial chose to do with Brand New Day. I did not read it myself, but am fully aware of the cop-out Marvel arrived at. It just smacks of a lack of creativity -- Ultimate Spider-Man is the perfect venue for young Peter Parker stories. They already had it sitting right under their noses...

Chris PV said...

Yeah, the reboot button is what made me swear off DC as well. If you aren't a good enough writer to get around a situation you inherited from a previous regime without having to knock the whole castle down and start over, you really aren't cut out for this kind of long running serialized fiction. I get that people don't like him married. I disagree with them, but I understand their reasoning.

But just pretending that everything since 1974 just hasn't happened is stupid. I don't need you to retell the old stories, I can just read them myself in the back issues. Move the character forward!

Matthew Bradley said...

I'll rant about reboots another time, but for now, let me say that this two-parter epitomizes why I will be a Bronze-Age Baby until I die. In fact, the conclusion of the story was one of the earliest comics I owned, and it was years before I got Part One in a MARVEL TALES reprint. I now recognize Conway, Romita, Kane, and Andru as all among my favorite comic-book creators of that era, although at the time I just liked seeing Spidey slug it out with the Man-Wolf. Good stuff from Marvel--and BAB.

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