Friday, October 2, 2009

The Comics Code Authority: Revised to Relax, Part 9

Amazing Spider-Man #97 (June 1971)
“In the Grip of the Goblin!”
Stan Lee/Gil Kane-Frank Giacoia (John Romita is credited as “Artist Emeritus”)

Doug: I hate to kick this one off on a negative note, but Stan’s writing is certainly sub-par this time out. The issue starts out well enough, with a full-scale brouhaha between Spidey and the Green Goblin (by the way, John Romita’s cover is beautiful – a quintessential shot of a fully-engaged Spider-Man and the Green Goblin) in the theatre where only hours earlier the gang had enjoyed MJ’s off-Broadway debut. However, at the top of page 2, as the Goblin escalates the action, Spidey remarks to himself, “Oh no! I forgot his weapons… in his Goblin bag!” Well, duh! Isn’t he supposed to be your greatest foe ever?? You see, this speaks again (we discussed this in Part 8) to Stan’s ignoring of the story from The Spectacular Spider-Man #2; in this continuity, it’s been all the way back to ASM #40 since these two have battled. But still…

Doug: What’s even more maddening to me is that at the bottom of page 2, Osborn pops the plug on a pumpkin bomb, but instead of it exploding a hallucinogenic gas is released. So Stan used the same plot device in two consecutive Goblin appearances… except that we’re supposed to forget the former one. Bro-ther…

Karen: Yeah, Stan wasn’t above recycling ideas!

Doug: OK, on to something positive – feeling a little grumpy today, I guess. This middle part of our “drug issues” trilogy is a nice bridge from intro. to conclusion. Here we get an all-out battle, more characterization, some Stan Lee angst-writing, and a cliffhanger ending. What’s truly not to love?

Doug: The battle spreads to the city, and Spidey turns himself into a minor-leaguer in this contest, due in large part to his reluctance to go all-out against Osborn. With great responsibility come a certain nobility that seems to supersede Spidey’s responsibility to his friends as well as to society. His hesitancy allows the Goblin to get away, albeit only after a ruse whereby the Goblin thinks Spider-Man has fallen to his death.

Karen: On the other hand, it seems like Pete is less concerned with the damage the Goblin might cause than he is with him revealing his secret identity. But his angst over not wanting to hurt Osborn is admirable.

Doug: In this issue Frank Giacoia begins his run as series inker over Gil Kane’s pencils. We commented back in the Morbius issues (ASM #’s 100-102) that Kane suffered from Giacoia’s treatment, as opposed to the much smoother, more familiar lines of John Romita. An issue-to-issue comparison between ASM 96 and 97 really brings this to light. I will laud Kane, though, for his storytelling abilities – one would not necessarily need Stan’s words to understand what is transpiring on any given page. That’s why despite the nasal upshots, Kane is still considered one of the masters.

Karen: I don’t care that much for the Giacoia inks, and maybe it’s just me, but it seemed like there were an awful lot of panels with no or minimal backgrounds. The bullpen bulletins in this issue mentions that Kane is taking over Spidey, while Romita is moving on to Captain America. I remember that time, because my first Captain America comic (#138) was Romita’s first issue – guest-starring Spidey himself!

Doug: Mary Jane is written for the most part in-character – flitting from Harry to Peter in the wake of Pete’s break-up with Gwen, happy-go-lucky, seemingly unconcerned for the fall-out from any of her actions or attitudes. While this fits, it is exactly what to this day makes it difficult for me to think of Pete and MJ together; still wish it had been Gwen.

Karen: Isn’t it weird? I know I mentioned this last time around too. It seems like after Gwen died many of her characteristics were transferred over to Mary Jane. Of course, one could attribute this to MJ becoming more mature too – but I think the former is more likely. She had to stop being a conniving bitch and become more lovable for fans to accept her as Pete’s new flame.

Doug: So how does Stan work drugs into this plot? Last issue we saw a fellow fall almost-to-his-death while under the influence of pills. In this episode, it’s Harry Osborn who falls victim. Harry is much edgier, weaker – unable to solve his problems and placing blame for them on all but himself. His solution is to escape his feelings through a series of uppers and downers. Pete is aware of this, but makes little effort to stop Harry. Instead he soliloquizes to himself about the dangers of drugs. A good message, but again, lacking the “great responsibility” that is Spider-Man’s mantra.

Karen: The scene where the “pusher” sells Harry the drugs is so bizarre – the guy looks really goofy, with his blond hair and black mustache, and no actual money is exchanged for the pills. Since he calls Harry by name, I guess we’re to conclude he knows him – has he sold to him before? It’s unclear to me. What’s really odd is that he looks like one of the audience members at Mary Jane’s show from the previous issue, #96! Was this planned? I’m curious what the thinking was here.
Doug: If this issue was a film, a viewer might remark at the number of edits. This is a fast-paced, dramatic 20 pages! Stan’s words, despite the 2-3 dopey (no pun intended) lines, is solid, the scene changes every page or so, there’re layers being added to the plot and to characterization constantly, and then a big pay-off sets up the concluding chapter. All in all, a page-turning Bronze Age masterpiece!

Karen: Sometimes I forget how big and melodramatic comics used to be. This one is certainly over the top at times, but still entertaining. I’m always amazed at how much is squeezed into these stories - we get fights, internal monologues, character interaction, moralizing – If this story was done today, it’d be 6 issues long!

1 comment:

Matthew Bradley said...

I don't know if there was ever an official pronouncement about this, but I believe the two SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN stories are supposed to be regarded as non-canonical, especially considering the amount of material later recycled in AMAZING. That would certainly explain the lack of any reference in AMAZING to the Goblin tale.

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