Wednesday, January 30, 2013

BAB Classic: Why Can't We Be Friends? Part One

Amazing Spider-Man #123 (August 1973)
“…Just a Man Called Cage!”
Gerry Conway/Gil Kane & Johnny Romita-J. Romita & Tony Mortellaro

NOTE:  This review was originally published on November 5, 2009.

Doug: One of the hallmarks of Marvel Comics has always been the conflict between its heroes. Sure, team-ups are another noted trademark – but usually not without an at least brief round of fisticuffs first. With this post, we’d like to begin an intermittent series on those fun stories where Marvel’s heroes met up and an inevitable brouhaha ensued.

Doug: Of course, ASM #123 follows just a month after arguably the most important 2-part story of the entire Bronze Age – the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin. Both deaths are revisited, though not in flashback form. This issue contains the funeral of Gwen Stacy, and the revelation that a mysteriously shrouded stranger had removed the Goblin costume from the body of Norman Osborn.

Doug: So, how exactly do Mr. Luke Cage and our hero become entangled? J. Jonah Jameson, while riding away from the scene of Osborn’s death, spies a newspaper article about one Hero for Hire. ASM #123 was on the shelves and spinner racks the same month as Hero for Hire #12 – which was initially published bi-monthly; Cage had been around for about a year and a half. Jonah pays a visit to Cage’s rundown movie theater-headquarters, to find Cage dismissing a potential employer in quite physical fashion. Undeterred, Jonah offers Cage the job, and we proceed from there.


Karen: That whole sequence just reminds me of so many black exploitation films from the 70s – Shaft, Superfly, the Mack – I think Gerry Conway must have seen a few! But doesn’t $5000 seem like a paltry sum for taking down Spidey?

Doug: I always have to laugh at things like that – they really date the comics! You know, we’ve recently discussed Randy Robertson as an “angry black man” stereotype – Cage fits this bill as well. Thank goodness for the calming presence of Joe Robertson throughout these years.
Doug: Conway does a really nice job of showing the pain of the characters at Gwen’s funeral, and the anger and psychological turmoil of Harry Osborn over the loss of his father. These elements of characterization, of drawing the reader into the lives of these characters, was one very important ingredient missing from the two Iron Man issues we recently reviewed.

Karen: Conway did maintain that aspect of the book pretty well. You’d have to be an idiot not to realize that the key to any Spidey title is his personal life!

Doug: Gil Kane and John Romita share penciling credits on this story – it’s unclear who the plotter was, but either artist moves a story well. This issue is no exception. The battle scenes between Spider-Man and Cage are very well-choreographed and believable. Spidey quickly assesses Cage’s strength and near-invulnerability. The first round ends in a Spidey victory, but the interim is short-lived.

Karen: I agree, it’s an exciting sequence. The artwork here is interesting – the inks seem sort of heavy, and rough, and yet it is really dynamic. A couple of things caught my attention. One is that Cage really did do some detective work, figuring out where Spidey had been seen most often and waiting for him. But then he does something unprofessional: he tells Spidey who hired him! I also liked the tension between them when Spidey calls Cage a mercenary, which brings a more personal angle to the fight.

Doug: The second battle is again fierce and well-thought. I did wonder, however, at the conclusion when Spidey is able to restrain Cage with his webbing. It seemed to me that Cage would have been able to burst those bounds. But it all worked to set up a nice ending, with Cage deciding to listen to Spidey’s logic.

Karen: Spidey does mention that Cage could break the webbing “in a few minutes” so I don’t think there was any disparagement on Cage’s strength. I have to say though, that shot of him webbed down is terrible – Cage’s face looks bestial and kind of made me wince.

Doug: And the ending was a nice bit of physical comedy, very much a relief from the high emotions of the previous two issues, and indeed of scenes earlier in this very issue. I did feel, however, that the seeds of romance Conway was planting between Pete and Mary Jane was happening way, way too soon.

Doug: Gerry Conway may be the best of the Marvel Bronze Age scribes. Certainly he would get a run for the money from Steve Englehart. But, after having examined the work of Roy Thomas and Friedrichs Mike and Gary recently, I would favor Conway.

Karen: This is where we part ways – I’d choose Englehart or Thomas over Conway in a heartbeat. I think Englehart had a much better grasp of emotions, while one of Thomas’s strengths has always been solid plotting. Based on a number of Conway stories I’ve read, I wouldn’t say his plots always seemed coherent to me. But I do think he ranks towards the top of the Bronze Age writers.
Doug: My main complaint about Roy would be his ability to find characters’ voices. I think when he had his long runs on the Avengers and Conan that he had those casts nailed down pretty well. But his earliest forays into the FF and Spidey seemed to drag on a bit until he’d attained a level of comfort with the varying personalities. But as a plotter, I’d generally agree with you. And Englehart – really outstanding.

42 comments:

Matthew K. said...

I can't really add to the discussion, just to say that the topic of hero vs. hero was an element that I loved about Marvel as a kid. Loved the way you broke down this issue.

Doug said...

Hey, Matthew --

Thanks for the feedback! Stay tuned on Monday, as we're right back at it with a little tiff between Iron Man and Namor!

Best,

Doug

Anonymous said...

You know, it’s nice when you have a babysitter once in a while and you get to play up a bit, but secretly you’re always relieved when mum & dad come home.

Welcome back, Doug & Karen.

Regarding the art, very clearly Kane layouts throughout with Romita inking I would say. The only bit that looks Romita pencilling to me is that last page.

Having heroes fight each other is always a good way of ramping up the complexity (as opposed to merely the level of complication).

Regarding Luke Cage, when I was little and he wrapped that chain around himself because it ‘reminded him of his time in the joint’ I thought it was pretty cool. Now, I look at a black character who is in chains and happy about it, and I think ‘ what were you THINKING???’. Anyone else get a slight jolt of revulsion?

Richard

Edo Bosnar said...

Hm, Richard, I always thought Luke's chain belt looked bad-ass, but I never knew that bit of back-story. In that light, it certainly doesn't seem as cool any more.

Anyway, interesting to read your views of a few years ago and that rather positive assessment of Conway as a writer. I also think he's one of the better 1970s scribes, but over the past few years I've come across quite a few Conway hate-fests at various discussion boards.

humanbelly said...

Luke's darned chain belt always made me nuts. Super-strength or not, assuming that it's made of stainless steel and not of much-heavier iron, that's still well over 50 pounds he's toting around on his waist. In spite of his tough-guy mystique, Luke always struck me as far, far too pragmatic to give himself a handicap like that in order to look b*d-*ss, y'know?

I truly appreciated this issue when it came out. In retrospect, I think I really was experiencing a level of the normal grief process over Gwen's death, and this story functioned nicely to bridge that final step from "depression" to "acceptance". It sounds absurd to talk about it that way in a modern adult world. . . but these things could loom disproportionately large in the life of an awkward adolescent, y'know?

HB

Karen said...

Richard -technically we're still on vacation -this post was from 2009! But I appreciate the thought. Actually we've both been using the time to put posts together. Well, I did take almost two weeks off and not work on the blog. I think my partner has been at it the whole time though -he can't help himself!

Regarding Gerry Conway, I think I have been harsh on him at times, and one thing I think anyone has to consider when reviewing his work, especially his early work, is the guy was all of 20 years old in 1972! He started early and was quickly one of the 'go-to' guys at Marvel. He was writing "Spider-Man," arguably their biggest title. He also had Thor, and possibly the FF too at this point. That's a lot to put on a young man. So if his plots were sometimes weak or if some stories seemed to peter out, I think there's a reason. But all in all, I think he was a very solid and dependable writer, and he certainly had a grip on the characters.

Matt Celis said...

I'd rate Conway Spider-Man over anything by Englehart, whose work I never liked, and Thomas, who I think overwrites to the point that he sometimes diminishes his own stories.

david_b said...

HB sums it up for me regarding this issue.. It's a near-critical step from the emotional weight of 121-122, to something, still drawn heavy ink-wise (as Karen noted..), but ultimately light-hearted.

As for Luke being bound by webs.. this is how I love the ever-changing Marvel Universe...

Even after a tussle with Webhead, how can Mr. Cage fill the role of Ben Grimm in the FF just a short few years later when he cannot break free from web..? Most likely he could break free easily, but just decided to simmer down and talk.

As for Conway, during this tenure..?

HE RULED...!!

Being some of my first Spidey comics and it being 1973, the year of FOOM, Avengers-Defenders Clash, MarVell, Medusa with the FF, my 'Beyond the Grave' album, these stories'll always be my favorite memories...

Doug said...

The perspective on the cover of this book is amazing!

MattCelis, are you that guy who doesn't like any vegetables and your food cannot touch? Because you sound awfully picky about your comics! Sometime I'd love to hear a list of your "likes" and "don't likes" -- I'll bet the "don't likes" is longer!

;)

Doug

humanbelly said...

D'oh!
Doug, yer callin' MattC out! The poor guy!

(Well, okay, but Matt you did sort of clobber the last 20 years of comics in yesterday's post. . . but then today are pretty much dissing two of the main voices of Marvel's bronze age. . . Yer not leavin' us with much to love, here-!)

If memory serves, Gerry Conway was also responsible for lobotomizing Franklin Richards and sending Reed & Sue into a matrimonial tailspin.

He also wrote a revered little bittersweet Hulk story called "Heaven is a Very Small Place". His writing style on Hulk though was a bit pretentious, as his narrator "talked" to the Hulk as the story went along. ("The people don't run from you, do they, Hulk?"-- that sort of thing.)

I'm TOTALLY in the tank for both Thomas & Englehart's (& Goodwin's) runs on that title, though. Generally superior to the couple of shots Gerry had at it.

HB (Six tangents away from Kevin Bacon, or something)

Doug said...

Hey, if this was a "real" place, I'd ask Matt in person! But this is the only venue I have and I'm curious.

Isn't that the sort of question friends would want to know while checking the Wednesday offerings at the LCS (well, not the vegetable lead-in, but the greater scheme of comics tastes)? I've had that conversation before, and there's truly nothing better intellectually than having one's thinking complicated by another's opinion.

Anyone else can chime in as well -- sort of a continuation from yesterday (or just add further comments back on that post).

Doug

david_b said...

Conway did AWESOME work on FF.., loved the entire story arc with the Reed-Sue separation, zapping Franklin, really some jaw-droppin' internal struggle moments.

AND with Big John B art..?!?

Love Steve/Sal on CA&F, but Conway totally ruled on FF.



Matt Celis said...

I wouldn't say I'm picky. I have a ton of Roy Thomas comics I enjoy, but are you seriously goin to say he doesn't overwrite, sometimes until it's just distracting?

Englehart just never did it for me. Just one of those things where I'd read, for example, Captain America and not find it terribly exciting. Spidey by Conway was always enjoyable for me.

Inkstained Wretch said...

There's one glaring false note in this ASM story: How Jameson learns of Luke Cage's existence.

He learns of it by reading the front page of the Daily Bugle... the newspaper he publishes! There is no way a publisher portrayed as "hands one" as Jameson would only be learning what his newspaper published ON THE FRONT PAGE that day by glancing at it. He would have known at least the day before when that edition was being put together. Probably even earlier since it presumably took the writer a little time to get the story together.

Ok, maybe Jameson knew but was distracted by the funeral or something like that it still comes across as false to somebody who works in the newspaper biz..

Matt Celis said...

Inkstained, that is a great observation. I never noticed that before. And why he wouldn't just call rather than go across town in person....

Doug said...

Matt --

Roy's constant literary references can drive me nuts. I understand that he was an English teacher in Missouri, but it's just so forced upon the reader at times.

Doug

Matt Celis said...

Hi Doug, that's a large part of what I meant. I know he's smart, he doesn't need to prove it all he time!

dbutler16 said...

Hmmm, I think I'd go with Roy Thomas very narrowly of Englehart, and Conway third. Maybe I'l swap Thomas and Englehart if you ask me tomorrow. Still, I like all three writers a lot.

Anonymous said...

On a similar theme, I just received a copy of Spidey, Storm, and PowerMan vs the Smokescreen, a PSA comic against cigarette smoking. I got it for 2 bucks on ebay, but was disappointed it was the 1994 reprint, and not the early 80's original.

Anyone consider it a bit racist to put TWO prominent black heroes in a PSA comic? Guess they must have been aiming towards the inner-city kids, because everyone knows, suburban white kids know better than to try cigarettes, right? (read: SARCASM)>>I smoked for @ 15 years, amongst many of the extemely stupid things I've done.

starfoxxx

Karen said...

I like Thomas a lot, but whenever we are reviewing a book he's written, I know I'm going to have to set aside at least 40-60 minutes to read it, because he's so wordy! And yes, the literary references and pop culture references get tiring.

In general I really like Englehart, but over the winter break I was reading some of his Dr. Strange stuff, and there were a couple of issues that were just terrible. I truly think they were written under the influence of the Little Pill of Agamotto. Rambling, head-trip things that made little sense. I won't be reviewing those, that's for sure.

Edo Bosnar said...

I like Roy Thomas quite a bit, and to be honest, I've never considered him more wordy than any other writer from that period. You want wordy? Then Don McGregor's your man (and that ain't McGregor bashing - together with Gerber, he's one of my favorite comic-book writers).
One other thing I'll say about the literary (and historical/political) references made by Thomas and various other comics writers: far from annoying me back then, it usually made me want to go read the books he was referencing, or look up the historical event he cited, etc.

david_b said...

"WORDY..?? YOU WANT WORDY..??"

Please read the suggestion box, folks. My entry about Gerber's HTD ish 16 is far wordier than an 'Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe'..

Surreal, but.. not as interesting.

Matt Celis said...

I have that PSA comic, I collect those and special advert comics like Quik Rabbit and Kool-Aid Man. I don't think it's racist to use prominent black heroes when you are targeting a particular audience. Blacks unfortunately have higher rates of smoking and associates health problems so they budget resources and outreach accordingly, just as AIDS/HIV outreach is targeted in Africa rather than, say, Japan. It would be the worst kind of PC to whitewash the problem, no pun intended.

On another note: key difference between Marvel and D.C. is that Marvel has at least several black heroes they can use for these things. Until recently, all D.C had was Black Lightning.

JalRod said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Doug said...

And what's more racist than Black Lightning, Black Goliath, and Red Wolf? Oh yeah -- the Yellow Claw, that's what!

You know what I love about this place since you guys took over? It's so free. We start off with Spidey and Luke Cage and we've run all over the place today. And it's all been pretty organic -- no hidden agendas or anything. Let's keep it that way as February comes along.

Doug

Matt Celis said...

I am a proud owner of Red Wolf #1 and the entire Black Goliath series, ill-fated though it was (and not so good either).

JalRod said...

I read somewhere that the Falcon, Sam Wilson, was inspired/patterned after O.J. Simpson. True? Thoughts?

Matt Celis said...

They both "debuted" in 1969 I think, but I doubt OJ was on Stan Lee's radar at the time. Anybody hear of this before?

JalRod said...

I'll try and find where I read it ... but according to, if I remember correctly, Stan was inspired by OJ and asked Romita to use the Juice as inspiration.

Matt Celis said...

Could be...I'm curious now. I wonder what other characters' looks or styles may have been inspired by a real-life personality?

Well, Ace from those Spider-Man annuals in the '80s is fairly obvious!

Anonymous said...

Well let's remember the specific time period when this comic came out (1973) - the blaxploitation craze was in full swing. Marvel was no different from any other entertainment company, be it movies, music, or literature in trying to cash in on the phenomenon.

I personally liked Cage's chain belt. Impractical? Sure. But it definitely made a statement! Even if it weighed 50 pounds, it would have probably felt like nothing to Cage, bearing in mind his superhuman strength (able to lift 25 tons) and steel hard skin.

I especially liked Spidey's comment at the end when he admitted that he was in it just for the money too when he first became super powered. I believe that most people would try to cash in if something like that ever happened to them.

All in all, it was a good change of pace from the previous issues concerning the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin. I'll leave the Englehart/Conway/Thomas debate to wiser heads - I've appreciated their work in different ways over the years for me to pick one over the other. Oh, by the way, welcome to the BAB community Matt Celis!


- Mike 'Sweet Christmas!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Doug said...

Just to add to my previous comment --

I went back through our queue and added up the comments on the blog since the readers took over on the 2nd of January. This community has left 578 (as I type this) comments!! Wow!

As I said, let's keep this rolling!

Doug

Matt Celis said...

Thanks, Mike! I came across the blog whilst Googling Bronze Age Marvel Comics stuff. I forget what search term I was using. I love Marvel Comics from FF #1 up until around the mid-80s when I quit reading almost all new comics.

Doug said...

I think I had the first 2-3 issues of The Nam. Art was by Michael Golden, right? I'm pretty sure the series lasted for a few years. But I was buying so many other books back then that I didn't stick around.

Doug

Karen said...

According to page 98 of Sean Howe's Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (notice how that book keeps popping up around here -get ready for Friday), Gene Colan based the Falcon's look on OJ.

I can't see it myself.

Doug said...

Duh...

I posted that last comment in answer to humanbelly's query (in yesterday's thread) about the late 80's series, The Nam. Sorry -- I'm just learning how to use this thing.

Doug

JalRod said...

Matt,

You're not missing much as far as today's drivel, I mean comics, are concerned - for example, if you would have picked up the latest issue of Spidey, released today, you would have stumbled in on Dock Ock, in Peter's body, masturbating to thoughts/memories of Mary Jane. Yep. You can't make this stuff up ... actually, someone did.

Matt Celis said...

I wish I could erase that image from my mind now. Ick. And there's really an audience for this...that's just depressing. Someone gave me a box of new comics a couple years back. I flipped thru a few and dumpe the whole box in my recycle bin. I wish there were new Spidey comics for me.

JalRod said...

I haven't bought the new stuff in a while, but out of morbid curiosity I check out the blogs. And the current story line is big news. Some of the panels are posted. And, yes, the page in which Doc Ock settles in with Pete's memories is posted. Strange days. I feel the classical era, as far as Amazing Spider-Man is concerned, ended circa issue 259.

Redartz said...

Haven't read the latest Spider-Man stories yet. It is one of a very few current titles I still buy. Over the last couple of years current writer Dan Slott has written some pretty good tales, actually; nonetheless I'm on the verge of finally dropping the book. Today's original subject issues is emblematic of the Marvel period I value the most.

Gerry Conway did usher in a more somber era in this book (and in some of his others, also). However he also gave us the Grizzly and the Mindworm! There was still room for some humor, a vital part of what makes the world of comics such a fun place...

Edo Bosnar said...

Matt, in response to one of your comments above, I'll just say that I used to be not only the proud (?) owner of the entire Black Goliath series, but also the entire run of Red Wolf. Used to have a whole library of short-lived series from the 1970s...

Matt Celis said...

Edo, I tend to go for short-lived series. They're so much easier to complete! Although what I really want is every issue of Spidey's various titles up until the mid-80s!

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