Monday, August 26, 2013

There Must Be Some Misunderstanding: Amazing Spider-Man 161

Amazing Spider-Man #161 (October 1976)
"...And the Nightcrawler Came Prowling, Prowling"
Len Wein-Ross Andru/Mike Esposito/Dave Hunt

Doug:  Hey, after that Marvel Team-Up 3-parter we just concluded, let's fast forward about three years and look in on some team-ups in Spidey's own mag.  We're going to conclude the month (and actually stretch just a couple of days into September) with a throwdown involving Spidey, Nightcrawler, the Punisher, and the introduction of Jigsaw!  So on with it, then!

Doug:   Man, I was excited to purchase this one off the spinner racks just after I'd turned 10.  I was already hooked on the All-New, All-Different X-Men, and that this story opens in the Danger Room of all places was about all I could handle.  Nightcrawler's perusing a copy of the Daily Bugle during what appears to be a lull in the normally-death stakes workouts that Cyke usually prepared for the new team.  Wolverine seems especially mischievous and totally out-of-character as written by Len Wein here -- I really got a bad vibe from the normally abrasive little psychopath.  Anyway, Wolverine bounces off a trampoline and cuts the cord on the high ring from which Nightcrawler was hanging.  As he falls, Kurt rips the paper in half and comes up fighting mad.  Colossus has to intervene, as you know Wolverine popped his claws at the first sign of trouble.  Nothing comes of it, and Kurt takes the high road and stalks off through an open window.

Karen: Doug, I was also very excited to see Nightcrawler guest-starring in ASM, as he was my favorite X-Man. I realize that I always gravitated towards the stranger-looking characters in books. Nightcrawler filled that bill in X-Men, but it was also his personality that pulled me in. Of course, when Dave Cockrum was drawing the book, Kurt got more of the spotlight, but that changed when Byrne came on-board. I agree with you regarding Wein's handling of Wolverine -- seems a bit off. For comparison's sake, also cover dated October 1976, was X-Men #101, so we'd seen Wolverine in that title for eight issues at this point (not counting the Giant-Size X-Men nor his Hulk appearances). I think by this time we had a decent idea of his personality, and this kind of practical joke/maniacal laughing stuff just doesn't fly with what we know about the runt so far.

Doug:  Cut to Coney Island, where Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson are on a wild rollercoaster ride.  Peter does a good job of feigning fright and sickness, and once he, MJ, Harry Osborn, and Liz Allen are back on solid ground, they head over to Nathan's Hot Dogs for some refreshment.  But in a Spidey mag, nothing's ever as easy as it seems, and sure enough -- Peter turns back toward the coaster just in time to see a man shot in the head by a sniper!  Doing the usual I've-gotta-get-pictures-for-the-Daily-Bugle routine, Pete dashes away to switch to his web-slinging duds.  But also on the scene, and unbeknownst to Peter, is Kurt Wagner.

Karen: Even though I am a West Coaster born and raised, I have heard of Nathan's, so that was a cool inclusion. I want to note here also how fierce and demonic-looking Andru makes Nightcrawler look. It seems like he is all fangs. I always think of Kurt as such a nice guy!

Doug:  Very true in regard to his personality.  But what do you think is the most visually appealing aspect of his design?  In the Nightcrawler story we ran a little over a week ago, his thick mop of hair seemed to dominate my view of him, but in this story I'd say it's his hands (particularly in a scene toward the end of the story, which we'll show you).

Karen: His whole costume is unconventional, and I like how his inhuman appearance contrasts with his very human personality. I think Dave Cockrum (in his first go-round on X-Men) drew him best.

Doug:  As the shot is fired, Nightcrawler's lurking in the shadows beneath the rollercoaster.  Musing to himself that on that paper he'd accidentally torn up back in Westchester was a photo of an old friend, a carnival worker named Eric Hoffman, Kurt is now seeking to find the killer.  As he's moving through the shadows, he looks up to see the sniper, still holding a smoking rifle.  Bounding up and over the wall, Nightcrawler sees the shooter vanish into the roof's door.  However, instead of just teleporting through it and pursuing his target, for some reason he remains outside, tugging on the locked barrier.  I definitely did not understand that part.  Nightcrawler then leaps back to his starting point, where the rifle had been dropped and landed.  He wraps it up in a white cloth (found just laying around?) and thinks that he will turn it in to the police, who will need it as evidence.  At that point, he's knocked for a loop by a double-legged kick from some familiar boots.

Karen: I think there were plenty of opportunities for Nightcrawler to teleport in this story, but Wein was holding off until later in the fight, to give it more impact. 

Doug:  Spider-Man introduces himself in a most aggressive way -- it's funny to read this now and think that Kurt's surprise at actually meeting Spidey was genuine.  Nightcrawler had probably been in the States for less than a year at this point.  As you might imagine, a genuine tussle occurs, with neither combatant giving any quarter.  Nightcrawler eventually stuns Spidey long enough to get away, rifle in hand, but Spider-Man gives chase.  The battle moves to a ferris wheel, which is a cool visual as both heroes run up the spinning ride.  Spidey leaps at Nightcrawler, pinning him to the top of a car; the rifle falls to the ground.  Sensing this is turning futile, now Nightcrawler teleports away.

Karen: When Spidey punches Kurt it really looks powerful. I was always under the impression that Kurt's strength was just a wee bit greater than normal, so this would be a big mismatch, at least in strength. But in pure acrobatic ability - well, I'd think they're pretty evenly matched. I agree, the scene of the two running on the ferris wheel, with the view from above, is spectacular.

Doug:  Spider-Man goes to find his trusty camera so that the evening won't be a total loss (what happened to MJ, Harry, and Liz?).  Nightcrawler, again lurking in the shadows, sees Spidey swing away and also notices the camera.  Since it's far too early for the All-New X-Men to go public, something has to be done about that film.  So where was Spidey swinging to?  To see his buddy Joe "Robbie" Robertson, city editor at the Daily Bugle.  It's now late when Spider-Man arrives, and he surprises Robbie.  Spider-Man wants information on the snipings that have been going down, and Robbie tells him that the Punisher is suspected.  "Great", Spidey thinks... Just what he needs.  During the conversation, J. Jonah Jameson starts to enter Robertson's office, but then backs out when he hears Spider-Man's voice (why didn't Spidey's spider-sense go off?).  As Spidey finishes, he asks Robbie about fighting fuzzy forked-tail demons.  Robbie says he should have his head examined.  As Spider-Man swings away, JJJ goes back to his own office and removes a crumpled envelope from a locked drawer.  Sliding he contents out and spreading it around his desk, we see that someone has sent Jonah a series of photos... of Spider-Man disposing of the Peter Parker clone!

Karen: Oh that damned clone! Well at least we don't have to deal with that in this review. I always liked Robbie and Pete/Spidey's relationship with him. Robbie was that nice voice of reason in contrast to JJJ's hysterics. This was back when I actually thought the Punisher was an interesting character. He was still very much grounded in the adventure novels and crime films of the day, and despite being willing to kill bad guys, he still had a code. He wasn't a psycho, which I feel he eventually became in the 90s and on.

Doug:  We then get an interlude featuring the Punisher.  Ol' Frank Castle comes to a haven of underworld types, offs three of them, and gets the information he wants from one Joey Whisper -- who has been going around town pulling jobs in imitation of the Punisher?

Karen: Hey, he said he just wanted to talk! They didn't have to pull their guns on him.

Doug:  Spider-Man's out on patrol when he stops for a break, atop the 59th Street bridge and the new Roosevelt Island Tramway.  He's thinking that in his limited encounters with the Punisher, there's not been a single innocent harmed.  What's been going down just doesn't have his stamp on it.  Suddenly Nightcrawler appears and whacks Spidey upside the head, twice and hard!  Now tell me something -- unless Nightcrawler had trailed Spider-Man to the Bugle and away, how the heck did he find him?  Anyway, Nightcrawler grabs the camera from Spidey's belt and makes tracks.  Spider-Man gives immediate pursuit to Nightcrawler, who has now begun to traverse the cables of the tramway.  As the Wallcrawler catches up, Nightcrawler rips the film from the camera and tosses the device back to Spider-Man.  Well, that doesn't exactly please ol' Webhead, who right-crosses Kurt Wagner right off his perch.  However, in mid-descent Nightcrawler teleports and lands right behind Spidey.  Not to be taken by surprise again, Spider-Man shoots a web at Nightcrawler's chest and pulls him forward, only to sock him one -- knocking the mutant off the ironwork.  Both combatants end up lighting on the tram cables when a cable car comes along and stops right where they do battle.  And who should lean out of the car?  The Punisher, that's who.  He says he knows who's been impersonating him, and he's come to exact his own form of justice -- by killing that man!

Karen: I've said before that Andru doesn't do a whole lot for me. I don't dislike his work but I don't love it -- it's just OK to me. But I do really love that shot of Spidey swinging high above the tram tower. To me it captures the freedom and thrill of his web-slinging. It looks fantastic. Nightcrawler's assault on Spidey was fun -what was he doing, putting some sort of nerve blocks on the webhead? Those were strange moves. I love how he's apologetic about the whole thing -that's in character for Kurt. Their ballet on the cables was cool. Of course, having the Punisher make his declaration at the end of the book was the perfect cliff-hanger.

Doug:  I enjoyed this issue.  It's all basically set-up for next week's conclusion, but it was a fun, easy read.  You know, we've remarked over the past several weeks about fun issues being so easy to write about and clunkers can be difficult motivation-wise.  But other than some of my nitpicks with Wein's script (again, I'd have never caught those discrepancies when I was 10), the art job was pretty solid.  Mike Esposito and Dave Hunt did a nice job of softening some of the harsh facial expressions that Ross Andru could draw during this era.  I have no complaints on the storytelling, either -- this one was very clear as to what was going on, pacing, etc.  For my money, this was a decently-spent 20 minutes of my time.

Karen: I couldn't agree with you more about this issue. It moved along nicely, the plot was clear, characters were well handled (with that possible exception of Wolverine) and the art was pretty solid. After three weeks of some pretty awful reviews, it was great to have a solid issue to work with!


Anonymous said...

The cover says that Spidey "struggles for his very life against NIGHTCRAWLER" but probably everybody knew by then that Nightcrawler was a good guy and certainly not a fatal threat, but the covers had to be melodramatic !

Edo Bosnar said...

Yet again, another thorough issue review. Good job!
Although I had its sequel, I never had this particular issue, so just a few comments:
1. love the cover!
2. since Andru was the main Spidey artist when I started reading comics (which was about 1975-1976), I don't mind his art, and it seems "natural" for Spidey. That said, those initial pages featuring the X-men do look a bit off. Wolverine is not only acting odd, he looks odd. And Nightcrawler's face is generally drawn to look a bit too demonic; I generally prefer the more elvish look Cockrum and then Byrne used.
3. I like the way Nightcrawler is hanging off of that cable with his tail in the last panel - kind of like an opossum. He should have done that more often in the X-men...

david_b said...

Comment on Andru, aside from this issue:

I initially liked him after Romita (when I collected..), but by the time ish 144-145 came around, I had trouble liking the art, it just wasn't doing anything for me.., just the same panel compositions, same angled chins on faces, and 'cept for the Gwen clone showing up (which I loathed anyways), just seemed nothing interesting was happening any longer. The covers were still gorgeous, but was looking for more dynamic story-telling inside at that point.

(Keep in mind, I came in with ASM ish 122, so understandably it was a tall order to attempt to top that one or ish 121..)

Doug said...

Edo --

Thanks for the compliment. We had a great time reading and discussing this issue, and hope that next week's conclusion will be a good one for the readers as well.


J.A. Morris said...

Another well-written review from you two.

One thing to consider about Wolverine's depiction here: maybe this is how Wein would have written him if he'd continued to write X-men rather than handing it off to Claremont.

I like Andru myself. Some of the first Spider-Man stories I read were back issues & Marvel Tales reprints penciled by Andru. So I'm used to him, I always thought he drew great fight scenes. I think he does a great job drawing superheroes and villains, but he wasn't so great at drawing normal humans. Or at least his Mary Jane & Aunt May never looked quite right to me.

And I love the inclusion of New York landmarks like Nathan's, Coney Island & the 59th Street Bridge.

Graham said...

Like Edo, Andru was the artist on Spider-Man when I started collecting ASM (around #150), but I had seen a lot of Marvel Tales with Ditko and Romita before I started buying the regular series. He wasn't my favorite, but I didn't put an issue back on the shelf if he was drawing.

Re: J.A. Morris' comment about Len Wein's version of Wolverine...does anybody ever wonder how different the X-Men might have been had Wein stayed with it and Clairemont not picked it up, or at least picked it up at a later time. I've sometimes wondered about how some series would have panned out if there hadn't been certain changes in the creative teams. Captain America, post Stern/Byrne, was one I always wondered about.

Thanks for reviewing this. Even though I started reading ASM regularly a year or so earlier, I missed these issues due to the old distribution problems back in the day.

Fred W. Hill said...

Hard to say whether Wein could've made the X-Men a top draw if he'd stuck with it rather than letting Claremont take over. Overall, my impression of Wein is that he's a generally a good writer but rarely did anything genuinely remarkable, unless you count his run on Swamp Thing, which was really more memorable for Berni Wrightson's art than Wein's writing. I enjoyed his run on the Hulk but again it wasn't particularly great. We'll never know, but I think Claremont brought something extra that made the X-Men one of the outstanding titles of the late '70s & early '80s that likely wouldn't have been there without him. Having Cockrum and later Byrne onboard -- not just as topnotch artists but also as genuine collaborators on the stories -- also helped, natch.
As to this particular issue, it's certainly better than the average MTU mag (hmm, even there, Claremont's stories were usually far above average). Not great but an enjoyable enough read.

Anonymous said...

First off, like Edo I have the second part to this issue, having never read the first part before.

However, somehow I kinda like Andru's depiction of a more demonic looking Nightcrawler. He is part demon after all, being the son of the demon lord Azazel as was retconned later. This look is a nice change to the fuzzy elf we've seen before. I think this version is my favourite just behind Cockrum's definitive version of Nightcrawler.

I think it's interesting because of the dichotomy between Kurt's demonic appearance and his fun loving mischievous swashbuckling nature. The closest parallels are the Thing's monstrous appearance and his gruff but lovable personality and the early version of the Beast; Stan Lee is quoted as saying he gave Hank McCoy a scholarly vocabulary to contrast his bestial appearance. This is probably the reason why writers (don't know who) decided to make Kurt a devout Catholic, making him a walking contradiction, i.e. a Satanic-looking character with a religious heart.

- Mike 'BAMF!' from Trinidad & Tobago.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review Karen and Doug. This issue came out when my overall interest in comics was beginning to decline, with the exception of the new X-Men and Nightcrawler was my favorite.

And this has been touched on here many times before, but think of how different the entire world of comics would have ended up had nice guy characters like Nightcrawler and Collossus been pushed to the fore. Instead we got Wolverine heading the pack of super bad-asses.


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