Thursday, July 2, 2015

Guest Review - "I'm With Stupid"... Teaming Up to Review Spider-Man/Human Torch, Part Three


Welcome to the third and final part of our overview/review of the Spider-Man/Human Torch limited series!

Spider-Man/Human Torch #5: “Together Alone”

Spider-Man/Human Torch #5 (July 2005), like the four previous issues are written by Dan Slott and penciled by Ty Templeton. This time inks are by Drew Geraci and Greg Adams. The final issue (which seems to take place a little while before House of M and Civil War) starts with Spidey and Torch meeting in "the usual place"--the Statue of Liberty. They reminisce a bit about some of their earlier adventures (like their first meeting at the Statue from Strange Tales Annual #2) and they neatly recap the previous four issues of this series. Torch brings up a bunch of other adventures, but Spidey says that wasn't really him, it was his clone; they agree to "skip over that whole period". You're preaching to the converted, guys. Finally, they get to the reason behind this particular meeting, and we get an extended flashback of what led them here.

At the school where Peter teaches, Johnny is a special guest. He and Pete trade insults (and Johnny is blown away when MJ shows up with Peter's lunch and he realizes she's Pete's wife). Unfortunately, someone else is there to see the Human Torch, but he's not a fan, which he makes abundantly clear when he sucker punches Johnny from behind. He's a mobster named Carmine Villanova (whose son Johnny caught in Spider-Man/Human Torch #3) and he wants revenge, because his son was killed trying to bust out of prison. Naturally, Villanova blames the Torch, as well as District Attorney Blake Tower, whose son (coincidentally) goes to this very high school. So Villanova's goons hold everyone hostage as they search for Tower's son (luckily for him, their photo is out of date). One of Villanova's men has the high ground and could spray the auditorium with bullets if Torch tries anything. Peter knows he can take out the guy on the balcony if he has a distraction. So he finally (!) decides to clue the Torch in on his secret identity. He (and MJ) engage in some exaggerated pantomime to get the point across. After Johnny gets over his initial surprise (and chagrin), he provides the necessary distraction, Pete takes out the goon on the balcony, and Johnny makes short work of the rest. He leaves a flaming message in the sky for Spidey to meet him at the usual place...

...which brings us back to the Statue of Liberty. Johnny still can't believe that Spider-Man is Peter Parker, and is understandably upset when Peter catalogs all the other heroes who already know his secret. Johnny expresses his disbelief (and envy) that Peter could have everything going for him (a loving Aunt, a great job, scientific genius, and beautiful women falling all over him) and then be Spider-Man on top of it all--Johnny refers to it as "the Parker luck", which obviously means something quite different than when Peter says it about himself. Peter then confides that HE has always envied Johnny for his style, his adoring fans, no secret identity, his opportunities to explore other worlds ... and then having super powers on top of it all. They both realize that they've got it pretty good, and Johnny invites Peter (and his family) to the Baxter Building for supper. Pete, MJ, and Aunt May show up and we get some great scenes of the two families interacting. When asked how to tag the photos of the event, Reed sums it up perfectly when he says: " this and all future Parker files under 'Friends and Family'."


Osvaldo: The nostalgia is a bit thick in this issue. It even invents nostalgia for the series itself, as if the stories it has been telling really are from issues back in the day. Still the two families coming together is sweet, and captures what works about the Fantastic Four-that it’s a family first.  I love the “Uncle Bens are always right” line that Peter tells Franklin about the Thing, and the reference to the coffee table book Webs.  I LOVE the joke about the 90s and the clone stuff, but the irony to me is that the very time this issue takes place in (married to MJ, Aunt May knowing his identity, living at Avengers Tower) has been ret-conned away to a great extent, while the clone stuff is still canon (kind of).

M.S. Wilson: Well, obviously Slott didn’t know when he was writing this that everything was going to be swept away a few years later. I’m glad they mentioned Webs too … that seemed to be a forgotten part of Peter’s life, but it was a major subplot at the time. I liked the callback to their original Statue of Liberty meeting in Strange Tales Annual #2 … it gives it a nice sense of continuity.
I’m not sure about the references Johnny makes to his adventures with the clone … are those real, or just made up? The Diablo one sounds vaguely familiar, but I didn’t read any of the Ben Reilly/Scarlet Spider stuff, so I have no idea if those are published adventures or just a bunch of stuff that Dan Slott made up. The jealousy theme is kind of wrapped up here, when both of them realize that their own lives aren’t so bad when seen through the other guy’s eyes. It’s weird that Johnny is so surprised at Pete being married to MJ; I’m sure Johnny’s met them before (Web of Spider-Man #73 comes to mind). By the way, what happened to Blake Tower? He used to look like Steve Rogers and now he looks like Jarvis! All those interactions with super-heroes have taken their toll, I guess.

Osvaldo: Where did Blake Tower appear previously? I don’t recall the character.

M.S. Wilson: Tower was the District Attorney for (I guess?) Manhattan. He appeared in a bunch of Daredevil issues (his first appearance being DD #124); also in some Power Man/Iron Fists, and a few Amazings, among other places. Tower was the one who offered Spidey the pardon in (I think) Amazing #186; he also appeared at the poker game with Ben Grimm, Nick Fury, Carol Danvers et al. in MTIO #51.

Osvaldo: It looks like Slott knows his Marvel continuity very well. Better than I do, anyway. But I think the key to handling that stuff well is managing to make it work for the reader whether or not they are familiar with the detailed backstory and previous appearances of characters. In other words, a comic should (without resorting to burdensome exposition) have character appearances make enough sense in any particular context so that as far as a reader is concerned the character could have been made up for the particular story (like you felt about Red Ghost when you first came across him and his Super-Apes), while a reader familiar with all the continuity stuff gets the pleasure of recognizing it (without needing to). I think this series accomplishes that.

M.S. Wilson: Yeah, I agree with you there. Previous continuity should be used to spice up the new story, but if you make the new story dependent on it, you risk losing readers who aren’t familiar with the references. Longtime readers can get a kick out of spotting the Easter eggs, and newer readers won’t know the difference. As you said, Slott does it quite well … you can tell he’s actually read those old Spidey stories--for fun, not just as research. Kurt Busiek also did it pretty well in Untold Tales of Spider-Man; on the other hand, something like Bendis’s Spider Woman: Origins just muddled her past up even more than it already was.

Osvaldo: My hope is that in a post-Secret Wars/Battleworld (whatever the heck they are calling it) comic universe there will be more room for these kind of retro-feel apocryphal stories that don’t have to be so strongly tied to current continuity as to lose the feel of the time in which they are supposedly set.

M.S. Wilson: It’s hard to tell where they’re going with the new Secret Wars thing, but it seems like you might get your wish. Personally, I’d love to see a (non-canon) series devoted to retelling the early years of Marvel with a modern sensibility … like a cross between Marvel Saga and Marvels; some of those old stories could be snazzed up a bit, plus extra continuity could be retrofitted in. But I agree with you … we definitely need more stories like this one!

Osvaldo: I’d love something like this for Marvel Team-Up or Marvel Two-In-One. New old stories told in the style and setting of the period the original comics came out, but with a contemporary self-aware sensibility.

We hope you enjoyed this extended review of Spider-Man/Human Torch. There is a collected edition called “I’m With Stupid” for those of you interested in this series, but that don’t want to hunt down the original issues. Excelsior! 


Redartz said...

Nice conclusion to your team-up review, guys! This issue wrapped up the series pretty well. Pete and MJ's pantomime in the auditorium was inspired fun, and the final scenes with the FF brought a smile to my face. I for one rather enjoyed that period in which Aunt May knew Peter's identity, and the three of them made a nice family unit; each giving reinforcement to the others. Spider-man has had many different 'eras', such as the Ditko teen years, the Lee/Romita soap opera, and the Michelinie/McFarlane early marriage stories. Each of these eras had it's unique good points; this series you just reviewed was a nice salute to several of those.

Edo Bosnar said...

The review (this one and the whole thing) was great, guys. As I indicated in previous comments, you've now got me really interested in this; I'll probably be keeping an eye out for inexpensive copies of the individual issues or the tpb during periodic web searches.
It seems like this story also highlights something that was apparently so reviled by many fans (and not a few writers, etc. in Marvel editorial): Pete's marriage to MJ. I had nothing against the idea, and it seems that when it's written properly it really adds a lot to the world of Spider-man.

William said...

Nice review. That was when Dan Slott was still a writer whose work I enjoyed reading. (Somewhat).

However, anyone hoping for a return to any kind of retro normalcy for Peter/Spidey after "Secret Wars" is in for a rude awakening.

For those who aren't aware, let me fill you in on what Spider-Man will be like in the post-apocalyptic (I mean post Secret Wars) "All New All Different Marvel Universe". Ahem, here we go:

In short, Peter Parker will now be a jet-setting, millionaire playboy, who is the head of his own international corporation. And his alter-ego (Spider-Man) will now be his personal bodyguard and corporate icon. (Yes, Peter Parker is now Tony Stark). It gets better. Spider-Man will now be an international hero (no more friendly neighborhood web-slinger folks), who's first appearance will feature him driving around the streets of Shanghai in a new high-tech Spider-Mobile. (Not making this up). Also, his costume has been "tweaked" by Alex Ross to look more futuristic and kewl!! The new costume comes complete with a glowing green spider-symbol on his chest. (Again, not making this up).

Oh, it gets better still. Peter Parker/Spider-Man will no longer battle any of his old rogues gallery. No, that honor goes to Miles Morales (the former Ultimate Universe Spider-Man) who will now patrol New York City and face off with the likes of Electro, Vulture, Mysterio, and etc.

Don't believe me? Here it is straight from the horses a$$ (oops, I mean horses mouth):

Dr. Oyola said...

Yeah, millionaire playboy Spider-Man sounds terrible. . .I was hoping for a re-married semi-retired Spider-Man with May "May-Day" Parker as a baby, who mentors Miles Morales - but I guess you can never have an Amazing Spider-Man book without Peter Parker as Spider-Man unless he's Ben Reilly. :P

Still, this does not preclude the possibility for other series/stories set in other times or worlds.

ANYWAY, thanks everyone for the kind words! I am not sure what I will be doing next for BAB (maybe a few of those 100 word reviews that never took off), but assuming Doug & Karen are still open to guest posts down the road, I hope to do 1 to 2 a year if possible.

Doug said...

Hi, guys --

Of course we'll continue to be open to guest posts and reviews. As we said a few weeks ago, it's really given the blog some new steam and we're thankful.

I'm sitting down to the laptop as we speak to write a review of Nova #2. Look for it on Monday the 13th. In the meantime, Edo is holding down the Monday review slot with his thoughts on the Battlestar Galactica series. Looking forward to it!

And thanks again, Mike and Osvaldo, for a fun series on the Spidey/Human Torch series. Great stuff, and like many have said, I'd be interested in seeking this out for a read of my own.

If I don't get to it again soon, I'll wish all of our Stateside friends a happy Independence Day on Saturday. Be safe and be dry. It's so wet here in the Chicagoland that many municipalities have had to cancel celebrations due to spongy ground, flooding, etc.


Martinex1 said...

I'll have to get the book just to see what hand signals Pete and MJ used! I'm horrible with charades; it looked like " I love you bunny rabbit" to me.

The future of Spider Man sounds odd, but at least he doesn't have organic web shooters:)

Nice review again guys. Off to the LCS this weekend so I will have to check it out. Great stuff.

Edo, I'm really looking forward to the Battlestar Galactica review. I've always been curious about that.

Happy 4th back at ya Doug. Off to some crazy spinning carnival ride after sampling some elephant ears with the kids soon! The founding fathers never had it so good!

Anonymous said...

@William: When I saw the solicits for the new MU stuff, I wondered about the "debonair Peter Parker in a tux" picture; I was thinking they might do a James Bond-type storyline (since Peter's parents were secret agents), but what you described doesn't sound too appealing to me.

I'd just like to say thanks to everyone who commented on (or even read) the Spidey/Torch reviews, and a special thanks to Osvaldo for being so easy to work was fun! I'm not sure what my next review will be either, but I have an idea or two.

And happy early 4th to all the Americans here, plus a belated happy Canada Day to my fellow Canucks!

Mike Wilson

William said...

Martinex, Peter is doing "Itsy Bitsy Spider" and then pointing to himself to let the the Torch know that he is Spider-Man. Thus the shocked look on Johnny's face.

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