Saturday, September 5, 2015

Review: Web of Spider-Man #129

Web of Spider-Man #129, "Time Bomb Pt. 2: By My Hand, Mary Jane Must Die!"
Written by Tom DeFalco (plot) and Todd DeZago (script), Penciled by Steven Butler, Inked/finished by Randy Emberlin

Web of Spider-Man 129 Cover


In the podcast I appear in, I had some negative things to say about "Spider-Man: The Clone Saga," a bizarre late 2000s miniseries written by Howard Mackie and DeFalco in an attempt to tell a condensed, "true to the original concept" clone saga story. In short, it's a bizarre mish-mash that chickens out about absolutely everything and is full of incredibly awkward dialogue and revives evil Harry Osborn for no reason. I'm not going to tell you the clone saga is great (it wasn't, by and large), but it did have genuine pathos when, say, Doctor Octopus saves Spider-Man's life and willingly surrenders, expecting to face Spidey next time only to be murdered by Kaine. Or Aunt May's legitimately great death issue that got rid of a character that hadn't been particularly useful in about 15 years in a touching, heartfelt way (later crapped on by John Byrne at his dirt-worst). But I'm not here to review those issues! I'm returning to Web of Spider-Man!

Our story begins with Scarlet Spider dropping in on the New Warriors base to find it empty aside from Hindsight Lad, the team’s nerdy “Snapper Carr” equivalent. HL reveals the team went to rescue “some woman” who called asking for help from a deranged Spider-Man trying to kill her!

We then cut to Mary Jane screaming at a subway station as the New Warriors engage Spidey, who pleads with them to stop him before he gets to Mary Jane, because otherwise he’ll "tear her apart." We also get the first gratuitous butt shot of the issue, as Firestar’s 90’s costume has been drawn as though she’s wearing fishnets and a swimsuit instead of black tights. The New Warriors struggle to tag the agile Spidey, leading to Speedball bouncing every which way to try to out-bounce the hero. Unfortunately, Spider-Man uppercuts Speedball away.

Web of Spider-Man 129 Firestar Costume
Mary Jane is terrified by Firestar's butt.

Scarlet finds Mary Jane, even as Spider-Man exits the subway station and we get an equal-opportunity shot of Spidey’s butt. He thinks that his desire to kill MJ is "ingrained in every cell in my body!" I hope Spidey’s just being melodramatic. Moments later, Spidey leaps towards MJ as she gets in a cab, shouting, "Noooo! I don’t want to murder my w-" before he’s cut off by Scarlet tackling him. The New Warriors try to intervene, but Spidey easily trashes Turbo and Alex Power before tearing the roof off of MJ’s cab. The cabbie runs off, leaving Mary Jane to drive off in his cab. MJ is somehow able to avoid New York traffic and cross the Williamsburg Bridge, even as Spidey begs Firestar to murder him and we get another shot of her mis-drawn costume. Spidey avoids the New Warriors and disappears into a sewer. The team tries to follow but loses him in the tunnels. Scarlet doesn’t follow, instead making a bee-line to where he thinks MJ’s going.

Web of Spider-Man 129 Ingrained in Every Cell
Equal-opportunity butt-shots.

We cut to Aunt May’s boarding house in Queens (has Peter sold that house? He had to be the sole heir, right?), where MJ is waiting in a recliner for her deranged clone husband. MJ says she can’t run from a ghost and says she has faith in Peter. Peter lets out a "rargh!" as the Jackal’s programming appears to fade away. The two hug it out as creepy voyeur Scarlet Spider watches from a nearby window, where he had been acting as MJ’s insurance. Ben thinks that it’s ironic that MJ was the one who finally defeated the Jackal for good as he swings away and Web of Spider-Man ends an era!

Review:

This is the end of Web of Spider-Man, the 3rd/4th most important monthly Spidey comic at the time. The story is almost entirely devoted to a big, needless fight, and your opinion on the story really comes down to how much you like the art and whether you think the payoff, Mary Jane overcoming clone programming with the power of love, is dumb. Honestly I don’t think it’s a half-bad issue, even if the New Warriors feel awfully shoe-horned (the struggling title had been moved into the Spider-Man editorial family, which led to adding Scarlet Spider as a member) in. Spidey gets punked out a lot in his own title, so it’s kind of neat to see him mop the floor with admitted B-level heroes. I thought the ending was sweet, and I especially liked Butler’s image of the Jackal programming seemingly evaporating. I know it's stupid but I love Spidey's "nooo I don't want to murder my wife!" dialogue throughout the issue for it's over-the-top melodrama.

Web of Spider-Man 129 Firestar Costume
Firestar just forgot her pants this week, okay?

The negative stigma for this title comes not really from the issue itself, but from the fact that the story point we’re getting to is clone Peter announcing his retirement to go take care of his wife and move to Portland, presumably to grow a horrible beard and ride a unicycle to work. You shouldn’t need me to tell you what an awful idea that is. On our podcast, I went on record as being a big fan of Ben, even a big fan of Ben as Spider-Man (the story that’s a couple months away), since it lets creators tell new stories where Ben quite literally deals with feeling like an imposter, but ditching Peter and the rest of the book’s supporting cast was a horrible idea and probably the biggest reason for the big “Revelations” course correct down the road. That reveal really makes this story incomprehensible, because if Jackal was just messing with Peter re: being a clone, how did he set up this contingency ‘murder your wife’ ploy? I guess Peter’s just really susceptible to subliminal messages?



Steven Butler’s work drawing Spidey is very solid this issue, as does a nice job keeping the basic “house style” of Spidey at the time without making him look too awkward. Some of Butler’s face work is a little rough, and his proportions can get a bit fan-service-y and weird. I don’t think you can blame him for the Firestar costume screw-up, but it’s pretty leery and weird. The cover is nice enough, with Spidey tossing a prone Ben off a rooftop as Justice, Firestar and Speedball show up. Yes, it doesn't really have anything to do with the plot, which should probably have Mary Jane overhead, but that would be weird.

Web is definitely a book that benefited a lot from the crazy four issues of inter-connected Spidey stories a month, as the last year or so of the book felt important, while stand-alone issues of the book have a tendency to feel like glorified fill-ins. It’s actually pretty impressive that the book lasted this long, considering it spent most of its life as the least important Spidey comic, but after Ben takes over, he becomes the Sensational Spider-Man, a book that I remember as being slightly better than its fellow Spidey books of the time. I guess I'll have to check out some of that to see if pre-teen me was the connoisseur of 90's comics I remember him being!

90's Fashion:

Never forget Scarlet Spider's wrist-gauntlets (that held his impact webbing and stingers) or his ankle pouches that held.... his wallet? Firestar and Alex Power both wear jackets over their costumes in true 90's style.

3 comments:

  1. I'm a fan of the Clone Saga, or at least I was as it was coming out. Someday I intend to re-read the whole thing and see what I think of it now, though I suspect I know the answer: I'll find it to be as entertaining as I remember, but also totally inappropriate for Spider-Man.

    I've always liked Ben Reilly, though, and I wish Marvel had kept him around. They seriously could've had their cake and eaten it too, with the SPIDER-MAN books telling the story of married family man Peter, while the SCARLET SPIDER series told the story of wisecracking bachelor Ben. But I think Marvel (wrongly) believed fans hated Ben when they really just hated Peter not being Spider-Man anymore, so Ben was unceremoniously jettisoned after two years of great character development.

    As for this issue -- I seem to recall that I really liked "Time Bomb", but more for its economy than anything else. So much of the Clone Saga stuff up to this point had been big four- and six-part stories, that it was nice to get a quick little two-parter to cap off Peter's time in the webs. Plus, I really liked Steven Butler's artwork. His Spider-Man was Bagley-esque, and Mark Bagley was my favorite of all the Spidey pencilers at this point. The loss of Butler from the line of regular Spider-artists was what stung most about WEB's cancellation for me.

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    1. Yeah without getting into my big secret "clone saga fixes" story pitches from 20 years ago, I think the huge blunder is the one that happens right after this issue: Peter and MJ just disappearing as characters in Spider-Man completely. I mean I can't say for sure it'd be better, but I think people would be a lot more receptive if Peter stuck around as a supporting cast member who'd help out if there was a big crisis. Plus it'd be nice for Peter to occasionally have things go right for him. You could have fun with the old "I think Peter Parker's Spider-Man" trope, as Spider-Man could actually disprove the idea, and Peter could actually start getting his life in order after years of becoming a loser.

      Then when Onslaught happens, whoops, there goes Scarlet Spider to a parallel earth! You can re-debut a Scarlet Spider book in the Franklinverse while Peter takes over the webs again. Then when the heroes return, Ben can go have his own adventures or join some team or whatever without having the same stigma on him.

      And I totally agree about Butler's art. It's very Bagley-inspired in this issue, but I remember really liking it as a kid.

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    2. Wow, that's a good idea! Realistically I'm not sure it would've worked since the "Heroes Reborn" universe was explicitly there for Lee and Liefeld, and I'm not sure giving them Ben would've been the best idea. But in theory, in a world where Marvel had more control over the HR Earth, I'd be all for this.

      And I like the idea of Peter being a supporting character in Ben's adventures. In fact, I really enjoyed the final few months of the Ben-as-Spidey era when he filled just that role -- though by that point I'm pretty sure I'd learned from WIZARD or someplace that Peter was reclaiming the identity, so the feel was a little different than it could've been. Still though, it's a really good concept for a year or so's worth of stories.

      In any case, I would've loved to have seen Ben stick around somehow. I really liked him.

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