Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Lady and… The Prowler

Spider Man #93 (February 1971)

John Romita is back on pencils as of this issue with a story that turns out to be a pretty strong one despite a glaring flaw.

Gwen’s uncle, who lives in London, offers her a home there. Peter wants to ask her to stay, but his secret identity—compounded by the fact that Gwen thinks Spider Man killed her dad—makes doing so awkward.

After what might have been one or two too many panels of Peter whining about the situation, he FINALLY decides that if he loves the girl, then he has to come completely clean with her.

But though Stan Lee has Peter complaining a little too much, the issue so far hits the right emotional notes. The situation is such that Peter is in an emotionally awkward and uncertain position, which generates a fair amount of sympathy for him.

To set up what happens next, though, Stan Lee has Peter do a pretty stupid thing. He also provides a negative object lesson for those of us who might one day have to tell our girlfriends that we are superheroes.

Peter knows that Gwen hates and fears Spider Man. So if he’s going to reveal his secret identity to her, it makes sense that he would go to her as Peter and break the news to her as gently as possible with as much calm explanation as possible. That way, she won’t panic and you can actually speak to her rationally. Right? That makes sense? If you were in that situation, that’s what you do, right?

But NOOOOOOOOO! Instead, Peter swings up to her window in costume and peaks inside.  That doesn’t end well.

I suspect that Stan didn’t intend to portray Peter as an idiot. He was simply trying to set up what happens next. But the end result was that Peter—however inadvertently—does something that was clearly idiotic.

Anyway, what happens next is this: Hobie Brown, aka the Prowler, has been looking for Spidey. He remembers when the webslinger has asked him to pose as Spider Man—a plan Peter used to protect his secret identity. Hobie didn’t know the reason, but trusted Spidey enough to go along. Now, though, with Captain Stacy dead and Spider Man a suspect in that, he’s afraid he was used as a pawn in a murder plot.

So Hobie—in his Prowler outfit—attacks Spider Man right outside Gwen’s home, calling out “Don’t be scared, kid. He won’t hurt you!”

The ensuing fight moves away from the home. In a nice touch, Hobie’s inexperience rather than Spidey fighting back leads to him being injured. Spidey drops him off at a hospital, then rushes back to explain everything to Gwen.

He rushes back STILL IN COSTUME! Gee whiz, Peter.

Well, it actually doesn’t matter. Gwen has left for London, with her flight leaving just before Peter is able to get to the airport to stop her.

As I said earlier, the story is a good one despite its flaws. The Prowler/Spidey fight is short but still good, while the main emotional notes all strike true.

But this issue also represents how Spider Man is beginning to enter a rut. Stan Lee and the various artists have succeeded in creating a great character with a great supporting cast, but we are about to go into a couple of years of same-old-same-old. Gwen will be back from London in just a few issues and the various character relationships are pretty much going to freeze where they are. Even Norman Osborne’s upcoming return to being the Green Goblin while his son Harry gets addicted to drugs will be a situation that will be re-set to normal after a few issues.

The next few years of stories will be good, with Stan Lee eventually turning the writing chores over to the very talented Gerry Conway, but there will be nothing really great. Perhaps the most important storyline will be one involving Harry and drugs—it actually had to be published without the Comics Code Authority stamp because showing illicit drug use at all wasn’t allowed under the code, even when it was shown to be horribly bad. The influence of this well-received story arc would result in that rule being changed to something more reasonable. But in retrospect, the subject is handled with too heavy a hand to qualify as a classic outside of its historical significance.

So, while thumbing through my Spider Man Essentials after reading this story, I have come to a decision. Next time we return to Spider Man, we’re going to jump ahead to cover the death of Gwen Stacy—a story that happened specifically because Conway and John Romita realized they had to do something to shake up the status quo before the character stagnated. With that, our chronological look at Spider Man will come to an end and we’ll have completely closed up shop on our History of the Marvel Universe series.

We will, of course, be returning to the Marvel Universe to look at individual stories and story arcs from time to time, just as we do with DC Comics and other companies. So, aside from the Weisinger Superman entries, the Wednesday comic book reviews will be more random.

I appreciate the fact that I have 100+ followers and I have no idea how many of you may have reading for JUST the chronological Marvel reviews. I hope you all stay with me regardless, as my comments on other comics and other subjects will continue to be mind-numbingly brilliant. But the temptation to free up enough time to review a greater variety of comics has just become too darn overwhelming.

Next week, for instance, we’ll take a look at a Golden Age Superman story. Then we’ll do an entry about the Weisinger-era Supes era. In three weeks, we’ll watch as the Green Goblin whacks Gwen Stacy. (If that’s a spoiler, live with it. It’s been nearly 40 years, people!)

After that, the only regular feature will be the Weisinger stories. Aside from those, Wednesdays will jump from comic to comic according to whatever geeky whim strikes me.

I hope that’s okay with everyone. I really do appreciate my readers and I want you all to stick around. Because… well, because one day YOU WILL ALL BOW DOWN BEFORE ME!

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