Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Heroes punching Heroes, Electricity and the Plague

The coffee table next to my couch has a shelf running along the bottom of it. Since bookshelf space in my home is always at a premium, this shelf has become the living space for many of my Marvel Essential and DC Showcase black-and-white reprints. If I could afford the higher price, it would be a home for Marvel Masterworks and other color reprints, but until I meet and marry a wealthy heiress (which would have the added bonus of getting servants to clean my bathroom), I sometimes have to settle for what I can get.

Not long ago, I was on the couch and finished reading a book. So I reached over and grabbed an Essential without looking. Thus, today, I have a review of a randomly chosen Spider Man story.

Amazing Spider Man #187 (December 1978) was co-plotted by Marv Wolfman and Jim Starlin, with Starlin also providing the layouts and Bob McLeod doing the finished art. It's set one issue after Spider Man has been cleared of criminal charges that have been following him around ever since the deaths of Norman Osborn and George Stacy.

But being a free man doesn't keep Spidey out of trouble. Needing money (to pay for expenses relating to Aunt May, as usual), he takes a job from J.J. Jameson to find out why the government has cordoned off a neighborhood in New Jersey. Scouting around, he soon encounters Captain America.

It is, of course, a long tradition to have heroes fight each other for at least a few panels before teaming up. In this instance, though, it's a little contrived. Cap tells Spidey he has to leave but won't explain why. Spidey gets stubborn and the two trade blows before Spidey realizes Cap is trying to protect him from something. He web slings away (or at least pretends to).

That Peter can have a bit of a temper sometimes is an established part of his personality and Marv Wolfman is an excellent writer who clearly gets the character. But the brief fight here is forced--there's simply no good reason for Cap to start snapping orders rather than calmly explain as much of the situation as he can, since he knows from experience that he can trust Spidey. On the flip side of that, Spidey knows he can trust Cap and that the shield-slinger wouldn't be helping to cover up anything nefarious.

Still, the art is nice, especially the panel I'm showing to the left.

With Spidey supposedly gone, Cap heads for a power plant. Flashbacks explain what's going on--a child has been kidnapped for ransom, but that child also needs medical treatment. The disease is contagious, hence the evacuation.

His kidnapper is Electro, who is doubling up on profits by combining the kidnapping with a thug-for-hire assignment of blowing up the power plant. Electro has no idea the child is carrying a communicable disease.

The reveal of Electro as the villain is supposed to be a surprise, since he stands with his face in the shadows for several panels before we see who he is. That might have been more effective if Electro's name hadn't been PLASTERED ON THE FRONT COVER OF THE COMIC!

It sounds like I'm being critical of the story, but it is overall a fine effort--a solid single-issue yarn that would also have been at home in an issue of Marvel Team-Up.

Electro nearly gets the drop on Cap, but of course Spider Man has stayed in the area. They double-team poor Electro (the guy is such a loser that you almost feel sorry for him) and get away with the kidnapped kid.

Electro, in the meantime, panics when learns he's been exposed to the plague.He tries to absorb all the electricity in the plant to burn away the disease, but ends up blowing himself up along with the power plant. He really is a loser. (He is believed to be dead, but its not surprising that he managed to survive, appearing in a Marvel Two-in-One issue within a year.)

This era of Spider Man stories isn't as strong as the Lee/Ditko/Romita era from the 1960s and early 1970s, but the tales being told were still entertaining and the cost of comics was such that impulse buying based on a cool cover was an option and you felt that even an average tale gave you your money's worth. And, even if it was a bit contrived this time, it is oddly fun to see Captain America punching out Spider Man, isn't it?

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