Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #166-#170 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

It's been about six months since I posted my first round of reviews of the 1970s era of "Amazing Spider-Man."  I just re-read my first three posts about them, and I'll say that the next three posts will have a more positive spin on Wein's run.  It's not all good -- in fact, the first two issues of this review aren't exactly winners -- but overall Wein seems to have tightened his story telling.  He's largely ditched the deus ex machinas -- a major weakness of the early part of his run -- and he's amped up the use of Peter's supporting cast -- a major strength of his run.  If this trend continues, I could see him really ending in top form.

However, as I said, the first two issues of this next batch aren't stellar.  Although I acknowledge that comics in the 1970s were chock-full of corny dialogue, Wein really takes the cake in issue #166.  He overuses the shtick where Stegron elongates all his "s"-es, making it hard to get through his parts of the text.  (In a later letters page, the editor says that Wein actually refrained from using this shtick more, with words that started with an "s" sound, but not an actual "s."  If he had, this issue would've been unreadable.)  Compounding the problem, he has Stegron -- in fact, all the characters -- provide a running narration of all of his actions.  Show, don't tell, Len!  Between the "s"-es and the monologuing, this issue was a chore.  Unfortunately, the plot didn't help matters.  The issue finds Spider-Man confronting the Lizard and Stegron at the same time, and Spidey risks delivering the cure to the Lizard even though it exposes him to Stegron's attacks.  In the end, it was a good decision, since a reverted Doc Connors magically whips up a device from material lying around Stegron's sewer hide-out.  This device somehow reverts the rampaging dinosaurs that Stegron reanimated to skeletons.  (Again, later issues might've ditched the science-defying deus ex machinas, but this one definitely doesn't.)  Stegron escapes, but he's undone by the fact that the December cold renders him immobile.  In an example of pet peeve #3, he acknowledges that it was probably a stupid idea to launch his quest for global domination in December -- right before he inexplicably slips beneath some ice. Between this arc and the one where the Kingpin transferred Peter's life essence into his son, Wein should be sanctioned by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Oh, also, Harry proposes to Liz.

The good news is that Wein seems to have gone on vacation at some point between writing issues #166 and #167, because the latter one is a lot stronger.  Marla certifies that the Spider-Slayer is ready to use, and JJJ, Jr. is eager to do so.  He follows Peter, figuring that he'd encounter Spider-Man; his stalking brings about this self-fulfilled prophecy when Peter's Spider-Sense leads him straight to Jonah.  Their initial conversation is over quickly, but not before JJJ, Jr. lets slip that he has evidence to prove "who" and "what" Spider-Man really is.  Later, Spidey approaches Robbie about Jonah, and Robbie tells him that Jonah just sits in his office and cackles over some sort of file (the one that he received in issue #161 that seems to show that Peter is Spider-Man).  Abruptly, Robbie then berates Peter for coming to his home (as opposed to his office) for this information, throwing him from the car.  This sequence is odd, but I think that Wein intentionally made it so, implying that Robbie is having some problems.  (In a similar vein, Wein somewhat awkwardly introduces Harry's therapist, Bart Hamilton, in this issue, just in time for Flash to realize that he's having some "problems" and needs to talk to someone.  It's like Wein was watching too many Woody Allen movies.)

To complicate Peter's life even further, Will o' Wisp debuts in this issue.  Wein does a solid job of quickly establishing his m.o.:  he's desperate to return to his human form, but he has to commit crimes on the part of the man that made him this way to win his freedom.  Curiously, one of these jobs is to retrieve the file in Jonah's safe, though Wein doesn't yet reveal how the Wisp's mysterious employer knows about it.  But, Wein steadily builds the tension throughout the issue until the two plots spectacularly combine at the climax:  Peter faces the Wisp in Jonah's office over the file just as Jonah, as the Spider-Slayer, arrives to take down Peter.  Although we just did the "two villains at once" bit in the last arc, it comes together a little more naturally in this one.  (Turning quickly to Peter's personal life, he's in a better place with Mary Jane by this issue, since she's more accepting of his disappearing act, and Aunt May has become a community organizer after her landlord tries to revoke her rent-control.)

Issue #168 is another solid entry, putting the Lizard/Stegron arc behind us pretty quickly.  First, we learn, via Peter's inner monologue, that Will o'Wisp was actually trying to steal a different file from Jonah's safe.  (I don't think we ever learn what the file contained or how his boss knew that Jonah had it.)  Peter manages to set Will o'Wisp against Jonah, hoping to escape with the right file before anyone notices.  However, before Peter can flee, Will o'Wisp reverts to the form of a ball of energy and disappears.  We later learn that his creator, Jonas Harrow, can recall him at will, and he did so here, fearing that the delay meant that Will o'Wisp had gone rogue.  Learning of Spider-Man's interference, Harrow uses his control over Will o'Wisp to demand that he kill Spider-Man.  (We learn that this control comes from a device that Harrow installed in the Will o'Wisp when he came to him for help with his condition; it allows Harrow to dissipate him.)  Wein makes it clear that Will o'Wisp is devastated over the idea of killing someone, and he ultimately decides to spare Spidey's life when he has him on the ropes.  He tries to take out Harrow, who he had earlier recognized as a bystander in the crowd watching their fight, but Harrow does successfully dissipate him.

Meanwhile, in between the fights, Peter opened the right envelope and discovered the photo of him with his clone.  Realizing that Jonah either thinks that he is Spider-Man or that Spider-Man killed him, Peter hatches a plan involving his dark room.  Happily for Peter, he also gets in some pretty obvious nookie time with Mary Jane, who stopped by his apartment and made some tea for them when she realized that he was in the dark room.  Wein and his predecessors have done a solid job of not spelling out the fact that Peter and Mary Jane are having sex, keeping everything Comics Code friendly.  But, when Peter exhorts Mary Jane to let the kettle whistle, it's pretty clear that he doesn't just want some snuggles.

Wein brings the mystery of the envelope to a somewhat false conclusion in issue #169.  When Jonah confronts Peter with the photos, we learn that he believes that Spider-Man killed Peter and he's been wearing a mask to impersonate him.  Peter then deploys his plan, using photos that he reverse-engineered from the originals to prove to JJJ, Jr. that his photos were forgeries.  Jonah rebounds quickly, asking how someone made forgeries if Peter had the originals.  Peter didn't see that coming, but he also is light on his feet, hypothesizing that Harry Osborn had access to those photos when they were roommates during his Green Goblin era.  Jonah announces that he's convinced, but it happens too quickly, particularly for a plot that Wein has been brewing for nine issues.  Wein has to be holding back something.  That said,  he also informs us that Jonah left behind the photos at Peter's (and Peter promptly destroyed them), so maybe it really is the end of that particular plot (at least until we learn who sent Jonah the photos in the first place).

A jubilant Peter spends some time Web-Slinging, where he eventually stumbles upon some cloaked men entering a building.  He shakes down one of them, and the goon sends Spidey to an abandoned subway tunnel.  There, other similarly dressed goons are waiting to do something (Wein doesn't specify) with a laser cannon that their boss bought from the Tinkerer.  Spidey makes quick work of them and expects the boss that dramatically enters the room to be the Kingpin:  however, it's really Dr. Faustus.  We're treated to a particularly over-the-top villain's monologue in issue #170, where Faustus explains not only how he survived his apparent death during a battle with Captain America but also conveniently (again) reveals his only fear, of heights.  The good news is that the issue improves significantly from there.  The aforementioned laser canon is meant to break down a wall with a secret lab, and Faustus gases Peter with his "specially prepared cigarette" to get him to lead the way through the security systems.  (Did he expect Spidey to stumble upon them somehow?  I assume that he had a Plan A, but Wein doesn't say what it was.)  At the lab, Faustus reveals that he plans on introducing his own "psychogenic additive" to the "antelope flu vaccine" that the government plans on distributing within days, in advance of a projected epidemic.  However, Spidey is standing under a vent that conditions the air in the lab, and it eventually clears his head.  He then faces a pretty tough battle with Faustus, defeating him only by re-activating the security system as Faustus attempted to flee.  In other developments, with the JJJ, Jr. photo drama resolved (at least for now), Wein introduces a new nefarious background threat, some guy that rents Aunt May's house with the hope of learning its secret.

Again, although the first two issues of this set of reviews were rough, the Will o'Wisp and Faustus issues were solid.  Both posed a real threat to Spidey, and Wein resolved the fights with resorting to the aforementioned science-defying deus ex machinas.  Moreover, he's really doing stellar work with the supporting cast, particularly now that he's settled on a clear personality for Mary Jane.

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