Saturday, March 11, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #176-180 (HERE BE SPOILERS!)

Wein launches probably his best known (and well written) story in issues #176-#180, as Harry Osborn's psychiatrist, Bart Hamilton, is unexpectedly revealed to be the new Green Goblin.  Although it has some moments of weakness, this arc is definitely Wein's best work on the title.  It has examples of all the best traits of his run:  he builds the story slowly, focuses on Peter's personal life along the way, and (mostly) explains the twists and turns by the end.  Except for a brief moment in the final pages, the story also dispatches with the worst trait of his run, his tendency to rely on overly complicated or unrealistic pieces of technology to move along the plot.  (See the Dr. Octopus story in issues #157-#159 and the WHO/Kingpin story in issues #153-#155 and #163-#164.)  In sum, it's a character-driven story that legitimately keeps you guessing until the end.

In today's comics, the author would've jumped right into the conflict.  We would've likely start at the end, with the back story unfolding via flashbacks over the course of five issues.  (A good example of this approach is "Sitting in the Tree," the current cross-over event in "Spider-Gwen" and "Spider-Man.")  However, Wein distinguished himself on this run by building his stories issue by issue.  As such, we start this issue right after the ending of last issue, as Peter returns JJJ, Jr. to the "Bugle" after rescuing him from the Hitman and the PLF.  Wein conveys the sense we're a fly on the wall of Peter's life -- and not just on the high-action moments in Spider-Man's career -- and I miss that approach in modern comics.  Peter finally gets a decent night's sleep, and he awakens with his shoulder has fully healed from when he was shot in issue #173.  He goes to visit Aunt May and discovers a note on her door informing Anna she's protesting at City Hall (a sign of her recent activism, starting in issue #167).  Peter goes to visit her, and we're witness to Aunt May going, for lack of a better term, totally bat-shit crazy.  She starts beating up a cop with her placard after he refuses her entry into the Mayor's Office and suffers a spell as a result of her "faint heart," something Wein has mentioned several times.  (I'd be remiss if I didn't mention a weird moment where May is screaming that she's "old enough to be [the cop's] sister," despite the fact that she really could be his grandmother, the way Andru draws them.)  Peter himself then goes bat-shit crazy, throwing the cop aside to get to Aunt May.  The cop -- not unreasonably -- concludes that Peter has super-powers after he tossed him like a rag doll, but the other cop convinces him that it was just Peter's concern for Aunt May that gave him the strength.  They rush Aunt May to the hospital, and Peter is a basket case.  He calls Mary Jane to come stay with him, and Wein continues his improved characterization of MJ, showing her as reluctant to go somewhere so grim as a hospital (per her party-girl orientation) but willing to do it for Peter.

May eventually regains consciousness, and Peter and MJ are allowed to visit her.  May appears fine (even after Mary Jane makes an oddly sexual-seeming remark about Peter),  though Peter is shown crying as he prays for her to get well.  (I have to say, Wein keeps really upping the melodrama.  May goes from death's door to totally fine in the span of two pages, and Peter seems like he's on the verge of a nervous breakdown, even though Wein established he feels better after a decent night's sleep.)  At any rate, the duo parts outside the hospital as Peter goes to visit Dr. Hamilton to see how Harry is doing.  MJ sarcastically remarks how "fun" Peter's life is, though, again, Wein is showing her as a much more empathetic figure than she was in earlier issues.  Moreover, they seem to be legitimately dating by now.  After the tea-kettle incident from issue #168, it's the second time that we see them physically affectionate:  this time, they make out on the street.

Peter then heads to Hamilton's office (even though I don't get why Hamilton would divulge any information about a patient to Peter).  However, Peter discovers the cops on the scene because Hamilton's office has been destroyed.  Peter puts two and two together and rushes to Flash and Harry's apartment.  There, Flash walks into the apartment to discover it trashed and the Green Goblin waiting for him.  The Goblin announces he's taken care of Osborn, though Flash believes the Goblin to be Harry.  (Regardless of his identity, I still don't understand why the Goblin would trash the apartment.)  Flash tries to subdue him, but the Goblin knocks him unconscious with one of his blasts.  Spidey arrives before the Goblin can flee, and they briefly battle.  Desperate to escape, the Goblin throws Flash from the apartment, and Peter comments on the parallels between this moment and Gwen Stacy falling to her death.  (The Goblin announces Peter doesn't have time to save Flash, though I don't know why he wouldn't, other than the fact that he's just standing there pondering how much it reminds him of Gwen's death.  Shake a leg, Pete.)

Obviously, Flash doesn't die:  Spidey manages somehow not only to lasso him, but swing him onto the roof safely.  (It's hard to see how Gwen's neck snapped when he executed a pretty straight-forward grab, but Flash somehow is unharmed in a move that requires him to be as flexible as Gumby.  But, I digress.)  But, the Goblin's gambit worked, since he's escaped.  True to Wein giving us an insight into all aspects of Peter's life, Spidey is then confronted by a guy whose car he damaged in the melee.  (Seriously, you just don't see this sort of scene anymore in today's comics.)  Peter then visits Aunt May in the hospital, where she stresses how good she feels after some rest.  She tells Anna Watson and MJ the same thing when they visit...and then suddenly has a heart attack.  Speaking of cowinkydinks, Peter just so happens to be wandering through an "abandoned warehouse district" pondering his fate when he stumbles upon a gangland execution.  The gang members are carrying invitations to a meeting the Goblin also wants to attend (though Wein doesn't tell us how he learned about it in the first place).  At the meeting, Silvermane is trying to consolidate all the gangs into one conglomerate, but the Goblin attacks at that moment, demanding to take over the syndicate.  Peter winds his way through an air shaft, only to hear the Goblin offer up his secret identity to the group as proof of his bona fides.

Issue #178 picks up the story, though it's initially anti-climactic.  Goblin (wisely) doesn't reveal Spider-Man's identity at the moment:  he withholds it until the Mafia bosses agree to join him.  The fact the bosses consider doing so infuriates Silvermane, and Goblin departs promising to return with Spider-Man "or his head on a platter."  (At this point, I wasn't actually sure the Goblin knew Spidey's identity; I thought it might be a gambit, figuring he could catch him and then unmask him in front of the dons.  It's only later, when he calls Spidey "Parker," that I realized he did actually know Spidey's identity.  That's getting ahead of the story, though.)  Still in the vent, Spidey bangs his elbow after the Goblin departs; the noise draws the attention of the Mafiosi, and Peter is forced to fight them to survive.  Silvermane escapes, and Peter makes his way home.  He arrives just after Mary Jane calls him to say he needs to sign a consent form so the doctors can operate on Aunt May.  It's here where I feel like this story really shows its age.  Maybe in the '70s doctors couldn't operate on a patient without a form, but I'm pretty sure today someone already admitted to the hospital for heart problems could get further treatment, even if it required surgery.  But, the shtick in this issue (and the next two issues) is that Mary Jane keeps trying to find Peter to get him to sign the forms.  It at least works to show Mary Jane's concern for Peter:  she (correctly) surmises he'd go crazy with guilt if something happened to May in the interim.  MJ eventually connects with him, but he's waylaid by the Goblin en route.  (It's in this fight where the Goblin calls him "Parker.")  The Goblin uses some sort of net on Peter, and he carries him from the hospital, with Spidey having no option but to look into May's room as it gets smaller and smaller.  (Andru really does a bang-up job on this scene.)

At this point, Wein has the Goblin become almost omniscient.  We open issue #179 with him not only knowing Peter's identity but also knowing that Aunt May is in the hospital and that she needs Peter to sign a form to survive.  Wein adds to our sense the Goblin is Harry by having him comment that he has nothing against Aunt May but she'll just become a casualty of war.  However, the Goblin's plans are ruined when a bunch of Silvermane's thugs fire an RPG at him, freeing Peter from the net.  (Remember, they're mid-air at this point.)  Peter's knocked unconscious when he unceremoniously lands in a dumpster, and Silvermane's goons retrieve him.  He eventually awakens and escapes, rushing to the hospital to sign Aunt May's forms.  (This whole scene is again needlessly melodramatic.  We learn the doctors began prepping May for surgery after Mary Jane told them Peter was on his way.  But, instead of assuring Peter his delay didn't hurt May, MJ basically tells him May's going to die because he was late.  But, then, when Peter responds by almost having a nervous breakdown (again) from his guilt, MJ tells him to "put a sock in it" because blaming himself isn't going to save May.  It's all just ...weird.)

Anywho, the Goblin decides to go after Silvermane after ditching his damaged glider at his warehouse.  This next scene is pretty great:  Wein sets the stage by telling us how packed Radio City Music Hall is, building the drama for when the Goblin attacks Silvermane in the middle of a show.  Meanwhile, at the hospital, Peter gets news May is fine and recovering.  JJJ, Jr. calls Robbie (who's waiting with Peter at the hospital) and orders him to send Peter to Radio City to get photos of the Goblin's fight with Silvermane.  The hospital scene becomes the epitome of melodramatic.  First, it's weird Robbie is there, to be honest.  My boss likes me, but I don't know if she'd sit in the hospital with me while I wait for news about my aunt's surgery.  Robbie tells Peter it's a sign of how much he cares for him, but here it gets even weirder.  Peter responds to Robbie's expression of affection with a rant, saying how that's what's bothering him:  his life is an extreme of either being the center of attention like he was in Ben and May's house or being ignored at school.  As a result, he's apparently never been able to form an opinion of himself.  (Yeah, I forgot what an asshole Peter was in this era, too.  If I were Robbie, I'd have socked him.)  I don't understand how Robbie saying he cared for Peter led to this existential crisis, but it is what it is.  At any rate, Peter heads to Radio City, because apparently now he can trust the doctors that May is fine.  He then engages in a ballet of errors with the Goblin and Silvermane.  Eventually, the Goblin grabs Silvermane and tries to flee on his glider.  Spidey grabs it with a Web-Line, but the glider can't handle the added weight, spilling the Goblin and Silvermane off it.  Plus, Peter's Web-Line snaps, so all three of them are now in free fall.  Meanwhile, at the warehouse, the hooded figure uses the jagged metal on the discarded glider to free himself, revealing him to be - to the surprise of no one by this point - Harry Obsorn!

Issue #180 stars with the longest fall in the history of mankind:  it lasts five panels, and several rounds of dialogue.  (Compare that to Flash falling in issues #176-#177, where Peter allegedly had no time to save him.)  Peter tries to create a Web-Net, but the Goblin employs a "sonic-toad" (yup) to render him unconscious.  The Goblin recovers his glider, grabs the unconscious Spider-Man, and then lets Silvermane fall.  (Seriously, they're still falling at that point.)  But, for all that drama, Silvermane doesn't die from the fall; his goons confirm he's still breathing.  (To be fair, Wein doesn't say he's OK - just that he's breathing.)  But, the real drama comes later.  Peter awakens and fights the Goblin.  In a moment from the 1960s "Batman" TV show, Peter unmasks the Goblin, and he's revealed to be Harry's psychiatrist, Bart Hamilton.  Hamilton spends two full pages explaining his plan to us.  To be fair, it somewhat miraculously makes sense based on what we've seen so far, but it does raise all sorts of questions.  We learn Harry confessed about his time as the Green Goblin to Hamilton, revealing Peter's identity along the way.  (It explains how Hamilton knew Peter's identity, but it still doesn't explain how he knew Aunt May was in the hospital or why he seemed so familiar with her.  I guess we're supposed to believe he had been extensively stalking them off-panel.)  The idea of the Goblin intrigues Hamilton, and he has Harry lead him to his secret room containing the Goblin stash. Unfortunately, this next part doesn't make much sense.  Hamilton is apparently the one who had Harry tail Spider-Man when he disposed of his clone's body, take photos of the event, and then mail the photos to JJJ, Jr.  It explains how JJJ, Jr. wound up having the photos, but it doesn't explain how Hamilton knew Peter had a clone in the first place or when he was disposing of its body.  Again, are we supposed to believe Hamilton was stalking him that extensivelyAt any rate, Hamilton then uses his influence over Harry to forget the entire incident.

With the events of the last several issues now explained, Harry arrives on the scene and fights Hamilton.  This battle is really spectacular; Andru really goes to town on it.  Harry eventually comes to his senses, putting past the rage he felt over Hamilton usurping him.  He starts taking off the Goblin costume, but Hamilton is too far gone to allow him to exit the fight.  Hamilton threatens them all with a pen bomb ("the most potent bomb of them all!!"), but it only kills him -- Harry is knocked unconscious.  (I mentioned earlier there was one exception to Wein generally not using unbelievable technology in this arc, and this "pen bomb" was it.)  Other than the pen bomb, the only other odd moment in this sequence happens when we discover Harry apparently wore the Goblin costume over his suit and tie, which remained unwrinkled despite the battle.  (Where can I buy that suit?)  With Hamilton dead, Peter strips the rest of Harry's costume off him before he awakens, allowing Harry to forget he ever resumed his Goblin identity.  Moreover, all's well that ends well, because Liz returns to Harry at the end of the issue, getting over the embarrassment she felt over the Molten Man debacle.

Wein ends his run on the title with this arc, and, as I said, it's really some of his best work.  I look forward to Peter being a little less hysterical in subsequent issues, but I generally like where Wein left things, with MJ becoming a more sympathetic character and Peter's gang really fleshed out nicely.  Clearly it's all smooth sailing from this point forward!

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