As a matter of history--that is, my history as a reader of comics--the second most important comic book to me has always been The Amazing Spider-Man. (Right behind The Fantastic Four, natch.) Oh, I know there have been challengers for the number-two spot over the years. There was that Dave Cockrum/John Byrne/Paul Smith period when The X-Men was the most creatively exciting thing being done. There was Marv Wolfman and George Perez's magnificent New Teen Titans. There was George Perez's Wonder Woman, for the brief, shining moment that it lasted. But really, in my heart of hearts, it has always been the FF first, Spidey second, then everyone else.
Spider-Man: An everyman hero, long on power, courage, and ingenuity; short on luck. A hero with money problems, girl problems, sick aunt problems, a guilt complex over his uncle, and the most insufferable boss who ever lived. A hero who was apt to have to go into battle with a cold or a sprained arm or even an ulcer. (Whatever happened to the ulcer anyway?) He had one of the coolest ensembles of villains around, and he would taunt them as he battled them. Though it was always a life-or-death situation (his or someone else's), the taunts were funny enough to relieve the tension without detracting from the seriousness of what was going on. The stories were intelligent, fun to read, and, when drawn by John Romita or his even more gifted son, gorgeous to look at.
I haven't seen that Spider-Man in years. In fact, since the late 1990s, I've mostly bought Spider-Man only when John Jr. was drawing him. And even though the stories looked stunning, they never had the same feel as the Spidey stories that I loved before. But this month, they finally gave me back "my" Spider-Man. I can't even tell you how happy I am with The Amazing Spider-Man #568.
This is everything that I ever loved about Spider-Man. First, that art: John Romita Jr. is back and in top form. His tour of the rest of the Marvel Universe (including the one-off Last Fantastic Four Story with Stan Lee himself) seems to have re-energized him to draw the Webhead again. And in the opening sequence, we actually get to see Spider-Man battle a proper, traditional, Spidey-style costumed super-criminal! No demons or life-force-sucking chimeras or monsters from other dimensions or any of the other weirdness that has been foisted on him over the years, but an actual costumed criminal in the Spider-man style! I don't have any background on this "Menace" character, who was introduced while I was away, but I love how Spider-Man taunts him as a Green Goblin wanna-be. "...that's getting kinda old. I mean, I've already fought four Green Goblins. Two Hobgoblins, three fembot Goblins, Gray Goblin, Demogoblin, Future Goblin, Fried Goblin, Shrimp Goblin, Goblin on Toast... From now on, you can be Mock-Goblin!" I love it!
Also while I was away, they got rid of the angle about Peter Parker being a high-school teacher and returned him to being a photojournalist selling his Spider-Man action pictures while butting heads with small-minded, skinflint editors and publishers. (Not that I have anything against teachers. My mother was a Junior High English teacher, my best friend teaches high-school science, my sister is an elementary-school librarian...) Actually, I've always wondered why they didn't extend that storyline from some years ago in which Peter publishes a best-selling book of his Spidey pictures, and make him a successful art photographer. They're always talking about how they're interested in character growth; it would have made perfect sense. Anyway, I recall from flipping through a recent issue that Peter finally confronted old John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt...I mean, J. Jonah Jameson...about all the money that The Daily Bugle made from Peter's work, and how little Peter saw of any of it, and when Peter at last gave JJJ the verbal bashing upside the head he's had coming to him all these years, JJJ had a heart attack. Which brings us to today, when The Bugle has been bought out and turned into a muckraking tabloid headed by an even worse jackass, Dexter Bennett, and Peter has quit and gone over with good old Joe Robertson to Ben Urich's paper, The Front Line. Well, it may not be growth, but at least it's progression.
And the Osbornes are back. No, not those Osbournes; no chicken-head-biting here. I mean Harry and Norman. Harry is now running the good old Coffee Bean Cafe (I'm waiting for David Schwimmer, Matt LeBlanc, and Matthew Perry to drop in), while Norman, just as rich and evil as ever, is now the director of the Thunderbolts and is coming after Peter/Spider-Man with a posse made up of Songbird, Venom (and I swear, they'd better use him in moderation from now on, because being sick and tired of him and that loathsome Carnage was one of the reasons I left Spidey in the first place), and Radioactive Man. And if you don't know that after Spider-Man defeats the Thunderbolts, he's going to have to contend with Norman putting on the Green Goblin costume again, you haven't been reading the promos for this fall's issues.
Yep, it's "my" Spider-Man, more or less, restored to true form. Even the spinnerettes in his wrists are gone; the good old mechanical web-shooters are back. It's just so good to see. And I would be remiss if I didn't mention the amazing work of John Romita Jr.'s favorite inker, "Santa" Klaus Janson. If you've followed Klaus's work over the years, you can recognize it on sight as a very hard-edged, film-noirish style. When I was admiring the pages of this issue, I actually had to check the credits to see who the inker was. Klaus has noticeably altered his style for his current Spidey work. It's gotten softer, crisper, sharper, more refined. I was really amazed with the change in his image texture; it looks great! Not that he was bad before, but if you have the appropriate issues, look at his work with John Jr. on Thor, The Black Panther, Wolverine, or Batman/Punisher, and compare it to what he's doing with John here. It's a remarkable change, and in my opinion a change for the better.
Seriously, you need to start reading The Amazing Spider-Man right now if you're not already. It is the best Spider-Man we've had since Roger Stern left (or was dismissed) back in 1984! Really, it's actually been that long! You've got to see this; it's a genuine joy at a time when comics that make you feel joyous are very few and far between. (Especially since I'm not feeling the love for The Fantastic Four right now and I'm going to suspend it at the end of the current storyline.) Get this book!
Saturday, August 23, 2008
My buddy, J.A. Fludd, sent the following review around via email. Despite my not caring for what Marvel's been publishing lately, I thought his review was worth sharing. Even if you're not persuaded to pick up the book yourself, his enthusiasm is still refreshing...