Monday, February 17, 2014

Spider-Monday - Amazing Spider-Man #17

 If there is one thing that Stan Lee is genuinely good at, it's recognizing what people love and respond to. Today, we're looking at the 17th issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, and not only does it feature the second, improved (we'll get to it) appearance of The Green Goblin, it also features another team-up between Spider-Man and the Human Torch. The Green Goblin made enough of a splash on his own, but fans were eating up any team-ups between Fantastic Four's hothead and our favorite web-slinger. Stan Lee has always been about fan service, and it's on total display in this issue. The only question is whether it can climb over the low bar set by the guest appearance from Daredevil, and I think it won't have any problem with that!

 These Amazing Spider-Man reviews really are a work of love. I have to read through these issues several times in order to try and make my commentary witty enough that everyone doesn't run away after the first paragraph. I don't know if I succeed or not, but I certainly try. For great issues, this really isn't a problem as I really enjoy picking up the details and getting into the story, but other issues are just a real chore to slog through. Luckily, Stan Lee seems to have to work to create a bad comic in the 60s, so its rare that I have to put a lot of effort into doing a review, but last week was bad. It was really bad. I have had dreams about Daredevil carefully explaining to me over and over what his powers are. I wish I were kidding about that. Imagine my relief when I saw Human Torch and Green Goblin on the cover of this issue! I have been redeemed! Or at least, so I hoped. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Stan Lee and Steve Ditko once again knock it out of the park. (Spoiler)
We start the issue with a more plot-specific splash page than we've gotten until now. Peter is wondering where Green Goblin has been for the last few months, while students mock him for seemingly being lost in his text book and Flash announces that he has.. uhm.. a big announcement that he'll tell everyone later.

Elsewhere, we see Green Goblin battling a strangely passive Spider-Man! It's quickly revealed that he's fighting a dummy target, experimenting with his new weapons in order to be fully prepared for his next fight with his arch-nemesis. His proudest redesign is the Goblin-Glider, which replaces the broomstick (sigh) he flew around on before. (The letters pages were drowning in complaints about Gobby's broomstick, so I can only image just how many letters about it they actually got. To the credit of Steve Ditko, the Goblin-Glider is such an incredibly redesign that it's essentially unchanged 50 years later)

With his identity still hidden, he changes into his civilian suit and heads off to try and find Spider-Man and enact his plan.

Back at Midtown High School, Peter is curious about what all of the students are doing crowding around Flash Thompson, so he walks over and discovers that Flash is starting a Spider-Man Fan Club, and he's the president. They hush up quickly when they see Puny Parker heading over, not wanting him to be a part of it, but Liz promptly makes sure to tell him all about it.

Flash is horrified that Peter found out about the fan club, but Liz absolutely eviscerates him for being so cruel to Peter, but Flash defends himself by saying that Peter doesn't even like Spider-Man, and that he's only interesting in things "strictly from Dullsville." This leaves Liz determined to get Peter into the Spider-Man Fan Club. Worry not, hi-jinx will  ensue!
 Peter doesn't have time to worry about Flash, though, as he spots a helicopter on his way home that is picking up some costumed hoodlums. Quickly changing into his costume, Spider-Man flips across the traffic and swings desperately across town, eager to catch up to the helicopter while chuckling over the idea of Flash's reaction if he ever knew who Spider-Man truly was.

Launching himself into the helicopter, he begins to take down the criminals, but stops when they practically beg him not to hurt them. Turns out that they are part of a movie crew, which Spidey couldn't possibly have known. He swings down to the rooftop to apologize to the director, but only manages to get called a nut and get screamed off the scene.

Changing back into Peter Parker, he resumes his walk home as people on the street mock Spider-Man and his mistake, leaving Peter feeling unappreciated once again for all he does for the city. At the Daily Bugle, J Jonah Jameson only makes it worth by laughing at the news of Spider-Man making a laughing stock of himself. Eager to get out of there, he grabs Betty Brant and they walk down the street at Betty confesses that she wishes Jameson didn't always tear on Spider-Man so much.

Worried for a moment that Betty might suspect Peter, he asks her why she says that and she points out that Spider-Man saved her life three times (and indirectly caused the death of her brother, but we'll just let that one go). Before he can respond, his Spider-Sense goes off, and he makes a weak excuse to try and get away from Betty, but before he can Liz Allen calls for him as Flash complains that they never can seem to get away from "that square."

 Betty is immediately suspicious and jealous, which Liz doesn't help by calling her "Ms Brant" and observing that she's putting on some weight. She then tells Peter about a meeting of the Spider-Man Fan club that is in the newspaper, and includes a statement that Spider-Man will be appearing in person, much to the surprise of Peter Parker.

Flash, being Spider-Man's biggest fan, is convinced that Spider-Man would never let him down and since he appeared at a circus for charity (please don't remind me) he'd surely show up for his own fan club! Liz and Betty go back to picking on each other as Flash tries to get out of having to have Peter attend, but Peter doesn't pay attention to any of that as his Spider-Sense goes off again, this time for seemingly no reason. He has no reason to suspect the man in the brown suit who happens to be The Green Goblin, and he's also very intrigued by this meeting of Spider-Man's fans.

Oh, dear! This spells trouble, true believers!

Getting out of the Flash/Betty/Liz triangle, Peter walks Betty the rest of the way home as both of them regret that Peter can't/won't ask Betty to the fan club meeting. Oh, what tangled webs we weave..

Moments later, Spider-Man is back on the scene and tries to track down the person his Spider-Sense tingled at, but he's jumpy after the movie scene blunder and decides to just change back to Peter Parker. As he does, though,  there is a loud crack and someone calls for help, making Peter debate whether or not to tackle a man running past with a gun. Before he can act, however, the Human Torch appears and catches the man in a ring of flames, attracting a quick audience of fans wanting autographs.

Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, spots Peter in the crowd and decides that he's probably too shy to act for an autograph and hands him one anyway, aggravating Peter as he always does - and without even knowing that Peter is Spider-Man. It's a great moment.

 The next day, Jameson complains about his paper featuring an ad for the Spider-Man Fan Club. He decides that he wants Peter to get pictures at the fan club, and that he and Brant will be there as well. Betty still doesn't want Peter at the meeting to have a chance to be alone with Liz, so she just waits until Peter isn't around and that way he'll never know.

Back at home, Evil Overlord May continues to try and meddle with her nephew's life, strong-arming him into getting into a date with Mary Jane Watson, even as Peter protests that he doesn't want a blind date and.. oh yeah.. he already has a girlfriend. At the last minute, he decides that if he goes to the fan club his Evil Overlord can't possibly set him up with the date, but she decides it's a great idea for a first date since Mary Jane Watson is such a big Spider-Man fan.

He's saved, however, when Mrs. Watson calls and says that Mary Jane has a bad cold and can't go on a date. He blots at the first opportunity to escape from his Evil Overlord's meddling,  and dashes out the door to head to the first meeting of the fan club.

And what a meeting it is!! There's a stage, spotlights, and tables for dining all spread out. I suspect that Flash used mob money to put all of this together, but I don't really have proof. Still, everyone stands around wondering where Spider-Man is (except Liz, who is more bothered by where Peter might be), even as Green Goblin heads toward the gathering on his new Goblin-Glider and wearing his new pink Goblin Purse. (Accessorizing is everything, you know!)

Anyway, the spider-light (sigh sigh) shines onto the stage, signaling the arrival of Spider-Man, who swings dramatically into the room. Just as he does, however, a purple gloved hand throws a frog (??) at Spider-Man's web which explodes, snapping the line and causing him to fall, but he still gracefully flips into a perfect landing.

The crowd eats it up even as Johnny Storm realizes that someone deliberately tried to hurt Spider-Man and Liz bemoans the absence of Peter.
 Before anyone can act, Green Goblin flies into view on his glider and immediately attacks Spider-Man, promising a whole new bag of tricks. Spider-Man tries to keep the audience thinking this is all just a show so that they don't panic, and dodges the Goblin Sparks that are shot at him, while trying to figure out a way to beat the Goblin without the audience becoming involved. Jameson, however, is just disgusted at how Spider-Man is hamming it up and wishing he could find a way to spoil the show as Betty cheers that Peter didn't show up and apparently doesn't like Liz as much as she thought.

After the Goblin Sparks, Green Goblin moves on to an attack with a mechanical bat that he throws at Spider-Man. He tries to avoid the bat, but it spews out black smoke blinding him while Goblin throws a pumpkin grenade (OK, those are awesome) at him. He just barely manages to dodge it, and Johnny Storm becomes more convinced than ever that this is no casual performance.

Spider-Man manages to hold his own in a fight, but with Goblin's maneuverability on his glider it's hard for him to gain the upper hand. If the attack isn't bad enough, he overhears that Liz is getting curious about Peter and Spider-Man never being in the same place at the same time, and decides he not only has to beat the Goblin, but also has to convince her that he's not Spider-Man. Sigh. #superheroproblems

 Before he can do anything with Liz, though, he has to deal with the flying, green and purple maniac. He tries to swing in closer to the Goblin, dodging the blasts that are shot at him,and tries to get Goblin into position for a perfect web blast. Before he can, however, Johnny decides that he has to help out and shouts "Flame On," transforming into the Human Torch after spotting three goons with guns planning on robbing the safe while everyone is distracted. He flies directly between Spider-Man and the Goblin, though, thwarting Spider-Man's winning blow and annoying our web-slinger all over again.

The Human Torch runs off the three gun-toting ne'er-do-wells and gets ready to retreat back to civilian clothing when Green Goblin thinks that Human Torch was attacking him and decides to fight back. While Torch distracts Goblin, however, Spider-Man takes the opportunity to change back into Peter Parker and let Liz see him at the party, so that she won't suspect him of being the costumed crime fighter. This, of course, backfires when Betty sees him having his hair fixed by the blonde high school student, leaving her to feel betrayed as Peter rushes off to change back into Spider-Man and get back into the fight.

Left on his own with Green Goblin, Torch is hit by a flying ghost attack, which creates an air tight seal around him, threatening to choke out his flame. Fearful of burning hotter because of the crowd in the room, he's getting worried as more ghosts are tossed at him, threatening to leave him completely without oxygen.

As Peter struggles to change, Betty cries over Peter cheating on her and Torch figures out that he can burn just one hand hot enough to remove the fumes of the ghost and still keep the audience safe. Freed from the cruel mists, Torch launches himself again at Goblin, but gets trapped in the exhaust from the Goblin Glider, which blinds him and leads to him being hit with a pumpkin stun bomb.
 Seeing that Torch is getting his butt handed to him, Spider-Man swing back into action and distracts Goblin, drawing the attack back onto himself. As he once again gains the upper hand, however, Spider-Man overhears an usher taking a message for Peter Parker that his Evil Overlord has had another heart attack and is in the hospital, wanting to see him. Without a moment's hesitation, he immediately darts out the door to race for the hospital in case he disappoints the Evil Overlord, even as the bystanders marvel at him running away from the fight.

Torch, who has been doing a pretty crummy job of beating Goblin so far, realizes that it's up to him to stop the Goblin and focuses on defeating him. As he flies toward battle once again, Goblin sees him and decides to just hold him off until he can escape, launching a pumpkin spark bomb at him to blind him long enough to fly out a window, cackling that the next time they fight it will be to the finish.
 As Torch rejoins his girlfriend, he is forced to admit that he kind of respects Spider-Man despite their constant feuding, Jameson rushes off to run an extra edition of The Daily Bugle declaring Spider-Man to be a coward, Betty sobs that she was a good to ever trust Peter Parker, Liz declares that Peter Parker must be part ghost for disappearing all the time, and Flash works to tell the leaving crowd that Spider-Man isn't a coward, but is one of the greatest guys in the world.
Finally reaching the hospital, Peter is told that his aunt is a very sick woman, but that she seems to be doing better with her nephew around, adding another layer of guilt onto the kid. Kicking himself for not spending enough time with his Evil Overlord, Peter is finally allowed back to see his aunt, and tells her that she only needs to worry about feeling better. On the way home, the crowd on the street talks about Spider-Man being such a coward that he ran from his fight, leaving him home and heartsick, stripping off his costume and throwing it to the side, wondering if his hurting people that he cares about is always going to be the price of Spider-Man, a rather melancholy end to the story of a boy that just wants to do right by the world.

And that closes out the 17th issue of Spider-Man! With the focus back on him rather than a guest star, the story is just better for it all around. The action is plentiful, the dialogue is far less repetitious, and it's great to see Green Goblin get his goblin-glider for the very first time. It will be tweaked over the next fifty years, but the core design always stays the same. Nicely done, Steve Ditko. Nicely done. Peter himself is in a tough spot, and thanks to the new tendency of this book not to forget what came before, it will be cool to see it explored in future issues! Until next week, which features the return of The Sandman, I happily give this issue the return of..


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