Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Son Is A Man-Wolf!

Before we dive into the exciting conclusion to the mystery of the Man-Wolf, who made his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #124, we really can't go any further without tackling the cover to #125:

And tackle it we must. For one thing, given the similarities between #124 and #125, it seems the Man-Wolf can't make up his mind. Just who is he after--Kristine Saunders (John Jameson's fiancée), or J. Jonah Jameson (John Jameson's father)? Spider-Man seems helpless to prevent either one from coming to harm, doesn't he? But aside from that, the thing that really stands out is this absolutely shameless caption that seeks to squeeze a little extra mileage out of Gwen Stacy's death which occurred just a few issues ago:

So before the boys from Bellevue arrive and cart off Spidey in a strait jacket, we should clear up a few things for him here, right off the bat:

  • This woman bears no resemblance to Gwen. There's not even a hairband, a dead giveaway.
  • The Man-Wolf could never be mistaken for a taunting, mocking Green Goblin--not even if you strapped him on the Goblin flyer with a sack of pumpkin bombs.
  • This fight is not taking place atop the George Washington Bridge--it's taking place on a typical, unremarkable street in New York City. But the big tip-off:
  • Kristine is not plummeting to her death--she's being dragged out of her roadster by her fiancĂ©. (This upcoming marriage seems off to a kinky start, but who am I to judge.)

So Kristine may be in danger of dying, but not at all like Gwen. Yet the thought occurs: how many more Spider-Man covers are liable to pull this sort of stunt? I mean, this was Gwen Stacy, not Jean Grey.

In any case, Spider-Man should be thinking about saving his own life, shouldn't he? Because when we last saw him, the Man-Wolf was in mid-pounce toward him, all because our hero's spider-sense doesn't have a rear-view mirror:

Spidey rolling to his feet is a good start--but at this point, all it's going to accomplish is meeting his werewolf attacker halfway, as long as he's looking in the opposite direction. Is it finally curtains for Spidey?

No. Because, fortunately, whenever Spider-Man rolls to his feet, it has the effect of making his spider-sense zero in on precisely the threat at hand. (Please, you've heard worse off-the-cuff explanations.  I'm grasping at straws here.)

Spider-Man raises a good point--it's really unclear why the Man-Wolf is intent on attacking him, other than the fact that werewolves really need no excuse to attack someone, anyone on sight. Hermione Grainger even said so in so many words, and that's good enough for me.

Spidey's tussle with the Man-Wolf is going to be inconclusive--but he does pick up one valuable clue in the meantime:

Just then, however, the moon begins to set, and the Man-Wolf bolts. Spider-Man, though, is up on his werewolf lore, and gives pursuit, hoping to learn the Man-Wolf's identity. He'll be unsuccessful--but take a look at how writer Gerry Conway uses this skirmish to fast-forward Peter Parker past his grief for Gwen:

Perhaps Conway feels he's spent long enough on Peter's grief--that is, long enough in valuable "comic book time," where Spider-Man has now been going into battle weighed down by his grief for the equivalent of four months, sapping the character's vitality. Readers are no strangers to Peter Parker's problems and runs of bad luck, but at least those things came in relatively brief cycles. Asking readers to ride out this continuing anger and sense of loss for longer--coming up now on half a year--is perhaps unrealistic for readers in the real world who may not have wanted to flip open an issue of Spider-Man months after Gwen died and still find Spidey mired in all-consuming grief.

Though wallowing in grief certainly doesn't seem to be a problem with Peter's friends, who are sympathetic but tired of Peter and Harry Osborn moping around all the time:

Clearly, Flash's tour of duty in Vietnam didn't do much in the way of making him a little less self-centered.

Meanwhile, J. Jonah Jameson is visiting his son's apartment in order to confirm what he suspects about his son, John. When the moment arrives, Conway, whether intentionally or not, gives a delightful nod to those old horror movie trailers and their bold, exploding captions:

So it's time to find out just how Jameson Jr. went from retired astronaut to snarling creature of the night, which is probably not what he signed on for. Appropriately, the answer is found on the moon, where Jameson is conducting his last moonwalk as part of a classified, unscheduled mission and makes a compelling discovery:

It's somewhat odd that Conway would bother to categorize this mission as secretive and off-the-record, unless he were laying the foundation for future stories that would follow up on it. It doesn't really impact the Man-Wolf's story, otherwise. The same can be said for Conway's curious effort to name-drop Kristine's last name whenever the opportunity arises. Kristine is a minor character at best--an obvious choice for John to later terrorize in his Man-Wolf form, but not a noteworthy character in the sense of making sure we're reminded of her surname.

On another note, John's rationale for making off with the rock is equally confusing. This moon rock is obviously quite different than the other ore samples brought back from the mission, which surely would have piqued the interest of the boys in analysis--it caught John's eye, after all. There's also the fact of John Jameson, of all people, pilfering the rock, not to mention wanting to wear it out of vanity as a fashion statement. The way Jameson is taken by Conway from A to B to C here is far too convenient for the sake of the story.

Since we're headed for John's first transformation to the Man-Wolf, it bears mentioning at this point artist Ross Andru's work on this issue. Andru begins a five-year run on Amazing Spider-Man with this story, and he seems very much at home with this kind of mystery/horror theme. Both John Romita and Tony Mortellaro are back doing inks, which provides some consistency with the prior issue and helps to smooth the transition; but Andru's differences in style are apparent, with Spider-Man looking less lithe and considerably more clumsy in form. Andru has good instincts as far as pacing a story, such as Kristine's frantic attempts to escape the Man-Wolf's pursuit--yet I have to admit to being underwhelmed with his work on a book where super-powers of established characters are in play, either here or in the pages of Marvel Team-Up.

But where the Man-Wolf is concerned, we'll see that Andru indeed has a handle on terror:

John makes reference above to a truck driver he'd attacked following his transformation. "Somehow that driver escaped..." You'll notice that we're provided with a lot of graphics that show the Man-Wolf attacking and terrorizing--yet always, the copy or the art makes an effort to side-step any direct mention or act of death. Jonah Jameson is attacked, but spared; Spider-Man is slashed, but the Man-Wolf doesn't follow through. It's like watching a monster with a clawed hand tied behind its back; but it's likely due to this 1973 story falling under the umbrella of the Comics Code Authority, which underwent revisions in 1971 that would make allowances for werewolves and the like, but only as long as they were depicted in the "classic tradition" of such creatures in literature. Morbius (the Living Vampire) burst right out of the gate in late 1971, as if on cue--and now the Man-Wolf, just as muzzled, cuts loose with only the deadliest of intentions.

Now that Jonah Jameson is burdened with the knowledge of his son's affliction, perhaps his sense of frustration at being unable to do anything for his son helps to explain this unusual scene, where Spider-Man visits Joe Robertson in order to get some information about John's pendant, but ends up swinging into a trap:

You'd think Jameson would have bigger fish to fry, given his son's situation. But if you read between the lines, it seems that his son is indeed on his mind, though in true Jonah Jameson form he channels his anger irrationally:

As for Spidey, he's not too rational himself, if he thinks that the place to recover from a tear gas attack is Mary Jane's apartment. MJ, already reeling from being verbally raked over the coals by Harry for her flighty nature, is in no mood to be dragged further down by someone else's problems. Jeez, maybe it's MJ and Flash who should be dating:

Nor is Kristine having much luck in the relationship department, when John blows off their date. But with the rising moon, we'll see John's snub is for a very good reason:

Any werewolf worth his fur would be lunging for Jonah at this moment. But since we know the Man-Wolf has a copy of the Comics Code rules and guidelines tucked into that costume somewhere, he instead takes off, preferring "freedom" over murder. It's a good thing the Man-Wolf is subject to these mood swings, because his next victim will prove equally fortunate:

Kristine obviously thinks the Comics Code Authority is going to waive their rules where she's concerned.

At this point, Conway resorts to a repetition of a scene-changer he implemented in the prior issue, in order to have Spider-Man arrive in the nick of time without making it look like he was arriving in the nick of time--taking us back a few minutes, in this case to show Spider-Man reasoning everything out and heading to Jameson's apartment as a result:

And now that this two-part story is drawing to its close, the fight between Spider-Man and the Man-Wolf (think how ridiculous "Wolf-Man" would have come across) becomes more involved, and things start making sense. For instance, Spidey takes a very sensible step in trying to nullify the moonrock's effects:

Well, I stand corrected--that part didn't make sense. With his prey standing in front of him, I don't know why it would occur to the Man-Wolf to shift his focus to ripping the webbing from his neck, since it wasn't restraining or injuring him. But Spider-Man nevertheless finds his way to a solution that will drop the Man-Wolf--the only solution.

John's reversion to himself, apparently free of his "curse," leaves a few things up in the air for the Jameson family that won't be answered here. John is clearly not the same character that we remember from his earlier appearances in this title--and it's unlikely that he'll simply snap back to his virtually untarnished self, given what he's gone through (and as a result of his own actions). Kristine will likely be around for the repercussions, it's hard to tell. And Jonah, while relieved, now has something of a blemish on his family, though in terms of the incident and not John himself--so it's not surprising when Spider-Man reads him the riot act in that regard:

Again the implication that the Man-Wolf has so far avoided killing anyone--but facts and figures aren't really necessary to enjoy the story and the character, particularly one that's helped Spider-Man to turn a corner from his lost love and begin a new chapter in his life.

Amazing Spider-Man #125

Script: Gerry Conway
Pencils: Ross Andru
Inks: John Romita and Tony Mortellaro
Letterer: Artie Simek

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