Friday, March 13, 2015

Great Power... Great Responsibility

With all the craziness happening in Marvel titles during Assistant Editors' Month, I wasn't expecting to find an issue of Amazing Spider-Man that stood out from the pack and delivered some excellent, quality reading--thanks to writer Roger Stern, who delivers both an action-packed battle as well as a touching, heartfelt tale where Spidey meets his biggest fan. (Other than Flash Thompson, that is.) As Assistant Editor Bob DeNatale put it:

"I've prevailed upon Roger Stern to deliver not one, but two stories... with two different sets of artists and two decidedly different dramatic tones. I asked Rog and the rest of my creative crews to come up with a pair of special stories that would contrast each other and bring out two distinct yet important facets of the web-slinger's legend."

We'll have a look at each of these stories--but their respective splash pages should give you an idea of the different approaches DeNatale had in mind:

Let's pick things up in the first story, where Thunderball's target is thinking right about now that getting out of the way as his opponent has suggested demanded is a darn good idea:

Thunderball, part of the "Wrecking Crew" led by (who else?) the Wrecker, has escaped from prison following a battle with Iron Man and returned to the height of his power, thanks to some deductive reasoning and, of all things, a crowbar:

Seeing Thunderball have to cart around the Wrecker's crowbar in order to be able to go into action is a little awkward to watch, since he already has a formidable weapon that he's associated with. There's a term in theater used when an item or prop has ended up at a place on the stage where it shouldn't be, and its presence there distracts the audience from where their attention should be focused; in Thunderball's case, all we want to do is to see him drop that crowbar. Fortunately, Spidey is in full agreement, after hearing Thunderball mouth off about his dependence on it:

Spider-Man then plays for time by escaping with the crowbar until he can come up with a plan for beating Thunderball. If and when that happens, he certainly won't have any trouble locating his foe, because Thunderball knows he must regain the crowbar at all costs:

Finally, at a power station, Spidey sees his chance. But he'll need to put himself in harm's way to pull off what he's planning--and Thunderball is only too happy to accommodate him. Thunderball, no slouch in the physics department, has an idea of what Spider-Man is up to--and so he mocks the attempt, though without realizing Spidey's entire scheme until it's too late.

Spider-Man has every right to be pleased with how he's handled this battle, and you'd think his fellow New Yorkers would agree. But it seems there's no pleasing everyone:

This first story can't help but bring back memories of artist John Romita Jr.'s early days on staff, when his characters were much more polished in appearance and his panels both here and in Iron Man read more smoothly and less grandiose. It was after he'd shifted to Uncanny X-Men when I first noticed that he seemed a little off his game--and before you knew it, his style had evolved to what we'd later see in books like The Sentry and World War Hulk, and of course The Avengers--large, bulked-up figures in oversized panels that didn't really tell the story so much as profile it. It was a style change I really didn't see coming with this artist.

In Stern's second story, Ron Frenz and Terry Austin handle the art, and the format shifts from all-out battle to a simple visit with a 9-year-old boy named Tim, whom we get to know along with Spider-Man, while a newspaper piece gives us some additional context to the kind of kid he is. Tim is THE collector of Spider-Man memorabilia and news articles, and has followed the web-slinger's career from the beginning--so you can imagine his delight when he unexpectedly meets his idol in the flesh:

Tim of course is filled with a million questions, and Spidey indulges every one of them, as columnist Jacob Conover's article continues to fill in the gaps of his life as a Spider-Man fan.

Eventually, the conversation arrives at why Spider-Man began a career in television but abandoned it in order to become a crimefighter--and while Spidey can't help but reflect on the sadness which caused his decision, he finds that Tim is able to bring to the table a simple perspective that can ease his thoughts, not to mention a gift for distraction:

Peter Parker has most likely never gone down memory lane in such a way. When we've seen him reflect in the past, it's almost always been within the framework of his life's purpose as Spider-Man, and the circumstances which led him to assume that mantle; otherwise, his memories have been drawn to his upbringing by his aunt and uncle after the deaths of his parents. But he finds Tim's delight and sense of nostalgia concerning Spider-Man contagious, and the time goes by all too quickly:

This story could draw to a close here without any harm done, and, as is, would fit right in with other stories to be found in titles bearing the AEM stamp. But Stern has more of Tim's story to tell, as well as one last question from this kid who, like most children, isn't quite ready to fall asleep yet:

Spider-Man's visit concluded, Stern lets Conover's copy take us out--words that give us an understanding of why Peter is profoundly sad from his time with Tim, rather than uplifted:

Frenz adds a nice touch with the Spider-Man mask effect, which made its mark in Steve Ditko's time on the book when the character was just getting started. It's always struck me as both affirmation and commitment of Peter's life as Spider-Man, two things that often are brought to mind for him when he needs to be reminded of them the most. I'd say this night qualifies.

Amazing Spider-Man #248

Script: Roger Stern
Pencils: John Romita, Jr. (Pt. 1) and Ron Frenz (Pt. 2)
Inks: Brett Breeding (Pt. 1) and Terry Austin (Pt. 2)
Letterers: Diana Albers (Pt. 1) and Joe Rosen (Pt. 2)

COMING UP NEXT in our look at

What th...? Bernie America??


J.A. Morris said...

Hi Comicsfan, great minds think alike! I run a blog dedicated to Assistant Editors' Month. Earlier today I added a new post for the first time in 2 years:

I've added Peerless Power to my links at, great blog you've got here.


Dunsade Dave said...

Totally agree with you at John Romita Jr's changing art style, CF. The pages above have a fludity and grace to them that I find his modern stuff lacks. The man is undoubtedly a gifted artist, but I find that a lot of his recent stuff looks (to me) like a series of pin-ups rather than a sequential story.

Comicsfan said...

J.A., thanks so much for the nice words. I'm pretty sure I lack the stamina for going through the entire roster of Marvel's AEM-related stories, so I'm elated to discover your blog is out there to eventually tackle them all. You're a credit to assistant editors everywhere, my friend!

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