“Where? Where were you? And what were you doing when it happened? When the world became fantastic?”
A 75th Anniversary extravaganza, celebrating three-quarters of a century of the world’s most fantastic, amazing, uncanny comic books, by a murderer’s row of some of the greatest names in the industry! Featuring, among others, none other than the World’s Greatest Super Hero, the Amazing Spider-Man!
PREFACE: This issue is packed with cover-to-cover short stories, articles (“Forgotten Heroes of the Golden Age,” “Lineage of Marvel’s Black Super Heroes,” “Marvel Reflecting the Real World” – oddly enough, Aunt May’s masturbation ‘joke’ from ASM#648 didn’t get a mention in that last one; sorry Wacker), and gag-covers (including but not limited to “Squirrel Girl marries Rocket Raccoon,” “Power Pack MAX,” and“The Portland Avengers” – featuring characters like ‘Voodonut,’ ‘Madame Vegan,’ and Brian Michael Bendis) to attempt to justify its $5.99 price-tag. Since this is the Spider-Man Crawlspace, I’ll be focusing my reviews on the stories that mention or reference our beloved Web-Slinger.
“Anniversary”: The featured story, by James Robinson and Chris Samnee, is narrated by Ben Urich as he writes an article asking, essentially, “Where were you when the Fantastic Four first came to be?” As he types his article, book-ended by images of the Four sneaking onto the launch site and then first manifesting their fantastic abilities, we see where some of our favorite heroes were on that fateful day. Jane Foster is recommending that Dr. Donald Blake take a vacation in Norway. Tony Stark brushes off Pepper Pott’s offer to introduce him to Ho Yinsen so he can keep on boozing and gambling. Bruce Banner and Betty Ross enjoy a desert picnic outside the Gamma Reactor site. Henry Pym names his particles. Peter Parker and his Uncle Ben look over some photos Peter took of Aunt May. Matt Murdock practices boxing in an otherwise abandoned gym. Nick Fury tells his old friend Dum Dum Dugan that he may help with the start-up of some new military outfit. Captain America, still frozen in the Arctic, is noticed by some Eskimo fishermen. The Winter Soldier sleeps in his cryo-pod as a Black Widow spins her web in the shadows. Major Carol Danvers watches the Four ascend to space from her cockpit. Sam Alexander watches black-and-white episodes of the Rawhide Kid on TV. Charles Xavier, Scott Summers, and Hank McCoy welcome newcomer Bobby Drake to their fledgling school. Dr. Doom fights to conquer Latveria for himself. Carl Lucas broods behind bars in his prison cell. James Howlett runs feral through the Canadian forests. Danny Rand spars with Lei Kung in K’Un L’Un. Millie models on a sunset beach. Ororo Monroe strides across the African Savannah. Stephen Strange buys a new house in Greenwich Village. And a young Kamala Khan daydreams about being hero in her front yard before her Ammi calls her in for dinner.
This was a really cool idea for an anniversary story, but I question whether this particular anniversary was the right occasion for it to be the lead story. Since this is the 75th Anniversary issue of the publisher, wouldn’t a more appropriate feature story be about where the ancestors of our favorite heroes were on the day Jim Hammond ran panicked through streets after having escaped Phineas Horton’s lab? While Bendis does go on to reference this event heavily in the Alias short later in the issue, and Robinson is the current writer for the FF, I understand why they took this route, but I still question whether it should be the opener for this comic. That being said, the coming of the Fantastic Four, both in the 616 and in American Comics, was a monumental occasion and should be celebrated in the issue, and Robinson and Samnee did an incredible job here.
Regarding Peter and Uncle Ben’s panel, it effectively captured the dynamic that these two had back when Peter was growing up, as we’ve seen before mostly in Paul Jenkins’ Peter Parker and Spectacular run. Their discussion about whether Peter should pursue photography or science was nice bit of foreshadowing. And the fact that it ended with Ben telling Peter that he can worry about that stuff later, “Just enjoy being a kid for now,” tugged at my heart strings a bit as we all know Peter will soon have the responsibilities of adulthood abruptly and tragically thrust upon him. Nicely done.
I have a minor qualm with the framing of the issue though, as I am not quite sure when this story-within-a-story is being written in continuity. Ben Urich is writing in a cubicle at the Daily Bugle, with a picture of an enraged Jonah tacked on his wall saying “Get to Work!,” and his job title is “Staff Writer” as evidenced in the conclusion of the opening story. I thus assumed at first that this story took place before the events of Civil War: Front Line as the aforementioned series is when Urich moved on from the Bugle and started his own paper with Sally Floyd, which he was the Editor-In-Chief of and which eventually became the new Daily Bugle when Jonah sold him the name. However, Ben mentions “the death of Charles Xavier” during his opening remarks, a death, I assume, that took place during AvX, but I’m not all that intimately familiar with the convoluted continuity of the X-Men to know if Xavier died once before then, so I could be wrong. And while I first thought, “This continuity police-work is a bit overbearing. I should take it easy because the story at hand isn’t really about continuity,” it actually kind of is, just not on that of the narrator. Anyway, like I said, it’s only a minor qualm, but it still took me out of the story a bit. B+
“Captain America Foils the Traitors Revenge”: Kay, I know that this story has nothing to do with Spider-Man, other than the writer being The Man himself, but seeing Stan Lee’s first published Marvel work, originally a text-only piece published in Captain America #3 back in May 1941, finally get illustrated, and by Bruce Timm of Batman: the Animated Series fame of all people?! Sign me up. It was a really cool period piece with amazing artwork that looks like it could have been plucked right our of that era while at the same time looking crisp and modern. If that’s not a timeless comic, I don’t know what is. A
“. . .That Parker Boy!”: The Romita-era supporting cast sits in the Coffee Bean grumbling about Peter’s absence while Spider-Man attempts to foil a plot by some crooks to release poison gas unless the city pays them off. Peter proceeds to wander around Manhattan, hoping that his Spider-Sense will zero-in on the gas. His search leads him near the Bean, so Harry, Flash, Gwen, and MJ run out to catch him, but MJ “trips” on the steps, distracting the gang long enough for Peter to slip away and grab the crook with the gas. When he returns to the gang they blow him off, miffed that their friendship doesn’t seem to be much of a priority for him. Peter is left wondering if he’ll ever be able to balance his personal life with his responsibilities as Spider-Man. Oh, and the Kingpin was in it. I almost forgot. Kind of a forgettable role for a classic baddie. “The End. . .For Now!” (classic DeFalco)
Like the above story, this piece distinguishes itself by its creative team: legendary Spider-Scribe Tom DeFalco gives his voice to the illustrations of Stan Goldberg, the colorist of Amazing Fantasy #15. It looks and reads very much like an old Archie Comic, which is not entirely inappropriate given the period in Peter’s life it takes place in. We see the old college supporting cast, including Mary Jane, hanging out in the Coffee Bean, and gossiping about our boy. Much like the old Lee/Romita days, Mary Jane remains notably silent on the topic of Peter, at least for the most part(she had only one thought bubble during those days, so we literally never know was what she’s thinking, only her ditzy, party-girl exterior, something that made Conway’s retcon that she always knew Peter was Spider-Man all that more plausible), while Gwen defends Peter to a caustic Harry and Flash. It was nice to see the classic supporting cast again, especially considering their absence nowadays, since one of them’s dead, another’s off wandering the country with his illegitimate goblin-baby, another’s off in space not-being-featured in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the last one’s taken a leave of absence from ASM to be with a Peter Parker place-holder.
The Archie-connection though actually doesn’t go as deep as I thought it would when I read the first page, as we don’t really see any of that Betty/Veronica dynamic that modern writers love to suggest existed between Gwen and Mary Jane. This could have been an opportunity to retcon some of that in (being that it wasn’t really there all that much back in the day), but being that this beat does not seem to be a “goal” of the story (telling a tale from Spidey’s good ole’ days) and was only an inference on my part, not to mention one that I don’t particularly care about, it’s more than fine that that wasn’t included. It’s just something that crossed my mind as I read.
Speaking of the supporting cast, Harry’s behavior struck me as a bit odd. It seems like he was included so that “the whole gang” could be there, but his actual dialogue was more characteristic of Flash in that period, particularly how prickly his demeanor was towards Peter. This was a more Ditko-era Harry, as the young Osborn softened towards Pete after our hero reached out to him during Romita’s first story in ASM#39. I would have liked it more had Harry been given a voice more in line with that point in his character development.
And, as a final comment, while this story could have been a simple one-read tale, upon further review, I actually noticed something the second time that I didn’t the first: Mary Jane’s behavior is a bit odd. When the crew notices Peter outside of the Coffee Bean and rush out to meet him, Peter notices the thieves and rushes off to go into action. In the next panel, MJ “trips” while running down the steps, distracting the others while Peter sneaks away. Then, she flashes a little grin as the others wonder where Peter ran off to. Now, I really liked this as it could play out either way: either it was exactly as it seemed, or she was running interference for Peter so he could Spider-up. Being that at this time MJ was a go-go dancer and would be a little more coordinated than she seems here, I am inclined towards the latter. Maybe she put herself in the center of attention so often in those days in order to throw people’s attention off of Peter, ironically helping Spider-Man while perpetuating the image of Peter as a “wall-flower.” All in all, this short was both an enjoyable throwback read for the casual Spidey-Fan and included a nice couple of nods for long-time Spider-Philes. B
POSTFACE: I really enjoyed this comic. It was a very meaty book, with many interesting, fun, and humorous pieces. And while I am fortunate enough to have received my regular subscriber’s discount from my LCS, the Comic Empire of Tulsa (shameless plug), I recognize that the full $5.99 is a tall order for most comic fans’ budgets. Unless you’ve got a decent amount of disposable income, the price is a bit steep if you’re just getting it for Spider-Man, but the articles and especially the Lee/Timm Captain America story might justify the price for the greater-Marvel fan.