Tuesday, 24 July 2012

A few Essential previews

In the interests of completism, there are a few issues of the various Spider-Man titles that haven’t yet been reached in their own title’s Essential volumes but have been reprinted in other Essentials. A quick run through them, with all the headline stars of Marvel Team-Up listed:

First, there’s the handful of issues included in various other Spider volumes that we’ve already covered:
What this list shows above all else is that Essential Web is somewhat ahead of the other titles and running into the era when crossovers between the Spider-Man titles were common. It probably should be paused until the others can catch up.

However there are also seven other issues that have been reprinted in other Essential volumes but not the series’ own and we turn now to them:

Marvel Team-Up #80, featuring Spider-Man and Dr. Strange and Clea, & #81, featuring Spider-Man and Satana, by Chris Claremont and Mike Vosburg, reprinted in Essential Marvel Horror volume 1

This two-part story sees Dr. Strange turned into a werewolf to capture his soul as a result of a previous adventure, and it takes Spider-Man, Clea and Satana (the devil’s daughter) to free him. As might be expected this is full of the magic and weirdness associated with Dr. Strange, but Spider-Man gets drawn in for personal reasons when Peter and Cissy Ironwood are attacked by the werewolf in Central Park, hospitalising Cissy, and then he finds himself compelled to stay to restrain Dr. Strange’s physical form whilst Satana performs her magic. At the end Satana dies, giving her life to save Dr. Strange and Spider-Man and resolving the conflict between her human and demonic sides. With four billed characters and a few supporting cast members this is quite a packed story but ultimately it feels like the resolution to Satana’s story more than anything else, presumably due to previous titles featuring her being cancelled. She’s not a character I’m familiar with so I don’t know if she’s been brought back to life since. As a general Team-Up story this isn’t bad, but it isn’t worth getting Essential Marvel Horror just for the sake of this one.

The story is also this blog’s first encounter with Cissy Ironwood, bar a one page feature in Amazing annual #16, and in fact is her first actual appearance following a mention in Team-Up #79. (Her surname is spelt “Ironwode” here but “Ironwood” in other appearances.) Cissy is by far the most obscure of all of Peter Parker/Spider-Man’s girlfriends as she only appeared in the pages of Team-Up and was hardly ever mentioned in the other titles. There’s not much to learn about her from her brief appearance in these two issues bar that her name is short for Priscilla and from the conversation at the start it appears to be an early date. However note that the story came out the same months as Amazing #191-192 and thus in the middle of Peter and Betty Brant’s affair. With Mary Jane having also remained on the scene somewhat for some months after rejecting Peter’s proposal we either have our hero playing the field all at once or poor communication between the various Spider-writers (or a lot of head scratching for fans to work out a chronological order that reduces the number of women at any one time).

Marvel Team-Up #101, featuring Spider-Man and Nighthawk, by J.M. DeMatteis and Jerry Bingham, and a solo Nighthawk back-up feature by Mike W. Barr and Steve Ditko, reprinted in Essential Defenders volume 5

I’ll take the back-up feature first. At just five pages it feels like emergency padding. Regular Marvel comics increased from seventeen pages of story to twenty-two in this period, but I’m not sure if this is the first issue affected or not. The story is a simple tale of Nighthawk overcoming doubts about himself as he saves a crippled girl from a collapsing wall, and nothing really to remember. However the art is by Steve Ditko, who had recently returned to Marvel but refused to draw his most famous creations, instead working on more obscure heroes and features. Sadly this and other back-up features in various Spider-Man annuals are about the nearest to a second Ditko run the character and series will ever see.

The lead story is focused on Nighthawk facing his past as he gets attacked by a robot resembling his university girlfriend who died in a drunken car crash and then lured to a reunion at the old university. Spider-Man gets caught up in events at the former and then tags along because he recognises Nighthawk’s guilt over his actions. Once at the university it transpires the girl survived but Nighthawk’s family paid her off and suppressed that fact, and she’s seeking revenge. Spider-Man saves the day when he appeals to her true feelings for Nighthawk, buried by anger and bitterness, and both start to bury her past. Once again Spider-Man is given a slight reason for intruding into a rather personal affair, but his saving the day justifies his presence.

Marvel Team-Up #111, featuring Spider-Man and Devil-Slayer, by J.M. DeMatteis and Herb Trimpe, reprinted in Essential Defenders volume 5

Spider-Man gets caught up in a plot by the Cult of the Serpent Men, one of the ancient races that inhabited Earth, to recover their race from the realm of limbo. With the rest of the Defenders captured, Devil-Slayer recruits Spider-Man to first recover an artefact from the temple of the Spider-People, the remains of another ancient race, and then to use it to defeat the Serpent Race and free the other Defenders. However it’s all a set-up to trick Spider-Man, the only human that the temple’s magic recognises as similar to the Spider-People, into obtaining the artefact for the Serpent Men. Spidey sees through the deception, frees the real Defenders and destroys the artefact, with the remaining Serpent Men banished to Limbo. At the end Dr. Strange discovers Spider-Man was bitten by one of the Serpent Men, with grave consequences... (which aren’t followed up in Essential Defenders). This is a somewhat convoluted story with deceptions all over, and it’s a pity Spider-Man didn’t get a chance to team up with the real Devil-Slayer, another obscure Defenders member. It’s hard to tell if the impersonation was accurate and the character really is a hard edged jerk, or if that was just the impostor. Otherwise this is a confused run around that throws Spidey into some grand mythology of the Marvel Universe but doesn’t take the opportunity to expand on his role in it, such as exploring just how far he resembles the Spider-People and how their survivors regard him.

Marvel Team-Up #116, featuring Spider-Man and Valkyrie, by J.M. DeMatteis and Herb Trimpe, reprinted in Essential Defenders volume 5

This is the follow-up to the previous issue (not reprinted in Essential Defenders) where two rival aliens fought over a weapon that ultimately destroyed them both, with Spider-Man and Thor mixed up. Now the two aliens’ spirits have fused into one and want revenge, so the entity possesses Valkyrie’s sword and in turn the Valkyrie herself, then seeks out Spider-Man to attack him. At the end Thor shows up and, amidst pondering the recent revelation that he and Valkyrie were once lovers but then had their memories wiped by Odin, he helps destroy the sword and banish the entity into a space warp. Once again it’s an unusual team-up because of Valkyrie’s possession and none of the protagonists really knowing just what’s going on.

There’s a nice scene where Spider-Man comments on these situations:
*Sheesh* If I had a dime for every time somebody has tricked another super-type into trying to clobber me – I’d be one rich web-slinger!
But these kinda phony set-ups always end the same way!
We stop beating each other over the head long enough to compare notes, and then we track down the goon responsible for the dirty works!
It’s good to see him occasionally acknowledge the formulaic nature of many stories.

Marvel Team-Up #119, featuring Spider-Man and Gargoyle, by J.M. DeMatteis and Kerry Gammill, reprinted in Essential Defenders volume 6

This isn’t really a team-up so much as a comparison between heroes. Following Spider-Man’s recent appearance in Defenders, he and the Gargoyle head to New York where they prevent a gang mugging an old woman. The heroes then go their separate ways, with the Gargoyle befriending the woman and helping her and her daughter come to terms with her life and impending death. Meanwhile Peter learns that Nathan has left Aunt May after hearing of another friend’s death, and goes to a theatre in a slum where in better days he performed in his youth. Unfortunately the gang from earlier evaded arrest and now confront him. Spidey slowly picks them off one by one when Aunt May appears and berates the remaining. When the gang, but not May or Nathan, see Spider-Man they flee again. Later Spidey and the Gargoyle bump into each other and reflect on their experiences. A caption on the opening page said this would be a different team-up from normal and it certainly is. There’s limited action and instead a strong focus in characters and situations, focusing on how they face up to mortality. All in all it’s a nice little character piece that also takes May and Nathan that little further forward as they prepare to leave the rest home and open a boarding house (yes sometimes there were developments in Team-Up – not many but they did happen).

It’s actually surprising that these last four issues wound up in Essential Defenders as apart from Nighthawk’s story they don’t appear to add much to the characters. I can’t help suspecting the primary aim was to pad the volumes out (they also include an issue of Captain America and an Avengers annual) in order to allow volume 6 to end at the point when the Defenders are transformed into the New Defenders (which was quite a radical change, introducing a more formalised team structure rather than the “non-team” grouping that had previously existed).

Amazing Spider-Man #274, by Tom DeFalco and Ron Frenz, reprinted in Essential Ghost Rider volume 4

This was the final Spider-Man crossover with Secret Wars II and comes at a point when the all-powerful Beyonder is preparing to wipe out all of existence. The demon Mephisto seeks to stop this (as wiping destroys the souls he covets) and agrees a challenge with the Beyonder – each would have a champion in a duel and if Mephisto’s champion wins then the Beyonder will wait for twenty-four hours. The Beyonder’s champion is Zarathos, the spirit of vengeance previously bonded to the first Ghost Rider (hence the story’s appearance in that volume), whilst Mephisto’s is Spider-Man – precisely because he is an ordinary human. Zarathos has to get Spider-Man to renounce his responsibility in some way, with the test selected to be to prevent an assassination attempt on the Kingpin. Zarathos torments Spider-Man by appearing to him both in his own form and disguised as the likes of Norman Osborn, Peter’s parents, Captain George Stacy, Gwen Stacy and finally Uncle Ben, each reminding Spider-Man of his past failures and trying to weaken him. It’s a story set on two entirely different levels, with Spider-Man never aware of the wider significance of his turmoil. Instead he just keeps on trying in the face of tremendous odds, no matter what Zarathos throws at him, to the amazement of Mephisto. It’s a twist on the classic tale of a hero facing temptation in the form of a demon, but Spidey remains true to his inner core values, no matter what it costs him and no matter how odious the person he has to save, eventually knocking Zarathos aside and then preventing a gunman shooting down the Kingpin. This is a triumph of the will and a reaffirmation of just what makes Spider-Man tick. The wider context of the battle to save existence for at least another twenty-four hours is far less interesting in this context. What matters is that Spider-Man has proved himself without even realising he was being tested. This is one of my all-time favourite Spider-Man stories.

Overall these issues are a mixed bag. The ones from Team-Up are relatively representative of the series as a whole – some intense, personal tales with small, focused casts and some world saving ones with huge numbers. But they’re not such important stories that one can’t wait for the next volumes of Essential Marvel Team-Up to reach them. The Amazing issue is more intense, though as it’s some thirty-six issues later than the end of the most recent volume and part of the first massive Marvel crossover it may be best to also wait for it to be reached in the normal course of events.

1 comment:

  1. Since this post was written, Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 4 has been released, reprinting issues #80-81 & #97.

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