Monday, April 11, 2011

Back Issue Alphabet: P is for Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #74 (1983)

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #74 (Bill Mantlo, Bob Hall, Jim Mooney)

This is certainly an interesting cover. I was honestly hoping that the “mind-shattering conclusion to the Debra Whitman saga” would involve her being devoured by an army of tiny Spider-Mans. It’s a very eye-catching design, and it subtly follows the “Z” layout for eye movement.

In the interest of full disclosure, you should know that the entirety of my Spider-Man reading/watching consists of the 90s Fox cartoon, the Sam Raimi movies, and Ultimate Spider-Man. I couldn’t tell you what a “classic” Spidey story is supposed to be, but I can tell you this: the best Spider-Man stories always have a grounded human story going on alongside whatever scientific insanity is going on at the time. Case in point, in the cartoon, there was an episode where Curt Conners is abducted by a race of lizard people, turned into The Lizard, and then tries to hotwire the neogenic recombinator to turn all of New York into lizard people; the underlying message of the episode is that marriage is about working through the tough times together, as explained by Mrs Conners. Awe, how heart warming!

PPSSM #74 fills the criteria of “human story” and “scientific insanity” nicely. The issue begins with Debra Whitman, hot nerdy girl about town, in a session with a therapist. She’s convinced that Peter Parker (the love of her life) is Spider-Man, and the thought of him being in danger is driving her into fits of depression and delirium. After she finishes her session, we learn that the doctor had arranged for Peter to be in the other room listening in on the conversation. The therapist suggests that Peter dress up as Spider-Man and tell Debra that he really is the wall crawler. This should shock her out of depression and back into reality. Peter doesn’t like the idea of lying to cure Debra (well... the NOTION of lying, at least) and storms out.

Debra Whitman is certainly set up to be a sympathetic character (we later learn that she was a battered wife), but the resolution to her problem is... conflicted. Peter rejects the notion of lying to her about being Spider-Man, and then reveals himself to be Spider-Man because it’s the truth, but then she assumes he’s lying to her to be nice, so she’s cured, and he then lies and effectively says “okay, you got me, I’m not really Spider-Man.” What are we supposed to surmise from this? If your friend is having a mental breakdown, it’s best to let her believe whatever she wants as long as it seems to help her cope with the pain? I can’t really see the lesson about power or responsibility here.

In the sci-fi action half of the book, the Owl and Dr Octopus are gearing up for a gang war. They’re stealing bits of technology from around New York to build some sort of weapon, and they’ve both stolen two halves of something powerful.

Oh, and the Black Cat shows up at the end, and Spidey is surprised to see her. He thought she was dead (or at least not alive).

Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #74 is a fun read. The Owl is a really boring villain (he’s a dude that can glide!), but I’m interested to see what Doctor Octopus has up his sleeve. I would buy the next issue of this to see the gang wars between Doc and the Owl.

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