Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Five-part superhero tragi-farce chronicling the complex web weaved by Spider-Man's most inciteful enemy – the Answer.

What is the Answer's super-power exactly? I don't think it's ever explicitly stated, but it seems to be an uncanny ability to effect the solution to any problem.

For example, when we first meet him in #92, the Answer defeats Spider-Man by having earlier coated his own costume in a Teflon-like substance to which Spidey's webbing cannot stick, and then throwing the web back upon him.

That's good planning, which I guess we could all do, but he seems to be able to spontaneously develop physical solutions too. Explaining how he can survive Spidey's blows, he claims to have compensated by developing fantastic stamina and speed. In other words, no matter what the problem, the Answer seems to be able to even develop whatever powers are necessary to solve it.

Between him and the Black Cat(Spider-Man's girlfriend)'s powers of bad luck, there's no doubt that we're in for an interesting strategic ride here.

The reason for the Answer's loyalty to the Kingpin is never stated in these issues either (though we can guage that he's probably repaying the crimelord for giving him these abilities), however his servitude is certainly one that brings the story alive. The Kingpin wants his sick wife healed, and the Answer's consequent activities draw-in enough other Marvel characters to make the whole thing read like a particularly brilliant daytime soap opera.

The Answer and the Kingpin bring back Silvermane from the dead again to use as an assassin. Alas, they lose control of the mindless cyborg, who rampages through the city in search of the one who had killed him by taking his life-force – Dagger.

With Cloak and the Rose thrown in for good measure, the stage is set for an enormous tangle of agendas across the final two issues, and it's a credit to Al Milgrom's script and artwork that everyone's different perspectives of the same events are kept so clear.

The chaotic bust-up in the final issue seems to find the Answer still getting to grips with his apparently new identity, even as he dies. His last line (barring stutters and screaming) is his realisation that, to save Dagger's life, "I am the Answer!"

It is a real shame to see him go. He's such a great character.

These last issues are also a textbook example of how well individual Spider-episodes fit into the wider Marvel Universe.

For instance, page 13 of issue #95 contains a Scrubs-esque round-up of the other main players in Peter Parker's life reflecting upon their paralell pain. As I read this, I could almost hear JD coming up with some philosophical piece of narration over The Fray's How To Save A Life ...

Of course, John Dorian is no Spider-Man, a fact evidenced by the way in which the webslinger, in contrast to JD, never speaks to the reader directly.

Except that, in #96, he apparently does. With his alien black costume written-out in the same month's Amazing Spider-Man #258, its sudden absence from this title merits the following in-story explanation...

Just who is he meant to be talking to?! Still, though drawn by a different artist, these layouts are pleasingly consistent with the issue that they represent.

And that level of detail and care is what I'm here to praise. To keep so many storyline-plates spinning across so many different titles each month without contradicting each other must have been a small nightmare, yet Marvel Comics in the mid-80s positively embraced the challenge. The result was a sense of enthusiasm from the creators that was equal to those of the readers. We were all in this together. What kind of brand-loyalty do you think that engenders?

If you don't believe me, just take a look at Editor-In-Chief Jim Shooter's own words regarding his job title in #96's Bullpen Bulletin (Marvel's catalogue-wide monthly editorial)...

"When I was a bit younger, one day it occured to me that Marvel Comics could be even better than they were, if only the people who made them would hire a bright, knowledgeable fan – like me – to read over the stuff they were doing before it went out, catch some of the little gaffs, check the continuity, give creative advice from the fan point of view, and in general, guard the integrity of the Marvel Universe...

... I haven't forgotten what the title really should be – something like Executive Fan Representative, or maybe Designated Fan."

What a breath of fresh air. Hardly the usual self-aggrandizing ego-trip about 'I'm a professional, but I understand you fans.' Everyone in such authority over a creative work should love it.

Especially since this self-same issue also demonstrates just how close-run a thing continuity can be.

#96 takes place during a freak midsummer snowstorm originating over in Avengers #249 and The Mighty Thor #350. On page 11 panel 4, Flash and Betty even briefly duck into a doorway to hide from the rampaging armoured men in that storyline.

Spelling errors aside, that's all well and good, and a great advert for those other issues.

What also appears to be fine is that, across town in the same snowstorm, #96 also shows Peter Parker, now bereft of his funky black costume, digging out his old spare red-and-blue duds at his apartment, and putting them on again for the first time in ages, to go and find Dagger.

He then meets the Black Cat and spends the rest of the issue at the Kingpin's during the snowstorm.

So what's wrong with that? Nothing when read in isolation.

However the same month, as mentioned above, Amazing Spider-Man #258 features Spidey earlier, as the snowstorm begins, heading home to his apartment. Here Mary Jane drops-over, following which in Amazing Spider-Man #259 they head out for a long walk through the park after the snow has all evaporated. Then Peter returns home and puts-on his old red-and-blue costume for the first time in ages, to go and find Hobgoblin. (and yes, he does only have the one outfit now)

Clearly, he cannot see Mary Jane while simultaneously going out to the Kingpin's with the Black Cat, let alone dig-out his old costume for the first time in ages twice.

Shouldn't the Executive Fan Representative have picked-up on these contradictory accounts at the script stage?

Well, I'd like to reckon that he did.

In fact, although Amazing Spider-Man #258 and #259 at first appear to run on, not only does the weather clear-up between issues, but Peter's and Mary Jane's clothes change too. From this we can deduce that the two issues are actually set on different days, leaving time for Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #96, which is even set at night, to take place in-between. Since page 10 of this issue also cuts away to Mary Jane reflecting upon Pete having told her about Flash Thompson and Sha Shan's problems, which we haven't seen him tell her, we can suppose that this conversation took place before she left the first time.

(I would like to suppose that his fourth-wall recap above was also spoken to Mary Jane, but that just makes my brain hurt)

Peter could also just feel nostalgic both times that he re-dons his old red-and-blue costume again. After all, despite the implication in both scenes, he never explicitly states that either occasion is actually the first time he's dug the old costume out.

In other words, while the strips contain strong evidence of inconsistency, they stop just short of being definitely inconsistent. There are enough signposts there that they can work, and since the rest of the writing in all these issues is so strong, that's enough.

Even better, Marvel would routinely encourage readers to write-in with perceived continuity-slips, together with suggested explanations for them, dangling the carrot of winning an honourary "no-prize".

I'm not saying any of this to subtract from Jim Shooter's quality of work. The obvious love this guy had for his subject didn't make the issues of this era perfect, but it did make them enthralling enough that we could overlook their shortcomings, and still feel enthusiastic about the storytelling as a whole.


(with thanks to Herschel)


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