Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Writer / Script: Peter David
Artist: Bob McLeod (#113)
Pencils: Mark Beachum (#112, 115), Rich Buckler (#116), Dwayne Turner (#117)
Storytelling: Rich Buckler (#117)
Breakdowns: Mike Zeck (#118)

Who among us can keep pencils in order?

I can't, not even those considerately hexagonal ones.

Anyway, as you can see above, I can't keep "Pencils" in order either.

(I'm sorry, I needed an opening)

Pencils, inking, breakdowns, finishes, layouts, art... it's all a bit of a muddle to me. A while back Herschel gave me a vague lesson on their differences in definition, but clearly I'm still a bit blank.

This ignorance is probably the main reason why I can't recognise most of these artists' work when I see it. Alan Davis' masterpieces are pretty spectacular (such as those he did for Captain Britain), but I still get his visuals mixed-up with others'. Basically, in Marvel Comics at any rate, there's never been anyone whose nib-strokes I could positively identify.

Until now.

I shan't dwell on this, but Mark Beachum seems to have a real way with women. In fact, he really seems to enjoy drawing them, no matter how boring, mundane or dull the activities which they happen to be engaged in.

(he draws men well too, but somehow that doesn't notice so much)

For example, in this scene, he has to draw Felicia Hardy putting down the telephone.

Really - this is just the tip of the iceberg. The previous page is filled with that nice Mary Jane lazily getting out of the bath...

Speaking of soapiness, Spider-Man comics often run multiple storylines overlapping with each other, with the result that it can be tricky to figure-out how to group these issues together for review.

For instance, you'll notice that the title of this post misses-out issue #114, as that's a stand-alone story, which I reviewed in isolation in my preceding entry.

Bearing all that in mind, among all the other comings and goings, from these six issues there are two distinct story-arcs that emerge...

Storyline A: The Black Cat Returns And Loses Her Powers

After putting down the phone, undressing, putting-on her skin-tight costume and waving her butt around town rather alot, the Black Cat eventually crosses the path of her ex-boyfriend Peter Parker.

Or, more accurately, he crosses hers.

Now our boy Parker has some pretty poor fortunes at the best of times - it's part of what makes his character tick. Lately however things have been going even worse than usual. Well, they would have done if this particular storyline has been foreshadowed a little better, but I digress.

In #115 (again pencilled by Beachum) Parker manages to screw-up yet another assignment for his boss Kate Cushing. She gets some great lines in this issue.

Kate: "Parker, for as long as I've been the Bugle's City Editor, you've been worse than useless."

Kate: "...don't screw up. Pretend you're a pro photographer -- like Lance Bannon."

Kate: "What did you do, flag down a tortoise and crawl over there?"

Peter: (thinks)"Now I know Flash isn't the Hobgoblin. Cushing is."

Then, suddenly, out of nowhere, on page 14, the best Spider-Man scene ever happens.

Depressed after all his tribulations, Peter sits dejectedly alone and begins to toss a coin, determined to comfort himself with some sort of good fortune. It's a fifty-fifty chance, right? As he puts it himself, that's better than his odds of ever selling a photo to Kate Cushing.

So he calls heads, and of course it's tails.

So he tries again, and he's wrong again. And again. And again. And again.

By the time he eventually gives-up, he's been wrong 179 times straight, with seven different coins.

Something intangible has been insidiously working its way into his life. That moment of realisation is awesome.

And, even better, that means it's time to call-in the always amusing Doctor Strange.

A year earlier, author Peter David was writing alot of very funny Spidey-stories. Fortunately he was smart enough not to pigeon-hole himself, and by this era he seems to have settled on penning some very dark tales, broken-up with comedy.

So here's his other, darker, plotline:

Storyline B: Alexander Woolcot

Alexander is a child with a huge problem.

His dad hits him.

So much so that one of his teachers sees the bruises and files a lawsuit for child abuse against the parent.

It's obviously a very tragic topic, and maybe in part written to hook-in and breach the subject with kids in similarly unhappy home situations.

However this is also a Marvel Comic, so Alexander's dad happens to be a scientist, who devises a machine that malfunctions while he's out of the room and accidentally gives Alex super-powers.

It's the kind of crazy plot-device that usually makes the world a much more lively and enjoyable place, if only for the reader. Here however, the first time Alex uses his cool new abilities, he accidentally murders his father.

In any other situation, Alex's next immediate thought might sound like a joke, but the context here is so heavy that I guess it's the first thing that many distraught kids would think.

"Oh, geez, Mom's gonna kill me."

Alex runs away. His overwrought mother, trying to distract herself from her family's sudden unexplained absence, cleans his bedroom, obliviously vacuuming-up her husband's ashen remains.

On the street, Alex is nearly abducted by creepy old men, but he escapes. By spontaneously combusting their car. And accidentally blowing-up the nearby electricity station. Causing a major city-wide power-cut.

By the end of these six issues, Spider-Man finds he's fighting a battle on two fronts. What had begun as an item for the Daily Bugle about child abuse, has now ballooned into a pitched battle between the military (SHIELD) and one petrified little kid.

Both are using attack as their only means of defence, not against their opponent, but against what they fear their opponent will do to them.

Stuck in the middle, Spider-Man has to

a) stop the army killing Alexander,
b) stop Alexander killing the army,
c) stop both of them from killing him, and
d) stop both of them from hurting any of the surrounding civilians caught in the crossfire.

Another galling scene features SHIELD sending out a huge laser-powered robot to attack Alex. Forced to defend himself, our scared young protagonist makes mincemeat of that, but then discovers too late that it wasn't a robot after all. There was a man inside.

Big guilt-trip just got even bigger.

In the final scene, Spider-Man at last gets the kid alone on a roof-top and manages to open a dialogue with him.

Spider-Man: "You shouldn't have run away, Alexander. Everything would have been fine if--"

Alexander: "You don't understand! When I was six they almost sent me to jail for swiping a superball from Woolworths! Two weeks ago, I incinerated my own father! I don't even want to think what they do to you for something like that!"

Spider-Man: "I was afraid that's what happened. I won't lie to you, Alex. You're in big trouble. But let's handle one fiasco at a time."

In a messy, thoroughly unsatisfying conclusion (like life), Spider-Man succeeds in defeating a couple more Mandroids, but SHIELD still manages to shoot Alexander dead.

There is no positive, upbeat ending. Just an unspoken lesson in not letting a terrible situation escalate.


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