Welcome to Spider-Man Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers were asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Kirk Longuski, who chose number 242 for the roulette!
Content warning: this essay discusses the loss of a child.
Oh no, more Tom DeFalco and Steve Skroce comics. If you remember, these are some of my least-favourite Spider-Man stories, delivered by a creative team whose work feels distinctly out of date and behind the times. Spider-Man as a concept is something which generally speaking hasn’t dated – but the individual stories absolutely have. There are so many decades in the character’s history now that it would be impossible for everything about him to be timeless, but usually it’s the case that the stories by-and-large work out okay, aside from a few references and old-fashioned technology. Not so here.
Everything about the DeFalco/Skroce dynamic feels old-timey even now, regardless of what time it’s meant to be set in. There are only a few references (George Clooney is still on ER!) which are actually out of date: more, it’s the presentation of the comic here which is what feels so out-of-touch. At this point, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson(-Parker? They’re married, but I’m not sure I can see her changing her name) are living in her Aunt’s house. Peter is still a freelance photographer, whilst it’s unclear what exactly Mary Jane does with her time. Everything runs through Peter, here – the Daily Bugle is used to set up the current enemies, who are a series of weird off-brand gangsters who are in some kind of turf war which is dragging everybody else in by the scruff of the neck. Mary-Jane’s perspective doesn’t really come into it at all.
It’s a little strange, because the comic repeatedly mentions that she’s just lost her pregnancy, showing her here repainting the bedroom which was going to be for their child. After taking a quick look into this, it turns out that this happened literally one issue ago. She went into hospital after going into labour, and then the baby didn’t have a pulse – last issue, all of it. This issue, she’s back in a tight t-shirt and showing off her midriff, painting over the nursery as if it’s all just a minor inconvenience. It’s utterly poor. Peter, meanwhile, is still off doing his Spider-Man routine without really changing anything to consider the fact that his child was stillborn. They’ve already moved on almost completely.
The whole thing comes across as incredibly callous. Presumably there was an editorial mandate which decided that Peter Parker couldn’t be both married and a father, and that the child couldn’t exist as a character moving forward. But for one issue to pass between the death of the child and Spider-Man happily going back out on patrol and cracking bad jokes at criminals feels like a massive mistake – if the idea is that the child couldn’t be an ongoing character in this comic book, then Marvel’s editorial should have realised earlier and made the story feel more authentic and true. Spider-Man and Mary Jane just go straight into acceptance of the loss rather than feel any of the other stages of grief.
They’re more annoyed that living with MJ’s aunt means they can’t have sex – although they do a few panels later – than by the death of their child. Once you realise the context of their loss, the rest of the issue flies off into absolute, complete madness. Peter heads off on missions, pals around with Ben Urich and the rest of his office, and shows no sign whatsoever of the grief he needs to be feeling right here. He swings straight into a warzone without thinking “my wife would be left totally alone if I died tonight”. Mary Jane decides she’s going to head back into college to do something different with her life – that could absolutely be something which springs out of last issue, but here it’s actually primarily represented as a way to change Peter’s status quo rather than her own. Peter asks for a syllabus so he can look into getting back into science; meanwhile, we have absolutely no idea what course Mary Jane even wants to go on.
It doesn’t help that the superhero side of the story feels childish and silly, depicted in grand exaggerated style by Skroce’s Bagley-esque character work. Skroce gives everyone a caricature for a face: big eyebrows, big noses, silly ears, and so on, which only serves to make this all feel like a caper rather than a superhero storyline which is meant to have important and interesting stakes. The villains here parody themselves, all twelve-pack abs and boob windows, rendering them cartoonish and irrelevant. Nobody here seems to have any weight at all, which makes it very hard to write about them. There’s nothing to grasp onto! There’s an unseen big boss, his nerdy underling, his big brute thug, and a woman in lycra. It’s something we’ve seen countless times before, but this time done without any kind of style. It’s generic, ultimately, and that’s just not acceptable considering what the creative team just did to the lead characters.
It’s not just the editorial mandate which has wrecked the series entirely: it’s a creative team who don’t seem to have any kind of grounding at all. I hope to god I don’t have to do any more comics from this time period as the roulette continues..
Amazing Spider-Man #419: Beware The Black Tarantula!
Written by Tom DeFalco
Drawn by Steve Skroce
Inked by Bud LaRosa
Coloured by Bob Sharen
Lettered by Richard Starkings and Comicraft
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