The Small Lebowski:
Amazing Spider-Man #368-373
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man #368, Amazing Spider-Man #369, Amazing Spider-Man #370, Amazing Spider-Man #371, Amazing Spider-Man #372, Amazing Spider-Man #373
The Slayers are sent by Alistair Smythe, who has revamped himself quite a bit, now looking like the version that will appear in the 1994 Spider-Man cartoon show.
To help build the Spider-Slayers, Smythe has kidnapped a group of patients from the mental hospital where he had been staying.
The patients were i guess all robotics experts themselves. One is Max Young, former assistant to Mendel Stromm, the guy that sent robots after Spider-Man in Amazing Spider-Man #37.
Spider-Man punches Smythe out after getting angry because Smythe killed one of the patients. Smythe had been keeping track of Spider-Man with little robot spiders placed all over the city. Spider-Man goes to the Avengers for help tracking down and destroying all the trackers after Smythe is defeated (none of the Avengers are shown on panel or mentioned by name).
As far as bi-weekly Spider-Man events go, it's not as eventful or guest-star laden as, say, the Assassin Nation Plot or The Return of the Sinister Six. But it's a decent mindless adventure story. The problem is that it feels like the Spider-Man books have been nothing but mindless lately. It's known that David Michelinie had basically checked out at this point. He's said it's because he wasn't getting along with editor Danny Fingeroth, but i kind of suspect that working with Todd McFarlane and Erik Larsen kind of broke him, and the idea of plotting anything complex stopped seeming worth it, even though he's with Mark Bagley now. Similarly, the only focus Michelinie provides on Spider-Man's supporting cast is an endless barrage of scenes showing Mary Jane smoking.
That's basically what passes for character development in this arc (and in the series generally at this time). Part of the problem is that space devoted to character development is instead given to the "mystery" of Peter Parker's parents, a concept i couldn't have gotten invested in even if i didn't know that neither Michelinie or Fingeroth had decided where it was going. So all we're doing is going from one fluffy adventure story to another, and all of the focus on supporting cast subplots that used to be a hallmark of this series is basically abandoned.
And it's worth realizing that we're at a time when there are four Spider-Man books, at least three of which are creatively bankrupt. The exception is J.M. DeMatteis' Spectacular Spider-Man. I'm not always a fan of DeMatteis' writing, but there's no doubt that he is a serious writer, and he's given Spectacular a purpose by doing psychological profiles of various Spider-Man villains. But this book is adrift. The adjectiveless Spider-Man, originally created for Todd McFarlane, has no reason for being since McFarlane's replacement Erik Larsen left. And Web of Spider-Man under Howard Mackie... well, after the debacle of Name of the Rose, it's felt like a book that's been treading water between guest stars and crossovers. Considering the circumstances, when Marvel just didn't seem to know what to do with Spider-Man, someone ought to have reconsidered putting this book on a bi-weekly status. No one was suffering from a lack of Spider-Man comics. We were, in fact, suffering from too many.
Then, to top it off, the main story in these issues are reduced to 16 pages a chapter, with the rest given to scenes of Aunt May flashing back to her childhood or Mary Jane delivering an internal monologue about her marriage, all by writers (including Al Milgrom!) that were not the regular writer on the book and so it's unlikely that anything we see has much relevance (as an example, we saw in a previous back-up that Aunt May has realized that Spider-Man has been helping her all these years, but in this story she's scripted to call him "a rascal some people call hero").
One thing that kind of spoils the dumb fun of the main story is the return of the Black Cat. After being unable to help Spider-Man during one of the Spider-Slayer attacks, she goes to the Tinkerer and gets powers. This include some devices in her ears that help with balance, contact lenses that improve her vision (making it possible to spot those Spider-Trackers), super-strength, and claws.
One of my first comics was Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #89, which had Black Cat going everywhere she could think of to get super-powers, and hitting dead ends everwhere until she was given an opportunity to make a Faustian deal with the Kingpin thanks to a process that we were assured was a one-time only possibility. In this story, the Black Cat just goes to the store and picks up a few gadgets, and she's more powerful than ever before. You could argue that this reflects changes in the Marvel universe: the proliferation of such technology has increased, the Tinkerer himself seems more active than he used to be, and the Black Cat has been in the super-world longer and now knows where to go. But it still feels cheap to me.
But even worse is the Black Cat's new costume.
The Black Cat's neckline has been getting progressively deeper but it's just gotten ridiculous here. It's not even sexy anymore; it just looks stupid. Not to mention unwieldy in action scenarios. How does it stay on?
The Black Cat's original costume was a skin tight cat suit. That's plenty sexy, and it should have been enough. It's worth noting that her new costume was clearly too embarrassing for the covers.
The final back-up is by Michelinie, and that's because it's a set-up for the next arc, with Venom escaping from a holding cell while he was awaiting transfer to the Vault.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Venom was being held in a building awaiting transfer to the Vault after the Spirits of Venom crossover. So Spider-Man Special Edition #1 (the Trial of Venom) should not take place between the Spirits of Venom and this issue, since it takes place at the Vault. Venom's attack happens the day after he escapes here, so i'll cover it in a separate arc that shouldn't be placed too far from this one. But since that arc has been pushed forward in publication time, this one has to go with it. See the next entry's Considerations for more. Black Cat gets her powers back and a new costume here, so she shouldn't appear elsewhere with that costume first.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showAlistair Smythe, Aunt May, Ben Urich, Black Cat, Eddie Brock (Venom), Electro, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson, Joe 'Robbie' Robertson, Liz Allan, Mary Jane Watson, Mary Parker Duplicate, Max Young, Richard Parker Duplicate, Scorpion, Spider-Man, Tinkerer, Venom Symbiote
I agree with fnord that the Spider-books, with the exception of DeMatteis' Spectacular, seemed to lack focus at this point. They would largely continue in this fashion until the buildup to the Clone Saga, which, despite its eventual failings, at least managed to get a consistent narrative going in the books again. I guess Peter's "parents" could be considered a bridge between these two periods.
Amazing Spider-Man #371 was also among my first comic books, purchased by my mother at a convenience store while on a road trip. My cousin and I sat in the back of the van reading it to one another. I can't remember if this issue or Spectacular #199 were my actual first comic, but I'm inclined to say the latter even though this one has an earlier cover date.
Posted by: TCP | May 3, 2016 1:54 PM
Well, the Tinkerer obviously formulated special fashion tape, Fnord. Please send my No-Prize to...no?
Posted by: Cecil | May 3, 2016 3:42 PM
The scene of Venom killing the guard terrified me as a kid (and still freaks me out now).
Posted by: Thanos6 | May 3, 2016 4:14 PM
Of course, part of how the buildup to the Clone Saga "got a consistent narrative going in the books again" would be to effectively turn them into two biweekly, and soon one weekly, book with four different creative teams but, as the Clone Saga ground on, no actual flexibility in creative direction.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | May 3, 2016 6:38 PM
One thing to note about the backup story featuring Harry and Liz- Liz thinks that Harry knows something about the return of Peter's parents, which eventually becomes important (although Fingeroth probably had no clue what he was going to do with that when he had it thrown in).
Posted by: Michael | May 3, 2016 7:55 PM
I agree about the quality. I had always considered David Michelinie to be one of the above average writers at Marvel who sometimes approached greatness. There is good craft here, but the stories are underwhelming. I have to wonder how much editorial interference/direction was being given. I know these were big sellers at the time, I find this part of his run to be utterly uninteresting.
Posted by: Chris | May 3, 2016 10:35 PM
The Black Cat's costume that's introduced in these issues is ridiculous. If it was any more low-cut we'd be able to see if platinum blonde is Felicia's natural hair color :)
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 10, 2016 11:28 PM
Comics Should Be Good recently did a feature on the backup story in issue 370 and how it implied that May never had kids because of her own cruel mother, which seemed to contradict the earlier implication in Roger Stern's run that she "lost" a child:
Posted by: Michael | June 24, 2016 8:20 AM
Michael, we all know that May is just covering up for the "Linda Brown" incident.
Posted by: TCP | June 24, 2016 11:20 AM
I love how the covers of all these issues try to make us care about the parents mystery. The one fnord links in the Black Cat section ("More tantalizing CLUES about Spider-Man's parents!") is especially hilarious to me.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | April 10, 2017 5:55 PM
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