Characters Appearing: Spider-Man
Issue(s): Spider-Man #27, Spider-Man #28
Despite being creator driven, there are, of course, differences between these stories and the McFarlane/Larsen period. For one thing, McFarlane and Larsen's runs were meant to be on-going (even if Larsen's, in practice, was only one story), whereas these stories by Don McGregor, Ann Nocenti, and Steven Grant are meant to be standalone engagements. More notably, McFarlane and Larsen for better or worse represented the future of the industry, whereas these writers are part of the old guard. In that sense, their stories would have fit very well alongside the original stories in Marvel Comics Presents, like Doug Moench's returns to Master of Kung Fu and Man-Thing, or McGregor's Black Panther epic. Here, if this book still retained an audience from the McFarlane/Larsen days, i think it would find these stories decidedly dated. The cover of issue #27 claims that this story was "Destined to be the most talked about Spider-saga of the year". In reality, in the days of symbiotes, doppelgangers, and goblins in the other Spider-books, i don't think this one made a blip. Part of me is sad about that, because McGregor is a writer that i like, and a calmer issue-based story like this could have been a nice antidote to the hyperactive stuff going on elsewhere.
But at the same time it doesn't feel like McGregor really "gets" Spider-Man (as i'll show below). And i've never been too enthused about "message" issues. Bill Mantlo and Tom DeFalco did one about guns in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #71, and this is better than that in some ways but it's still covering the same ground. I guess the fact that it is covering the same ground a decade later says something in and of itself.
In typical McGregor fashion, the book opens with Spider-Man delivering a nearly page-long internal tribute to the old fashioned water towers in New York.
It has nothing to do with the rest of the story, but that is McGregor for you, always adding these additional streams of narration.
Spider-Man is actually on the scene to scope out a gun deal that he overheard one of the participants talk about while at the deli. The deal is going down between Nutcase Walker, a crack dealer with a pair of lookouts, and a twelve year old kid, Greg Kramer, that sells crack for Nutcase at a local school. Greg wants the gun for protection since he's moving up in the world. But the focus of the story is actually another twelve year old named Elmo Oliver. The kid is bullied in school and lives in a bit of a dream world. He's currently taken to emulating Robo-Cop (in the next issue, it's called Cybo-Cop; i don't know if that was for belated copyright reasons. Marvel did publish the Robocop comic for a while, but that ended in early 1992).
Elmo's vision of school in general is not very pleasant...
...but his immediate problem is a bully named Cavendish.
When Greg shows up to buy the gun from Nutcase, and Spider-Man sees that Nutcase actually has the gun on him, he tries to swoop down to stop the sale. But Spider-Man is spotted by one of the lookouts, and things escalate. You have to love that McGregor's idea of writing quips for Spidey is having him quote from Shane.
Then we've got the miles long internal monologue from a random beat-cop.
I don't mind all of that, but one way in which i think McGregor doesn't get Spidey is that it takes for-ev-er for Spidey to deal with one guy with a gun, all while one of the lookouts is engaged in a deadly shoot-out with the cop.
I could see this kind of thing working with McGregor's version of Black Panther, or a non-powered street level hero. But Spider-Man is super-strong, super-agile, has a spider-sense, and can shoot webs. He should be able to take out a single gunman pretty quickly.
Note the lines about what type of weapon the cop gets and how he has to account for each bullet. This story was written in consultation with some police officers and fire marshals, and i'm sure that's a gripe that McGregor heard from them.
The cop gets shot, but Spider-Man finally manages to deal with his opponent. He then heads over to the sounds of the other shootout. While he's doing that, he notices Elmo going for one of the dropped guns. He shouts at Elmo to not take it, but he has to go help the cop. Spidey does manage to stop the other shooter and save the cop. But he's too late to stop Elmo from taking the gun.
One of the weirder moments that definitely doesn't feel like a Spider-Man moment happens when Spidey is still in the street, hoping that the gun is actually laying around somewhere and Elmo didn't take it. An ambulance comes rushing down the road, and Spider-Man jumps out of the way but lands in front of a biker that was hitching a ride with the ambulance. The cyclist is forced onto the sidewalk, where he crashes into a pedestrian. Spider-Man then gets into an altercation with the biker.
Spider-Man seems similarly too passive-aggressive when he goes to Elmo's school, seeking an audience with the principal so that they can locate the kid that took the gun.
Spider-Man could have de-escalated that from the start just by quietly telling the hall monitor that he saw a student bring in a gun, but he really does act like a "punk".
In other areas, McGregor shows tons of nuance. He delves into each character, not just leaving Cavendish a generic bully and showing that the remaining lookout, Rags, had reasons for getting into crime.
Spider-Man eventually determines which kid took the gun. He can't locate Elmo, so he goes to his parents' house and learns that he'll probably be at the playground confronting Cavendish.
Spider-Man arrives and tries talking Elmo down. He's interrupted by Rags, who is trying to get the gun back. In the confusion, Elmo shoots. Spidey dodges the bullet, but it makes Elmo realize that the gun is dangerous.
Things end very abruptly after that. It feels like the story could have used a few more pages just to conclude everyone's character arcs. Elmo agrees that guns are dangerous, Spider-Man tells him that he shouldn't give up his imagination, and it's over. I guess i would have liked more with Cavendish or Rags after McGregor gave us a little of their background, but i suppose i should have realized that not everything McGregor puts in the script turns out to be neatly relevant.
There's a lot about this that is very well written, although, as i said, it doesn't feel like it was written for Spider-Man specifically. But even though it's mostly well written, it still has an After School Special quality to it.
I talked a lot about this story as a vehicle for the writer, but of course Marshall Rogers is the artist, and he's a pretty big name in his own right. This doesn't feel like a spotlight for him. He does fine work that would have fit well as house style Marvel in the 80s. After seeing his cosmic stuff in Silver Surfer, this story was a bit of a letdown artwise, and that was probably inevitable given the setting and plot. As i said above, if you had this book on your pull list because of McFarlane and Larsen, this probably is not what you were looking for. For me, since i'm reading everything and am a fan of McGregor, it's a nice change of pace, but even i wouldn't want too much of this.
Quality Rating: C+
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
fnord, if the ending seems abrupt it may be because there was apparently some editorial interference. A couple of years ago Don McGregor posted the following on Facebook about this story...
An arson inspector friend of mine took my son, Rob McGregor and I to a gun range in the Bronx so we could use the guns. Rob was the age of the young boy in the story. And there's a lot of behind the scenes stories with this, as well. How it almost became the first Spider-Man graphic novel? Then how it turned into a two-parter. And then, when it was finished, written, drawn, lettered, Danny Fingeroth came in and proved the old adage, "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." And weakened the story I had spent months researching, and over-riding Jim Salicrup. Still, I'm proud of the story, and what I hoped to do with it, and thank Jim for believing in it. Lots of stories behind this. When I write the book. In the meantime, let me know what you thought of "There's Something About A Gun."
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 11, 2016 5:11 PM
I sincerely doubt that this was supposed to be the first Spider-Man graphic novel. Hooky was the first Spider-Man graphic novel and it was cover dated August 1986. McGregor didn't return to Marvel until after Shooter left in 1987. It might have been intended to come out before Parallel Lives in 1989, though.
Posted by: Michael | May 11, 2016 8:55 PM
My god is the art terrible. The pencils are bland, the inks are worse and there's little to no definition or contour shading. Even Golden Age books had shading. It's a decent story, but the art really makes it suffer.
Posted by: Darren Hood | May 11, 2016 9:08 PM
Marshall Rogers was often a good artist, but at other times the quality of his work was variable. This is story is unfortunately not what I would count among his best. It's too bad that Terry Austin wasn't available to ink him. I always enjoyed their collaborations.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 11, 2016 9:43 PM
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