First Comics, Second Collection

Hi, everybody!

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to post; I just finished an especially grueling and busy school year. Thanks for being patient!

But now summer break is upon us and I’ll be back at the keyboard for the foreseeable future. I thought I’d start back with another installment of our “First Comics” column.

You see just as I’ve had a hiatus from writing on the blog, there was a hiatus in my comic collecting as well. In the summer of 1976, comic books reached the egregiously high price of 30¢ and I had to finally do a cost/benefit analysis. At the time a paperback novel cost about 75¢ and that was a few hours of entertainment. Two comics were about a half-hour of enjoyment if you don’t count rereading and I stopped buying comics altogether. Cold-turkey you might say.

Fast-Forward to the early part of 1980. In the local 7-11, I noticed a comic cover that was instantly recognizable. “The New Avengers vs. The Old Avengers” it proclaimed! I remembered the cover because I had seen a house ad for Avengers Special #2 in Silver Surfer (1968) #2. Boy, how I wanted to read that! And here it was (well, the first half anyway) reprinted a decade later in Marvel Super Action #16! The 40¢ sticker price now didn’t bother me a bit; I plunked down some coinage and brought my find home.

And it was great! The story was written by Roy Thomas and drawn by the always-excellent Don Heck and Werner Roth. Don had drawn a lot of the Avengers stories I had read when they were reprinted in Marvel Triple Action; this was what a classic Avengers story was supposed to look like. The eye-catching cover was drawn by John Buscema.

The story is classic time-travel tale #3; something has gone wrong with the timeline and our heroes need to set things straight. Still, it’s a disservice to say only that.

So what happens? The Avengers traveled back in time to make sure Bucky actually had been killed in World War II. At the time, he had been.

This creates the opportunity for the Scarlet Centurion (who had been the Pharaoh Rama Tut and later became Kang the Conquerer back in issue #8) to alter the timeline. He encounters the original Avengers and tells them that Earth is threatened by a Cosmic Imbalance caused by an overabundance of superbeings.

There could be a virtual paradise created, the Centurion claims, if the Avengers eliminate them all and they do so, becoming ruthless dictators in the process. He would help make that happen.

In part 2 of the Special (or Marvel Super Action #17), the then-current Avengers search for Dr. Doom’s Time Machine to set things right. It’s been broken into three pieces and so the team splits up to retrieve them on one of those homages to All-Star comics that Roy Thomas does so well; Hawkeye and the Black Panther defeat Iron Man and the Hulk, Captain America manages to take down Thor and Goliath and the Wasp get the better of Giant-Man and the other Wasp. After assembling the time machine, the Avengers defeat the Centurion and (with a quick cameo by the Watcher to explain what’s going on) return the timeline to its normal shape. Everyone involved in the time travel hijinks moves forward with their lives with no memory of what has evidently been dubbed Earth-689 retroactively.

But boy, that was FUN! It made me remember my love of comics! And it might have ended there. I now had a collection of four (count ’em! 4!) comics, Super Action #s 16 and 17 and Amazing Spider-Man #s 185 (because graduating from college is a big deal) and 188 (no idea why probably because the cover was cool). There might be another universe out there where I still own only those four comics. Not in this universe though.

In this universe, I took a trip to the Palm Coast Plaza and visited the Two-On-A-Shelf Bookstore, a used bookshop I visited often. On this particular visit, I found a few brown paper bags filled with comics for 25¢ each.

One was filled with issues of Marvel Tales, from about issue 74 to 105 reprinting issues of Amazing Spider-Man from the 90s through the 120s. What a find, starting with Stan Lee’s final few issues but extending into the Gerry Conway/Ross Andru run! I knew these stories. I loved these stories. In fact, from my first go-round as a collector, I cannot remember a run of stories that I loved more. And now I had the chance to read them all back to back to back. And they held up; every bit as good as I remembered! If you wanted to remind me of how much I loved comics, this was the way to do it and random chance dropped it in my lap.

But what was in the other brown paper sacks? When I returned to Two-On-A-Shelf I found one other bag that interested me.

It contained the first 35 or so issues of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man. These were a lot of fun too! The first three issues were again written by Gerry Conway and Sal Buscema was on the title as penciler for quite a bit longer. “Our Pal Sal” as he was called has become one of my favorite artists over the years. This run introduced me to some things I’d missed over the past few years: White Tiger, Moon Knight, and a team called the Champions to name just a few.

And so I started doing something new. Looking for issues of these titles at the 7-11 and the local newsstands. With fewer than 100 comics to my name, I’d become a collector again, more so in fact than I had ever been. Forty-two years and nearly 20,000 comics later I’m still collecting albeit a bit more slowly than I had been. And I’m still enjoying the books. I still have to wonder about that alternate universe. How different my life might be without those chance encounters with that eye-catching Avengers cover and that paper bag full of Marvel Tales. At the very least there would be a free room in our house and I probably would have never gotten to teach a class on comic books. Probably a lot more different than that though. And though I wonder, I wouldn’t want to make the trade.

When Jonah Learned Peter is Spider-Man

This was initially published in a slightly altered form on Quora.

SpiderMan: Far from home | cameo J. Jonah Jameson ...

I hope everyone who’s planning to see Spider-Man: Far From Home has seen it by now. (If not, Spoiler Alert! Stop reading!) If you have, you know that the mid-credits scene involves J. Jonah Jameson broadcasting Peter’s identity to the world. We won’t know how that will play out until Spider-Man: The Cows Come Home or… Spider-Man: Phone Home or… Spider-Man: Something Else Home (I don’t know the title. I’m just guessing.) but maybe the comics can give us a hint. Maybe not. The MCU is a very different place from Marvel’s mainstream continuity; in particular, it seems far more hostile to secret identities. Let’s check it out anyway, just for fun.

As far as I know, Jonah learned Peter’s secret twice. The first time was in Civil War (2006) #2 and simultaneously in Amazing Spider-Man (1963) #533. To set the stage, Peter had been working with Tony at Stark Enterprises. The universal brouhaha over the Super-Hero Registration Act began with Tony leading the Pro registration forces. He convinces Peter to reveal his identity in a televised press conference as part of the Act’s media strategy.

Jonah watched this on television, it goes more or less the way you’d expect.

So, Jonah’s more hurt than angry, but he’s still angry. He sues Peter for fraud asking for the money he’d paid for photographs of Spider-Man over the years. When Robbie Robertson stands up to Jonah, arguing that the vendetta has gone too far, Jonah fires him.

Of course, Jonah forgets about Peter’s secret identity after it’s magically made secret again in the One More Day storyline.

I don’t believe that Peter would actually reveal his identity on television; he was famously careful about his secret identity and always refused to put his loved ones at risk. Still, the writers laid some groundwork for the decision and the reveal was one of the few compelling things about Civil War.

Back to the topic at hand. Time passes. Jonah has a heart attack, and the Bugle is sold out from under him. He becomes Mayor of New York City; his wife, Marla dies; he is forced out of office and becomes a commentator on The Fact Channel. Meanwhile, Aunt May meets, falls in love with and marries John Jonah Jameson Sr. This makes Jonah and Peter family in a very real sense. Functionally, they’re step-brothers. Not long before Jonah learns Peter’s secret a second time, his father dies, Marla is resurrected and dies again and Jonah is fired from the Fact Channel, after which he begins writing a blog. Also, at some point, his adopted-daughter died. Whew. Comics… am I right?

Spoiler Alert here, by the way. If you haven’t read Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (2017) by Chip Zdarsky, go get the trade paperbacks or track down the back issues or something. It’s great. Especially issue #310 which just won the Eisner Award for Best Single Issue. I’ll wait.

So then, how does the second time that JJJ discovers Peter’s secret come about?

It starts in issue #5 of the aforementioned series; Jonah is on the verge of breaking a big story and needs to talk to Spider-Man. It’s about someone Peter is trying to help and Jonah agrees to share what he knows.

The interview takes up most of issue #6, (which is the other highlight of the series btw). It’s interesting and turns into quite a heart to heart. There are some expected dimensions and some that are less expected, like Peter admitting to Jonah why he became a crimefighter.

And of course, it gets heated.

Eventually, Peter realizes just how miserable Jonah is, “M-my father is dead! My daughter is dead! The Bugle, the only thing worth a damn in the world, has rejected me! My wife is dead! My wife is dead… Interview’s over! I’ve got — got nothing in my life now! You win —”

“You’re not!” I find this far more believable than the incident in Civil War. This action is born out of compassion and maybe a little responsibility. That’s exactly who Peter is.

And it pays off in an unexpected way. Without going into much detail (seriously get it, read it! This is not a paid endorsement!), Peter’s immediately put in danger because of the interview. In the next issue, (number 279 #MarvelMath) he temporarily gets clear and then this happens.

Jonah helps. He knows Peter and very clearly trusts him and on some level, he probably wants to make amends for what he’s done to Peter over the years.

This starts a new dynamic and Jonah becomes a sort of a side-kick, around frequently and determined to help Peter be a better hero. It’s delightful. This is from # 309.

It’s still noticeably Jonah. He’s still headstrong. He’s still sure he’s smarter than Peter. He still fails to think things through carefully. But after almost 60 years, it’s really nice to see a new dynamic between these two characters. I’m a bit disappointed that we haven’t seen more of this in Amazing Spider-Man and Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man, but I hope this is the new status quo for years to come.

References:

Quick Take: Superior Spider-Man (2019)

I read the first issue of the New Superior Spider-Man when it first came out and I wasn’t inspired to invest in the series. Not even Terrax was enough to inspire me to purchase issue 2. But while my car was being serviced, I noticed that the first issue was available on Marvel Unlimited. I decided to give it a second read. It did not get better. The set up is obvious, Dr. Octopus’ mind now resides in a cloned body of Peter Parker, with all of the powers that implies. He’s teaching at Horizon University in San Francisco and trying to be a better hero than Peter. The whole thing has a perfunctory “been there, done that” kind of a feel. It’s the same themes as volume 1 without having Peter’s story to bolster my interest.

The art isn’t superior either; it’s competent, but all the characters look like posed manikins. I’ve seen people talking about how they really like this series and it isn’t terrible. Maybe I’ll return to it in a couple of years, once the entire run is on Marvel Unlimited, but then again, maybe not. I can’t see investing in this series for the individual issues.

Also, do you remember a time when comic book companies tried not to overexpose their characters? In the 1940s Superman, Batman and Flash couldn’t be in the JSA because each had his own book. Similar policies persisted for a long time. But now Peter has two books, Miles, Gwen and Otto have books and there’s something called “Symbiote Spider-Man.” If Marvel isn’t careful, we’ll all have brand fatigue before long.

Bottom Line: