Nostalgia and Hope - Wise Words from Al

I was a month shy of my tenth birthday when Amazing Spider-Man #50 came out and I didn't like the looks of it. The cover said "Spider-Man No More!". I was afraid that this was true. Why not believe it? I had read plenty of other comic series that didn't get near to issue #50 and just stopped showing up on the racks. I didn't know Spider-Man would become an institution. I hadn't read 900 plus issues of the wall-crawler, using up practically every trick in the book. I hadn't seen dozens of stories entitled "[Fill-in-superhero-name-here] No More!"

The story is fairly simple but it had me riveted. Peter Parker has finally had enough of his dual identity and he chucks his Spidey suit into the garbage. It is brought to J. Jonah Jameson by an enthusiastic kid and JJJ takes it on the talk show circuit, then displays it behind glass at his office. Peter tries to live a normal life but the Kingpin has entered the scene. Finally, he must go into action in his civvies. He saves a night watchman who so resembles his late Uncle Ben, that he vividly remembers why he took up crime-fighting to begin with. He retrieves his costume from Jameson's office, much to the publisher's chagrin.

You can say I was naive, but I bought into it all. Halfway through, I was convinced that the world had seen the last of the webhead. In the last panel, when Pete declares that "Spidey's back in action!", I felt exhilerated. Some may suggest that this story would no longer have such effects on readers but I suggest that it would. Give it today to a longtime comic reader and he/she will be entertained. Give it to a ten year old kid and he/she will believe it and worry over it and get exhilerated by it, just as I did over 30 years ago. Why am I convinced that this is so? Because, this is an example of a good story; a dramatic super-hero yarn with high stakes and great characters and wonderful visuals. (The full-page Romita drawing of the Spidey suit in the garbage with Peter walking away is a classic.) It is not part of a massive crossover or a long convoluted storyline. It has no holo-cover. It isn't double-sized. It's just one heck of a good read.

Now, let's jump ahead to the present. John Byrne is about to kick off his revamp of Spidey at the time of this writing. A "Legends of the Dark Knight"-style book will begin. Howard Mackie will write both "Amazing" and "Peter Parker" with Byrne and Romita Jr. doing pencils.

If they want to use recent issues as their models, here's what stands out. In "Sensational", Todd DeZago scored highest with single issue tales like his Sandman/Hydro-Man piece and his "Rhino on the rampage" story. In "Amazing", Tom DeFalco shone with his final issues featuring Synario and the archeologists of the future after months of boring us with the convoluted Black Tarantula/Delilah/Rose fiasco (It takes more than a writer's say-so to convince me that a loser like the Black Tarantula can beat Spider-Man so easily.) Howard Mackie's best work in "Peter Parker" was the Identity Crisis tales of Dusk and his alliance with the Trapster. The open-ended story of Shoc and the much-hyped "Peter and Norman in the elevator" were mostly disappointments. In "Spectacular", J.M. DeMatteis' scored repeatedly with his Chameleon, Norman Osborn, and Kraven pieces but missed the mark with Jack O'Lantern and Conundrum which got buried under the weight of its own mystery.

At the risk of stating the obvious, the thing that separates the good stories mentioned above from the puny ones is plot, thought, character and imagination. When your plot is "Who is the Rose this time?", it will never improve no matter how many issues you devote to it. But one imaginative tale of future-folk piecing together the life of Spider-Man will satisfy in the short amount of time it takes to tell it. This is not to say that a multi-issue storyline cannot be effective but, as can be seen with the Jack O'Lantern, extended plotlines, unresolved mysteries tend to hamper plot and character more than they add to them.

So, my advice to John Byrne, John Romita, and Howard Mackie is, "Don't worry about big changes, big revelations, big hyped up events, extended mysteries. Just give us solid stories with striking visuals. And read Amazing Spider-Man #50 again, to see how it can be done. Everyone will be excited by it, I promise you.