Two changes of opinion

February 9, 2008

By Avi Green

In this commentary column, I will be fixing a foolish opinion I once had regarding two comic books that the Scripps-Howard comics columnist Andrew Smith, who writes the “Captain Comics” column for them as well as the “Dear Captain” column for Comics Buyer’s Guide, once spoke of and which, at one point, influenced my opinions too.

The two items in question here are The Flash #133 Vol 1, December 1962, and Amazing Spider-Man #149, October 1975. His opinions on them were negative, and reading his retrospective entries on them on his erstwhile website that he ran from 1997-2001, which he listed under “silly moments in comics history”, I think I was really taken in the wrong way because of how, well, silly he made them sound! But today, whenever I think about those things and analyze the story structures, I don’t think they’re as bad as he seems intent, in all his left-liberalism, to think.

So first, the first of these stories, which was called “Plight of the Puppet Flash!” He seemed to think it was a dud simply because the plot had Abra-Kadabra, the mad magician from the 64th century, turning our hero, the Scarlet Speedster, into a puppet. He thought it was absurd that the hero could actually still think even after being turned into wood, and went on say, “which begs the question: what are you thinking with, oak-for-brains?” Rest assured, I’ve got the simple answer to our befuddled journalist’s confusion of yore: the very same thing that Carlo Collodi’s classic creation, Pinocchio, was! I also vaguely remember reading a children’s book years ago (It was titled Sylvester and The Magic Pebble, and written by William Steig) about a character who found a magic wishing stone, and at one point accidentally turned himself into a rock with it; not a very pleasant way to spend his time out in the country before his family came along and had a picnic on top of him and fortunately placed the wishing stone in a spot where he could wish himself back to normal properly! They were quite relieved to find him again, as he was to be his own regular self again too.

And that’s more or less the kind of places where John Broome, who’d written that old Silver Age classic, drew inspiration from. So let me get this straight: Mr. Smith cannot appreciate the fact that, during the Silver Age anyway, stories like that were aimed primarily at children, and drew some of their ideas from various other books and stories for children too? Gee whiz, and to think I wondered why comics stumbled so badly by now. Because some people these days, it seems, cannot show the same appreciation for comics that they do for regular children’s books!

I think that’s an awfully foolish tack to act as though comic books must be flat-out different in every way from standard children’s books. If they do, is it any wonder that almost no children might be encouraged to read comics again?

And, to use an argument that left-wing journalists might, it’s only comics, for heaven’s sake! Those leftists tell us rightists things like that whenever we’re concerned, so maybe now’s the time for them to start considering their own arguments at their end too! Howzabout it, eh?

I first got to look at some pages and panels from The Flash #133 on an old website once hosted on FortuneCity, that's since expired, and let me say that for a story written during the Silver Age, it was actually pretty good! Certainly not the travesty Mr. Smith was arguing it was, or making it out to be. I guess I got taken in by a leftist reporter, what else? He was clever at making it sound dopey and silly in the wrong way, but upon seeing some of this decidedly worthwhile storyline, I discovered it was not the dud he was making it out to be. On the contrary, it was actually quite engaging.

With that in mind, it’s a wonder he didn’t nominate 1967’s disastrous Mopee story as one of his silly moments instead. That story WAS an embarrassment, with a goofy little angel turning to the Flash and arguing that he gave the Scarlet Speedster his powers by accident, and while it may not leave the same bad taste in one’s mouth as some of the garbage coming out of DC Comics today, it’s still pretty appalling.

Now, let’s go to the next item, which would be ASM #149. The title of the story “Even if I live, I die!” may be silly, but the story itself, having looked at a couple of panels from that old story from the Bronze Age, wasn’t as bad as Mr. Smith seemed to think.

The story had what to do with Gwen Stacy’s seeming return from the dead, though it was really just a clone, (or, as possibly later established, a lookalike imposter). The story as culminating in the 1975 issue of Spidey’s book had what to do with the Jackal’s plot to antagonize Spidey and muddle up his mind by cloning him, and also to put Ned Leeds in danger of a bomb from which Spider-Man needed to rescue him.

Upon pondering how the story turned out, I will admit that the fight that ensued between Spidey and the clone wasn't that well written, but it certainly wasn't as bad as Mr. Smith seemed to think it was either. And I can certainly say this: the real Spidey would not have concerned himself with the clone, and would've made trying to save Ned a priority, which provides a good guess about why that fight might've taken place.

Also, let us note that Spidey's sensory abilities have never been consistently portrayed, and it wouldn't surprise me if the Green Goblin's little chemical plot on Spidey that temporarily nullified his power in issues #39-40 may have caused it to act all but accurately in later years.

Actually, what I found strange about Mr. Smith’s take on the whole issue was that he seemed to dislike the story because later writers, such as Terry Kavanaugh, used this in order to come up with the awful Clone Saga. Yeah, I know, it’s easy, isn’t it, to resent the story because of what it may or may not have led to. But honestly, how were Gerry Conway and company supposed to know what would happen almost two decades later?

Yeah, okay, so what happened in issue #150, when Peter threw away the test results he'd sought in order to determine if he was the real Spidey, without even reading them, was pretty clumsy. But in fairness, who then could or would've guessed that their actions would end up being exploited as cynically as they were years later? And that's why the part where Peter discarded the test notes without reading them because he felt that his feelings towards MJ were genuine isn't as bad it might sound, because the writers then had no idea what was to come in the future.

As bad as the Clone Saga is, and I wouldn’t dare to plunk down any money on the back issues or even a Marvel Omnibus that was recently published, I don’t think it’d be a good idea to let it influence my opinion of some of the older stories. And that’s why, as of today, I have thus modified my opinion so that, as of today, in a case like this, I consider the later writers guilty of exploiting/screwing things up to suit their awful purposes.

If you find the old story crummy, that’s one thing. But don’t let your opinion of what came later influence it that easily. And I’m not going to do that. Besides, how can you disapprove of say, a charming ending where Peter meets MJ for a happy evening together?

Did Capt. Comics’ opinions stem from his left-liberal viewpoint? Or, more precisely, is that what influenced him? I don’t know, and it’s possible that even the whole idea that leftism has anything to do with this is exaggerated at best. But maybe it’s because of how more and more conservative my own viewpoint today becomes, I feel compelled to wonder.

If anything, Gerry Conway, as the writer of the 1975 story, is not at fault here. It is, rather, the fault of the writers who came along later in 1994 and really messed things up but good. And that’s where the main focus should be – what the succeeding writers did wrong.

Otherwise, how will we really make things better when they get really messed up?

The destruction of the Spider-Marriage

And while we're on the subject, some of those reading this may know that, as of now, Joe Quesada has destroyed the Spider-Marriage and as many as 2 decades of history for the wall-crawler. I've dealt with this subject as best as I could over on my comics blog, and as a Spider-Fan for many years, I can't even begin to tell how absolutely disgusting and devastating this is.

My hope is that now, those who claim to be Marvel fans will start to wake up, and even grow up, and understand that their continued willingness to buy the Spider-Man series regardless of story quality only enables Quesada and anyone else at Marvel who shares his destructive notion of how Spidey should be dealt with to justify their actions.

All these years, I've been mystified to no end how some people can fall prey to this addiction thing, where they buy comics of all sorts as part of something that has nothing to do with whether the given story is well-written or not. That's something that has to change sooner or later. Hardcore addiction is something I've grown to be horrified at, since this is pretty much what's helped to destroy comics quality by now, even if the general audience by now has been reduced to but a shadow of itself.

Blind, mindless addiction to serial fiction is something that needs to stop. Otherwise, nothing will be made better and only disaster will come of it.

Copyright 2008 Avi Green. All rights reserved.

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