Friday, 25 October 2013

The Exploitation of Dr. Doom and Spider-Man

When I reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man #4, I compared the recent Spidey story lines to wrestling matches in that they are essentially pair ups of outrageous characters going up against a no-holds-barred vigilante. Up until then this thematic had worked to create great comic yarns. This time, it did not and this failure is surprising. It is surprising because the antagonist chosen is the well established, fan favourite, Dr. Doom. This issue proves that action for the sake of action, while superficially entertaining, ends up being empty when the reader wises up to the scheme. 

In September 1963 Marvel was crossover mad. They had just risked it all by teaming up mediocre solo performing lines like Thor, Ant-Man and Iron-Man into the Marvel answer to the Justice League: The Avengers. Spider-Man was not invited to that party as his line was the top selling title. This popularity was astounding considering lines like Fantastic Four and Journey Into Mystery had triple the amount of stories and The Amazing Spider-Man was comparatively young. Spider-Man struck a core with readers. To capitalize on that popularity, Stan Lee thought it a good idea to combine the most popular villain (at the time) with the most popular superhero. The stunt makes sense on paper but when reading through the issue it doesn’t pan out. Probably, because the exploitation is so transparent. 

The story begins so well! 

Peter Parker is dealing with jibes and barbs from Flash Thompson while we, as the reader, are privy to the knowledge of Pete’s alter-ego. This knowledge touches the part of every nerd’s heart that yearns to be secretly powerful in the face of bullying. Suddenly, an armoured figure appears over a screen, depicting the schoolyard theatre, suggesting that there is something larger then this teenage drama. Dr. Doom is far worse then any bullying red headed, sweater clad, ‘cool guy.’ Alas, that’s the end of plausibility and excitement for this issue because absurd Lee ‘science’ begins from this point on. Doom, wanting to reach out to Spider-Man because he still smarts from the last encounter with the Fantastic Four and needs a friend, uses the energy waves that are supposedly emanated from spiders to contact Spidey. The idea that any character can just tap into an energy to communicate with any creature is absurd! If anybody can do it, then Ant-Man is negated to being just a really small guy. The whole idea smacks of laziness and convention. 

Lee’s laziness continues when he has Doom offer friendship to Peter then turn around and attack him. Doom is many things but unhinged is not one of them. Historically, it is Doom’s logical calculations that have made him a formidable foe. This irrationality is out of character and serves to leave the resulting conflict empty and without tension. These two characters are going through the motions, albeit very entertaining and well drawn motions. Ditko’s artwork far outreaches the work of Jack Kirby and ably constructs a rich, colourful environment. 

Flash’s accidental capture is the most interesting part of this issue.

The Wasted Flash Thompson moment. 
Thompson gets his hands on an identical Spider-Man costume and attempts to ambush the unsuspecting Parker. Flash believes that Pete is the worst type of coward; afraid of literally everything. The ambush fails and he ends up the prisoner of a very inexplicably angry Dr. Doom. Another irrational moment brought to you by a bastardized Dr. Doom. How can an armour clad Dr. Doom capture a neon red spandex wearing superhero in the middle of a New York road without being seen by anybody?  Certainly not a great plan. The only thing missing from the plan is a baby sans lollipop. This mistaken identity could have been a great twist but is never capitalized on.

What a wasted opportunity. Imagine the story possibility with New York thinking that Spider-Man was the jerky red head jock Flash Thompson. The anger that would have overtaken Pete would be legendary. 

There is much criticism against comics as an important medium. Many believe they are empty, sensationally written, pulp literature. We as comic nerds know otherwise, but when hastily written story lines like this come about, it is very difficult to make the case for the literary significance of Superhero comics. Action, while entertaining, means nothing when character is sacrificed for explosions and ‘what if’ scenarios. What a shame that the two most legendary and 3 dimensional characters of the Marvel Silver Age were sacrificed to sell a large amount of issues. 

Rating: 2 out of 5

Pros: The Art, Spider-Man’s sardonic quips to a rarely tested Dr. Doom and canonicity. 

Cons: Improbable and poorly thought out motivation. Questionable logic. Dr. Doom’s out of character irrationality without explanation. The coincidental nature of the whole issue. 

 Upcoming Review: “The Living Bomb” (Strange Tales #112 Sept 1963)

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