Monday, June 04, 2007

The Alien Costume Part 2: Paint It Black! (Marvel comics)
Spider-man Adventures #9 When: August 1995
Why: Nel Yomtov, Brynne Stephens & John Semper How: Alex Saviuk

The story so far...
John Jameson, son of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah, was preparing to make a heroes return from an exploratory mission to space, when things went awry.
The discovery of a powerful dormant nuclear material called "Prometheum X" earned the mission much attention, but when the material appears to ooze an oily substance, the astronauts make a crash landing in New York City.

The evacuated area is ripe for the picking, as Rhino moves in to steal the valuable substance for the Kingpin, but with Eddie Brock on the scene to cover the case with his camera, he frames Spider-man for stealing Prometheum X.

Spidey, having saved the astronauts from the ship's fall from a bridge, becomes a wanted man as J. Jonah Jameson looks for someone to blame. With a price on his head things are looking bad, but when he wakes up with a new costume and enhanced powers, Spidey starts to think his luck might have finally turned around. But what sinister secrets does the alien symbiote hide?

Previous Form:
Spider-man (#1): Victories over Kraven, Mysterio, Scorpion, Carnage & Green Goblin.
Shocker (#260): Defeated by the Avengers as member of Sinister Twelve.

Tale of the tape...
Strength: Spider-man 5 (Super Strength)
Intelligence: Spider-man 5 (Professor)
Speed: Spider-man 4 (Olympian)
Stamina: Spider-man 5 (Marathon Man)
Agility: Spider-man 5 (Cat-like)
Fighting Ability: Spider-man 3 (Street Wise)
Energy Powers: Shocker 5 (Lasers)

Let the record show: The tape is not terribly flattering for one, Max Schulz aka; The Shocker. Even now his name inspires immature sniggers and snorts amongst the readership for his allusion to certain dubious sexual activities.

I'm going to be upfront about -- I'm a big supporter of the Shocker!
No, not that, I'm talking about the quilted super-villain who has gotten more than his fair share of flack over the past decade. Sure, he's a bit of a one-note thug, and maybe his costume is on the silly end of functionality, but it's not like Norman Osborn ever had a real reason for wearing a big green nose and purple night cap. Is it?!

It looks like Schulz is on the end of another ass whooping in the pages of The Initiative, but at least it's a step-up from his Ultimate counter, where the Shocker is little more than a running gag.

Generally speaking his blasts are going to cause anybody a bit of trouble, but Shocker is quickly dispensed through perseverence, keen agility, and superior strength. Traits all common to one spectacular Spider-man.

Of course, we should acknowledge that the black symbiote is involved in this particular encounter, which I like to think puts an interesting spin on the whole affair. Of course, this once again represents an area, as far as I know, completely overlooked in both the comics, and even in the cartoons upon which the subject of review is based upon:

I'm talking about Shocker's powers being derived from intense vibrations.
Which, in a round about way, amounts to a cousin of sonics, which are one of the key weaknesses of the Venom symbiote. Thus making Spider-man's possession of the symbiote a potential weakness, despite the fact it greatly enhances his powers.

As I mentioned, certainly in the cartoon/adaptation this is never a concept acknowledged, and to the best of my knowledge, if Shocker and a symbiote have ever had the misfortune of crossing paths, it hasn't been an issue raised.

So, where do we finish after all this?
Well, hoepfully I've at least skimmed the surface of a potential strength in the Shocker's arsenal. I probably won't finish this entry in one sitting, but there's a good chance I might again appeal to the quality of the character later in The Hammer, but in the mean time...

The Math: Spider-man (Meta Class)
The Pick: Spider-man

What went down...
Out looking for evidence that will clear his name in the theft of Prometheum X, Spider-man is on the scene when one of the Kingpin's hired thugs comes to ensure the evidence doesn't leave Eddie Brock's hands.

A man in a trenchcoat roughs Brock up on the steps of his apartment, before firing off a warning shot of intense vibrational force above his head, whilst shouting his name: The Shocker!

Shocker quickly tosses Brock aside as the black Spider-man clings to the wall of the apartment building. Shocker tells Spider-man to back off, firing off a blast that reduces the wall of the building to rubble, and collapses on top of Spidey.

Shocker retreats to Kingpin's secret base, but the super-powered Spider-man has followed him with the aid of his increased spider-senses. He smashes down the hi-tech security doors and bursts in on Shocker and Alistair Smythe.

... What kind of a comic IS this?!Shocker leaves the stolen Prometheum X with Smythe, and begins firing off vibrational blasts at the black Spider-man. Spidey's trademark speed and agility leaves him freely avoiding each and every hit, before coming in for the kill with an uncharateristic aggression.

"Face it, Bozo... Messing with me these days -- is like signing your own death certificate!"

Spidey's fist collides with the Shocker's quilted face -- the padding designed to absorb vibration, little help against the increased super strenght of the Spider-man.

Spidey webs up Smythe and relieves him of the Prometheum X, before heading out to theorize who could be manipulating the pawns of crime against him.

Meanwhile, Smythe and Shocker crawl back to a displeased Kingpin with claims of a Spider-man more powerful and deadly than ever before. To stem the Kingpin's wrath, they assure him they have a plan to retreive the valuable space material, and very soon after J. Jonah Jameson receives a visit from the Shocker.

J. Jonah Jameson appears on television to make an appeal to Spider-man. The Shocker has kidnapped John from the hospital, with the intent of setting up an exchange for Prometheum X. Despite his reluctance, Spider-man is compelled to aid the man who paints him a villain in the mass media.

Meeting late night at a gothic art museum, the black Spider-man and J. Jonah convene as Smythe makes himself apparent, a restrained John Jameson in a wheelchair behind him. Spidey hands over the space material, unaware that looking on is a spiteful Eddie Brock, who has followed him there.

With the exchange made, another figure emerges from the shadows - The Shocker! He fires off a blast without warning, but Spidey is able to use his superior agility to push John Jameson clear, and dodge the blast himself.

Smythe instructs Shocker to "clean up", while he heads off to the lab.
The Shocker continues firing off deadly focused vibrations, while Spider-man continues to use his agility to steer clear of the assault.
Shocker makes a run for the belltower staircase, keeping Spider-man on the backfoot while he moves up the narrow shaft.

Waiting at the top of the tower, the Shocker points his gauntlets at the only entrance door, but he under estimates the intencity of the new Spider-man.

Spidey pounds his way through the concrete of the structure, making himself a new door to the shock of the Shocker!

Eddie Brock makes his way up to the tower only to find the Spider-man swatting the Shocker like a ragdoll from one side of the belltower to the other.
Spidey, noticing his photography rival, leaves him dangling from the tower by a line of web to await his revenge.

Atop the tower, Spider-man continues to man-handle the Shocker, pressing him up against one of the openings at the very top. Begging for his life, the Shocker finds himself not nearly as surprised as Spider-man himself, as tendrils from the black symbiote push the villain over the edge!

Contrary to the suit's whims, Spider-man manages to shoot off a web-line that snags Shocker before he plummets to his doom. Even so, Spider-man can hardly believe the subversive hold the costume has on his personality.

Having sought the advice of Dr. Curt Conners previously, Spider-man realises now the importance of freeing himself of the living costume before it permanently bonds with him.
It is a hollow victory, but with John Jameson and even the Shocker safe, it is a victory Spider-man will take.

The hammer...
You actually have a very distinct gap between the two major portions of the story, so as unorthodox as it is, I'm actually going to register this one as two victories to Spider-man and the black costume.

Immediately after saving the Shocker from his fall from the tower, the bell begins to toll, triggering the symbiote's weakness to loud sounds and sonics. Spidey seizes the opportunity, thus providing the link between the cartoon version, and the canonical comic book account of how Spidey frees himself on the alien costume, and passes it to Eddie Brock.

Ah! Eighties fashion has come to life, and won't let go of me! Nnnoooooo!In this case, the kid-friendly version of having Brock pursuing his grudge replaces the grimmer comic book version of Eddie Brock being on the scene contemplating suicide after a string of spider-influence bad luck. Either way the result is much the same, producing the original version of the homocidal arch-villain, Venom!

It would be very easy to shift back into talking about the ever-topical Venom, but this is really the first opportunity we've had to mention the Shocker, who is among the many classic Spidey villains that has been overlooked during the first year and a half of Secret Wars on Infinite Earths. He's one of those characters that I think is crucial to the success of the Spider-man formula, but just doesn't get the credit that goes with that.

If you're a regular reader you'll by now be familiar with some of the basics of my infamous Sub-Mariner pitch, but I haven't had the pleasure of introducing you to a little something I call Scavenging for Scraps: The Life and Times of The Vulture -- the low key a-day-in-the-life series starring The Vulture, along with various other supporting characters, such as Vulture-best-buddy, Max Schulz!

Essentially this is concept that characterizes the Vulture's compulsions to villainy as the result less of criminal aspiration, and more of a curmudgeonous reaction to the events around him. Essentially he becomes a grumpy old man in a green leotard, or for the Hollywood pitch -- it's Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm starring The Vulture, who bares an appropriate resemblance to the Seinfeld co-creator.

Currently existing is an outline for such a series, with a few pages of completed script that has the Vulture - aka Adrian Toomes - encountering Max Schulz on a city street. There they establish various plot points including Shocker's super-villain birthday party and the Vulture becoming victim of a cellphone theft.

Likewise they make commentaries about developments from recent comics, like Civil War, where Spider-man went from pro-registration cook, to anti-registration fugitive -- and also puts the Vulture's own slant on the story where Spidey offered to fullfil the Vulture's wish to die, where Vulture chose life.

There are also throwbacks to things like Webs, the book of Spider-man photography Peter Parker sold in the eighties, which becomes the subject of a lawsuit amongst the villains contained within after Peter Parker has revealed his identity. Likewise, Vulture elaborates on needing to give-up his activities, having suffered a stroke, even though he inevitably finds himself in the wing harness again.

I've gone on a self-indulgent tangent again, but what I'm alluding to is some of the greater character qualities of some of these classic Spider-man villains. I think even a character as goofy as Vulture has been shown to have action-based merit recently by the likes of Mark Millar in Marvel Knights: Spider-man, but even if in this modern age that were an uncomfortable fit, there is so much more that can be done with them.

I could sit here and tote the Shocker all night, but I've still got plenty of catch-up to do, and lots of other things. Working on some new projects, and hopefully will have news of KMI #1 sales information soon. So stay tuned, true believers!
Oh, and Mr. Quesada, if you're reading. Contact details are below the profile photo. Seriously, we'll talk...

EDIT: I shouldn't let my own writing aspirations get in the way of also acknowledging the fine efforts here. I've mentioned previously that Adventures comics generally aren't my thing, be they young readers comics, or cartoon adaptations that entail much the same thing.

I actually considered reviewing the episode upon which this issue was based, but opted in favour of the comic version, which does possess some streamlined differences, in favour of saving a cartoon review for a later date.
The guys involved here, including the original teleplay writer, do a superb job of reinventing the black costume origin under conditions that demand the concept be contained within and-of itself. It arguably outdoes the Secret Wars version for it's simplicity, and while it probably inspired the Spider-man 3 version, it does it in a way that is considered, and better attended to.

Full credit to the guys! I might even like this one, for using peripheral characters like John Jameson, even better than Brian Michael Bendis' Ultimate interpretation, which like much of USM, failed to live up to the hype.

With that said -- if I can be selfish again -- those of you interested in my Vulture script can find it right here. I'd love to hear your thoughts!

The Fights: 3.5 The Issue: 4

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