Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #13

"The Menace of... Mysterio!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(June 1964)

Oh, Mysterio. You almost had him. You almost had everything.

Mysterio is a neat concept for a villain. He's a former stuntman and special effects artist, and he probably seems kind of hokey these days, but he's a fun nod to the B movies of the time and the showmanship of 1930s Hollywood serials. And he very nearly does Spidey in. But then he makes a grave error that makes him hard to respect as a villain.

This issue opens with what appears to be Spider-Man robbing somebody. (He has one of those big bags with a dollar sign on it and everything.) Now wanted by police, the public is quick to turn on Spider-Man... except for his number one fan, Flash Thompson. Peter Parker knows he didn't commit the crime, but... what if he did? What if he's becoming some kind of split-personality? This eats at Peter to the point where he almost starts spilling his secrets to a psychiatrist who is practically orgasmic at the possibility of becoming famous as Spider-Man's analyst.

Want to pile on the Marvel Universe's designated Sisyphus some more? Let Aunt May do it: "You're not worried because our savings account is almost gone, and it's getting harder to pay the mortgage each month, are you?" Wow, May, thanks so much for that one.

And now he's snapping at Betty, Liz is flirting with him, and he even tries to borrow money from J. Jonah Jameson, which goes about as well as you would expect. (Worse, actually, as JJJ tries to extort Peter for the secret of "how you take those great crime photos of yours.")

And then Mysterio shows up, appearing in a cloud of smoke in Jameson's office, promising to bring Spider-Man to justice and give JJ the exclusive. And Mysterio is nearly that good. He meets Spidey on the Brooklyn Bridge and the new guy nearly kills the kid. He's as agile as Spidey, can stick to walls, and even dissolves Spidey's webbing. Then he creates a cloud of mists that confuses Spider-Man and somehow renders his spider-sense useless. After taking an onslaught of fists to the face, Spidey only manages to survive by jumping off the bridge and swimming to safety.

Jameson is eager to push Mysterio as the city's new hero. It's interesting how Jameson absolutely hates Spider-Man, but is totally on Mysterio's side right away, simply because Mysterio will submit to an interview and, of course, because he plans to defeat Spider-Man. Jameson's even going to pay Mysterio for the exclusive.

But then Mysterio makes that awful mistake. When Spider-Man tracks him down, Mysterio just unloads his entire origin: he's a stuntman and a special effects artist, he found ways to replicate Spidey's powers in order to frame him for robbery... he even tells Spidey how all of his "powers" work! It's just sonar, a tinted helmet, a fine acid spray (to dissolve the webs), chemical smoke ejectors in his boots (with springs and magnets for good measure), a lot of bravado, and the ability to take a punch. He just tells Spidey this without any prompting. One of those "Well, you're gonna die anyway, so I'll just boast for several minutes." I hate that stuff. It's not like Spidey gets to solve a mystery or anything. The guy just volunteers all of the information, totally unprompted. While Spidey secretly tape records it, for chrissakes! So not only is it bad storytelling, bad character development, and just clunky in general, it's also his undoing.

Alas, Mysterio. You could have been a cool and mysterious villain if only you didn't want to just brag about how clever you are.

A dynamic fight scene follows, where Spider-Man and Mysterio battle on the set of a space movie, which is a lot of fun. But, of course, Spidey wins the day and gets pictures, which helps save Jameson's face after being wrong yet again. Spidey even webs up JJ to get a little personal revenge. So things turned out okay after all, but less because of Peter's ingenuity and determination, and more because Mysterio just couldn't keep his mouth shut.

Well, at least Peter's luck isn't all bad!

Stray observations:

:: Peter's gallows humor is similar to mine. When Liz Allan asks him if things are going well, he answers "If they get any better, I'll shoot myself!"

:: In the letters page, Rosalind Rogoff of New Rochelle, NY, asks if, after Aunt May's blood transfusion, she'll get any kind of spider powers herself, and then asks Stan to please not make Aunt May into some kind of Spider-Woman. Funny, because not only is Spider-Woman coming eventually, but then Peter Parker's daughter May will eventually be Spider-Girl in an alternate future or something. Rosalind also asks for Peter's classmates not to tease him so much just for being smart, and wants a Spider-Man Annual, which we are getting soon, and which I cannot wait for.

John Yandell of Tulsa, OK, thought Amazing Spider-Man #9 was terrible, which... no, man. Just no. Steve Gillespie of Omaha, Nebraska, thinks that the only truly bad issue was Amazing Spider-Man #3, which is crazy talk. And both of them take special time to bash Steve Ditko's art, which is nuts. The progressive ones never get the appreciation they deserve when their work is new.

Overall, this was a good issue, but that one misstep with the villain just kind of sticks in my craw. I hope that next time, Mysterio is a little smarter and plays it closer to the vest.

Next Marvels: Daredevil faces off against Electro.

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