Friday, August 24, 2018

Retro Review: Spider-Boy #1 (1996) Review and **SPOILERS**

Proof of Concept

Writer/Co-Inker: Karl Kesel 
Penciller: Mike Wieringo 
Co-Inker: Gary Martin 
Colorist: Joe Rosas 
Letterer: Bill Oakley 
Assistant: Glenn Greenberg 
Editor: Tom Brevoort 
Chief: Bob Harras 
Cover Price: $1.95 
Cover Date: April 1996 
Publisher: Amalgam Comics


Oh boy! Here’s an…amalgamation of two great characters at great points in their respective histories! This iteration of Superboy, which was written by Kesel, where he wears the leather jacket and acts as rad is a personal favorite, and this post-Clone Wars period of Spider-Man drawn by Wieringo was a real treat. So this should be the perfect blend of comic book characters at the best points in their careers, right? Right?? Let’s find out in my review of Spider-Boy #1 from 1996, which you can read below!

Explain It!

So there’s an immediately evident problem with blending the post-Death of Superman Superboy with Spider-Man, and that’s that Conner Kent is (at this point) basically Spider-Man with Kryptonian powers. He’s got the quips, he’s got the awkwardness with the ladies, and I always felt this Superboy was awfully gangly in his ministrations—like some kinda web-thwipping Spider-something or other, if you ask me. This is evident in the explosive beginning to this story, as Bizarnage (a combo of Bizarro and Carnage that is essentially the symbiote in white that talks weirdly) is tearing apart Cadmus Labs in order to usurp Spider-Boy’s position—by killing him!
This sequel to The Stuff is a lot better than I expected.
At the lab is the Challengers of the Fantastic, which is like some of the Fantastic Four mixed with the Challengers of the Unknown…also Senator Ben Grimm is here, and Dabney Donovan…then Sue Storm of S.H.I.E.L.D. shows up with an injured Dr. Connor…hold on, who’s the star of this comic, anyway?
Remember: none may speak until they are holding the Talking Stick.
Bizarnage having been dispatched into a holding cell, the team wonders who could have sprung the beast—and it’s here that the reader learns that Dabney Donovan has been feeding Reed Richards evil pills in order to, uh, make him evil, I guess. This will probably have huge implications in one of the other Amalgam Comics series, but here it’s a strange bit of hanging around after having quelled the berserker rage of a demonic Plastic Man. That’s when Sue Storm trudges in with Doc Connor to say that King Lizard, a monstrous beast created from Connor’s serum-infused missing arm, is tearing up New York City! It’s Spider-Boy to the rescue!
Looks like "super tact" isn't one of your powers.
Spidey heads down to the Spider-Fort or whatever, on the way getting embroiled in a conversation between Hank Pym and Ray Palmer about the merits of expanding over shrinking. Pym mentions that he’s got some kind of dwarf star ray he wants Spider-Boy to check out, but there’s no time for that now! He heads into his garage to find the Spider-Boymobile all gassed up and ready to go by his loyal pal, Doctor Octopus!
Okay, this is how I want my garage, please.
Yes! Doc Ock is a Spidey fan in this universe. And to be honest, these are some of the best interactions in the book. He comes off as completely earnest and genuinely helpful, it is easy to see him in this role. After sharing an incendiary headline from the Daily Bugle about Insect Queen getting busy with Spider-Boy, he hops in his sweet-looking hover whip and takes off!
I will also take this car. It all comes with a friendly Doctor Octopus, I assume?
While driving, we get the origin story in flashbacks: Spider-Boy is a clone created in Cadmus Laboratory by Peter Parker, who died in the experiment that gave him the ability to manipulate gravity and a little super-strength. General “Thunderbolt” Ross—Uncle Gen, to him (yecch)—took pity on Spider-Boy and raised him with some kinda ethics about power and responsibility and stuff. When Uncle Gen is killed by a mugger, Spider-Boy realizes that the best way to be responsible with his power is to completely sell out and become a television star…?
"With great power comes great make great mun-nayyy!"
Spider-Boy winds up at his headquarters, where his agent is chasing after him, yelling about action figures, and his assistant is listing missed calls. No time for this, though! He heads to the roof and Spider-Boy literally catapults into action, stopping first at the Daily Bugle in order to show us his alter ego of cub reporter and ace photographer…Pete Ross? And Lois’ normal role is held by Tana Moon. This scene exists only to show us what Spider-Boy’s day-to-day is like, and it’s nice enough, but it's out of place when there’s a giant lizard tearing through the city. Speaking of which, time to engage!
This Godzilla sequel isn't looking too bad, actually.
While Spider-Boy fights King Lizard, some NYCU officers, looking awfully like the Metropolis Crimes Unit, show up to let off some shots. One of ‘em looks like Dum Dum Duggan. But, uh, no it’s “Brooklyn” Barnes. And “Flash” Thompson is on the team. Okay, there is too much Amalgam shit in this issue. I guess it’s a good thing, because I’m not even sure where the DC ends and the Marvel begins, but there’s so many superfluous scenes and side references to other aspects of the Amalgam universe, it really takes me out of the story. Spider-Boy leads King Lizard towards Cadmus and, remembering his brief conversation with Dr. Ray Palmer, gets his white dwarf star thingy and fires it into the lizard’s mouth, reducing him to sub-atomic size. Which, strictly speaking, is pretty fucked up.
Yeah, take it, King Lizard! Swallow that white hot load!
Back at Cadmus, there’s some more cute back-and-forth between Spider-Boy and Doctor Octopus, but there’s an unexpected visitor to this boys’ clubhouse: the Insect Queen! And it’s Mary Jane! How about that.
Oh no, not this...I've seen Invasion of the Bee Girls!
There’s a lot of fun to be had in this issue, but the story is bogged down by the incessant nods to other corners of the Amalgam universe. As exciting and cohesive as it may be, many of the comments and moments were so forced in order to address stories being fleshed out in other issues. The actual Spider-Boy character was cringe-worthily cool, I just wish we could have seen more of him. Of course, Wieringo’s artwork fit the mood and set the style for this comic book perfectly, and frankly if this was an ongoing series, I’d probably be reading it! Assuming, of course, that it wasn’t always wallowing in the minutae of other Amalgam books.
"Extra! Extra! Amalgam universe without any relevant news!"

Bits and Pieces:

Too much product-placement for the rest of the Amalgam universe obscures an otherwise fun character and story. Mike Wieringo's art sets the perfect frenetic pace for this kind of book, so that even the people standing still look dynamic. Unfortunately, he has to make that happen all too often in this issue.

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