Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Part 19

Spider-Man has returned, and now he gets his first inter-title crossover, "Media Blizzard."

SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN #1, written and illustrated by Dan Jurgens and inked by Klaus Janson, is where this new story begins. New York is experiencing one of its worst winter storms in some time. Spider-Man changes to Ben Reilly and heads to work at the Daily Grind, where he waits on Jessica, the photographer introduced in the previous issue. She makes note of how quiet the café is on this particular evening and Shirley jokingly mentions that the new television network, Mystery Vision, has a seemingly addictive quality about it and even her son can't stop watching.

Jessica and Ben sit down for a cup of coffee and they appear to hit it off. She even invites Ben back to her student work area, where she shows off her latest project: photos of Spider-Man in action. Before they can continue their date, Ben sees Dr. Ramirez (whose technology had been stolen by Armada for Mysterio) rushing for an important meeting. Ben changes into Spider-Man and follows Dr. Ramirez, only to find him watching Mystery Vision like a zombie. Spider-Man realizes that the program is having an adverse affect on the doctor and webs the screen. He then heads out to the headquarters of Mystery Vision to get some answers.

Spider-Man meets Randolph Hines, the president of the company, who gives him a tour of the offices and lets Spider-Man play around with some of the technology. Eventually, Hines reveals himself to be Mysterio and reality shifts, causing more confusion. Spider-Man doesn't know what to believe as real and what to believe as illusion. Unbeknownst to him, Spider-Man is wearing adhesive, film-like receivers over his eyes, placed on there when Spider-Man was toying around with the technology. He sees the illusions as real. Disoriented, Spider-Man tries to web swing out of the building but his web-shooters fail, causing him to fall.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : As I recall, the idea for "Media Blizzard" originated with Dan Jurgens, who wanted to do a story where Mysterio takes his illusion-casting powers to the next logical level, and revisits his origins in show business. Tom DeFalco and Howard Mackie tried to help bring the story to fruition, but I think "Media Blizzard" was one of those instances where just one writer should have handled all the chapters. I can't imagine that the finished product turned out the way Dan had originally envisioned it. But to be fair to Tom D. and Howard, they were basically telling the rest of someone else's story. I know from experience that trying to write a story that originated with another writer is not always an easy thing to do. Unfortunately, the Spider-Man titles were still tightly connected at that time, with each of the writers telling one chapter of a bigger story arc, so no one really got to tell their own stories from beginning to end. No one liked the situation, but it was an undeniable fact that linking the books in this way helped their sales - especially SPECTACULAR, which was the weakest-selling title in the group. So the cross-continuity remained in place. Dan, of course, was no stranger to this type of scenario, having successfully worked this way for many years on the Superman books at DC. But having never collaborated with Tom and Howard before, there was undoubtedly going to be some rough spots at first. ]

"Media Blizzard" continues in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #408, written by Tom DeFalco and illustrated by Mark Bagley and Larry Mahlstedt. Spider-Man manages to bounce his way into a wall, slow his momentum and sticks out his hand in an effort to attach to something. His hand finds the wall, but the rest of his body continues to fall, causing him more than a little pain.

While Spider-Man hangs on the wall in agony, Armada makes his daring breakout and heads out in search of a rematch for our hero. Spider-Man also notices some members of a street gang getting riled up so he goes down to check out the problem. When he gets closer, Mysterio's device causes him to see the gang members as monsters, so Spider-Man unleashes against them. Spider-Man saves one of the gang members who was being attacked and tries to find out what was going on, but he's not open to answering many questions.

Armada then arrives on the scene and offers to help the gang eliminate Spider-Man. They battle in the streets, but the main event is Spider-Man vs. Armada, who seems to be getting the advantage over the out-of-joint wall-crawler. During their battle, Spider-Man takes some hits, which causes the transparent viewing lenses to shatter, enabling Spider-Man to get his bearings. Mysterio, watching all of this from a safe distance, promises that he will still succeed in his demented mission.

Before swinging off in search of Mysterio, Spider-Man confronts Shakim, the young wannabe gangster he saved earlier, and talks with him about his choices. Shakim promises to try to live a better life and Spider-Man offers some assistance of his own, telling other gang members that anyone who messes with Shakim will be messing with Spider-Man.

SPIDER-MAN #65, written by Howard Mackie and illustrated by John Romita Jr, Tom Morgan, Al Williamson and Dick Giordano, concludes "Media Blizzard." Spider-Man searches for Mysterio, but he's already left his former base of operations. Ben goes home to get some much needed R&R. Across town, "Randolph Hines" is hosting a party at his renovated office. He goes off for a moment, turns into Mysterio and checks on his network, thinking that he will finally have the one thing he's desired for so long: Fame.

A battered and tired Ben Reilly is awakened the next day by Jessica, who's ready for their next date. They share some small talk about Ben's aunt and Jessica's father, both of whom are now passed. As Ben and Jessica walk along the street, they notice a crowd of people glued to a television set in a store window. Then, a truck goes out of control, crashing. Ben wonders how he'll slip away into Spider-Man, but Jessica runs off instead, wanting to take some pictures and possibly sell them to the Bugle, giving him time to change.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Jessica, the mysterious photographer with the Spider-Man fixation, was created by Dan Jurgens. My understanding is that she - and the story line that would ultimately unfold around her - was one of the very first ideas that Dan had for Spider-Man, and he was excited to be getting the chance to do it. ]

Spider-Man arrives and tries to help the driver and passenger, and notices Jessica just focusing on him, snapping his picture, which causes him to be a little nervous. Jessica stops taking pictures when she gets caught up in the excitement over the television and becomes a TV zombie herself. Spider-Man gets the accident victims to safety and then covers up the store television, freeing the viewers from its influence.

Spider-Man gets Dr. Ramirez to reverse the signal of the lenses that were place over his eyes so he can trace Mysterio's whereabouts. Once he finds the source, Spider-Man heads over to Mysterio's operating facility and breaks in. He's confronted by a variety of different illusions, but battles through each one, trusting his senses to realize that they're not real. Spider-Man destroys the device which forces people to watch the programs and captures Mysterio.

[ GLENN'S COMMENTS : Although you couldn't possibly know it by reading the "Media Blizzard" issues, it was at the time these comics were produced that the clone saga reached a major turning point, one that pretty much changed everything. And it all started at the 1995 Chicago Comic Con, during a breakfast meeting between Dan Jurgens and Spider-Man Group Editor in Chief Bob Budiansky.

I wasn't present for this breakfast, but Bob told me about it after he got back from the con. In a nutshell, Dan expressed to Bob his opinion that Peter Parker needed to be restored as the one, true Spider-Man. This was despite the fact that Ben had just become Spider-Man, courtesy of Dan himself in SENSATIONAL #0, and we had only recently completed a three-day Spider-Man writers conference in which the future of the new Spider-Man had started being mapped out. Dan explained to Bob that he did not and could not accept Ben Reilly as Spider-Man, and he believed that the readers felt the same way. Twenty years of continuity and significant character development - including the marriage to Mary Jane - could not simply be shunted aside and forgotten. Longtime readers could not be asked to accept that the character they followed for so long wasn't the "real" guy. The new status quo was offensive to those longtime readers, and confusing to any newcomers who happened to wander in to check out what all the hype and controversy was about.

Again, I wasn't there, and I can't profess to be a mind reader, but I think that Dan reaffirmed many of the feelings and thoughts and opinions that Bob Budiansky already had, but had managed to submerge for a while. I think Bob had almost fully convinced himself that the Ben Reilly scenario could work, if only it was given a chance, and he had reached a point where he finally seemed committed to move forward with it. Why else would Bob initiate the SPIDER-MAN: THE FINAL ADVENTURE limited series, which was specifically designed to show Peter and Mary Jane becoming parents and thus close the door on Peter ever donning the Spider-Man costume again? As I recall, up until the Chicago convention, we definitely had a direction we were going to go in with Ben. It wasn't a perfect direction, and it would undoubtedly have to be adjusted as we went along, but at least he was finally in the Spider-Man costume and we were finally emerging from the clone saga.

But that breakfast with Dan really crystallized Bob's thoughts on the matter, and he came back from the Chicago convention with a new outlook, and a new mandate: bring back Peter. To reiterate, Ben had just become Spider-Man, so we couldn't even get used to the idea of having him in place before we had to start thinking about how to undo the whole thing. First and foremost, Peter's impending return had a profound effect on the FINAL ADVENTURE limited series, which I went over in great detail in the last couple of columns. Bottom line: no baby.

I don't know for sure how the other Spider-Man writers reacted when they were told about Bob's new decision. It undoubtedly threw a major crimp in their long-term plans. After all, any future plans of theirs would have involved a Ben Reilly Spider-Man. But I'm pretty sure that, inconveniences aside, no one really faulted Dan for setting in motion this abrupt change of direction. I can only guess that some of the other writers were actually relieved, that they were even privately hoping for such a decision to be made. As much as the writers seemed to like Ben, and were willing to go along with having him as Spider-Man for however long it lasted, I think most of them always felt that Peter would and should come back at some point.

The big question became, how do we bring Peter back as Spider-Man without it looking like a colossal cop-out? What would be the most exciting, dramatic, satisfying way to accomplish this task? Bob Budiansky was looking for a great idea, and he didn't care where it came from. As a result, everybody got involved in the creative process. And when I say everybody, I mean EVERYBODY. I'm talking about: writers who worked on the core Spider-Man books; writers who DIDN'T work on the core Spider-Man books; the editors; the assistant editors; Marvel's on-staff librarian... I think even the janitor and the mail room guys weighed in at one point. It got a little out of hand, to put it mildly, and I'll get into all of this in more detail as we go along. All I'll say for now is that the memos really started coming in at this point, fast and furious... and I've still got every single one of them, in one big, thick, hernia-inducing file. ]

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