On the Trail of the Amazing Spider-Man!
Last month in Strange Tales #112 we had an entire issue that tried (poorly) to convince readers that somehow young bullheaded Johnny Storm was a superhero not because he wanted fame and publicity, but because he felt it the right thing to do. Of course, it was a flimsy premise because we know from everything beforehand developed with Johnny that this isn't exactly true to his character and that he does get off on being something of a celebrity. Nevertheless, this time around in his debut in the Strange Tales annual series, we see poor little Johnny throw a tantrum when he realises that (in a nice touch of continuity between series') J.Jonah Jameson has devoted almost an entire issue of Live to another masked teenage superhero; Spider-Man. "I'd give anything for a chance to provehe ain't so hot!" he exclaims in angsty rebellious wit. Sue wisely decides to turn invisible and sneak out for a while, and we get to see Torch square off againstSpider-Man in a battle of the hormones.
What's most interesting about this setup however is the dynamic between both Storm and Parker. Last time we seen them together, it was when Johnny unknowingly spurred on and encouraged Peter to pick up his boots and try again in defeating Doctor Octopus back in June (Amazing Spider-Man #3). Parker respected and treated Torch with the kudos and respect he dubiously deserves, but here we see Storm do the opposite and act like a toddler who's mistaking his toy car for the exact same one his neighbour's got. But I guess, if the Marvel universe was to become a living, breathing, conceivably majestic place where gripping stories could take place, then you had to develop these contrasts in character—Parker the nerdy outcast down on his luck, and Johnny the wealthy jock who likes picking fights when he's bored on a Saturday. It's also no surprise then, as to who would become Marvel's star teenage icon.
With that said, what eventually does come out of these two being brought together is somewhat magical (and it would be something to be milked wildly from here on in, as a result) as we see two teenagers fighting not just to get on the right side of the public again, but to stop a thief who has stolen a DaVinci and framed it on Spider-Man himself. What's even more amusing though is the battle between the two superheroes themselves, not when they are at odds with each other, but when they decide to team-up and track the criminal down. It's light-hearted, it's fun and it's actually somewhat funny as we see Johnny and Parker share some rebuttal that rivals Storm's relationship with Ben Grimm. Simply put, it's a joy to read—and actually kinda exciting too when the two get down to business and take some amateur gangsters to school.
And you know what? Usually I would criticize an issue for putting asuperhero (nevermind two) against ordinary criminals, but in select cases such as these where the core story is about the characters and the heroes themselves, having such low-key masterminds as the antagonists works far more than having panel-stealing supervillains who tend to take up too much space with their ingenious traps and whatnot. Instead however Strange Tales hits all the right notes this month in a rare but very welcome high quality story that brings together two seperate series' in an exciting and inventive way that utilizes the strengths of each appropriately (the first significant instance of this yet.) Which, by the way, includes the combined talents of Kirby and Ditko who only add to the fun. A great read for sure.
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