before Watchmen: Conway & Kane’s Amazing Spider-Man 122

June 27th, 2012 by | Tags: , , ,

This is the last page of Amazing Spider-Man 122, the issue after Gwen Stacy dies. It’s right in the middle of one of my most favorite runs on any comic ever. Gerry Conway on words, Gil Kane on pencils, John Romita & Tony Mortellaro on inks, and Dave Hunt on colors.

The first 140 or so (I’ve never done a real count, but around there) issues of Amazing Spider-Man are my Lee/Kirby Fantastic Four, and this is one of my favorite single pages out of that entire run.

Steve Ditko gave Spider-Man a creepy outsider feel. When Ditko left and Jazzy Johnny Romita became the principal artist, the tone changed to something more influenced by romance comics and soap opera. Peter became a lot more handsome, the clothes were swinging, and the girls turned from pretty to supa dupa fly. The comic got a lot sexier, is what I’m saying, and Mary Jane Watson had a lot to do with that.

The usual line is that Mary Jane was the party girl, while Gwen was the wholesome girl next door. I don’t know if that’s actually true, but it’s a fair enough starting point if you want to branch out into a deeper understanding of the characters. MJ was definitely a popular girl, the type you’d describe as “hot” instead of “pretty.” Lesser writers took that to mean that she was an airhead or vapid, but that was never true. But she definitely represented a somewhat edgier kind of excitement than Gwen did.

Part of the mythos of Spider-Man is that Peter Parker is an extraordinarily selfish person. Or maybe just regular selfish — it’s hard to tell when everything in cape comics is so heightened. But he takes everything personally, and he tries to walk around with the weight of the world on his shoulders. He snaps and buckles under pressure before regaining his strength, but that snapping is the important part. Peter Parker needs support. He needs someone to tell him things are okay or to have his back in a pinch. Spider-Man is a role Peter Parker plays, not Peter Parker himself.

What I love about this page is how it shows the quiet strength and determination that Mary Jane always had underneath her party girl exterior. She’s been waiting at Peter and Harry’s pad for hours, praying for someone to talk to. The problem is that it’s dumb ol’ Petey, a guy who never met a problem that wasn’t his fault. He lashes out at her in his grief, ignoring her own grief, and instead of doing what anyone else would do, MJ turns to leave, pauses, and chooses to stay.

There’s something about the choice she makes between panels here that really, really sticks with me. MJ isn’t just a supporting character, a prop for someone else’s grief. Not when she’s written well, anyway. This choice feels significant, for both her and Peter. It’s one of my absolutely favorite scenes in Spider-Man comics, and I don’t know that I could tell you exactly why. There’s just tremendous emotional resonance there, and a certain finality and acceptance, that I really appreciate. She chooses to share her grief, whether Peter wants her to or not.

It’s like — does she recognize something in Peter? Is it something she also recognizes in herself? Why does she choose to forgive him for his anger? I think she recognizes how people run away from love and support, in part because she herself is also guilty of that.

There’s something deep lurking around here, right below the surface, and I love it. It’s like Spider-Man is shifting (or continuing its shift, really) from childhood to adulthood, transforming directly on the page, and making permanent decisions that other comics wouldn’t, and modern comics don’t. Part of the fun of the first 140 issues of Amazing Spider-Man grow from a 15 year old kid to a college-age adult, and this scene is a milestone moment.


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18 comments to “before Watchmen: Conway & Kane’s Amazing Spider-Man 122”

  1. Hmm looks like Gavok didn’t notice he was login as ‘David brothers’ when he made this post. oh well. Gavok you forgot to cap ‘before’ unless DC really has the title of the book be “before Watchmen” which then sorry on my part.

  2. @SomerandomGuy: None of your comment makes any sense at all.

  3. Man, the pacing of that page feels really bold for 1973, the bottom tier especially. That’s the kind of thing Bendis channeled (channels?) for Ultimate Spider-Man, at its best.

  4. I’ve always been mildly interested in Spider-Man’s original run, if only to appreciate how different it was for its time. I’ve read a few, but sometimes the Ditko stories felt a bit flat. Stuff like this gives me hope though, so maybe I’ll give it another shot.

  5. I’ve always loved the fact that the death of Gwen Stacy remained revelant and showed a true turning point in Peter parker and Spider man’s lives. To prove my point check out ASM 555-556, truly a masterpiece.

  6. @Dane
    Definitely start with the John Romita run. I have never been a Ditko fan (Blasphemy I know), and Stan the Man was still figuring out what to do with those early issues. Once Romita starts Amazing takes a HUGE leap in quality.

  7. @Dane: If you check out nothing else from Ditko, at least check out what I wanna say was the first appearance of The Enforcers, because Ditko’s Spidey beating up a squad of goons (some of whom have weird gimmicks!) in a garage is basically a Jackie Chan fight some 20-30 years before those were famous. It’s great.

  8. Such a great page, and also the main reason I never got the hate for Peter and MJ being married. Moments like that clearly defined their relationship to be so much more than wish-fulfillment–which, oddly, is what ‘single Parker’ really is. I was reading Ends of the Earth, and by comparison, the Mary Jane in that comic just seems to be little more than a cheerleader for Spider-Man.

  9. Mary Jane’s face on the last panel is what does me in. She’s either about to get herself totally under control and tell Peter how selfish he’s being, or she’s going to lose it and tell Peter why he’s wrong. They’re both right and appropriate. Love it.

    And man I love Cromartie High. Love, love, love it.

  10. Didn’t you stop talking about all DC and marvel comics because of Beyond Watchmen? I guess I miss a something.

  11. Man, that moment has stuck with me for years, and is also why I’ve always loved Mary Jane as a character. This post made me appreciate it even more.

    Also, the Ditko run is required reading; that’s one of the greatest runs in the history of comics right there.

  12. @somerandomGuy
    I think David stopped reading new Marvel and DC books, but his kickstarter failed to reach the stretch goal of hiring Will Smith to neuralyze his memories Men in Black style.

  13. This is not just one of the best MJ moments, but one of the best moments involving Spider-Man in anything.

  14. @SomerandomGuy:

    Unless I’m remembering incorrectly, he said he was going to quit buying Marvel and DC books. Talking about them is, and should be, fair game, pro or con.

  15. wow, i remember this page so well, although i haven’t read this issue in probably 20 years. the death of gwen stacy arc was the point when spider-man went from a cool superhero to the best superhero (as they had developed parker’s personal life quite a bit in the previous few years, it was really effective) and marvel kept up creating really solid material for spidey all the way up through the 80s.

  16. @WildVulture: You’re right. I came up 1000 bucks short in my Kickstarter, so all I really won was the annoying ability to go “Before Watchmen? Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmeeeeeeeeeeeehhhhhhhhhhhhh” every time someone says “Before Watchmen” in my presence.

    It’s not as fun as it sounds. My breath control isn’t what it used to be.

    @alekesam: Bingo, though I’m planning to be very careful about what I do cover and how I cover it. Also they’ll all be old comics, obviously.

  17. I wonder if this was the first honestly realized romantic relationship in superhero comics. Before M.J. they were all kind of weird revenge fantasies (“Oh, if that twit only knew who I REALLY was!). These two had a real human arc with real human moments like this, even up through a non-gimmicky marriage that only got more interesting.

  18. This is probably my favorite single page in comics, cape or otherwise. It’s unreal. Taken by itself it’s unreal, but in context it’s unbelievably powerful. Not even from a romantic angle, though that subtext is of course there. Just a beautifully human gesture of refusing to be pushed away and helping someone, even through the horrible, hurtful things said. That speaks volumes.

    It’s the masterful thing that the Bullpen of that age understood and that so many creators who grew up on their work never learned: it’s the civilian stuff that makes (or can make) the superhero stuff matter.