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Peter Parker’s book gets hijacked by the Black Widow’s tight new duds – The Amazing Spider-Man #86

March 14, 2014

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As comic book movies have taken off in the last decade, we’ve all been reminded of that simple element that makes the source medium so enjoyable: the crossover. There’s no other brand of fiction more historically open to mish-mashing than good old stapled newsprint, and watching casts and characters mix and mingle has long been one of the foremost joys of comics. If you want to get deep, you could almost say that there’s something Hegelian about it, a creation of conflict that generates a true essence. In this vein, wouldn’t the World’s Finest duo of Superman and Batman be nothing more than a melding of the thesis and the antithesis?

A bit of a stretch, yes. Okay, a hell of a stretch, and an egregious PHIL101 oversimplification. But let’s not try to deny that CROSSOVERS RULE. Mostly. Case in point: How great was it finally — finally — seeing a team of established movie characters standing side by side in The Avengers? The gradual build, the final execution — and that’s just the beginning, the tip of that metaphorical iceberg. You can go in so many directions with that new goulash.

Except you can’t, because Marvel doesn’t control the movie rights to all of their characters, including probably the most important of them all: Spider-Man. So you’re never — or at least not for a very long time — going to see Peter Parker’s alter ego squaring off with, say, the Black Widow down at your local Cineplex. Captain America is never going to give him fatherly advice preceded by a firm but kind “Son….” Alas. Live with it. Deal with it. Don’t worry yourself about what Hegelian synthesis such a celluloid mingling would create.

But hey, at least there are the comics. Including the one we’ll take a brief look at today. One where two characters met for the very first time, in an extremely forced plot that’s almost completely alien to the Spider-Man storylines of its time.

“Spider-Man. The Black Widow. They’re both arachnids — how have we not put them together yet?” That could be what a well-placed fly might have heard issuing from Stan Lee’s corner office back in the day. But there was more going on here in Amazing Spider-Man #86 than a simple desire to collide worlds. Ever heard of a backdoor pilot? It’s an old tool in television for launching a new series, whereby an established, going-strong show has an episode where the usual cast takes a back seat, or at least rides shotgun, and a new character steps up and takes the lion’s share of the plot duties. NCIS got its start that way (in JAG). So did any number of others. (One of my favorite shows of all time, Magnum, P.I., had a number of a backdoor pilot episodes during its run, each one more dreadful than the next, rendering the decades-later viewer thankful that network executives declined to pick them up and blight airwaves with such tripe.)

This comic is a Lee/John Romita/Jim Mooney backdoor pilot for our friend the Black Widow, a launching pad for her own ongoing series, a chance to re-introduce her in probably the most important book Marvel has ever published. And there’s more going on than that, even — she also gets a new costume in this issue, the tight leather BDSM outfit that we all know and love, the one that’s become so synonymous with the character we’ve almost forgotten that she had a different one back in the day. Which she did, a frilly number that looks like something a society dame would wear to a costume ball — seen below in a flashback to some of her earliest exploits (check out the billowing neck fat on the Khrushchev proxy):

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She gets the new duds that time-honored comic book way: she crafts them herself. (All comic book characters have a little bit of the fashion designer in them.) Voila:

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We should pause here to note that there’s a discrepancy between both Widow costumes and the shadow silhouette seen on the cover. Note that the cover busty bombshell appears to be wearing a miniskirt, an item sported by neither the old Black Widow or the new remodel. You could say that the new belt (“more than decorative!”) might create the illusion, but eh, not really. Either this was a conscious deception (and a pointless one, considering “Black Widow” is in big letters on the cover) or Jazzy John had his usual stable of girls on the brain. A mini is something you’d often see Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy flitting about in, so maybe he got himself stuck in that groove (if that sounds perverse, apologies). Anyway, not a big deal — just an observation.

Speaking of Gwen, here she’s all upset with Peter (Remember him? The star of the book?) because he’s acting strangely — a little post-concussive syndrome after a donnybrook with the Kingpin — and not letting her know the reason(s). She storms off in a huff, which gives us a chance for some nice mild 1960s chauvinism, courtesy of a pipe-wielding Captain Stacy:

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Yes, because girls think with their hearts, not with their brains, which is why they can only focus on things like clothes, shoes and makeup, and not math, which makes their pretty heads hurt.

Spider-Man and the Black Widow have their inevitable collision, though Spider-Man is at about 5% capacity thanks to his scrambled cerebrum. Which means BW gets to tie him up quite easily, a nice bondage touch considering the fetish nature of her apparel. Also, there’s an odd, out of nowhere Woody Allen reference:

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Which begs the question: Who would Woody want to take? Stepdaughters? What?

The book winds to a close with the Black Widow having second thoughts about proving her mettle against a guy with super-powers, and an epilogue that gets us back to our normal Spider-Man narrative thread. But fear not, Swingin’ Stan left no doubt about the purpose of the preceding pages:

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This book isn’t a classic crossover, in that it’s far too concerned with both rebooting Natasha Romanoff’s physical appearance and introducing her to the widest swath of readers possible. In that sense the story does what it sets out to do, though one wonders of Stan couldn’t have achieved his objective with greater style if he wove her (no pun) into Spider-Man’s universe with a defter touch. As it stands, we’re left with a whole hell of a lot of Romanoffian interior dialogue in these panels. It’s ham-handed, and slightly — ever so slightly — off-putting.

That said, there’s no better artist past or present and likely future who’d be better suited to helm the relaunch of the Widow character. Romita single-handedly made Mary Jane Watson the comic book sex symbol she remains to this day, and Natasha’s red tresses are an easy sideways substitution. He literally puts her best face on — at the very core of this comic, at least there’s that.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier, containing a heavy dose of Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow, opens in a couple of weeks. The Amazing Spider-Man 2: More Villains than You Can Shake a Stick At follows in May. That might be as close as the these two characters ever get to crossing paths on the silver screen. But we’ll always have Paris, and we’ll always have this first awkward newsprint meeting of the two.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Adambr permalink
    March 14, 2014 1:14 pm

    I know it’s not the point of this post but I’ve always kind of hated that Captain America “son” schtick. Discounting the whole frozen for decades bit, how much older than Spider-Man is Steve Rogers? He got injected with the Super Soldier Serum as a scrawny teenager (much like Peter Parker got bitten while in high school ) and had at most a six year career before being frozen. Do you call people “son” who are six or seven years younger than you? By the way, I’m glad you’re back to doing almost daily posts again. No sarcasm intended but I was actually worried that something had happened to you since I know of at least one blogger I followed who has committed suicide–glad to see it was other issues that kept you from updating.

    • March 15, 2014 10:39 am

      I’ve always envisioned Captain America to be in his mid-30s, and being in my mid-30s now I wouldn’t have much of a problem referring to a teenager as “son.” Depends on how old you imagine Mr. Rogers to be, one supposes.

  2. March 14, 2014 8:28 pm

    Wow, great observation–I’d never even noticed the mini-skirt outline on the cover. The belt on the cover is also bulkier, for some reason. Maybe whoever approved the cover felt that a shadow of a woman which gave no indication of clothing might give the impression of nudity, and so some last-minute touches were added to be on the safe side.

    • March 15, 2014 10:39 am

      The nudity thing is a good point, and one that I hadn’t considered.

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