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CSBG Archive

A Year of Cool Comics – Day 277

Here is the latest in our year-long look at one cool comic (whether it be a self-contained work, an ongoing comic or a run on a long-running title that featured multiple creative teams on it over the years) a day (in no particular order whatsoever)! Here‘s the archive of the comics posted so far!

Today we look at the classic Spider-Man story by Peter David, Rick Buckler and Brett Breeding (and many other hands), the Death of Jean DeWolff!

Enjoy!

There are a number of notable themes explored by Peter David in the classic Spider-Man tale, “The Death of Jean DeWolff,” which ran from Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110.

However, before we get into that, let’s take a look at the striking opening to the tale, which begins with a spotlight on the back story of Captain Jean DeWolff, a police captain who was always nice to Spider-Man (in direct contrast with how the police normally treated him)…

Isn’t that a really strong opening? Wow. Buckler and Breeding did a great job on the art, as well.

Okay, now let’s get into the major themes of this storyline – essentially, what David is doing is exploring Spider-Man’s famous credo, “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility.” Okay, but how best to BE responsible with power? And how do morals and ethics work in there?

It first comes up when Peter Parker sees one of his Aunt May’s boarders get assaulted…

Here’s an aside where Peter (after learning of DeWolff’s death) rides along with another cop talking about Jean…

Back to the themes…those thugs who mugged Aunt May’s boarder are released without bail due to the legal wrangling of Matt Murdock. Naturally, Peter and the boarder are displeased…

So, again, how is Murdock supposed to use his legal “power?” Is he handling himself responsibly? How about ethically? How about morally?

Things get even murkier when the judge Murdock was discussing things with ALSO gets murdered by the bad guy (now identified as the Sin-Eater)…

In the next issue,we get a quick aside where we learn that Jean DeWolff had a thing for Spider-Man…

Chapter three ends with a heck of a cliffhanger, as the Sin-Eater was targeting J. Jonah Jameson and came to his home, where Betty Brant was working with Jonah’s wife, Marla…

When the Sin-Eater is finally found out, Spider-Man and Daredevil clash over what the moral/ethical/”right” way to use their power.

It’s a really well-handled story, although the art changes from issue to issue (Buckler pencils/Breeding inks in Part 1, Buckler pencils/lots of inkers Part 2, Buckler layouts/Breeding finishes in Part 3 and Buckler pencils/lots of inkers Part 4), but it is still good artwork even in its inconsistency.

But the story – wow, Peter David sure began his run on Spectacular Spider-Man with one heck of a story!!!

26 Comments

My all time favourite Spidey story! Its sequel was pretty good, too!

A great pick, Brian. Some comments;

1. Peter David: You are so right, Brian. This has to be one of the all time great debuts on a title, a solid combination of characterization, mystery, ethical dilemma, and suspense.My only quibble has to do with the Daredevil vs Spider-Man fight. If Spidey were really that out of control, I can’t see Daredevil scoring even a momentary victory. A better resolution would have been having Spider-Man come to his senses as was about to kill DD. Yeah, understand that that would have gone against David’s desire to write a story where the out of control guy does not snap out of it before he kills the other guy.

Rich Buckler: The fight scenes were a bit stiff, but the faces were spot on. I loved the Charles (DEATHWISH) Bronson cameo in one of the panels.

What a Batman-y Spider-Man. I . . . I don’t know how I feel about that. I do actually respect Peter David, who’s one of the writers in comics who you can go back and read and just watch him getting better and better over the years.

I just dropped some meter change on Amazing #297 for the cover, though, so maybe I’m biased.

Now that’s a story that’s all Spider-man (“I’ll Take Manhattan!”), the sort of impulse and guilt that makes the character. Peter invents new web-shooters, webs a guy to the sidewalk, leaves the guy webbed to the sidewalk after he threatens to sue, accidentally smashes some rich guy’s painting while trying to stop a robbery, smashes the same rich guy’s statue ON PURPOSE when the rich guy whines about the painting, and then gets his ass handed to him by Doc Ock, who is Dangerous Again. Hides his costume from Aunt May while wearing everything but the mask, worries that Mary Jane is way too good for him, everything you need.

I’d almost forgotten what that was like. Everyone seems to go one way or the other nowadays: either Peter’s life is all wacky hijinx without stable relationships, or it’s Detective Spider-Comics.

To put in context, Amazing #297 came out around two years after Spectacular #107, is written by David Michelinie, penciled by Alex Saviuk, inked by Vince Colletta, lettered by Rick Parker, and colored by . . . Janet Jackson.

Well, I know what lie I’m going to be ‘proving’ to people for the next week. Expect to write a column debunking it in a month or so because I am JUST THAT POPULAR.

This is much more a Spider-Man story than Amazing #297 was. If there was ever a writer who didn’t get Spider-Man, it’s David Michilinie. Even though Spider-Man makes a lot of jokes, he’s always been a dark character with dark stories. Michilinie does the big mistake a lot of writers do, and think that because a character is funny, he must a clown or a joke. To me the classic Lee/Ditko stories especially capture that dark, angry interior concealed by that joking exterior. Peter David got that about Spider-Man. Michilinie wrote Spider-Man like a stuttering goofball comic relief character.

This was an amazing story. It really blew me away when I first read it. And it was before David got as “shticky” as he would get later in his career. He was funny but could still rein it in better at this stage.

I can’t wait for the Essentials to get around to these issues. THIS is the Spidey I love.

Is this reprinted in trade? It looks fantastic.

Is this reprinted in trade? It looks fantastic.

It has been (more than once, I believe), but I believe that as of this exact moment, it is out of print. You might still be able to find a copy on Amazon or eBay.

One of the greatest stories ever.

I’m always annoyed when people call this Peter David’s ‘debut’, though. (Actually, that was Trajan who called it that. You said it’s how Peter David ‘began his run’.) Peter David’s first issue was #103, with the Blaze, one of the greatest single-issue stories ever, and then he wrote a two part story with the Wasp and Paladin in #105 and #106. He also wrote two issues of Amazing, including ‘The Commuter Cometh’, also one of the greatest single-issue stories ever, and Ace in Spectacular Annual #5 (it featured Jean, so it must’ve come before this story, although it must’ve been her last appearance because in ‘Return Of The Sin-Eater’, Carter refers to the dress she wore in that story and says it was the last time he saw her before the murder.)
I can underestand why a story this great can overshadow the earlier ones, especially since they were mostly silly comedies (aside from ‘Ace’), but still, this was not the PADster’s beginning. When the other stories get ignored it underplays the fact that Peter David burst on to the scene suddenly with SEVERAL great stories, not just one.

There’s so much greatness you don’t even cover here. This story featured several different versions of the vigilantism theme, examining not just Spidey’s methods, but Daredevil’s, the Sin-Eater’s (he was a vigilante, too, of an unusual sort), and sorry if this is giving too much away, but also Ernie Popchick, in a situation very similar to the Bernard Goetz incident that was in the news at the time.
This is also the story in which Peter learned Daredevil’s identity for the first time, and found out that Daredevil already knew his.
It also has Betty writing a letter to her mother, which I assume was probably a mistake on PAD’s part, but it works as an early indication of the mental problems she soon had. (So it wasn’t just Ned’s death that pushed her over the edge.)

I have a copy of the 1990 first printing of the trade. This really is a great story, but what messed me up was that the trade actually misprinted two critical pages. Pages 91 and 92 are printed out of order, and those are a couple of the last few pages of the book. The first time I read the story I was very disoriented because those flipped pages came right at the climax! I think that mistake in the trade was, for years, more memorable to me than the actual story.

Mary Warner,

You are quite correct about the DEATH OF JEAN DEWOLFF not being Peter David’s debut on the title. I guess that I just find this story so powerful that it seems like David’s debut.

T,

Just wanted to add that I am in complete accord with your views regarding the darker aspects of Spider-Man. The Lee-Ditko Spider-Man, beneath the joking facade, was a volcano of rage, always having to hold himself in check.To anyone who doubts Peter David’s take on Spider-Man in these issues,who feels that Spidey would not lose control, take a look at the fury that Spider-Man unleashed in the fabled Master Planner arc.

“The death of Jean DeWolff” is one of the most memorable Spiderman story , well written , even though PAD never really liked what he did on that story ( see the different interviews at the time of publishing, and the afterwords in the TPB)

the follow-up is a great story too … only lessen by Colletta’s inking on Sal Buscema

trajan,

you made my point much better than i did. thank you.

david michilinie’s spider-man stories felt like one of those bad married couple sitcoms that have the sad trombone sound effect used several times an episode:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iMpXAknykeg

Ollieno, I’m curious, why didn’t PAD like what he did on that story? I felt he knocked it out of the park.

This was my generation’s Death of Gwen Stacy.

I vividly remember reading the first part in the back seat of my parents’ car and feeling like my dog had died. I liked Jean a lot and was shocked to see her go out like that. Peter David’s best Spidey story of all time, hands down.

This is one of my all time favorite Spiderman stories and Peter David’s run of Spectacular Spiderman is on of the most underrated runs on a book. (Sadly Friendly Neighborhood wasn’t that great but whatevs) I like this and the sequel too. And the story with The Wrecker was great. Peter David strikes a perfect mix of funny and heartbreakingly sad that is perfect for Spidy.

I don’t believe PAD had a problem with his actual work, but rather with

A. the reaction from fans (he was mystified at all the fans who thought that DeWolff was secretly still alive)

and

B. the way that the story sort of typecast him as a “dark” writer (and, of course, later on he got typecast as a “funny” writer).

Man, this came out right after I dropped comics for the first time in my life. To this day, I immensley regret that I missed this when it came out. I was getting older, into the higher grades at high school, and, you know, comics were for kids and all that . . stupid of me. That was one reason. The other was I was just getting really disillusioned with the direction ASM was going with the DeFalco/Frenz, and the grocery store in the area where we had just moved (which was my main supplier of comics) only carried AMS and not Spectacular – I often think that if I had access to Spectacular at the time, I probably would have kept collecting. Little did I know that there were still good Spider-Man stories being put out at the time – they just weren’t in ASM.

I’ve been back to comics for a few years now and am a big fan of PADs, but I’ve been consistently disappointed at my inability to collect this run on Spectacular, this arc especially. I’m chagrined to say that, to this day, I have yet to read this arc, though I’ve heard a lot about it and the excerpts above look fantastic. I was going to go down to the Baltimore Con this summer for the sole purposes of getting this run but, alas, reality and finances got in the way and prevented me. With my LCS focussing on trade paperbacks more than back issues, I’ll probably have to wait until the Baltimore Con comes back around again next summer before I have a realistic chance of getting this run again.

And, yeah, the comparison to Michilinie’s ASM #297 – that’s a whole other rant I could go on. Some friends in college got me to look at comics again briefly in the early 90’s, claiming that the Michilinie run (with star artists McFarlane & Larsen) were the best thing since Lee/Ditko. Needless to say, that “return” to comics didn’t last long for me. And I know that #297 was right before McFarlane started, but I’ve read it, along with most of the rest of Michilinie’s run, and agree with the folks who weren’t particularly fond of it. Spidey just wasn’t “heroic” in Michilinie’s writing. He was more of a clown and a foil for other characters – the “superstar” villians of the time like Venom & Carnage, or whatever other characters from New Warriors or X-men or whatever got that limelight and the heroic treatement, not Spidey. To this day it boggles my mind that Michilinie had such a long run on the title when it was evident that he just didn’t get the character. It pains me to think that there’s probably a whole generation of folks out there who were raised on Michlinie’s Spider-Man who think that Spidey was just some fast, agile guy in a flashy costume who cracked a lot of jokes and left the heavy lifting to other, more “heroic” characters. There always was a dark undercurrent to Spidey, and a lot more raw power to him than Michilinie ever portrayed.

“It also has Betty writing a letter to her mother, which I assume was probably a mistake on PAD’s part, but it works as an early indication of the mental problems she soon had. (So it wasn’t just Ned’s death that pushed her over the edge.)”
Well, the mental problems were later retconned as Kingsley drugging her- partly to avoid a future writer doing a Wanda Maximoff on Betty and partly because the “let’s just yell at Betty, that’ll make her realize her husband was dead” strategy that Peter and Flash adopted shouldn’t have worked.
The weird thing is that PAD wasn’t the only writer to forget Mama Brant was dead- Priest did the same thing when he was scripting ASM 284.

And, yeah, the comparison to Michilinie’s ASM #297 – that’s a whole other rant I could go on. Some friends in college got me to look at comics again briefly in the early 90?s, claiming that the Michilinie run (with star artists McFarlane & Larsen) were the best thing since Lee/Ditko. Needless to say, that “return” to comics didn’t last long for me. And I know that #297 was right before McFarlane started, but I’ve read it, along with most of the rest of Michilinie’s run, and agree with the folks who weren’t particularly fond of it. Spidey just wasn’t “heroic” in Michilinie’s writing. He was more of a clown and a foil for other characters – the “superstar” villians of the time like Venom & Carnage, or whatever other characters from New Warriors or X-men or whatever got that limelight and the heroic treatement, not Spidey. To this day it boggles my mind that Michilinie had such a long run on the title when it was evident that he just didn’t get the character. It pains me to think that there’s probably a whole generation of folks out there who were raised on Michlinie’s Spider-Man who think that Spidey was just some fast, agile guy in a flashy costume who cracked a lot of jokes and left the heavy lifting to other, more “heroic” characters. There always was a dark undercurrent to Spidey, and a lot more raw power to him than Michilinie ever portrayed.

Amen, brother!

Michilinie was one of the gimmickiest writers around, using symbiotes to death and using any “hot” guest star he could with absolutely no character development or vision for the actual protagonist, Spider-Man. I believe his lengthy run lasted because it coincided with three of the hottest Spider-Man artists up until that era: McFarlane, Larsen and Bagley. I also believe that the long period of stagnation under Michilinie is what made the editorial eventually desperate enough to shake things up with the Clone Saga to begin with. His run was my first time ever quitting the flagship title of Amazing Spider-Man, which used to be the one comic book I’d collect without fail from the moment I started collecting comics in the first place.

One of my big disappointments with the 90s Spider-Man cartoon is that it seemed to get a lot of its inspiration from the Michilnie characterization as well. The most clownish thing he’d have Spider-Man do that annoyed me to no end was have him stutter in fear during fights like he was Shaggy from Scooby-Doo…even in his thought bubbles!

It would be great if that story could be reprinted in the “Marvel Premiere Classic” collection ….

Good stuff all around. I know PAD isn’t thought of as a Spider-man writer, but he did do some really good stuff with the character in this and other stories. I remember on “Web of”, he contributed lots of “filler” stories that were much better than the “regular” teams of the title at the time were doing…

I always think of Peter David as a Spider-Man writer. But that’s probably because I didn’t read anything else he wrote for a very long time.

Loved the scene where Daredevil learns Spidey’s secret identity. Subtly done.

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