Sunday, June 19, 2005

A real tear jerker

As I said before, I'm quite a fan of comics. And today I'd like to say a few words about one of my all time favourites.

It is far from original to nominate Amazing Spider-Man #248 as one of the best. Indeed on one fan's list of his ten best Spider-Man stories he feels almost embarrassed to include such an obvious one. But there is something about this issue that just touches everyone.

The comic originally came out in September 1983 (although the cover date is January 1984 - a hangover from the days when comics were dated months ahead to increase their shelf life) when Marvel Comics had the notorious "Assistant Editors' Month." The premise was that the Marvel editors had gone to a convention in San Diego, leading the Assistant Editors in charge of the books. The result was a collection of some of the most unusual issues Marvel has ever put out. For instance we saw The Avengers - or rather a team of Reserve Avengers - on the David Letterman show! Or the Fantastic Four on trial in an intergalactic court with their writer and artist John Byrne as a witness. Or the Marvel Team-Up between the Fantastic Four's kid Franklin Richards and Spider-Man's Aunt May where she became the Golden Oldie, Herald of Galactus, the eater of worlds. (But that was just a dream. Or rather a dream of a dream of a dream of a dream of a dream of a dream of...) Or the issue of Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man which was drawn by the cartoonist Fred Hembeck. And many more.

But amidst all this was an all time gem of an issue. Amazing Spider-Man #248 contains two stories, a break from the norm of a single one. The first, "And he strikes like a Thunderball" wrapped up Spider-Man's battle with the villain Thunderball. Like many Spider-Man stories it ends with a twist and the hero being down on his luck. After beating the villain he encounters a crowd and a television reporter. But rather than talk to him about defeating a villain, they want to know how he feels about causing "the worst traffic jam in the history of eastern Long Island"! Some of these days Spider-Man wonders why he bothers!

But it's the second story that everyone remembers. "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man!" is presented in an interesting format, with extracts from a newspaper article that Spider-Man has read is run alongside his acting upon the consequences. The article is about a kid called Timothy Harrison, who is a big fan of Spider-Man and collects all kinds of items connected with his hero. We see Spider-Man visiting Tim and seeing his collection. During their time together Spider-Man tells Tim how he got his powers, how his webbing works and why he changed from being a television performer to a crime fighter. Throughout Tim comes across as a very likeable kid. At the end as Spider-Man prepares to leave he is asked by Tim if he will reveal his identity. Spider-Man explains that he needs to prevent people from finding out, otherwise his family and friends would be in danger. Tim replies "I know... but I'd never tell another soul that I knew... long as I lived... honest!" Spider-Man pauses and thinks for a moment, then removes his mask. They joke about how for years Spider-Man's nemesis J. Jonah Jameson has been paying him to take pictures of himself! Spider-Man hugs Tim and then he leaves, pausing for a moment on the wall in the grounds outside Tim's room. And then we get the twist in the tail.

The final extract from the newspaper article appears, next to a sign saying "Slocum Brewer Cancer Clinic." The article says:

When I asked him what he wanted, more than anything else, he looked me square in the eye and said, "Mr. Connover, I'd like to meet Spider-Man and talk to him... just for a few minutes.
Well, I hope Tim gets his wish. I hope that somewhere out there Spider-Man reads these words. I hope that my publisher is wrong about him, and that he takes the time to visit a very brave young man named Tim Harrison. And I hope he does it soon.
You see, Tim Harrison has leukemia, and the doctors only give him a few more weeks to live.
Many, many people have attested how this story made them cry. Roger Stern has a reputation as one of the best Spider-Man writers of all (some of his other work includes the original Hobgoblin saga or some of the best Vulture stories that showed there's life in the old man yet) whilst here Ron Frenz, who some became the new regular artist for the series, produces work that is highly reminiscent of Steve Ditko, the original Spider-Man artist. Together they produced a tale that is now invariably found in many of the "greatest" lists.

What's particularly striking is the way that this story is very true to life. Many real life singers, footballers, actors and so on receive requests to make visits to hospitals to meet fans, some of whom aren't going to leave. Many of these of celebrities come across in the media as living extravagant lifestyles and are routinely torn to shreds by one tabloid newspaper or another looking for a sensational story, but we often forget how some work hard for charity or make visits like this, which must be harrowing for them.

Anyway this issue is a classic and if any of you get a chance to buy a copy I thoroughly recommend it.

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