Monday, March 19, 2012

Comic Review -- Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #23: Fighting Words / Peter David, Todd Nauck, Robert Campanella, and John Kalisz

A few years ago, when I was following the events and fallout of Marvel's Civil War feverishly--and not collecting single-issue comics anymore--there was a single issue that made me break that rule.  It revolved around a moment I'd wondered about for years, regarding what would occur between Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson once the latter found out that Peter was Spider-Man.  What would Jonah say to Peter, directly, about his years-long deception, about having bought pictures Peter had essentially taken of himself, and about one of his closest associates also being one of his most hated rivals.

We finally get an answer to that question in Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #23, which is very aptly titled, "Fighting Words."

The issue begins with a bruised and battered looking Jonah showing up at Joe "Robbie" Robertson's house, asking to speak with him privately.  Jonah, who has bruises on his face and the knuckles of his right hand, had fired Robertson from The Daily Bugle, causing an uproar from his staff and finally catching Spider-Man's ire.  Getting into an argument with another long-time employee, Betty Brant, over the firing, Jonah is stopped in his tracks by a web-strewn ultimatum left in his office by the webslinger, telling him to meet with him privately that evening at abandoned gym so they can talk.

When they finally meet face-to-face, a verbal duel ensues, where each tries to get the other to come clean about why they've come to this point.  Peter tries to get Jonah to re-hire Robbie; Jonah refuses, then makes a counter-offer to either drop his fraud lawsuit against Peter or re-hire Robbie; Peter, knowing Jonah won't keep Robbie unemployed, tells Jonah to drop the lawsuit, prompting a look of surprise from Jonah, who then calls Peter selfish.  Peter then makes the point that Jonah fired Robbie specifically to provoke this confrontation, and then offers to let Jonah hit him, as many times as he wants.

Shocked, Jonah at first won't rise to the bait, but after some goading by Peter, who threatens to tell everyone what a coward he is, Jonah lets loose furiously on Peter, who has unmasked by this point and set his camera up to take pictures of the whole thing.  After Jonah's hand is bloodied and he's exhausted from the effort, Peter gives him one final gift: the film for the whole incident.  He says his goodbyes and leaves an uncertain Jonah at the gym with the film, calling in vain to Peter to talk about this.

The next day at The Bugle, Jonah destroys the film, then walks into a door as Betty Brant comes out of the women's restroom.  We then flash back to the present, where Jonah, injuries and all, has explained all this to Robbie, and lets him know that he did use Robbie to provoke a face-to-face meeting with Peter, and that he will be hiring Robbie back to work for him.  In a final bit of humor, Jonah reaches for more wine and finds it gone, lifted and replaced with a note by Spider-Man, a final slap in the face from the webslinger.

This story occurs during the Back In Black saga, where Spidey has donned the black suit to advertise to the bad guys of the world that he's in a dark place right now.  His wife MJ is in hiding, and his Aunt May has been felled by an assassin's bullet that was meant for him due to his publicly unmasking during the Civil War.  He's a fugitive from the law, and he's got nothing left to lose, he feels.  It's an amazing way to end this series of stories, and if I'm not mistaken, it's a nice resolution to this particular relationship before the tragedy that is One More Day begins.

Amusingly enough, I was looking for the term "bop 'em
bag" for a recent post. I should have checked this issue.
J. Jonah Jameson has long been one of my favorite Spider-Man nemeses, possibly my all-time favorite, simply because of the dual nature of his relationship to Peter Parker.  This issue brought the realization of that duality front and center, and the payoff is nothing short of spectacular.  Jonah's resentment and rage, Peter's insistence on being thanked and steadfast intent to get Robbie re-hired, even as he tries to punish himself for all the bad things that have happened to his loved ones due to the fallout of his decision to unmask --all of these things are touched upon, and Peter David uses the close nature of their relationship to really push Jonah's buttons near the end of the confrontation.  When he finally slugs Peter, you really can feel the years of frustration and anger pouring out from him as he lays into the man he's both loved and hated for so long.  It really does seem to drive home the idea that, in the end, it's only the people close to you who can truly hurt you.

Artistically, I have plenty of good things to say about Nauck's pencils.  There's more focus on Spidey's supporting cast in this issue, and they all look good: both Jonah's comical gruffness and his righteous anger are well-rendered and in character.  Robbie and his family look good as they quietly seethe over Jonah's presence, and Betty Brant looks like Betty Brant: strong, sexy, and brave in the face of Jonah's warpath.  The little we actually see of Peter (as opposed to Spider-Man) is also spot-on.  There are occasional issues I have with some facial expressions not fitting the moment in which they're drawn, but these things are few and far between.

Overall, I have nothing but good things to say about this issue.  It's a wonderful story that serves as an example of what could have been if they hadn't rebooted Peter Parker's life with One More Day / Brand New Day.  The art is good, the pacing and character development is wonderful, and this is simply one of those big moments that any true Spider-Man fan has to have in his collection.  Highly recommended.

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