Given the absolute abundance of new Spider-Man comics being pumped out by Marvel over the past week, I thought I needed a bit of a holiday diversion to look back on some “classic” comics, so over the next two days, I’m posting about two Christmas-themed Spidey books – one I liked quite a bit, the other … not so much.
Since it’s Christmas Eve, I thought it would be better not to lead with any lumps of coal, so my first Christmas entry is the comic I liked, 2003’s Spider-Man Tangled Web #21, by Darwyn Cook and Jay Boone.
I know I’ve written this sentence before on Chasing Amazing (and it’s been in reference to other comic book series that were first published in the 2001-04 range), but Tangled Web is the quintessential “blind spot” series for me. As was the case with those other series, I was just starting to get back into comic book collecting during this era, so to keep things simple (and cheap), I favored the Amazing flagship series, and bypassed all of the “B” series.
That’s a shame because Tangled Web is a pretty awesome concept and something I wish Marvel would have considered doing this past year during the heights of the Superior era. While Spider-Man/Peter Parker is a character in this series, he’s not the main focus. Instead, many of these stories – similar to the current crop of Amazing Spider-Man #700 “point ones” – have an “evergreen” feel to them and feature stories about some of Spidey’s supporting cast. Plus, the series was notorious for giving other writers/artists who were not normally associated with the character (or even Marvel comics) a chance to shine.
For example, Tangled Web #21 put the spotlight on Cooke, who was primarily a “DC guy” at this point. Cooke’s unique, “cartoony” style would probably have been a bit of a stylistic shock for me within the Amazing Spider-Man universe, but for a quirky “B” title like Tangled Web, it’s a perfect change of pace from a more “traditional” artist. And the fact that this issue is a very absurd holiday story makes Cooke’s writing and art are even more appropriate.
As for the comic’s story, there’s not much to dig into, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s the perfect holiday-themed “one-and-done” that brought a smile to my face at the end and put me in the Christmas spirit. It’s Christmas Eve, it’s snowing, Peter has brought in a bunch of abandoned children into the Daily Bugle’s office, leading to some hilarious scenes involving J. Jonah Jameson and Betty Brant, and Mary Jane is stranded by the blizzard and won’t be home for Christmas.
Meanwhile, Sue Storm and the Fantastic Four, and the Inhuman Crystal Amaquelin are trying to track down Crystal’s sister Medusa. This diversion oddly brings Sue Storm, Crystal and Janet Van Dyne (aka, the Wasp) to the mall to do some holiday shopping (finding something for Black Bolt is a particular challenge) when the Puppet Master is up to no good, taking control of the mall’s Spider-Man (played by Flash Thompson, ‘natch) and Medusa, in order to wreak havoc and steal whatever it is in the store Santa’s sack.
True to Tangled Web’s usual M.O., the bulk of the story focuses on Sue, Cyrstal and Janet, with occasional cut backs to Jonah and Betty. But between the heightened characterizations, and the overall light and breezy tone of the comic (Sue thinking her butt looks too big in the Fantastic Four playset her son Franklin is requesting for Christmas is funny stuff), I can’t say I honestly miss Spider-Man. I’ve said many times in the past that I think Spider-Man has one of the best supporting casts in comic books, and this series, and more specifically, Tangled Web #21, demonstrates the legitimacy of my argument.
And Spider-Man naturally shows up at the end to save the day. He gets to the mall just in time to see a Puppet Master-controlled Flash and Medusa really making a mess of things (and giving Jonah an opportunity to show the children Peter left at the Bugle that Spidey is truly a “menace”).
In typical “Parker luck” fashion, he slugs Medusa right in front of the Fantastic Four, leading to some physical retribution from the Thing. Plus there’s a funny bit where Spidey mouths off to The Thing before eating and orange rock fist in the face for his troubles.
Since this is a silly Christmas issue, all’s well that ends well. All misunderstandings are resolved, the Inhumans buy Black Bolt a chainsaw for Christmas, and Jonah pulls some strings to get MJ back in New York City in time for Christmas. Cooke ends the comic with the group looking right back at the reader and wishing them a “Happy Holidays” making this story feel like the comic book equivalent of a wacky Christmas variety show from yesteryear.
That, my friends, is what a Christmas comic book should be. Other Christmas-themed issues have taken place within the continuities of the Amazing or Spectacular Spider-Man series, and read as if the candy canes, Santas and evergreen trees were shoe-horned into the larger storylines. Nothing says “Merry Christmas” like Spider-Man fighting a dinosaur man at the Museum of Natural History, am I right?
Tangled Web #21 takes full advantage of what the series is all about. Christmas stories really shouldn’t figure into the continuity of larger affairs. By design, they should just be fun little diversions that make us laugh and appreciate the people we love.
So on that note, Merry Christmas (until tomorrow’s post… then Merry Christmas again)!
All images from Spider-Man Tangled Web #21: Darwyn Cooke, J. Bone & Matt Hollingsworth
According to the ASM edition of the Official Index to the Marvel Universe, this Christmas story would be placed between ASM #54 (1998 series) and #55. That is, if you needed to know where to place this story ASM-wise. For the general Spider-Man chronology, it takes place between Black Panther #52 (1998 series) and Venom/Carnage #1-4 (2004).
I came across my run of Tangled Web yesterday when I was cataloging my collection. There were some really great stories in the series that I’m hoping to go back and reread eventually.