In a startling change of pace, the Tearoom Of Despair is ditching the endless blathering about everything that comics is doing wrong and individual issues that made me cry when I was 14. Instead of squeezing these out of my head every few days this blog will instead offer up – for the next month – daily short reviews of individual comics from that teetering pile of comic-filled boxes in the corner of my spare room.
There will probably still be more babbling about everything the industry is doing wrong, and more wittering on about comics that made me cry, but it will be shorter. And daily.
The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man #1
By Peter Bagge
Hate creator Peter Bagge was probably as surprised as anybody when they asked him to do some Spider-Man and Hulk comics, but he didn’t let that stop him from doing bad, bad things to the characters.
Marvel’s reaction when they saw the final product – a decidedly unhealthy Spider-Man and a caustic and savage Hulk story – was somewhat less surprising. To the company’s credit, they did eventually publish these comics. They didn’t make much of a fuss about them, and the Hulk story got ripped up for the first Strange Tales comic several years after it was drawn, but they still published them.
The Megalomaniacal Spider-Man was the most successful of Bagge’s efforts, and is one of the best examples of alternative cartoonists bringing something fresh and vulgar to superhero comics.
Bagge’s Spider-Man story benefits greatly from a simple idea – what if the creation adhered to the strict ethical and moral views of its co-creator? It’s still slightly surprising to realise that Steve Ditko is still out there, producing impenetrable comics for the hardest of hardcore audiences. He is barely noticed by the comic world, but he is still out there, doing his thing.
So what if Ditko had seized cotnrol of the Spider-Man character? What if Spider-Man really did realise how juvenile the good guy/bad guy stuff is, and decided to become Master of his own Destiny? Well, he’d probably end up being the heartless head of a big corporation in the 1980s, delighting in the humiliation of a broke JJ Jameson until he gives it all up and goes off to live a secluded existence in a grotty Queens apartment.
It should be miserable, but it’s not. Partly because it really is bloody funny seeing Jonah get all excited about putting on the costume and squeezing the shooter, and partly because the concludes on a genuinely sweet note, as Petey Parker gets down and dirty with Gwen with genuine love and affection.
There is real bile in this comic, but it is nicely balanced out by a real fondness for Spider-Man and Steve Ditko’s worldview. Spider-Man disappears from the world to produce a large and unreadable manifesto, but he gets to snuggle up to his one, true love. That’s a better ending than most super-heroes get when they finally reach the conclusion of their story.