Comics : Untold Tales of Spider-Man Anthology

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

The third story kicks off with a busy Darick Robertson/Jeff Albrecht fight scene showing the Human Torch attacking the Sandman who has Spider-Man at his mercy but the title, "Celebrity", promises a more substantial angle than action.

In Detail...

"Celebrity"
Untold Tales of Spider-Man Anthology (Story 3)
SMURF 016.700
Summary: Spidey and the Torch take on the Sandman!
Editor:  Kurt Busiek, Stan Lee
Writer:  Christopher Golden, Jose R. Nieto
Illustrator:  Darick Robertson, Jeff Albrecht
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Review

Peter Parker is hanging out at the Daily Bugle flirting with Betty Brant when J. Jonah Jameson orders him to head to Angelique's, a Fifth Avenue French restaurant where Johnny Storm is escorting starlet Heather Fox "to an early dinner...before her big premiere tonight." The Bugle is doing an article comparing "the heroic Torch to the criminal insect" Spider-Man. Jonah promises Pete two-thirds of his usual rate because "these paparazzi things are a breeze." (An amusing comment considering what's going on in ASM these days.)

Peter positions himself on the sidewalk at the restaurant and is nearly trampled by the professional paparazzi when Johnny and Heather show up. He wonders how Johnny ended up so famous while Spider-Man ended up so infamous.

Johnny and Heather aren't the only ones dining at Angelique's. William Baker is there with his date Candace. The menu prices are almost more than he can afford but it's worth it to him to impress Candace. He met her when he was casing the jewelry store at which she works but had to wait until he was out on parole to ask her out since he is the Sandman and had been captured by Spider-Man. But Candace doesn't know any of that and, spotting the Torch, she moons and sighs over him so much that William's jealousy gets the better of him. He attacks the Torch, trying to prove to his date who the real man is. Soon, Spider-Man joins the fight. The Sandman thinks this is great. It gives him more opportunity to prove himself to Candace. He doesn't know that she is mortified, that she is experiencing her worst date ever. She ends up side-by-side with Heather who is "looking bored and exasperated." The women talk. Candace fawns over the Torch only to learn that Heather thinks Johnny is a boring kid, that she'd rather go out with a different member of the Fantastic Four ("I mean, a girl has to be curious," she says) and that she thinks the Sandman is a "sandy hunk".

In the fight, Spidey lets the comments of the crowd get to him ("Ya can't expect real heroes like the Torch to keep bailing you out!"), which translates into him letting the Sandman wallop Johnny from behind. Sandy realizes he has ruined his date. When he sees the rest of the Fantastic Four arrive, he skips out. Spidey hears the crowd cheer and thinks they are cheering for him until he sees the Fantasticar with Reed, Sue, and Ben in it. The recovering Torch angrily tells Spidey, "You need to relax, buddy." Spidey, unrepentant, tells Johnny to get back to his date. "I'm sure she's really impressed by your feats of derring-do," he says. "Not particularly," says Heather who has approached the two super-heroes. As the paparazzi snap photos of Johnny and Heather, she tells him that she is ditching him to go have café au lait with her new friend Candace. She only joined the heroes because she wanted to ask Spider-Man "if there was any way he could put me in touch with that Sandman guy." Hearing this, Johnny's face turns bright red ("For once, the change in color wasn't brought on by fire.") and, seeing that, Spidey swings away whistling a happy tune.

In General...

Christopher Golden and Jose R. Nieto, the co-writers here, are veterans of Marvel prose stories. (Christopher has written a number of X-Men books including the Mutant Empire trilogy. Jose co-wrote Spider-Man:Venom's Wrath with Keith R.A. DeCandido.) As such, they demonstrate a fine understanding of the characters of Spidey, Torchy, and Sandy. But they are trying for something more here, an examination of the phenomenon of celebrity in our society as seen through the eyes of four (counting Heather) genuine celebs and one (Candace) star-struck civilian. Johnny and Heather are well-trained practitioners of celebrity, knowing how to handle the paparazzi and how to appear affectionate in public without having a thing in common. But even while she seems to court Johnny, Heather is looking for an older man, someone grittier, with tattoos... but perhaps still a celebrity. Candace, looking at this from the outside in, is impressed by the paparazzi presence, which only increases her superficial mooning over the golden-boy Torch to the exclusion of her own well-meaning date. Sandman reacts angrily to the way Johnny's celebrity unconsciously steals his date after he has worked so hard to be one of the regular people. In lashing out, he convinces himself that he is showing Candace that Johnny is a loser but in actuality he is countering by asserting his own celebrity. It doesn't work. Candace doesn't see him in the same celebrity light as she sees Johnny. And Sandy ultimately realizes that, in asserting his celebrity, he has let himself in for all the negative aspects of it. Only in his case, it isn't paparazzi he must deal with but jail. Spidey is caught in the middle of all this. He is a blend of celebrity-civilian going so far as to being a member of the paparazzi itself. When he gets involved in the fight, he is glad for the paparazzi's presence because he dares to dream that "maybe for once the papers would print a true story about Spider-Man." He yearns to be the celebrity in society as well as in fact but he is thwarted and must content himself with seeing Johnny taken down a peg in the celebrity circles when Heather demonstrates herself more interested in Sandman. Candace has gotten enough of a peak behind the celebrity curtain to deal with Heather as a real person and a friend. And Heather's interest in him shows the Sandman could graduate to being in the celebrity spotlight too if only he'd stick around and face the music.

Overall Rating...

Sounds great, doesn't it? Unfortunately, in execution, it doesn't engage us all that well. There are some other nice touches in the story such as mentioning that the Torch recently appeared on the cover of Seventeen Magazine or that Spidey has a chance to knock the Sandman out with a sneak attack from behind except that he can't resist singing out "Here I come to save the day!" as he attacks (using a pop culture reference to assert his own spin on the situation even if it makes his job harder) or this nice little line describing Sandy's view of Candace, "But she was still sensational. Spectacular. Amazing." or the mention that the Torch's voice is "strange and annoyingly haughty, issuing as it did from living flame." It's placement "shortly before Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, 1964 works fine too, putting it as it does between that issue and Sandy's battle with Torchy in Strange Tales #115, December 1963. But somehow it seems to work better in theory than it does in practice. The result is a slightly disappointing middle-of-the-road non-starry-eyed Three Webs.

Footnote...

Story #4 featuring the Looter is next.