Spider-Man Tangled Web #20

Background

What happens when a heart attack lands J. Jonah Jameson on a psychiatrist's couch? We finally get a look "behind the mustache."

Story 'Behind the Mustache'

  Spider-Man Tangled Web #20
Summary: J. Jonah Jameson
Editor: John Miesegaes
Writer: Zeb Wells
Pencils: Dean Haspiel
Inker: Dean Haspiel
Cover Art: Dean Haspiel

It's "Bring Your Child to Work Day" at the Daily Bugle, and Jolly Jonah isn't too thrilled to have a crowd of children hanging around when he's trying to put out the next edition. Making matters worse is Joe Robertson rejecting Jonah's latest Spider-Man headline--"Webbed Menace Eats Elderly"--for being too sensational. But the sight of a girl wearing a Spider-Man t-shirt proves to be too much for Jonah to handle. He collapses with a heart attack, and is told after he revives that he will need to undergo counseling for anger management.

Naturally, Jonah despises the idea of having to speak to a psychiatrist under any circumstances, and bullies the man at every turn. ("When I lose control, I'm afraid that I...?" "Will wake up wearing that tie.") Realizing that his patient calls for more extreme measures, the psychiatrist attempts to place Jonah under hypnosis. Jonah, of course, is skeptical, but the psychiatrist presses on, asking Jonah to talk about the first, strongest memory he has of his father.

The scene shifts to Jonah's past. He is a young boy with a string tied around a loose tooth. His father, David --a veteran, a drunk, and abusive-- is yelling at him to slam the door and pull his tooth out while his mother, Betty, pleads for him to stop. Jonah listens to them argue, then finally kicks the door closed. His father is pleased until he sees tears welling up in his son's eyes, and then he begins to beat him.

That incident proves to be a turning point in the life of young Jonah, who now flies into a rage at the drop of a hat, beating his trainer in boxing practice, beating up some jocks who antagonize him for joining the photo club (because he'd ripped a teacher's pencil sharpener out of the wall), etc. The latter incident impresses a young woman named Joan, whom Jonah begins to date.

One night, after a school dance, Jonah and Joan are at his house, and are interrupted by the appearance of his father, who is drunk out of his mind. He drops the cigar he tries to light, then makes Jonah smoke it. Soon after, Jonah is outside puking with Joan at his side. "I don't want you to get mad," Joan says, "but your dad's a bit of a @#$%." According to Jonah, it was the most romantic thing he'd ever heard.

Back in the psychiatrist's office, Jonah is talking about how he married Joan as soon as he could. The psychiatrist notes that Jonah's father was the driving influence in his life. "How did you feel when men appeared that not only claimed to be heroes, but covered their faces? Did you see your father, Mr. Jameson? Did you convince yourself that these men had something to hide? That they had loved ones they hurt when no one was looking? You had to know... what horrible secret these men were hiding. When did you stop believing in heroes, Mr. Jameson? After all, aren't you a hero to your wife, Joan?" Jonah tells him that Joan died a long time ago. Angrily pulling himself together, Jonah gets up and leaves, threatening his psychiatrist to keep quiet.

The next day, Jonah arrives at the Bugle to find his employees celebrating casual day. ("Johnson, what are you wearing?! You just ruined a vacation I took five years ago!") Johnson tells him that it's casual Friday. "I've never--" Jonah says, then stops. Without a word, he loosens his tie, then walks away.

General Comments

Finally! After months of retcons, weak stories and dumb ideas, we FINALLY have a decent Tangled Web to talk about. Instant classic? No, but definitely a breath of fresh air.

So ol' Jonah winds up on the psychiatrist's couch, eh? I'm not sure if this has been done before with Jonah or if it just feels very familiar, but nobody's breaking any ground here. The same goes for Jonah's father, the pivotal figure in this story. Yes, this is precisely the kind of father we would expect Jonah to have. Unfortunately, it's the kind of father figure we've seen too many times before: the former war hero with a drinking problem and a penchant for abuse. A different approach would've made for a more interesting story, although the interplay between Jonah and his father wasn't too bad.

Of greater interest was the relationship between Jonah and his first wife, Joan. It's common knowledge that Jonah was married once before he met his current wife, Marla, but I've never heard much about the first Mrs. Jameson until now. We still don't know all that much about her since her backstory is told from Jonah's perspective, but his love and affection for her comes through clearly, and it makes Jonah a sympathetic character even when he's beating the snot out of people every other page. Joan was the only good thing that happened to him when he was growing up, and he knew that full well. It helps keep the character real in a story where he could have been treated like a cartoon, abusive father notwithstanding.

Overall Rating

Not a bad story. Definitely better than the previous issues, plus anything that fleshes out J.J.J. as a real character is a good thing. Three webs.