Over the next month Mark is going to share his thoughts on what he considers to be some of the “Lost Gems” of the Spider-Man comic book universe. These are some of Mark’s favorite stories that aren’t likely to appear on any “best of” lists.
This entry looks at Amazing Spider-Man #246, aka “The Daydreamers,” by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr.
I thought the best way to kick off a series of posts about “lost gems” in the world of Spider-Man comics is to feature “The Daydreamers,” a very, very good comic that has a tendency to get overlooked because it was published smack dab in the middle of one of the greatest creative runs in Amazing Spider-Man history.
Whenever the Roger Stern/John Romita Jr. run is brought, the stories most talked about include “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut,” “The Origin of the Hobgoblin,” and “The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man” (though Ron Frenz provided pencils on the latter, not JRJR). And while “The Daydreamers” may not quite be on par quality-wise with some of these all-time classics, it certainly fits in nicely with some other fondly remembered stories from Stern/Romita Jr.’s run, like “Let Fly These Aged Wings” and “But the Cat Came Back …”
In many ways, “The Daydreamers” represents an art in comic book storytelling that’s completely lost in today’s “writing for the trade” environment. It’s a classic one-and-done story, but also functions as the epitome of the old Stan lee adage, “every comic is someone’s first comic,” in how it weaves in and provides critical characterization for a number of featured players including Spider-Man, Black Cat, J. Jonah Jameson and Mary Jane Watson. Plus, despite its heavy character focus, the comic also manages to have a lot of fun, never taking itself too seriously while simultaneously capturing some important emotional content. By those merits alone, “The Daydreamers” should rank among the greatest one-and-done stories in Amazing Spider-Man history.
The comic is actually split into four short vignettes, each focusing on a different character. Black Cat, Spider-Man’s (at the time) girlfriend is seen recovering in the hospital from her injuries sustained in another fan-favorite story, “The Owl/Octopus Wars,” when she dreams about going out on a date with Spidey that turns into a mini-crime spree; Jameson, after apparently becoming a member of the track-suit mafia, finally gains the upper-hand against his masked menace nemesis when he physically beats him up; Mary Jane, who had just returned to Spider-Man continuity after disappearing a few years earlier (and rejecting Peter’s marriage proposal), dreams of being a Broadway star before the reader learns about some hidden drama in her life; and Spider-Man imagines a world where he finally gets the kudos from folks like JJJ, the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, that he has long sought after.
In almost every instance, all of these dream sequences are designed to be fun and fanciful (MJ’s is probably the most dour, ending with a tease to family drama that would be later revealed in a classic Tom DeFalco/Frenz issue about a year later). In case the story isn’t light enough, Stern and JRJR are sure to throw in some truly hilarious bits, like Black Cat imagining that under the mask, her boyfriend looks like Cary Grant, or Jameson randomly having a head of hair reminiscent of European male supermodel (or Fabio).
But each scenario also provides us with some concrete information about the characters. Black Cat might appear like she’s willing to reform her criminal ways, but in her dreams, she’s spending time with her superhero boyfriend pulling off major heists. Jameson certainly believes in the power of the press as a vehicle to publicly shame and admonish Spider-Man, but he secretly believes that it might take some physical persuasion to convince Spidey himself to give up on his masked vigilante act. And Peter’s dreams of validation go all the way back to the very first appearance of Spider-Man — when he warns a criminal on the cover of Amazing Fantasy #15 that he’s going to “show” all the people who doubted Peter Parker.
To that last note, the comic ends on a wonderfully warm note when Spider-Man snaps out of his daydream and helps out a kid who is getting picked on for being lost in his books and studies. If Stern and JRJR had just stopped there — Spider-Man saves the day — the moment still would have been a great demonstration of Spider-Man’s “friendly neighborhood” approach to crime-fighting and problem-solving. However, the creative team pushes the issue one beat further by supporting the kid’s dedication to school but also warning him against becoming too lost in his studies (as Peter arguably was before a bite from a radioactive spider changed his life). The scene serves as a great reminder that Peter is truly lucky for being given the powers of Spider-Man and that not every “professional wallflower” or bookworm will ever get such a chance. While it’s okay to praise those people for being committed to academics, Peter also understands that being too insulated could have dire consequences (see what happened to someone like Otto Octavius).
Ultimately, it’s a lot of thematic content to pack into a single issue of ASM, but it’s the way Stern and Romita Jr. accomplish this task that make this comic stand out from the pack. In effect, a reader can glean pretty much everything they need to know about the world of Spider-Man and his supporting cast from a single comic – their hopes, dreams, fears, goals and more. The reader even gets a quick glance at Spidey’s entire rogues gallery (and learns, in a subtle way, that despite all of these super powered villains, Spidey’s most nefarious adversary is public perception). “The Daydreamers” is no “Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut” but it doesn’t need to be so dramatic. And in its own way, it might actually tell us more about Spider-Man.