Frustrated, by J. Jonah Jameson

J. Jonah Jameson probably doesn’t have a Perry White level of familiarity but between movies, cartoons and comics, he’s pretty well known. Spidey’s foil, persecutor and comic-relief. As I said yesterday, for me he’s the weakest part of the Lee/Ditko run.

When we first see Jonah, he’s running an anti-Spider-Man crusade in the Daily Bugle and Now magazine (which got largely forgotten as the series moved on). Why are we allowing this freak to perform on TV as a bad example for kids? He’s working outside the system — who’s to say he’s not a criminal himself? While not everyone busy it, the effect of this PR blitz is to make Spidey a pariah (curiously the cops are usually shown having a clear-eyed view of the wall-crawler. I don’t know if that reflects the creators’ views or the Comics Code rules against disrespecting police).

A few issues in, Jameson tells Peter that it’s all about the Benjamins: he has nothing against Spider-Man, but crusading against him sells papers. Then in Amazing Spider-Man #10, he reveals there’s more to it: he resents Spider-Man. Jameson’s a proud man, a successful businessman, a prominent public figure, but he knows Spider-Man is greater, nobler, more heroic than he’ll ever be. Rather than aspire to his level and fail, he’s decided to destroy Spider-Man instead.

Here Steve Ditko was definitely channeling his Randian side: one of the villains in The Fountainhead gives exactly that motivation for destroying Howard Roark. It’s a rationale I found awfully forced when I first read it, but as I’ve grown older I find it a lot more plausible (I now realize people really can be that petty). Kurt Busiek, in Untold Tales of Spider-Man, has Jameson genuinely start off targeting Spidey for money. It’s only when Spider-Man refuses to quit helping a public that despises him that Jameson, whose public-spiritedness is definitely fueled by ego, starts to resent the hero.

Despite that striking moment, most of the time Jameson’s just annoying. Where most of the Spider-Man cast are well-developed — even bullying jock Flash Thompson has some depth — but Jameson gets more cartoonish as he goes along. More cowardly, cheaper (in an early scenes he gives Parker a bonus; a year later they’d never have written him that way), more egocentric, more shallow. When he rehires Frederick Foswell — a former Bugle columnist and secret crime boss — as a crime reporter, it’s a smart move; who knows the underworld better than the man who ran it? But instead of showing Jameson making a shrewd call the story makes him look like a jerk, explaining he’s rehiring Foswell to improve “my reputation as a lovable do-gooder.”

The stuff about wanting to destroy Spider-Man out of jealousy or from greed got forgotten. Several later stories show Jameson as sincerely believing Spider-Man is a menace. It’s not that surprising — as noted yesterday, the first retelling of Peter’s origin left out key details — but it does undercut that moment.

In short doses, Jameson’s an amusing enough buffoon. If I’d been reading ASM once a month instead of binging over a couple of weeks, I might not have minded. But Jameson’s definitely the weakest part of the Lee/Ditko era.

#SFWApro. Cover by Ditko, all rights remain with current holder.

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