5.22.2015

Spider-Man: 1980

Beginning! A 12-part series on:


Specifically, the Spider-Man of 1980 to 1990. With some side roads.

The picture above is not, actually, from a 80s Spider-Man comic. It was the header from a Sunday strip of one of Spidey's newspaper stories from the 70s. I'm going to try to only include 80s content for this series - lord knows there's more than enough - but the Sunday newspaper strip headers were so cool, I have to use a few. If I include any non-80s stuff, I'll make sure to note it.

Such as this one, from an early 70s Third Eye Blacklight Marvel poster.

1. SOME BRIEF BIOGRAPHICAL ASIDES

As mentioned elsewhere, Daredevil was my first favorite Marvel character, but after Frank Miller left the book in 1983, my affection waned. Not by a huge amount - I still subscribed to it for many years, but I began paying more attention to one of my other subscriptions: The Amazing Spider-Man. Before too long, Spidey was my hands-down favorite, DC, Marvel, or otherwise. 

I say "otherwise" because there were viable non-Big-Two comics being published in those days, but truth be told I really didn't explore much of it until many years later. Oh sure, I liked Anthrax, so I read my friend's Judge Dredds. But stuff like Love and Rockets? Cerebus? Elfquest? American Flagg? Totally off my radar at the time.

Two quick things:

1984 - I traded some comics (can't remember which) for dozens of Spidey-related comics from a kid in my class who had no use for them. Dozens-with-a-D! I had the aforementioned subscription to Amazing and whatever Marvel Team-Ups or Spectaculars I could get at the Rhein Main AFB Commissary, and that was it. So, a coup like this was a Louisiana Purchase event in my young life - overnight, I had twice as many comics than I had before.

1985 - My parents got me this for my birthday:


It's a collection of some of Spidey's newspaper stories, but it served me as a primer to Spider-Man in the 70s. Not that the strip was official Marvel continuity, but it gave me an idea of the feel of things and introduced me to some other characters in the Spider-verse. (Better than Spidey-verse? I think so.) Like the Prowler and the White Tiger:


Between the above and along with The Official Guide to the Marvel Universe, Marvel Saga, and reprints in Marvel Tales, the character, his creators, and his universe were slowly revealed to me. By the time we got back to the states in 86, I had most of his backstory in place. It was the type of slow burn that can be accomplished with a few clicks these days. (I'll try and keep the in-my-day reverie to a minimum with these posts, I promise.)

I got into Spidey at just the right time - the high water mark of both the character's and the company's continuity. At the time of most of these stories I'll be covering, I was collecting 15-20 Marvel titles a month. By decade's end, I was collecting exactly 1 (Zorro). And the reasons for that have mostly to do with Spider-Man.

But I get ahead of myself.

2. THE BASICS

Marvel comics of yore reintroduced the basics of the character every issue. ("Every issue is someone's first." Great stuff on this topic at Shooter's blog, comments and all.) The idea was to give any reader everything he or she needed to know to appreciate the comic in his or her hands.

Which means for Spider-Man, you got a lot of this sort of thing:

Enlarge for origin story.

And not only his powers - we're missing his Spider-sense and web-shooters, above, but I didn't want to overdo it - and origin but his basic attitude and relationship to the rest of the Marvel universe. 

This "I bet these things never happen to..." thing happened quite a bit.
It wasn't even confined to the Marvel universe:
I suppose "comic book guy with the cape" could refer to any number of folks, but I'm pretty sure he means Superman.
Similarly, there was usually at least one moment per issue that showcased the flippant side of the character:


This really wasn't as intrusive as is sometimes lamented these days, though certainly some writers did it better than others. Spider-Man had a pretty good crop of writers for most of these years, and they did it well. If the story involved Mary Jane, Aunt May, or J. Jonah Jameson, you got the "Oh, it's my sickly Aunt May, the woman who raised me! If I disappoint her, what's the point of anything?" sort of line, but you didn't get info-dumps on things not germane to the story. Many comics of the era performed this task less gracefully.

Of course, at the beginning of the 80s, Peter thought Aunt May was dead.
For a few months, anyway.
Mary Jane wasn't around much when I first started reading, but they brought her back in every now and again so we wouldn't forget who she was. More on Peter's dating life below.
Same goes for JJJ, actually - Peter Parker's cantankerous, Spidey-hating boss at the Daily Bugle

In 1980, Peter was happily employed by a rival newspaper, the Daily Globe.
So they had to periodically cut back to JJJ, acting all JJJ-ish (i.e. dickishly) to keep new readers in the loop. Because, I mean, this was Spider-Man; if he was happy at the Daily Globe, like Aunt May being dead, it was never meant to last.
And it didn't. (Last.) His rival, tho, Lance Bannon, stuck around for awhile. He was even the frontrunner in the "Who is the Hobgoblin?" mystery for awhile, but more on that when we get to 1983.
Remember how I refused to deal with The Leader or General Ross stories when I did my Hulk in the 70s series? I won't be spending too much time with JJJ, either. As my friend Jeff wrote in one of the comments sections: "(A one-note character) and that note is as shrill, grating, and interminable as an Emergency Alert System test alarm at 2 o'clock in the morning." Life's too short. 

As for the rest of Spidey's supporting cast in 1980, most of them were fellow T.A.s at Empire State University, where Spidey was teaching and doing grad work at the time I met him. 

Not Curt Connors, obviously.

In Stan Lee's preamble to the aforementioned Best of Spider-Man, he comments on how John Romita Sr.'s taking over art duties after Steve Ditko resulted in Peter Parker's growing from the gangly high school nerd look he had for his first few years into a generally more handsome and athletic-looking young man. This happened gradually and unintentionally - JRSR was coming from a romance background and he proved physically incapable of drawing awkward-looking guys. Readers praised the realism at work, thinking this was a subtle move on Marvel's part of showing Peter realistically aging. As I was reading the old gangly-Parker stories in Marvel Tales at the time, this comparing-high-school-and-college-Spidey business was especially fun for me.

Title page to Amazing Fantasy #15.
And the same goes for old pals like Harry and Flash:


I always liked how Flash, who tormented Peter in high school while idolizing his alter ego, eventually became one of Peter's buddies; I'm a sucker for that kind of former-enemy/now-friend stuff. Probably because I grew up reading Marvel. Which brings me to my next topic: 

3. PETER PARKER, SOAP OPERA

I sometimes wonder if my affection for nonsense like Dawson's Creek can be attributed to my Spider-mania of the 80s. Spider-Man was an angsty sort. Stan Lee said he gave Spidey that personality to give him something to write during all the web-slinging-round-town panels. His personal and family drama would be totally familiar to fans of the Creek or 90210. (Allowing for web-shooters and all.)

When I started reading Spidey, he was dating Debbie Whitman, or dancing around dating her, I should say. Here are some typical moments from their courtship:

This is at some kind of rock concert, in case you're wondering what gives in the background.
A quick google search reveals she returned in Marvel's Civil War. I know only the broad strokes of Spider-continuity after 1990.
We'll have more to say on Debbie and Peter next time and the time after that. In 1980, they're just locked in a pattern of making a date and Peter breaking it/ storming off. I'm sure that's all it would take to get "Marvel's culture of rank misogyny" trending nowadays.

That's nothing, though, compared to Spidey's tryst with the Dazzler in Amazing Spider-Man 203. It's not exactly accurate to call it "dating," but... well, see for yourself.

Translation: I've been really tryin', ba-by...
Dazzler is such an interesting artifact from the era - certainly more fun to look back on now than she was at the time (speaking only for myself.)

Rollergirl +
Kiss (looks like the Space Ace) = The Disco Dazzler.
You'd never know it from today, but Dazzler started off as a huge money-maker for Marvel the following year. They shipped it direct-market-only to test the waters, and it sold 428,000 copies.

Spider-Man also started his many-years-of-footsy with the Black Cat in 1980, but I'll save that for below. As for the other girls he dated:

Glory Grant: ended up "just friends."
Cissy: didn't end well.
Dawn Starr: ditto.

4. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN: 38 - 49

Written by Bill Mantlo (38-40, 42), Tom DeFalco (41), Roger Stern (43, 45-49), and Marv Wolfman (44).

SSM 39 - The Spider-Lizard. No explanation necessary.
Pencils by Sal Buscema (38), John Romita, Jr. (39), Frank Springer (40), Jim Mooney (41, 49), Mike Zeck (42-43, 46), Steve Leialoha (44), and Marie Severin (45, 47-48).

Splash page, SSM 46.
THOUGHTS: I don’t know how many characters Bill Mantlo created, but it sure seems like that’s all he did, from title to title. Excessive for Marvel? Not really. I've got nothing against Mantlo's work for Marvel - quite a bit of it is damn good, as a matter of fact. It's probably that of his work for Marvel, like Sal Buscema, I've got virtually all of it so perhaps it seems over-represented in my personal collection. 

Spider-Lizard is, of course, appreciated.

One more ti-ime!
ANNUAL: Written by Ralph Macchio. Pencils by Jim Mooney.

SSM Annual 2. The Rapier. Meh.
ROGUE’S GALLERY: Morbius, Schizo-Man, Meteor Man, Frightfour Four, Belladonna (also disguised as The Prowler), The Vulture, Cobra, The Smuggler.

Schizo-Man (formerly Peter Parker's fellow grad student, Chip. Hear me, X-Men! No longer am I the grad student you once knew...!)
GUEST STARS: Black Goliath (now Giant Man), Human Torch (fake-out).


5. MARVEL TEAM-UP: 89 - 100

Written by Chris Claremont (89, 100), Steven Grant (90-95, 97), Alan Kupperberg (96), Marv Wolfman (98), and Tom DeFalco (99).  


Pencils by Michael Nasser (89), Rich Buckler and Mike Vosburg (90), Pat Broderick (91), Carmino Infantino (92-93, 97), Mike Zeck (94), Jimmy Janes (95), Alan Kupperberg (96), Will Meughniot (98), Jerry Bingham (99), and Frank Miller (100).

A very Carmine-Infantino-esque panel.
THOUGHTS: Despite some of the names above, the art is a little on the rushed side. I don't think Marvel Team-Up was the highest priority for the Spider-editors. Probably a step or two above Spidey Super Stories, but the team-up book was phasing out as a concept in general. 

There’s a Storm/ Black Panther back-up in issue 100 that tells us they’ve met before and hints at regrets of what might have been. This was a thread later picked up on, if memory serves. Also worth mentioning: it's an anti-apartheid book, which given the cover date puts Marvel a few years ahead of the pack as far as disinvestment in apartheid-era South Africa goes.

ANNUAL: Written by Roger Stern. Pencils by Herb Trimpe (RIP, Herb). A perfectly readable effort, featuring some familiar faces round the Dog Star Omnibus HQ:

"STUPID TREES!"

And some over-the-top philosophizin' from Luke Cage:


ROGUE’S GALLERY: Arcade/ Cutthroat, Killer Shrike / Modular Man, Moondark, Mr. Fear, Tatterdemalion: 

Name means "Ragged Tramp." Let's get this back into the lexicon.
Dansen Macabre (!), Nick Fury and S.H.I.E.L.D. (sort of), Status Quo: 

Probably the most interesting issue of the year, from the Howard the Duck team-up.
Howard's thought balloon cracks me up.
Doctor Benway (I see what you did there...), The Owl, Baron Brimstone, The Sandman, Xi’an and Tran.

GUEST STARS: Nightcrawler, The Beast, Ghost Rider, Hawkeye, The Werewolf, The Shroud, Mockingbird, Howard the Duck, Spider-Woman, Black Widow, Machine Man, Fantastic Four.

6. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN: 200 - 211

Written by Marv Wolfman (200-206), Roger Stern (207), and Denny O’Neil (208-211).


Pencils by Keith Pollard (200-205), John Byrne (206), Jim Mooney (207), JRJR (208), and Alan Weiss (210).

THOUGHTS: In 1980 Amazing Spider-Man was selling 249,000 copies a month. It would be overtaken by the X-Men by the end of the year, but when the decade began, ASM was Marvel's best-selling title. It had been written by Gerry Conway and Len Wein for memorable runs in the 70s, but with the advent of Jim Shooter as Editor-in-Chief and his edict that writers couldn't serve as their own editors, they'd gone over to DC. Marv Wolfman - ASM's writer after Wein and Conway - would soon join them.

Which translates to a running-out-the-clock feel to this stretch. Even when he was more committed, though, I don't think his run on Spidey is Wolfman's best work. Which makes sense as he had one foot out the door and was rather pessimistic about comics in general at that point. 

I wasn't particularly impressed with this Spidey vs. the Burglar who killed Uncle Ben. But then again, I never enjoyed Batman crossing paths with Joe Chill, either. Not every thread needs to be tied up.
The Stern and O'Neil stories are better. Still not my favorite year of ASM stories, but I have fond memories of buying them as back issues in 1986 and 1987 (when I filled in the holes in my ASM collection - those holes I could afford to fill on my lawn-cutting money, that is.) The best stuff is the Black Cat two-parter, which sets up the Black Cat/ Spider-Man dynamic for years to come.


ANNUAL: Written by Denny O’Neil. Pencils by Frank Miller.

This is a fun one - Spider-Man gets embroiled in a wager between Dormammu and Doctor Doom.
Some nice art from Frank.

ROGUE’S GALLERY: The Burglar, Lightmaster, Mesmero, Fusion, and Kraven.

SOMEWHERE BETWEEN ROGUES AND GUEST STARS: The Punisher, Black Cat, Sub-Mariner: 


Madame Webb, and The Dazzler. (Madame Webb had a cool visual; she'll be returning in the posts to come.)

7. MARVEL TALES 

Reprinting Amazing #143. (Written by Gerry Conway. Pencils by Ross Andru.)
I don't plan on covering every Marvel Tale published in the 80s - they're not 80s adventures, after all - just some of the memorable storylines I remember reading alongside said 80s adventures. This one - Peter Parker takes a trip with Robbie Robertson, his editor at the Bugle, to Paris - was one I had lying around and read a bunch of times, even if it's a pretty standard super-guys-punching-each-other story. 

Or would have been had Cyclone bothered to show up before the last page.
Peter and MJ: The Early Years.
Nice page.
And definitely fun to see Spider-Man web-slinging around Paris. One wonders what he's attaching his webs to, though. Google-Street-View Notre Dame to see what I mean.
Or the Place de Vendome. One of the reasons Spider-Man's webslinging really only works in New York City. Or maybe Hong Kong.
~
Hope to see you next time for Spider-Man's adventures in 1981.

11 comments:

  1. I grew up watching the Spiderman cartoon of the '60s, both when it ran initially and in syndication. I don't know when I first saw him in comics, but it was likely somewhere around 1972-73. I was never that big a fan of the character, but he loomed large just by virtue of being one of Marvel's flagship characters...scratch that; he was THE flagship character for Marvel at the time. You saw him everywhere.

    The two factors that turned me off the comics were both touched on by you: Aunt May and JJJ.

    The character design for Aunt May was off-putting to me: she bore a resemblance to a cross between Miss Grundy of Archie comics and a mummy. Plus she was always such a drag: frail, sickly, and quick to rant about Spiderman. I really disliked the character as a kid, especially. I will say that her cinematic incarnations in recent history redeemed the character for me.

    JJJ...your friend hits the nail on the head. Even more of a one-note than Aunt May. His dogged hatred of Spiderman in the face of overwhelming evidence that Spidey was on the side of the angels was exhausting. His evolution was pretty much nonexistent, which, given how much characters change in comics, is aggravating.

    So between those two thorns-in-the-side characters, my interest in Spidey dried up by the time of the period you're covering. He was fun on his own in a guest shot or a team-up, but his own books were of no interest to me. His occasional foray into bizarre territory was worthwhile, though, like his run-ins with Howard the Duck, or even crazy team-ups like with Red Sonja or King Kull.

    I look forward to seeing you shed light on what I might have missed.

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    1. That's a good expansion of the reasons to skip over JJJ. In the early-to-mid 60s, Stan would plot out some fun enough variations for Aunt May and JJJ, both, and I'll touch on a couple of them in the Marvel Tales write-ups to come, but you're right, they just never grew or went anywhere.

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  2. Twelve parts! Damn right. Bring it on.

    (1) "Spider-verse" or "Spidey-verse" -- hmm...I think I go with "Spidey-verse," personally, on account of it having that extra touch of the personal.

    (2) Man, I love that anecdote about trading some kid -- some hapless kid, one imagines (but the hell with him; it's his own fault for being hapless) -- and getting dozens of comics in the process. That sort of activity must have felt like a Herculean accomplishment back in the day. Chapeau to you, eighties Bryan!

    (3) I can't even tell you how retroactively jealous I am that you got to collect 15-20 Marvel titles regularly at one point back then. Me, I got to collect precisely zero; my reading was almost entirely limited to whatever I could squeeze in via grocery-store-reading while Mom was shopping. But I wouldn't trade that experience, so while I'm jealous, I'm not envious, if you know what I mean.

    (4) It delights me to no end to think about Peter Parker sitting around between bouts with Doctor Octopus or Mysterio or whoever, passing his time by reading Superman comics.

    (5) I'm also delighted by the idea of Peter Parker going to see "Star Trek: The Motion Picture." I bet he didn't have no time for all that V'Ger business.

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    1. (2) The kid I got the comics from: I have one other memory of him, and it's stuck with me over the years. Somehow we were talking on the telephone, and he launched into this endless story about how he and his family were all eating pizza, and the pizza had these air bubbles in the crust, but SOMEHOW the ONIONS got into the bubbles, and wouldn't you know it, his father bit into one, and then everyone was talking about his onion breath, and -

      "I think my Mom's calling me. I'd better get off the phone."

      I honestly don't think I'm exaggerating or misremembering this - it has loomed large in my memory as a litmus test for when someone's just jabbering a bunch of crap at you you never asked to learn nor need to know. There was plenty more to it, that's just the last tip-me-over-the-edge part that stuck with me.

      Nothing to do with Spider-Man, of course - pardon the tangent. I just always remember that kid and his onion-pizza story and how I avoided him after that. Which was easy, as we were only in the one class together and never again.

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    2. And nobody will ever know what happened with his dad's onion-breath. Bummer!

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    3. A mystery that haunts me to this day...!

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  3. (6) It'll give you some insight into the scattershot nature of my Marvel knowledge to learn that this is the first time I've ever even heard of Debbie Whitman.

    (7) "C'mon, pretty -- let me web up those baby blues again!" -- If you hear something that sounds like Butt-head and/or Beavis chuckling, that's me.

    (8) I have no idea if Dazzler is in the "Age of Apocalypse" movie, but since it's set in the eighties, she'd damn well better be. What a crime if not!

    (9) That Marvel Team-Up cover with Ghost Rider riding up a roller coaster hill is righteous.

    (10) I wish there was some modern equivalent of "Marvel Tales," but there'd be so much history to cover that I guess it'd be a lost cause. Anyways, stuff is so easy to, um, *find* that anyone who really wants those stories can get them. But for me, that was always one of the titles I most drawn to. Getting to read about Spider-Man's best adventures of yesteryear? Damn right.

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    1. (6) I could be wrong, but I bet she's somewhat off-the-radar for most Marvel/ Spider-Man readers. I don't think outside of a brief appearance in Civil War - which I've never read, just from from what I've read about it - she ever did much else after '83 or so.

      (9) I'm glad you liked that! That cover rules, for me. The villain is Moondark the Magician, who wasn't all that great, but he was one of the first Marvel villains I knew, actually, on account of buying some Ghost Rider issue where he was the bad guy.

      (10) I remember going into a comics shop maybe 10 or 11 years ago and flipping through the back issues and seeing those Marvel Tales issues priced at like $20 apiece. WTF! Granted it was comic-shop-back-issue prices, but the 60s Spideys are just so great.

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    2. I've been inspired by this to buy up some issues of "Spectacular" and "Web," by the way. I pulled out my longboxes and was checking out the old issues I had, and decided I wanted to fill in a few of the ones I was missing. For example, I had "Spectacular" #s 87-90, 102, and 107-108. So I plugged in #s 91-101, 103-106, and a few on either side of 87 and 108; which I think means I will have the majority of that particular era of Black Cat.

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    3. I like that era of Spectacular, with a couple of exceptions, which I'll likely over-analyze in the weeks to come. But later in the 80s, Web and Spectacular single-handedly carried the character for me; I just hated the McFarlane/Michelinie Amazings, at the time. I'm more positive on them now, but again, I get ahead of myself. That's cool you rounded out your longbox, though - I am only too happy to contribute to the cause.

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    4. I only ever had a few issues of "Amazing." They were big Hobgoblin ones, though -- I'll probably want to round those out sometime soon, too.

      I look forward to reading about all of this in the upcoming weeks!

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