SPIDER-MAN IN THE 1980s, pt. 4 of 12.
I was likewise unaware of occupying the exact sweet spot of Marvel's mk-1 continuity: not too far nor too close to the beginning. I was actively engaging with Marvel's Silver Age through things like Marvel Saga and The Official Handbook, and most of the books were, too. 80s Marvel was not encumbered by its continuity; it was illuminated by it. The inevitable entropy of all serialized fictional universes would eventually materialize at Marvel, as well, but in 1983, it was blue skies and smooth sailing.
And without further ado here's a double-sized Dog Star Omnibus special - twice the action at half the price.
|Get comfy, my friends - lots to cover today.|
1. PETER PARKER SOAP OPERA
|From Marvel Tales 149.|
Oh Betty Brant! Don't you remember when Spidey fought Doc Ock when he had the flu just to save you?
|Everyone just assumed Peter did it as a romantic gesture.|
|Sha-Shan, Flash, Peter, Harry and Liz re-create The Last Supper (sorta).|
Peter finally decides he can't keep juggling his freelance photography and super-hero duties with his grad work at Empire State. So, he decides not to continue.
What's her problem, anyway? We finally find out in MTU 134 - once a poetic young man overcame her strict all-science-and-no-play demeanor. They fell in love, but one day he went to go visit his Dad and never came back.
|He was too busy becoming:|
Origin stories always take a toll on romance. This all leads into the not-great-but-not-bad Jack O'Hearts limited series.
Elsewhere, Lance Bannon's girlfriend puts the moves on Peter:
|Eventually, she catches him at home and starts with the kissyface. Only to be interrupted by the re-appearance of The One Who Got Away, Mary-Jane Watson.|
MJ's re-appearance was foreshadowed often enough - the above is from ASM 243; the below, from SSM 85:
But probably the year's most pivotal soap opera event was the end of the whole Debbie Whitman Saga:
|See? Says so right on the cover.|
Previously on Peter Parker 90210 *, Debbie's suspicion that Peter Parker is Spider-Man (seemingly confirmed when she saw Peter exit a building and then Spidey web-swing away within seconds of one another) triggered her schizophrenia.
|* Should be 02150 for Chelsea, but I didn't think the joke - lame as it is - would register.|
|Peter is prepared to do the right thing, especially after talking to Biff.|
|Who, it turns out, isn't exactly the loser we've assumed him to be.|
|But when Spidey unmasks for her, it has an unexpected reaction.|
As Betty Brant (and Doc Ock) did before her, she assumes that Peter couldn't possibly be Spider-Man - despite his dramatic entrance through the window - but the thought that he would do something like this for her instantly removes her mental anguish.
There's more to it, of course, but this is just broad strokes overview stuff. Part of me wonders if Peter's actions weren't a bit reckless and might have ended up scrambling DW's brains even worse. But all's well that ends well - adios, Ms. Whitman.
2. MARVEL FANFARE #6.
|Written by Mike W. Barr and penciled/ co-plotted by Sandy Plunkett.|
I'll be honest - I couldn't even finish this damn thing on account of this god-awful computer coloring.
|Someone needs to send Captain Kirk in to convince the digital colorization computer to fulfill the prime directive, if you know what I mean.|
It's not a bad story or anything, but it's just rendered unreadable by this. I'll have to track down the original, un-computer-colored version and see if it looks as garish and awful as this maybe I'm blaming the wrong thing. But I've seen this enough elsewhere to know the old coloring process is often not faithfully rendered by computer. Moving on.
3. SPIDEY LIKES STAR TREK
4. MARVEL TEAM-UP 125 - 136
Written by J.M. DeMatteis (125, 127 - 135), Jim Shooter (126), and David Michelinie (136).
Penciled by Kerry Gammill (125, 127), Tomoyuki Takenaka (126), Sal Buscema (132 - 133), and Ron Frenz (134 - 136).
In 1983, Spidey teamed up with Tigra, the Hulk, the Watcher, and Captain America:
|Marvel occasionally experimented with these sort of photo-realist covers. They never did much for me.|
The Vision, Frog-Man:
|They were always trying to make Frog-Man stick. (Pardon the pun) Image below from ASM 247.|
|Bless them. I can hear them from across spacetime - he's a spider; he's a frog! It's natural predation!|
Back to guest stars: Mister Fantastic:
|"I'm ordinary! Ordinary!"|
|This leads to a Spock's Brain (sorta) situation where Spidey has to walk Reed through the operation to save himself.|
The Fantastic Four, Kitty Pryde, and Wonder Man.
|As well as Cloak and Dagger|
|and the New Mutants for
SSM Annual #6. |
(Written by Bill Mantlo. Penciled by Ron Frenz.)
|Isn't Cloak and Dagger's origin story very similar to Olivia's on Fringe? Anna Torv would make an excellent Dagger, incidentally.|
He appears to Spider-Man while Spidey is out searching for one of Aunt May's boarding house tenants' daughters.
|After Peter's sexually assaulted by Sophie and Martha.|
I forgot to mention J.M. DeMatteis' run on Cap up there on my Best-of-1983 list. Essential reading. Given DeMatteis' memorable runs on so many titles, it's easy to overlook this early-80s tour of duty on MTU. But it was surprisingly rewarding; allowing for some bumps here and there, it's aged pretty well. One more worth looking at before moving on, issue 129:
|Kerry Gammill had some skills. Still does, I assume, but these old MTUs he drew have many great moments.|
The Vision's having one of his long-nights-of-the-android-soul he has every so often. (Him and Red Tornado - man! This odd trope of mopey androids is making me appreciate Douglas Adams' Marvin even more). How does this relate to the mysterious folks running around who look like long-dead artists or statesmen?
|Dostoevsky! (One of DeMatteis' favorite writers. Might have even been how I first learned the guy's name, come to think of it.)|
|When they see in the Vision a kindred spirit, they ask him to join their Brotherhood of Compromised Android Doppelgangers.|
5. MARVEL TALES
Reprinting ASM 13 and 14 and ASM Annual #1 written by Stan Lee and penciled by Steve Ditko.
I'll save the Doc Ock stuff for when I get to SSM, but some quick thoughts on the first appearances of Mysterio and the Sinister Six. I always liked Mysterio and almost 100% because of this Marvel Tales I got back in the day.
|I love the get-up. And he wears a costume for the same reason Spidey does.|
As for the Sinister Six, I can certainly think of at least one contemporaneous story that left a huge impression on me, but we won't get to it for a few years. This reprint was my proper introduction to them. Doc Ock assembles some of Spidey's best-known villains for the novel concept of teaming up to take him out. Instead of attacking him all at once and overwhelming him with their combined strength, they decide to attack him one at a time, each one holding a clue as to where the next will be. The thing is - Spider-Man won't get the clue unless he beats each one, so their whole plan rests on steady and sustained failure. Sweet super-villain logic, how I adore thee.
As an annual, it hits several soon-to-be-Marvel-annual staples - main character loses powers for some reason? Check. Powers come back ? Check. Lots of splashes? Check.
Gratuitous guest stars? Check, check, and check.
How much you'd enjoy it in 2014 undoubtedly depends on your tolerance for Silver Age storytelling. I was touched by how enthusiastically Lee and Ditko were trying to entertain me on every level - dramatic, action, humor, spectacle, self-promotion, you name it. Everything is crammed into this thing, and often into every panel.
|At least they let you keep your costumes, Vulture. (And why is the Sandman sticking around? Shouldn't he just sand himself right out that window?)|
6. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN 74 - 85
Written by Bill Mantlo (74 - 85) and penciled by Bob Hall (74), Al Milgrom (75 - 79, 81, 85), Ron Frenz (80), Greg Larocque (81), and Dave Simons (82).
|No annual this year.|
This is a strong year of SSM as far as the Spideyverse goes. There are stretches where all the main events in Peter Parker's life happen in ASM and are only referenced or mildly re-enforced in the other titles. But this stretch of SSM is the main theater of operations for several overlapping main-story events, too, not second unit stuff. The reason for this is that ASM was reserved for the Hobgoblin saga in '83. So Mantlo and Milgrom (mainly, as modified above) got to showcase the end of Debbie Whitman and leaving ESU, as noted above, as well as several "A" storylines.
|The Punisher is put on trial and goes to prison.|
The Punisher was nowhere near as popular as he was to be in later years. And here, Mantlo writes him as mentally ill. Pains were taken in the subsequent mini-series and ongoing Punisher title(s) to pave over this characterization of Frank Castle.
There's a JJJ-centric issue that seemed to me to be either an homage or a rip-off of DD 185. But since it's a JJJ ish, for our purposes, it does not exist. There are two narratives that dominate the year. First up:
6a. DOCTOR OCTOPUS
Things kick off with a Doc Ock / Owl gang war which results in the Black Cat being seriously injured and the Doctor driven mad by thoughts of revenge. Spidey spends his time mainly at the Black Cat's hospital bedside and swinging around town, mentally listing the many ways that Doctor Octopus has always been his most serious foe. Sounds tedious maybe, but the Marvel Tales Doctor Octopus that I was reading simultaneously was Spidey's most serious foe, so it clicked with me. This double-whammying was "Space Seed" / Wrath of Khan stuff for 9-year-old Bryan.
|From the start he's obsessed with Spider-Man.|
|There is something so charmingly ridiculous about this.|
|This too. Doc Ock is given to certain eccentricities.|
|It all leads up to an ultimate confrontation, naturally enough.|
|Spidey fights for his life and eventually wins -|
|whereupon he harangues him so ferociously that Otto spends the next few years of Spider continuity as a shattered man in a padded room. He's literally driven mad(der) by Spidey's chest-beating.|
It's an ambitious undertaking that ultimately falls short of its mark. It would take until 1986's Kraven's Last Hunt to achieve the effect they were going for here: an epic and decisive end to one of Spidey's oldest villains.
The other main narrative thread, tied into and around the above is:
6b. THE BLACK CAT
When last we saw the Black Cat, she was plunging into the depths of the sea, presumed (by Spidey at least) dead. Turns out she was rescued by Doc Ock and ensnared in the above machinations.
|News that makes Spidey very happy.|
An important arc in the burgeoning (but doomed - I mean, let's face it) Spidey/ Black Cat relationship.
|This is Spidey's first concern, this how-do-you-make-a-relationship-between-alter-egos work?|
|Not an unreasonable concern - even for non-superhero-types.|
Things change, though, when the Black Cat is almost killed at the conclusion of the Owl/ Doc Ock war. And it's handled rather ridiculously - her near-death is a ballet of erotic poses and wankery. I declined to screencap it for you.
|Spidey spends the rest of these issues visiting Felicia in the hospital and dealing with all the above Doc Ock stuff.|
Speaking of 85, the super-villain in question is the Hobgoblin, who ends this run of issues by immersing himself in a vat of green slime:
What better way to transition to -
7. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 236 - 247
Written by Roger Stern (236 -247). Penciled by JRJR (236, 238 247) and Bob Hall (237).
The annual is a co-written affair between Stern and Mantlo and penciled by Ed Hannigan. It's not bad, but since it dealt with Peter's high school reunion, I wanted it to go in more of a Grosse Pointe Blank direction. And it didn't. It's probably unfair to fault a comic book for not being like a movie that came out 15 years after it was written, I know.
Every issue is a gem this time around, but I'll concentrate on only three things:
7a. END OF THE LINE FOR THE TARANTULA
As a kid, I loved the Tarantula. For his visual, mainly, but I spent a lot of imaginative time on the idea of this South American mercenary with the spiked shoes. He seemed like the type of guy James Bond would have to fight sooner or later. So, part of me was kind of mad they killed him off. But at least they did it in a multi-issue story arc where he's turned into a gigantic tarantula.
|A concept I never, ever tire of.|
It ends on this subversive (and prescient) note from Robbie Robertson:
Issue 246 is an interesting case. It's four extended daydream-sequences. One from the Black Cat:
One from JJJ, one from MJ:
And one from Spidey.
|I love how Spidey's daydreams include a better camera with a tripod.|
|YOU'VE WON AT SCIENCE!|
It all ends with Spidey intervening in the bullying of a young bookworm and giving him some encouraging words.
|Ties it all together nicely. Well done.|
7c. ENTER... THE HOBGOBLIN
No other villain captured my imagination the way the Hobgoblin did in these early years of the character.
|ASM 238 penciled by JRJR and inked by JRSR. What a treat.|
his throwing Spidey off the scent by paying one of his underlings to wear a spare set of armor and fake a death:
and the general building of suspense and intrigue as he gains confidence in his powers and equipment and continually tangles with Spidey:
We'll see how this first stretch of the Hobgoblin's adventures plays out next time around. Technically, the whole of it came out in calendar-year 1983, but I'm sticking with the January to December cover-date parameters.
|1984! Keep thy webs untangled!|