Spider-Man: 1984 (Before Secret Wars)

SPIDER-MAN in the 1980s, pt. 5 of 12.

A lot was happening in 1984. Miami Vice, Transformers, Terminator, Born in the USA, Purple Rain, Madonna, you name it. In the comics world, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first appeared, not that I had any idea of that at the time. My big comics event of '84 was:

I've seen some puzzling reviews of Secret Wars over the years. Here's one of them from The Comic Book Heroes by Jones and Jacobs: "No one could either love it or hate it." Really? Everyone I know either loves or hates it. Me, I love it - I don't have much choice; my ten year old self is sitting on my shoulders ready to Gone Girl me if I say any different. Not that I have to pretend; I sincerely think it's a fine piece of comics entertainment. Particularly for its time and place. More than its sequel (1985) or The New Universe (86-87) Secret Wars is Jim Shooter's crowning achievement as Marvel's ringmaster: ladies and gentlemen, the greatest show on Earth -- !

A proper overview is beyond my scope today. The only thing we need to know is that it was in Secret Wars that Spider-Man changed costumes.

"You mean I've been waiting since I was eight years old to draw Spider-Man and now he's got a new costume?" - Ron Frenz. (American Comic Book Chronicles: the 1980s by Keith Dallas.)

That happened in Secret Wars #8 (cover-date Dec), but the new costume first appeared in ASM #252 (cover date May), so readers had lived with it for awhile. In fact, by the time Spidey got the black costume in SW, he was already back in his old duds:

Four issues of Amazing Spider-Man, Spectacular Spider-Man, and Marvel Team-Up were published with an '84 cover date before Secret Wars, and eight after. Today we'll look only at the former.

Written by Bill Mantlo. Penciled by Fred Hembeck (86) and Al Milgrom (86-89). 

Things start off with Assistant Editor's Month, a carefully planned event designed to appear as a spontaneous celebration of mayhem: Marvel's assistant editors unleashing havoc while their bosses were at San Diego Con. Spectacular Spider-Man readers were treated to this one-off from Fred Hembeck -

sort of a Matt Groening for the 80s Marvel bullpen.
But the above aside, Spidey's relationship with the Black Cat take center stage here.

Spidey begins to realize there might be trouble ahead when he shows her his apartment:

and her reaction to his revealing his identity is less than supportive.

His reservations about her only wanting the Spider-side of his life aside, what really sinks their relationship is her lack of super-powers. To rectify this, she goes around town seeking some way to power herself up. After being rejected by the likes of the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, she eventually finds a mysterious benefactor who tells her to meet him at the laboratory of the late Harlan Stillwell. (The guy who created The Fly.) She gains her x-factor, at the cost of a favor owed (she discovers) to the Kingpin.

How all of this will play out is interrupted, of course, by Spidey's being whisked off to the edge of the universe for SW. So we'll save that for next time.

MARVEL TEAM-UP 137 - 140
Written by Mike Carlin (137) Tom DeFalco (138), Cary Burkett (139), Bill Mantlo and Tom DeFalco (140). Penciled by Greg LaRocque (137 - 138), Brian Postman (139), and Ron Frenz (140).

MTU celebrates Assistant Editor's Month by briefly making Aunt May the Herald of Galactus.

She hooks him on Hostess Cream Pies; hi-jinks ensue.

Guest-starring Aunt May, Franklin Richards, The Sandman (in his first role as a former criminal struggling to go straight - also features the re-appearance of The Enforcers, a gang of crooks from the early Lee/Ditko days), Nick Fury, Black Widow, and Daredevil.

Written by Roger Stern and Tom DeFalco. Penciled by John Romita, Jr. (248 - 250) and Ron Frenz (251).

Things kick off with #248, which features the fondly remembered tear-jerker "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man."

Which we'll get to in a second, but let's look at the first story in the issue. Namely:

As a showcase for JRJR's burgeoning skill set - particularly with action set pieces - it's perfect. 

Plus, Thunderball was such an interesting contradiction - he was part of The Wrecking Crew, sort of a construction gang gone wild, but he had this Asgardian angle and often spoke in mustachioed super-villain-ese.

But the issue is remembered mainly for Spidey's visit to his biggest fan, Tim, a young boy in the leukemia ward. They look through Tim's scrapbook, and when Tim asks some hard questions, Peter answers by unmasking. 

Tim takes it a little more graciously than the Black Cat.

But the main focus of these pre-SW issues is the resolution of the first Hobgoblin storyline.

I love that "It's great! Steal it!" business.

The Hobgoblin takes another page from Norman Osborn's journals and learns how to disable Spidey's spider-sense with one of his gas bombs. He attempts to blackmail several people, including JJJ (for having a hand in creating one of The Scorpion, whom we'll be seeing more of in this year's ASM annual), but Spider-Man relentlessly pursues him. Finally, his lair - including the rest of Norman's journals - goes up in flames, and after a spirited battle van chase -

he and Spidey crash into the drink.

Great stuff. Roger Stern was in the process of leaving the title - he and new Spider-editor Danny Fingeroth didn't see eye to eye on things - but when Tom DeFalco (former Spider-editor and new executive editor to all Marvel titles, 2nd in Bullpen hierarchy to Shooter himself) took over as writer and more or less followed the gameplan Stern had created. With one important exception, as we'll see next time.

Fun fact - in the 80s, no one would have batted an eye at Peter Parker walking around in a midriff-bearing tank top and denim cut-off shorts.

As was the case in MTU and SSM, the last few pages of ASM 251 are dedicated to the SW lead-in:


I had all the other Marvel Tales issues published this year, but for some reason this one has always stuck with me.

Re-reading it in 2015, I'm not exactly sure why. It's a rather standard affair. Not bad, but not especially mind-blowing for me. I did like the bits from Peter Parker's high school graduation and this final bit of melodrama with Liz.


I never had any of these Questprobes. They were a joint venture between Marvel and Scott Adams' Adventure International. I remember their being hyped up in the Bullpen Bulletins a few times, but that's about it. It's all very primitive-looking to 2015 eyes, but on a different level of the tower, perhaps they're another generation's Oregon Trail.

The curious can watch a walkthrough here. I made it through 6 minutes.

NEXT: The rest of '84.


  1. No comments on this post?!? This seems shameful.

    (1) To this day, I have still not actually read "Secret Wars." But I remember being fascinated by the whole thing, which makes me wonder if the stores where I read most of my comics simply didn't carry that title for some reason. Because if they did, surely I would have read at least bits and pieces of it. Anyways, I've got a trade paperback of the whole thing; I'm letting it sit there on my shelf until the time to pull it down and give it a spin is just right. (Sidebar: what if Marvel Studios could manage to convince Fox to collaborate with them on a Secret Wars movie that would combine -- if only for a couple of hours -- the various Marvel universes? Jesus Christ, that'd make about gajillionty-eight dollars!)

    (2) That overhead shot of Black Cat and Spidey in Peter's apartment is another one which is burned into my brain.

    (3) I still have my copy of that May/Galactus "Marvel Team-Up." Silly and wonderful.

    (4) Man, I remember just LOVING Amazing #250. And I think I had #251 as well, because those final panels of Spidey being sucked into the whatever-thingy were a big part of the reason why "Secret Wars" called to me so much.

    (5) I wonder how many kids ended up pilfering a copy of Amazing #250 and pleaded the "But Hobgoblin told me to do it!" defense. I bet it happened somewhere.

    1. I'd love to see a Secret Wars film. Even better if it was a HBO mini-series special event or some equivalent. That'd be great.

      It'd be great, too, if they just planned for three Marvel movies in one summer, or something, each ending with that Secret Wars portal in Central Park. Then, the TV shows allude to it, then the Christmas season, bam! Secret Wars.

    2. I believe somebody at Marvel needs to hire you, STAT.

    3. From your mouth to Disney's ear!

    4. Once you're there, you are bound to need a dedicated assistant.

      I might know a guy...