SPIDER-MAN in the 1980s , pt. 9 of 12.
Too much Spidey-awesomeness for one post - here is the rest of the story, 1986.
1. THE BEST OF SPIDER-MAN
This little beauty collects 6 or 7 story arcs from the newspaper strip (all written by Stan Lee; most drawn by John Romita, Sr.). Like this one with The Prowler:
That's not my favorite, just the only one I have handy. My favorite was probably the one where Spidey seeks his fortune on That's Incredible! but I have no screencaps for it, alas.
Anything written by Stan and drawn by JSSR is worth checking out; you know this . But the best part of it for me at the time was Stan's introduction. It's likely just a collection of the same anecdotes and well-worn jokes he'd been telling for years, but I hadn't seen any of it before. Great stuff. One trait Stan Lee and FDR shared - they could address an audience of millions and still make you feel like they're speaking directly and solely to you.
|Written by George S. Elrick. Artist unknown|
This came out in 1976 - why is it being covered here? Because here's when I got it. I'll skip plot summary and go right to this terrifically entertaining word-salad right here:
"Spider-Man made sticky in the shark's mouth. He is love way with animals, probably because he's part spider. The shark has angry eyes:
|"I think Spider-Man did the rape."|
That's from Something Awful, which has (or had? Not sure if it's ongoing) this series called "Reading Time" which is basically reviews from the point of view of a confused child or bad translation. Here's some more:
"This book tells us that you have to be careful about how you use your powers when you're a superhero, because the Giant Flying Scales are watching. I think the True Lesson they want us to learn is that when it's time for us to go Outside, we can't spend all our time doing love ways with sharks and goats and elderly. The end."
I had no time for this, really, as a 12 year-old, but as an adult, its weirdness and unintentional hilarity greatly appeal to me. For starters, Peter romantically pursues Jane Virgo, who he thinks is some hippie chick but is in reality an ancient caveman, who has the power to transform into the various animals and signs of the zodiac. Pagan pansexual transmorph excitement! It's almost like slashfic, except it's done in that Whitman Big Little Book format. Here's some closing remarks from a more straightforward review:
"This relentless volley between text and picture makes almost every Big Little Book a fertile source for popular surrealism--but I believe Spider-Man Zaps Mr. Zodiac is particularly dazzling in its weird illogic and thus ripe for musical adaptation. If only Bono and the Edge had the courage to be slightly less ambitious, SMZMZ would be the perfect skeleton on which to drape a few slightly reworked entries from the U2 back catalog." (referring to the Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark debacle.)
3. PETER PARKER SOAP OPERA
The whole Flash/Ned/Betty love triangle really hits high gear this time around. But first let's introduce the two new ladies in Peter Parker's orbit:
|Kate Cushing and Joy Mercado from NOW Magazine.|
Kate is the magazine's editor - or Peter's boss at any rate; I can't keep track. Robbie's in charge of the Bugle, JJJ's hanging around somewhere, and then there are these two NOW Magazine chicks - and Joy is the writer he's often paired with. We don't get too, too much from Kate:
|Here is Mark Beachum's take on the character. He drew everyone with these leggings - and fair enough, they were popular back in the day - but your guess is as good as mine re: the football jersey and shoulder pads.|
but Joy is involved in many issues.
|Such as this ill-advised IRA plot that takes Peter and Joy to London, Dublin, and Belfast.|
|Or this "Where Is Spider-Man?" multi-parter discussed last time. (Notice: different work trip/ same outfit.)|
|She and Peter have a will-they-or-won't-they thing going on, to some degree, but nothing ever happens.|
|Or maybe something did happen, who knows? I don't ask questions. I just peek into their apartments and eavesdrop on their thought balloons.|
I have no memory of either of these ladies from reading this the first time around. I remember Peter working for NOW Magazine and going out-of-town on sporadic photo assignments, but that's about it.
3b. BIZARRE LOVE TRIANGLE(s)
(Not the New Order kind.)
Lots of subplots converge this year. Let's recap:
|Flash and Sha-Shan continue to flirt with divorce.|
|Flash continues to get the wrong idea of Sha-Shan's reaching out to Peter.|
|Uh-oh. Flash must not watch any Lifetime. This is how you get yourself Gone-Girl'd.|
Meanwhile, Flash is still seeing Betty, who is increasingly estranged from Ned Leeds.
|Ned drags Lance Bannon along to spy on them.|
|Ned confronts Flash.|
"You'll eat my fist, jerk!" is dialogue I can get behind. Now, for reasons that will hopefully be clear momentarily, let us interrupt this recap with a recap of the who-is-the-Hobgoblin saga. Is it:
|a) Lance Bannon?|
|b) Ned Leeds?|
|c) Roderick Kingsley? (The once and future Hobgoblin)|
|d) Or this mysterious figure whom Roderick Kingsley is meeting?|
Let's pretend for a minute that we don't know who and just look at what happens after all the above.
|The Hobgoblin needs a hostage and singles out Sha-Shan.|
Spider-Man (who is in one of his every-few-years "That's it! I will Spider-Man no more forever!" phases) gives chase, whereupon (after the Hobgoblin unknowingly throws the fight) he makes a shocking discovery:
Of course, it's just a frame-job by the real Hobgoblin, whomever he is.
|I'm still curious how DeFalco planned to explain having the Rose (who was his pick for the Hobgoblin's secret identity) and the Hobgoblin in the same place at the same time.|
I can't tell you how wrapped up in this crap I was 29 years ago. And over the last couple of weeks.
But wait there's more!
4. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 272 - 283
Written by Tom DeFalco (272 - 277, 279 - 283), Peter David with Jo Duffy (278). Penciled by Sal Buscema (272), Ron Frenz (273 - 277, 280 - 281, 283) Charles Vess (back-up 277), Mike Harris (278), Rick Leonardi (279, 282).
4a. END OF AN ERA
1986 was the last year of the DeFalco/ Frenz team.
Here's Jim Owsley on how the era ultimately ended: "I had been told (by Shooter) at least a dozen times to fire Tom. Tom was late. Tom was busy. Tom was distracted. And now, Tom was not doing his best on Spider-Man. Inker Joe Rubinstein quit, annoyed that DeFalco and Frenz were habitually erratic. I scheduled fill in after fill in, affecting sales."
DeFalco's take: (from Back Issue 35) "Owsley gave us a schedule that basically said I'd have to do a plot every three weeks to get the book on time. So Ron and I would follow that schedule and when I would turn in the third plot, Owsley would give us a new schedule that showed I was a month late. And he kept doing this to us. (...) Editors get to create their own schedules. I think what Shooter said to Owsley was 'If the guy can't make deadlines, get rid of him.' So consequently, Owsley was constantly revising and remaking the deadlines."
Back to Owsley: "I told Jim I was taking Tom off of ASM, and creating this other animal (Sensational Spider-Man, a quarterly special - Tom and Ron could do as much Spider-Man as they wanted and were capable of doing, and we'd be off the hook for the monthly deadline) for him and Ron. Jim said, fine."
|Owsley in the 80s. (Photo from Eliot R. Brown's website. Hope he doesn't mind.)|
"Tom took the news very hard. It ended our friendship, and, I am told, Tom saw Jim's hand in this and threatened to quit. A stunned Shooter appeared at my door the next day, and I knew I was about to be fired. He asked me, and I quote 'Why'd you do that?' I just stared at him as he stammered and stared at the floor (...) and I felt like I was the victim of some macabre Corleone plot. What the blessed hell was this man talking about?! I cleared this all with him before I did it. (...) I said, 'Because you told me to.' To which Jim replied, and I'll never forget this, 'Yeah, but I never thought you'd actually do it.'
|(Photo from Spidermancrawlspace - hope they don't mind.)|
So there we have it. I'm sure the truth is somewhere in-between everyone's takes, of course. At the time, as per usual, I was completely unaware of any of this behind-the-scenes stuff. I never read the comics journals or anything like that until much later, and things like Marvel Age I just skimmed. In fact, it took me a few months to even realize first DeFalco and Frenz, then Owsley, then Shooter, were all off the book.
But, next time.
4b. OKAY, THE JOKE ISN'T FUNNY ANYMORE
(Not a Smiths reference)
4c. THE BEYONDER
Secret Wars II came out in '86. It sold well, but as a huge fan of the first one, it was disappointing. If you're unfamiliar, the sequel was about the Beyonder coming to Earth and learning how to do things like eat and pee. Then he banged the Dazzler, became a guru, then a cranky would-be-universe-destroyer. That's a highly-parsed summary of events, you understand. Its main gimmick was crossing over into almost every Marvel title.
|This meant a couple of issues with the Puma, and this stand-alone on the right. (274)|
The Puma stories are fine, but I had so much other stuff I'm fine just namechecking them. 274, though, is worth mentioning. It didn't quite hit me the way it did when I was 12, but if you know anybody around that age who is interested in an entry-level Spider-epic (and has a flair for the dramatic) I recommend it.
The Beyonder shows up in Mephisto's realm to let him know that enough's enough, he's destroying the multiverse. "Desire makes every being in existence unfulfilled, incomplete. It just doesn't work." He's a little like an anti-Buddha. Same diagnosis, exact opposite conclusion.
Mephisto talks him into a wager to stall the end of all things. The Beyonder agrees, though he chooses the champions. For his cause, he picks Zarathos (aka the demon who possessed Johnny Blaze to become the original Ghost Rider); for Mephisto's, he picks Spider-Man.
|What follows is a torturous day for Peter Parker, as he relives every terror of his life.|
4d. SINISTER SYNDICATE
I've mentioned my enduring love for Spider-Man Annual 1, where Spidey is attacked by the Sinister Six, the group formed by Doctor Octopus on the principle that teaming up to combat Spider-Man will sextuple their chances to defeat him. (Whereupon they immediately split up and attack him individually.) The Beetle sees the illogic in this approach and gathers a new group of Spidey-villains together to attack Spider-Man (and Silver Sable and the reformed Sandman) over two action-packed issues.
|They more or less level Coney Island in the process.|
Like the Firelord two-parter from '85, I've read better stories, but for an undiluted blast of web-slinger vs. super-bad-guys mayhem, can't go wrong with stuff like this. Would make a great 2-parter for sweeps week.
4e. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, ONCE AGAIN:
Look, I've said just about everything I can say about these Hobgoblin years without overreaching.
It was a great era of Spidey, and the Hobgoblin was the perfect arch-villain for it. 1986 is the decade's last unabashedly awesome year in the Hobgoblin saga. Everything goes tits-up in '87. The character continues, of course, right on down to the present, but his momentum was permanently blunted in '87.
So let me just throw some fun images at you and call it a day. How can you disapprove with stuff like these -
|Hobgoblin was always upgrading his weaponry. Here is his new "multi-blast".|
|Jack O'Lantern - to his immediate regret - inserts himself more directly in the Hobgoblin saga.|
ASM's annual this year features the return of the Iron Man of 2020, whom last we saw getting trounced by X-51 in Machine Man (1984).
Written by Fred Schiller and Ken McDonald and illustrated by Mark Beachum -
|so: butts (see last time for explanation, Section 3, clause c.) -|
this story takes place five years before the events of Machine Man. And creates a new timeline of its own, I suppose - it's not exactly clear, and I'm not sure if this is one of the timelines represented in the new timelime-scrambler, Secret Wars (2015). If you know, let me know in the comments, would you?
Iron Man (aka Arno Stark, who disappointingly does not refer to himself in the third person "of 2015") tries to stop a madman from detonating a nuclear device (a "planet buster bomb".) Unfortunately, the madman is destroyed before his retinal scan can disarm the bomb, so Arno heads into the past, having discovered an old headline with the same person. He kidnaps the boy and is just about to scan his eye when Spider-Man intervenes. When the boy is injured due to Arno's recklessness, Spidey loses it.
Spider-Man's intervention (and beatdown - does this make sense? Isn't Iron Man's armor impervious to Spider-Man's fists? You'd figure it would be. I mean, we've seen him batter Firelord, I know, but still.) prevents Arno from getting the scan, so we get this real bummer of an ending (but powerful) when he's pulled back to 2015:
Did this make Spider-Man's next meeting with the Iron Man of his own time really awkward? It must have - I mean, Spidey has no idea this Iron Man is from the future. Wouldn't he be super-pissed about this? I don't think this was ever followed up on, but I could be wrong.
NEXT: The Shooter Era Endeth! DeFalco Gets the Big Chair! Kraven's Last Hunt!