Friday, 22 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #103. Ka-Zar, Kraven & Gog

Amazing Spider-Man #103. Spidey goes King Kong with Gog, Ka-Zar, Zabu and Kraven the Hunter
(Cover from December 1971.)

"WALK THE SAVAGE LAND!"

Written by Roy Thomas
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inked by Frank Giacoia
Lettered by Artie Simek


What happens:
The Daily Bugle's in financial trouble. It needs a big story and it needs it now. So J Jonah Jameson decides to mount an expedition to the Savage Land to get photos of a giant creature called Gog, rumoured to be lurking there. Among the team he takes are Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy but, once there, Gog appears and takes Gwen, with Peter sent flying into a river.

Away from the prying eyes of the others, Peter changes into his Spider-Man suit and goes after the beast. But, getting over-confident, he lands in quicksand and, at the tale's end, is rapidly sinking, with no means of escape.

The Verdict:
So, after last issue's take on Dracula, this month we get Roy Thomas' take on King Kong in what has to be one of the silliest adventures Spider-Man's ever had. It's interesting to contrast Thomas' approach to that of Stan Lee. Whereas Lee had worked hard to tie Spidey into the real world, keeping his adventures in New York and introducing real life political and social issues, Thomas goes for out-and-out fantasy. I have to say I prefer the Lee approach. I'm a big fan of Thomas' work on things like the Avengers and Conan but, somehow it never quite feels like it belongs on a strip like Spider-Man. It's a beautifully drawn tale though from Gil Kane. I especially like the Daily Bugle scenes with the editorial conference.

I have to say the handling of Gwen Stacy in this issue irks me. For one thing, she's blubbing her eyes out again - I really wish she'd stop doing that - and, for another, the whole blundering around in the jungle in a bikini is terrible. I know Roy Thomas has been accused of sexism over the years but this is taking liberties.

Peter Parker uses a gun. Peter Parker should never use a gun.

Interesting to see that Kraven wants Gwen for his mate. Clearly we should never read anything into the fact that he barges around looking like the sixth member of the Village People.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #102. Morbius & the Lizard

Amazing Spider-Man #102, Morbius, the Lizard and a six-armed Spider-Man
"VAMPIRE AT LARGE!"

(Cover from November 1971.)

Written by Roy Thomas
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inked by Frank Giacoia
Lettered by Artie Simek


What happens:
During his fight with Morbius, the Lizard's flung into an electrical device which knocks him out. As he lies unconscious, Morbius tries to drink his blood but Spider-Man stops him and the vampire flees. However, Morbius' bite has had an odd affect on the Lizard because now he has Curt Connors' mind. Spider-Man and Connors reason that Morbius' system must contain an enzyme that caused the change and that it might also be the cure for Spider-Man's condition. Armed with this knowledge, they set off after the vampire.

They catch up with him in the city and, after a fight, manage to gain a sample of Morbius' blood. But the living vampire flees, taking the hard won sample with him. Spider-Man gives chase and his quarry falls into the river where he begins to drown.

But, as Morbius sinks, Spider-Man manages to snag the vial of blood, with his webbing. Fortunately for him, the enzyme works and, within seconds of taking it, his extra arms are gone.

The Verdict:
This is billed as a double-length issue, one of a whole range published that month as Marvel looked to gain a lead on their rivals DC. The experiment was short-lived, dumped after just one month and, in retrospect, it was probably not a bad thing the policy was ditched. This does seem too slight a tale to be told over so many pages. The scene in the TV newsroom feels like pure, out-and-out padding, and the flashback scenes revealing Morbius' origin could easily have been done more succinctly.

Much as I love him, Roy Thomas really is stretching our faith in dumb luck with this issue. The fact that Morbius' blood just happens to contain the enzyme that's the only thing that can cure Spider-Man's current condition is stretching it but then Spider-Man's luck in accidentally snaring the vial - when he's trying to snare the drowning vampire - is pushing things way too far. Thomas tries to get himself off the hook by later implying Spidey was subconsciously more interested in saving the serum than in saving Morbius but it really doesn't wash. Over-all it's a disappointing end to what, last issue, had started out so promisingly.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #101. Morbius and the Lizard

Amazing Spider-Man #101. Morbius - first appearance and origin
(Who wouldn't want to read a comic with a cover like this? From October 1971.)

"A MONSTER CALLED MORBIUS!"

Written by Roy Thomas.
Drawn by Gil Kane.
Inked by Frank Giacoia.
Lettering by Artie Simek.


What happens:
Peter Parker soon realises that his only hope of curing the affliction that's given him six arms is to seek the help of Curt Connors, the scientist who grows an extra arm when he becomes the Lizard. He phones the man, who agrees to loan him the use of an isolated house he owns which has a fully equipped lab.

But, when Spider-Man gets there, he's attacked and knocked out by Michael Morbius, a living vampire who's just come ashore after killing everyone aboard the ship on which he was previously hiding. As Morbius closes in for the kill, Curt Connors walks in - and the threat posed by Morbius causes him to transform into the Lizard. When Spider-Man regains consciousness, he finds The Lizard and Morbius squaring up for a fight - with him as the prize!

The Verdict.
So Spider-man goes all Hammer Horror as he finds himself in a creepy old house with what's basically Dracula in a costume. Even Morbius' method of arriving - by ship - echoes that of Vlad himself. Still, despite that, Morbius is a distinctive creation in his own right and there is something genuinely threatening about the vampire. It's a tale that's always felt not quite like other Spider-tales, which might be down to the fact it was written by Roy Thomas and not Stan Lee; and, if you stop to think about it for even one moment, there's an inherent ludicrousness to the story as we get the tale of a six-armed man, a human reptile and a vampire all stuck together in a haunted house. Probably all it needs is a guest spot from Abbott and Costello to make it into a Universal creature feature.

Either way, never the most conventional of artists, Gil Kane's in his element with his portrayal of the scenes in and around the old house and you have to love the single-panel page where the vampire flings our helpless hero from a balcony.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #100. Six-armed Spidey

Amazing Spider-Man #100
"THE SPIDER OR THE MAN?"

(The strip that Martin Goodman thought no one would buy hits the ton. Cover from September 1971.)

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inked by Frank Giacoia
Lettered by Artie Simek


What happens:
Peter Parker comes to the decision that he can never have a life with Gwen Stacy as long as he's Spider-Man and so, before retiring to bed, he takes a potion he's designed to rob him of his powers. He then has a dream where he must take on his deadliest foes while a mysterious voice calls out to him.

The voice is that of Captain Stacy and, in the dream, Stacy tells him he can never be free of his arachnid alter-ego, at which point, Peter awakes.

But something's gone wrong. Instead of ridding him of his spider powers, the formula's done the opposite. As he climbs from bed, he suddenly discovers the shocking truth.

He now has six arms!

The Verdict.
Clearly there's something wrong with me because this story-line tends to be derided as one of the stupidest tales in Spider-Man's history but I love the whole six-arms things. Maybe I'm just a sucker for melodrama, or maybe it's the sheer ludicrousness of the whole thing that grabs me.

That aside, the tale's pretty thin, mostly dedicated to a dream that marks the strip's hundredth issue by giving a quick recap of Spider-Man's career while allowing him to fight a number of his greatest foes. The fighting-a-whole-bunch-of-greatest-foes thing seems to be a standard approach to hitting issue #100 of a comic from Lee - as the same thing happened in issue #100 of the Fantastic Four. There, as here, the foes were only simulacra of the real thing, making it an oddly empty experience, even though - or perhaps because - the dream climaxes with Captain Stacy seemingly comparing Spider-Man to Jesus.

Least likely line of dialogue from our hero: "I used to think I was a million miles better off than they are down there." You did? When?

Sunday, 17 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #99. Spidey's day off?

Amazing Spider-Man #99, prison riot, Gil Kane cover
(Cover from August 1971.)

"A DAY IN THE LIFE OF..."


Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inked by Frank Giacoia
Lettered by Artie Simek


What happens:
Money. Peter Parker never has enough of it. But, now that Gwen Stacy's back, he needs more of it than ever, to keep her in the lifestyle to which he'd like her to become accustomed. But how does a man like him make some extra cash?

Simple. He gets J Jonah Jameson to take him on staff at the Daily Bugle, and he agrees to appear, as Spider-Man, on a chat show.

His first photographic assignment is to get pictures of a prison riot. Holding the governor hostage, the inmates are demanding better conditions but, when he gets there, Spidey discovers that Turpo, the riot's organiser is merely using it as a cover for his own escape. Spider-Man foils that bid, and the released governor backs the prisoners' demands. Pete has the pics he was sent to get but is then told by Joe Robertson that, now that he's on staff, he doesn't get paid till Friday, like all the other staffers.

That attempt to raise money quickly foiled, he guests on the chat show where, as Spider-Man, he makes an impassioned plea on behalf of the prisoners.

But, when the police show up with a warrant, he has to flee the studio before collecting his cash. It means he has no money with which to take Gwen out tonight but she says she doesn't care. As long as she's with Peter, she's happy.

The Verdict:
So, after the high drama of the last few issues and the, no doubt, even higher drama lined up for the title's hundredth outing, it's a low-key tale. Basically, it's the tale of Spider-Man's day off. I mean, OK, he foils a prison riot but that only takes a few panels. Mainly the gist of the tale is about Peter Parker's inevitably doomed attempts to make money. In truth, although it's a brave experiment and it's good to see Stan Lee still trying unconventional storylines, it has to be said it's not the most memorable of tales and it probably has to be viewed as something of a failure.

One thing does puzzle me though. The splash page. I mean, just what is going on with it? There's a bloke playing what seems to be a six-string ukulele. Why? Who is he? What's he doing there?

As for other mysteries, I assume the chat show host in this issue's a real person, as he doesn't look like a standard Gil Kane character but I have to admit, not being American and not having been around in the late 1960s, I have no idea who he is. As far as I can make out, he's never named in the story. If anyone can tell me his identity, I'd be all ears.

Saturday, 16 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #98. Green Goblin drug issue

Amazing Spider-Man #98, drugs issue, Green Goblin
"THE GOBLIN'S LAST GASP!"

(But where's the spider on our hero's back? From July 1971.)

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inked by Frank Giacoia
Lettered by Artie Simek


What happens:
Peter gets Harry to hospital but later accidentally encounters the dealer who sold him the drugs that put him there. When the dealer threatens him, he beats him up, down a back alley, and warns him never to let Pete catch them dealing again.

Now to find the Goblin.

But the Goblin finds him. The villain has a new secret weapon, one that robs Spidey of his power to stick to walls. Regardless, the hero conceives a plan. He hijacks the Goblin's glider and takes him to the hospital where Harry lies critically ill. The sight of his own son in a coma shocks the villain into reverting to his Norman Osborn persona and the threat of the Goblin is over once more. Meanwhile, on his way back home, Peter has even better news to celebrate when he encounters Gwen Stacy.

The Verdict:
I know I keep harping on about it but Gil Kane's handling of the fight scenes in this strip really are remarkable. He's clearly determined to exploit every possible angle and make full use of our hero's ability to navigate the rooftops in a way that no other character can.

On the down side, Kane really needed to do more research on life in England. That bus stop on page 5 bears no resemblance to any ever seen in any part of London at any point in history ever.

On the story front, its great to see the drug dealer and his cronies get the hiding they're asking for, and good to see JJ standing by his principles and refusing to kill the Harry drug story just because his father's one of the paper's main advertisers. Jonah has to be one of the most unpredictable characters in the history of comicdom.

Peter Parker's personal life:
Gwen Stacy's back.

Friday, 15 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #97. Green Goblin drug issue

Amazing Spider-Man #97, Green Goblin drugs issue
"IN THE GRIP OF THE GOBLIN!"

(Cover from June 1971.)

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inked by Frank Giacoia
Lettering by Sam Rosen
Artist Emeritus John Romita


What happens:
The Goblin's back - and as hell-bent on Spider-Man's destruction as ever. But Peter has even more to worry about. The Goblin's son Harry has become dangerously dependent on pills, a situation made all the worse when his girlfriend Mary Jane keeps coming onto Peter right in front of him. Now, at the climax, Harry's taken a potentially fatal overdose and, just as Peter's about to call for an ambulance, the Goblin reappears.

The Verdict:
There's no way anyone could complain of being short-changed by the strip during this era. This issue's got it all, the first half being a fizzing scrap between Spidey and the Goblin (Gil Kane making every possible use of angles to get across the sheer dynamism of a battle fought across all three dimensions), the second dealing with Harry and his sudden addiction to tablets of every possible type.

But, is it sudden? It seems so to the reader but Peter tells us Harry's always had a lot of pills in his cabinet and perhaps this at last explains Mary Jane's behaviour.

My first assumption was that it's her recent behaviour, constantly coming onto Peter in Gwen's absence, that caused Harry's drug dependency but then someone pointed out to me it's more likely her behaviour's a reaction to Harry's drug dependence. On page 11, when, fed up of her flirting, Peter says, "You know how Harry feels about you! So what's the bit?" She replies, "It's a long story. Wanna hear it?" In fact, he never does. He simply walks away. Reading between the lines, it seems she's laid down an ultimatum to Harry, "Get off the drugs or I walk," and her behaviour with Peter is her attempt to drive that message home. It casts a whole new light on Mary Jane and is therefore arguably the first time in the strip that a more serious side to her comes through.

On other matters, is it just me or does the drug dealer in this tale bear more than a passing resemblance to Stan Lee?

I've always been fascinated by the splash page to this issue because, although the tale's credited to Gil Kane, that one page does look remarkably like the work of Ross Andru.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Amazing Spider-man #96. Green Goblin drug issue

Amazing Spider-Man #96, drugs issue, Green Goblin
(With not a Comics Code Approval notice in sight. Cover from May 1971.)

"...AND NOW, THE GOBLIN!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by Gil Kane and John Romita
Lettering by Artie Simek


What happens:
Peter Parker's back in New York and it's Mary Jane's big break, her first starring role in an off-Broadway musical.

But, before that, Spider-Man has to deal with a youth who's so high he leaps off a roof, thinking he can fly.

That dealt with, he joins the gang and they, along with Norman Osborn, go along to see the show. Mary Jane wows the audience but, as the group are leaving, Osborn seems fascinated by a locked door in the theatre. Fearing the worst, Spider-Man later returns to the building - only to find those fears confirmed. The locked door led to one of the Green Goblin's old bolt-holes, and now, his memory restored by the reminder, the Goblin's back.

The Verdict:
Wow! Everything but the kitchen sink thrown into this one. First, we get the anti-drugs message that forced Marvel to publish the issue without the Comics Code seal of approval, then we get to see MJ finally get something to do and, at the climax, we get the return of the Green Goblin. I couldn't claim to know enough about drugs to comment on the accuracy of the story's dealing with the issue, and Lee does seem to be laying it on with a trowel when it comes to Randy Robertson's argument with Norman Osborn but there's no denying the courage it would've taken to do it. Nor would it be right to fail to credit Lee with sticking to his recent policy of letting real-life issues intrude on the previously cosy world of the super-hero.

Mary Jane really does start to become a total cow with this issue, treating Harry like something she's just stepped in. At least that's what I thought when I first read these stories then someone pointed out to me that I'd completely missed the point of her behaviour - as has Pete - and I'll be going into my thoughts on that in a later review.

It is a bit startling to discover the Goblin stored his spare costume and equipment in a theatre - especially one he didn't even own - which you would have thought would've made the task of maintaining his secret identity somewhat more difficult. Still, he is a madman, so I suppose anything's possible.

Peter Parker's personal life.
Joe Robertson seems to be onto Peter. Surely he knows by now that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are one and the same. It certainly seems to be the case.

Aunt May goes to see Hair.

Taking advantage of Gwen Stacy's absence, Mary Jane keeps coming onto Peter, right in front of her boyfriend Harry. Is she trying to make Harry jealous? Or is there something else behind it all?

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #95. London

Amazing Spider-Man #95, London, Tower Bridge
(Thanks to the magic of comic book land, Tower Bridge is magically transported to stand besides the Houses of Parliament. Cover from April 1971.)

"TRAP FOR A TERRORIST!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Sal Buscema
Lettering by Artie Simek


What happens:
Peter Parker's sent to London to get some news photos. While there, he aims to find Gwen Stacy but, instead, blunders into a terrorist attack. Their attempt to blow up a plane foiled by our hero, they kidnap a political delegate. Now Spider-Man faces a race against time to find him before a bomb blows him up.

He finds him, tied up, in the clock tower of the Houses of Parliament and rescues him. The only problem is, now that everyone knows Spider-Man's in London, there's no way he can go looking for Gwen. If she discovers that both Parker and Spider-Man are in the city at the same time, she'll realise the two men are one and the same.

The Verdict:
Joe Robertson has to be the best boss on Earth. Upon learning that Pete can't afford the flight to look for Gwen, he gives him a paid assignment to go to London and get some news pics. News pics of what? He doesn't say - or seem to care.

Peter Parker, meanwhile, has to be the unluckiest man alive. His first flight to England and it gets attacked by terrorists. For that matter, anyone who even meets him should fear for their life. The only person he talks to on the flight just happens to get kidnapped by the terrorists. The boy should carry a public health warning.

Nice to know that stereotypes still abound, with everyone in London looking and sounding like they've just sauntered in from the 1930s.

Oh dear. Gwen's come down with Aunt May Condition and, at the first sight of Spidey, promptly faints.

Interesting that time bomb disposal 's now part of Spidey's repertoire. Although I'm not sure his favoured method - just yanking out the fuse - is part of recommended military practice.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #94. The Beetle

Amazing Spider-Man #94, the Beetle, John Romita
(Cover from March 1971)

"ON WINGS OF DEATH!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Sal Buscema
Lettering by Artie Simek


What happens:
Peter Parker's feeling sorry for himself after the departure of Gwen Stacy, causing him to reflect on his life as Spider-Man over the last few years. But now he has more urgent matters to worry about because the Beetle's holding Aunt May hostage. Spider-Man rushes to the scene and disposes of the villain, leaving him to wonder why the hero was fighting him with such a passion.

The Verdict.
The first half of the issue's the equivalent of a TV clip show, with flashbacks to Peter Parker's past, including a retelling of Spider-Man's origin. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or a bad thing. Clearly, for new readers, it's a godsend but, for long-time followers, it means the tale's treading water for its first ten or so pages.

Aunt May's as annoying as ever, deciding to go and buy some milk from a shop on the block that she knows has been repeatedly attacked by the Beetle.

For that matter, the Beetle's plan's just stupid. Why's he attacking a bunch of stores in the same block over a protracted period? If he's after the bank vault that lies behind one of them, why doesn't he just attack them all in one session instead of setting up an MO that means his next attacks are bound to be expected? For that matter, why doesn't he just attack the bank, as he clearly doesn't know which shop the vault adjoins? For that matter, are the police really that stupid that they can't spot that the shops he keeps attacking all have one thing in common - that they all adjoin the same bank?

Monday, 11 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #93. The Prowler's back

Amazing Spider-Man #93, the Prowler
(Cover from February 1971)

"THE LADY AND -- THE PROWLER!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita
Lettering by Artie Simek


What happens:
Gwen gets a call from her uncle in London, offering her the chance to stay with him and her aunt. When she tells Peter that she loves him even more than she hates Spider-Man, the reminder of the inescapable obstacle between them makes him tell her she should go to London.

But, later, he decides he was wrong, he can't live without her and he returns to her apartment to tell her the truth about himself.

Before he can do so, the Prowler appears. Thinking the favour he did for the hero at George Stacy's house was part of Spider-Man's plans to kill the ex-cop, he's determined to bring the wall-crawler to justice. Spider-Man doesn't want to fight but, the Prowler won't listen and, during the scrap, has a fall that hurts him badly. Spider-Man gets him to a hospital and then returns to Gwen.

But it's too late. She's already gone to London. Yet again being Spider-Man has wrecked his life.

The Verdict:
John Romita's back on pencilling duty and, appropriately for a man who used to draw romance comics, it's back in full-on soap opera mode. Poor old Gwen, she doesn't know if she's coming or going - literally - with the way Peter Parker carries on. No wonder she seems to spend all her time bawling her eyes out.

And Poor old Hobie Brown. He still can't quite grasp that he's totally outclassed by Spider-Man. For a start, the only reason he can even catch up with Spidey - who can swing from building to building in mere moments, whereas he can't - is because Spidey wants to talk sense to him.

They clearly work fast in New York. At the tale's climax, it can't be more than a few minutes since Spidey last saw Gwen in her apartment and, already, by the looks of it, someone new's moved in.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #92. Iceman

Amazing Spider-Man #92, the Iceman
(Cover from January 1971.)

"WHEN ICEMAN ATTACKS!"

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Gil Kane
Inks by John Romita
Lettering by Artie Simek


What happens:
Discovered in Peter Parker's apartment, Spider-Man has to act fast so that Gwen and Bullit won't realise his true identity. And so he abducts Gwen while making disparaging remarks about her boyfriend. Unfortunately for him, he's been spotted, swinging overhead, by Iceman of the X-Men who starts to fight him. Bullit's delighted. He can make it look like the Iceman's working for him.

But that's when the Daily Bugle withdraws its support. Joe Robertson's unearthed information about Bullit and his backers. Now, because of it, Bullit wants rid of Robertson. Peter spots his men leading Joe away and, after a quick return bout with the Iceman, follows them to a warehouse. There, the crooks're going to kill Joe, but Spidey and Iceman foil their plan. Now the pair show up at Bullit's latest fund-raising dinner and tell everyone about the plot to kill Robertson. And that's the end of Bullit's political career, not to mention his liberty.

The Verdict:
Peter Parker really is the biggest idiot on the face of the planet, not to mention the worst boyfriend any girl could ever hope to have. Upon being found entering Peter Parker's flat, all he has to do is say to Gwen and Bullit, "Where's Parker? He owes me money for all those photos he keeps taking." Instantly, he's got a reason for being there. So, what does he do? He grabs Gwen and kidnaps her! Er, yeah, that'll convince the world you're not a criminal and won't in any way shape or form distress your so-called beloved.

The Iceman's girlfriend's almost as big an idiot as Spider-Man. Upon seeing our hero swinging over the streets of New York with the terrified Gwen, she declares, "Why doesn't someone do something?" Yeah? Like what?

J Jonah Jameson's getting to be quite the race relations campaigner. If they're not careful, we're going to end up liking the old windbag.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #91. Bullit

Amazing Spider-Man #91, Bullit
(Cover from December 1970)

"TO SMASH THE SPIDER!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inks by John Romita
Lettering by Sam Rosen

What happens:
Blaming Spider-Man for the death of her father, Gwen pledges her support for would-be district attorney Sam Bullit. Bullit's campaigning on a tough-on-crime ticket and she reasons that only someone like him can bring Spider-Man to justice.

Unknown to her, he's as big a crook as the people he's campaigning against and is just using her to get publicity. To get votes, Bullit starts a witch hunt against Spider-Man and has his men try to lean on Peter Parker. In his Spider-Man guise, Peter deals with the thugs but when he swings into his apartment afterwards, he's careless. Bullitt and Gwen are there - and now they have proof that there's a connection between Spidey and Peter Parker.

The Verdict:
Another of those issues that I have surprisingly little to say about. Odd, given the importance of it as it deals with the aftermath of George Stacy's death, and that it continues the recent trend of dipping its toes into the issues of the day; this time how best to deal with a tide of rising crime. It's probably because there's never a genuine debate here. Bullit isn't just a hard-line campaigner, he's a thug and a crook and so we're left in no doubt as to who's in the right in the debate that runs throughout the issue. Maybe it would've been dramatically stronger if Bullit was sincere in his beliefs but used dubious methods and was ultimately forced to confront the wrongness of what he was doing; that, by using underhand methods, he's no different from the people he's opposed to.

The cliff-hanger's a little odd. As it's been established repeatedly and publicly over the years that there's a connection between Spider-Man and Peter Parker, the "discovery" could hardly be called alarming or incriminating.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #90. The death of George Stacy

Amazing Spider-Man #90, the death of Captain George Stacy, John Romita
(Cover from November 1970.)

"AND DEATH SHALL COME!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by Gil Kane
Inks by John Romita
Lettering by Sam Rosen


What happens:
Dr Octopus flings Spider-Man off the roof of a building but Spider-man saves himself by grabbing two of the villain's tentacles and then hiding in an air vent until he's gone.

On his way home, back in his civvies, Peter bumps into Captain Stacy but, thanks to the punishment he took in the fight, passes out. When he recovers, he once more sets off in search of Octopus. But this time he's prepared. He squirts a special formula of his webbing on two of the villain's arms and they go out of control, attacking their master. In the battle between Octopus's arms, a chimney's dislodged, sending it falling to the street below. It looks like it's going to land on a child but Captain Stacy's at hand and flings himself at the boy to save him. Stacy bears the full brunt of the impact. Spider-Man rushes down and pulls him from the rubble.

But it's too late, the man is dying and, in his dying breath, he reveals that he knows Spider-Man is Peter Parker.


The Verdict:
If ever an issue proved Spider-Man wasn't like other comic books this one's it. First we have the sight of its hero cowering in an air vent, desperately hoping the villain won't find him and then we have the ending. Traditionally in super-hero comics, regular cast members simply didn't die. They could always rely on the hero to save them at the last possible moment but here we not only have one dying but doing so directly as a result of the hero's actions. The days of comic book cosiness are over. From now on it's clear that anything can happen, that there are always consequences and there can be no guarantee that any of the characters we've grown to know and love won't die at any time.

Amazing Spider-Man #89. Dr Octopus

Amazing Spider-Man #89, Dr Octopus
(Cover from October 1970.)

"DOC OCK LIVES!"

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by Gil Kane
Inks by John Romita
Lettering by Sam Rosen


What Happens:
The world believes Dr Octopus dead, killed in a plane explosion but, when he reads that no sign of the villain's remains have been found, not even his metal arms, Peter Parker's sure he's still alive.

He's right. Octopus attacks a power station, to black out the city, so it'll be helpless before him. Spider-Man tries to stop him but fails and, at the tale's climax, Octopus flings the defeated hero, seemingly to his death, from atop a building.


Verdict:
I love this issue. The main reason being the strip has a new artist; ex-Green Lantern maestro Gil Kane. Not only is he one of my favourite artists but, at last, the strip has a permanent penciller, with John Romita on inks. Romita's said in interviews that every time he inked Kane's work, he learned something new about the art of drawing comic books and it's easy to see why, as Kane experiments with panel arrangements, viewpoint, perspective and finding ways to express mood visually. He even finds time, on page eight, to have fun throwing in a little homage to Steve Ditko. Not only is Kane's work startlingly sophisticated but, in his visual story-telling, he manages to make Dr Octopus seem all but unbeatable, with his tentacles creating a sense of inescapable claustrophobia as they appear to be permanently surrounding or entangling our hero while coming at him from all angles. The way it's drawn, Spider-Man isn't fighting to defeat Octopus, he's fighting just to stay alive.

The issue's only downside is we're never told how Ock survived the plane explosion.


Peter Parker's personal life:
Peter bumps into Randy Robertson who asks if he's going to a protest against air pollution. Peter says no and Randy accuses him of not caring about anything except himself. (Later in the same issue, Joe Robertson and JJ mention air pollution, and Dr Octopus attacks a power station - one of the causes of air pollution. With its anti-war protesters last month, Stan Lee seems to have settled on an issue-of-the-month format.)

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #88. Dr Octopus

Amazing Spider-Man #88, Dr Octopus, John Romita cover
(Even when he seems to be 'armless, Dr Octopus is a handful. Cover from September 1970.)

"THE ARMS OF DR OCTOPUS!"

Written by Stan Lee
Pencils by John Romita
Inks by Jim Mooney
Lettering by Sam Rosen


What happens:
Dr Octopus's tentacles are being kept on display in a museum when they suddenly burst into life. They're being controlled, long-distance, by Octopus, using his telepathic rapport with them. Spider-Man tries to stop them but fails and the tentacles bust Ock out of jail.

He heads for the nearest airport to stow away on a plane.

But he soon discovers it's no ordinary flight. On board is the Chinese representative General Su, on his way to address the United Nations. Octopus spots a chance to make money fast and takes the General, along with everyone else on board, hostage. If he doesn't get ten million dollars, it's curtains for the lot of them.

Spider-Man rushes to the airport and sneaks on to the now landed and stationary plane. The obligatory fight breaks out, the obligatory webbing of Octopus in the glasses breaks out. In the confusion, the hostages flee the plane, leaving the villain without a bargaining chip at the roulette wheel of life. With the police closing in fast, he needs to get away from there sharpish.

He tries to fly the plane out of there. But Octopus is no pilot and the plane crashes at the end of the runway. Nothing could survive that explosion. One thing's for certain. Dr Octopus is dead.

Or is he?


The Verdict:

I really don't have that many thoughts on this issue. It's a good solid tale that sees the return of one of Spider-Man's deadliest enemies. I am somewhat puzzled by the ability of Octopus's tentacles to function without him. OK, he has some sort of telepathic control over them but how do they see to do anything in his absence, including battling Spider-Man to a stand-still?

On top of that, it does seem like madness that the prison authorities take no action to increase security around Octopus, even though everyone knows his tentacles are on the loose and under his control. Did it really not occur to anyone that he might try to escape? I've commented on the lax state of prison management in the Spider-verse before (see The Shocker and The Vulture)and I get the feeling that I'll have to again in the future.

Elsewhere, it is impressive how J Jonah Jameson seems to be involved in everything that ever happens in New York - and even more remarkable that John Jameson, astronaut, seems to be put in charge of every matter that involves a military presence in the world of Spider-Man. It's even odder bearing in mind that every time he's put in charge of something, it always goes disastrously wrong.


Peter Parker's private life:

Not a lot of it this issue but he and Gwendy are getting along like beans on toast all of a sudden. They're all smiles and flirting. Romita's back on the pencils, big time and he's restoring a lot of her old zest. Suddenly, she doesn't seem like such a stiff after all.

On the downside, Professor Warren calls Peter in for a "chat". Thanks to his unexplained absences, our hero's grades are slipping disastrously and, if he doesn't get his act together, he's going to flunk college altogether.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #87. Spider-Man unmasked

Amazing Spider-Man #87, Spider-Man unmasked
(Cover from August 1970.)

"UNMASKED AT LAST!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Jim Mooney
Lettering by Sam Rosen


What happens:
Fearing he's losing his spider-powers, Peter tries to check a sample of his blood under the microscope but his vision's so blurry that he can't see clearly enough to know what it should be telling him.

Across town, there's a party at the Stacy residence. The whole gang's there but Peter's not shown up.

Then he shows up.

He shows up, dazed, mask in hand, telling everyone that he's Spider-Man. Suddenly realising what he's done, the delirious youngster flees the building. He can't go on like this. He's losing the plot. He needs to see a doctor, so he goes to the hospital where, after passing out, he's told he's simply had a king-sized does of the flu. He's not losing his super-powers! He needs to put right what was said at the party.

He approaches Hobie Brown - the Prowler - and asks him to be at a certain place at a certain time, then returns to the Stacy residence, where the gang are still gathered. As he tells them to ignore his earlier outburst, that he was delirious and didn't know what he was saying, Spider-Man appears at the window. Unknown to everyone but him, it's actually the Prowler in disguise. After his brief appearance, the stand-in Spidey leaves and Peter's in the clear. Now no one will ever suspect him again of being Spider-Man.


The Verdict:

It's the first story since issue #50 where we don't get to see Spider-Man fighting anyone, Instead the story concentrates on Peter Parker's private life. As with that previous tale, it gives us the possibility that we'll never again see Spider-Man, although it doesn't do it as memorably because this time there's no dilemma for our hero. If he's lost his powers he'll simply have no choice but to hang up his mask.

On the art front, another issue credited to Romita and Mooney but, somehow the artwork doesn't look like it normally does. I can only assume Romita's influence on this issue was weaker than usual. Mooney also seems to be inking the strip differently, his inking seems lighter than normal. Is he using different brushes?


Peter's personal life:

Peter's act should have fooled everyone but he still gets the feeling Captain Stacy's suspicious. In one panel, we see the captain's thought balloons as the Prowler leaves, and those thoughts indicate the ex-cop's been fooled by the charade, which may mean Peter's simply being paranoid.

Amazing Spider-Man #86. The Black Widow

Amazing Spider-Man #86, Black Widow, John Romita cover
(Cover from July 1970.)

"BEWARE... THE BLACK WIDOW!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Jim Mooney
Lettering by Sam Rosen


What happens:
After a brief hiatus, the Black Widow's itching to get back into circulation. But first she decides she has to do two things. Because she can't run around naked, she has to make herself a new costume, plus she needs to learn the secrets of Spider-Man's powers and add them to her own. To do that, she decides she needs to fight him.

But Spider-Man has more problems than just her. He's feeling decidedly unwell and can barely put up a fight. The Widow snares him in her webbing and, with him helpless, he looks to be facing his most humbling defeat. He refuses to lose. Summoning the last of his strength, he snaps the Widow's line and then blocks the nozzles of her web-shooters. Deciding she's outmatched by the man, she flees, opting to leave his powers to him.

Back at his apartment, Spider-Man's feeling worse than ever. He takes a sample of his own blood and puts it under the microscope.

But dare he look at what it reveals?


The Verdict:

It's such an obvious idea for Spider-Man to fight the Black Widow that it's amazing no one thought of doing it before. And, at the risk of being sexist, the Widow looks fantastic here, dumping her terrible old costume and replacing it with a sleek, leather outfit presumably inspired by that of Emma Peel from the Avengers. In its design, John Romita demonstrates that simplicity really can be genius. As for the Widow herself, she's so lithe and wasp-waisted that you wonder she doesn't snap in half when she bends over .

As for Peter, he really is an idiot. Feeling terrible - and weak - he decides to swing around town in his Spidey gear to clear his head, totally ignoring the fact that appearing in public as Spider-Man's like roaming around with a target on him. The last thing he needs right now is to be inviting every passing super-villain to attack him. He's lucky it's only the relative benign and under-powered Widow who blunders across him.

Despite Pete's stupidity, this is another of my favourites from this era. Beautifully drawn and beautifully told. Sandwiched between two and three part stories, these one-shots can seem insubstantial and throwaway - his battle with Medusa being an obvious example but this one's more intriguing, probably because it's actually more about the Widow and her rebirth as a character than it is about Spider-Man but also because, unlike the Medusa tale, it has potentially grave consequences for our hero as it confronts us with the all-too real possibility that Spider-Man is losing his powers.


Peter's personal life:

After what happened last issue, Gwen's now convinced that Spider-Man's in the habit of roughing Peter Parker up, mostly because Pete returns from his latest mini-disappearance with a bruised face. Captain Stacy still comes across as knowing more than he should and it's all starting to rattle our hero.

Amazing Spider-Man #85. The Kingpin & the Schemer

Amazing Spider-Man #85, the Kingpin and the Schemer
(Cover from June 1970.)

"THE SECRET OF THE SCHEMER!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita, John Buscema and Jim Mooney
Lettering Sam Rosen

What happens:
Following the Schemer's escape from the Kingpin's mansion, Spider-Man catches up with him and captures him. He takes him to the address of the mystery person offering the reward for his capture - only to discover it's the Kingpin. While Spider-Man's trapped in a net of the Kingpin's devising, the two crime lords square up to each other. That's when the Schemer reveals his true identity,

He's the Kingpin's son Richard who was so horrified when he found out his father was a criminal that he set out to destroy him. The shock of this revelation sends the Kingpin into a catatonic state from which he may never recover.



Verdict:

You do have to wonder about Spider-Man's intelligence. Right from the moment he arrives at the address where the offerer of the reward's to be found, he realises there's something wrong but doesn't for one moment suspect that the person offering the reward might be the Kingpin. Well, really, who else would be most likely candidate?

You also have to wonder about the intelligence of the Schemer who recognises the building at once - and clearly doesn't want to be there - but doesn't point out to Spidey who it belongs to.

You also have to question the intelligence of the Kingpin's wife Vanessa who recognised her son in the last issue but doesn't bother telling the her husband. In her case, she has an excuse - that she's trying to protect her son - but you can't help feeling that an awful lot of hassle could've been avoided if she'd just told him the truth.

On the other hand, you can't blame the Kingpin for not guessing who the Schemer really is. He has every reason to think his son's dead and it has to be said that the Schemer with his mask on bears no resemblance whatsoever to Richard.

While some might be disappointed that it's an issue where matters aren't resolved by Spider-Man himself, with the hero a helpless bystander as events unfold before him, it serves to highlight the strength of the strip - that it's ultimately more about human drama than straight super-heroics and it's this trait that makes the title special.

On the art front, we're back to having three artists working on the strip. You wouldn't have thought it'd be that difficult to find one permanent artist for what was supposed to be Marvel's flagship title but, for several years now, it seems to have been beyond them to manage it for more than a few issues at a time. In the past, Jim Mooney's inks have helped blur the distinction between the various artists' styles but, here, the frequent gear shifts between Romita's style and Buscema's hit you in the face. It doesn't mar the enjoyment massively - after all, they can both draw comics - but it is somewhat distracting.



Peter's personal life.

Gwen and her dad come round to Peter's flat, with Captain Stacy wanting to know how Pete gets his photos of Spider-Man. The captain clearly seems to be onto him and it appears, from the conversation Gwen and her dad have when Peter's in his dark room, that her dad's suggested to her that Peter might be Spider-Man. Gwen tells the ex-cop that he's, "way off-base."

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #84. The Kingpin & the Schemer

Amazing Spider-Man #84, The Kingpin and the Schemer
("Look, Spider-Man, I can do that trick where you pull away the carpet, and all the furniture stays put. Oops; that's my career in magic over before it began." Cover from May 1970.)

"The Kingpin Strikes Back!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita, Jim Mooney and John Buscema
Lettering by Sam Rosen


Money, and how to make it fast, that's what's on Spider-Man's mind because there's a five thousand dollar reward up for the Schemer's capture. And how our hero could do with that kind of cash injection. Of course, to get the reward, he first has to find the Schemer. It's a safe bet he won't be hanging out at his old HQ, the one Spidey trashed last issue, therefore our hero's going to have to start asking questions. Swinging over New York, he spots a likely candidate, a cheap crook if ever he saw one and swings down to lean on him a bit.

Trouble is, what looks like a cheap crook is in fact a cop - and he's looking for the Schemer too. So much for that idea.

But then, Spidey has an outrageous stroke of luck. As he's passing a building, his spider-sense starts to tingle. He looks in through the window...

...and wouldn't you know it, he sees one of the Schemer's hoods. He recognises him from the fight yesterday. There are ten million stories in the naked city, and Spider-Man has a remarkable knack for bumping into just the ones he needs.

But not in this case. When he leans on the crook, the crook says he doesn't have a clue where the Schemer is. Spidey believes him, so it's back to the drawing board.

Well, as this is getting him nowhere, he changes back into his street threads and pays a visit to Gwen who's still moping about his seeming reluctance to visit her in hospital. She's also giving him the third degree about exactly what happened last issue with the truck. She's been trying to work out how he came out of it without a scratch. Now he's worried. She's getting too close to the truth. Fortunately, our hero has a brilliant plan to fall back on. He drops his cocoa, declares that he's not feeling well and leaves. Hmn, yes, that'll stop the lovely Gwendolyne from ever making any further enquiries again.

As it turns out, the Schemer's hiding in his car which is buried under a handy snow drift. Personally, I have my suspicions about a master of a criminal empire who lives in his car. Regardless, he's fed up of waiting. He hits the heater. Instantly all the snow on the vehicle melts and he drives off. As the police are after him and the Kingpin's after him and Spider-Man's after him and there's a reward for his capture, you might think he'd want to keep a low profile but his car looks like something from Thunderbirds. He finds some of the Kingpin's men, smacks them around a bit and tells them to tell their boss that his day's as the city's number one crime czar are over. From now on, the Schemer's in charge.

Spider-Man's turned up at one of the Kingpin's warehouses. He's hoping he'll be able to learn something there. He overhears the men inside talking about the Schemer's car and how it can be spotted from half a mile away.

So, Spidey goes in search of that car.

He finds it. He has a fight with it. The Schemer drives it straight into the river - with Spider-Man clinging to it. The Schemer's OK. As it turns out, his car doubles up as a submarine. And then it doubles up as a plane as it shoots up out of the water and drives off.

As for the Schemer, he's through messing about. He's arrived at the Kingpin's house and, there, confronts the overlard of crime. Kingie's wife Vanessa intervenes. She tries to get the two of them to see sense and stop this idiotic feud.

But then she looks into the Schemer's eyes and she starts to act all funny. Before her husband can find out why, Spider-Man bursts in. He's had no trouble following the tracks left by the Schemer. Kingie and Spidey start fighting.

But then the villain spots something.

Vanessa's gone.

Losing interest in his fight with the arachnid avenger, he presses a button and steps into a glass elevator hidden in a cupboard. He departs, out to destroy the Schemer for taking his wife.

All of which leaves Spider-Man no better off than he was at the start of the story. He's still not got any money, he's still not got his man - and all he has to show for his endeavours are the usual lumps, bumps and bruises.

Amazing Spider-Man #83. The Kingpin & the Schemer

Amazing Spider-Man #83. The First appearance of the Schemer
(Cover from April 1970.)

"The Schemer!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inks by Mickey Demeo
Lettering by Sam Rosen


There's trouble in town. A new crime lord's arisen and he's out to take on the Kingpin. Almost instantly, Spider-Man's onto him. This isn't down to any great awareness on the webbed wonder's part. He just happens to be around when a bunch of the Schemer's men attack a truck belonging to the Kingpin. The truck says "ACME" on the front, in big letters. So, at last we know who was supplying all those gizmos to Wile E Coyote for all those years. At last we know how Kingie made his millions.

Needless to say, Spidey makes quick work of the hoods but realises he's got a much bigger headache on his hands. He didn't think anyone would have the nerve to take on the Kingpin. This can only mean trouble.

The Kingpin's got troubles alright. However, it's not the attacks on his "business" that he's bothered about. He's more concerned about the disappearance of his son Richard in a ski-ing accident.

But was it an accident?

Kingie's wife's convinced that their son killed himself because he couldn't bear the shame of having discovered his father's a criminal. The Kingpin refuses to hear of it and, angered by his wife's words, decides that it's time to get back into action.

Again, the war between the two criminals impinges on Peter Parker's life. This time in a manner far more serous than before. After seeing Flash off at the airport, Pete and Gwen are minding their own business when a passing truck's forced off the road by a car. Swerving wildly, the truck topples over and the only thing that stops it from squishing Gwen flatter than the economy is Pete shielding her with his body. Not wanting anyone to see him supporting the weight of a truck, he grabs a snapped-off parking meter and jams it under the truck, to hold it in place while he and Gwen get out of there. Pete's fine but Gwen's not. She's been unconscious since he flung her to the ground to protect her.

That's it. This war between the Kingpin and the Schemer was a problem before but now it's got personal and he's going to end it whatever it takes.

What it takes is for him to follow the tracer he planted on the car as it sped off, and he soon locates the Schemer's HQ. He smashes in through the window and quickly disposes of the Schemer's goons. Now for their boss.

But the would-be crime lord has a trick up his sleeve. His desk is a death trap. When Spidey jumps onto it, what appears to be a light suddenly drops down and starts to crush the web-spinner. He has only once chance, if he can brace his arms, the "light" might just give way.

It does, and Spider-Man's free. Unfortunately, the effort caused an explosion and, in the resulting confusion, the Schemer got away.

Back in his civvies, Pete heads for the hospital where Gwen's being kept. Needless to say she's complaining about him not having bothered to visit her till now and, for once, it's hard not to sympathise. Clearly, in going after the Schemer, Pete was more interested in getting revenge than looking after the well-being of his girlfriend. Sadly, and worryingly, he doesn't seem to get it.

Capt Stacy seems to get it. He seems remarkably understanding towards Peter, bearing in mind that the boy didn't turn up to see his injured daughter, and, after letting slip a bit more than he should, Pete starts to worry that the captain might guess his secret. As the story ends, our hero can't help feeling that, somehow, his life's reached a turning point...

...and that, whatever it is, he won't like its outcome.

Amazing Spider-Man #82. Electro

Amazing Spider-Man #82, Electro
(Cover from March 1970.)

"And Then Came Electro!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita and Jim Mooney
Lettering by Sam Rosen


Argh! It's happened! At last, after seventeen consecutive months of absence, Mary Jane Watson reappears. It seems she's just got back from Florida with her Aunt Anna. What she was doing in Florida is anyone's guess, as this trip has never been mentioned before and all indication, for all this time, is that she's been in New York, dating Harry. Still, she's back and already that old rivalry between her and Gwen's starting to raise its playful head once more. Mary Jane's return isn't only good news from the point of view of the strip having a lively character back in the fold but it instantly helps steer Gwen away from the dull-as-ditchwater drip she's been in recent months.

Of course, that still doesn't cheer Peter Parker up. He's too busy worrying about all the things he's always worrying about. Chief among them being how to make money.

And then he has it.

TV!

He'll do a chat show. They'll pay good money for an exclusive interview with Spider-Man. So, he drops in on some TV executives and sets up the deal.

But Peter Parker's most notable accompanist in life is a thing called Coincidence and it's dogging his every step again. It turns out that one of the electricians at the TV network is Max Dillon. That name may not mean much to everyone but his pseudonym will.

He's Electro.

What's he doing there? He's on payroll and he's keeping his nose clean until he's ready to strike again.

He's ready to strike again. Getting wind of Spider-Man's planned chat show appearance, he reasons that J Jonah Jameson'll pay him a fortune to unmask the arachnid adventurer on live TV.

Jonah's in 7th Heaven. He's just struck the deal with Electro and is determined to be there. He won't be alone. He's also taking Joe Robertson and Captain Stacy. Oddly, it doesn't seem to occur to him to take Peter Parker, even though you'd've thought a photographer'd come in handy under the circumstances.

Spidey arrives at the chat show but, no sooner has the interview started than Electro's flinging lightning bolts at him. Everyone flees in a panic, leaving the two to battle it out. Blimey it's a short-lived battle. There was a time, in the early days, when Spidey would take up the main part of an issue trying to even survive an encounter with Electro. Here, he polishes the villain off in just three pages, by webbing his hands and feet together to short-circuit him.

It has to be said, the tactic isn't an altogether out-and-out triumph. It beats Electro but it also defeats Spidey as he's hit by the electrical feedback travelling down his webbing and is knocked out.

Electro recovers first but, not realising that Spidey's out cold, staggers away from the scene, scared that the hero will easily defeat him in his current (no pun intended) state.

Spidey quickly recovers...

...but he's back to square one. The interview was wrecked, after what's just happened, no TV show'll touch him with a barge pole, and all he's got to show for it are a few burns and bruises. Just another normal day in the life of Spider-Man then.



Mary Jane vigil.
She's back!!!

Monday, 4 May 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #81. The Kangaroo makes his entrance

Amazing Spider-Man #81, Origin and first appearance of the Kangaroo
(Cover from February 1970.)

"The Coming Of The Kangaroo!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Art by John Buscema, John Romita and Jim Mooney.
Lettering by Artie Simek.


Spider-Man's all hot and bothered. He's got to get to the station to meet Aunt May who's on her way back from Florida.

As it turns out, she's not the only person of interest getting off the train. Among the departing passengers is an Australian. We know he's Australian because he's called the Kangaroo, and he's on his way to be deported.

That's what Immigration think but he bashes the officials who're accompanying him and then leaps off in the style of a kangaroo. It turns out he used to spend all his time in the outback, watching the bouncy-legged marsupials, eating what they ate, drinking what they drank, until he too could jump like them. As far as I'm aware, kangaroos drink water and eat grass; so there you have it, kids, the secret of gaining super-powers is to drink water and eat grass. It sort of makes you wonder why there aren't any super-powered cows out there.

Having gained his mighty powers, he decided to put this skill to good use by becoming a boxer. As boxing doesn't tend to involve a lot of leaping around, it seems a slightly odd career choice for a man of his talents and, as it transpired, it turned out to be a disastrous one, as he decided to win a fight by kicking an opponent in the head.

Needless to say, this went down like a cat in a dog pound and he found himself forced to flee the country. He ended up in America where he was promptly apprehended and lined up for deportation. Yeah? Well no one's deporting the Kangaroo.

Using his incredible powers of... ...jumping around a bit, the Kangaroo robs a security van but is disappointed to discover that his haul consists of just one item - a glass vial. He sticks it in his jacket pocket till he can figure out what to do with it.

What he should do with it is get rid of it sharpish, as Peter Parker discovers when he's round at Aunt May's. The teen's watching TV when an urgent announcement's broadcast. The Kangaroo's stolen a vial containing an experimental bacteria. If it's opened, a deadly plague could devastate the city. Spidey needs to find the Kangaroo - and find him now.

He finds him on a balcony, threatening people, and tries to warn him of the danger.

But the Kangaroo's not listening. He's eager for a scrap.

So now what does Spider-Man do? He's got to stop the crook but daren't lay into him in case he accidentally breaks the vial.

Back at chez Parker, Aunt May decides to give Peter his medicine. Yes, I know he's not there, he's fighting the Kangaroo but Aunt May doesn't know that. In order to get away, so he could fight the villain, Peter said he wasn't feeling well and was going to take to his sickbed. Showing his usual genius, he's left a web dummy of himself in his bed, so that if Aunt May pops her head round the door, she'll think it's him and that he's gone nowhere.

The only problem is, she's popped her whole self through the door, in order to administer the medicine and, when she pulls the sheets back, instead of seeing her nephew, she sees a man made of webbing. You can criticise Aunt May for never exactly being slow to have one of her turns but, in fairness, the sight of a loved one having been turned into a web creature would probably give most of us a turn and, needless to say that's all the excuse she needs to have one.

Spider-Man's still failing miserably to get the Kangaroo to listen, so, he grabs the villain with his legs and tips him upside down, shaking the vial loose. Then he catches it, with his webbing, as it falls. Taking advantage of the distraction, the Kangaroo leaps off but Spidey doesn't care about that. He's got the vial and that's all that matters. He hands it to the relevant individuals and then heads back home.

He gets home and finds Aunt May lying unconscious on the bed. Realising what's happened, he flings the dummy out the window and revives her. She's all right - this time - but how long, he asks, before the shadow of Spider-Man destroys them all?



Mary Jane vigil.
Number of consecutive months now without Mary Jane appearing : sixteen.

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