"Ship Of Fiends!"
Written by Len Wein.
Pencilled by Ross Andru.
Inked by Don Heck.
Lettered by John Costanza.
Coloured by Glynis Wein.
In 1971, Roy Thomas wanted to pitch Spider-Man up against Count Dracula but Stan Lee stopped him, arguing that if Spider-Man were to come up against a vampire it had to be a super-villain vampire. Thus was Morbius born and thus did Dracula avoid the indignity of getting a face full of webbing.
Clearly, by 1974, Lee's leash on events had grown somewhat looser because we finally got it. Spider-Man finally came up against the Prince of Darkness.
Actually he didn't. Despite John Romita's dramatic cover to Giant-Size Spider-Man #1, at no point does Spidey come up against Dracula. Peter Parker bumps into him in passing, at one point, but that's the limit to their encounter. Instead they merely happen to be on an ocean liner at the same time as each other, and neither finish the story in any way shape or form aware that the other was around.
The story is that Aunt May's bucking the trend of a lifetime by being at death's door. She's got the flu, and the only person with a vaccine is a doctor travelling on an ocean liner. So Spidey sets off to find that doctor and get that vaccine.
Unfortunately, he's not alone, as both Dracula and a Maggia hood called the Whisperer are after it too. It's clear what the Whisperer wants with the vaccine - money - but it's somewhat more nebulous as to why Vlad wants it. We're told its existence threatens his plans. What his plans are and how exactly a flu vaccine threatens them is never explained. Needless to say, good wins out and Aunt May can look forward to many more years ahead of being at death's door.
Despite the potentially pleasing irony of Spider-Man and Dracula never actually meeting despite being on the same boat and hanging around the same set of characters, you can't help feeling cheated by it. I mean, that's what we're promised on the cover and, without that encounter, what we've basically got is Spider-Man on a boat, up against the sort of ten-a-penny crooks he can take out in his sleep, and Dracula on a boat, up against the sort ten-a-penny crooks he can take out in his sleep. There's no real threat to Spider-Man. There's no real threat to Dracula, so what exactly's supposed to keep us glued to the edge of our seats? There's a nice twist at the end as regards the doctor's identity but also a cop-out, as a character we're told at the beginning is terrified of flying, shows no reluctance to get in a plane and fly off, making you wonder why that character was travelling by boat in the first place. All in all, the events inside aren't really substantial enough to justify this being marketed as some sort of special event. The truth is that Dracula could be removed from this tale and it'd make no difference to anything.
The artwork's a bit of a let-down too. The thing's drawn by Ross Andru with his usual style but inked by Don Heck. With Don Heck you're never quite sure what you're going to get but, on this occasion his inks are OK. They aren't great and in some places he's clearly doing more than just the inking but it doesn't hurt your eyes even if it's not an artistic combination you'd particularly want to see again. It's just that Heck and Andru aren't as a good a combo as we're used to from the monthly comics and, for a Special, you sort of assume you're going to get something better than the norm, not something slightly inferior to it.
The writing's also a bit off in places. Spidey seems to lack his usual ready wit, and Len Wein's dialogue for Dracula feels somewhat laboured, lacking the class we're used to from Marv Wolfman. Frankly, early on, Dracula seems somewhat ineffectual and possibly even a little silly. He's also a right grumpy guts all the way through the tale.
Because it never lives up to - or even tries to live up to - its potential, this is clearly somewhat inferior to the other Giant-Size stories I've been reviewing lately and certainly wouldn't go on my list of must-have Spider-Man tales. There's nothing offensive about it but you can't help remembering that, for the 50 cents it would've cost, you could have got two normal-sized comics. And with titles like The Fantastic Four, The Mighty Thor and The Avengers also on the news racks, you could've spent that money far more wisely.