Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #5. Man-Thing and the Lizard

(Cover from July 1975.)

"Beware The Path Of The Monster!"

Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Ross Andru.
Inked by Mike Esposito/Dave Hunt (Hunt uncredited).
Letters by Arty Simek.
Colours by Petra Goldberg.


Curt Connors really is a wally. Leaving aside the fact that, in this tale, he and writer Gerry Conway both seem to have forgotten that his surname's spelt "Connors" and not "Conners", he's merrily experimenting with a gas that could turn him into the Lizard, when, surprise surprise, he knocks over its container and promptly grows an arm, a tail and more scales than a tank-full of goldfish.

Still, it's an ill wind, and at least it gives him a chance to make another bid for taking over the world.

As part of that plan, he decides to use his control of swamp creatures to control the Man-Thing.

Sadly for him, Manny's not as easily controllable as he expected and the rapacious reptile and the muck monster end up fighting, as Spider-Man does battle with alligators and snakes, before it's all sorted out by a failed businessman who does the usual necessaries with Dr Connors' antidote.

The failed businessman, gone down to the swamp to kill himself, actually feels like the least Conway part of the tale and seems to be an attempt by him to import a bit of the feel of the Man-Thing's own comic, with someone blundering into the swamp in need of salvation and finding it through an encounter with the monster and other strange beings. The truth is the move doesn't really work because, for it to do so, the story would've needed to centre around him and and his problems and back-story but, this being a Spider-Man tale, he's too much on the sidelines for that to happen, and so his subplot feels like a bolted-on extra rather than a central plank of the tale.

Interesting that, unlike the other Giant-Size Spider-Mans, this tale ties in with the continuity of the monthly titles, with Peter Parker spending time with the newly resurrected Gwen Stacy. I assume the powers-that-be felt the return of Gwen Stacy from the dead was simply too big a story to be ignored.

And that's it. I've finished again. As far as I can make out, that's every annual and special published in the appropriate time-period reviewed. As far as I can make out, the only things left are the two 1960s Spectacular Spider-Mans. As I don't have a copy of either of them and they aren't in the Essential Spider-Mans and I refuse to read comics off a screen, it looks like I'm going to have to wait till I can get my hands on copies of them before I can offer my long-awaited (by me) opinions. Given my usual levels of poverty, this could take some time but at least it gives me something to look forward to.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #3. Doc Savage

(Cover from January 1975.)

"The Yesterday Connection!"

Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Ross Andru.
Inked by Mike Esposito.
Lettered by Ray Holloway.
Colours by George Roussos.


If ever a story was going to have a tough time making me dislike it, it was going to be this one, for the simple reason that it features 1930s' adventurer Doc Savage. It's not that I love Doc Savage. It's that, the 1970s Ron Ely movie apart, I don't actually know anything about him. I don't even know if he's literally made of bronze. So, anything that allows me to see the legend in action's going to grab me.

From how he goes about things in this tale, with his secret lab, speeding automobile, gadgets and blatant wealth, he appears to have a distinct Bruce Wayne vibe to him. I'm not sure about his seeming army of assistants though. With all of those knocking around, his section of the tale seems somewhat overcrowded. And not a woman among them?

Fortunately, a woman soon appears to fill that particular gap in Doc's life, as a half-naked, light-blue space-babe called Desinna appears in order to enlist the aid of first him and then Spider-Man in dealing with a giant energy being called Tarros.

While Doc Savage more or less falls for the tale Desinna spins him, Spider-Man's made of more cynical stuff and does the exact opposite of what she wants. Enabling Tarros to take the treacherous Desinna back to her own world of Saku. It's a pleasing twist that, when we're expecting Spidey to have a fight with the monster and finish the battle Doc Savage started forty years earlier, instead he helps the thing. Of course, there's the point that Spidey might know Desinna's been economical with the truth but that doesn't actually mean Tarros is a good guy, and Spidey has no way of knowing just what fate the monster has in store for Desinna as he takes her away. Oh well, I suppose we just have to put it down to his spider-sense or something. Or maybe we just have to accept that super-heroes always get things right, despite all evidence to the contrary.

This is the issue where we learn that Spider-Man has a lot more learning than we even knew he had. Not content with being one of the world's great scientific minds, it turns out he can decipher Morse Code and has a knowledge of comparative languages that enables him to get the gist of what the alien Tarros is saying. Loiks, is there anything Peter Parker can't do?

Like Giant-Size Spider-Man #1 where our hero never actually got round to meeting the character he shared the cover with, in this issue Spider-Man never actually meets Doc Savage and his cohorts. Whereas in that earlier tale, the non-meeting was a weakness, here it's a good thing. The only way for such an encounter to happen would've been for time travel to be involved and, for me, Spider-Man and time travel never sit comfortably together. It's fine for the likes of the Fantastic Four or the Avengers but Spidey's world should always be that bit more humdrum than theirs.

Of course, even the chance to learn more about Doc Savage can't blind me to all flaws and there is one quibble. I'm not sure about the fact that, unlike Doc Savage, Spidey sorts out the situation because, unlike Savage, he lives in a time when men know that women aren't always trustworthy. Really? Has he never read any of those hard-boiled detective novels that were so big in Savage's time?

Or what about all those old pulp magazines - you know, the sort that Doc Savage used to appear in - where, whatever else she might be, the one thing the beautiful dame isn't always is trustworthy?

Friday, 25 June 2010

Giant-Size Super-Heroes #1. Man-Wolf and Morbius

(Cover from 1974.)

"Man-Wolf At Midnight!"

Written by Gerry Conway.
Drawn by Gil Kane.
Inked by Mike Esposito.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Linda Lessmann.


Morbius is back in town - and he's decided to take control of the Man-Wolf.

Why? I couldn't say. While the sight of a vampire and werewolf heading off together down the street's an appealing one, Morbius' plan is to get an ESU professor to give him a total blood transfusion and cure him of his vampirism. Why he needs the Man-Wolf for this, I don't know. Maybe he needs his lupine lackey to distract Spider-Man while he visits the prof but why does he expect Spider-Man to turn up? Spidey wouldn't even have reason to suspect he was in town, let alone that he was about to pay the professor a visit. By blundering around New York at street level, with the Man-Wolf in tow, all he's doing is guaranteeing he'll be spotted.

Then again, Morbius isn't the only one acting irrationally. Spider-Man clearly realises Morbius wants the professor to cure him. At this point, anyone with a functioning brain and sense of social responsibility would offer Morbius all the help he could in order to end the threat his vampiric state poses.

So, what does Spider-Man do?

Everything he can to wreck Morbius' plan! And then, when he succeeds, he seems to think he's achieved a victory, happily ignoring the fact he's preserved the existence of a menace and guaranteed that more innocent people will die.

It's not the first time our hero's acted like this. He did the same when confronted by the Molten Man's attempts to cure himself in Amazing Spider-Man #133. Interesting then that that encounter gets a name-check in this tale. Maybe we have to accept Spider-man really is as big a menace as J Jonah Jameson has always said he is.

The story's entertaining enough but it seems to me the main problem is that its "Giant-Size" tag's completely unearned. The story's too short. When it comes, the ending really is abrupt. It seems like we're about to get another ten-or-so pages of action, as Spidey tracks down and defeats Morbius - and the Man-Wolf, but, instead, from out of nowhere, we get an epilogue. The end of the tale came as such a surprise I genuinely had to check I hadn't turned two pages at once and missed something. Nothing's resolved and the tale seems to serve merely as a means of bringing back John Jameson's furry alter-ego. While I've no objection to his return, the fact he's shown as a mere patsy for Morbius, and no great threat to Spider-Man, does mean you're given no reason to feel excited that he's back.

Speaking of mysteries, I'm still baffled as to how Morbius worked out from a story in the Daily Bugle that the Man-Wolf is in fact John Jameson, and it does seem a remarkable feat for him to just happened to have found the only drunk in New York City who saw the climax of Spider-Man's first fight with the Man-Wolf. In the next panel, Morbius says that finding the gem that causes Jameson's condition was the only bit of luck he needed in the whole plan. Really? Some might say that finding the only person, in a city of some ten million people, who happened to have the information he needed took a fair bit of good fortune.

It's hard for me to comment on the artwork. It's by Gil Kane so I assume it's fine but I'm using a copy of Essential Spider-Man Volume 6 and the quality of reproduction's terrible. It genuinely looks like the it came out of a fax machine. I know the Essentials are supposed to be cheap and cheerful but you can't help feeling it wouldn't have killed Marvel to have got someone in to touch-up the inking so it at least looked publishable.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5. The Red Skull

(Cover from 1968.)

"The Parents Of Peter Parker!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Larry Lieber.
Inked by Mickey Demeo.
Lettered by Art Simek.


It's amazing what you discover when you accidentally break open a padlocked trunk in your basement. I once discovered my parents were exposed by the world's press as traitors at the time of their deaths.

Well, no I didn't but Peter Parker does. Faced with this revelation, our hero has no doubts what he must do. Out to clear their names - despite having no reason at all to think they were innocent - he heads off to Algeria and uncovers a plot involving that dastardly cranium of chaos the Red Skull.

Given its importance to the life of our hero, I'd like to say it's a momentous issue but the truth is it's a tale that's misconceived in more ways than one.

For a start you have the basic structure of the tale which starts with Spider-Man in Algeria before having a prolonged flashback to how he got there. It may be an attempt to start the story with a bang and a mystery in order to hook the reader, or it might be an attempt to add complexity to a plot that's startlingly straightforward, lacking twists, turns and supporting characters but, whatever, it doesn't really work. It would've been far better to relate events in the order they occurred, as happened in the Amazing Spider-Man comic each and every month.

There's also a problem with the choice of villain. Somehow, like Dr Doom before him, the Red Skull feels totally out of place in a Spider-Man story. We're used to Spidey dealing with people who want to become crime boss of New York City or to steal some valuable jewels. Having him up against a Hitler substitute with dreams of world conquest just feels completely wrong for our hero.

But the biggest problem with the thing is the central idea behind it that Peter Parker's parents were secret agents. For me, one of the appeals of Spider-Man is that, despite his power, Peter lives in a recognisably real world and his life was fundamentally dull until he got spider-powers. Being told his parents were secret agents, killed by the Red Skull, is simply too melodramatic an idea to ever rest easily on the strip's shoulders.

Maybe I'm just getting used to it, or maybe he genuinely improved but Larry Lieber's artwork's better here than it was in the last annual - although he clearly gets a huge helping hand in places from John Romita. The fact that Romita-drawn panels appear seemingly at random throughout the tale suggests Romita went through Lieber's pages and replaced any panels he thought weren't up to scratch. It probably wasn't too good for Lieber's ego but it does make the thing look better and it's oddly pleasing to play the game of, "Spot who drew what."

I think this is the first annual since Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 to feature all-new material, and the back-up strip is a Marie Severin drawn comedy in which Lee, Lieber and Romita are struggling to find a plot for the latest issue of Spider-Man. They think they have it until Roy Thomas walks in and reveals he's just used exactly the same plot for that month's issue of the Avengers. Humour's a personal thing but, frankly, it's terrible and not a patch on the similarly themed Steve Ditko tale that appeared in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.

Proof of Stan Lee's notoriously bad memory. How does Spider-man get to Algeria? Simple. He hitches a lift in a flying car belonging to the Fantastic Four. The car's blatantly the one gifted to the FF in Fantastic Four #52 by the Black Panther. Clearly Stan the Man's forgotten all about this and has Mr Fantastic tell us it's a new device cooked up by SHIELD that the FF are testing for them. This is the second consecutive Spidey annual that's visually name-checked the FF's first meeting with the Panther. Clearly that story stuck in Larry's mind a whole lot better than it did in Stan's.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4. Mysterio, the Wizard and the Human Torch

(Cover from 1967.)

"The Web And The Flame!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Pencilled by Larry Lieber.
Inked by Mike Esposito/T Mortellaro.
Lettering by Jerry Feldmann.


Well, there's an odd thing. I came to bury Caesar but might end up having to praise him.

Having read this tale many moons ago, I was under the impression that it's quite the worst Spider-Man story I've ever read but, reading it again for the purposes of this blog, I may have to admit it's not as bad as I recalled. It's not great but it is at least more fun than it once seemed.

In truth, my antipathy came mostly from the fact it's drawn by Stan Lee's brother Larry Lieber who doesn't even get a credit. It might be a sign of my ignorance but I tend to think of Lieber as the bloke who wrote stories when Stan was too busy to do them, rather than as an artist who drew stories when John Romita was too busy to do them. Looking at his work here, you can see why. Highly simplified and kinetic, it has that Jack Kirby vibe but Kirby's style was never suited to Spider-Man. It also has that John Romita vibe and it's obvious that one or two panels have been touched up by the great man himself. So, if you've ever wanted to know what would've happened if Kirby and Romita had ever got mixed up in the Fly Machine, this comic's the place for you. Lieber's art doesn't hurt your eyes as such but it is startlingly naive in its execution and lacks the polish and slickness you'd expect of a major comics publisher.

Having seen Spider-Man and the Human Torch fighting thanks to a misunderstanding on a film set, the Wizard decides it'd be a spiffing wheeze to sign them up to make a movie and turn them against each other in the hope they'll kill each other. This has the obvious flaw that the Torch is sworn never to hurt anyone with his flame, and Spider-Man's never shown any inclination toward murder, so there's no reason to believe either of them'll be willing to kill his rival.

Such logic has no place in the world of the Wizard off and so, to enact his mighty plan, he recruits the services of ex-Hollywood special effects man Mysterio (who he contacts by putting an ad in a newspaper, complete with his address so Mysterio can find him!). Needless to say, with such a high level of intellect behind it, the scheme goes belly-up and, in due course, the good guys polish off the super-creeps.

The thing that strikes me as clever about this tale is that the Marvel approach to super-heroes meeting (especially Spidey and the Torch) is that they meet, have a fight and then team up to take on their mutual foe but what happens here is that Spidey and the Torch meet, have a fight, bury their differences... ...and then, mere pages later, they fall out again and have yet another fight. I could put this down to a desire to break the mould of reader expectation but I suspect it was done purely because the story's forty pages long and Lee and Lieber got round the problem of filling extra pages simply by having everything happen twice. In this sense, it's a cheat but it does make a change from what we're used to and it also means the first half of this tale is at least lively.

The second half's lively too as, misunderstanding finally cleared up, our heroes pursue the wrong-doers, along the way having to see off a variety of traps, including a giant gorilla that's clearly blundered in directly from the pages of Fantastic Four #53. There's a bizarre sequence where the Torch and Spider-Man are trapped in a giant cage. The only problem with the thing being that it's suspended in mid air and doesn't have a bottom, meaning they could get out of it any time they wanted. Bafflingly, this doesn't occur to our heroes who seem to think they're in some sort of life or death peril from it. The Stan Lee school of science kicks in to give us a magnetically activated fluid that Spidey incorporates into his webbing in order to reverse a magnetic field and send flying rocks hurtling away from our good guys.

Basically, it's not a classic. A more cruel reviewer than I might say it's forty pages of padding and running around and serves no purpose whatsoever. They'd be right but it is at least action-packed padding and though I have to admit I wouldn't care if I never read it again, it's not quite the car crash I once thought it was.

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2. Dr Strange

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2, Dr Strange, Steve Ditko
(Cover from 1965.)

"The Wondrous World Of Dr Strange!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.


"Whoa-ho-ho, it's magic," sang 1970s' hit-makers Pilot. "Never believe it's not so." They also sang a song about their Auntie Iris. Sadly only the first of these ditties is relevant here as Spider-Man officially meets Dr Strange for the first time ever.

Of course, those with memories that stretch all the way back to yesterday's review'll recall Peter Parker met Dr Strange in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (as did Flash Thompson's fist) but this time it's Spider-Man's turn. Sadly this is the only new tale in the mag, as the Herculean efforts of the first annual aren't repeated and this one's bulked out by a bunch of already reviewed tales from Spidey's early days [1][2][3].

In our one new outing, Spidey and Strange find themselves up against the power of Xandu the magician. Xandu has one half of the handily alliterative Wand of Watoomb and needs the other to become all-powerful. Trouble is, Dr Strange has it. So, Xandu hypnotises two bar-room bullies into being unstoppable engines of destruction and sets them on Dr Strange. Despite being the Master of Mystic Arts, Strange proves surprisingly inept in his attempts to thwart them, and Xandu has his hands on the wand.

Spider-Man though has blundered onto the scene and he and Strange join forces to defeat Xandu. The villain defeated, Dr Strange flies off, a plug from Stan Lee for Strange Tales ringing in our eyeballs.

It's an oddly naive but pleasing tale with Steve Ditko having to balance the otherworldly look of Dr Strange's mag with the more everyday style of Spider-Man's adventures. He does this pretty well although it's never going to be a totally perfect fit, and the two hypnotised thugs seem oddly simplistic visually, and out of place, in a Dr Strange tale - especially the section where they beat Strange up. The Master of Mystic Arts succumbing to mere fisticuffs? The indignity of it all. Spider-Man's not strictly central to events - serving more as a distraction to Xandu at key points in the tale, while Strange finishes off Xandu and robs the Wand of its power. But it's a pleasant bit of fluff, and even the fact that Xandu looks a bit of a berk, with his monocle and silly moustache, can't damage it.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1. The Sinister Six

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, the Sinister Six(Cover from 1964.)

"The Sinister Six!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.


In the early 1960s, men were men, women were women, sheep were sheep and money was money. You could get a house for thruppence, a yacht for two-and-six, and the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 for a mighty twenty five cents. For your money, you got a whopping 72 (BIG) pages of your favourite wall-crawler and none of that reprint rubbish.

That's not all you got. You got a positive epic as Spider-Man takes on not one but a whole clutch of his old foes in the form of the Sinister Six. On top of that, we get cameos from Iron Man, Giant Man, the Wasp, Thor, Dr Strange, the X-Men, Fantastic Four and Captain America, each with a nice little caption beneath telling us we can read their adventures in the appropriate comic. This thing gives us the very definition of the phrase, "Pulling out all the stops."

Escaping from a jail that's conveniently stored his metal arms nearby, Dr Octopus gathers Spider-Man's five other greatest enemies (no Green Goblin) and says that together they can defeat Spider-Man. Then, showing the level of intelligence that got them all defeated in the first place, they decide the best way to beat him is to fight him one at a time!

Gang up on him, you idiots! Gang up on him!

Needless to say, given this tactic, Spidey beats them like he always beats them. I especially like the Sandman defeating himself by locking him and Spidey in an airless room and then passing out from lack of oxygen (Doh!). Aunt May shows her usual stupidity and lays the groundwork for future stupidity by totally failing to realise she's been kidnapped by Dr Octopus, and Betty Brant's in one of her liking Spider-Man moods. We also get the sight of J Jonah Jameson trying to communicate with a spider.

It's difficult to describe how great this is. The sheer level of effort that's gone into this comic's startling and we get some of the best artwork Steve Ditko ever did on the strip, including a splash page for every encounter Spider-Man has with a baddie. We also get the, "Spider-Man loses his powers," thing that got used in the second Sam Raimi Spider-Man movie. Now, as then, it's all psychosomatic and Spidey gets his mojo back once he realises he does want and need to be Spider-Man. If that's not enough, we get a multi-page gallery of Spider-Man's greatest foes, a nine page Secrets of Spider-Man feature, various bits and bobs about Peter Parker's private life and a story showing us how an issue of Spider-Man's put together, in which Stan Lee keeps annoying Steve Ditko by telling him what to do. I make no comment.

My only complaint is I'm a little worried that Spider-Man saves himself from death at the hands of Electro by grounding himself with his webbing. I'm no electrician - and I'm even less a super-hero - but isn't grounding yourself the worst thing you can do when confronted by deadly levels of electricity?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10. The Human Fly

(Cover from 1976.)

"Step Into My Parlor..."

Plot by Len Wein.
Written by Bill Mantlo.
Pencils by Gil Kane.
Inks by Giacoia/Esposito.
Lettering John Costanza.
Colours by Petra Goldberg.


What possessed them? What possessed them to put Spider-Man up against a foe called the Human Fly? For that matter, what possessed Len Wein to make Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10, a straight rerun of Lee/Ditko's Amazing Spider-Man #20? That story was a classic and one of my favourite Spider-tales ever as our hero first encountered the Scorpion and nearly got killed, not once but twice. This, on the other hand, is just plain stupid.

J Jonah Jameson, out to boost the Daily Bugle's flagging circulation, decides it'd be a great idea to create a brand new super-villain for Spider-Man to fight. Ignoring the fact that super-villains are dangerous, he goes to see the never-before-mentioned brother of Scorpion-creator Farley Stillwell, who just happens to be as loopy as his sibling and for some reason looks like Moe from the Three Stooges.

Given such a task, Stillwell knows exactly what to do. He'll create a fly-man to defeat Spider-Man. After all, he reasons, how could anyone with the powers of a spider possibly triumph against a foe with the powers of a fly? Erm, presumably the same way Crocodile Man could beat Wildebeest Boy, and Great White Shark Man could beat Stoned Surfer Dude. Ignoring the lessons of the food chain, Stillwell does his stuff on a small-time crook who's just dragged himself out of the river and has a grudge against Spider-Man.

Needless to say it all goes wrong. The Human Fly kills Stillwell then kidnaps Jameson to force Spider-Man into fighting him. Spider-Man fights him and clobbers him.

How does he do that?

By beating him up.

I've said this before but I really hate stories where Spider-Man defeats foes by beating them up. I want to see him using wit, ingenuity, cheating or even the odd bit of luck but never just beating people up.

Gil Kane's pencils are as dynamic as ever but the inking of Giacoia and Esposito just doesn't suit his work at all. The writing's competent but it's basically Spider-Man by numbers. There's nothing in this tale we haven't seen before; from Jameson's idiocy to Robbie's bravery to Stillwell's lunacy. And because any super-tale's unlikely to be better than its bad guy, and the Human Fly seems like one of those villains that never appeared outside a Hostess Twinkies ad, like its antagonist this tale would've needed a miracle if it were to succeed.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #1. Dracula

(Cover from July 1974.)

"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.

Cerebus660

It's not often I break cover and talk about things other than Spider-Man on here but I can't spurn the chance to thank Cerebus660 for his kind words about my blog, on his own site The Glass Walking-Stick. It's one of the blogs I visit most often, mostly thanks to his always cheery Dr Who reviews.

As many of you'll already know, he recently suffered a family bereavement, so it's especially kind of him to be making the effort to plug my site at a time like this. So, thanks, Cerebus, and I'm sure all our thoughts are with you.

Friday, 11 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #4. The Punisher and Moses Magnum

(Cover from April 1975.)

"To Sow The Seeds Of Death's Day!"

Written by Gerry Conway.
Pencilled by Ross Andru.
Inks by Mike Esposito.
Lettering by Joe Rosen.
Colours by Stan G.


Will heroes never learn a good villain's not dead until you see him being buried, with a huge lead weight on top of his coffin just to make sure he can't pop up out of it? Probably not. And will the Punisher ever give it up and get a life?

If there's one thing you could guarantee at this point in Spider-Man's history it's that, if there's to be a series of Spider-Man Specials, the Punisher's bound to be in at least one of them. And, hey presto, here we are.

Normally this'd make my heart sink sink faster than a rock in a bathtub. Well, maybe I'm just getting resigned to it or maybe his appearance in this tale isn't as bad as usual but, this time round, I can actually live with his presence.

In truth, my increased tolerance is probably down to the fact that, for once, Castle doesn't try to kill Spider-Man. At last he seems to have learned his lesson and remembered from previous encounters that Spider-Man's a good guy. Needless to say, this doesn't stop him trying to shoot everyone else in sight.

This time they're up against Moses Magnum who might be named after an ice cream but there's nothing sweet about him. He's running a prison camp in Latin America, in which he uses American kidnap victims to test out his nerve gas. Happily, at the end of it all, he gets a taste of his own medicine, at which point the Punisher declares him to be 100% guaranteed dead-certain dead. Needless to say, Magnum later turns up in various other comics, even taking on the X-Men. I said those heroes never learn.

As for the tale itself, it's nothing special but it breezes along nicely and does give us an unmasking scene in which we get to see Peter Parker wearing a face only a mother could love and only a criminal mastermind could think was genuine. It being a Special, it operates in a little bubble all its own with nothing of Peter Parker's personal life and none of the usual supporting cast. As the soap elements were what made Spider-Man great, this is a loss but not as great a loss as you might expect. As with his Giant-Size Shang-Chi team-up, this DC-ization of our hero works fine for a one-off tale, although it would've quickly grown tiresome if tried in his monthly mag.

Ross Andru's art's standard for him, which means it's very good but not quite among his better issues. I always feel you can tell how much Andru was getting into a story by how wild the angles get and, here, they're relatively restrained. But I do feel sorry for him. The workload that seems to be have been put on him for an artist who was reputedly not the fastest and, according to Dick Giordano, was forced by an eye defect to draw half of every page twice, seems to have been heavy. They wanted him to do the monthly comics,they wanted him to do the Giant-Size Specials, they wanted him to do Superman vs Spider-Man. At times, the poor bloke must've felt his head was spinning faster than Spider-Man's webbing.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

Amazing Spider-Man Annual/King-Size Special #3. The Avengers and the Hulk

(Cover from November 1966.)

"...To Become An Avenger!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Layouts by John Romita.
Pencils by Don Heck.
Inks by Mickey Demeo.
Lettering by Artie Simek.


Bearing in mind The Avengers was originally conceived as Marvel's answer to The Justice League of America - a home for Marvel's mightiest solo stars - the lack of Spider-Man must've always seemed anomalous. But wise were the ways of Stan Lee and, in Amazing Spider-Man King Size Special #3, we find out just why.

The truth is Spidey's too big a jerk ever to be in a team. The old Peter Parker magic, the ability to always do and say the wrong thing in any circumstance, soon kicks in and, almost as soon as he's entered the Avengers' Mansion, he's having a barney with them. This ability to fall out with other do-righters is of course normal for a Marvel hero but, somehow, Peter Parker's always been better at it than anyone else. The qualities that made him unpopular in high school threaten, here, to sour his relations with the Avengers before they've even begun.

Happily, the Avengers have more patience than Flash Thompson ever did and set him a challenge. If he wants to join their little gang, he has to bring them the Hulk. Trouble is that having, at least temporarily, defeated the behemoth, he doesn't have the heart to hand the brute over. And so, as yet another tale ends, Spider-Man is once more alone in the world.

It's a pleasing tale, the personalities of the Avengers are clearly delineated and it's surprising to see the normally hot-headed Hawkeye being an avid Spider-Fan. The Wasp, needless to say, being an irrational female, is opposed on principle to having a spider in the house. Artist Don Heck's in one of his more readable moods and, with John Romita producing the layouts and Mickey Demeo/Esposito doing the inking, the thing looks fine. In fact it looks more than fine. Apart from the Hulk looking slightly off, it looks just like you'd want a meeting between Spidey and the old-style Avengers to look.

Interesting that our hero's able to deck the Hulk with just one blow, thanks to a rule Stan the Man suddenly pulls from thin air, that, in the first few minutes after the transformation from Bruce Banner, the Hulk's not at full strength. Was this idea ever mentioned before? Was it ever mentioned again? Not that I can recall.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Giant-Size Spider-Man #2. Shang-Chi and Fu Manchu

(Cover from October 1974.)

"Masterstroke!"

Written by Len Wein.
Pencils by Ross Andru.
Inks by Al Milgrom.
Lettering by John Costanza.
Colours by Glynis Wein


Argh! I knew it. Drawn back to the site by my lovely pink award, I can't hold off the temptation any longer. I just have to go on and review all those annuals and specials that came out in the time period I've been covering.

I have to make a confession, my favourite Spider-Man tale of that era isn't from the regular mag. It's not even from the regular continuity. It's from Giant-Size Spider-Man, a title that ran for just six issues but they were fairly belting ones. It's from issue #2 and features Spidey teaming up with one of Marvel's less likely superstars; Shang-Chi, master of Kung Fu.

Now, even I can't deny that, on paper, Shang-Chi's an extremely silly character. For one, he's the son of Fu Manchu, a villain who was arch in more ways than one and, for the other, he was clearly created as a cynical marketing exercise to cash-in on the early 1970s' Kung Fu craze. Thanks to that, he should've ended up as no more than the Rocket Racer of his day but, for some reason, none of that bothers me. No matter the daftness of his origins, no matter that he stalks the New York streets in his pyjamas, no matter that he talks to himself, I have a deep and undying love for the Rising Spirit.

Intercepting some crooks, Spider-Man's told they work for the murderous Shang-Chi who's out to destroy a power station. Shang Chi, meanwhile, intercepts some other crooks who tell him they work for the murderous Spider-Man, out to destroy the same power station. Needless to say, it's mere pages before Spidey and Shangy are going at it hammer and tongs. Also needless to say, it's not long before they realise they've been conned. Together, they soon discover the real source of such villainy and team up to prevent Fu Manchu planting a mind-control aerial atop the Empire State Building.

Highlight of the tale has to be Spidey and Shangy leaping from the 86th floor of the Empire State building, with nothing between them and the ground but fresh air. Long-time readers of the strip will of course need no telling just how they manage to hit the street without going splat.

The truth is, long-time readers'll need no telling how anything pans out in this story. The initial misunderstanding between the good guys is the standard means of greeting for any Marvel heroes. Fu Manchu's exactly the villain you'd expect to be behind the plot. Nayland Smith and Black Jack Tar turn up, just as they do in every Shang-Chi tale. Fu Manchu escapes, and the good guys win. But I don't know what it is, I just love this tale. Len Wein's dialogue is fun, and Spidey and Shangy mesh perfectly as characters. I also love the fact that captions relating to Spider-Man are in third-person past-tense while captions relating to Shang-Chi are first-person present-tense. Such a mangling of persons and tenses shouldn't work - and certainly wouldn't in a novel - but, here, it works beautifully. I have a suspicion the direct insight into the martial artist's head and of what he thinks of his new and unconventional ally may be what makes the tale work so well.

Despite all the corniness and racial stereotyping, Fu Manchu's a great villain, almost the archetypal Marvel bad guy created before Marvel ever existed. The artwork's great too, as good an art job as I've ever seen from Ross Andru. His use of "camera angles" is simply startling in panel after panel, even by his standards.

So, there you have it, my favourite Spider-Man tale from the era in question. It might not be an obvious choice and I have a suspicion no one else in the whole world will agree with it but so what? In the end, I can only go for the story that gives me most pleasure and, in my head, on that occasion when Arachnia met south east Asia, a little magic was woven.

Monday, 7 June 2010

Ooh look, I've got an award - and it's pink, just like my eyeballs.

Thanks to Doug and Karen at the always fabulous Bronze Age Babies for nominating me for the Kreativ Blogger award. The rules are that, now I've got it, like some terrible disease I must pass it on to seven other blogs and post a comment on them to let their owners know what I've done.

I also have to thank the people who gave me the award, and post a link to their site - which I've just done - and post a copy of the Kreativ Blogger (Award) symbol on here. Also done.

Finally I have to list seven interesting facts about myself. Frankly, I think I'm going to have to cheat on the interesting facts thing, as, apart from, "I once had a squirrel on my head," I'm struggling.

Anyway, in best Eurovision fashion, these are the nominations of the Spider-Man Reviewed jury:







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