Posted - May 6 & 7, 2011 | Updated : July 9 & 10, 2011 | July 17, 2011 | July 20 & 21, 2011 | July 24, 2011 | July 25 & 26, 2011 | July 28, 2011 | February 12, 2012 | July 14, 2012 | August 20, 2015

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Selected Tales from Spectacular Spider-Man

Spectacular Spider-Man 1-3

How Can Spider-Man Have Problems Tackling A Guy With Pointy Shoes?

First of all , I want to note that issue 1 is a collector's item. Unfortunately, issue 1 and the next two issues that make up the story arc presents us with a sorry tale.

We have three villains here: Tarantula, Kraven and the uber-powerful Lightmaster. I know it's the writer's call, but these three villains are used in a very distorted way. First of all, Kraven as a hired thug. There is just no way this is going to happen short of an extortion attempt. Kraven is as egotistical as Doom, he'd never allow himself to be a henchman. Plus, he talks like an American here, not like the Russian noble he is. Suspension of disbelief just goes out the window with the way Kraven is treated here. Next is Tarantula. I mean shoe spikes? Spidey should be able to dispose of this blowhard circus hack in five minutes. Another way to put it, is: Why does Tarantula get this much respect while Batroc doesn't? Lightmaster is the leader of the group. This guy reminds me of Green Lantern. That's right, Green Lantern level power and he hires a guy with shoe spikes and some guy who looks like Kraven (I refuse to acknowledge this guy as the Kraven we all know and respect). This storyline simply does not make sense.

The only thing keeping this story arc from being classified as awful is Sal Buscema's art. Sal Buscema is as solid as usual, presenting us with dynamic action and the larger than life figures characteristic of the Marvel 'house' style.

Spectacular Spider-Man 4 & 5

Somebody Give The Vulture His Own Series

While watching the Vulture go through his paces in these two issues you might notice his obvious old age coupled with his rather surprising physicality. Not only does he lift people time and time again, but he is able to sustain hits from both Spidey and the Hitman. Long time Spider-Man readers need no explanation, but for those of you unfamiliar with the Vulture, its worth mentioning that he has super-strength and increased vitality as a side effect of the electromagnetic harness he uses for flying. According to the ever handy Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe the Vulture, also known as Adrian Toomes, can lift 500 pounds.

What I like about this story is that the Vulture, a villain I'm rather fond of, is up against the mob. I love how the mob muscle and then the mob boss try to shakedown Adrian Toomes only to find out that the Vulture is nobody's victim. So the mob hires the Hitman to ruin the Vulture's day by killing Spider-Man and robbing Toomes of his revenge (as opposed to simply offing the Vulture; this plot device is a bit of a stretch); and just like that, we get reminded of the Punisher. Apparently the Hitman is the mob's answer to the depredations of the Punisher - Spidey is even reminded of Frank Castle while the Hitman is shooting at him. Outside of the twist introduced by the addition of the Hitman, the core of this story is a good old-fashioned battle between Spider-Man and the Vulture; and it is fun to watch.

Spectacular Spider-Man 7 & 8

Michael Morbius Is A Good Man But Peter Parker Is Even Better

Spectacular Spider-Man : morbius

Technically, this is part of a three-issue story arc starting with issue 6. Having only issues 7 and 8 is enough, issue 6 is a badly done flashback issue that we are all better off not reading.

In issue 8, Morbius and moonlight really go well together and the layout of the cover is superb. Inside, Archie Goodwin adds in a stormy night, helping evoke the perfect mood for a vampire story.

For those of you new to Morbius, he's Marvel's play on the popular Dracula myth. Unlike the supernatural Count however, Michael Morbius' condition is a product of a scientific experiment gone wrong.

Issue no. 7 begins and I turn the pages, everything's pretty ho-hum so far then I come across this panel:

Spectacular Spider-Man : morbius materializes on a rooftop

This is when the story starts to become interesting for me, with this panel. Look at it : Michael Morbius materializing on a neighborhood rooftop. Sal Buscema does it just right. Shadowy, mysterious, supernatural. Having the Living Vampire's back to us just adds to the mysterious mood.

I always like it when Spidey fights his weight class. Morbius is a good match for someone with the proportionate strength of a spider. Issue 7 is where you'll find Morbius pummeling on Spider-Man; issue 8 for the shots of Spidey showing Morbius some spider-strength. All of these shots are page wide action art by Sal Buscema - you can almost feel the punches.

Towards the end of issue 7 we are introduced to the Empathoid and I get worried. Evidently, the Empathoid has possessed Morbius and that is why the Living Vampire is attacking Spidey. Corny. I don't have high expectations for issue 8 but writer (and editor) Archie Goodwin saves the day. At some point in this tale it is Spider-Man who gets possessed by Empathoid; this allows us to compare his reaction to this predicament to Morbius' reaction to exactly the same circumstance. And this is when issue 8 becomes gold. Peter's cool-headed handling of the situation contrasted with Morbius' quiet desperation really shows up the Spider as a hero worth more than his powers. The arc's subtle commentary about Spider-Man's character is a wonderful surprise, and, together with the other positives I listed out, earns these two issues a recommendation.

Spectacular Spider-Man 9

That Tiger necklace isn't just for show

There's a very real sense of Marvel trying to "push" the White Tiger in this issue. Push as in "build up".

I like the look of the White Tiger, and I also like the supernatural aspect to him, which, among other things, gives him a ghostly voice (if the dialog boxes are any indication). The power is derived from his Tiger amulet. The talisman multiplies his natural physical abilities by a factor of three and gives him mystical knowledge of the martial arts. Not exactly Spider-Man level capability but if Daredevil can duke it out with Spidey, so can the White Tiger.

Another detail worth noting this issue is a valuable document called the Erskine Manuscript. Erskine, if you will recall, is the scientist who invented the serum which changed Steve Rogers into Captain America.

Lastly, don't forget to read Bronze Age comics with Bronze Age standards; that's the only way to enjoy it - otherwise you'll be griping why its not like a 21st century comic. You have to be willing to go to a simpler time and enjoy the slightly camp nature of seventies comics.

Spectacular Spider-Man 16

Was The First Beetle The Finest?

The Beetle is a villain that has changed over the years, but back in 1978 there was only one Beetle, the first. Visually, I like the character very much : He's drawn taller than Peter, maybe 6'5" in this issue it seems, and he's armored, so he looks tough enough to take on Spider-Man. I also love the Beetle's suction power- powerful enough to break through walls, and they're extensible too. To top it off, the Beetle has control of a gang of thugs. His network is not as extensive as the Kingpin's but enough to start a localized crime wave.

All these Beetle-stuff is used to great effect in the story and would have made a good, basic Spidey tale. But this story is better than good because it adds a nice backgrounder behind the Beetle tale. This backgrounder is the story of New York cop Joey Macone and it is very nicely done indeed.

Last but not least I'd like to once more complement Sal Buscema's pencil work - the action scenes, in particular, are something to see.

Spectacular Spider-Man 17

The Angel, Iceman and Spider-Man Plus Great Buscema Art

Spectacular Spider-Man : iceman attacks spider-man

If you look at some defunct Marvel comic series from the 70s you might come across 17 issues about a team called The Champions. Formed by X-Men founding members Angel and the Iceman, the group included characters as disparate as Ghost Rider and the female Russian hero, Darkstar. Poor sales killed the comic in the real world but in the Earth-616 universe the group disbanded because of frustration among the members. Here is where we come across the Champions in these twin issues of Spectacular. Most of the members have left except for Iceman and Angel - and things are amiss.

The thing I liked most in this arc is Iceman's creative use of his powers. He makes a great villain; really dangerous and very formidable. Unfortunately I can't say the same thing for the Angel, early X-Men issues by Lee and Kirby presents the winged Angel in very imaginative ways; using his powers for mobility, rescue, distraction and such. But later writers seem to be baffled about how to use a guy with wings, Bill Mantlo included. Nonetheless, this is a great superhero tale based on solid premises. The art is clean and there is plenty of action.

The issue comes together wonderfully with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Spectacular Spider-Man 21

The Scorpion Goes After J. Jonah Jameson!

Spectacular Spider-Man : scorpion tangles with spider-man

It's obvious that Bill Mantlo wrote this issue being well aware that Peter Parker's name is on the cover. After starting the tale by establishing the awesome Scorpion as this issue's villain, we quickly dive into the world of Peter Parker; and not just a panel or two - several pages. I agree with this treatment. I always thought that the way to go would be more of Parker in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man and then pure Spider-Man in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man.

Anyway, another thing we get here is a capsule history of the Scorpion - origin, main battles, and current motivation. With Spider-Man and the Scorpion in the same weight class, the fight is a straightforward fistfight. This issue is as plain vanilla as it gets. If it wasn't for such a visually arresting villain in the Scorpion this issue would have bombed (due to sheer boredom). But it is the Scorpion and he livens things up for a solid issue.

Spectacular Spider-Man 22

Mike Zeck Was One Of Marvel's Hottest Artists And This Issue Proves It!

Spectacular Spider-Man : moon knight

I'm not too impressed with the cover but was I happy about this issue!

First of all, this is one of the few issues that presents the Moon Knight in a satisfying manner.

Moon Knight, in the opinion of many, has one of the best costumes in the Marvel Universe. I agree, this character is visually stunning - particularly in night scenes. The thing about Moon Knight is that he doesn't have a very good background/origin story. Many writers have delved too deeply into the character and ruined their stories by doing so. Bill Mantlo does it just right in this issue. He just sticks with the mystery and leans on Mick Zeck's visuals.

And Mike Zeck's art is another reason why this issue is a winner. It is jut plain beautiful to look at. Just check out this panel.

Spectacular Spider-Man : spider-man jumps over moon knight

Spectacular Spider-Man 26-28

Frank Miller Does Spectacular!

spider-man lashes out at daredevil

Issue 27 is the first time Frank Miller draws Daredevil. That's notable, but I mainly rated these issues on the strength of Miller's linework - neither the slightly washed out coloring of 27 or the too heavy inking of 28 could prevent the beautiful art from shining through.

That said, issue 26 should never have made it with this rating because of the Mooney art - usually solid but nothing to rave about - but something happened to Mooney in 26. His layout is spot-on with tighter panel shots allowing him to show character details - it's a shame he didn't continue with this for the rest of his run on the comic. The story arc actually started with issue 25, but keep away from that issue - Mooney's art is simply not up to par. I assure you that the story line will not suffer for the loss of that issue.

Another big draw is that Spider-Man gets blinded by the Mask Marauder in this tale. I've always had a great fear of blindness. I love to read and I like looking at art so I was very emotionally invested in the story. Bill Mantlo, starting with this arc, begins a series of wonderful tales, the tension he builds on this one is just wonderful. Peter's reaction to his situation and Matt's reaction to Peter is simply spot-on.

Spidey stories are a lot more fun when he's up against his rogues gallery. Although Cobra is a Daredevil villain - I remember reading a great story about Cobra and the super-strong Mr. Hyde going up against Daredevil. This time, Spider-Man gets to tangle with him and its loads of fun.

I'm happy to say that Mike Zeck is back in good form. The panels are gorgeous. From the writing angle, Roger Stern takes over from the great Bill Mantlo and he is a worthy successor. He keeps the pace fast in this tale, the action just moves along in a nice clip until the end. And what an ending : Cobra gets beaten by Spider-Man but gets to escape from the cops. I like Cobra, he's unconventional, his main power is his capability to evade. I'm happy he escaped.

Spectacular Spider-Man 47 & 48

A Showcase Of Marie Severin Art

Spectacular Spider-Man : severin art

I'm only guessing, but somebody must have noticed the less then stellar art in the Spectacular books of late and rang the alarm - Spidey, after all, is a major Marvel character. Last issue, Mike Zeck brought his A-game, and this issue - surprise, surprise - Marie Severin turns in some strong art. Look closely at Severin's art, you'll notice that she does fine details on the panels with no super-heroes in them. I thinks that's great and wonderfully refreshing - I'm looking at the Peter Parker panels and really getting into the linework.

Art is solid. What about the story? Very nice. This is Belladonna's second appearance after her introduction in issue 43. Don't bother picking up that issue, it's a waste of your time and money - storywise and specially the art. I'll give you the Belladonna backgrounder right here: Belladonna leads a bunch of thugs against targets in the fashion industry. She keeps her identity secret and uses a chemical gas before busting in on a raid. Spider-Man managed to foil her caper in issue 43 but she managed to escape. And with that you can settle down to these two excellent issues.

The Prowler is an excellent addition to the tale. I like this villain - those super-strong gauntlets are fantastic - and the twist about this being the second Prowler just adds to the richness of the plot. I'm really starting to enjoy Roger Stern's writing.

Spectacular Spider-Man 58

This comic contains art by John Byrne!

For those of you who don't know him, John Byrne is a writer/artist who has since done legendary runs in X-Men with Chris Claremont and on his own in Fantastic Four; he also did the Superman reboot in the 80s.

This book is one of the first comics I ever bought by mail during the early eighties. Actually, I never ordered this comic specifically, they chose it for me, because at 11 years old I thought that when the catalogue listed "Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #s38-51 50c" it meant I would get all the issues from 38 to 51 for half a buck. Ha! I didn't realize it was 50 cents per issue. It's amazing I managed to survive to adulthood.

You can have this issue on hand and not read it and just flip the pages looking at the panels. Here's one of them.

spider-man evading the Ringer's rings

This is Spider-Man evading Ringer's steel-hard rings which he can make from the particles in the air.

Roger Stern does the writing. The story is a transitional one; linking past issues to upcoming ones. Back in issue 53 Spider-Man had a run in with the Tinkerer which resulted in that villain abandoning his shop. It turns out he was working on some battlesuits for other villains and today, two of them - The Beetle and The Ringer, came scrounging in the shop for their new equipment. They both end up fighting each other and Spidey. This issue ends with a glimpse of the new Beetle armor and the promise of things to come.

Another thing that makes this issue special is that it is the only issue of Spectacular Spider-Man volume 1 that is drawn by Byrne. The only one.

Spectacular Spider-Man 61

Whats The Matter With Moonstone?

Spectacular Spider-Man : moonstone

This is a done-in-one tale about Spider-Man's encounter with the sexy but deranged villain Moonstone. On pure power levels alone Moonstone is a bit beyond Spidey's strength class (I hesitate to say this, knowing that Parker has successfully taken on the Juggernaut). Moonstone's previous battles are with Captain America and the Hulk. She has super strength, flight, invulnerability, phasing ability like the Vision's, and she is able to project full-spectrum light rays including concussive force. That is a very strong package, but in this issue she is in a mission to make herself even stronger so that she can get work because, and I quote : "But I must work for someone! I've always worked for someone!". This made me laugh. Not because it sounded ridiculous (it did), but because it's true. If you've been an employee all your life this is the kind of mindset you have. Moonstone has enough raw power not to have any bosses but the mindset is what's holding her back. Or rather, it's what defines her as a character and explains a lot of where we find her prior to this storyline and in future storylines - she was recently a member of Norman Osborn's Dark Avengers. .

Once again, and I suspect, because Bill Mantlo is on board, we get a big dose of what's going on in Peter Parker's life. Beyond this, the Hannigan art gets really good in places. Check out the first page splash with Spider-Man looking down on some tenement buildings on that plucky little kid and the action panel where he swings down on Moonstone to relieve here of Doctor Connor's Enervator pack.

Good read.

Spectacular Spider-Man 64

The First Cloak And Dagger Issue

Spectacular Spider-Man : dagger

This issue begins with a fantastic cover. The color palette is just beautiful; the perfect green in the background contrasting with the foreground palette and the the yellow lettering on the title. The 'melted yellow' lettering is just perfect. Layout is also very attractive. Spidey right out front. Perfect. The shadowy Cloak in the rooftop in the background. Dagger on top with the trajectory lines of her light daggers forming an attractive abstract pattern. This is a definite pick-me-up cover. And you will be glad you did.

Ed Hannigan has been doing the art for Spectacular for some time now and it is getting better and better. The figure art is good but not exceptional; what really jumps out is the detailing in the background - both interior and cityscapes. What this does is it brings New York in as an actual presence in this tale - particularly effective with this Bill Mantlo story because at one point we are brought to the historic Ellis Island.

Mantlo sequences are superb. His script is wordy but full of substance. Pacing is just right and he manages to create a satisfying tale in one issue.

Spectacular Spider-Man 67

I Love Boomerang!

Spectacular Spider-Man : boomerang

By this time, Bill Mantlo has done so many consistently good Spectacular Spider-Man stories that his name has become a brand. Mantlo = good writing. And this issue is no exception.

So the question is will Ed Hannigan's art (a) ruin Mantlo's plot (b) not get in the way of a good story by at least being competently illustrated or (c) add a whole new dimension to the tale and enhance the story. The answer is (b). This is not superstar artwork (see the sample art below) but it carries the tale very well and some panels are truly wonderful.

For those of you who like a story to finish within the space of an issue this is good news. We begin at the beginning and the last panel proclaims an 'End' to a satisfying read.

Why exactly was this good? First of all Boomerang is a fun villain to watch - an absolute expert with his weapons and those boot jets are so good they must be Tony Stark tech. Boomerang's entertaining antics are done within a subplot involving the Kingpin - whom Boomerang is trying to impress by killing Spider-Man.

The other subplot involves the private battles of one Peter Parker. If you're having a bad day, pick this up - Peter is having a worst one. We are also given the wonderful, and logical, revelation that Peter has an addiction to being Spider-Man; it has become a necessary part of his life to put on the costume and swing around the city on his webline. He is happy out there; it keeps him sane.

Here is an art sample of Ed Hannigan's work :

Spectacular Spider-Man : explosion

Spectacular Spider-Man 69

Peter Returns Home - Plus Cloak and Dagger!

Spectacular Spider-Man : cloak and dagger

Cloak and Dagger first appeared in issue 64, an extremely good issue. This issue is almost as good. To this day, Cloak and Dagger continue to be an active part of the Marvel Universe, I remember them in Civil War, with Cloak being particularly prominent as one of Captain America's teleporters. I can't help but credit their success with how well they have been handled early on by Mantlo and Hannigan. Characterization is interesting and three dimensional; Hannigan's Dagger is seductively drawn while Cloak melts into the panel backgrounds. Very nice.

This issue is part of a two-issue story arc ending with the next issue - no. 70. But that issue loses a lot of the quality of this one. As you read through issue 69 you'll notice something happening to the art - it gets progressively worst as we near the last page. The deterioration continues on to issue 70, making that issue a bad read. My theory, unfounded theory, a guess, really, is that Hannigan got caught with the deadline and was forced to rush the art. Thankfully, a lot of issue 69 features solid Hannigan artwork. Like this panel here:

spider-man on a rooftop

One other thing that I like is when Spider-Man goes back to the old house in Forest Hills. This is where Peter grew up and discovered he had spider powers. All boarded up now and abandoned, Peter sneaks in and comments on how small his room feels like - exactly what I felt like when I went back to my old home. This quiet series of panels is deftly handled making the issue all the more special.

By the way, if you look at the cover, Spider-Man is rendered in such a way as to make it appear that he is walking on top of the cover. Neat huh?

Spectacular Spider-Man 72

Doc Ock's Greatest Fan

Another wonderful done-in-one issue by the team of Mantlo and Hannigan.

Look at that cover, eye-catching isn't it? Some kid from long, long ago thought so too. I first saw this issue when I kid in a comic shop I was in, attempted to shoplift this very issue. The store owner caught him in the act.

We have Peter Parker's apartment getting burglarized in this story. I know what it's like to have one's home broken into, it happened to me once. The feeling of violation, of anger. I could do nothing about it but Peter Parker is Spider-Man. I truly enjoyed the part when he went after those thieves.

The burglary is just a subplot. The main plot involves Ollie, a lonely kid who idolizes Doctor Octopus. Ollie has enough smarts to make his version of Doc Ock's metal arms and he goes off on a kid's rampage. At one point he enters this unreal toy store. It's depicted so grandly by Hannigan that no toy store could be this fantastic and still turn a profit. You've got to see that store - it's amazing.

Even more amazing is Mantlo's writing. He does not get a plot detail or a piece of dialogue wrong. Pacing and mood is spot on, from the low key start gently sliding us into the tale to the satisfying ending. I wonder if some other writer picked up on Ollie after this? That kid has potential.

Here is an art sample of Ed Hannigan's work from this issue :

Spectacular Spider-Man : swinging spider-man

Spectacular Spider-Man 80

J. Jonah Jameson Goes Back To Walking The Beat As A Reporter

"In my day we didn't wait for assignments to find us - we went out and looked for 'em!" - J. Jonah Jameson

The plot of this issue is simple enough: J. Jonah Jameson drops the Publisher routine for a while and goes out for a story as a reporter. It's a dangerous assignment, but, unknown to Jameson his trusty freelance photographer, Peter, goes along to watch his back as Spider-Man.

I like this issue very much because it's a J. Jonah Jameson issue, and that's rare, this is probably the only one apart from his excellent segments in Busiek's Marvels. This is certainly the only one in all two hundred and sixty three issues of Spectacular Spider-Man.

Artwork is unexceptional but competently done by Frenz, here's a sample :

Spectacular Spider-Man : j jonah jameson in action

Spectacular Spider-Man 83

The Arraignment Of The Punisher

In the mood for all-out action? Want to see Spidey beating up on an despicable villain in a classic tussle? Well you've come to the wrong place. That's right, the wrong place. this comic hardly has any action at all but still comes in as a satisfying read.

Another thing it doesn't have is exceptional art. LaRoque is good, as you can see in the sample below, but he's nothing to write home about.

Now you might be wondering, why the recommendation for this issue?

First of all, the Black Cat. She is drawn so fetchingly that whenever she comes into the scene she somehow improves the comicbook. For those of you who consider Megan Fox's inclusion in the Transformers movies to be a plus, you know what I mean. For those of you who happen to be less than impressed with Ms. Fox, I've got other reasons for you to consider this comic . . .

This comic is an excellent addition to the Punisher canon, and, by extension, to the general lore of the Marvel Universe. It shows the arraignment of the Punisher for his actions as a vigilante.

Before we get to the court scene we have a scene at the Bugle were Ben Reilly, at the instigation of J. Jonah, gives a capsule origin of the Punisher.

That's right - Daily Bugle scene then court scene then end of issue. No costumes and lots of dialogue. And what dialogue, I loved every line - engrossing, logical and entertaining.

Try this comic out and be surprised as I was.

Greg LaRoque sample art from this issue:

Spectacular Spider-Man : the black cat jumps

Spectacular Spider-Man 85

The Hobgoblin May Be A Green Goblin Rip-Off But I Like Him A Lot

I love how this issue begins. The shadow-filled lab of the man who would become Hobgoblin evokes a strong mood of menace and mystery.

The Hobgoblin makes his appearance here in the midst of an excellently portrayed romance between the Black Cat and Spider-Man. I'm a huge fan of Felicia Hardy being better for Peter than MJ, by the way. Getting back to the Hobgoblin, this villain may be a rip-off of the original, but he's wonderfully presented - i don't mind the obvious rehash at all.

Al Milgrom handles the art chores this time around, coming from under the shadows of the much superior Ed Hannigan. Milgrom's art is better than Mooney's but its still unexceptional. Although some panels do stand out, like the one where Spiderman hangs upside down on the ledge to look into the Black Cat while she takes a bath (you read that right). The pinup-style panel of the Cat and Spidey jumping off to the New York night is also very good and the one of the Hobgoblin I picked as a sample below.

This issue is carried by Bill Mantlo's writing chops. Subplots segue into each other seamlessly and the story moves along at just the right pace.

We leave the story with an interesting new villain and a new wrinkle on the relationship between Black Cat and Spider-Man.

Al Milgrom Hobgoblin art from this issue :

Spectacular Spider-Man : the hobgoblin

Spectacular Spider-Man 87

The Big Reveal

". . . It's just that I was expecting . . .well, something more along the lines of a Spider-Cave or a Fortress of Spidertude" - The Black Cat, right before the entrance of Peter Parker's bathroom skylight

This issue is a treatise on the necessary power of mystery. When Spider-Man reveals to the Black Cat that he is really poor Peter Parker she reacts to it very negatively.

Sometimes the truth doesn't set you free. Sometimes the truth just sucks - and you should keep it to yourself.

There are some beautiful Milgrom panels; he's particularly good at distance shots while Spidey and the Cat are swinging around New York.

I also particularly liked the scene were some common thieves were busted by our heroic pair. Very nicely setup - the whole thing was focused on the joy of being powerful and on the side of good.

This is definitely more than the sum of its parts and is recommended both for your collection and enjoyment.

Al Milgrom art sample from this issue :

Spectacular Spider-Man : spidey and the black cat

Spectacular Spider-Man 89 & 90

Black Cat's Deal With The Kingpin

This two issues tells the story of how - and why - the Black Cat got her powers. Don't expect great art - Milgrom is better than Mooney but not by much. Milgrom's Black Cat though, is a joy to behold.

What you should expect is a wonderful, solid tale from the pen of Bill Mantlo, as usual. All throughout, Mantlo takes us inside Black Cat's mind and makes us feel her emotions. It's quite a ride. I keep trying to detect when Mantlo will slip up but the moment never comes. You will feel Felicia's driving obsession with getting superpowers and her anguish at finally getting it but in such unfortunate circumstances. I compare this with moments in my life when I have been troubled. And Mantlo is really able to convey it very genuinely.

You should also note that Spider-Man exits the scene at the end of issue 89 and returns at the end of issue 90 - in between he's off to fight in the Beyonder's Secret Wars (the first one). Oh yes, when he returns he is wearing his new black costume.

Al Milgrom art sample from this issue :

Spectacular Spider-Man : artsample

Spectacular Spider-Man 91

The End Of A Great Friendship

Underneath the mid-level action and the usual focus on Peter Parker's life, this story has some pretty heavy elements. First is the death of Unus, a particularly agonizing death at that. He's one of my favorite X-Men villains with one of the coolest powers. Then there is the real friendship between the two mutants, Unus and the Blob. This is brought home by Al Milgrom with brilliant subtlety; simply by having both men call each other by their first names and not their costumed code names. Understated and finely executed. Also there is the topic of alienation felt by the Blob. Of feeling lonely and left out and angry at the world. This is how the Blob feels and it becomes more acute with the death of 'his only friend' Unus. I think all of us can relate to this feeling at some point in our lives.

As mentioned, the action element is middling, serving as a showcase for Black Cat's new and secret bad luck powers. Aside from that we also get Spidey's black costume from his adventures in the Secret Wars. The black outfit was a big deal when it first came out and it takes only a look at the splash page of this issue to see that its aging pretty well. Enjoy these issues when Venom was still pretty much dormant.

I also like it that characters we most often attribute to the X-Men have shown up in a Spider-Man book.

Spectacular Spider-Man 99

I love the Spot (the crazy black and white character you see on the cover) - primarily because of the way he's presented. It's a very light mood when he's around. I heard that one of the reason's Al Milgrom lost the writing job for Spectacular was because Shooter didn't like these goofy issues like 99 here - which I liked just fine.

At this point, I can say that it's rare for a Spectacular Spider-Man issue to be considered exceptional without either Bill Mantlo or Roger Stern at the writing helm. Al Milgrom shows he can write as well as draw - the total creator package. He doesn't do as well for the next issue. Issue 100 is off-pace, dragging so much early on, I almost fell asleep. But 99 is fine, it somehow feels longer than it is but the transitions are handled very dynamically.

I also love the subtle way Milgrom shows us the small hairline fractures that are beginning to form around the relationship between Spider-Man and the Black Cat. Somehow this, and the Black Cat's worries about certain secrets of her being revealed, is an effective backdrop to the Spidey/Spot action sequences; which are not to be missed.

Guest artist Herb Trimpe drops by. He's an old favorite of mine from the Hulk series. Nothing really exceptional but take note of the extra-fine linework and the beautiful face shots - particularly of the Black Cat - on par with Marie Severin.

If you like the Spot you can also see him in Amazing Spider-Man 589, appropriately titled "The Return of the Spot!".

Herb Trimpe art from this issue :


Spectacular Spider-Man 103

Peter David Writes Spider-Man

Welcome to Peter David, the soon to be legendary writer of The Incredible Hulk. Right away David proves his writing chops with this tale, as three college kids decide to play a prank on the Spider.

David plays it straight at the beginning and keeps things interesting with references to both the Batman and Star Wars. As the story concludes, some surprising and welcome twists are introduced that validates David's reputation as one of the finer writers out there.

The art too is a notch above Mooney's or Milgrom. I'd put Buckler in the same level as Hannigan (see my art sample below).

No serious battles this issue but prank and counter-prank (hint) is a nice thing to see.

Rich Buckler's art from this issue :

Spectacular Spider-Man : art sample

Spectacular Spider-Man 104

The Rocket Racer Is Just Trying To Make Ends Meet

"My friends call me Spider-Man! You can call me 'Sir'!" -
Spider-Man, right before he punches Bounty Hunter to save Rocket Racer's life

I'm guilty of judging a villain by his name. When I heard about Rocket Racer, I thought S-T-U-P-I-D. Well, I'm taking it all back. If you're a kid and you have brains to make yourself some gear, you'll go with the super-skateboard and call yourself Rocket Racer - it makes perfect sense.

What drew me to this issue was the art. This is Giarrano's second work after doing an issue of Marvel Team-Up - he would later do a ton of DC work. Here's a sample of Giarrano's art.

Spectacular Spider-Man : art sample

I find it very clean and beautiful. Definitely exceptional quality. This kind of art needs only a good story to make the issue.

That said, we're in luck, writing is by the untouchable Bill Mantlo. Bill really builds up on the character called the Bounty Hunter. As the issue progresses the Hunter is a character you'll love to hate. Every bit of clobber Spidey throws his way becomes a punch worth throwing.

The Death of Jean DeWolff and the Final Fate of the Sin Eater

The first set of issues comprise the story arc known as "The Death of Jean Dewolff". This is one of the most highly regarded Spider-Man tales ever, as evidenced by its inclusion in numerous lists of favorite Spider-Man stories around the Net.

This is a success in large part because of the quality of Peter David's writing. dialogue is particularly engaging.

Going into the story, I can't help but notice Buckler's careful artwork. In particular, note just how well drawn the cars are. It's noteworthy for me because I have seen the drawing of vehicles being botched by otherwise good artists in numerous other comics. Although not the highest caliber kind of art, Buckler comes close, taking time to draw each panel carefully - this is the kind of work one should expect from somebody doing Marvel's flagship character.

Buckler sample art from 107 :

art sample

Now back to David. He has a number of subplots going on, in addition to the main plot which is the hunt for the Sin-Eater - Jean DeWolff's murderer. One subplot involves the mugging of Mr. Popchick, Aunt May's elderly friend, another subplot is about a disturbed young man, then we have scenes involving a fiery young community leader, Reverend Tolliver, then we have scenes with the Man Without Fear both in his costumed guise as Daredevil and as lawyer Matt Murdock. All of these plotlines are introduced, developed, weave together and are resolved seamlessly. There is absolutely no sign of story elements being forced or cobbled together. The story arc feels 'full'; packed with story and never boring.

David provides us with mystery, making the reader wonder who the Sin-Eater is to the very end. At the same time all four issues are dotted with brutal murders which add to the tension.

On top of it all is a high-level discussion on the Justice system from the point of view of Daredevil the lawyer and Spider-Man the everyman.

This is truly a gem of an arc and deserving of its place among the best Spider-Man stories ever.


In the second set of issues (nos. 134 to 136), Peter David comes back to the Death of Jean DeWolff two years after the original story arc to tell us what happened. It is a year after the Sin-Eater was caught and judged mentally ill, he has been incarcerated in a mental institution and is now considered well enough to rejoin society; in spite of his previous mass murders.

Peter David takes us through the ramifications this has for everyone. For Sin-Eater we are shown how unaccepting society is of him; we follow him on a job hunt and watch him meet with rejection after rejection. Society is shown horrified that such a dangerous person is loose in the streets. Most of all, we are shown how this affects our hero, Peter Parker. It turns out that the beating an enraged Spider-Man gave the Sin-Eater has lifelong effects on the villain - the Sin-Eater's body is broken, his speech addled. This is the horrendous killer who brutally murdered a priest, a cop, a judge and an innocent bystander and Peter David has me feeling a bit sorry for him. That's some awfully good writing. Getting back to Peter, he is affected by this and and not a little guilt ridden. The whole thing has him pulling his punches as Spider-Man. Unfortunate, really, because in this two issues he is pitted against long-time nemesis Electro - who loves the all new love-tapping Spider-Man.

Art is by early Spectacular artist Sal Buscema; a legend himself and brother of legendary Conan artist John Buscema. Sal did some good art for the book during the early days, '77 and '78. What he has for us a decade later is art on a totally different level. This is exceptional art, beautiful to see. Linework is confident, flowing, seemingly effortless and a joy to have on a comic. He reminds me not so much of his brother John but of John Romita Jr.

Here's sample Sal Buscema art from issue 136:

art sample

One other thing about this second story arc, the ending is just brilliant. I'm a Peter David fan. For Spectacular he is right up there with Bill Mantlo and Roger Stern.

Spectacular Spider-Man 112

In this comic, artist Mark Beacham provides so many model renditions that it all but upped the holiday cheer. I've never encountered anything like it since.

I've strung most (but not all) of these babeshots together. Just keep scrolling down. Enjoy and I'll meet you at the end of it for the rest of the commentary.

surprised model

joy walking towards peter

mary jane in the bathtub

mary jane out of the tub in a towel

the black cat from behind

bambi in bed

bambi, randi and candi

the black cat in mid jump

Thank you Mr. Beachum.

Moving on. One of the many plot points in this issue is about Peter Parker having a lonely Christmas.

peter all alone in the holidays

This is supposed to be a bit of a depressing story, but I look at the panels above and all I feel is happy. You see, my Christmases are hectic and full of too many people; I'm running around constantly and take the inevitable hit to the wallet. I look at Peter in this panels, he has free time and some peace and I think, 'Parker, you don't know how good you've got it'. So this whole issue works out as a warm and cozy tale for me.

There is a solid story here by Peter David, but between the babeshots and the 'Peter' panels above, the holiday spirit has been served.

Spectacular Spider-Man 113

You're Spider-Man, Then Some Gang Members Break Into Your House . . .

The art in this issue is a showcase of stupendous talent. Wonderful detail in all of the panels. Here's a sample of Bob McLeod's art:

Spectacular Spider-Man : art sample

On the basis of the art alone this issue makes my recommended list. Just sit and flip through it and enjoy every panel like the art lover that you are.

But this issue gives more than that. Peter David entertains us with a story that has no super-villains. Most of the events happen inside Aunt May's house during a hostage situation. The dialogue and setting is engaging; reminding me of an Ed Brubaker or Greg Rucka comic.

The last scene has Nathan Lubensky doing something to get the main criminal killed - it draws a negative reaction from Aunt May, and from a lesser extent, from Peter. It's thought provoking , for my part I agree with Nathan - having that young man down for the count spares everybody else further grief.

Spectacular Spider-Man 114

Last Issue Somebody Broke Into Aunt May's House, Now Someone Steals Peter's Costume

See that cover ? That's Keith Pollard art. He was one of my favorites. Sadly, he left the industry in the mid nineties.

Someone broke into Peter Parker's apartment and steals Spider-Man's costume, web-shooters, spider tracers, the Spider-Man light in the belt buckle - the works. Who thought of this brilliant premise? Mantlo? No. Stern? Uh,uh. Milgrom? Nope. Kaminski that's who. And from first to last he transforms it into a plot and script that carries the tale brilliantly.

This story is clever. It's fun. And I'm wondering why nobody thought about it sooner.

Add Brozowsky's good art and we have a four star recommendation.

Brozowsky sample art from the issue. Black Spider looks good.

Spectacular Spider-Man : art sample

Spectacular Spider-Man 115

I do so love Doctor Strange. I've been a fan ever since I saw him dishing out the Flames of the Faltine, the Shield of the Seraphim, and, of course, my absolute favorite, the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak - also the source of Juggernaut's unstoppability - the bands, not the Doctor. He does no fighting in this issue though, I think he's a bit too powerful for a "street level" mag like Spectacular Spider-Man. What he does is rid Peter Parker of the effects of Black Cat's bad luck power.

In so doing, he also inadvertently cancels out the Cat's powers just as she's about to take on a group of thugs. And yes, Peter David does wring out this plot potential - I was actually nervous while reading the tale - always a sign of excellent writing.

If that's not enough, the art is by Mark Beachum, who I raved about in issue 112, because he drew such great females. Just check out the art sample below. Oh yes.

art sample

Spectacular Spider-Man 116

Spider-Man vs. Sabretooth!

The most shocking thing for me in this issue is that a thug damn near rapes the Black Cat. He's already kissing her and one if his buddies wants him to "Share the wealth". We're definitely out of kids comic territory.

The centerpiece is the answer to the question: Who's the better fighter? Sabretooth or Spider-Man? And the answer is Spider-Man! Sabretooth can't even touch the guy! I'd have wanted a bigger fight but this'll do.

Rich Buckler sample art from this issue:

Spectacular Spider-Man : art sample

Spectacular Spider-Man 117

The Black Cat Invades Dr. Strange's House

Look at the number or inkers and letterers involved in this issue - a whole group of them. I wonder what happened? And why is Rich Buckler credited as 'Storyteller'? Does this mean he co-wrote with Peter David? Now that I think about it, I do detect a bit of watering down compared to David's usual solid work - must be Buckler doing the writing chores. In particular, the sudden alliance between Black Cat and Foreigner seems out of character for Felicia. A blemish, to be sure, but not enough to keep this from being an excellent read.

Many subplots here, swirling around the issue, forming the genesis of future storylines. My favorite subplot is when Black Cat tries to enter Dr. Strange's Greenwhich Village mansion without permission. I have always been fond of the Greenwhich house and the Dr. Strange stories and Defender tales have always mentioned that it was mystically protected. This issue gives us a ringside seat on what that means exactly; and its fun seeing Felicia encountering the mystic defences.

Art by Dwayne Turner is exceptional as you can see by the sample below. That's Black Cat's new costume. Definitely a step in the wrong direction. Bring back the black body suit with fur trimmings!

Spectacular Spider-Man : art sample

Spectacular Spider-Man 120

Keith Giffen Draws Spectacular Spider-Man

Keith Giffen, together with writer Paul Levitz, formed, what is, in the opinion of many, the best creative team to ever handle DC's The Legion of Super-Heroes.

You can imagine my happy surprise at seeing him do a Marvel comic? I have associated the kind of art that you see in the panel below with the Legion books so much that I fancied myself seeing what Spider-Man would look like if he ever became a member of LSH.

art sample

This is a one off. The only Giffen issue of Spectacular, that alone should have you wanting this in your collection. This is much like issue 58 which is the only Byrne issue.

Mantlo is being Mantlo. Solid, interesting writing. Here, Spider-Man is not up against some villain. He's up against changes in his own city, forced to protect a stubborn old man who refuses to give in to change. And Spider-Man fails to protect him. It is a tragic tale beautifully rendered.

Next: Superior Spider-Man 1 to 6