Friday, 15 June 2012

Some non-essential Spider-Man Essentials

Spider-Man has made many guest appearances in other titles over the years. Thanks to the Essential series many of the earlier ones have also been reprinted. I’m going to skip the numerous cameos but there are a number of more substantial stories that are worth noting here. A full listing of appearances can be found on, who have an amazing year by year timeline of all appearances from full issues down to one panel cameos at Comics: By Year. I’ve made use of that timeline to track down the substantial guest appearances. (Sometimes when checking an issue I’ve discovered the appearance is just a cameo so I’ve not included it here, in case there’s you see something on’s list that isn’t here.)

I’ve decided to split this into in several sections – first all the substantial guest appearances from the first twenty years are listed as broadly most of these issues have now been “Essentialised” and it’s possible to list the few absentees. In turn I’ve broken the first twenty years in two at 1972, partially for length but also because the cut-off point roughly coincides with the launch of Marvel Team-Up. After 1981 I will just list the handful of ones from the remaining thirty years that have so far been covered in the Essentials. I don’t have access to every single one so a selection only follows:

Strange Tales Annual #2, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (with Steve Ditko inking), reprinted in Essential Human Torch volume 1 and also in Essential Fantastic Four volume 2

Strange Tales was one of a number of anthology series produced by Marvel that carried various genres during its run and is best known for introducing Dr. Strange, then also running Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD. But before that the Human Torch was given his own solo feature from issue #101 onwards (although from issue #123 the Thing became a co-star), which has become probably the single most forgotten of Marvel’s 1960s superhero features. The second annual has Spider-Man’s first ever guest appearance in another title. The story has what would become a fairly standard plot – one hero is framed for a crime, the other hero fights him for a while before realising his innocence and the two team up to bring the real criminal to justice. There’s some interesting features here such as Spider-Man seeking the Torch in the hope that if he can convince a publicly acceptable hero he can more easily clear his name, the Torch being a jealous hothead angry that Spidey gets all the headlines, there’s the first time Spider-Man adapts his webbing to deal with a particular foe – here adding supercold crystals to neutralise the Torch – and the real criminal is identified by a police inspector taking just a few minutes to go through the files. Curiously despite Spider-Man being framed for a crime and the newspapers falling for it, there’s no sign of Jonah or the Bugle. Indeed in general Spider-Man’s supporting cast are often completely absent in his guest appearances. Otherwise it’s a pretty fast-paced tale and only seems unoriginal in hindsight after so many later takes on the same formula. Unfortunately the art is an example that Jack Kirby generally just couldn’t draw a great Spider-Man, even with Ditko’s inking. The story also suffers from having the worst reproduction in this particular Essential volume. But it shows how Spidey and the Torch make for a good pairing, despite their irritations with each other.

The theme of the relationship of irritation between the two is covered again in #115 of the regular comic by Stan Lee & Dick Ayers, though Spidey himself makes only a cameo appearance. The Torch is informed that Spider-Man’s foe the Sandman is back in town, but instead of tipping off Spider-Man he challenges the Sandman himself, even disguising himself as Spidey when the Sandman doesn’t want to fight anyone else. The Torch succeeds but at the end Spidey arrives on the scene and notes the tensions between him and the Torch.

(Oh and another interesting story in this Essential volume, albeit absolutely nothing to do with Spidey, is #114 which has the first Silver Age appearance of Captain America – in a way. This Lee-Kirby story was widely forgotten about, even by Lee himself, until the late 1990s, when the team behind the brief-lived series Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty rediscovered it and created a sequel, with Cap and the Torch commenting on the absurdities of the original.)

Fantastic Four Annual #1, a back-up story by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby (again with Steve Ditko inking), reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four volume 1

This six pager is the first retelling of a Spider-Man story, as it expands on the two & a third pages in Amazing Spider-Man #1 detailing Spider-Man’s first meeting with the Fantastic Four. This is literally just an extended fight sequence as Spidey takes on each of the Four one by one in more detail before Mr Fantastic stops the fight. A caption at the start claims this was created by popular demand after the letters received from readers. I hope the contemporary audience was satisfied – this was one of the earliest Marvel annuals but like many back-up features in subsequent annuals it’s entirely skippable.

Tales to Astonish #57 by Stan Lee and Dick Ayers, reprinted in Essential Astonishing Ant Man volume 1

Tales to Astonish was another of the anthology series, best known for giving a home to both the Incredible Hulk and the Sub-Mariner. But before that Ant-Man debuted way back in issue #27 and returned (by popular demand) in issue #35 for a run that lasted until issue #69. En route he gained a sidekick in the form of the Wasp, and then inverted his powers to also become Giant Man. Additionally the Wasp gained her own back up feature, first merely narrating stories but from #57 it became a more conventional adventure story. Issue #57 was also the issue in which the Wasp was given her “sting” weapon – and it features an encounter with Spider-Man. This time the villain Egghead tricks Giant Man and the Wasp into fighting Spider-Man as a distraction whilst he steals a payroll truck. When Giant Man discovers the crime the fight is cancelled and the heroes track down and defeat the villain. Once again we have an early example of what would become a stock formula for team-ups in years to come. And this is the third time that Spider-Man’s encounters with other heroes leads to a fight between them. The Wasp’s dislike of Spider-Man is introduced here and would remain poor for years – “I guess it’s because wasps and spiders are such natural enemies!” But the Wasp doesn’t have any real wasp power in her and it’s just a silly dislike. Also noticeably absent is Spider-Man’s witty banter during the fights. Here he’s just a standard hero, if a little angrier than most when attacked, and really anyone could have filled his role. In general this is a fairly mundane piece and entirely forgettable. But someone remembered it...

The story gained additional interest thirty-five years later in 1999 when John Byrne wrote and drew the 12 issue series Spider-Man: Chapter One retelling & refining Spidey’s first year. For some reason he opted to devote the penultimate issue (#11) to retelling this story even though I don’t think it was on many people’s list of key adventures to cover in the limited space available (condensing some 20+ issues into 12). Was the intention to show an example of Spidey’s usual early relationship with other superheroes? (That would at least explain why this one and not a Human Torch story.) Or was Byrne under pressure to include at least one story that isn’t in Essential Spider-Man volume 1? Or was it just creative indulgence?

Avengers #11, by Stan Lee and Don Heck, reprinted in Essential Avengers volume 1

This story sees the Avengers’ enemy Kang the Conqueror create a robotic duplicate of Spider-Man who successfully tricks the Avengers into believing the absent Iron Man has been kidnapped and taken to a temple in Mexico. The Avengers each make their own way there whilst Kang time teleports the robot over, and one by one the robot picks them off, helped by a soft nerve gas in the area dulling the heroes’ abilities. But before the robot can send the Avengers to Kang’s time the real Spider-Man shows up and declares his spider-sense spotted the duplicate and so he followed it to see what it was up to. Spidey fights the robot, eventually finding its deactivation switch and destroying it. This is a rather silly issue and I get the impression that it had a late in the day rewrite to include the real Spider-Man, possibly in place of a suddenly returned Iron Man who appears on the cover but not in the tale, either because Iron Man’s own story went a different way (but I’m not too familiar with contemporary Iron Man continuity) or because someone in Marvel realised it would be cheating the readers to lure them in with a promise of Spider-Man and not deliver the real thing. The most ludicrous point is the real Spider-Man suddenly showing up in Mexico – there’s no way he could have followed a teleporting robot there, and then since he doesn’t directly interact with the Avengers how is he to get back home? The artwork of Spider-Man is also quite bad (although there’s an even worse example in this volume in a cameo in issue #3, drawn by Jack Kirby) – he looks too muscular and the web lines aren’t kept under control. Overall this is a pretty poor story also let down by some of the silliness of the early Avengers years such as their rigid adherence to meeting protocols and their limited equipment that prevents them all going to Mexico together. This feels like the first case of a gratuitous guest appearance for the sake of sales rather than to tell a decent story.

Daredevil #16-17, by Stan Lee and John Romita, reprinted in Essential Daredevil volume 1

When Daredevil’s series originally launched the cover proclaimed it was in the same Marvel tradition that had brought Spider-Man, and Daredevil himself was given an early boost by his guest appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #16 (which came out the month between Daredevil #3 & 4). It’s surprising that it took so long for Spider-Man to make a reciprocal full appearance (these issues came out the same months as Amazing #36 & #37). This two part appearance saw John Romita draw Spidey for the first ever time, coming out a few months before he took over on Amazing Spider-Man. Romita’s first take on Spider-Man is a little different from what would come, as at this stage he’s largely trying to match Steve Ditko’s version of both Spidey and Peter Parker. However he gets Jonah straight off and doesn’t do too badly with Aunt May.

Plotwise we have a near rerun of the Giant Man and Egghead plot. Once again a villain is planning a big crime and as a distraction he frames one hero to trick another into fighting him, whilst the real crime happens. On this occasion the villain is the Masked Marauder but curiously it’s the host hero, Daredevil, who is framed whereas my impression is that it’s more usual for the guest hero to fall victim to this (although with Jonah briefly appearing, Spider-Man gets blamed by the Bugle anyway). Also unusually the Marauder doesn’t hide his own involvement with many assuming one or other of the heroes is in league with him. The second part sees a climax as Daredevil sets a trap for both Spider-Man and the Masked Marauder and the two heroes fight once more before the villain shows up, forcing them to join forces. The main point of originality in the story comes at the end of the first issue as Spider-Man searches for Daredevil with his Spider-sense and finds Matt Murdock and Foggy Nelson’s office and assumes Foggy is Daredevil. Spidey breaks in to challenge Nelson upfront, even dangling him out of the window. Often the Spider-Man we get in guest appearances seems more hotheaded and aggressive than in his own series, and this is more than just presenting events from others’ point of view. Spidey’s accusations would also have repercussions in Daredevil’s series as Foggy is in no rush to deny them when secretary Karen Page asks if they’re true, instead enjoying her assumption that he’s a heroic adventurer. However at the end the escaping Marauder overhears them...

In general we’re yet again seeing a use of a stock formula of a framing, a fight and then a team-up. When read in close succession the heavy reliance on this formula does stand out, although during the original publication these stories came out months if not years apart and readers may not have noticed the similarities so readily.

Daredevil #27, by Stan Lee and Gene Colan, reprinted in Essential Daredevil volume 2

The Marauder storyline concludes in this issue, which contains a small guest appearance by Spider-Man. He is fighting a few thugs when Daredevil cuts in, to Spidey’s annoyance as this can damage a hero’s reputation. Daredevil asks if he’s seen Stilt-Man (who was actually taken seriously in those days) and they go their separate ways whilst Stilt-Man and the Marauder team up to kidnap Matt, Foggy and Karen in order to learn Daredevil’s identity. Stilt-Man is sent to find Matt’s twin brother Mike (actually Matt in disguise – don’t ask!) but runs into Spider-Man who is eventually defeated with a gas pellet. Meanwhile Daredevil has defeated the Marauder, who falls to his death, and then disables Stilt-Man’s mechanism. For Spider-Man this is quite a brief encounter that shows his continued tense relationship with other heroes.

X-Men #35, by Roy Thomas and Werner Roth, reprinted in Essential Classic X-Men volume 2

This appears to be the first time a substantial Spider-Man appearance was written by someone other than Stan Lee. Spidey had had a previous brief cameo in issue #27, also by Thomas and Roth, where he beats the Beast and Iceman to capture some bank robbers. With the X-Men badly understrength at this point Spider-Man is offered membership but he declines, having recently gone through the mess of the Avengers’ offer (in Amazing annual #3).

Issue #35 is another fight due to wrong assumptions but they’re accidental this time. The issue is part of a wider story involving the kidnap of Professor X by Factor Three. The X-Men’s ally Banshee locates Factor Three’s base where he encounters a robotic spider guard, and before he passes out he sends a message “Beware the spider” to the X-Men. Meanwhile Peter Parker has gone a motorcycle ride outside New York and finds himself strangely drawn up to Westchester where a metal egg appears of the sky and lands, revealing the robotic spider. Peter changes to Spider-Man and fights the robot, tricking it into destroying itself. Meanwhile the X-Men’s computer Cerebro detects mutant activity in the area and the X-Men dash to deal with it. They assume Spider-Man is the menace Banshee warned off and battle him until Marvel Girl contacts them with the news Cerebro’s activity has ceased suggesting Spider-Man is not the menace. Spidey tells them about the robotic spider but refuses to let the X-Men give an apology and explanation. This is quite a packed issue and generally Thomas gets the hang of Spider-Man’s dialogue, though the journey into the countryside and “drawn by fate” seem at odds with the regular series. However we get yet another fight for the sake of it which doesn’t really contribute to the ongoing storyline, and more jerkish behaviour from Spider-Man as a hero who’s been misunderstood more times than any other is reluctant to give the X-Men the benefit of the doubt. The artwork also doesn’t quite capture Spider-Man correctly. Again this feels like an appearance for the sake of it.

Fantastic Four #73, by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four volume 4 and also in Essential Daredevil volume 2

This is a crossover climax to a storyline in Daredevil (hence appearing in both Essentials) in which Daredevil and Doctor Doom briefly swapped bodies. After the process is reversed Daredevil escapes and heads to warn the Fantastic Four, but Doom is able to mimic Daredevil’s voice and tells the FF that Daredevil is Doom in disguise, coming to attack them. After briefly overpowering the Human Torch, Daredevil runs into Spider-Man who believes him and agrees to help, and then goes off to get another pair of hands – Thor, who has recently had his powers stripped from them. This leads into a protracted battle as Daredevil fights Mr Fantastic, Thor the Thing and Spider-Man the Human Torch, defeating him by luring him into a chemical plant and overpowering him with fumes. The entire battle is ended by the arrival of the Invisible Girl who confirms that Daredevil is the real one because he can’t be Dr. Doom as she’s just seen the real Doom on television, giving a speech in Latveria. (Now which Marvel villain has more robotic duplicates than any other...?) This particular issue as a whole is pretty poor and little more than an excuse to have the Fantastic Four fight some guest stars. However it does show that Spider-Man’s relationship with other heroes is evolving in that he is first willing to trust Daredevil and then able to talk Thor into joining them by suggesting he’s a coward. This issue came out the same month as Amazing #59 and is a sign of how Spidey’s early antagonistic relationship with other superheroes has been refined to one where he’s more willing to work with others and even knows which buttons to press.

Silver Surfer #14, by Stan Lee and John Buscema, reprinted in Essential Silver Surfer volume 1

The Surfer’s original series ran into early troubles sparking radical changes, including ditching the bi-monthly double sized format in favour of a standard monthly, and then started running guest stars in most issues. Spider-Man was the first of the regular guest stars and we get another fight when Spider-Man’s webbing accidentally catches the Surfer’s board and the two soon come to blows as Spidey wants off but the Surfer believes he is being tricked by humans so he can be attacked yet again. Spidey is pretty aggressive, pursuing the matter further but the Surfer declines to use his full force. The police and military show up to take down the Surfer, but when he leaves himself vulnerable to save a boy both they and Spidey back off. Spidey leaves realising he’s been guilty of the same misjudgement he is so often the victim of. Spidey once more shows his aggressive, hotheaded side that is so often the main focus of his guest appearances and the similarities between the way the world treats him and he treats the Surfer aren’t as fully explored as they might be. Given the direction of the book it’s hard to deny this is an audience boosting appearance though.

Captain America and the Falcon (as it was then titled) #137-138, by Stan Lee, Gene Colan (#137) and John Romita (#138), reprinted in Essential Captain America volume 3

This story focuses upon the relationship between Cap and the Falcon, with the latter feeling undervalued and seeking to prove his worth, and a Harlem gang lord blackmailing the government by threatening to start riots. The Falcon spots Spider-Man and decides to bring him in to prove his worth, and he sends his companion hawk Redwing to follow Spider-Man, leading him to Peter and Harry’s flat. The Falcon assumes Harry is Spider-Man and captures him, only for the real Spider-Man to save him, knocking the Falcon out in the process. The following issue sees Spider-Man seeking the Falcon for a rematch and to learn why he attacked him, only to find the Falcon has been captured by the Harlem gang lord. Spidey rescues the Falcon and fights him, with Captain America and Redwing joining in, until the Falcon realises he’s been a jerk and they all team up to take down the gang lord. Similar to the earlier Daredevil appearance we see heroes proving rather better than everyone else at getting close to other heroes’ secret identities, only to accuse the first able-bodied man in sight upon arrival. The Falcon’s motivations for fighting Spider-Man are understandable, though Spider-Man’s reluctance to leave the matter after his first fight isn’t so clear. The story is mainly a spotlight on the Falcon but as a hero with a poor relationship with the law, Spidey is one of the few who could serve the role in this story and so his appearance here feels more natural than many.

Daredevil #77 by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan, reprinted in Essential Daredevil volume 4

An interesting little tale that starts with Spider-Man seeing Daredevil passing in the night and each man reflects on his recent relationship issues – Spider-Man on Gwen Stacy thinking he killed her father and how she doesn’t know Spider-Man is her boyfriend (this issue came out the same month as Amazing #97), Daredevil on how Karen Page does know his identity couldn’t marry him with both his identities. It’s a nice little compare and contrast moment between the two heroes. Peter gets back to his flat where he’s visited by Mary Jane (although the inker confuses her with Gwen so in black & white, at least, she looks blonde). However Peter quickly aborts the meeting because of commotion outside which also draws in Daredevil. In Central Park a glowing giant teardrop speaks, demanding to speak to Namor the Sub-Mariner who has been drawn there. Just as Namor approaches, Daredevil shows up and assumes Namor is responsible and the two get in a fight. Spider-Man subsequently arrives and also engages in battle, refusing to accept Daredevil’s claim it’s his fight, and the two take on the Sub-Mariner with Spider-Man almost competing with Daredevil. The fight is stopped when the teardrop explodes to reveal a mysterious woman who demands Namor come with her, and having detected vibrant young power within Spider-Man she asks for him also. The woman, Namor, Spidey and the teardrop all vanish, leaving Daredevil to head home. Whilst there are some subplots advanced in this issue, the main part feels very much like both Namor and Spider-Man are intruding upon Daredevil’s title. Spider-Man is given some good scenes in the early part of the issue that tie in well to then-current events in his own title, but once in action he acts like the jerk he so often is in guest appearances, refusing to back off and being quite competitive.

Spider-Man and Namor’s story continues in Sub-Mariner #40, again by Gerry Conway and Gene Colan, but as Daredevil didn’t accompany them that issue isn’t included in his Essential run, whilst the Sub-Mariner has probably been served worse by the Essentials than any other Silver Age Marvel hero, with just one solitary volume so far that only gets as far as the first issue of his series, and that didn’t appear until 2009. Maybe one day we’ll get further volumes that reach #40 and I’ll be able to come back and add my thoughts on that particular issue.

With the exception of that Sub-Mariner issue, that’s all the major appearances I’m aware of from this era. And look how few there were. Spider-Man may have been an early hit whose popularity then grew and grew, but he wasn’t mercilessly dropped into numerous other series to boost them (though the Silver Surfer appearance was an exception). Instead the guest appearances are limited and aiming to tell good stories, to mixed success. Spider-Man also encountered a number of other heroes in his own series, but wisely Marvel limited those and created a specific title for team-ups at the end of this period.

The thing that stands out the most in many of these appearances is just how much of a hot-headed jerk Spider-Man can be, getting into fights all too easily. It’s little wonder that so many other heroes automatically assume the worst of him. But it’s also disappointing that so often this is almost all there is to Spider-Man. Whilst it would be possible to present him as a mysterious, uncertain figure as seen from the host character’s point of view, the stories invariably assume familiarity and show or reference his life as Peter Parker, so removing that angle of approach. This just leaves a jerk who easily gets into fights for the sake of it – but very often that’s all he’s there for.

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