Monday, 9 July 2012

More non-essential Spider-Man Essentials

Time now for another look at Spider-Man's guest appearances. Today I'm looking at a stretch from 1972 until 1981, ending at the twenty year mark which is also broadly at the point where the Essentials start getting bitty – in particular the Fantastic Four and Avengers series don't (yet) get beyond here and most of the other series that start in the Silver Age are even further behind. It's not the neatest of points but it serves its purpose. With that said:

Daredevil and the Black Widow (to give the book its full cover title at the time) #103, written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Don Heck, reprinted in Essential Daredevil volume 5

This issue tied in with Marvel Team-Up #12 (a Man-Wolf issue) which saw Peter sent to San Francisco to get photographs of Daredevil and the Black Widow, who had teamed up and were briefly relocated there. This issue continues Peter's efforts to get the story – curiously he's written here as a journalist as well as a photographer. Peter makes it into the Black Widow's mansion where he's secured the chance to get the story, but suddenly new villain the Ramrod shows up, stealing a box of papers for his shadowy masters who reconstructed his body after an accident. Daredevil and the Black Widow pursue him, with Peter changing to Spider-Man and following at a distance, recovering the papers. The fight continues on the skyline until the Ramrod loses his grip and plunges to his doom. Spidey takes off and Peter shows up to finally get his interview. Whilst it's nice to see Spider-Man interacting with other heroes on good terms, rather than hot-headedly getting into a fight, this appearance feels rather short and certainly not a substitute for the lack of an early Team-Up with Daredevil and/or the Widow as the interaction between them and Spidey is limited to the actual fight. And Spider-Man doesn't really contribute much to the right that Daredevil or the Widow couldn't have done themselves. Peter seeking an interview also feels out of role – I suppose one could argue Jonah wanted to save on air fares but in Team-Up #12 he was specifically sent on a photo assignment. Ultimately this is a gratuitous unnecessary appearance.

An issue I'm going to have to skip as it hasn't yet been Essentialised is Sub-Mariner #69 written by Steve Gerber and drawn by George Tuska. As before if the Essential Sub-Mariner gets further volumes and reaches it (this one would be in volume 5 by my reckoning) I'll try to remember to return to this post and add my thoughts on the issue. However I suspect that won't be for many years yet.

Howard the Duck #1, written by Steve Gerber and drawn by Frank Brunner, reprinted in Essential Howard the Duck volume 1

Amazing as it may seem, Howard the Duck was once one of Marvel's biggest properties, leading to a much publicised creators' rights dispute over Howard's ownership, followed by a notorious mid 1980s movie often considered one of the worst films of all time. Before that came Howard's own series which launched in 1975 (and was reportedly more popular than the contemporary revival of the X-Men!). The key to understanding the series is that it's an existentialist satire in which the difference between seriousness and silliness is a point of view. With that said...

Spider-Man makes a short guest appearance in the first issue in which Howard encounters Pro-Rata, a cosmic accountant who lives in a tower made of credit cards located by a river in Cleveland and who sends Howard through a portal to a dimension of barbarians in order to retrieve the missing key for the Cosmic Calculator, which will allow Pro-Rata to become the Chief Accountant of the universe. Steve Gerber made this up, not me. Midway through the issue Jonah sends Peter to Cleveland to get photos of the mysterious talking duck sighted there, and late in the issue Spider-Man follows the sound of the explosion to reach the tower where he and Howard in turn save each other's lives. It's a fairly gratuitous appearance by Spidey that doesn't really add anything other than to lure readers in. Unfortunately the issue plays the guest appearance for straight rather than making a wider comment on the conventions for comics to do such appearances, missing an opportunity. Spider-Man makes a further brief cameo appearance in issue #10 (also in this volume) when Howard has a breakdown and several past characters appear in a surreal nightmare. It's notable for the image of Howard turning on a tap only to get webs as Spidey comes out of it. It's an example of the sort of madness that happened in Howard's series.

To keep this listing complete I'll just note Marvel Two-in-One #17, written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Sal Buscema, which is reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 1 but which has also appeared in Essential Marvel Team-Up volume 2 as it crossed over with Team-Up #47 (which in turn is also reprinted in the Two-in-One volume). My thoughts on the issue are in my regular piece but I'll just repeat my comment that the creative teams on the two series seem to have been swapped around, and there's some dialogue in one series that would more suit the other, suggesting that the chapters were originally created to appear in the opposite series as someone got the schedule mixed up and assumed the issues would come out the other way round, then when the mistake was discovered the two stories were simply swapped over. Ah the mess of arranging crossovers.

Another one that I've already covered in the main run is The Man Called Nova #12 written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Sal Buscema. This crossed over with Amazing Spider-Man #171 and both issues are reprinted in Essential Spider-Man volume 8 and also in Essential Nova volume 1. This time at least the chapters appeared in the books they were specifically created for. Later on in the series issue #15's cover promises an appearance by Spider-Man, Captain America, Iron Man and the Hulk, but it's very brief and they're only robot duplicates so like a lot of other brief cameo appearances I haven't included it in this overview. As previously noted, Nova was created in part as a deliberate homage to Spider-Man (and less deliberately drew upon elements of Green Lantern) so the series may be worth checking out to see how such a homage worked out in practice. It's all contained in that single Essential volume.

Marvel Two-in-One Annual #2, written and drawn by Jim Starlin, reprinted in Essential Marvel Two-in-One volume 2 and also in both Essential Avengers volume 8 and Essential Warlock volume 1

This was a continuation of the story from Avengers Annual #7 (in which neither Spidey nor the Thing appears), which in turn served as the conclusion to the saga of Adam Warlock and Thanos that Jim Starlin had been telling back in Warlock's own series before it was cancelled. The storyline climaxed with Thanos combining the power of the six Soul Gems (later renamed the Infinity Gems) and assembling a giant space fleet to wipe out much of the universe as a gift to regain the favour of the embodiment of Death. In the first part the Avengers, Captain Marvel and Adam Warlock attacked, destroying the main star destroying weapon but Warlock lost his life to Thanos and his own time-travelling younger self (it's a little complicated to summarise here) and was drawn into the world of the Soul Gem.

The Marvel Two-in-One annual opens with Peter Parker sleeping, receiving a telepathic message from Moondragon about how Thanos re-gathered his forces, overwhelmed and captured the Avengers and now plans to use the last surviving Soul Gem to destroy Earth's sun. Spidey sets out for the Baxter Building, observed by Master Order and Lord Chaos (two cosmic entities making their first appearances) where he gets the help of the Thing and they set off in the Fantastic Four's space shuttle. Once aboard Thanos's flagship they battle Thanos's army but get captured and brought before Thanos who rapidly subdues the Thing. Spider-Man panics and actually swings away until he realises he's doomed anyway so decides his best chance is to free the Avengers, which he does by throwing himself into the machine holding them in stasis. All the while Order and Chaos comment on how Spider-Man is meeting path of destiny they've set out for him but the ultimate job is to bring forth Adam Warlock. As Spidey recovers he finds himself strangely drawn to the Soul Gem which he releases from its container whilst at the same time Adam Warlock finds himself being called from inside the gem back to reality for one last missing. Warlock's spirit bursts out and turns Thanos into living stone. Thanos's army surrenders and the heroes bury Warlock then head for home.

As you can gather from that outline this is quite a different sort of story from the type Spider-Man is normally involved in, even in some of the more fantastic Marvel Team-Ups. Indeed in the story itself both Spidey and the Thing comment on this. I'm also not too comfortable with the whole idea of Order and Chaos manipulating Peter Parker's destiny so that he would become Spider-Man in the first place – the idea of mortals being micromanaged by powerful cosmic entities is so far detached from the norm for Spider-Man stories that it really sticks out. However this is a guest appearance so a little latitude can be allowed and Spider-Man is ultimately the catalyst for saving the Earth. I guess Marvel's leading solo hero has to do that at least once. And Two-in-One was a team-up book so his appearance wasn't even gratuitous. Still I bet a few Thing fans thought the regular hero should have had a greater role.

Spider-Man made another debut issue guest appearance in The Human Fly #1, written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by Lee Elias. However this is another issue that has to be omitted in this run as the Essentials haven't yet touched the Human Fly (nothing to do with the Spider-Man villain who sometimes go by this name and sometimes as just "the Fly", although Spider-Man is investigating the similarity of names), which seems to be one of the most obscure of all Marvel series. It was reportedly based on a real-life stuntman although there has been a degree of uncertainty about this.

Defenders #61, written by David Anthony Kraft and drawn by Ed Hannigan, reprinted in Essential Defenders volume 4

This story sees the Defenders trying to catch a serial killer who murders lawbreakers who has been striking on the Empire Statue University. Trying to lure him out they decide to erect a statue to a lawbreaker – and choose Spider-Man, in hideous modern art. Both Spidey and the vigilante show up but the latter knocks out the Valkyrie's flying horse and throws the statue's tarpaulin over Spidey, then uses the distraction to escape. Spidey and the Defenders agree to dismantle the statue. Whilst the Defenders was a series that made a virtue of a high number of guest stars (to the point that Defenders membership was never formally defined until the New Defenders era), Spider-Man's presence is largely unnecessary and any fugitive or criminal could have served as the basis for the statue. The fight is chaotic with too many heroes taking on one lone killer who escapes all too easily. This is yet another gratuitous appearance.

Fantastic Four #207, written by Marv Wolfman and drawn by Sal Buscema, reprinted in Essential Fantastic Four volume 9

When I originally wrote this post, Essential Fantastic Four had not yet reached this issue so I had to make do with a promise to come back to it when it eventually arrived. As that's now happened I can give my thoughts on this one.

This issue sees Peter on his first photo assignment for the Daily Globe and might have made a reasonable addition to Essential Spider-Man volume 9 because it shows him being hired by the Daily Globe, a precise point jumped over a bit in Amazing #194. In the space of less than one page Peter enters the Globe office, gets put on the salaried staff with an understanding about his time commitments and sent on his first assignment! Said assignment involves obtaining photographs of the students at Security College, a specialist institution for the offspring of the rich and famous who might otherwise be subject to kidnap attempts, including one Johnny Storm. The debate on journalism ethics has come a long way in the last three decades so it may just be the passage of time, but I was surprised Peter so readily accepted an assignment that effectively involves intrusion of privacy, even if he is photographing students out and about on the campus rather than in their private rooms. During the course of his attempts he discovers that the students are being hypnotised and used for nocturnal stealing by the Fantastic Four's old foe the Monocle. He convinces the Human Torch this is happening and they bring down the operation. The Monocle himself escapes the two heroes, but he'd tried to break away from the Enclave who blow up his rocket. All in all this issue feels rather awkward. The rest of the Fantastic Four don't appear at all as they're off on the planet Xander dealing with the left-over events from Nova and although Johnny's attendance at Security College was built up in previous issues, the whole thing feels as though it was scripted as a potential (fill-in?) issue of Marvel Team-Up. This is probably the reason why we get such a rushed introduction to Peter's career at the Globe and in the wrong series to boot – the script probably originally had him receiving a standard assignment but then the issue went out at a very awkward point in his own titles for this. However that doesn't excuse running part of a major development in Peter's life in another series.

Uncanny X-Men #123, scripted by Chris Claremont and drawn by John Byrne, reprinted in Essential X-Men volume 2

This is really quite a short appearance by Spidey that helps to establish continuity with the Marvel Team-Up issues with Captain Britain by bringing back the villain from that story, Arcade. Spidey bumps into Cyclops and Phoenix in New York, then sees them captured by Arcade's garbage truck and rushes to warn the rest of the X-Men by phone – only for it to be answered by Arcade who tells him he's too late. Spidey then smashes the phone box in rage. He doesn't appear in the rest of the story and really only served to provide a degree of continuity and explanation to introduce the story's villain.

Although not yet reached in its own Essential series, Fantastic Four #218, written by Bill Mantlo and drawn by John Byrne, has been reprinted in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man volume 2 as it crosses over with issue #42 of that series, and thus my thoughts on it are in my review of that volume.

Dazzler #1-2, written by Tom DeFalco and drawn by John Romita Jr, reprinted in Essential Dazzler volume 1

As I touched upon in my introduction piece about Spider-Woman, the Dazzler originated in a plan by Marvel to have a singer-superhero with a real-life singer doing promotion appearances. Eventually Marvel launched her in their first direct market only title in 1981. As part of the run-up to introduce here, she guest-starred in Amazing Spider-Man #203 and Spidey returned the favour in her own title. The first issue includes a cameo as the Dazzler takes on a group of muggers but falls into trouble and is helped by the arrival of Spider-Man. She goes on to get a job as the singer in a top nightclub, where in the second issue the opening night sees the attendance of about half the heroes in New York. When the Enchantress shows up, seeking a cosmic rift that will open on the site giving her great power, everyone joins a battle with her and the monsters she conjures up. The Enchantress is defeated but the night club is destroyed in the process; however Dazzler is given a tip for an interview about a singing contract- and all the heroes go to give her support and make sure she gets auditioned. Spider-Man's appearance here is very much a part of crowd support, both within the story itself and for sales (he's quite prominent on the cover of issue #1, reproduced as the Essential volume cover) but he gets a few good moments such as when Peter rushes into the gents to change into his costume and finds the other heroes have taken all the cubicles!

Given Dazzler's origins in the disco scene, there was rather a missed opportunity for her to fight one of Spider-Man's old foes. Why did no one think to pit her against the Hypno-Hustler?

(I've decided to leave out the What If series. Quite apart from it not having been Essentialised yet, it is by definition explicitly set in alternate timelines and often takes characters in quite unusual directions. Plus in most appearances Spider-Man was invariably a banner feature, not a guest star.)

Okay that's everything from 1972 until 1981. There's only a few guest appearances I could find that haven't yet been in the Essentials. Again it's surprising that there weren't more such appearances but I guess that Marvel Team-Up was able to meet a lot of that demand.

What's surprising about the appearances covered here is that in contrast to guest appearances in the 1962-1971 period there's far less of a hot-headed jerk in the Spider-Man costume. Equally there's very little of the resort to the stock formula of the hero being assumed to be a criminal, either inadvertently or deliberately due to a villain framing them. Instead we get Spider-Man interacting with other heroes on more respectful terms. The character was steadily developing in his own series and these guest appearances reflect that well.

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