Monday, July 14, 2014


Writer: Roger Stern | Penciler: John Byrne | Inker: Vince Colletta
Letterer: Jean Simek | Colorist: Ben Sean | Editor: Tom DeFalco
Editor-in-Chief: Jim Shooter

The Plot: At a lab that once belonged to the Tinkerer, the criminal called the Ringer picks up his newly refurbished costume. But another, mysterious villain enters, takes out the Ringer, then leaves the lab with both him and a large crate in tow. Later, the shadowy figure instructs the Ringer to find and battle Spider-Man or he will be blown up by a device attached to his costume.

The Ringer finds Spider-Man web-swinging across the city and challenges him. The wall-crawler trounces the Ringer and leaves for a date, then returns later to finish the villain off. The "explosive device" self-destructs after their fight but proves to be a hoax, leaving the Ringer unharmed.

Later, the mysterious figure, having gathered data on Spider-Man via hidden sensors attached to the Ringer's armor, reveals himself as the Beetle and announces his plans to challenge Spider-Man.

The Sub-Plots: As he wanders the Empire State University campus, Peter encounters a freshman named Greg Salinger, who refers to the people at the registrar's office as "fools". Peter's lecture eventually wins Greg over and the pair seem to be off to a genuine friendship.

Later, as Peter and Greg wander through one of the university's common areas, a nearby television advertises a TV documentary series called "On The Trail Of...", whose upcoming season will feature a spotlight on Spider-Man.

Following his mistreatment of Marcy Kane, Steve Hopkins has been placed on mock-trial by his fellow teaching assistants, plus Dr. Sloan. His sentence is a pie in the face from the esteemed chemistry professor. Soon after, Marcy reveals her new brunette locks to the assembled group.

Peter and Debra Whitman have a date at Benihana, where Peter informs deb that all those times he stood her up and/or ran out on her, he didn't actually realize he was doing so (???). Deb takes this in stride, admitting that it was probably all her fault since she thought they were more than friends. Whether intentionally on Stern's part or not, the entire exchange only serves to paint Peter a bigger cad than ever, and Deb as a worse victim than ever.

Continuity Notes: Peter notes that has survived an entire term as a teaching assistant. From what I can gather, Peter started this job circa issue #32, meaning that 26 issues have comprised the past term. However I'm not sure how long a term is at ESU, so this doesn't really tell us a lot.

The Tinkerer's lab is said to have been shut down in issue #53, which was the fill-in by Bill Mantlo that we skipped a couple weeks ago.

The Ringer made his debut and only previous appearance in DEFENDERS #51, where he notes that he had to have his teeth replaced following his encounter with that team.
Readers are reminded that Steve's removal of Marcy's headgear occurred last issue.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "...John [Byrne] was slated to become the regular penciler on the book. We wanted to work together again after [CAPTAIN AMERICA], and he figured that he could easily pencil SPECTACULAR and write and pencil FANTASTIC FOUR. But then, he wound up having to ink the FF as well. And because the deadlines were getting tighter, he had to give up SPECTACULAR -– at least until he could get the FF ahead of schedule. And by that time, I had moved on to AMAZING." -- THE ROGER STERN INTERVIEW: THE TRIUMPHS AND TRIALS OF THE WRITER, 2006

John Byrne Speaks: "At [Jim] Shooter's instruction, Vinnie [Colletta] redrew a lot in that issue. Especially the female faces." -- Forum post, 2008

(As with any John Byrne quote, I must remind readers to take this statement with a grain of salt! However there are a number of faces in the issue which don't look like pure Byrne, so there's at least some truth to his story.)

Also On Sale This Month: Spider-Man and Moon Knight spend some quality time together in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #220, then the web-slinger hangs with Dazzler in MARVEL TEAM-UP #109, and Spidey and the Punisher take on Dr. Octopus in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #15.

My Thoughts: Thanks to the guest pencils of John Byrne, fresh off his definitive take on THE UNCANNY X-MEN and about to begin an equally definitive run on FANTASTIC FOUR, this is possibly the best-looking of all Stern's stories thus far. And Stern is in excellent form as well, beginning a three-part "Beetle trilogy" while seeding new sub-plots and bringing older ones to an end.

The coda to the clumsily executed Marcy Kane storyline is, I suppose, somewhat necessary, if only to let readers know, at long last, that it's finally over. At the same time, the introduction of Greg Salinger plants a seed which Stern will carry into AMAZING SPIDER-MAN when he assumes control of that title just a couple months from now. Stern even works in a reference to the fill-in issue we didn't cover, as noted above, by way of the Ringer and Beetle both retrieving their revamped battlesuits from the Tinkerer's old buiding.
The relationship between Debra and Peter continues to confound, however, as Peter basically tells Deb that he's been acting the douche lately because he is a douche and she happily accepts this explanation, even offering to take some blame for Peter's awful behavior. I still assume that Stern has remained in a holding pattern on their relationship for so long thanks to Denny O'Neil's co-opting Deb for AMAZING, but if that's the case, a better solution might simply have been to drop her from SPECTACULAR and let O'Neil have her.

Regardless of that one fault, the issue's main story is a lot of fun. I like the occasional adventure where a hero meets someone so far below their league that they have to laugh, and the Ringer is just such an opponent. At no point in the story does Spider-Man take this guy seriously. He even leaves him at large for a while to make his date with Debra, then goes back to finish the fight later. The fact that Stern is able to use this joke villain as a pawn to set up the Beetle's return makes the story even more successful, giving readers both the jokey villain they crave and a legitimate threat in the wings.

Every so often things have to go just right for Spider-Man. We want to see him succeed on every level -- heroically, professionally, and personally -- once in a while, if only to set him up for further disasters and tragedies down the road. And this issue accomplishes just that in spades, with beautiful artwork to boot.

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