Wednesday, July 16, 2014


A Roger Stern/Jim Mooney Production
Principle Photography: J. Strzltski | Titles: Simek Titles Ltd. | Colors: Sharencolor
Director: Thomas DeFalco | Executive Director: James Shooter

The Plot: A documentary TV series called "On The Trail Of..." makes plans for a show about Spider-Man. Their grip operator, Marty Blank, claims to know where to find the web-slinger.

Meanwhile, in New York, the Beetle puts his new armor through its paces in preparation for his upcoming battle with Spider-Man. Beetle's sensors locate the wall-crawling wonder uptown, and he heads out to challenge his quarry. But the documentary crew, aboard a helicopter, finds Spider-Man at the same time. Marty dons a costume and reveals himself as Spider-Man's one-time opponent, the Gibbon, and leaps from the chopper to attack.

Beetle hangs back to observe the fight between Spider-Man and the Gibbon, then, after Spidey defeats his enemy, Beetle topples a brick wall onto the web-slinger then moves in to finish him off.

The Sub-Plots: After believing he had a chance with Debra following their date last issue, Peter now laments the fact that he recently saw her again with her boyfriend, Biff Rifkin. Peter later explains his girl troubles to Phil Chang, who attempts to take him "cruising for cuties" to cheer him up.

Spider-Man confronts two men who he believes were accosting Peter's new friend Greg Salinger, only to have them reveal themselves as FBI agents and explain to Spidey that Greg is an acquaintance of a criminal suspect. Meanwhile, Greg refers to the agents as "blind, insensitive fools."
Continuity Notes: Peter's date with Deb was "the other night", a.k.a. last issue. He then saw Deb with Biff in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #221.
The Beetle recalls setting the Ringer against Spider-Man last issue, and reminds readers that the Ringer was equipped with sensors which analyzed the web-slinger's fighting style for the Beetle's benefit. Beetle also recalls his defeat at the hands of Iron Man in issue #127 of the Armored Avenger's own series (which was, as some may recall, edited by Roger Stern).

Martin Blank last donned the grotesque garb of the Gibbon in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #111 and 112. Incidentally, Gibbon has the distinction of being the final Spider-villain co-created by Stan Lee and John Romita in Lee's final issue of AMAZING.

Uncle Rog Speaks: "On issue #59, as a goof, I credited Jim [Shooter]’s layouts to J. Strzltski –- that being the spelling of his family’s name pre-Ellis Island. Well, we got a number of letters wondering who this J. Strzltski guy was. One fan wrote, 'You can’t fool me... this is really Steve Ditko working under a pseudonym.' Needless to say, Jim was very flattered." -- THE ROGER STERN INTERVIEW: THE TRIUMPHS AND TRIALS OF THE WRITER, 2006
Spectacular Spider-Mail: Incoming editor Tom DeFalco (who actually made his debut last issue) introduces himself and his assistant, Mark Gruenwald, in a brief text piece, informing readers that for the first time, all the Spider-titles will fall under the stewardship of a single editorial office. About seven years later, DeFalco will be Marvel's editor-in-chief, with Gruenwald as his Executive Editor.

Letters cover issue #56. Readers praise Frank Miller's covers, Stern's sub-plots, Jim Shooter's artwork, and the idea to pit Spider-Man against Jack O'Lantern.

Also On Sale This Month: Spider-Man encounters Ramrod in AMAZING #221, then MARVEL TEAM-UP #110 finds Spidey and Iron Man -- together!

My Thoughts: For years I thought this cover, by Bob Wiacek, was just inexplicably ugly. Turns out it's actually explicably ugly. It's an homage to AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #10, a cover featuring perhaps the most awkwardly-drawn Spider-Man ever to come from Steve Ditko's pencil. However the Enforcers, also pictured on Ditko's cover, are very nicely drawn and naturally posed. The shadowy figures on this cover, on the other hand, area bout as awkward as Ditko's Spidey on the other cover. Was Wiacek trying to make a point somehow, by keeping the awkwardness but transplanting it from one figure to the others? I'd like to think so, but I doubt it.

At any rate, the cover does accomplish the unexpected feat of making Jim Shooter's lackluster interiors look very nice by comparison, so I guess it has that going for it. Don't get me wrong -- Shooter's work here is not awful. In fact, these are probably the best layouts of his three issues on the series. But following from that lovely John Byrne issue we covered last time, Shooter can't help but suffer by comparison.
Unfortunately, the story isn't that much better. It suffers from "middle chapter" syndrome, a problem practically bonking readers over the head thanks to a peculiar scene in which Spider-Man stops an illegal drag race through Manhattan. The scene adds nothing to the story, furthers no sub-plots, and generally reads like Stern just needed to fill a couple extra pages. I can't help thinking those pages might have been better served by a scene showing us Debra's boyfriend Biff rather than yet another instance of Peter thinking about him. I realize Biff was showing up in AMAZING at the time, but someone reading SPECTACULAR in isolation might appreciate an appearance from the fella now that he's apparently become such a big source of angst for Peter.

And then there's the Gibbon. I can't imagine anyone was clamoring for his return, and even if they were, this doesn't seem the best way to bring him back. He serves the story purpose of unwittingly distracting Spider-Man, allowing the Beetle to strike, but that role could've been filled by an innocent bystander as well. Nothing about this story calls for a second villain (or really a third, after the Ringer's outing last time). I will withhold judgment until we get to issue #60, which I haven't read in quite some time, but at this point the Beetle storyline feels like it could have easily been only two chapters instead of three.

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