Monday, November 13, 2017


JULY 16th, 1979 – OCTOBER 7th, 1979
OCTOBER 8th, 1979 – DECEMBER 23rd, 1979
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Kraven’s back! And for all the praise I heaped on the prior “Cult of Loomis” installment for its sophistication relative to the strip’s standard fare, this storyline goes in the opposite direction. But, while the plot is a little simplistic and silly, the arc is no less entertaining than the web-slinger’s exploits against the cult.

The basic story is that Kraven decides it’s time to hunt Spider-Man again, so he returns to New York (accompanied by his assistant and apparent lover, Mary Jane*), and gets Jonah Jameson to spread the word that Spider-Man is a space alien who Kraven will expose. The public quickly turns on our hero and he eventually agrees to have his blood tested on live television to prove his humanity. He succeeds and is declared an Earthling, but Kraven never truly thought him an extraterrestrial in the first place. The entire scam was a ruse to get hold of the wall-crawler’s blood and create a “jungle potion” which will sap our hero’s strength.

But Spider-Man gets the better of Kraven in the end, and the hunter’s honor demands once more that he call off the hunt and go home. Mary Jane elects to remain in New York with Peter, and despite his lovesickness over the missing Carole, our young hero is in excellent spirits as his adventure ends.

Along the way, we have a sub-plot in which Kraven tries to use Peter to lure him to Spider-Man, resulting in some cool cat-and-mouse action around Manhattan, plus we check in with Harry and Flash, who have converted their nightclub, Perdition, into a roller disco. The Spider-Hustle dance, introduced a few story arcs back, is retired to make way for a new number called the Hero’s Hunt, in honor of Kraven. Peter also receives a letter from Carole explaining why she’s gone into hiding, and he makes enough money from his TV appearance to send Aunt May to Bermuda.

And now, as she returns to the serial, let’s talk Mary Jane: I like this version of the character, based as she is upon the original Stan Lee/John Romita incarnation. Mary Jane’s not dumb or spacey, but she is a bit of a ditz, or maybe, depending on your definition of the word, a bimbo. I think that’s fine. Later writers would do a great deal to flesh her out, giving her a personality and a past to justify her flakey exterior — and since she was going to be married to Peter Parker within a few years of those revelations, the development was necessary. But just the same, I like classic MJ quite a bit.

It occurs to me that pretty much no adaptation has ever gone with this Mary Jane, either. I don’t necessarily mean making her airheaded or vapid, but making her a party girl. She was fairly tame and soft-spoken in the SPIDER-MAN cartoon series of the nineties. The Sam Raimi movies made her a wholesome “girl next door” (literally). This year’s SPIDER-MAN: HOMECOMING gave us an MJ who is a sarcastic introvert. I suspect a lot of adaptations since the turn of the century have looked to Brian Michael Bendis’s ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN to inform their handling of the character.

But just once, I’d like to see an on-screen version of MJ who follows the Lee/Romita template. Flesh her out, of course. Deepen her personality and make her more than a shallow partier. But at the same time, present her the way she was originally conceived: a brazen bombshell who turns heads when she enters the room. An outgoing flirt with aspirations to become a model or an actress. A modern version of Mary Jane would probably be an Instagram/Snapchat fiend and celebrity Twitter worshipper. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I really don’t understand why nobody seems interested in exploring that version of the character. Part of what’s great about the Peter/MJ relationship is that he’s such a wallflower, but he winds up with this super-hot, over-the-top outgoing girl. And I’d love to see that dynamic explored someday, in some adaptation of Spider-Man’s story.

With that said, we move along now to an arc the good ol’ BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book titled “He Prowls by Night”, as Lee and Romita introduce newspaper Spider-Man to a character they had created together on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN a decade earlier. We open with some sub-plot strips featuring Peter and Mary Jane growing closer, but when an intimate moment is interrupted by a frantic phone call from Carole, who drops the line before speaking with Peter when she realizes a suspicious figure is watching her, our hero’s thoughts drift back to his missing girlfriend and the villainous Cult of Loomis.

Soon, Peter meets the villain of our saga, the Prowler, as Lee and Romita adapt the character’s first appearance from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 78 – 79 into comic strip format. The costumed character shows up at the Daily Bugle to speak with Jonah Jameson, but an altercation ensues which sees Peter thrown out the window. Fortunately, Spider-Man “saves” him and returns, but the Prowler escapes.

Oddly, there’s no reason given for the Prowler visiting Jameson here; he just shows up and never has time to explain himself before Peter’s arrival. My recollection from the original issues is that he wanted Jameson to publicize him as he began a crimefighting career, but it’s odd that reasoning doesn’t make into this version of the story.

At this point the story leaves its adaptation behind and moves Spider-Man and the Prowler into an original tale. The Prowler wants to join forces with Spider-Man as a hero and even unmasks himself to the web-slinger as mild-mannered window washer Hobie Brown, but Spidey laughs him off. This, combined with Hobie believing his girlfriend, Mindy, is making time with another man, turns the Prowler to a life of crime, and he makes plans to rob the box office at the “Big Game” in New Jersey.

But Peter and Mary Jane happen to be headed to the game on a date, which results in Spider-Man confronting the Prowler in front of thousands of crazed football fans. When it turns out Hobie was unable to go through with his crime, Spidey lets him go, and in the end, the would-be hero turned would-be villain learns that Mindy was not cheating on him after all, and gets a cushy job at her company.

As a kid, this was my very first exposure to the Prowler in the BEST OF SPIDER-MAN book. I loved the look of the character, and I seem to recall that this was my favorite arc in that old collection. Due to seeing the Prowler fighting Spider-Man along with bad guys like Doctor Octopus and the Kingpin, I had a sense that the character was a much bigger deal than was actually the case. But regardless, this arc got me to pick up any Spider-Man comics I saw featuring the Prowler, which is partly how I got into reading Gerry Conway’s WEB OF SPIDER-MAN and SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN in the late eighties — early in Conway’s run, the Prowler appeared in WEB #50 along with several other vigilantes who united as the Outlaws, and -- though I had picked up the "Inferno" issues of both a few months earlier -- I came on board more-or-less regularly for that story, sticking around for a great deal of Conway’s run on both titles, collected mostly off of spinner racks at the local 7-11 and Safeway stores.

So in a way, you could say that the Prowler, specifically his newspaper incarnation, paved the way for me becoming a regular, monthly reader of Spider-Man comics!

* Yup, Mary Jane and Kraven! Remember, she was quite smitten with him in his first appearance. When this arc begins, they seem fairly close, almost like a couple, but it’s hard to tell. However, in the finale, after Kraven is defeated, it’s pretty explicit in dialogue that MJ is breaking up with him. “Hey, we always said ‘no strings,’ right?” she asks him, before adding, “’Sides, I’ve got this yen for Peter Parker!” In response, Kraven says, “You’d desert Kraven for a nobody like Parker?”

So, yeah… MJ and Kraven, out on the road together, knockin’ leopard-skin boots. It should be noted this is something where, if a modern Marvel writer did it, I’d call it the dumbest thing ever — but since Stan Lee did it (and since it does feel more appropriate for his version of MJ as discussed above) — I’m totally fine with it.

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