Monday, October 30, 2017


SEPTEMBER 11th, 1978 – NOVEMBER 19th, 1978
NOVEMBER 20th, 1978 – JANUARY 28th, 1979
By Stan Lee & John Romita

Spider-Man’s latest newspaper adventure finds his greatest fear realized, as a mysterious young woman discovers his street clothes — with ID inside, thus revealing his secret identity to her — in an alleyway while he’s busy stopping a robbery across the street. The entire story hinges on a silly premise, though: Peter, wired late at night after finishing his thesis, decides to go outside and clear his head. Literally every other time he’s done this in the history of creation, it’s meant some web-slinging across the city. But tonight, for some bizarre reason, he decides to go for a jog instead, which leads to his needing to change into Spider-Man when he spots the robbery in progress.

But, false premise aside, this is a pretty fun story as the woman, an ex-model named Vera Arlen, blackmails our hero with her knowledge of his true identity into harassing her former employer, beauty magnate Raymond Dexter, who replaced her as his company’s top model with a younger woman when the public demanded a new face for his products. Vera, leaving Dexter’s office in a huff, was disfigured by some chemicals and holds him responsible.

Thanks to the circles in which Dexter travels, there are some fun seventies styles on display in this arc. Big, wavy hair on all the men and women, open shirts for everyone (again, men and women alike, so cleavage connoisseur Stan* was probably pleased with this one), etc. In fact, this is probably the most seventies-looking of all the story arcs so far — and to me, as a lover of that decade’s distinctive, if often tacky, visuals, that’s never a bad thing.

Interestingly, what with the all the “disfigured model/mystery woman harassing a guy in the beauty/fashion industry/high society” stuff going on this arc, I felt like I was reading an alternate universe version of Roger Stern’s Belladonna stories from SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, which were published a year or so after this material. Perhaps Stern had read these strips and used them as inspiration for his own story…?

Subsequently, Peter decides to hang up his costume rather then continue to struggle with a secret identity. No longer playing Spider-Man gives him far more free time than usual, which he uses to begin wooing his classmate, Carole. She brings Peter to the hottest new disco in town, Perdition, which just happens to be owned by Harry Osborn and Flash Thompson (making their first appearances in the strip in over a year, since the Rattler arc circa July of 1977).

How Peter’s friends can afford the overhead for a dance club isn’t explained at all, which seems unusual. I mean, sure, the comic book version of Harry is the son of a wealthy chemical magnate, but Norman Osborn hasn’t been seen or mentioned at all since the strip began. It seems plausible he has the same backstory here as in the original stories, having been the Green Goblin and perished in battle with Spider-Man, and I don’t expect Lee and Romita to dedicate an in-depth flashback to the history of a character many strip readers might never have heard of, but still — some lip service explaining just how Harry and Flash managed to buy and open a disco would have been appreciated.

(By the way, for those wondering exactly what Spider-Man was up to on the very day I was born, that just happens to be the moment Flash and Harry revealed to Peter that they were the club’s owners! Pretty auspicious, if you ask me.)

Meanwhile, the Kingpin, still in prison since his last appearance, has summoned a mobster named Spencer from Miami to help him gain revenge on Spider-Man. When a riot breaks out at Perdition and Peter is forced into action (sticking to the shadows since he doesn’t have his costume handy), Spencer and his right-hand man, Monk, decide that they can lure the web-slinger into the open by bringing even more chaos through the gates of Perdition. This leads to the gangsters forcing themselves in as Harry’s and Flash’s partners by way of selling them “insurance” against accidents.

Meanwhile, thanks to the club’s DJ getting hurt in the initial riot, Peter has been hired on as the new DJ. He “spins platters” with the aid of a remote control device he’s mocked up, thus allowing him to dance the night away with Carole at the same time. But when Spencer’s girlfriend, Judy-Ann, shows interest in Peter, Carole is infuriated (as is Spencer). I think I’ve said it before, but this may be the most soapy of all the story arcs so far, and I can’t help loving it for that reason (along with the overly seventies idea of Peter becoming a discotheque DJ, of course).

In the end, Spider-Man comes out of mothballs when Spencer offers him a thousand dollars to appear at the club and help promote a new dance, the “Spider-Hustle”, created by Judy-Ann. Spencer and Monk capture the web-slinger but he escapes in short order and the villains are arrested.

It seems notable that our past few story arcs (Aunt May’s muggers, Spidey’s secret ID discovered, and now a panic at the disco) have all been relatively “low budget” affairs, reading almost like weekly TV episodes than comic book stories. The villains are street-level civilians. The plots don’t require much in the way of “location shooting” or “special effects”. Maybe I’m nutty, but I like this stuff — not as a guilty pleasure sort of thing, but legitimately. I find that I enjoy the arcs with common criminals a lot more than the stuff with super villains.

Based on the above, it occurs to me that my ideal Spider-Man comic would feature a mix of super villains and normal criminals, probably about 50/50. It’s really hard to even explain why, but I just enjoy seeing a Spider-Man that gets involved in this sort of street level action more often than not. Partly, I suppose, because it makes the super villains feel more special when they do eventually appear — but also because, for whatever reason, I just enjoy seeing Spider-Man up against mobsters, crooks, etc. DC did the same thing with Batman in the seventies, pitting him against one-off villains and organized criminals more than super villains, and I love a lot of that material for the same reason.

Anyway, it looks like the “street level” style is set to continue even further, as our next story arc builds upon this one and sees the Kingpin (remember, he was employing Spencer) return to prominence!

* Mind you, I don’t use this term disparagingly! It’s a distinction which I aspire each and every day.

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