Monday, April 23, 2012

Return of the Goblin -- Amazing Spider-Man 134

Amazing Spider-Man #134 (July 1974)
"Danger is a Man Named... Tarantula!"
Gerry Conway-Ross Andru/Frank Giacoia/Dave Hunt

Doug: As we wind down our third year of bloggin' atcha, consider this series a bookend. You may remember that we followed our last anniversary with one of the cornerstones of the Bronze Age -- the deaths of Gwen Stacy and the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #'s 121-122. Almost a year later we'll spend four weeks observing the legacy of that story -- the rise (and fall) of the Son of the Goblin, Harry Osborn. We begin with two issues that contain foreshadowing/teasers, and then we'll hit the good stuff in Amazing Spider-Man #s 136-137.

Doug: We open today's fare with our hero web-swinging toward a dock on the Hudson River. Late as Pete happens to be from time-to-time, there's a rush to get earthside to meet MJ, Flash, and Liz Allen -- an all-day cruise is the plan for the day. Pete remarks to himself that he only has one web cartridge left -- would we have it any other way? How many issues of ASM do you suppose there have been where Spidey didn't have a webbing malfunction, was sick, or had previously wrenched some body part out of socket? Feet of clay, indeed! Once at the boat there's some smalltalk and pleasantries, and our four friends board.

Karen: When I was a kid (and even now I suppose) my impression of Manhattan is one of a typical filthy big city, and it's all because of Marvel Comics! This issue is a good example: Peter switches clothes in an alley full of garbage cans and debris. Your point regarding Webhead's woes is well taken; Conway was still carrying on Stan Lee's tradition of constantly plaguing poor Peter with every type of problem, so he always seemed to have some sort of handicap when facing his enemies.

Doug: As the cruiser hits open water (well -- open for a river that is), Pete reminisces about his most recent exploits against Doc Ock and the Molten Man. His spider-sense tingles as he looks at a couple of toughs standing at the rail a deck above, but Pete's not going to let anything spoil his day. Right. You know the drill: suddenly a commotion breaks out where the rough boys were and Flash Thompson is going to find out what's going on! But when he gets to the top of the stairs, he's greeted by three banditos -- the Tarantula announces himself, along with the two dudes Pete was suspicious of, and tells everyone that if they don't want trouble they had better cooperate.

Karen: The flashback/exposition is woven in pretty easily, and doesn't really detract from the story. I thought it was a bit hilarious though when Tarantula proclaims himself, but then introduces his assistants, Juan and Hidalgo! What, no cheezy names for the henchmen? Also note how Mary Jane is depicting: she's excited about the hijacking! She really was quite different from Gwen, wasn't she?

Doug: Cue Pete to duck out of sight and change over to Spider-Man. As he comes back to the fray, the engine room boys have come up to avenge their fallen comrades on the crew. We get to see why Tarantula thinks he's a dangerous bloke -- steel-tipped shoes, coated in some chemical, make short work of the would-be heroes. As one of the sailors gets tossed overboard, Spidey reacts quickly. Webbing a bridge, he swings out over the water and snatches the man. Looping his way up onto the bridge, Spidey leaves the man in safety. As he sets himself to web back down to the boat, guess what happens -- yep. No web fluid! I don't know about you, but I guess since the breadth of real danger to the passengers (including Pete's three friends) was not yet known I would have placed Spider-Man back on that boat asap. Nope -- instead, Pete decides he needs web fluid!

Karen: Spidey has a real thing with bridges, doesn't he? I think the reason he didn't go after the boat immediately was that it had gotten too far away for him to jump after it. And maybe Pete just feels insecure without his webbing? Mostly I suppose it was a way for Conway to set-up the later stories with Harry. I thought the fact that no one would give Spider-Man a lift was pretty funny. Scenes like this in the comics also affected the way I thought of New Yorkers too.

Doug: Of course nothing's easy when you're Peter Parker, so getting back to his apartment is rife with strife. Along the way, he thinks about how misunderstood he is, about the public and the police thinking he killed Norman Osborn. But, once there Pete ammos-up and hits it back out the window. But wait -- who should enter the room but Pete's roomie, Harry Osborn. Harry mutters to himself that he always suspected Pete was Spider-Man, and Spider-Man killed his father... certainly more to come!

Karen: Pete was awfully nonchalant about entering his and Harry's apartment. And why remove his mask, only to put it back on seconds later? In any case, Harry is clearly whacko and it sets things up for later.

Doug: We've long remarked that one of the best things about reading Amazing Spider-Man is the supporting cast. And what episode would be complete without a look-in on J. Jonah Jameson? Jonah's very excited to receive a call from the mayor of NYC, Abe Beame. That all heads south in a hurry as it's apparent that Beame is telling Jonah about the cruiser hijacking and that the Tarantula has demanded a hefty ransom -- a ransom that the Daily Bugle will be expected to kick into! Jonah's face is priceless. Back on that same boat, Flash has had enough. Trouble is, the Tarantula's henchmen are pretty skilled in martial arts. They are also handy with Latin American weaponry, namely a bullwhip and a bola. As Flash fall, Spidey arrives!

Karen: I gotta admit, this made no sense to me. Why would the mayor approach a newspaper about paying the ransom? I know New York was in financial straits in the 70s but still...does the Bugle haul in that much money? But I guess they had to insert Jameson into this story somehow.

Doug: A pretty good fight scene finishes up this issue. Ross Andru, for my money, draws a pretty Ditko-esque Spider-Man, much more lithe than Romita's (and don't anyone read that I'm denigrating the Jazzy One -- far be it! Romita's Spidey seems more powerful). The fight is well-choreographed, with ol' Webhead tangling with the Tarantula and his goons. Spidey gets the business end of the Tarantula's spikes, though, and pays a visit to la-la land. But before he blacks out, he spies a newcomer to the festivities -- the Punisher! This closing splash was the character's second appearance -- funny to think of that, as big as he got in the 1990's.

Karen: Although I've never been a real fan of Andru's, the fight scene is really dynamic, especially with Spidey trying to keep Flash from harm and taking the brunt of Tarantula's attack. Still, despite those poisoned booties, I never really bought Tarantula as a real threat to Spidey, in this issue or others. But Spidey has had a number of villains that just never seemed like real physical challenges to him (Vulture? Man Mountain Marko? Kingpin?) over the years. The arrival of the Punisher was pretty cool.

Doug: I kept wondering throughout the story exactly how the Tarantula walks in those boots of his?

Doug: Come back next week to see all the ruckus!


J.A. Morris said...

Good write-up, this issue has sentimental attachment as I once received it as part of a birthday gift from my uncle(along with ASM#126, 132,133). Not a bad story either. Tarantula's not the best villain ever, but I applaud Conway for trying to bring in some knew villains during his run, rather than simply relying on the Ditko-era rouges gallery.
But when Tarantula died (in a dramatic fashion), Marvel had no good reason to introduce a "new Tarantula".
I agree with you about the history of Spidey villains who shouldn't be a "physical" threat. I figured the "venom-spiked boots" made up for Tarantula's lack of super-strength.

I'm with Karen, I visited New York a few times as a little kid, but I got most of my New York "imagery" from Marvel. When I was in NY last Fall, my wife made a comment about how she "almost expected to see Spider-Man swinging above us", and she's not a huge comic fan. I've said it here before, but that's one reason while I'll always prefer Marvel over DC. Which gives me another excuse to recommend 'The Marvel Comics Guide To New York'.

I agree that having the Mayor ask Jameson to pay the ransom was a stupid way to get the Bugle involved with the plot. It feels like something that would've happened in the Silver Age of comics rather than the Bronze.

And what a great Romita cover on 134!

Edo Bosnar said...

I started reading the Marvel Tales reprints regularly when the death of Gwen story started, and I really liked all of these stories - didn't even mind the occasionally lame villains like Tarantula or the rather risible Grizzly.
As for New York, not only did the various Marvel comics entirely color my perceptions of the city, they also made me want to live there - instead of in the 'boonies' in Oregon about 15 miles away from the nearest sizable city.

david_b said...

This issue was great, especially squeezed in between the Molten Man and Harry's dramatic Goblin debut, but it was the start of missing regular issues of my titles, not sure due to local distribution changes or what not, but it spelled the final issues of my initial, crazed Marvel Bronze collecting.

I too loved the somewhat formulamatic fabric of Peter's 'world of realism', of the webshooters either clogging, out of web-fluid, hiding his clothes on rooftops, changing behind garbage cans, irrate New Yorkers, cab drivers. And somehow, managing to throw in a JJJ bit somewhere for all us Bugle office fans. All that was missing for me was the Romita warmth in the story panels, but that's just my personal opinion on otherwise wonderful Andru art.

I thought the Tarantula was an awesome Bronze villain, fitting right in with Luke Cage, Iron Fist, and the host of new characters in the Bronze MU. I didn't track him too much after this, but I know he showed up a few more times.

Lemnoc said...

IIRC, NYC was seriously debauched in the mid- to late-1970s, as were many cities, through some misappropriation at the federal level. I recall the old "Barney Miller" show depicting an NYPD about as rundown as might be imagined, with power shortages and sewage overflows and garbage strikes.

I agree with the reviewers that Spidey went through a whole period here when he struggled against silly animal foes like the Tarantula who were not at all in his class or league. The Grizzly, the Kangaroo. Heck, even Professor Warren dressed as honey badger knocked the beejesus out of him.

When Shocker showed up it was almost a relief to feature a bad guy f'once who might arguably be in Spider-Man's class.

Lemnoc said...

One other item that should be noted, look closely and the big T's red-&-black costume eerily predates and suggests Spidey's own infamous black-&-white threads change.

humanbelly said...

Although Peter's really somewhat too old to make the comparison truly apt, as the parent of an overly-busy teenaged son (heading to college), I can now COMPLETELY buy the whole, never-ending "forgot my web cartridges/forgot to change out of my costume/forgot where I left my clothes/forgot to set-up or retrieve my camera/forgot to meet MJ for our date, etc, etc" schtick that plagued Peter relentlessly for most of his career through the bronze age. As a kid, I rolled my eyes at it-- now I see that it was a piercingly true depiction of real life--- sheesh-!

The one small detail in this story that I still find awfully questionable, especially considering the umpteen million times it's been leaned on as a shortcut for foreshadowing in Spidey's books, is his yet-again failing to heed his own spider-sense. Good lord. Hardly 3 issues could ever go by w/out Pete disregarding it for some reason, only to have his non-diligence blow right up in his face-- this issue included. When considered at all, his spider-sense would appear to have been wrong exactly zero times since he acquired it-- and yet he's always all-too-willing to assume that it's having an unprecedented "malfunction" of some sort.

Nope-- never bought it. Just found it kinda irritating.

(end minor, geeky rant)


Doug said...

HB: As a kid, I rolled my eyes at it-- now I see that it was a piercingly true depiction of real life--- sheesh-!

But, we must always remember --

With great power comes great responsibility.

Nuff said!


PS: HB, with a senior of my own doing his best to pain my rear end in these last weeks of high school, I can definitely relate to your story above!

david_b said...

A lot of this 'city image' was cultivated everywhere in movies and TV.. I remember Baretta, Kojak, 'French Connection', all those gritty "neo-realist"-type views of NY.. With both muggings in Central Park and financial problems, it was a prevailing look at that area.

It wasn't until shortly later after Mayor Beame left that Ed Koch really started PR drives to improve the image.

Anonymous said...

Marvel comics are the reason why I always set our super hero toleplaying games in NYC.

--Matt alias Anonymous

I also thought Tarantula was a nice break from the usual bank robber types. I regret not getting his doll when I saw it a while back.

Redartz said...

Karen- Like your observation about Mary Jane's attitude in this issue. She really developed as a character in the 70's, becoming one of the most interesting, complex women in the Marvel universe. I give a lot of credit to Gerry Conway, Len Wein and Roger Stern for this evolution...

Fred W. Hill said...

I found this story more interesting for the variety of little things going on with his supporting cast than for the main story. The Tarantula was a grade C type villain; he can be interesting in short dosages but certainly not what I would regard as a classic villain. Otherwise, what really grabbed me was Peter & Flash actually developing a friendship and that little tidbit where it appears Flash may actually be harboring the idea that Peter could be Spider-Man -- sure he quickly dismisses it in this scene but he's not a brainless clod and he certainly remembers when Peter punched him out in high school and only his pride convinced him that Peter just got lucky. Conway didn't follow up on this much but it might've been fun to see the consequences if he had figured it out. Of course, the consequences of good ol' crazy Harry verifying what he already suspected would prove nearly tragic. Seems Peter was entirely too distracted to pay sufficient attention to Harry's mental state and the potential danger he posed. Sure, Peter was still overcoming his grief at Gwen's death, and trying to keep up with his classes and earn some pay from JJJ, and so on. Still, he might've pondered, "hmmm, Harry is not only no longer friendly but decidely hostile, and considering that his father was a homicidal maniac who murdered my girlfriend, maybe I should move before my roomie takes after his father and tries to kill me!" But in real life, as in fiction, people routinely don't think too clearly.

Anonymous said...

Tarantula is at least as good as the Vulture or Kraven. Grade B at worst!

Lemnoc said...

Fred W. Hill said... "the variety of little things going on with his supporting cast than for the main story."

Seems like one of the things that typified ASM in this era was the willingness of the creative staff to fit together old pieces of the puzzle in new configurations to see what worked.

Thus they widened both Flash and Harry, more fully brought in Ned Leeds, deepened Robbie (where he now took on some of the mentor features of Capt. Stacy), filed down some of the raw caricature off JJJ, and added some complexity to MJ.

We're only a few issues into that era where MJ arrives up on the scene (in an airport from an overseas adventure IIRC) and there is some awareness in Petey that he has long suppressed feelings for her, followed by confession of said. There was a bit of a back and forth soap opera where she ran cold, then hot; and he vice versa.

The charge she gets from being in danger here slots well with her later reveal to Mr. P that his Clark Kent-iness never really fooled her, ever, and she wasn't kidding when she called him Tiger.

Going on in and around this time frame was the daily newspaper strip, which really fleshed out their relationship to a much fuller degree (and IIRC her awareness came there first, after she spotted dirty footprints covering his walls and ceiling--an **EXCELLENT** bit of wonderful detail--and moved from there into the four-color book).

MJ always was a fine, sizzling brazier of fiery hotness, and they never actually did knock apart those coals in the Bronze Age, as they did with Betty and Gwen (seemed Peter's official love interests had to be tamed and tamped down from volcanic). It makes what they later did to their relationship (the best in comics IMO) all the more tragic.

Something built so fine, then knocked to pieces by inferiors so arrogantly certain they knew what they were doing.

Rip Jagger said...

I really liked the Ross Andru Spidey era. Like one of the reviewers said, he neatly blended the oddball figure work of Ditko with the spectacular dynamics of Romita. In addition, I hold that no artist since (that I've seen) captured the thrill of Spidey swinging through the cityscape better than Andru.

Rip Off

Fred W. Hill said...

I'd never heard about those "dirty footprints covering his walls and ceiling" before, Lemnoc, but, wow, I wish they had included that in the comics as well!
And, yeah, it was idiotic that they undid Peter & MJ's relationship simply so they could undo decades of progression of both characters and make Peter a perpetually single 20-something. Heck, wasn't it good enough that they'd already created an alternate young, single Ultimate Spidey? Sure, I can understand not wanting to age Peter so much that he becomes the geriatric Ancient Spider-Man (if he was 15 when he was introduced in 1962, he'd be around 65 now!), still for me part of the fun of Spidey, and many other Marvel characters, was seeing them learn, and grow, and, yes, mature. The Spidey at the end of Ditko's run had grown considerably from the awkward young hero introduced in 4 years earlier in Amazing Fantasy #15, and his growth continued, if at a slower pace, under the artistic tenures of Romita, Sr., Kane and Andru. Now it appears not only will Spidey no longer progress, he has actually regressed. Apparently the powers that be will keep it under control so he won't suffer the original fate of Silvermane circa issue 75.

Chris said...

The Conway/ Andru ASM run is one of my favourites and this issue is a good example of th quality of the run.

Yeah the Tarantula is none too powerful, but coming in-between the Molten Man and the Goblin it's nice to see a new face. Plus as we discover later, Tarantula is basically work-for-hire and Grade A or B villians tend not to do that.

I also love the Romita cover. Classic Bronze Age! It's so busy but just looking at it again makes me excited about reading the issue again.

Looking forward to seeing what you say about the next 3 issues.

nude0007 said...

Tarantula had a great costume and was ethnic, and it seemed like they always wanted to forget his spikes were supposed to be deadly poison. Still, I can't imagine someone with less than super speed giving spidey any kind of hard time.

I would guess that he took off his mask to better see in order to change his web cartridges. Ask anyone who ever wore a mask with lenses.

Spidey often hitched a ride on a car by just jumping on the roof and hanging on. he is so light almost no one would notice. I suppose this was strictly for comedic relief.

I never understood why The Punisher never wore a black mask. Even if the police knew who he was, why did he want witnesses to be able to identify him? Hell, it would have been a great defense if he ever made court "It was a guy in a Punisher costume and a black mask. No, sir, I didn't see his face. It could have been anybody."

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