Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Karen's Favorites: Marvel Tales 33

Marvel Tales #33 (Feb 1971)
"Spidey Smashes Out!"
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita

Karen: Recently Doug started us off on th
is semi-regular feature where we review some of our favorite books by recounting his love for Avengers 28. He noted that he couldn't recall if he'd read the original issue or the reprint version in Marvel Triple Action. Certainly for those of us who began reading comics around the early 70s, there were a number of reprint books available to help us fill in our gaps in our Marvel education. I always picked up Marvel's Greatest Super-Heroes, which featured the Fantastic Four, and Marvel Tales, which featured Spider-Man. It didn't take long to figure out that these were adventures that had taken place years before. I'm not sure how I knew, but I knew. There was a sort of thrill for me, learning about the history of what was-even then -a complex universe full of inter-connected characters. Although I was reading Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Tales at the same time, it was John Romita's Spidey that imprinted itself on my brain. His athletic Spidey, cute Peter, and gorgeous Gwen and Mary Jane are the versions that always come first to mind.
Karen: This particular issue was, I think, my first of Marvel Tales. I read it so many times, the cover got torn off and ripped up. I taped the thing back together, and years later, purchased a nicer copy out of sentimentality. The things that impressed me then are what really define Spider-Man to me even to this day: Spidey has a lot of hard breaks, but he keeps going. Even if he has to fight with a broken arm, he will, because of his sense of responsibility.

Karen: This particular issue collects
two issues of Amazing Spider-Man: numbers 45 and 47. Yes, they skipped issue 46, which featured the Shocker. Seems kind of odd. But I'll just be reviewing the story from #45, as that's the one that really made an impact on me. I'm actually using the Spidey DVD for this review.

Karen: Our story begins with Spidey sporting a bum left wing, the result of fighting the Lizard in the previous issue. As he searches for his reptilian foe, he breaks up a high-jacking, and receives the thanks of a grateful trucker. But his mind is on the Lizard, who is actually his friend Dr. Curt Connors.Across town, the Lizard breaks into his family's high rise Manhattan apartment, searching Connor's lab for notes that will allow him to turn other reptiles into reptile-human hybrids. Seems ol' Liz thinks he is a mutated lizard! He's unaware of the fact that he is actually Connors and talks about him in the third person. His wife hides in a darkened bedroom with their son as the creature tears up the lab, frustrated that he can't understand any of the doctor's scientific notes.

Karen: Back at the Daily Bugle, Fredrick Foswell is planning to take on his 'Patch' identity so he can tail peter Parker, to discover how he gets so many pictures of Spider-Man. But this is nipped in the bud by J. Jonah Jameson, who sends Foswell out to find the Lizard. JJJ also reprimands Ned Leeds and Betty Brant, who are making wedding plans on their coffee break. "I work my fingers to the bone, keeping the newpaper together just to provide jobs for everyone---and that's the thanks I get!" Ah, classic JJJ. It's interesting how the book follows all of Peter's supporting cast, even when he's not in a scene with them. But of course his cast was just as important to the book as any super-villain.

Karen: Our hero is back in his civilian ID, and fretting ab
out his bum wing. Since Spidey has been seen with his left arm in a sling, will people make the connection between Spidey and Peter? Peter tries to go without the sling an d act normally but his arm hurts too much. Finally, he gets a little angry and puts on the sling, and decides to claim he injured his arm on his motorcycle. He runs into Flash Thompson and Harry Osbourne, and the excuse goes over without a problem. Flash soon leaves to have coffee with Gwen. Harry tells Peter that Gwen is throwing a party for Flash, because he just received his induction notice. When I read that, it made me stop a moment. He was drafted. To fight in Viet Nam. Think about how incredible that must have seemed when this story was originally published (1967). Is it any wonder that Marvel appealed to older readers far more than DC? Anyway, Peter asks why Gwen didn't ask him herself and Harry replies that they haven't seen much of him since Mary Jane's been around. At this point, Peter was not dating Gwen yet -but even here, he's already thinking about her that way. Peter explains that it's not only Mary Jane that's been keeping him busy - he spent all his dough to send Aunt May on vacation, so he's been taking a lot of pictures for the Bugle. Harry suggests that his Dad could use a gifted chemistry student like Peter, and Peter says he'll consider it.This was kind of surprising, since he already knows Osborn is the Goblin!

Karen: Later, Peter switches to Spidey a
nd takes to the skyscrapers to search for the Lizard again. But he's getting nothing from his spider-sense. He goes into the sewers too, but finds zip. Finally, he checks out the zoo, since he knows the Lizard wants to command an army of reptiles. It seems pointless, but then he spots a sign for an exhibit of "The world's largest collection of reptiles." The exhibit is gone, but he discovers it is being loaded onto a train bound for Philadelphia. He races off to the train depot and immediately his spider-sense goes off. He spots the Lizard on top of a train car and tackles him, and the two of them go flying. Spidey really pounds away at Liz, realizing that he has to press his advantage while he has the upper hand. But the Lizard's hide is too tough -he barely feels the blows. One of the things I like here is that the Lizard is not gigantic (unlike the new film, where he is of Hulk-like proportions). But he's definitely not human, and Romita does a nice job portraying his thick, scaly hide. You just know how much it must hurt to even punch him!

en: The Lizard swats Spidey away with his powerful tail and tears out a piece of railroad track and tries to hit Spidey, but our hero quickly jumps up and plants a blow to the Lizard's gut. Even then, he thinks how he can't help but pull his punches, knowing that his enemy is actually Dr. Connors. It sure seems like Spidey had this problem more than any other hero! The Lizard, The Goblin, and a variety of other foes all received Spidey's sympathy.

Karen: The Lizard shakes off the blow and whacks Spidey with a two-fisted blow to the head. Everything is spinning for our hero, as his reptilian foe lifts him overhead an
d hurls him into the side of a rail car. This whole fight sequence is so dynamic, so fluid. Romita really makes you feel every blow. Turning from Spider-Man, the Lizard tears open a car to let loose hundreds of snakes and crocodiles -apparently they were all just shoved in there together! The Lizard is able to actually command them all (a power I had forgotten until re-reading this story) and there's a great shot of all these cold-blooded nasties coming after Spidey.

Karen: As Spidey is facing an army of foes, Mary Jane accompanies her
Aunt Anna as she brings a pot of soup over to Pete's place, but they discover he's not there. Romita makes Mary Jane positively glow here -she's beautiful and full of life. Earlier in the book we got a shot of Gwen while Peter was thinking of her, and she's just as beautiful, but with a softer look to her. Of all the artists at Marvel in the 60s, I don't think there's any doubt that Romita drew the most gorgeous women. He was well suited to the romance comics he once drew. But I'm glad he switched to super-heroes!

Karen: Meanwhile, Spidey is trying to figur
e out how he can beat all the reptiles attacking him. He grabs a snake and uses it as a whip. The Lizard yells a warning to the reptiles and Spidey gets off a typical quip: "Knock it off Liz! They're doing fine without help from you!" Spidey gets the bright idea to grab a croc by the tail and swing it around to bash all the other animals. It works and he's given himself a little break, but then he sees that the train is taking off and the Lizard is going with it. Although he's nearly exhausted, he reminds himself that this about more than just winning a fight -he has to save Dr. Connors. He jumps onto the train and kicks Liz in the face, and an idea comes to him about how to beat him. He taunts the Lizard into chasing him. I have to say, a lot of my enjoyment of Spider-Man has always come from his smart-Alec remarks in the midst of battle, and nobody did it better than Stan. Here's an exchange I just love:

Lizard: Stand still, you weakling! Stand there and fight!

Spider-Man: I'd love to, Liz, but I'm just a bundle of nerves! How about if we just call each other nasty names?

Karen: Spidey goads the Lizard to chase him atop the train until he reaches a particular car. He dives in through a hatch on the roof and the Lizard follows. Spidey lays into him, thinking he has to keep him busy before he figures out where he is. It looks like the Lizard is going to pounce on Spidey, but suddenly his str
ength begins to leave him. It turns out the car is refrigerated. Being cold-blooded, the Lizard take s on the ambient temperature and soon becomes comatose. Spidey seals him in a web-cocoon to keep him just warm enough to stay alive. He pulls the cord to stop the train and asks the train engineer to flag down a t rain heading to New York, saying a man's life depends on it. Surprisingly, the engineer accedes and Spidey heads back to NYC with the Lizard -in his cocoon -slung over his shoulder.

Karen: Spidey carries the Lizard back to the Connors' apartment and c
limbs through the window. He looks through the disheveled lab and finds Connors' notes. Mrs. Connors has overheard him and starts to shout through the door. Spidey explains it's him, and tells her not to come out just yet. He's afraid to get her hopes up. He begins mixing up chemicals, and the Lizard starts to awake inside his web cocoon. Spidey quickly pours the concoction down his throat, and there's a tense moment as Mrs. Connors and son wait to find out what's happening. Then Spider-Man opens the door and Dr. Connors appears! The family is reunited and Connors thanks Spidey.

Karen: The next panel really threw me for a loop as a youngster. You can see it below. The caption says that they're leaving the panel for the readers to write their own dialog! Now if that doesn't have the feel of Silver Age Marvel, I don't know what does! (And yes, I did write in my comic!)

Karen: Pete changes back to his civvies and star
ts walking home. Harry and Mary Jane drive up, but he's so exhausted he doesn't notice them at first. They offer him a ride, but he says it's not far, he'll walk. They pull off and Peter is annoyed with Mary Jane for going out with Harry. "No doubt about it - that chick's as pretty as a pumpkin seed- but about as shallow!" What? 'Pretty as a pumpkin seed'? He has more complaints about MJ, but then begins to have recriminations, thinking that maybe he's just taking out his frustrations on her. Then we get the whole laundry list of problems -money, school, his arm, Aunt May - life was never easy for Peter! When he gets home, Anna Watson is there with the soup -was she waiting all this time? Pete goes inside the house and then really gets angsty, blaming all the problems in his life on his being Spider-Man. At the end of our tale, there's a brief cutaway to the Connors. Dr. Connors wishes he could do something to repay Spider-Man, but his wife says a guy like Spider-Man probably has it made! Oh, if only she knew!

Karen: To me, this is still the quintessential Spider-Man tale: Spidey's personal life is crumbing around him, but he feels driven to not only protect others, but to help people, even his enemies. It's the quality of Spider-Man that makes us all care about him and respect him. This issue is a great example of solid story-telling. The art and the script come together so flawlessly. Lee and Kirby is the team people think of first when they think of SA Marvel, but Lee and Romita were an incredible duo as well. Anyone who thinks Lee was nothing without Kirby needs to look at his Spider-Man work here. It's smart and funny and human. It may be a big super-hero soap opera, but that's what I love about Spidey. His personal life is at leas
t as important as his super-heroic life.

Karen: Just for the heck of it, here's the cover to Amazing Spider-Man #45 -pretty neat, huh?


dbutler16 said...

I love the Spider-Man character, I love his sense of humor and the fact that he's a geek, plus the fact that he's a truly nice guy and basically a "normal" guy (plus I love the costume and I think the "spidey sense" is an incredibly cool and original superpower). However, I've generally found Spider-Man stories to be too much of a soap opera for me. Nobody could have such bad luck! It seems like every issue he's behind in the rent, aunt May needs an operation, JJJ is yelling at him, his girlfriend is mad at him, and he either forgot to put film in his camera for the fight he was just in, or the camera got smashed after a spectacular fight that would have brought him good money. OK, I exaggerate...a little.

Having said that, this looks like a pretty good issue. I do like the Lizard, and Spidey has certainly had some great stories, and I do have a bunch of Spider-Man issues, even though I'm more into teams than individual comics.

david_b said...

Karen, no disagreement here. Grabbing the MT's in the early 70s brought home for me the memories of the Spidey cartoon. Obviously after a while you forget all the shortcomings, and embrace the spirit of which Silver Spidey tales (expecially under Romita's tenure..) were all about.

Back in the day, my Marvel Tales collecting started a year later with the Kingpin and Vulture stories (with Blackie), but I was fortunate to grab the originals of both ish 44 and 45 in VF condition last year. Granted, they were the pinnacle of semi-soap opera phase dbutler commented on, but all the supporting characters shined greatly. Readers really identified not only with Peter, but with his friends and co-workers, as if they leaped off the page. It's here they started becoming larger than life, greater than the sum of their parts, per se. These characters exhibited a realism that folks like Sharon Carter and Foggy Nelson rarely reached.

As for the action and pacing, it all resolved to a nice satisfying ending which kept the reader glued. IMHO, both this and the next Lizard 2-parter (#76/77) were the best Lizard stories ever.

Garett said...

Thanks for the review. When I see this one I'll pick it up.

Edo Bosnar said...

I'm really enjoying these 'personal favorite' reviews. Also, I can really identify with the fact that you hold such fond memories for an issue of Marvel Tales. It's similar for me: Marvel Tales #59 was my first issue of any Spider-man comic. Your point about buying another copy of it for sentimental reasons got me thinking that maybe I should do the same - back issues of those '70s reprint titles are incredibly cheap after all.

Anonymous said...

Karen, great review. I can so relate to the sentiments you expressed - the figuring out they were reprints - the learning about the history of all these great inter connected characters in the MU, and on and on.

Thanks for the memories.


Karen said...

Thanks for the comments folks. This was a very sentimental post for me. This book was one of my very first comics and as such it will always be special. Today is also my birthday, and I realize that in my 48 years on the planet, I'm not only still reading comics, but writing about them now too! Who would have thought. While everyone was waiting for me to outgrow them, I simply dug even deeper! I really appreciate the community here and all your interest in the stuff Doug and I do.

Anonymous said...

Too cool. That was the first Spider-Man I ever got. I read it until the covers fell off, then read it some more. Loved both stories.


Anonymous said...


OK now that's out of the way, .... yeah I have a copy of this particular Marvel Tales I bought a couple of years ago. When I had finished reading it I thought to myself "Wow! Great issue of Spidey! Now I can see why his classic tales were so awesome!"

Stan Lee and John Romita Sr. definitely made some magical issues back in the Silver Age. Jazzy John along with co-creator Steve Ditko are IMHO the two definitive Spider-Man artists. And yeah, his renditions of Gwen and Mary Jane were just gorgeous! You could see he was a romance artist previously.

I liked this issue because Spidey used his brains to defeat the Lizard. Luring ol' Liz into a refridgerated box car was simply genius on Stan's part. He would have Peter use his brains again to defeat the Rhino in a later issue by analyzing his hide and (working alongside Curt Connors!)creating a special web fluid to dissolve the Rhino's hide! It was a great way to showcase Peter's ingenuity and scientific genius.

I think this was why Stan made Spidey such a wise cracking hero - Stan realized Peter was a teenager, and he tried to incorporate a teenager's energy and wit into his stories. Although, I have to admit, Stan as a middle aged writer trying to write a teenager's dialogue could sometimes be unsettling. Which 1960s teenagers ever used the term "Daddy-o"? The wise cracks also served to distract and unnerve web-head's enemies.

On the topic of the Lizard in the latest Amazing Spider-Man movie - some thoughts : yeah they really made him HUGE here. This version while still bestial also appears to be more intelligent e.g. operating the device to discharge the gas over the whole city. Some fans have complained about his lack of a snout as in the comics version, but truth be told, I didn't miss it.

PS - Karen, I share your sentiments. I'm 41 and growing up I always thought I would grow out of reading comic-books but I think I'm a bigger fan now than when I was a kid! :)

- Mike from Trinidad & Tobago.

Fred W. Hill said...

Happy birthday, Karen! I just turned 50 last month -- made my debut the same year as Spidey. My Marvel Tales collection started a bit later, with the reprint of Amazing Spider-Man 52, with the return of Doc Ock, although about a decade later I got several earlier issues at ye olde comics shoppes. Anyhow, I likewise quickly fixed on Romita as THE Spidey artist. And I always felt Spidey's large cast was a very important part of the mag, which I why I didn't care too much for some of Len Wein's run wherein entire issues were devoted to Spidey in action with very minimal, if any, appearnace by Peter and none by the supporting cast. Even acknowledging the impact of fewer pages per issue, that just didn't feel like a real Spider-Man issue; more like something the Distinguished Competition would foist on its fans. Of course, it was during Wein's run that Betty & Ned finally got married, well over 100 issues after they were planning the wedding in ish 45! Too bad later Spidey-chroniclers had to turn Ned into a bad guy and kill him off. Just one of the things that turned me off during the post-bronze era.

Doug said...

Well a happy birthday to Karen from me as well! We celebrate only three weeks apart, as I turned 46 in June.

Thanks for the encouragement, Edo. I'm sure in the coming weeks and months Karen and I will revisit our "favorites".

That John Romita could draw, couldn't he?


david_b said...

Special Blessings, Karen, and belated ones to Doug as well. Just turned 49 at end of May myself. Love Karen's comment on folks 'hoping we grow out of it'...

Nope, not happening any time soon.

William said...

First of all Happy B-Day Karen.

I used to love Marvel Tales as well. Before Marvel Masterworks and the digital DVD collections, etc. The reprint comics like Tales, and Marvel's Greatest Super-Heroes were the only way a new reader could experience the older stories. I actually sometimes enjoyed reading the reprint issues more than the stuff that was currently being published. Although back then I loved it all (new and old). But then, that's when comics were still fun to read.

I often think of how much I'm glad that I'm not a kid today, because I probably wouldn't even like comics at all. Comics are the things that I always loved the most growing up, and it would be sad to think I would have missed out on all that awesomeness. I don't even see how kids these days are even into Spider-Man or any super heroes for that matter. It certainly can't be from reading the comics.

Finally, I think I have the answer to one mystery. At the beginning of your review you stated, "It didn't take long to figure out that these were adventures that had taken place years before. I'm not sure how I knew, but I knew." That might be because there was usually a little blurb on the first page that read "Originally presented in…" (Amazing Spider-Man #45 for example). At least that's the way I figured out they were reprinted stories. :)

Edo Bosnar said...

Happy birthday, Karen - albeit a day late now.
I just remembered something I forgot to ask: do you still have your old tattered original copy, or at least remember the dialogue you wrote into that empty panel? I think everybody here would love to see that.

J.A. Morris said...

Happy Birthday Karen and thanks for posting this.

The first comics I ever owned were issues of Spidey Super Stories and things like Richie Rich and Little Dot.

But the first "real" comic I read was Marvel Tales #69:

So I also came to know Spider-Man through these "older" stories. It wasn't until I met a hardcore collector who explained to me that there were these things called "reprints".

Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday Karen! I also have to say I loved your "...outgrow them" comment because my mom used to say that all the time.

William - about the blurb "Originally presented in...", I remember that too. But, I don't think Marvel started using that until well after the issue Karen reviewed here. Even as a kid I used to wonder if, from a marketing standpoint, they thought they could fool us into thinking we were getting something new but then later decided that the fact that these stories were a part of Marvel history was a good thing to let out after all.

Tom (age 50)

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

I remember that issue with Kraven on the cover. I know it was a reprint of the orginal Spidey from the 60's. Especially with the Romita artwork. The Lizard story has a lot of character elements that are present in the current movie. If only these could have been adapted to film or TV much earlier. I loved this story because it presented Peter Parker with such a dilemma. How do you protect your best teacher while at the same time protect him from himself as the Lizard?

That's why I preferred Marvel over DC. The stories were much more sophistocated and delt more with the humanity of the characters.

Fantastic Four Fan 4ever said...

Happy Birthday Karen !

Redartz said...

Happy belated birthday, Karen and Doug! Summer vacation birthdays always bring a fond memory of childhood (my 52nd was two weeks ago), hope you both had some fine birthdays too!

The Marvel Tales reprints were a great way to pick up those 60's stories on the cheap. I did prefer the issues which featured the original covers. The issues which reprinted the Mysterio story (from ASM 66-67) were among my first books, and both featured Romita's classic covers...

Fred W. Hill said...

One curious aspect of those reprint mags circa 1973 was that they usually had a new cover but often reprinted the original cover inside! I could never figure out why they didn't re-use the old cover. I'm not sure if they did that at the same time that they were abridging the reprint by up to 3 pages. Oh, and I think they may have skipped that Shocker story between the 2 Spider-Man tales was that they had recently reprinted it in a Spider-Man annual. I got really confused when in Marvel's Greatest Comics they skipped over the classic 4-part Dr. Doom steals the Surfer's powers saga, only finding out ages later that they had reprinted that in the first 4 issues of Marvel Triple Action before that mag started reprinting the Avengers.

MikeS said...

Amazing # 46 & 50 were reprinted in King-Size Spider-Man (Annual) #8, 1971. Of course I didn't find this out until a few years later when I was collecting back issues.

Karen said...

Lots of great comments, as usual. We're going to run an Open Forum on reprints soon, so be sure to stop on by and dig deeper into the topic.

Edo, I couldn't find my original copy of this issue. I suspect it got tossed because of its terrible condition. I seem to recall that I wrote something like "Thanks Spider-Man!" and "Good-bye!" in those empty balloons. Nothing very profound or interesting in any case.

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