Monday, March 7, 2011

Spidey's Zoo: The Gibbon!

Amazing Spider-Man #110 (July 1972)
"The Birth of... The Gibbon!"
Stan Lee-John Romita/Tony Mortellaro/Romita

Doug: Today kicks off a 5-week study of some rather strange Spidey rogues -- the Gibbon, the Kangaroo, and the Grizzly! Our look at ASM #110 features a cover with that typical, lovable Stan Lee bravado -- "Introducing: The Newest Marvel Super-Star!" Yeah, right... In spite of being a knock-off of the Beast, our ol' pal the Gibbon never really attained the lofty status that Stan predicted...
er, schmoozed us into believing. Let's have a look:

Doug: I really liked this issue, because it was everything a Spider-Man story from the Silver and early Bronze Age should be -- part superhero, part soap opera. We've remarked around here in the past that Spidey in this period could almost be considered a team book because of the amazing amount of face time given to the supporting cast. In this tale, Aunt May, Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, and Flash Thompson get a whole lot of mention and or time on camera. And the characterization is perfectly familiar. There's just a certain amount of comfort and warmth that comes from reading Spider-Man as written by Stan and drawn by John Romita --
this is like a well-worn pair of blue jeans.

Karen: Yeah, this combo is like comic comfort food! Particularly Romita's art -in my head, that is how Spider-Man looks!

Doug: Spidey's worried about events that transpired over the past two issues that involved Dr. Strange, Flash Thompson, and Flash's friend from Vietnam, Sha Shan. At the conclusion of that story, Flash told Spider-Man that after he'd been cleared of involvement in an immoral shelling in Vietnam, he could now tell Gwen with a clean heart about his all of his adventures. Spidey was left with his usual paranoia about competing against a former big-man-on-campus and now war hero like Flash. And that's where we pick this one up. As Spidey laments his condition, he first punches a hole in a brick chimney and then launches his camera into the Manhattan sky. But behold, the hand of an extremely agile young man juts out and snatches the camera. Spidey, who had tried to launch a web after it, arrives to greet his savior and is introduced to Martin Blank. Blank's an odd-looking chap -- his head and face are shaped like that of a caveman... or an ape.

Karen: A lot of Romita's villains have unusual faces. I guess that sort of style was common years ago -villains with almost cartoon-like faces. Certainly you can trace it back a long ways, to strips like Dick Tracy even.
Spidey always did have a colorful set of foes. His enemies are probably just as freakish as Batman's.

Doug: After exchanging a few pleasantries, and Spidey telling Blank that any idol-worship tossed his way is certainly misplaced, the two part company and we readers then get the backstory of Martin Blank. Blank lives in a flophouse, and it's pretty obvious that he's not well-liked. He begins to reflect on his childhood as an orphan, where he was constantly teased for his bestial appearance, agility, and strength. While other children were adopted, Blank (not his real name; he took the name because he never got a real surname like the other kids, always having a "blank" behind "Martin") grew to adulthood and was eventually released from the orphanage's care.
Forced to make it on his own, he attempted to find employment in a circus. But jealousies reared up there, as well, as the other acrobats resented Blank's abilities while performing as a costumed ape-man.

Karen: I liked how Stan had Spidey talk to Martin, trying to encourage him. That's one of the things I've always liked about Spidey/Peter: he's just such a nice guy at heart
-although a bit later on he doesn't act so great. But of course the grotesque Martin assumes that since Spidey is a super-hero, his life must be peaches and cream. Little does he know!

Karen: Another thing that struck me is, once again, we get a Stan Lee story where a circus is involved! I swear, it seems like every other story by Stan had a circus in it. He must have seen one as a kid and it made a huge impression on him.

Doug: As Peter made his way back to the apartment he shared with Harry, he was suddenly reminded of how lousy he felt from his recent battles and the fact that he hadn't slept in three days. Feeling worse and worse the closer he got to home, he was about to collapse when he noticed that Aunt May and Gwen were there waiting on him.
Gwen had had words with Aunt May the previous issue, chastising her for always babying Peter. As May started in again, Gwen drew attention to it; May left distraught and a bit hurt. Gwen nursed Pete as he succumbed to his exhaustion, and after he'd passed out she told him how much she loved him. At that point Harry and Flash arrived, and Harry told Flash to take Gwen home. Flash jumped at the chance, made a couple of flirtatious comments (which Pete deliriously heard) and then left with Gwen. Pete then went into a nightmare that was nothing short of a jumping-on point for new readers -- if you wanted soap opera, you got it in five panels!

Karen: That's really the truth: the book WAS a soap opera, but that's what made it so much fun. We get all the standard Spidey cliches: Peter feeling ill, guilt over hurting Aunt May, fear he's losing Gwen...if he worried about money or his grades, that would have made it perfect!

Doug: So Pete slept for 12 hours, which really surprised him. I thought one of the coolest parts of this scene was the fact that Harry had told Gwen that he'd look after Pete and he did just that -- stayed by Pete's side for the entire time he was asleep. That's what a best friend does. Pete got up to speed on what had gone down, and tried to call his Aunt May. She didn't answer, so Pete frantically left. He changed into his Spidey duds and was off to check on May.
However, after only a short time of web-swinging, he was intercepted by a guy in a gorilla-suit. Lo and behold, it was Martin Blank, dressed not as a gorilla, but a gibbon.

Karen: Not the greatest costume in the world, but if you're gonna dress like an ape, I guess that's what it should look like. But why a gibbon? They're not particularly exciting or awe-inspiring. You never hear someone say, "That guy's as strong as a gibbon!" Not sure why Stan didn't use 'gorilla' in his name somehow.

Doug: Blank makes Spidey an offer -- he wants them to be partners. Now, seriously... one look at the poor sap and it's no wonder Spider-Man bursts into laughter.
I mean, it's one thing to run around town with a kid in green shorty-shorts and elf booties... but a dude decked out as a giant gibbon? Well, Martin isn't too happy at the lack of respect, so he lunges at Spidey and grabs him around the throat. He's rebuffed, but after Spidey insults him yet again, the Gibbon grabs Spidey and hurls him off a rooftop. But Spidey's no amateur, and webs a flagpole and swings off toward his aunt. Distressed at this failure, the Gibbon drops to his knees in a temper tantrum. And that's when the mysterious super-baddie appears, promising to make the Gibbon powerful beyond his dreams!

Karen: As ridiculous as Martin may have looked, I did think it was out of character for Spidey to treat him like a laughingstock. But of course, the guy has been exhausted, is worried about his elderly aunt, and thinks his girl is leaving him! I guess we can cut him some slack. So far the Gibbon has been unimpressive-and I felt the same way when I read this as a kid -but I think next issue's villain will be a little more exciting!


J.A. Morris said...

Is the Gibbon a "totemistic pretender" like Spidey's other "animal" based foes(Vulture,Doc Ock,etc)? Worst.Retcon.Ever.

Yeah,this isn't a great issue,but Romita's artwork is stil great at this point.

Doug said...

Whoa, JA!

I'm needing an explanation on that "totemistic" comment.

I've been out since the second clone saga.



J.A. Morris said...

I also quit during the 2nd clone saga, but I was recently given this trade:

Long story short, Parker meets a guy who knows his secret,has similar powers, tells him he was given his powers by a "magic" spider that just happened to present during the radiation test,he's empowered by "totemistic forces". It mentions how the other "animals" of "Spidey's Zoo" are "totemistic pretenders". here's a summary:

The "Spider-totem" was J. Michael Straczynski's baby. Didn't work for me. Spider-man's origin story was fine for 30+ years before this story, it didn't need to be improved. This was another case of Marvel telling me they didn't want my money.

Doug said...


I quit reading after two paragraphs.

You say a "friend" gave you that tripe? Or you were just given it? Like someone threw it at you in a driveby?

Friends shouldn't let friends read stuff like that. Really.


Dougie said...

I have fond memories of the second part of this story. My aunt and uncle bought it for me along with the first part of the Astonishing Tales Ka-Zar/Man-Thing storyline; this would be around the late summer of 1972.
I always thought Martin Blank was a cool name for a comic character. I was intrigued to see on Wikipedia that the Gibbon was married to Princess Python at one point.
Looking forward to the feature on the Kangaroo, another quirky favourite of mine.

Fred W. Hill said...

My collecting of Spidey issues was very sporadic during this period and I missed this last original story by Stan (not counting the revised Spectacular Spider-Man tale a few issues later), but got issue 111, which opens with Spidey leaving the Gibbon at a hospital. Was many years before I read the actual story, in the Marvel Tales reprints.
I actually thought it was pretty cool that there was a character named for gibbons, and I suspect what inspired Stan was acrobatic skills of the apes; yeah, they're not as strong as gorillas or even orangutans, but they're the closest equivalent to Tarzan of any of species of large primates. Besides, Stan already had a guy ina gorilla costume in the guy from the Unholy Three from Daredevil, not to mention an actual gorialla from the Red Ghost's Super Apes. Anyhow, I was reading a lot of books about all kinds of animals back then, so I just enjoyed it when they had these goofy animal-based characters, even if those stories usually weren't among the best. Poor ol' Martin couldn't even win a spot in any of the gazillion X-Men spin-offs. Maybe someone should hook him up with that ape-faced girl from Grant Morrison's Doom Patrol.
BTW, as I didn't really start reading Spider-Man regularly until issue 120, when reading the reprints of this era, it's hard for me not to feel a sense of impending dread, knowing that Gwen didn't have much longer to live. As in, "Peter, if you think things are bad now, just wait ...."

Edo Bosnar said...

Karen's comment about cliches brought a smile to my face. This issue contains what is probably one of the major all-time comic-book cliches: a big, talking ape as a bad guy (ok, ok, I know he's not really an ape, but close enough).
I first came across the Gibbon in that Spectacular Spider-man story much later, and like Fred, I thought it was a pretty cool idea at the time. Of course, I was also into animals/biology back then, and when I made up my own comic book characters they were often named after rather obscure fauna, like Serval, Ocelot, Osprey, Gaur (he would have been a bad guy), etc.

cease ill said...

Here's one I haven't read since...well, since I could read! When I was five, my sister and I each got a Spider-Man comic at the Jockey Lot, a huge, multi-acre farmer's market in South Carolina. It seemed so strange, mysterious and serious to me at the time, and I LOVED it. Most likely, it was a Marvel Tales #90; lucky Deb got ASM #179, complete with a Green Goblin! Only recently have I come to realize: my first Spider-Man comic book story at the time was Stan Lee's last! I just may write about it on Amazing Bronze Age of Spider-Man. Thanks for scans of art I haven't seen in so long it'd bring a tear to your eye!

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