Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man: A Review of the 1970s Marvel Comics Series!
Spider-Man in the 1970s, with an Emphasis On Peter Parker's College Life!
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man first appeared at the end of 1976, and was a comic book aimed at cashing in on the growing popularity of Spider-Man. In fact, with the publication of this series Spider-Man was appearing in three monthly books: The Amazing Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up and Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man!
Even so, this series was very enjoyable, and I don't remember feeling like it was overkill. The stories were well-told for the most part, except for some clunkers that I mention below. The first 31 issues of the series are collected in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (ISBN: 0785116826).
Get Essential Peter Parker The Spectacular Spider-Man Vol. 1 Today!
Spider-Man's Alter-Ego, Peter Parker, Goes to College!
A Different Setting, Focused on a Separate Cast of Characters!
While Marvel Comics certainly wanted to optimize the popularity of Spider-Man, the publisher must have been a bit nervous that the character would be spread too thin if he were to appear in three series at the same time.
So the early issues of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man made a special effort to focus on the college life of Peter Parker, Spider-Man's secret identity, while the main comic, the Amazing Spider-Man, highlighted his work life as a freelance photographer at the Daily Bugle. (The third series, Marvel Team-Up, featured Spider-Man teaming up with a different hero each month and those stories usually didn't focus on the private life of Spider-Man at all).
And for the most part it worked. There was some back-and-forth between the series, but it never seemed heavy handed or forced. In fact, I tended to enjoy the Spectacular Spider-Man early issues more than I did the Amazing Spider-Man ones of that time, in part because I thought they had better art. Sal Buscema was the artist for the majority of the first 20 issues of Spectacular Spider-Man, and I liked his style more than Ross Andru's, who was the main artist on the Amazing Spider-Man.
Below are some highlights -- and a few lowlights -- from the first 31 issues of the Spectacular Spider-Man, which are collected in this Marvel Essential volume.
Now Appearing...White Tiger!
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 9
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 9 was the first appearance of White Tiger in a full-color comic book. Writer Bill Mantlo had created the White Tiger a year earlier in a black & white magazine called the Deadly Hands of Kung Fu that Marvel published, and since Mantlo was also writing this series I guess it was a natural for him to include the White Tiger in this book.
White Tiger was Marvel Comics' first Puerto Rican superhero, and in this story we find out he is a fellow college college student of Peter Parker, Spider-Man's alter-ego. A martial arts superhero, White Tiger would reappear in this series numerous times.
The ending to this two-part story is a bit too pat, but the tale is very enjoyable and it was fun to see White Tiger in action.
The End of the Champions!
What Happens When a Superhero Team Breaks Up?
My favorite tale in this collection is a two-part story that originally appeared in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 17-18.
Although the stories in this volume usually focused on Spider-Man's college life, this one starts with a newspaper assignment for Spider-Man's alter-ego. Parker is sent by the Daily Bugle to Los Angeles to take photos for a story about the break-up of the Champions, a short-lived superhero group based in that city.
He meets the only remaining member of the group, a hero called Angel, at Champions headquarters, and of course there's a fight against a super-villain.
But really the fight is almost beside the point of the tale, which really is more about the disbanding of the team and what it meant to Angel (who was using his wealth to bankroll it).
The Champions had only been around for a few years, and their own comic had been cancelled just four months before, so this story was a nice bit of continuity for the Marvel Universe. There was also a real sense of sadness that gave the story more depth than expected.
As for why the ending of the group was told in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, that seems pretty easy. Bill Mantlo, the writer of Peter Parker, had also been writing the Champion series when it ended!
The Short-Lived Champions Series! - Second-Tier Characters Looking For a Home!
The Champions debuted in their own series in October 1975 and just never seemed to find their own footing. The team consisted of secondary characters the Ghost Rider and the Black Widow, along with third-tier heroes Hercules, Angel and Ice Man.
The Ghost Rider was appearing in his own series, but the other four were simply characters that weren't in use anywhere else.
With no real reason for its existence, the group meandered through 17 issues of its own series as well as some guest appearances in other comics. Some of the stories were good, though, and artist John Byrne did some fine early work starting with issue No. 11. The series was canceled in January 1978.
Oddly enough, I seem to remember the heroes themselves at times wondering why the team even existed. As the years went by, the group was seen as a bit silly within the Marvel Universe, with Ice Man calling it an embarrassment and Angel remembering it as a nightmare.
All of the 1970s appearances of the group have been collected in two volumes. Some of the stories are fun, and the art in later issues by John Byrne is nicely done.
Enter: Moon Knight!
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 22
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 22 contained one of the earliest appearances of Moon Knight, who has since gone on to become an enduring character in Marvel Comics. Moon Knight first appeared in Werewolf by Night No. 32-33 in 1975, then a solo tale a year later in Marvel Spotlight No. 28-29.
So he was still pretty unknown when he appeared in this two-part Spider-Man story in 1978, a tale that helped flesh out his background and made him more heroic than his first appearance. I always liked him, even though at this point in his existence some people saw him as a poor man's Batman. I disagree. A hero who used different identities and a circle of allies to fight crime had more in common with The Shadow than Batman, so I guess one could say Batman and Moon Knight both were influenced by the pulp fiction crimefighter!
I also thought his costume had a cool look to it, and there just weren't that many superheroes who had white as a main color.
The other nice thing issue No. 22 is the work of guest artist Mike Zeck, who had a clean style that I really enjoyed. He probably did his best work of that time on the Master of Kung-Fu series, but his Captain America work and his fill-in issues like this one were always appreciated. For more on the work of Mike Zeck see his website here.
Carrion, Daredevil and the Spider-Amoeba!
Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 28-31
This volume ends with a multi-part tale of Spider-Man fighting Carrion, a supervillian with a surprise connection to old-time foe the Jackal. The Jackal had been Peter Parker's professor, so the connection to his college life was easy to make, and White Tiger shows up to help with the battle.
I don't think the story is as good as some people have written, and at the time I thought it was dragged out probably one issue too long. Rereading it all in one sitting I still feel the same. The Carrion's lackey, Darter, is just a dumb addition to the tale, and the spider-amoeba during the final battle was ludicrous!
The highlight of the entire tale was some early art of Daredevil by Frank Miller. Miller moved over to Daredevil after working on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 28, starting the run that would revive that comic book. If you like Frank Miller's art this issue is a nice sample.
From Spider-Man to Daredevil!
Frank Miller Revives a Dying Series!
After serving as a fill-in artist on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man No. 27-28, Frank Miller liked the guest hero, Daredevil, and asked if he could draw that series instead. Daredevil's comic had been limping along, published only once every two months because sales were so poor (which was a shame because he was my favorite superhero!).
Miller became the artist of Daredevil with issue No. 158, and his art helped revive the comic enough to make it a monthly by the time he took over as writer as well with issue No. 168. Issue No. 168 introduced the assassin Elektra, whose story would be told over the next dozen or so issues. For more on the Elektra saga, please see my review here:
For More Information on Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man!
- The Spectacular Spider-Man - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Wikipedia's entry for the Spectacular Spider-Man comic book series.
Do We Really Need a CB-Talking, Truck-Driving Superhero?
Arkansas Superhero Razorback Rides to the Rescue!
Unfortunately there are some real clunkers in this collection.
One of the biggest is a four-part tale about some of Peter Parker's friends getting involved in a villainous cult. The story is pretty much ruined by the inclusion of a campy superhero named Razorback, from Arkansas.
Named Buford T. Hollis, he talks in CB slang and has arrived in New York with his super-powered truck (!) to help free his kid sister from the same cult. So his inclusion in the tale is kind of seamless. That's not the problem. The problem is he is just too much of a cliché -- when he isn't taking in CB he sounds like a southern hick. Oh, and his razorback mane gives off an electrical charge!
The good parts of the tale just can't overcome Razorback's inclusion enough to make the story truly enjoyable. The character has only appeared a few times since so I guess I'm not alone in my distaste of him.
Another miss is issue No. 24, which features a villainous disco singer named the Hypno-Hustler and his villainous backup band, the Mercy Killers. The Hypno-Hustler is able to hypnotize his victims through his musical equipment and all Spider-Man ends up doing to beat him is knock the Hypno-Hustler's headphones off, leaving the victim as hypnotized as his victims. Yes, it was that silly.
Also, the issue was drawn by fill-in artist Frank Springer, who I thought did better work on non-superhero series. I just don't think his Spider-Man looked very good in this issue.
Marvel Comics: The Untold Story - Recounting One Reason This Series Was Published
According to the new book Marvel Comics: The Untold Story, the comic book Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man was published in part as a reaction to the large dose of experimentation that Marvel Comics had done in the first half of the 1970s. The period led to a downturn in comics, as well as much dissension between editors and writers, so the company tried to introduce more ''wholesome'' comics like this one.
That's just one of the great details in Marvel Comics: The Untold Story. Please read the book, which is available on Amazon. It's a great history for anybody who grew up reading comic books!
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The Marvel Essential series reprints many of Marvel's stories in large volumes that contain several hundred pages. The series began in 1997 with the publication of the Essential X-Men No. 1 and Essential Spider-Man No. 1. Many of the collections have been reprinted with different covers, so don't let that throw you off when buying.
A quick search for ''Marvel Essential'' on Amazon reveals more than 600 items. I'm sure several are duplicates, but even so there should be one available for every comic book fan!
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While I agree the colors are a major part of enjoying a comic, I believe the Essentials books are wonderful. I no longer have to go through my collection and pull the original comic out of its protective bag to enjoy an old story. Now, all the stories can sit in a handy volume on my bookcase for me to dip into whenever I want!
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