Hi, and welcome to Comics You Should Own, a semi-regular series about comics I think you should own. I began writing these a little over fifteen years ago, and I’m still doing it, because I dig writing long-form essays about comics. I republished my early posts, which I originally wrote on my personal blog, at Comics Should Be Good about ten years ago, but since their redesign, most of the images have been lost, so I figured it was about time I published these a third time, here on our new blog. I plan on keeping them exactly the same, which is why my references might be a bit out of date and, early on, I don’t write about art as much as I do now. But I hope you enjoy these, and if you’ve never read them before, I hope they give you something to read that you might have missed. I’m planning on doing these once a week until I have all the old ones here at the blog. Today we have a nifty two-part story starring everyone’s favorite neighborhood web-slinger. This was originally published on 1 February 2005. I don’t think there are any SPOILERS ahead, but you never know, so tread carefully. Enjoy!
Amazing Spider-Man by Roger Stern (writer), John Romita Jr. (penciler), Jim Mooney (inker), Joe Rosen (letterer), and Glynis Wein (colorist).
Published by Marvel, 2 issues (issues #229-230, cover dated June – July 1982).
There are a lot of great Spider-Man stories, and most people who talk about great Spider-Man stories talk about the beginning until, say, the death of Gwen Stacy in 1973 (wasn’t it ’73?). Anyway, that’s all well and good, but I was two in 1973, and I don’t own any Spider-Man comics prior to these two issues. I’ve read some of them, but the point is that Spider-Man was in some pretty neat stories in the 1980s, but of course Lee and Kirby didn’t do them, so comics snobs say who the hell cares? (For those of you who don’t read comics, yes, there are comics snobs — I’m occasionally one of them.) These two issues are occasionally cited as part of the “classic” Spider-Man stories, and they should be — it’s a great superhero story.
These two issues form a two-parter starring the Juggernaut as the villain. The Juggernaut always struck me as a stupid villain, because even though nothing can stop him, he always seems to get stopped. He should really consider a name change. The Juggernaut, as Charles Xavier’s stepbrother, has always been an X-Men villain, but part of the fun of old Marvel comics is that everyone existed in the same universe and could therefore show up wherever the writer wanted (yes, the Marvel Universe still exists, but other than Brian Michael Bendis, who seems to obsess about it, when was the last time someone tried to use characters from other “spheres” of the Universe — Kevin Smith in Daredevil?). The interesting point is that Spider-Man does not know who the Juggernaut is — another reason for Cain Marko (Juggernaut’s real name) to get a publicist.
So Juggernaut comes to New York with his “partner,” Black Tom Cassidy (he’s somehow related to Banshee, but I can’t remember how). Why aren’t those two gay? Anyway, Black Tom has a weird scheme to kidnap Madame Web, a psychic living in Manhattan who occasionally helps out Spider-Man (hence the name?) because her psychic powers will help his criminal activities (she’s psychic, get it?). He sends Juggernaut to kidnap Madame Web. She foresees this and asks Spider-Man for help. He tries to stop the Juggernaut (which is foolish, as he should have known from the title of the story, “Nothing Can Stop The Juggernaut” — duh, Peter!), but fails. Juggernaut reaches Madame Web and realizes she cannot be separated from her life-support system. Peeved, he leaves. Spider-Man takes her to a hospital and then decides (in the second issue) to stop Juggernaut no matter what. Because, you know, he’s a hero. In issue #230, much knockdown drag-out fighting ensues. Spidey wins, but not in the way you might expect. So that’s the story.
What’s neat about this story is the way it really encapsulates the Spidey experience without dragging in Aunt May or even the worn-out catchphrase “With great power comes great responsibility.” Neither make an appearance in these issues. Many people in the 1990s complained about the ridiculous amount of people in Peter Parker’s life, something J. Michael Straczynski has tried to “correct” on his current run. It might be a little daunting for a reader to dive right into Peter’s world, especially because in the 1980s he had three titles (and at this point, 1982, two) and they all had an impact on each other. Of course, when comics were 60 cents, as these were, you could afford to keep up with everything. So in this story we see Peter at The Bugle trying to get some work, where he has quick and revealing conversations with Glory (I don’t know her last name, sorry), Robertson’s secretary (back when they still called them that), and Betty Brant Leeds, who’s married to Ned Leeds, who was later revealed to be the Hobgoblin (sorry if I ruined it for you, but it’s a secret from 15 years ago). We also get a reference (in the fun Marvel manner of the day, with a footnote) of why the Avengers and Fantastic Four can’t help Spidey beat up Juggernaut. We find out that Doctor Strange is also out of town, so he can’t help. In issue #230, “To Fight The Unbeatable Foe!”, we see more mayhem in the streets, and we get an interlude with Lance Bannon, Peter’s photographic rival, who’s having an argument with his girlfriend Amy (can’t remember her last name, either). After Spidey defeats Juggernaut, he of course shows up at The Bugle with great pictures of the fight, even though Bannon couldn’t get anywhere near it. This is all part of what made Amazing Spider-Man such a cool book: real lives were going on, and Peter always had to worry about making enough money to earn a living, and he always had to worry about getting involved in lousy relationships (Betty and Ned’s) or being used to make others jealous (Amy does this to make Bannon jealous). Despite all these subplots, we get two issues of almost non-stop action and destruction, and we see again why Spider-Man is the most popular hero Marvel has.
Romita’s art (I assume he penciled and Mooney inked, but it just says they’re both artists) is not as excellent as his work later became (and remains). It’s standard work, but it doesn’t do anything to drag the story down, and the New York details remain a reason why Marvel prior to, I don’t know, 1990? 1995? was a fun company to read — it felt more real than DC. Romita gives us what we expect — nice renditions of Spider-Man and Juggernaut, good composition of the fight scenes, and a sense of exactly what Spidey is up against. It’s not revolutionary, but it’s nice.
That’s the whole point of these two issues, really — nothing revolutionary, but a good story. It boils down Spidey into his essence — helping friends, not giving up even when there’s no reason to fight, always looking for work — without bogging down the story. It’s straightforward superhero action, which is fine in small doses. I don’t know if these issues have been collected in a trade paperback, but I got my (admittedly, somewhat beat-up) issues for $3 a pop, which isn’t that bad for a 23-year-old comic. Check these two out if you’re a fan of Spidey, because they’re fun to read.
There’s also a letter in the second issue (remember letters columns? sigh). In this letter Kenny Dunckley (where have you gone, Kenny?) wonders why so many Spidey villains are animal-themed. Did J. Michael Straczynski read this letter and think “Ah ha!” Just another reason to mourn the death of letters columns. Kenny Dunckley, sue JMS!
More Spider-Man coming. Those aren’t the only two you should own!
[I must apologize for the quality of these early entries – I hadn’t quite hit my stride yet. I wrote the early ones for my personal blog, where not everyone read comics, hence the mention of “comics snobs,” and I obviously have no idea why I mentioned Kirby instead of Ditko. I didn’t want to give too much away, so I didn’t write enough about the actual fight, which is really well done – Spider-Man has no hope of winning, but he keeps on fighting, and it’s that indomitable spirit that makes him such a cool hero. And, of course, after I wrote this, the Marvel Universe did begin to get more integrated, with characters appearing in different books in different “spheres” that they wouldn’t necessarily have interacted with in the 1990s, when it seemed everyone separated into their own little bubbles. Anyway, a lot of this is out of date, and I don’t do the best job writing about it, but trust me – this story is really cool. As I noted, it’s been collected in several places, but they all seem to be out of print, so perhaps finding the back issues is just the best thing to do!]