Or – “There Was A Time When He Was My Fave-Rave…”

Once in a while, I feel a bit guilty about my general take on some of the more popular heroes.  I have a few favorite X-Men tales, a few bits of beloved Batman ephemera, even one or two Wolverine stories that I enjoy.  Spider-Man may get the worst of this, though, in that I started reading his adventures quite early in my comics diet.  When things went wrong (in my mind, anyway) with Spidey, they went WAAAAY wrong, and part of me never forgave Marvel for that.  As for what I loved about Spider-Man, this story (part three of an unofficial trilogy, well before the covers identified things as such) stuck with me for several years as an example of how to make even the most minor characters shine…

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #236
Script: Roger Stern
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Frank Giacoia
Colors: Bob Sharen
Letters: Joe Rosen
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 60 Cents (Current Near-Mint Price: $16.00)

Previously, on Amazing Spider-Man: The Brand Corporation (a subsidiary of Roxxon Oil) has had a finger in many very unpleasant pies over the years, not the least of which is the creation of several superhumans as well as profiteering and the occasional attempt to take over the world.  In the previous issues, a villain called Will O’ The Wisp had begun targeting Brand installations and blowin’ ’em up real good.  Wispy believed that a Brand flunky named James Melvin was responsible for his own transformation into an inhuman form, but when Spider-Man snuck in to investigate, he found Brand again experimenting on humans, this time in an attempt to replicate his own powers in the first villain known as the Tarantula.  Rather than making him into an Amazing Spider-Man, though, the process turned him into a Horrific Man-Spider, making TWO villains who wanted to kill James Melvin.  Spider-Man was left in the unenviable position of trying to protect a man who clearly doesn’t deserve it from a fate he earned due to his own malfeasance.  Their battle ends with both villains falling in the East River, seemingly to their doom.  Tracking Melvin to his home, Spider-Man is blind-sided by Will O’ The Wisp AND Tarantula, and the villain who still has a mouth takes a moment to gloat, old school…

Roger Stern has always been good at getting in the expositionary dialogue in a less intrusive way than some of his contemporaries, and I also dig the way Will goes out of his way to warn Spider-Man off his trail.  Neither of the costumed villains is really the bad guy in this story.  While Spidey and the Wisp are talking, Tarantula’s situation continues to devolve, and he tries to EAT Jim Melvin alive!  While the President of Brand watches remotely, Spider-Man snatches away the real villain.  A game of cat and mouse ensues, and Will O’ The Wisp uses his hypnotic powers to control Spider-Man’s mind…  or so he thinks.

The really fun part of a Spider-Man story for me is when he’s clearly outmatched in terms of super-powers (like with Will O’ The Wisp, an energy being with hypnotic and electrical powers, intangibility and super-strength) but has to fend for himself with his mind.  As W’oTW passes through the wall, he is trapped in an industrial strength magnetic dynamo, thoroughly scrambling his brains and giving Spidey the upper hand.  The hero snatches up the bad guy and prepares to take both Wisp and Melvin to the cops for processing…

…forgetting once again about the third superhuman player in the game.  The art here is by a very young John Romita, Jr., and his Spider-Man is first-rate (though he does have a bit of an edge, being the son of the man who drew some of Spidey’s most legendary tales.)  I especially enjoy how he never cheats and gives the mask facial expressions as became the standard after Todd MacFarlane a few years later.  Even in Marvel New York, a giant arachnoid monster (Sorry, Otter) gets attention, and soon their running battle across the rooftops is followed by television reporters and a horde of cops.  Spider-Man is again forced to battle a villain, leaving another at large, while Tarantula desperately tries to keep hold of his last shreds of humanity.

While Tarantula deals with some serious body horror, Will O’ The Wisp is left alone with James Melvin, and raises his fist to kill the man he holds responsible for his torment.  In a really well-written couple of scenes, both Tarantula and Wispy come to their moment of truth.  Will O’ The Wisp decides at the last moment NOT to kill Melvin, bitterly telling him, “Perhaps I decided to stop being one of your monsters.”  Tarantula, too, wants to stop being a monster, but his methods are somewhat more extreme. “YOU MADE ME MONSTER!” he snarls at Melvin.  “KILL!”  Will O’ The Wisp completes his face turn, spiriting the bureaucrat away, while Tarantula climbs to the edge of the building and seems ready to attack the crowd in the streets below, again crying “KILL!”

Of course, just because he doesn’t want to KILL Melvin doesn’t mean that Will O’ The Wisp has forgiven him his various crimes…

As we close out the issue, Melvin’s confession has finally brought the Brand Corporation and it’s brass to justice, but things quickly turn sour for Spider-Man when he realizes that Roxxon (the parent company of evil) is still free and clear to do their own evil.  Nobody gets a clear win, and the lines between hero and villain are particularly faint, as are the lines between aggressor and victim.  Heck, even Jim Melvin is little more than a cog in a corporate machine, a white-collar jerk who doesn’t want to ask questions about where his extra money comes from.  Will O’ The Wisp is no less miserable for seeing the road not taken, and The Tarantula no less dead.  It’s a pretty down ending, which is what makes it seem more realistic, and what made it stick with me for so long.  Amazing Spider-Man #236 puts Peter Parker smack in the middle of a familiar setting, with two known quantity villains, and leaves everyone a stronger character in the end, earning 4 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Am I the only one who dislikes when the artist cheats on Spidey’s mask to make facial expressions?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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8 Comments

  1. May 9, 2011 at 12:17 am — Reply

    I had this book back in the day fresh of the presses… I really enjoyed it. Reread it many times. Thanks for reminding me of it, Matthew.

  2. Eddie Sheridan
    May 9, 2011 at 7:48 am — Reply

    This was one of my favorite Spidey arcs of all time. I always hoped they’d bring Will O’ The Wisp back, as I thought he had a really interesting power set. Was this arc the only appearance he ever made?

    • May 9, 2011 at 7:00 pm — Reply

      Was this arc the only appearance he ever made?

      Will O’ The Wisp had appeared previously in Spectacular Spider-Man, and I believe he later returned to that book, but this may be his only Amazing Spider-Man appearance.

      • Eddie Sheridan
        May 9, 2011 at 9:25 pm — Reply

        I’ll have to look those up. I thought he was a really intriguing character, but Marvel just kind of dropped him.

  3. May 9, 2011 at 8:59 am — Reply

    QotD: You know, I never really cared, but you are right. In fact, I think that it is only ever done in the comics.

    When things went wrong (in my mind, anyway) with Spidey, they went WAAAAY wrong, and part of me never forgave Marvel for that.

    Just out of curiosity, when is that Spider-Man went wrong for you?

    • May 9, 2011 at 6:59 pm — Reply

      Just out of curiosity, when is that Spider-Man went wrong for you?

      Adjectiveless Spider-Man #1, in all it’s poly-bagged variant glory.

  4. Noobian74
    May 9, 2011 at 5:18 pm — Reply

    In “Batman The Animated Series,” I saw the eyes of the mask do the same thing. Only reason I’ll allow it is because I can see Billionaire Bruce Wayne being able to afford moving eyehole material. Peter Parker? Dude struggles to make enough money for a decent sandwich! No deal!

  5. May 11, 2011 at 3:27 pm — Reply

    All masked superheroes have “cheating” masks (see: Spider-Man, Batman, Captain America). I don’t like it, but I’ve come to accept it as certain artists’ choice.

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