As a fan of the gentleman’s art of wrasslin’, I’ve always had a little bit of love for Peter Parker’s brief career in the squared circle. But, after years of battling evil, Spider-Man is about to discover the whereabouts of his very first opponent. Ever wondered whatever happened to Crusher Hogan? Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of Amazing Spider-Man #271 awaits!
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #271
Writer: Tom DeFalco
Penciler: Ron Frenz
Inker: Joe Rubinstein
Colorist: Nel Yomtov
Letterer: Joe Rosen
Editor: Jim Owsley
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Cover Price: 65 Cents
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $6.00
Previously in Amazing Spider-Man: Everybody knows the story of Spider-Man. Bitten by a radioactive spider, young Peter
Palmer Parker gains amazing physical powers, and his first instinct is to try to use them to make money. Heading to the local wrestling promoter, he makes a web-mask, and challenges the local champion. Fortunately for the teenage hero, his opponent is the man who would become his life-long confidante and mentor…
Under the tutelage of wise and patient wrestling svengali Crusher Hogan, young Parker learns how to become a better athlete and a better hero, and his super-heroic power set is completed when Crusher invents his web-shooters and the fluid that serves as his primary weapon and mode of transportation. Having taught him all his can, Hogan gives Peter a costume of his own design, a red-and-blue unitard that marks him once and forever as everyone’s Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man!
Or, at least, that’s how Crusher Hogan likes to tell it…
Enter: Manslaughter Marsdale, a two-bit jerk who is nonetheless the biggest of two-bit jerks in Hogan’s local gym. Manslaughter is also an enforcer for the local two-bit crime syndicate, who want to keep young fighter Bobby Chance under their thumb, and he’s prepared to be quite… persuasive about it.
Returning to his mysterious dragon-lady boss (who is more than a little bit of a racist caricature, to be honest), Manslaughter is given the order to re-sign Chance to a contract or to leave him unable to fight by any means necessary. Crusher Hogan overhears this exchange, wishing that he really DID know Spider-Man, because he believes that the hero will always know what to do. Smash-cut to the chaotic life of Peter Parker, who can’t even get into his apartment anymore because neighbors are sunbathing on the roof. He manages to sneak inside, only to get a visit from Mary-Jane Watson, who has chosen to wear the entire 1980s as an outfit…
For those who are wondering, the gold notebook is a story-point from a previous issue, wherein the Beyonder turned the Heroes For Hire office building into solid gold, which then collapsed from its own weight. This issue is full of side-plots and sub-stories, including Aunt May’s beau Nathan trying desperately to get Peter to come help him, and some weird shenanigans involving the real identity of The Hobgoblin. At this point, all three Spider-titles had an interlocked continuity, and used these sorts of threads to keep the books tied together, forcing you to buy all three to understand it all. (These days, they do the same thing, they just print Amazing Spider-Man three times per month.) Meanwhile, Crusher Hogan finds that Manslaughter is ready to live up to his name regarding his friend, Mister Chance…
This issue is about the point where I stopped reading Spider-Man as a teenager, mostly thanks to the work of Ron Frenz, who intentionally channeled Steve Ditko’s scrawnier Spider-Man rather than my preferred John Romita, Jr. version. (He later did something similar when he and DeFalco took over Thor, channeling Jack Kirby’s visuals into the story of Asgard, something which I didn’t care for either. It took the advent of Spider-Girl, over a decade later, before I forgave Ron for his forays into homage, oddly enough.) Due to the power of coincidence, Spider-Man just happens to be swinging by as Crusher and Bobby Chance are confronted by Manslaughter and Madame Fang’s goons, and responds to a stray gunshot. Manslaughter is as willing to attack a superhero as he is a washed-up fighter…
…and Spider-Man is more than happy to show him, most viscerally, where a two-bit thug from Brooklyn stands in the power rankings of a world where Thor walks the streets and thirty percent of New York is some sort of mutant.
Very, VERY low.
And in two panels, this issue made me forgive all the strangeness of plotting, all the dangling subplots, all the square Ron Frenz heads and tortured anatomy, as Spider-Man proves himself to be not just a hero, but a good man, as he lets Crusher Hogan have a little moment of validation after what has clearly been a life of quiet desperation. As Spidey leaves, Crusher Hogan gets his hand raised in the ring once again, in front of the very people who have belittled and mocked him for his delusions of Spider-mentoring…
It’s a sweet moment, and the second-best Crusher Hogan moment in comic-book history (right after the once shot issue written by actual professional wrestler Scott “Raven” Levy), and it makes what would otherwise be just another in a series of day-in-the-life Spider-Man issues something memorable and special. Though I admit that DeFalco is a writer that I have to take in small doses, his Spider-Man stories have a little extra heart in them, a mark of his love for the character of Peter Parker. (He also writes a pretty great Ben Grimm, as in the wonderful story where The Thing’s friends all come together to defend him while hospitalized, and Ben’s battle with The Champion of The Universe after the more powerful Marvel strong men all failed.) Amazing Spider-Man #271 is indicative of the group-think writing of the Spider-titles of the period, and Frenz’s art isn’t always as pleasing as a Todd McFarlane or Jim Mooney Spider-Man story, but it still hits a sweet spot for the wall-crawler, earning 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.