There are many issues of Spider-Man comics that develop the rich history of our favorite hero. We have the famous origin from Amazing Fantasy #15, the “Spider-Man No More” from Amazing Spider-Man #50, “The Night Gwen Stacy Died” in Amazing Spider-Man #121, and of course the all important Superior Spider-Man #2 (first (and only) appearance of the phrase “crazy town banana pants”), but few are as full of historical references to what is going on not only in the world around Spider-Man, but also in the world around comics themselves as Amazing Spider-Man #186.
What is it about this seemingly insignificant issue that makes it of value to the comic book historian? Well read on, my friends. This issue transcends comics and dabbles in novels, TV, and real world personalities. Best of all, it’s just plain fun to explore.
The Basics: This issue is only worth $15 in NM condition and is easily found on Marvel Unlimited or Essential Spider-Man #5. The cover itself is beautiful with art by Keith Pollard and Gaspar Saladino and is one that you’ve probably seen before even if you’ve never read this comic. Somehow it didn’t make CBR’s 50 Greatest Spider-Man Covers of All Time. The story is written by Marv Wolfman and art is by Keith Pollard and Mike Esposito.
The issue itself is a great standard Spider-Man comic. It is a perfect example of the Silver Age rule that every comic is someone’s first issue. You can easily pick up what is going on, but it is still obvious that there is an ongoing story. It follows Peter Parker’s Graduation issue (the one where he doesn’t) and wraps up a long running story of Spidey vs. the police.
The History: This is what we’re reading the article for, right? So lets get into it. This issue is packed with references to what is going on in the comics world. Even if we didn’t have a publication date of Nov. 1978, we could easily peg it within a few months based on all the allusions. Let’s start with the cover itself. In the bottom corner we have “#Marvel’s TV Sensation!” O.K., so maybe the hashtag doesn’t actually appear, but it would have if published today. At this point we are well into the first season of two seasons for the show and every issue had this blurb on the cover. The show starred Nicholas Hammond and was typical 70s quality and had poor special effects. Despite that, the show is worthy of its own post somewhere in the (distant) future if fans demand it, so I’ll leave you with the teaser to tide you over:
O.K., back it up a bit to reference the clearing of all charges. If you look up Spider-Man summaries, chances are all this issue will have is that Spider-Man is cleared of charges. But what was he wanted for to begin with?
Spider-Man started off breaking the law all the way back in ASM #1 when he breaks into federal property in order to save John Jameson. Not much is done with it except Jameson calling for his arrest. Later, in ASM #13, he is wanted for crimes committed by Mysterio. However, it is not until ASM #56 that things really heat up for him. This is the issue that he joins with Doc Ock to commit crimes (because he has amnesia). However, it really ramps up in ASM #90 with the death of Captain Stacy during Spidey’s fight with Doctor Octopus. That makes sense since Stacy was one of their own. At this point, officers are firing on this masked vigilante. Spider-Man having something to do with the death of outstanding citizen Norman Osborn and Captain Stacy’s daughter in #121 didn’t ease things either. So we can’t really blame the police for wanting to bring him in for questioning, but we also can’t really blame Spider-Man for wanting to stay out of that mess altogether.
Back to being cleared of crimes later. Peter goes and visits Aunt May in the hospital where he gets reprimanded by a doctor for not having money saved up to take care of her medical expenses. “Kids! They never plan ahead.”
Back at his apartment, Betty Brant pays him a visit and they talk all night long. She is obviously coming on Peter and he, despite being concerned that she is a married woman, is rather liking it. Long time Spidey fans groan when we see passages like this. If you want to know why Peter spending the night talking to Betty Brant is a bad thing, you need to read Bertone Hates Betty.
Once we get past this, the allusions really get rich. Spider-Man confronts DA Tower and learns that he is cleared of all charges. Look at the editorial note in this panel:
That Mayhem in Manhattan note refers to a novel written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman. The novel itself has gotten mixed reviews. SpiderFan.org has a low opinion, in fact, let me give you their words about it: “This sorry excuse for a novel is right down the scraping end of the literary barrel.” They do give a very summary of the book.
The story has no subplots and centers around a plot Doc Ock has to blackmail all the oil CEOs of America. He is going to make them think he has made their oil radioactive, but they can pay him for replacement oil for a year. The replacement oil is really their oil because it really isn’t tainted. Obviously Spidey stops them and, even though it is missing from this summary (I couldn’t get my hands on a copy of the book myself before time for the article to post), apparently Doc Ock seemingly perishes in the end. While SpiderFan insists that the best thing about the book is the introduction from Stan Lee, I disagree. This panel is the best thing about the book – it now exists in continuity. Today Marvel has its media existing in separate universes, but back when they started it fit right into the story.
This wasn’t Marvel only novel to come out at this time. For this run they released eleven novels. There were two more that were about Spider-Man, Crime Campaign and Murdermoon, which also featured the Hulk. If any Crawlspacer out there has read any of these books, please rate them in the comments section. You can buy the book for less than two bucks as well as the others on Amazon. You may like it better than SpiderFan. As one Amazon reviewer put it, “This book is for the fans of the 1970s Spiderman [sic]. It is not for people who are ‘brand new day’ fans.”
Spidey can’t take the pressure of the press conference, so he sets up another one later that evening in the park so he can have more room. This announcement is covered live on TV and the Chameleon sees it as his opportunity to finally get his revenge. No more standing around burning buildings for him – it’s time for action!
Covering all of this is real world personality Barbara Walters. This also helps to place this comic in the late 70s. Walters actually
makes several appearances in comics, especially around this time. She also pops up later in a Spider-Ham story (as Barbara Walrus). According to Comic Vine, she appears in 13 different comics, but it didn’t have a list of titles.
It is at this press conference that the real fun stuff happens. First Spider-Man makes it clear that he is a loner and will not be joining the Avengers (too bad he changed his mind on that). Then he starts to get approached by merchandizers. Most of the meetings happen off panel, but we do get to see a guy offer to make him a TV superstar. He turns it down (guess he didn’t read his own cover) because “you’d probably want me to wear a cape of a belt or carry my web shooters in my nose or something.” At this point he makes a plug for Marvel and tells him to sign the Hulk.
He is then approached by a comic book executive who wants to pit him in a comic against the heavy weight champion Leon Spinks. Comic book fans will recognize that this is an allusion at DC who put Superman up against Muhammed Ali. It is a rather ridiculous comic (which, by the way, you can read quite a bit of here). Superman gets his rear handed to him by Ali because they find themselves on a different planet which has a red sun and it is up to Ali to save the world by beating the living crap out of an alien boxer. On top of all this, Ali uses his detective powers to figure out Superman’s secret identity. The coolest thing about this (besides the wrap around cover featuring all sorts of celebrities both of the real life version and comic version) is that they train in the Nth dimension and you will undoubtedly already be aware that ‘nth’ is the only word in the English language that has no vowels. (What can I say? I was an English major. We find those things interesting. You should see us at parties.)
Spidey then tells the girl that he couldn’t sign on anyway since he just gave the rights to a comic book to Electric Company for free. That would be the Spidey Super Stories which were comic book versions of the TV version of Spidey’s appearance on The Electric Company. The TV version deserves a post all to itself and Spidey’s not referencing that here anyway. The comic version ran for a lot longer than the show (from 1974 to 1982). The stories do not fit continuity and are designed to promote reading in young kids (and hook them onto comics as well?). Each comic is approved by Easy Reader (Morgan Freeman on the TV show) as “easy-to-read” (each page was no more than four panels) and often used supporting casts members like Mary Jane and Jameson. Each issue also featured a team up with another Marvel character.
I believe it is this comic that Mary Jane later refers to in Spider-Girl #91 when she explains to May why she opened a Spider-Girl costume shop.
He does ask the comic exec out on a date, but she refuses citing her policy against dating men in masks.
Next in line is a little old lady who wants to but a costume like his for her grandson’s (little Timmy) 35th birthday. Spidey tries to politely brush her off until his spider sense goes bonkers. The old lady melts into the Chameleon, which is a new power, by the way. The Chameleon’s last upgrade was in a Daredevil comic where he could change the clothing easily. This change is from a hologram projected from his belt. Spidey lays the Chameleon out. Cool belt or no, the Chameleon cannot match Spider-man’s strength. Unfortunately for our web head, the belt is still projecting the image of a sweet old lady to EVERYONE ELSE. The TV cameras all capture the shot of Spider-Man pummeling the woman and it seems that his new found positive approval rating is over. Chameleon runs off and later makes himself look like a policeman, so now it looks like Spidey’s beating the snot out of a cop. However, Spider-Man realizes eventually that nobody can see what he sees and figures out that he must rip off the belt to save his reputation. Once doing so, everyone is uncertain until good old Flash Thompson rallies everyone back to Spidey. All the people cheer (well, not Jameson) and carry him off on their shoulders.
Cronin, Brian. “When We First Met – First Anti-Spider-Man Daily Bugle Headline and More Spider-Man Firsts!” CBR. Comic Book Resources. 19 Jan. 2014. Web. 7 Sept. 2015.
“Amazing Spider-Man Vol 1 186.” Marvel Database. CC-BY-SA. N.d. Web. 12 Sept. 2015.
“Barbara Walters.” Comic Vine. Game Spot. 2015. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.
“Book 1: Spider-Man, Mayhem in Manhattan.” Spiderfan. ComicBoards. 2003. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
“Comics: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol 1) (Page 8 of 38).” Spiderfan. ComicBoards. 2013. Web. 12 Sept. 2015.
Diatomaceous. “Classic Len Wein and Marv Wolfman Story.” Amazon. Amazon. 5 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
Hiatt, Brian. “How ‘The Incredible Hulk’ Conquered Seventies TV.” Rolling Stone. Rolling Stone. 1 May 2015. Web. 18 Sept. 2015.
Jlroberson. “Superman Vs. Muhammed Ali.” Scans Daily. N.p. 18 Nov. 2009. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
Ohitsme, et al. “Chameleon.” Marvel Universe Wiki. Marvel. 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
Saffel, Steve. Spider-Man the Icon: The Life and Times of a Pop Culture Phenomenon. Titan, London. 2007. Print.
“Superman vs. Muhammed Ali.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia. 16 Sept. 2015. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.
All images from ASM #186 and Spider-Girl #91 from Marvel Unlimited
The Amazing Spider-Man
TV Promo Poster
ASM #56 cover
Mayhem in Manhattan
Spidey Super Stories #49 Cover