What do the movies Highlander 2, European Vacation, and Die Hard 2 have in common? They are all duds compared to their original movie. Quite often a sequel to a great movie will fall short of the original. So what does that say about the success of Empire Strikes Back, Godfather II, and Spider-Man 2? I think, more than any other factor, it is because these movies benefit from being more like a continuation of the story rather than just a duplication of it. It’ not the sequel – it’s the next chapter in the story. That’s what we get here with the Return of the Sin Eater. This is not just another appearance of our favorite religious zealot with a shotgun, this is what happens next. Peter David set out to tell the story of what happens when Spidey loses control. When he wrote the first arc, he had full intentions of continuing the story later. He just needed a few years for the story to ferment before finishing it.
However, you know we’re not just going to talk about this amazing story. There were several behind the scenes changes between these two arcs as well as a little National Geographic style controversy. Get ready for punny titles and sticky spiders, web heads! Tonight’s titanic tussles start with Spidey vs. Electro (well, actually it is Spidey vs. Spidey and Electro just gets in the way) and wraps up with the title bout – Stan Carter vs. Sin Eater!
‘Nuff said! (well, not really – keep reading!)
First things first. Haven’t read these issues? You’re going to want to. Even though this post is not a review of the story, there are spoilers in this post (do you have to give spoiler warnings if the story is over two decades old?). Run down to your local comic shop and grab The Spectacular Spider-Man #134, 135, and 136. You should be able to pick them up for $9 or less total in NM condition according to the Comics Price Guide. Or pick it up in hardcover at Amazon for just under $17 bucks and you’ll get both story arcs with it. However, if you are looking for it on Marvel Unlimited, save your time. Most of the Spectacular Spider-Man issues have not been added to it yet and all six of these are no exception to that.
There are several things different this time around.
First off, Jim Owsley is no longer the editor on the Spider titles. I mentioned last post that he looks back on this time in a negative light. When you get the time, check out his online memoir chapter 2 Why I Never Discuss Spider-Man (not now, of course – finish this post and write many comments first) for more on his version of that time in his life. According to him, he was fired because Shooter told him to fire DeFalco from ASM. He said that after he did it Shooter said something like, ‘Well, I didn’t think you’d actually do it,’ and then fired him for it. Whatever the reason, Jim Salicrup replaced him. One of the first things Salicrup changed was Owsley’s idea for the differentiation of the titles. Under Owsley, each title had its own spin. ASM was the main title, PPTSSM was the dark and gritty, and Web was the travel issue. O.K., so Michelinie did mention that coming up with a new reason for Peter Parker made Web issue feel contrived, I did like the different feel of each title. It felt like I got more Spider-Man for my buck each month. In a recent interview with Joe Kelly, he mentioned the idea of several separate Spidey titles as ridiculous since if Spider-Man is buried by Kraven in one title and swinging around the city in another title, then it weakens the effect of the story (said in reference to Salicrup’s idea to take Kraven’s Last Hunt and spread it over the three titles). This seems to be the mindset of the powers that be, but for me, I still like three different writers giving me three different Spider-Man stories a month. Maybe I’m alone in that thinking (well, save Owsley, of course).
What is also new is the title. Just like the original Sin Eater saga saw the addition of “All New, All Daring” to the already lengthy title Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-Man, this arc inaugurates the shorter title of just Spectacular Spider-Man. Salicrup addresses this in his new “Salicrup’s Section”, a box on the letter pages for him to talk directly to the readers. He said, “Sharp-eyed Spiderohiles will have noticed by now that we changed the title of PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN to the shorter and snazzier THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN. We think it fits in better with other titles. We could’ve changed the other titles to PETER PARKER, THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and PETER PARKER’S WEB FORMULA OF SPIDER-MAN but we didn’t.” The English teacher in me approves of the parallelism of the titles, but I still miss the Peter Parker part.
The art changes for this arc as well. Sal Buscema’s 100 issue run on Spectacular starts with this issue. Sadly I did not talk about Rick Butler’s art in the last post. It was awesome and had that dark Hill Street Blues feel that Owsley and PAD were trying to achieve. Our Pal Sal has a much different feel that goes more with the return of the lighter side of Spider-Man that Salicrup wanted. I like both artists, but I am glad that Buckler did the first arc instead of the Buscema. Since Parker is now married and trying to get his life back together, Buscema’s art is better for the second arc.
The titles for these issues are “Sin-cere”, “Sin-thesis”, and “Sin-ister”. At the fear of sounding Sin-ical, PAD may have kept this arc to three issues because he was running out of sin-puns. Or maybe he was worried that a long drawn out story my de-Sin-sitize the readers to the impact of this arc. The connection between the titles does give this Sin-sational arc good Sin-ergy. O.K. I’ll stop.
Peter and MJ are newly married (uh… I guess in retrospect, newly in a committed relationship???). PAD nails the interaction between them. MJ is no supermodel, in fact she is struggling to just get a runway gig to help pay the bills. She doesn’t have major drama and stealing the spotlight from Peter in his own book. Instead, she shows both concern and support for him during this time like a wife would.
This arc reveals that Stan Carter loved Jean DeWolffe. In the first arc, he says he killed DeWolffe because he wanted to (as compared to the reasons he had for killing the other people). When Spider-Man confronts him at the TV studio, he reveals that he and Jean were lovers. Later when he is trying to record his memoirs for the book he is going to sell, tells a story of Jean and him being together that last night. He said she was called away for a gang killing. It was the recent death of his partner AND this ruined night with Jean that pushed him over the edge. I don’t know about you, but if they were already intimate enough to be lovers as he said earlier, I don’t think her being called away on business would have been that traumatic. It sounds more to me that Stan wanted a relationship with her, but never got it. Maybe in his messed up mind he built it up more than what it really was. Whatever the case, it is his attraction to her that led his Sin Eater persona to target her first. This gang killing that calls Jean DeWolffe away happened in PPTSSM Annual #5. This was the story that kicked off Owsley’s vision of a darker Spider-Man. It’s O.K., but not PAD’s best in my opinion. Then again, PAD’s worst comic is often better than most of what other writers put out there.
I said earlier that this story is a fight between Spider-Man and Spider-Man with Electro just getting in the way. Basically it is about Peter Parker’s reaction to when he sees what he did to Stan Carter. Remember that while Carter did have unnamed Shield drugs coursing through his system at one time, they didn’t seem to give him super human status. Enhanced human status, maybe. So when Spider-Man loses it after Sin Eater tries to kill Betty Brant (missed her by that much!), Carter’s unsuper human body cannot take that kind of beating. Now, a year later, Carter walks with a limp and cane, he stutters, and his face is slightly distorted. He is a broken man both physically and mentally as he seems to have come to terms with the evil that he has done. Spider-Man is now worried about losing it again and when he runs into Electro later, he holds back too much. Electro, being the idiot that he is, thinks that it is because he is so powerful and then unleashes on Spider-Man and frying him pretty good. To make matters worse, when a mob starts to descend on the fallen hero, it is up to Stan Carter to rescue him with his toy shotgun (back in the days when toy guns didn’t have bright orange markers on them – remember those?) The focus of this arc is really this internal struggle over Spider-Man’s ability to not to go too far. Electro completely plays Spidey instead of putting him down when he has the chance because Electro’s an idiot. Obviously since we are still reading Spidey, he finds a way past this.
The other struggle is also internal but is between Stan Carter and Sin Eater. In Stan’s mind, he sees Sin Eater. Sin Eater’s constant presence is well represented by Sal’s art and the Sin Eater’s speaking parts are great. For comparison, let’s see how well Ghost Sin Eater stacks up against Ghost Peter Parker:
This arc has all this and more, like Electro surfing on the subway rails. But what I really want to talk to you about is — “Spider-Man, Spider-Man, does whatever a spider can!” O.K., now that I have you all singing the rest of this ditty in your minds, let’s look at how Spidey really compares to what spiders can do. Why? Because it directly ties into the only thing controversial in this issue.
I did some research into spiders and converted it proportionally to a 167 pound male at about 5’ 10” since these are the stats listed on the official Marvel Universe Wiki. According to National Geographic, jumping spiders can jump about 50 times their height. So the math would be that 70 inches times 50 which equals to leaping 3500 inches (just shy of 292 feet). That means Spider-Man, if he truly had the proportionate ability of a spider, he could jump the length of almost 3 football fields! So how strong is a spider? This is a particularly hard question to find an answer to as most sites want to talk about the strength of a web rather than actual spider. On sites like Answer.com and Yahoo Answers, I found various responses from 8 to 170 times their body weight, but as these sources are not very credible and none of them references where they got said information, I am reluctant to go with them. Finally I found a site that at least looks trustworthy (it has the word “science” in the title) that gave me the answer of 50 times their own body weight. Watch the video below if you want all the “science” of Spider-Man.
I’m going to leave you all to make the hairy hands jokes. O.K., so throwing away the whole “it’s all about scaling” issue, let’s just go with the 50 ties their own body weight. So if Peter weighs 167 lbs, 50 times that is 8350 lbs (4.175 tons). According to the Marvel Universe Wiki, Spider-Man can lift roughly 10 tons, which, for you math weaklings out there, is more than our proportionate spider. You can also see the video for why the spider sense doesn’t add up.
Why does his matter? It doesn’t. This is comic books and if Stan the Man Lee said that Peter Parker’s abilities are because they are proportionate to a spider, then fine. Let’s go with it. Except that is not what people did when PAD wrote the source of Spidey’s sticking powers in this arc.
For decades, nobody really cared. Lee and Ditko explained it away as suction powers in ASM #25, an issue more remembered for the Mary Jane picture with the flower blocking her face than anything else. We know that the Green Goblin figured it out since he made a chemical mist that could dull his ability to stick to surfaces. Then nothing. Nothing until this arc, that is.
PAD takes a lot of heat for this on the Internet as being a stupid way to explain the powers. I remember in one of the letter columns following this issue a person being upset, not at the power explanation, but that he yelled it out loud. The letter writer was worried that now any villain would know to just run by a Radio Shack and pick up a tacky pad to defeat Spider-Man with. I believe Salicrup’s answer to this was something to the effect of, ‘well, it would have to be a very large pad, so we’re sure it won’t be a problem.’
I saw on one comment section that blamed Jim Shooter for making Peter David write this into the comic and that PAD was so irritated about that that he created 2099’s powers different as a statement. I searched all over Shooter’s blog and PAD’s blog and could find nothing to back that up. So I decided to just ask PAD himself. This is what he had to say about the whole thing: “First of all, I don’t think Jim had anything to do with explaining how Spidey sticks to walls. I believe it was Mark Greenwald who came up with that in producing the Marvel Handbook. Second, I’ve never said I’ve disliked it. I’ve only mentioned it in relation to when I was creating Spidey 2099. I’ve said that I didn’t want to go along the lines of the Handbook that basically explained Spidey’s wall crawling was done through advanced static electricity. Instead I gave Miguel talons on his hand to evoke how spiders actually cling to walls. That’s all.”
Here is what Gruenwald wrote in The Official Marvel Handbook: Spider-Man’s power to stick to walls comes from his ability to “enhance the flux of inter-atomic attractive forces on surfaces he touches, increasing the coefficient of friction between that surface and himself.“
John Bryne does not share PAD’s assessment and squarely places the blame on Shooter for making Gruenwald do it. He claims that it is now officially changed since someone “finally pounded into Shooter that spiders do not “stick” to anything. They cling, with the equivalent of living velcro on their foot-pads.” He actually has some real problems with Shooter and Gruenwald and mentions the wall sticking thing quite a bit. In another forum post he says, “It was Shooter who insisted that everything be quantified, as tho OHOTMU was some kind of RPG manual. And it was Mark Gruenwald who, running along that path, came up with the very annoying habit of MAKING STUFF UP. If there was no ESTABLISHED quantification, Mark invented something, on the spot, most often without consulting the appropriate editors. And this does not even consider the things that were added/changed on Shooter’s orders. Such as Spider-Man clinging to walls thru a ‘molecular interface’ because Shooter declared spiders ‘sticking’ to walls was ‘icky’. None of us were able to convince him that spiders did NOT ‘stick’ to walls. There webbing is sticky, not the spiders themselves. But, the Whim of Iron had SPOKEN!” Getting the feeling that Byrne has issues with Shooter? Whatever the case, the official Marvel website only says that he “clings” to most surfaces and doesn’t elaborate any further.
The movie did not make anything any clearer by showing tiny hairs growing off of Peter’s hand. While maybe closer to reality (see the hairy hands comment above), the question still remains how does he stick/cling/adhere to walls with his gloves on? On top of that, the hands would have to be super hairy to get enough cling to hold up a human body and then it would be almost impossible to “unstick”.
As a side note, if you start Googling how Spider-Man sticks to walls, you’ll find many sites that say that he can stick to surfaces with any part of his body. Some will go so far as to say he has used his back to stick to walls. This threw me for a loop. The only thing I could think of where this happened was when a guy impersonating Spider-Man stuck to the ceiling on his back, but it was later revealed that he was using a body harness to pull off the trick. I can see the image clearly in my mind, but all attempts to find the comic that it was in failed. Anyone else remember that panel or is it just me?
However, it wasn’t that image that people were referring to. I finally found references to ASM #528 where Spider-Man has to carry an unconscious little girl but still needs his hands to be free, so he “sticks” her to his back.
This was a result of The Other story arc. This arc happened during a down period for me in collecting, so I guess I will have to go back and read these at some point, I just haven’t been motivated to do so (maybe someone could send me some encouragement?). So do we include these powers in our discussions? Thankfully no. Joe Quesada said in one of his Mycup O’ Joe talks that these powers disappeared when Peter made his deal with Mephisto. This was later made official on the Marvel website: “Note: his power enhancements through his transformation by the Queen and after battling Morlun – including his organic web glands and stingers – have been undone after Spider-Man’s deal with Mephisto.” So if you do not like the fact that Peter made a deal with the devil, at least it undid the effects of the Other storyline. Silver linings.
Me? Since Peter David and Mark Gruenwald have it with static electricity, I’m fine with leaving it at that and moving on. I never liked the movie’s version of little hairs on the fingertips, mainly because I felt that since it had already been established, there was no need to re-establish it. When it really comes down to it, I need no more explanation than Lee and Ditko’s suction cup fingers.
How important is it to you?
Bryne, John. “Spider-Man and His Amazing Electrostatic Charges.” Byrne Robotics. N.p. 26 Oct. 2005. Web. 29 Sept. 2015.
Bryne, John. “Wanda and Simon. Who was Right and Who was Wrong?” Byrne Robotics. N.p. 11 May 2005. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
David, Peter. “Live on Tape.” PeterDavid.net. WordPress. 14 May 2002. Web. 2 Oct. 2015.
David, Peter. Comment on “A New Crazy 8 Anthology: Pangaea.” PeterDavid.net. WordPress. 30 Sept. 2015. Web. 30 Sept. 2015.
Gvosden, Dan, and Mark Ginoochio. “Spider-Talk and Their Amazing Friends – David Michelinie.” Amazing Spider-Talk. 23 July 2015. Podcast. 25 July 2015.
Gvosden, Dan, and Mark Ginoochio. “Spider-Talk and Their Amazing Friends – Joe Kelly.” Amazing Spider-Talk. 25 Sept. 2015. Podcast. 30 Sept. 2015.
Johnson, James. “The Science of Spider-Man.” The Inquisitr. The Inquisitr News. 11 July 2012. Web. 18 Oct. 2015.
Maurice and Nigel. “How Does Spider-Man Stick to Walls?” The Geek Twins. Blogger. 23 July 2007. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
Quesada, Joe. “Mycup O’ Joe Week 10.” Marvel. Marvel. 29 May 2008. Web. 4 Oct. 2015.
“Spectacular Spider-Man #134-136.” Comics Chronology. SuperMegaMonkey. N.d. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
“Spider-Man (Peter Parker).” Marvel Universe Wiki. Marvel Entertainment. 2015. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
“Sticky Spider-Man Question for JB.” Byrne Robotics. N.p. 4 June 2005. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
Walker, Cameron. “Spider-Man vs. True Spider Superpowers.” National Geographic. National Geographic Society. 30 June 2004. Web. 10 Oct. 2015.
Winchell, Adam. “Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #5.” Spiderfan. Comic Boards. 2013. Web. 17 Oct. 2015.
Images: Any images not listed here came from screen shots of Marvel Unlimited or scans of the issues that I own.