Saturday, June 6, 2015

Marvel Masterworks, Vol. 205: The Amazing Spider-Man

"Got to break free of Doctor Octopus----Before the ghost of Hammerhead murders my Aunt May!!"
Yeah, that's right!! Hammerhead is a ghost, AND he wants to kill Aunt May!!!
God, I love the '70's.

 MARVEL MASTERWORKS, VOL. 205: THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN collects THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #'s 156-168 and Annual #10, and while I found Len Wein's scripting to be a big step down from his predecessor Gerry Conway, the book is filled with enough big, dumb fun to rate a recommendation.

 Things start off lamely, with the wedding of Ned Leeds and Betty Brant being interrupted by Mirage, an illusion-based villain, who, despite what must be millions of dollars of tech packed into his illusion-casting helmet, sets his sights on robbing weddings. Lousy villain, but it was nice to see Ned and Betty finally get hitched and, at least for now, ride off into the sunset and live happily ever after. (Note that I said "for now"....)

 From there we get into the meat-and-potatoes of this volume, with a three-parter that has been burned into my memory since I was a child: Doctor Octopus fighting THE GHOST OF HAMMERHEAD!!!! Doc Ock survived the destruction of Aunt May's nuclear reactor (Seriously...don't even ask.), but Hammerhead wasn't so lucky. (Or was he...? He's a ghost, but he doesn't seem to be an "I'm dead!" kind of ghost....more of a "My atoms are scattered around!" kind of incorporeal entity, who helpfully staggers around with his arms outstretched like a bad imitation of Boris Karloff in a Mummy movie.) Anyway, Doc Ock is reduced to a kind of drunken homeless bum, since he needs to be drunk all of the time to keep Hammerhead from haunting him. How being drunk helps, I have no idea, but it's fun to see Doc Ock as a bum, so I ran with it. Ock goes to Aunt May for help, Spidey gets pissed, Ock takes off with her, Spidey pursues, Hammerhead intervenes. Chaos ensues. (Oddly, Wein writes Ock as actually caring for Aunt May, something Conway's scripts didn't portray. Ock could probably have been featured on that new TLC show "Grandmother Lovers". Eeew.) The sheer insanity of this story did not let me down one iota...it was just as crazy now as it was four decades ago. I loved it.

 Next we get a forgettable Bill Mantlo story from Annual #10 that introduces The Fly. I loved how the machine that gives him his powers also creates a fully-formed costume on him at the same time. I know there's a lot of nostalgia love for Mantlo, but I never saw the big deal about him. Even as a kid, I found his work to be cliched and vanilla. At least the Gil Kane art was nice. Oh well, moving on...

 After the annual, Wein brings back the bad-penny known as The Spider-Mobile, rejiggered by The Terrible Tinkerer (Now THERE'S a blast from the past!) as a Spidey-murdering machine. This story pretty well typifies Wein's dumbing-down of the series.....his stories are dopey, but still fun, and lack the depth of Conway's run on the book.

 This is followed by a two-parter that features Spidey teaming up with Nightcrawler (Of UNCANNY X-MEN fame) and The Punisher, as they hunt for a sniper that has been terrorizing the city. This story also features the first appearance of perennial Punisher baddy, Jigsaw, who was quite gross-looking for a code-approved 1970's book.To digress a little, one of the best things about the easy availability of books like this is how they fill in so many blank spaces for people like me. I was born and raised in The Bronx, and although my mother was quite accommodating about walking all over the neighborhood with me, so I could canvas every newsstand around, it was still a common occurrence to just not have access to random issues of your favorite series. I had a lot of these issues as a kid, but I missed a few of them, too. I have been wondering exactly HOW Nightcrawler got involved in this storyline for around four decades now, and it really scratches an itchy part of my brain to finally have an answer. Thank you, Marvel!

 Issues 163-164 feature more weird Wein science, as The Kingpin returns and uses some weird device to drain Spider-Man's lifeforce and give it to his dying son. It always puzzled me how someone who is, basically, just a really fat man, could consistently kick Spider-Man's ass every time they met. I know, suspension of disbelief. Sorry.

 This is followed by another story that has lived on in my brain since childhood, this one featuring a smackdown between The Lizard and Stegron, The Dinosaur Man. Stegron is, possibly, THE dumbest character ever, but how could you not love a man who has been transformed into a bipedal Stegosaurus? You can't, that's how. And Ross Andru once again draws The Lizard as a toothless, floppy-mouthed cutie-pie. Awwww! My nostalgia-meter is running off the charts!

 Things take a downward turn in the volume's last two issues, which feature yet another take on J. Jonah Jameson manning his Spider-Slayer robot. Ugh. I have never liked any of these Spider-Slayer stories, and this one is further marred by the introduction of another lame Wein villain, Will-O'-The-Wisp, the less said about, the better. We do, however, meet the future Mrs. Jameson, Marla Madison, so there's that, at least.

 As far as extras go, there's an introduction by legendary Spider-writer J.M. DeMatteis, and a few pages of John Romita and Ross Andru pencil art. The book is lovingly restored, and the classic stories have never looked better. These MARVEL MASTERWORKS volumes are pricey, but totally worth it, if you're interested in the best possible presentation. I'm all caught up with Spidey Masterworks, so the marathon is going to jump ahead a bit...next up will be the SPIDER-MAN BY ROGER STERN OMNIBUS. Stay tuned, and thanks for reading.