Following up from yesterday’s entry, I moved into the second of the two issues of MARVEL TALES that I had purchased from my local drugstore’s Big Bin of Should-Have-Been Pulped Comics. Like the previous issue, this one was produced by the team of Stan Lee, Gil Kane and John Romita–and it was reading reprints such as this one that gave me, as a young reader, an appreciation for Stan’s scripting. His comics were always fun, breezy and funny. One of the things that separated the Marvel characters from their DC counterparts is that the Marvel guys would often crack wise in ways that were genuinely amusing and witty. They went down smooth.
This story was only a couple of years old when I read it, but it was still the relic of a bygone era. As DC began to do stories of relevancy, addressing contemporary issues, Stan and Marvel began to follow suit. But the Marvel attempts often felt a bit less genuine, like a sop to a trend rather than something the creators really believed in. This story was along those lines. It doesn’t feature any sort of super-villain, but rather a corrupt political boss who intends to capitalize on the death of Captain George Stacy to start a manhunt against the wall-crawler and secure his own power base. In that regard, it was a more sophisticated or adult treatment of a super hero situation than what I was used to–but I can’t say that I was all that wild about these sorts of yarns. While the older audience of the era may have been plugged into the societal issues that inspired this story, as a kid I was clueless. All I knew was that Spider-Man was being bugged by a balding guy in a suit.
What’s on full display in this issue is the soap opera, which is strong enough to carry things along. Because Spider-Man was seemingly responsible for her father’s death, Gwen Stacy, Peter’s girlfriend, is determined to help to bring the web-slinger to justice. In order to do so, she offers her help to Sam Bullit, a former cop her Dad kicked off the force for excessive violence who is running on a Law and Order ticket. The oration that Bullit gives on this page feels like it could have been ripped from the headlines today–even now, some 50 or so years after this adventure was first penned, there are still politicians who are saying pretty much these same things.
Bullit, of course, is corrupt as hell, to say nothing of bigoted. But he sees his chance to sway voters to his side by launching a smear campaign against Spider-Man. To that end, he calls up J. Jonah Jameson and asks for the Daily Bugle’s support in exchange for Bullit getting rid of Jameson’s nemesis. The Publisher is only too happy to sign on with the Law and Order candidate, but City Editor Joe Robertson is upset by this, and even considers quitting–he knows what kind of a man Bullit is, and what he means by Law and Order, and it’s nothing good if your skin happens to be dark. Or if you happen to be a surface-clinging super hero as well.
And Bullit’s campaign is working. All across the city, people are terrified of Spider-Man–a fact that, typically, begins to get Peter Parker doubting himself and whether he’s as much of a menace as he’s painted to be. And Peter’s fortunes take a turn for the worse when he’s approached by Bullit and a few of his goons on the street. Knowing that Parker takes pictures of Spider-Man, Bullit assumes that he can turn them on to the wall-crawler’s whereabouts. And when Peter tells them to go climb a rope, Bullit himself takes off so that his men can beat the hell out of Parker trying to make him give up Spidey’s location. As is typical, Peter can take teh beating thanks to his spider-strength, but he feels like he can’t fight back without disclosing his true identity. This seems a bit simplistic and binary a situation to me, but then I haven’t ever had to worry about concealing a secret identity. Eventually, Bullit’s guys get tired and leave Peter sprawled in the alley–and as soon as they head out, he leaps up, changes to Spider-Man, and the hunted becomes the hunter.
Spidey catches up with the three gorillas, and one by one he picks them off, terrorizes them and leaves them hung out to dry in webbing–in theory for the police, but in actuality, they haven’t really done anything that they could be arrested for, not without Peter himself swearing out a warrant for assault. But Peter does get to take out his frustrations on a bunch of guys who deserve the beating that he gives them, and that at least is something. From there, he decides to head on back to his apartment.
But for some reason Spider-Man’s spider-sense doesn’t warn him of danger until he’s already swung in through the window. Because standing there in his apartment somehow are both Sam Bullit himself and Gwen Stacy–presumably, Gwen let the pair of them in. And now Bullit knows for certain that there’s a connection between Peter Parker and Spider-Man–and Spidey can’t throw down or do anything aggressive while Gwen is flipping out in front of him. And that’s where we’re To Be Continued! The next issue blurb promised a confrontation with Iceman, but I didn’t get to read that story for years and years, and so I was confused as to why Iceman might be battling Spidey (having just seen the two of them work together in a recent SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN story–though in that adventure, Iceman was mesmerized by the villain and battled Spidey as well, so I don’t know why such a conflict felt so odd to me.)