Here’s another book that came into my hands through parlay with my grade school friend Donald Sims. And boy, you can’t imagine a cover on a comic today having such an overt plug for a film not connected in any way with the publisher. But in the 1970s, it was fine, all part of the verisimilitude of the Marvel Universe. The launching of PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was another step away from the underlying continuity of the Marvel Universe. MARVEL TEAM-UP had been the first, and up to that point, Stan tried to keep characters from appearing regularly in more than one series, as the readers would sometimes ask how the character could be in jeopardy in one title and just fine in another. Even Stan didn’t manage to do this 100%, but up until SPEC SPIDEY, no Marvel superstar headlined two ongoing series. (Conan did, between his own book and the black and white SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, but those were set at different points in the character’s life, and thus didn’t conflict.)
PETER PARKER came about in an odd way. Gerry Conway had been one of very few writers on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, and the person who had the second longest tenure on the title after Stan. He’d left the book a year or so before this–but had come back to Marvel as its Editor in Chief. That assignment only lasted for just under a month, as Gerry found that it was a position that he really didn’t like or want. But during that time, the creation of SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was one of its lasting legacies. See, the Editor at Marvel was also typically one of it’s most important writers, at least in that era. Having gotten the job, Gerry was interested in picking up AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as a series then. But Len Wein was parked in the writer’s chair and showed no desire to relinquish the assignment–he had succeeded Conway as the ASM writer. So in order to get Gerry a Spidey book that he could call his own, PETER PARKER was launched, a second monthly series dedicated to the wall-crawler. Given Spider-Man’s popularity, this was also a financial no-brainer–but it did represent a derivation from Marvel standard operating procedure up till that moment. On the other hand, it’s not like Superman or Batman couldn’t headline three or four series a month, so why not Spidey?
For a good long while, the writers of AMAZING and SPECTACULAR attempted to coordinate their efforts on an almost monthly basis, but it really didn’t work–it resulted in too many interruptions of too many storylines. Eventually, the two books drifted further apart, broadly reflecting the events in one another while simply trying to tell their own stories. This second issue opens with an overt reference to the contemporaneous issue of AMAZING, #164, in which Spidey battled the Kingpin. He returns home from that battle, checking in on Curt Connors, who had whipped up a gizmo to help Spidey out in that fight along the way. Meanwhile, the scene changes to a domicile in Grammercy Park, where Kraven the Hunter has come in response to an urgent summons. As he enters the grounds, he’s set upon by the Tarantula, one of Gerry’s Spidey villain creations, and seemingly one of his favorites given all the times he used the character.
The two characters tussle for a few panels to give the book some action, before being broken up by the shadowed figure who has hired them both. In the prior issue, the Tarantula had been dispatched to kill the Mayor, but he was prevented from doing so by Spider-Man. Now, the mysterious mastermind has brought Kraven on board to help the Tarantula carry out the next step in his scheme–he needs the two villains to abduct the NYC School Chancellor. While Peter Parker visits with Aunt May, the two bickering villains carry out their assignment, attacking the Chancellor’s Administration Building and making off with their prize.
Elsewhere, Peter Parker has brought his new neighbor Glory Grant in to the Daily Bugle to interview for the position as Jonah Jameson’s secretary. Ever since Betty Brant got married in ASM earlier in the year, there’d been a running gag in which Jonah traumatizes every replacement who tries to work for him. But Glory has no problem taming Jameson, and so she’s positioned to become a regular member of the supporting cast for years to come. While there, Peter hears about the Tarantula and Kraven’s attack on the Chancellor, and so it’s web-swinging time as he becomes Spider-Man and sets out in pursuit of his two foes.
As it turns out, the bad guys have split up, sick of one another’s company. Kraven has doubled back, correctly figuring that Spider-Man would still be after them and setting an ambush for the wall-crawler. The Tarantula, meanwhile, delivers their hostage to their shadowy employer, and receives his payoff in return. Sadly for the Tarantula, the secretive mastermind booby-trapped the money, correctly anticipating that the mercenary might choose to betray him for an additional payoff. So the Tarantula is out of the picture. Still, Spider-Man has his hands full battling Kraven in the middle of Manhattan. I haven’t really talked about the artwork by Sal Buscema, one of the backbones of the Marvel of this era. His work here is solid if unspectacular, inked in an unflattering manner as often happened by Mike Esposito. This was the period of time where, between Ross Andru on ASM and Sal on SPEC, Spider-Man was at his least Ditko-y. At least on MARVEL TEAM-UP John Byrne was giving him a nice John Romita-style build and manner.
Anyway, it’s fight, fight, fight, quip, quip, quip until the final page, where in attempting to stab Spidey, Kraven instead drives his knife into one of the lights adorning the marquee the two are battling upon, and promptly electrocutes himself. And that’s a wrap. Gerry himself would only stay on PETER PARKER, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN for another few issues before being replaces by a rotating crop of writers, primary among them Bill Mantlo. It was definitely the second tier Spider-Man title–fun enough for when you wanted a little bit more Spidey pizzazz in your month, but often forgettable and extraneous.