BHOC: PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #19

Another Thursday meant another trip to my regular 7-11 hangout for new comic books, plus possibly a Clark bar or maybe even a Slurpee. I had fallen into following the adventures of the wall-crawler, and so I picked up this new issue of PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN when I saw it. I recognized the Enforcers from an issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP that I had read, and the Ernie Chan cover was pretty strong. Though it’s interesting to see how, during this period, Spidey was drawn as a much more massive and muscular character than we typically think of him as being. I suppose this was what the times called for, but I was always more partial to a more wiry, almost creepy kind of Spider-Man.

Bill Mantlo is one of those writers for whom the term “journeyman” was invented. He seemed pretty omnipresent in my early Marvel reading days. There was always an enthusiasm to it, but also sometimes a lack of craft as well. He wasn’t really somebody that people were paying a whole lot of attention to, and wouldn’t be until he started to receive some notices for ROM and Micronauts and even Cloak & Dagger in the months to come. But I generally liked his Spider-Man stories. They were sometimes a bit by-the-numbers (and inevitably they weren’t illustrated by the most in-demand artists, but rather stalwarts like Sal Buscema) but they were consistently entertaining. On a separate note, this is the first book I’ve happened across that lists Jim Shooter as Editor in Chief (he was credited as the Editor of yesterday’s MARVEL TEAM-UP issue, which may have been him still doing the same job.) Shooter had a massive impact on the Marvel line, both good and bad. In a lot of ways, he’s responsible for the Marvel that exists today. As a reader, of course, this switch-over flew completely under my radar (and even on the Bullpen Bulletins in this issue, Archie Goodwin is still listed as EIC, with Shooter as Associate Editor.)

The issue opens on two of the Enforcers, Fancy Dan and Montana, beating the heck out of a Spider-Man dummy for kicks or something. This bit of business is really just here to get us the splash page image, where it seems as though the web-slinger is already on the ropes. Nope! The two Enforcers are waiting around for their mystery boos to show up and give them their instructions. And appear he does–with a replacement for the slain Enforcer, the Ox, in tow! Who is this new Ox? No idea. He’s effectively the old Ox resurrected–he dresses the same, talks the same, acts the same. So we’re seeing some buyer’s remorse over the real Ox having been killed. (And admittedly, the Enforcers weren’t really all that formidable as a little guy who knew some judo and a cowpoke who was good with a lariat.) The boss, still enshrouded in an energy field (though his identity was relatively apparent to anybody who had been reading the series since the beginning–I hadn’t.) announces that their objective will be to murder Spider-Man.

As a step towards doing so, the Enforcers are sent into Manhattan to attack the Coffee Bean, the hangout for Spider-Man’s supporting cast. How anybody connects the place with Spider-Man, though, is a mystery, as I don’t think we really see Spidey there all that often. But this gives Mantlo an opportunity to check in with some of the alternative supporting cast that he’s been building for the wall-crawler in this series. The main series, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, seemed to be monopolizing the time of Mary Jane and Aunt May and Harry Osborn and such, so Mantlo grabbed a secondary cast of characters for his title: Flash Thompson and his Vietnamese girlfriend Sha Shan, and Hector Ayala, the White Tiger, who had been the star of a strip in DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU that Mantlo had written. These kids, plus Hector’s new romantic interest Holly Gillis, are all in attendance when the Enforcers burst into the place and create a hostage situation.

The hostage taking at the Coffee Bean is news, and somehow gets broadcast so that Peter Parker can head about it on a crosstown bus and change stops. After getting a sense of the situation from the cops who have formed a perimeter around the place, Pete races off to change to Spidey, and comes crashing into the building through the skylight. The incompetent Enforcers didn’t think to keep a lookout on it, so they’re caught flat-footed. But the hostage drama was only a ruse to draw out Spidey so the trio could ice them, and so most of the hostages run out of the restaurant in the confusion. Only Hector Ayala stays behind–he tells Holly that he wants to watch what happens, that he’s a risk-taker like she is, but really he wants to be in position to become the White Tiger and offer up an assist should the situation warrant it. This is one of the difficulties with having other super heroes in a title’s supporting cast: contrivances always have to be thought up for why they aren’t constantly helping to bail the hero out. There wasn’t really one here, outside of the fact that Spidey is never really in all that much peril from the three Enforcers.

Hector also remains behind in order to set up a plot point for next issue–but more on that in a moment. Meanwhile, it’s fighting time–the Marvel books of this era often devolved into just pages of action, pages of fighting without a whole lot in the way of plot backing them up . Mantlo mixes in a bit of comedy, as Hector rapidly realizes that his alter ego will not be needed. The whole thing is a rout, really. And no wonder. When they were first created, Spider-Man was considered strong, but not overwhelmingly so. It was plausible enough that three ordinary criminals with specialized talents could take him on. But by 1978, this was a super hero who was routinely depicted as a lot more powerful that that, and so the non-powered Enforcers are punching out of their weight class.

As the fight wraps up, Hector comes out of hiding to congratulate the wall-crawler. He’s buoyed by the fact that Spidey doesn’t recognize him in his civilian garb despite the fact that they had fought side-by-side. The web-slinger proceeds to vamoose at this point, leaving it to Ayala to tell the cops that they can enter the premises and cart away the Enforcers. This Hector does, but in doing so, he paints a target on his own back. Because the trio’s mysterious boss is revealed to be the somewhat bargain basement Spidey villain Lightmaster, who had been created several issues ago. He used the Enforcers as a stalking horse to draw out Spider-Man and determine his true identity so that he’d be easier to destroy. And now, Lightmaster figures that Hector Ayala must be Spider-Man–he’s the right age and build, and nobody else saw him and Spider-Man together (well, except for a bunch of the hostages, but Lightmaster doesn’t bother to ask them.) To Be Continued!

As did MARVEL TEAM-UP this month, the letters page in this issue of PETER PARKER takes up most of its available space reprinting an article from the Wichita Eagle, concerning how the paper had dropped the AMAZING SPIDER-MAN newspaper Strip from its pages, but reader outcry forced them to reinstate it. I’m not sure why somebody thought that this was so newsworthy an event that it warranted inclusion in not one but multiple letters pages–maybe it was as simple as trying to suck up to Stan Lee a little bit, given that the newspaper strip was one of the few things he was still actively contributing to. Either way, it’s an interesting little oddity.

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