BHOC: PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #6

Here is another comic that I got coverless out of one of those plastic-wrapped bundles of coverless books whose covers had been sent back for credit, sold by my local drug store. And in fact, I think I wound up with two coverless copies of this same issue if memory serves, though how that happened is anybody’s guess. The likely answer is that copies of this issue wound up in two separate coverless bundles that I bought. But it guest-starred the Human Torch of the Fantastic Four, and that made it more of interest to me than a typical issue would have been, so I didn’t mind all that much.

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was a title that had been created to appease then-new editor Gerry Conway. Upon taking the job, Conway was promised a certain amount of work–and given his lengthy stint on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and his love for the character, he expected to take back that series. But Len Wein had been guaranteed AMAZING when he had been editor, and it couldn’t be dislodged from Len. Since Spider-Man was a popular character easily capable of selling two series, a companion title was launched with Conway at the helm. Unfortunately, it ran into trouble almost immediately. Conway only remained in the role of editor of Marvel for a bit over three weeks before realizing that the job simply wasn’t for him and he left to return to working over at DC. This left PETER PARKER without a writer and in a scheduling hole. A few different people leapt into the breech to try to keep things running, but this proved to be a case to too little, too late. And so, that dread scourge of the 1970s, an unscheduled reprint, had to be inserted into this sixth issue. It was a bit more scheduled than most of these things usually were–the cover copy points out the nature of the issue explicitly. Still, even this didn’t quite manage to get SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN back on track, and it would limp along aimlessly for the next few years.

The reprint selected featured an early appearance by Morbius, and was intended to presage the character’s modern day return in the following issue. It was culled from the pages of MARVEL TEAM-UP #3, an early issue of that series which co-starred the wall-crawler and the Fantastic Four’s Human Torch. That story was written by Gerry Conway and drawn by Ross Andru–the team that would ultimately take on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN after Stan Lee’s departure as writer and John Romita’s as artist. For this reprint, a few pages were shaved off and a new framing sequence was added by other uncredited hands. The Grand Comics Database suspects that Bill Mantlo wrote the framing pages, which is a reasonable assumption, but nobody is quite certain.

This issue opens with Spider-Man having a webbing malfunction while swinging across the city, the result of some poorly-missed web fluid. For no particular reason, this puts him in the mind of an earlier time when he almost fell out of the sky mid-swing, which segues matters into the MARVEL TEAM-UP reprint. It seems that Spidey was suffering from a bit of a bug seemingly caused by his then-recent encounter with Morbius, the Living Vampire. At the same time, Morbius’ girlfriend Martine had sought out the help of the Fantastic Four–it seems that Morbius has suffered a relapse. All roads lead towards a Professor Hans Jorgensen whom both Reed and Morbius had corresponded with, and Johnny Storm takes it upon himself to fly out to State U and seek his help. Simultaneously, Spider-man has gone to see the professor in the hopes of diagnosing and fixing his own illness, figuring that the Prof would have the best insight into Morbius’ condition.

Morbius, meanwhile, has also set up shop over at State U. And somehow, despite the fact that he’s a scientific vampire rather than the genuine article, he’s managed to turn one of the students into a being like him, a young man named Jefferson Bolt. To Bolt, though, becoming a quasi-vampire isn’t a curse; he likes his new existence. Either way, eventually the hunger for blood overcomes Morbius once again and he heads out to feed on whomever he can find prowling around on the campus late at night. Unfortunately for him, he coincidentally happens to pick his target right near where Spidey and the Torch are consulting with Professor Jorgenson. As they hear the death-cries of Morbius’ victim, the two heroes race to the rescue, this despite Spidey’s debilitating illness. But they are too late, Morbius has killed again, and Spider-Man goes a bit crazy at the thought, tearing into Morbius like a man possessed.

Spidey comes close to killing Morbius, and he’s increasingly and uncharacteristically brutal during the fight. Jefferson Bolt is there as well, along with his still-living brother Jacob and a bunch of other kids. Bolt stirs up the mob of kids at the Torch and Spidey, characterizing them as the attackers, and it isn’t long before our heroes are being pelted by objects thrown by the students. Meanwhile, Jacob tries to pull Spider-Man off of Morbius, but he gets attacked by Morbius himself for his troubles–the Living Vampire still has a full blown thirst on. This turns out to be his undoing, though, as Bolt isn’t down with the murder of his brother, and he hurls himself at Morbius. Bolt pays the ultimate price for his betrayal, and Morbius gets away by the end of the issue (to be captured by Spidey and the X-Men in the following issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP back in the day)

And that’s it for the reprint. Having accomplished nothing meaningful, Spider-Man and the Human Torch walk off in a very self-satisfied manner, and the scene segues back to the present, where the Spidey of today has swapped out the web-cartridges in his shooters and is ready to proceed home. But as a bit of a teaser for next month’s yarn, we then cut away to another dimension, a dimension that Morbius had been left in at the end of his previous appearance. There, a mocking voice tells him that despite his reticence, he’ll be returning to the world of his birth to cause further chaos and mayhem. And on that note, the issue is To Be Continued. It isn’t a great story (and it suffers for having the pages cut out of it) but it kept the printing presses rolling, and that’s what mattered the most in that moment.

5 thoughts on “BHOC: PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #6

  1. It’s a really odd framing sequence, too, since there’s only new art at the end of it.

    The first three pages of the original story are cut, then the next two pages are simply rescripted, so the same events happen to Spider-Man as they did in the earlier story, and he thinks “Wow, this reminds me of the earlier time this exact same scene happened!” (or words to that effect).

    And then the next two pages are also cut, and what was originally page 8 of MTU 3 becomes page 3 is this issue, as Peter remembers the earlier events for no other reason than “Wow, the last time I ran out of web fluid, I had this whole Morbius adventure!”

    And then at the end we get one actual new page, so generically drawn that it could be anyone from Win Mortimer to Arvell Jones, and apparently inked into submission by Mike Esposito, that in the cheapest of ironies, Spidey’s pointless and barely-motivated memory actually leads in to the return of Morbius.

    And then, presumably, Archie wrote a Morbius story in a tearing hurry, to provide a retroactive reason for the reprint. The book must have been reeeeeallllly late to have them repurpose existing pages that way.

    Incidentally, while the GCD surmises that the new framing material was by Mantlo, I’d hazard a guess that it may have been associate editor Jim Shooter, who’d already scripted an earlier issue. The repurposed pages smack of an editor facing a deadline, and realizing that he can get it done faster if he only gets one new page drawn.

    That feels more like Jim to me than Bill, though of course we don’t know.

    Like

  2. As a reader at the time you couldn’t miss how that brief period when Gerry Conway was editor before jumping ship had messed things up, but it’s only as more has come out over the years that it’s become apparent just how hugely disruptive it was.

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