This was another recent back issue that I picked up as part of a plastic-encased 3-Bag in some department store or toy store. For its first year or two, PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was a title that seemed to drift aimlessly. It felt more akin to MARVEL TEAM-UP, running stories involving Spider-Man that didn’t really impact upon his life or his ongoing continuity. It was eminently missable. Which I think was a rap the series struggled with all throughout its long run. But Spider-Man was undeniably popular in the 1970s, more so than pretty much any other Marvel property, and so it made all the sense in the world to put out a second regular series to capitalize on the hunger for further adventures of the web-spinner, even if they weren’t all that great.
The series had lurched between creative teams for the first dozen issues, but at this point, #12, Bill Mantlo was enshrined as the book’s regular writer and stayed with it for an extended period of time. Mantlo was still just a journeyman looking for that big break, and it probably wasn’t made easier thanks to the fact that he’d antagonized soon-to-be-Editor-in-Chief Jim Shooter, who had complaints about Bill’s writing. And they were valid complaints–Mantlo would take on absolutely any assignment under any impossible deadline and turn something in to be printed, even if it wasn’t all that good or well-thought-through. But Mantlo was also hungry for a regular slot where he could show what he could really do, and PETER PARKER looked as though it might be it.
The artwork was handled by Sal Buscema, for whom SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN became a relatively steady berth. He’d wind up doing in excess of 100 issues over the course of its run. Here, though, as so often in the 1970s, he was being inked.finished by Mike Esposito. Sal as a penciler was all about telling the story–he was often called upon to pencil as many as four titles a month in breakdown form, because his command of the Marvel style that Stan Lee liked was so strong. But the look of the finished artwork was often in the hands of the inker, and Esposito left a lot of areas open, didn’t spot many blacks, and generally wasn’t a very simpatico collaborator with Sal. As a result, it was comics such as this one that led to Sal having a reputation in certain fan circles as a hack who just batted comics out. In truth, he was a lot more skilled and capable than the hoi polloi of the period gave him credit for.
This issue of PETER PARKER, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN was the first part of a four-part epic that was, let’s face it, kinda dumb. We don’t even get to Razorback, the CB trucker who dresses like a pig and drives a remote controlled 18-wheeler in this issue. But the plot is still threadbare, and very much inspired by the then-contemporary interest in cults and cult figures throughout popular culture. It opens with Peter Parker and Flash Thompson having what’s supposed to be a friendly tennis match in Central Park. But Flash is upset–previously, he found out that his old Vietnamese girlfriend Sha Shan ws now in the United States and married. So he’s clobbering the ball with all his might, leading to Pete protecting himself reflexively and almost giving away his secret identity.
And at that moment, wouldn’t you know it? A gathering of disciples of the Legion of Light show up in the Park to stage a happening. Pete’s spider-sense is kicked into overdrive by this for no particular reason and he races off to get his Spidey gear and maybe set up his camera. It turns out that the gathering is being held by a pair of costumed figures calling themselves Brother Power (no relation to DC’s The Geek, apparently) and Sister Sun. But Flash recognizes them immediately as his girlfriend Sha Shan and her new husband Achmed Korba. Flash rushes the stage, desperate to get to teh bottom of what is going on, but this causes the crowd to react violently. Brother Power and Sister Sun join hands and blast the approaching veteran with devastating ray of light. And this is where Spider-Man shows up, and matters escalate into a full-blown fight scene.
It’s an inconclusive battle, as after a few pages, the cops turn up to break things up. Brother Power tells them that he and his followers were exercising their freedom of religion when they were attacked by Spidey and Flash–and teh web-slinger makes a hasty retreat with Thompson before they can wind up on the wrong side of iron bars. Switching back to his Peter Parker duds, Spidey gets some more details out of Flash about what’s going on, then seeks out one of University Professors to get more information about the Legion of Light and Brother Power. Professor Hutton reveals to Peter that Korba had been a gangster in Vietnam, but an encounter with an entity that had fallen from the stars caused him to turn over a new leaf. At its behest, Korba became Brother Power and founded the Legion of Light to spread its teachings among the whole of mankind. Yeah, this thing isn’t going to turn out to be a mystery super-villain or anything…
When Pete gets back from his fact-finding expedition, he finds a note from Flash explaining that the veteran has gone to confront Korba and Sha Shan at the former’s restaurant. Realizing that Flash has once again put himself in danger, Pete becomes Spider-Man and hustles over there just in time to prevent Brother Power from splattering Thompson all over the wall. So it’s time for a second short fight scene–but this one is decided when Sister Sun obediently joins hands with her husband, and their combined power blasts Spider-Man out of the building. The issue ends with the wall-crawler groggy in an alleyway, where a large and menacing shadow falls over him. To Be Continued! I had already read the wrap-up to this storyline some months earlier when it saw print, in this issue
so I knew who was behind that glow that empowered Brother Power, and who that shadow belonged to. And it really wasn’t worth the wait, to be honest. This is a story that gets a bit away from its creators, taking strange turns and making weird choices along the way. So SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN still had a ways to go before it could be considered an equal partner to its parent series, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.