Fifth grade had just ended and I was staring down the pleasant runway of a well-cherished multi-month vacation from schoolwork. As anybody who has grown up knows–and statistics show that most of you readers fit that category–nothing was more welcome for a kid than the prospect of a long summer vacation ahead. A time without the need to wake up early, do schoolwork the need for which often eluded you, and just generally devote a massive part of your day to stuff that you’d rather not be doing. When you get to be an adult, that three-month vacation becomes a fond memory, in a world where you can maybe wrangle a week or two at the most away from your job. For me, it meant more time to hang out with my comic book reading buddy Don Sims and more time to read and reread comics, as well as the requisite playing outdoors and afternoon television watching.

So this issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was the first comic book that I bought as summer loomed, picked up in my regular sojourn to my local 7-11. I’d now occasionally arrange to meet Sims there, so that we could score the new releases together. This particular issue isn’t all that great, if I’m being honest, but it’s new writer, Marv Wolfman, would become one of my favorite authors in the early part of the 1980s–even before he jumped ship to rival publisher DC and helped bring about a renaissance there starting with his NEW TEEN TITANS and NIGHT FORCE books. It feels like it took Marv a couple of issues to entirely work out how to best engage with AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, though once he got there, I found his run superlative. Even here, in an issue whose villain was a bit of a dog, Marv wisely places much of his emphasis on the soap opera of Peter Parker’s life–beginning with the return of his first girlfriend, Betty Brant.

It turns out that Betty has separated from her husband Ned Leeds, and so has come back to New York to pick up her old life. Including, she hopes, her romance with Peter Parker. Somehow, though, Betty seems a lot older here–she always played as being older than Peter back in the day, but as a soon-to-be-divorcee, she feels more like a cougar on the hunt than anything. It’s a little bit weird. For his part, having just broken up with Mary Jane after the latter turned down his marriage proposal, Peter is in prime rebound space. But he knows that this is a bad idea, and so he’s ambivalent about the notion at best. Pete tries to beg off, saying that he needs to go to graduation rehearsal (he was about to finally graduate college) but much to his chagrin, Betty tags along with him.

After a brief interlude with J. Jonah Jameson and his girl-pal Dr. Marla Madison in which Marv sets up the fact that John Jameson hasn’t been cured of being the Man-Wolf (and, indeed, is being held in a cryogenic chamber for everyone’s protection) we cut back to Peter and Betty at the rehearsal, where they spy Pete’s classmate Philip Chang looking a bit hangdog. When Pete tries to approach him, the guy reflexively attacks, then mumbling some stuff about being chased by a dragon, he runs off. Later, as Spider-Man swings towards the restaurant where he’s agreed to meet Betty for dinner, he comes across some street toughs smashing up a local storefront as part of a protection racket. Spidey clobbers the goons, then tells the shop owner to call the police. But rather than do so and bring in outsiders, the elderly shop keep hangs up his phone as soon as the web-slinger has departed.

Pete meets Betty at the restaurant, and by a total absurd coincidence, Philip Chang is working there as a waiter. Once again, Pete attempt to speak to the kid, to work out what’s bothering him. But before he can get too far, the all-new villain of the piece makes his dramatic arrival. This is the White Dragon, a Chinatown crime lord in an all-white dragon costume. I don’t know that the responsibility for the bizarre design can be entirely laid at the feet of artist Ross Andru (whose work on this issue is stronger than usual thanks to the confident inking of Frank Giacoia) as Wolfman must have asked for something like this get-up. But it just looks ridiculous. Anyway, the Dragon gasses Chang and abducts him, leaving Peter to race off and change to Spidey before he can initiate pursuit.

Bundling Betty into a cab with the excuse that he needs to get after the White Dragon to take photographs for the daily Bugle, Pete shimmies into his webs and starts off after the bad guys, having planted a spider-tracer on the Dragon during his earlier appearance. He follows the signals to a gloomy warehouse in which the White Dragon and his henchmen are leaning on Philip Chang to join their gang, threatening his parents back in Hong Kong if he refuses to comply. Spidey considered this dirty pool, and he drops into the midst of the crew and begins to lay them low. The White Dragon, of course, is an expert martial artist–because he’s a Chinese criminal, see? But those skills aren’t really much good against a guy who can move with the proportionate speed of a spider.

So this ought to be an easy win for the wall-crawler. But in typical fashion, Spidey is heedless of the fact that the White Dragon also has drugged claws on the tips of his fingers, and right when he thinks he’s got the upper hand, he passes out. The White dragon strings Spidey up over a tank of oil, and gives Chang a choice: either he can join their operation or the dragon will drop Spider-Man into the vat. Chang still refuses, saying that he has no choice but to do so, and as good as his word, the White Dragon releases Spider-Man into the oil and then sets it ablaze with twin flamethrowers concealed within the snout of his costume. This, too, looks pretty ridiculous. Anyway, Spidey’s in a death trap, so that’s where this particular outing is To Be Continued! So yeah, that makes this another of those hated Marvel issues where the cover depicts the cliffhanger that used to drive me absolutely nuts as a reader.

4 thoughts on “BHOC: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #184

  1. I remember these years of ASM. Some great personal stories and background work with Parker’s cast.

    As far as the cliff hangers, especially when I was younger, they would indeed frustrate that I’d have to wait 30 days, but man, sometimes they left him and other heroes in their books in some tight places that you’d have no idea how they’d get out of the situation. Another thing I loved that Marvel did so well was having some hidden character “simmer” over several issues and then have a big reveal some time later.


  2. I’d post a picture if I could, but in the letter column of ASM 12, Stan says :

    “We’ve received many letters from fans who feel that Betty is too old to be dating Peter. Although, we tried to explain this in the past, for those who’ve missed the point, we’ll tackle it again — Betty is actually a few months YOUNGER than our hero. She had to leave school and take a job because she needed the money, and she intends to complete her education at night when she gets the chance. She only SEEMS older because Peter is a high school senior while she is a working girl. Okay?”

    (“Working girl” is maybe a poor choice of words) I happened to score a copy of the book at a con in 2019 and was pretty surprised to read this. The backstory Kurt Busiek came up with for Betty in Untold Tales would seem to support that, too (Also doing a pretty good job of explaining why a teenager was JJJ’s secretary by saying he let her take over for her ailing mother). But I assume most people working on the book didn’t exactly have the letter col of ASM 12 close at hand over the decades, so she wound up portrayed as older.


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