During that same weekly run to the 7-11 on Thursday for new comics, I bought this issue of MARVEL TALES. This was a strange story, almost a reprint of a reprint in a way. When it was originally released in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, Gerry Conway had just stepped onto the title as the new regular writer, Stan Lee having been promoted to publisher. As a way of getting a bit ahead on the schedule, Conway decided to spend three issues repurposing material that had originally seen print in the black and white magazine SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1 in 1968. This was one of Lee’s first attempts to broaden the readership bae of the Marvel line, but both publisher Martin Goodman and the distributors really weren’t behind it and the magazine got lousy distribution as a result. So Conway figured that most readers had never seen this story.
That said, in doing so, Conway created a bit of a small continuity tangle for people who were concerned about such things to worry over. You see, while there was nothing in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #1 that specifically referenced any other Marvel comics–Stan was deliberately trying to make the story just a little bit more adult, and that meant that for the purposes of the story, Spider-Man was the only true costumed super hero. Lee would later approach the Spider-Man newspaper strip in much the same manner)–contemporary issues of DAREDEVIL made reference to the campaign of Richard Raleigh for Mayor of New York, which cemented the story into the timeline at that point. In choosing to reuse a bunch of this material, Conway and artist John Romita knew that not only were they going to need to add a few pages to fill out three whole books, and to bring story events to some manner of cliffhanger that wasn’t there originally at the end of each issue, but they also updated the pages to reflect where Spidey was in continuity at that moment.
In practical terms, this meant updating the artwork to account for the fact that, in the last issue, Spidey had been wearing a makeshift mask swiped from a costume shop, his own real mask having fallen into the hands of Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson. In addition, this was now the early 1970s and the political landscape was a bit different than it had been even in 1968. And Conway, being a young guy himself, was a bit more in tune with it than was the older Stan. So accordingly, Conway changed key aspects of the plot along the way. In the original version, Richard Raleigh was dimply a would-be demagogue who was deceiving the public and who was staging attacks on his own campaign so as to turn public sympathy to his side. In Conway’s version, Raleigh is sincere in what he espouses (and sometimes, Conway winds up having to alter Stan’s original dialogue in order to make this work) who is being stalked by an actual threat, the Disruptor–a costumed super-villain, albeit one in a costume that’s still mostly a business suit.
There was a second challenge involved in that SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN appears to have been drawn at the twice-up original art size that was being phased out by early 1968. So the new pages that were being dropped in were only 1 1/2 size, which meant that the lettering on them was proportionately a bit larger. So the whole book looks like a big jigsaw puzzle to anyone sharp-eyed enough to be looking for it. The SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN printing had also used graytones in the artwork since it was intended for print in black and white. So in order to have it reproduce well in a color comic book, those tones needed to be painted out by hand. According to John Romita, getting these issues ready for print didn’t save any time on the schedule, and they may actually have put the creative team further behind the eightball, so much work had to be done on every page that was being reused.
So what’s the story actually about? Well, Richard Raleigh is a popular new candidate for Mayor of New York City, As Spidey is swinging by one of his promotional billboards being put up, it is attacked by a huge man-brute called the Smasher. Spidey gets involved for a quick fracas, saving the lives of the two poster-mounters by allowing the Smasher to get away. From there, Spidey makes a beeline to the Daily Bugle editorial offices, where he’s able to retrieve his genuine mask and discard the stifling cellophane one he had been wearing. Becoming Peter Parker again, he’s invited to a big political rally being held by Raleigh that evening by Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn–MJ in particular is a big Raleigh booster. Pete needs to patch things up with Gwen Stacy, though, so he’s noncommittal about whether he and Gwen will be able to attend.
Elsewhere, Raleigh is giving an impassioned speech on television about how he’s going to crack down on crime and be a servant of the common man. He’s approached by a well-healed gentleman with gangland connections and warned off, but Raleigh tells the guy to go stuff it. Conway rewrote the entirety of this page completely from SPECTACULAR SPIDER_MAN, flipping its intent. In the original version, the man is a political consultant and Raleigh reveals to him that all he’s interested in is the personal power he can derive from the election. So Conway takes a few pages intended to showcase Raleigh as a villain and instead makes them about him being upstanding and honest.
Back in Spidey land, Peter and Gwen have been able to work out their misunderstanding and so the couple does wind up attending the Raleigh Rally after all. While they’re there, Pete’s spider-sense alerts him to the fact that the stone ceiling on the theater is beginning to crack and buckle. Without the time to don his Spider-Man outfit, he instead shorts out the light and then scampers up to the roof, hoping to be able to reinforce the ceiling with his webbing. But that webbing doesn’t seem to be strong enough to do the job, and so everybody in the crowd below, including Gwen, appear to be doomed. To Be Continued! As you can probably tell, this was one of those manufactured cliffhangers that Conway and Romita were able to create at this point in order to break up the story. The cave-in happened in SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN as well, but it was dealt with as a single action sequence without any sudden moment of jeopardy.