This latest issue of MARVEL TALES that showed up at the 7-11 was the wrap-up to the three issue reprinting of a trio of issues of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in which new writer Gerry Conway had repurposed the story originally produced for SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN magazine several years earlier and transformed it into a new story. In doing so, Gerry didn’t simply pick up the original tale and add in a few contemporary references, he materially changed the central plot. This drives certain Marvel historians a bit wacky, as the events of this story are now cemented into two different points in the web-slinger’s timeline. They can’t both have happened, right? So which one is the “real” one? Take it from me, it’s a question best not worried about, as there is no definitive answer.

I’m not entirely certain why Gerry and artist John Romita chose to go this route, especially since, as a time-saver, it was a bit of a bust. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN had been a black and white magazine for its first issue, and so for this color reprinting,. Romita had to go through all of the artwork and remove the graytones that had been used in the original printing to create a sense of depth and completeness in the art. This was a painstaking process-Romita may as well have drawn three new issues in the time it took him to accomplish. And of course, there were also sizing problems in the lettering between the new material and the old, given that the image area of the black and white magazines was larger than that of a typical comic. But finally, it’s kind of a dull and basic story, for all that Gerry improves on it by introducing an element of split personality into the central villain. I know that these three MARVEL TALES issues weren’t among my favorites.

So to recap a little bit: this story’s been about an impending Mayoral election, and Richard Raleigh, the progressive candidate who is campaigning on a Reform Party ticket. The criminal underworld doesn’t want Raleigh to get elected and neither does the Disruptor, a dark helmeted figure who has created a man-monster called the Smasher to interfere with Raleigh’s campaign wherever possible. However, last time, we learned that Daily Bugle editor Joe Robertson was beginning to dig into Raleigh’s past–which suddenly made him a target for the Smasher. As this issue opens, Spidey is able to arrive in time to fight off the Smasher and save Robbie, but he’s completely befuddled by what’s going on and who’s doing what. In a bit of not-great-plotting necessitated by the pages Conway and Romita had to work with, after preventing the Smasher’s murder of Robertson, Spidey simply swings off, leaving him to his own devices.

While the Smasher is on a rampage, busting up any Raleigh signs (or supporters) he can find, Spidey meanwhile has stumbled upon the Disruptor himself. But the villain simply summons the Smasher to him with his remote control, and the wall-crawler is once again in the middle of a fight. The disruptor’s pet scientist, the genius who actually created the Smasher, tells the Disruptor that he’s pushing his control circuitry too hard, but the Disruptor fails to listen to him. He needs to wipe out Spider-Man, and all other considerations are therefore secondary. And so, of course, the Disruptor drives his mountainous slave too hard, and his mind control apparatus shatters.

The enraged Smasher turns his rage upon the man who has been electronically prodding him, the Disruptor, and kills him pretty much on panel (though in a manner that the Comics Code would still approve, bloodless and largely out of frame.) But that doesn’t make the Smasher any less dangerous, and he now turns his attention back to Spidey. This all plays out as a ticker reports on the continuing election results across the center of every page. Raleigh is beginning to look like a shoe-in for the office. Spider-Man’s strongest punches have no effect on his Hulklike foe, so he realizes that he needs to think his way out of his situation rather than fight his way out.

Using his scientific knowledge, Spidey concludes that the Smasher’s control circuitry must be implanted in and around his head, and so he focuses his attack there, intending to destroy it. He chops away at the Smasher’s neck, and for a minute or two, nothing seems to have happened. But then, the huge colossus begins to sag and deflate. Spider-Man indicates that the Smasher is dead, a fact that is reiterated a few pages later when the cops show up. So I don’t know how you interpret this in any other way than that Spider-Man killed him. Sure, he was a homicidal man-brute, but you’d think that Peter Parker of all people would feel a bit worse about having to do something like that. But nope, not even a backwards glance, because there’s a story to wrap up.

Spidey goes over to where the Disruptor lay, and as you’ve predicted by now, it turns out that he was actually Richard Raleigh all the time. Spidey can’t fathom why he was attempting to destroy his own campaign–this was an element added into the story by Conway. In the original version written by Stan Lee, Raleigh was overtly evil, and just pretending to be progressive in front of his supporters. Here, the idea is that Raleigh’s liberalism was genuine, but he was off his rocker. Anyway, hearing the cops and reporters coming, Spidey quickly rips off the disruptor’s costume and destroys it, figuring that it was more important that Raleigh be a martyr and a hero in death than to reveal his psychosis. And of course, Jonah Jameson is on hand to blame his eternal nemesis Spider-Man for Raleigh’s death, and to pledge to work harder than ever to destroy the wall-crawler. The end.

2 thoughts on “BHOC: MARVEL TALES #97

  1. It’s fun to compare the original images with the new ones. All of Captain Stacy’s appearances have been updated to use Robbie Robertson instead.


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