Travel back to the early 1980s as we look at what made Spider-man’s third series a worthwhile read in Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-man, Volume 3 collecting Issues 54-74 and Annual #3.
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Grab your web shooters and get ready for a trip back in time to the ’80s as we take a look today at Essential Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume Three.
Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast where we search for the best comics in the universe. From Boise, Idaho here is your host, Adam Graham.
Welcome to the Classy Comics Podcast, and today we take our first look at the Essential line for Marvel with Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man Volume Three. And this book collects Twenty-One issues of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Issues Fifty-Four to Seventy-Four, and Annual Number Three which featured cover dates from May of 1981 to January of 1983. Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man was actually the third Spider-Man series. Of course, Amazing Spider Man was the flagship of the Spider-Man line and then Marvel Team Up came along in 1972. And that was so successful that we got a third Spider-Man book in 1976. Generally when you’ve had multiple Spider-Man or multiple Batman books, when you get beyond two you begin to have some dodgy quality, but I don’t think that was the case on Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. I got the trades because they were not particularly expensive and I didn’t know quite what I was going to get. I would actually have been pleasantly surprised by the quality overall.
I should mention that this Marvel Essential book, like all of the Essential Marvel books are in black and white. This was one of the earliest wholesale reprinting of series via trade paperbacks. The Essential line launched in the 1990s and continued up till 2013. DC had a counterpart Showcase Presents that essentially did the same thing, and when you go on Amazon to look at a review you invariably find one or two people who will say these are all in black and white. But they were also relatively inexpensive. Throughout the run of the Essential books the price tag varied from $14.99 to $19.99, and you got sometimes five hundred pages upwards to perhaps even six hundred in a larger collection. You got all of the stories and the penciling and inking – just not the colouring, which is what made it affordable. Since then there have been other lines: Marvel’s got its Epic Collection and DC is doing its omnibuses that are a bit more expensive but cheaper than some of the prior larger collections. But I still like the Essentials because they collect some series that are quite as popular and they are able to sell at the lower price point, and you still…they’ve started to do the Marvel Master Works with Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, but they have not gotten nearest far into the series as The Essentials did.
The book is written by two different writers: Roger Stern who would be promoted up to Amazing Spider-Man and write that series until Issue 250 and have a pretty celebrated run there, and also end up writing for Superman at DC Comics; and then there’s Bill Mantlow who’s a pretty underrated writer, particularly on Spider-Man. True, he didn’t write too much on Amazing Spider-Man, but he wrote a lot of Marvel Team Up and he began his second long-term run on Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. There are tons of artists who worked on this book and it varied from month to month who would be penciling it. John Byrne, the famous Superman writer-artist did do one issue of this and Jim Shooter did the art on a couple of issues. Beyond that, these are some of the lesser known names in comics that rotated on and off this project. Probably the most distinctive and interesting was Ed Hannigan who really did a very stylistic title page which is just really a nice touch. Now because we’re going over Twenty-One issues I’m not going to go through every issue in detail but I’ll talk about some of the key conflicts and characters and maybe a few stories.
Bill Mantlow introduced Cloak and Dagger in this book. They were two runaways who were caught by a criminal working for the mob boss, Silvermane, and given drugs that they were hoping would lead towards the development of a new type of synthetic heroin. Instead it ended up they got super powers and used those to fight drugs. It’s definitely a very ’80s feel to these heroes and they would go on to have some publishing success with a successful mini-series. They make their initial appearance and then they decide that they’re going to kill Silvermane; and Spider-Man, in that book, has to both stop them from killing Silvermane while also protecting them from Silvermane and his thugs. It’s a good story and probably one of the highlights of the book. The book also featured the reappearance of Will o’ the Wisp, and him kidnapping J. Jonah Jamieson’s girlfriend of the time. This hints at no good going on at the brand corporation, something that Roger Stern who wrote this particular story would then cover on writing Amazing Spider-Man. The Annual also deals with the fate of Man Wolf throughout the ’70s and it had been a pretty big conflict that J. Jonah Jamieson’s son John had actually been turned into a werewolf, and there had been numerous attempts to trade him. And this kind of brings that whole arc which had been going off and on during the ’70s to a conclusion.
There were also several key ongoing conflicts in the book. Grad School was a big one. Trying to be a superhero and operating in graduate school doesn’t necessarily make a whole lot of sense, and this led to Peter’s grades declining and him leaving his teacher’s assistant position and focusing more on his photography; and by the end of the book it’s questionable whether he’s going to make it out of grad school. And in the photography realm he’s actually dealing throughout the book with Lance Bannon, a photographer for The Daily Bugle who began to challenge Peter for the juicy freelance assignments. And the book begins to deal with the fact that the way that Peter takes pictures by using an auto setting doesn’t usually produce great photography as a general rule – something that writers during the Silver or even Bronze Age tended to ignore. So, there’s a nice touch of realism. Still, even if Peter’s pictures aren’t the best, he gets pretty close to the action which can help make up for it.
And then you have the Deb Whitman plot which has been working its way mostly through Spectacular Spider-Man. I think she was in a few issues of Amazing Spider-Man, and of all the potential love interests for Peter Parker to appear in Spider-Man at this point she’s probably the one I have the most sympathy for because Peter did so much just to crush her, and she did not get that mad. She just always seems so hurt and disappointed and even self-reproachal about it, which just did not really feel all that good about our hero.
Well, towards the end of the book it comes out that she has a history of mental health problems and dealing with various issues including schizophrenia. And also can escape into fantasies, and she saw Peter changing into Spider-Man and is thinking that that may be part of the fantasy, and certainly that’s what the psychiatrist thinks. And this is something that’s hinted to and built up for several issues before being resolved in Issue Seventy-Four which actually has just the best cover of all Twenty-One issues. It was by Bob Hall and Al Milgrom, and it’s of her in a spider web with little spider men crawling all over her, and her expression just captures the sort of terror at not being able to believe her own senses. And her therapist tells Peter about this and wants to enlist him to disguise himself as Spider-Man so she’ll see the absurdity of it. And the costume that he has for Peter is actually just ridiculous: it’s got Spider-Man on the front. And Peter delivers one of the classic lines of the book, “Not a prayer, Doc. This isn’t some crummy TV soap opera. Real people in real life don’t treat serious problems as if they were comic book situations. If Dev’s in trouble and needs my help I’ll help her, but I’ll do it my way”. This does lead to some moments of self-realization and him going to Deborah and revealing his identity, but the result is pretty much the same as if he’d followed the doctor’s advice, which gives it a bit of irony. And she gets, if not a happy ending in the Spider-Man series, at least I hope that she’ll be having an healthier future.
Alright, well we’ll have some more highlights of this volume of Spectacular Spider-Man as we talk about what major villains are in the book and what minor ones are. Join us back here next time for another episode of the Classy Comics Podcast. In the meantime, send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. From Boise, Idaho this is your host, Adam Graham, signing off.