The Sensational Spider-Man, the 14th Marvel Treasury Edition, was added to my collection last year. In essence, this arc is a 70s hipster tribute by Stan, Roy and Gil to the Universal monster movie cycle.
The Spider or the Man? : this is the 100th anniversary story of Spidey. It begins as a kinetic, gritty urban thriller before, in trying to rid himself of his powers, Peter Parker hallucinates five of his old enemies. Gil Kane depicts Parker as a perspiring neurotic, not unlike young Anthony Perkins.
A Monster called Morbius: having now gained four extra arms (!), the anguished Parker retreats to Doc Connors’ Long Island home. The grotesque and faintly comic costumed vampire Morbius is introduced in a shipboard sequence lifted from the Lugosi Dracula. Not only is this issue ground-breaking for its bloodthirsty villain, the tone is surprisingly adult, with its references to obscene phone calls, Betty Friedan and “I Am Curious (Yellow)”. Kane also sneaks an ad for his Blackmark series on to a billboard.
Vampire at Large: bitten by Morbius, Doc Connors as the Lizard alternates from a humanoid dinosaur to a scaled human and declaims in the trademark Kane style. This issue marks a brief transition to a larger format (for a higher price) and the distinctive “framed” covers.
The Way it Began: Morbius has a flashback to his transformation in a Kirby-esque “sequestered laboratory”. He also transgresses the code of the tormented Marvel monster by killing a Bowery bum . Thomas and Kane create effective four-colour suspense. This chapter , with the pages slightly rearranged, was reprinted in the b/w magazine Vampire Tales.
The Curse and the Cure: Gwen Stacy agonizes gorgeously in a soap operatic cutaway while, in an accidental moment of eerie foreshadowing, Morbius vanishes after colliding with a bridge while connected to Spidey’s web. Parker is cured, as is Doc Connors but the adventure does seem to have a sense of anticlimax.
Morbius would go on to three further rematches with Spidey under the auspices of Conway and Kane. Then he would star in a sci-fi flavoured solo strip in Adventure into Fear with art from Paul Gulacy and Frank Robbins.
With This Ring, I Thee Web: a Gary Friedrich/Marie Severin parody in the style of Mad Magazine from Not Brand Ecch #6. The Ageing Spidey-Man encounters the Gizzard and the Green Globule as he announces his engagement to the wonderful Wisp. This largely unfunny but densely detailed cartoon does at least display a likeable irreverance which is hard to imagine in the self-regarding event-driven comics of today.
Pusblished some three years after the horror boom, this treasury sees Marvel on the cusp of a sci-fi revival, instigated by Star Wars, which essentially saved the House of Ideas from financial implosion. Next time, we’ll look at the zenith of another major trend of the Bronze Age.
Coming soon: The Lord of the Rhins
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