Well, the news is that I worked out a way to beat the machines and have revived my other blog, Some Fantastic Place. My intention at present is to review new books, comics and audios on that site and concentrate on back issues ( particularly the Bronze Age) here.
Today, with the stormy sky bruised purple, I’m revisiting the 1975 Spider-Man Annual which of course was one third of the trio of Marvel UK annuals, published for the Xmas of 1974. I still have very vivid memories of finding all three in a pillowcase at the bottom of my bed, at the age of eleven and six months.
The copy I have at present is not that original gift-it’s an ebay purchase, “To Clive, from Mr. and Mrs. Hill”. I wonder where Clive is now? Might he read this? Does he remember the contents of this gaudy book as well as I do? Does he think of the Hills?
The majority of stories in this annual reflect the paranoid, declamatory world of early 70s Spidey. After the film noir stylings of the iconoclastic Ditko and the lush romance of Romita, Ross Andru and Gerry Conway’s Peter Parker inhabits a neurotic, seedy New York, teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
Appropriately, the first story is “The Punisher Strikes Twice”. This aquiline killer will become a major star in two decades time. Here, he is a stooge of the Jackal, a spindly blend of the Joker and the Green Goblin. ( I had forgotten his “electro-prod” claws).
The tone is bleak and disturbing. the Punisher fully intends to murder Spider-Man, like all his criminal targets, probably with a gunshot. The Jackal is also a killer, setting the Punisher up. Mary Jane seems shallow and heartless; JJJ is on the edge of an embolism and Harry- twitchy, sweaty Harry- is days away from complete mental collapse. Only sweet Betty Brant Leeds and Robbie Robertson seem balanced and normal.
The two-partner that follows opens with some bilious “humour” as the Human Torch unveils The Spider-Mobile, a campy beach-buggy, which is described as a “fiasco”. Even the comic relief is sour. Elsewhere, in “Betrayed!”, Hammerhead’s jet-pack wearing henchmen die of “short circuited” brains. Curiously, Parker is au courant in 2014’s fashion trend, the Christmas jumper. MJ admires his Aretha Franklin blues lp. It seems odd to see Peter enjoying black music- he strikes me as a suburban Deep Purple/Led Zeppelin fan.
The second part of the story- “My Uncle…my Enemy?” revolves around a truly bizarre idea. Doc Ock is marrying Aunt May ( a development of a Lee/Ditko twist from the 60s) because she’s somehow inherited a private Canadian atomic facility!
The turf war between Ock and the Dick Tracy-esque Hammerhead ends with a nuclear explosion- no surprise from the creator of Disco-Era atom-smasher Firestorm. As Spidey-philes know, Hammerhead would return as a ghostly figure, shunted out of this reality by “atomic power” a few years later.
The final story is a jarring change of pace. It’s actually a 60s Tale To Astonish of Giant-man and the Wasp. Hank is miscoloured in a nauseating yellow and orange ensemble; Jan is a blonde in a blue/black costume. It’s an Ayers/Reinman collaboration and dull as ditchwater, colouring errors aside.
Stan or Dick tries to tzusj up the Wasp with a “sting”- a weapon that projects compressed air. Portly villain Egghead- sadly not the Vincent Price version- hijacks a payroll truck while setting Spidey on the Wasp, playing on what Stan describes as their “natural hatred”. By this, I think he alludes to the gruesome Giger-style practice of some wasps laying eggs in living spiders. It seems too icky for Pete’n’Jan but I’m surprised Straczynski didn’t do it (maybe he did!)
The sinister world of the Jackal and the Punisher reminds me of the ghastly fate of Captain Omen’s crew in the Marvel Annual. That tone is also reflected in the rituals of the Lion God or the sadistic mind control of Magneto in the Avengers Annual. The heady, devilish atmosphere of illicit and rare ’73 Marvel is perhaps what made those gaudy hardbacks so unforgettable.
Coming Soon: Don Heck, the First Avenger
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