Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #20

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Spectacular Beginnings

This review was first published on: Jun 2013.

Background...

Edward Lansky, a former professor that left his civilian life behind to become the nefarious Lightmaster, made his inevitable return last issue. After using the Enforcers to draw out Spider-Man, Lansky came to the obvious conclusion that Hector Ayala was indeed the man behind the web-slinger’s mask. Ayala, Lansky and the rest of this curious crew will again be drawn by Sal Buscema on his last issue of his first run as artist for Spectacular Spider-Man.

In Detail...

"Where Were You When The Lights Went Out?"
Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #20
Jul 1978 : SMURF 180.800 : SM Title
Summary: Lightmaster
Editor:  Jim Shooter
Writer:  Bill Mantlo
Pencils:  Sal Buscema
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Ernie Chan
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Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Hi-C Fruit Drinks (Spectacular Spider-Man Reprints) #3
 Reprinted In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Annual (UK) 1981 (Story 1)
Articles: Fancy Dan, Flash Thompson, Lightmaster, Montana, White Tiger

Apprehended by Spider-Man last issue, the three Enforcers (Fancy Dan, Montana and the new Ox) are now in custody at a police station. The police detectives, and Spider-Man who is secretly eavesdropping on the police’s interrogation, are trying to find out who exactly hired the Enforcers to attack the Coffee Bean. After a round of fruitless questioning, a restless Ox busts through the surrounding plexiglass only to be subdued by a well-timed shot of sleeping gas. With none of Spider-Man’s questions answered, such as who hired the Enforcers and how did they know that Spider-Man could be flushed out so near Empire State University, Pete swings through the rain back to his apartment.

Meanwhile at an abandoned light bulb factory, Lansky watches video of the Enforcers failed attempt to defeat Spider-Man. The more he watches, the more certain he is that Hector Ayala (who in reality is actually the White Tiger) is Spider-Man. Lansky then explains (to no one in particular) that ever since he was defeated by Spider-Man, back in Spectacular Spider-Man #3, the Lighmaster costume that he wore has basically bonded to his body. Now he is a “being of pure, unstable energy” that must be surrounded by light at all times “merely to stay alive.”

Back at ESU, Pete meets up with Flash Thompson who introduces our protagonist to Hector Ayala and Holly Gillis (though Peter and Hector briefly met in Spectacular Spider-Man #9). Before too many more pleasantries can be exchanged though, Hector finds himself trapped within a cage that has seemingly appeared out of nowhere. Standing above the cage is everybody’s favorite perpetually glowing villain. Using a bolt of light to stun Ayala, and in the process knocking his White Tiger amulet from his body, Lightmaster grabs his prisoner and flies away, though not until after Pete is able to toss a spider tracer onto Hector’s back. As Flash comforts a distraught Holly, Pete finds Hector’s fallen amulets and immediately realizes that his kidnapped friend is indeed the White Tiger. Though I thought Peter actually already knew this; perhaps it slipped his mind.

It doesn’t take long for Pete to shed his civies and follow the spider tracer to Long Island. After spotting the warehouse with a giant light bulb on the top of it, Spidey peers through the windows to see Ayala in immense pain at the feet of the Lightmaster. Lansky has even set up television cameras so that the world can watch him reveal the identity of Spider-Man. As the Lightmaster makes an impassioned speech about how historic this moment is, Pete lowers the amulets down to Hector on a web line. As soon as Lanksy is about to make his big reveal in front of the cameras, it is instead revealed that the captive Puerto Rican is in fact the White Tiger and not Spider-Man.

With a mighty kick to the back, Spidey initiates an arduous battle with the former professor. After dodging a number of Lightmaster’s deadly attacks, Peter realizes that the battle would be best suited outside of the warehouse where Lansky is drawing his energy from. As he proceeds to crawl through a hole in the ceiling, which he believes to be a way out, he finds that he is actually trapped within the giant light bulb atop the building. Seizing the opportunity, Lightmaster vigorously begins pumping light power into the bulb. But before Spider-Man is fried, the power within the bulb suddenly goes out. It seems as if the Lightmaster’s immense use of electricity knocked out the entire city’s electrical grid. Without light surrounding him, Lansky is unable to continue living and he slowly phases out.

In General...

Talk about an anti-climatic ending. The main villain of this two part arc is defeated because the lights went out? I guess it is actually a fitting way to dispose of one of the worst Bronze Age villains in all of Spider-Man comics. Not only was Lightmaster’s origin and motives absolutely ridiculous, but his costume was nothing more than a yellow silhouette with some sunburst looking stripes on it. I know that there were a lot of awful throw away Spidey villains from the ‘70s (and Bill Mantlo, God bless him, was responsible for more than his fair share) but Gerry Conway’s Lightmaster just may be the worst.

The use of an awful villain could possibly have been excused if Bill Mantlo would have crafted a decent plot around him, and it actually seemed like that was going to be the case after last issue’s set up. Mantlo could have gone a number of exciting ways with the whole “the villain thinks someone else other than Peter is Spider-Man” angle. Sadly though, Mantlo does little more than have Spidey swoop in and save the day almost immediately after Hector is captured. Not only that, but the White Tiger is portrayed as being utterly helpless throughout this entire issue. Even after he gets his amulets back, he still just sits around and watches Pete fight Lansky. This is a far cry from his last appearance where he is shown as being nearly Spider-Man’s equal in strength.

Overall Rating...

The art is nice. Ernie Chan’s cover is actually quite stunning and Sal Buscema’s interior work is as workman like as ever. I just can’t get over all of the missed opportunities though.

Footnote...

Believe it or not, there were more writers in the Marvel Universe that felt the need to revive Lightmaster after his defeat in this issue. Marv Wolfman brought back the character in Amazing Spider-Man #203, which is generally thought of as one of the worst ASM issues ever. Mark Gruenwald and Herb Trimpe would use him in Marvel Team-Up #113, turning the villain back into his human form at the end of the issue. More recent issues have shown that Lansky has reverted back to his light form, though it’s been some time since he actually built up the courage to fight Spider-Man again.