Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #21

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Spectacular Beginnings

This review was first published on: Jul 2013.

Background...

If you take the time to read through the letters section of the first couple dozen Spectacular Spider-Man issues, you'll find that the one thing fans were constantly clamoring for was more inner-connectivity between this title and the flagship Amazing title. In this issue, we see some of those requests answered. With Marv Wolfman having just wrapped up his first arc as writer of ASM, Bill Mantlo crafted this tale that follows up on the events of Amazing Spider-Man #183 - most notably Pete's (first) bombshell proposal to Mary Jane.

In Detail...

"Still Crazy After All These Years!"
Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #21
Aug 1978 : SMURF 185.550 : SM Title
Summary: Scorpion
Editor:  Jim Shooter
Writer:  Bill Mantlo
Pencils:  Jim Mooney
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Keith Pollard
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 Reprinted In: Hi-C Fruit Drinks (Spectacular Spider-Man Reprints) #4
 Reprinted In: Marvel Comics Presents: Scream Scorpion
 Reprinted In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Annual (UK) 1981 (Story 1)
Articles: Aunt May Parker (BTS), Flash Thompson, Glory Grant, Jameson, J. Jonah, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Robertson, Joe "Robbie", Scorpion, Sha Shan, White Tiger

The Scorpion (aka Mac Gargan) has been nursing his wounds in the sewers beneath New York for some time. That is, ever since he was embarrassingly beaten by Ms. Marvel way back in the first issue of her first series. Lumbering through the long and dark sewage passages, Gargan contemplates his long over due revenge on J. Jonah Jameson (the man who made him the monster that he is). Top side, a certain red head is awaiting the presence of Peter Parker at his Aunt May’s apartment. Despite their recent differences (Mary Jane had just callously turned down Pete’s marriage proposal back in the pages of ASM), the two share an intimate kiss once Pete arrives and they begin gathering up some of Aunt May’s possessions to take to her at the hospital. As they gather, the two long time friends discuss Pete’s recent proposal. Peter basically calls it a knee-jerk reaction stemming from his Aunt’s declining health. A much more sympathetic Mary Jane embraces Peter and tells him to not feel bad about “clinging.”

After leaving the hospital and parting ways with MJ, Pete still feels as if his sudden proposal has severely damaged his relationship with Ms. Watson. After a busy day filled with images of a fiery red head, Peter eventually ends up at the Daily Bugle looking for an assignment. In a moment of pure coincidence, Gargan has also arrived at the offices of New York’s finest rag. Having found the abandoned machines located at Dr. Farley Stillwell’s underground lab, the Scorpion is now rejuvenated and stronger than ever. Gargan begins his assault on his tormentor by throwing rocks at J. Jonah Jameson’s office window. He eventually resorts to using cars and launches one at the building, shouting “Chew on this, Jameson!” Before the sedan can reach its destination though, Pete (who craftily found time to change into his Spidey duds) grabs the car by its bumper and eases it to the ground.

Once Spider-Man meets Scorpion with a kick to the jaw, the inevitable battle between the two rivals commences. After trading hits, Gargan gets the upper hand by clobbering a reeling Spidey. As the green clad warrior spouts off about having nothing to lose because of the monster that he was unwittingly turned into, Pete regroups and lands three solid blows on his opponent. As the Scorpion lay prone on the ground, Spidey walks over to the fallen villain and rips the mask from his face. For months Gargan believed his costume to be irremovable and thought of himself as a hideous monster as a result. As the police take away the stunned Scorpion, Spider-Man walks into the distance stating “that sometimes both monsters and madness are all in the mind!”

In General...

Mantlo’s attempt to better tie-in the two main Spider titles is admirable, but there’s a reason that the individual titles have always seemed to tell stories that were so disjointed from one another. It’s just too hard for two writers to interweave different stories without causing continuity problems. Example: This issue was released the same month as ASM #183 and the story seems to segue directly, or at least soon after, the events of that story (Pete even says that he hasn’t gotten much sleep after his battle with the Rocket Racer). But the final panel of ASM #183 shows the surprise appearance of Betty Leeds who accompanies Peter through the events of ASM #184. This leaves no room for Peter’s date with MJ that is shown in this issue.

Regardless, Mantlo pieces together a story that feels like it’s a breathing part of Spider-Man’s main adventures, rather than a separate side story. With the witty dialogue, the classic villain and some of the early cast, this issue actually feels quite a bit like a Silver Age Spider-Man yarn. There’s romance, adventure and even a raving Jonah Jameson – it’s just like the old Lee/Romita days! In actuality it’s Jim Mooney (and not Jazzy John) who has taken over for the departed Sal Buscema starting with this issue. None the less, it’s hard not to feel like we’re reading something that Stan the man himself might have cobbled up.

Overall Rating...

Continuity issues aside, the creative team whips up a nice one-off story that evokes nostalgia and ties into Wolfman’s Amazing Spider-Man run. This is also a great rebound issue considering how poor the Lightmaster arc was that preceded it.

Footnote...

In the letters page of this very book, Matt Kaufman of Urbana, Illinois said that he is “awaiting anxiously the promised cross-continuity.” Well Matt, I hope you liked this issue because apart from a few scattered instances, Mantlo wouldn’t really even attempt to tie in to Wolfman’s ASM stories again.