Back in 1975, with the Fantastic Four, Avengers, and Defenders going strong, Marvel decided to try two more team books. One was the return of the X-Men. The other didn't fare quite so well. It was The Champions and it featured the unusual teaming of the Angel, the Black Widow, the Ghost Rider, the Iceman, and Hercules. The series lasted only seventeen issues, with Bill Mantlo serving as writer from issue #8 to the conclusion. So, it shouldn't come as much of a shock to learn that Bill imported a villain he co-created with John Byrne in Champions #14-#15 (July, September 1977) to face the wall-crawler when he was writing Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man two years later. That villain was the creature referred to as the "Lord of the Killer Bees" on the covers of those Champions issues. Swarm!
Tony "Gloves" Alonzo and Terry "Motormouth" Doyle have just robbed the First National Bank. Now, as Tony drives their van south on West Side highway, they have cops all over their tail. Terry shoots at the ones in the helicopter but there are also two pursuing police cars. And, oh yeah, right above them is a web-slinging Spider-Man.
As the van bursts through a roadblock (the highway is closed and deserted but that never stopped crooks before, right?), Spidey leaps onto the vehicle's roof. He was fast asleep in his apartment, about to snooze through an appointment with the chairman of the ESU Biophysics department when the sound of gunfire awoke him. The police stop shooting, afraid to hit Spider-Man. This only allows "Motormouth" free rein to blast away at the cops. The result is a collision between the two police cars. The police helicopter pulls away, deciding to let Spider-Man make his play. In the van, Terry thinks they've won but Tony knows something is up. And at that moment, a stream of webbing shoots into the window and pulls the gun out of Motormouth's hands.
Terry looks out the window and sees Spidey on the roof. He tells Tony to shake the web-slinger but even though Gloves zig-zags all over the road, Spidey stays "stuck like glue". Terry, however, has a handgun stashed away. He pulls it out and fires into the roof of the van. Thanks to his spider-sense, the webhead jumps away just in time. He tries to fool the two men by crawling around to the side of the van but Gloves sees him in his side-view mirror. Knowing he's been seen, Spidey pretends to roll off the van while actually sneaking back up to the roof. Gloves can't see him anymore, so Motormouth quits shooting. But, grabbing on at the top of the windshield, Spidey rolls "the roof back like the lid of a sardine can". With his right hand, he reaches in and pulls Motormouth right out of his seat. (Apparently the reckless fellow was riding without wearing his seat belt.) With his left hand, he pops the crook in the jaw. Then, switching Terry to his left hand, he webs him up into a secure cocoon with his right, then tosses him from the speeding van (now crossing a bridge) so that he hangs from a lamppost. The helicopter radios to "ground command" to come pick Motormouth up.
Meanwhile, Spidey climbs onto the windshield, completely obstructing Tony's view. Tony has no guns to fight off the web-slinger. His only job is to drive. "How about a demonstration, then?", asks Spidey. When Tony complains that Spidey has blocked his vision, the wall-crawler leaps away... and Tony sees he's "heading right for the retaining wall". He's going too fast to stop and is bound to crash. But, Spidey, perched up on a lamppost, shoots his webbing into the hole in the roof and snags Gloves just as the van crashes through the wall and falls into the drink. He puts Tony in a webbing harness and hooks him on the lamppost. The helicopter lands to retrieve him but the cops can't figure out how to get him down. Spidey departs, saying, "My webbing will dissolve itself in a couple of hours!" One cop suggests that they call for "a hook-and-ladder unit" but the other convinces him not to bother. "Why don't we just wait till he falls into our laps?" Tony "Gloves" Alonzo knows this is not his day.
Elsewhere, Spidey has swung under the highway to get away from the cops. He has had a sudden spell of his skin feeling hot and dry to the touch. He wonders for a moment whether he is getting sick but then the feeling passes and he decides it must just be a reaction to "the pollution on the West Side". He jumps on the roof of a bus heading to Broadway. Maybe a little rest, instead of web-slinging will help.
Later, at Empire State University, graduate office secretary Debra Whitman can't find her shoe under her desk. She reaches under trying to locate it and only manages to conk her head on the desk as she sits up. Peter enters at that moment and asks what she was looking for. When told, he asks if it's the "red, high-heeled and strapless" one that is sitting on the desk. "Gee Pete", says our dizzy secretary, "You're a lifesaver!"
This is Peter's first day in the biophysics department as a teaching assistant and he is supposed to meet with the chairman, Dr. Morris Sloan. Deb tells Pete that Dr. Sloan is busy in his lab. In the meantime, she shows Pete to his cubicle. She also introduces him to his cubicle neighbor, "fellow teaching assistant and biophysics major" Steve Hopkins, a young black man with a small mustache, who is presently sitting back with his feet up on his desk. Debra leaves to "go scrounge up a typewriter for Pete". while Steve and Peter get acquainted. Steve invites Peter to "meet the other TAs". He tells Pete to look over the cubicle wall. There is another young man, busy working. This is Chip Martin, whose "dad's an important politician somewhere upstate". Steve thinks Chip is "a real cold fish" and that "sharin' the office with him has been like vacationing in a morgue". He decides to shake Chip up a bit by wadding up a piece of paper and throwing it at him. Chip doesn't just react, he overreacts, springing back in alarm and telling Steve, "Leave me alone! I'm warning you!" Peter and Steve respect Chip's wishes but, once alone, Chip tries to steady a spasming hand. "I almost lost control!", he thinks, "If that had happened... No! I won't even think of it!"
(And you know something? The odd behavior of Chip Martin as well as Spidey's problem with dry skin will be explored in a Lookback coming up in just a few months. Promise.)
Pete and Steve stroll over to another cubicle and Steve introduces our hero to Phillip Chang, "touted as the Oriental Einstein!" But Phillip and Peter have met before. It was at college graduation rehearsal and again at a Chinese Restaurant that Pete met Phillip, who was so antsy about running afoul of the White Dragon that he nearly knocked Pete's block off. Phillip had come over from Hong Kong not long before and was trying to renounce the violence of the Dragon Gangs. He was, instead, abducted by the White Dragon and later rescued by Spider-Man. (All in Amazing Spider-Man #184-185, September-October 1978.) Steve tells Peter that all the TAs report to Dr. Sloan, who is "the country's foremost entolmologist, a specialist in insect biophysics". Pete thinks this is pretty cool since it may help him understand his spider-powers or "even eliminate them should I ever decide I want to live a normal life" (as if growing four extra arms didn't cure him of trying something like that).
The three men walk past Chip Martin's cubicle again. Pete notices that Chip is still frozen in place. He also notices that Chip sets his spider-sense buzzing. Steve, Peter, and Phillip then walk past the office of Dr. Sloan. Steve points out that the doctor has been locked up in there all day with the last of the TAs, Marcy Kane. (Who Pete has met a few issues before.) The TAs don't know what Sloan is working on but, since his specialty is bees, it is a good bet that it has something to do with them.
In the office/lab, Dr. Sloan and Marcy Kane stand before a human skeleton on an examination table. The bones and a cloak which Sloan retrieves from his closet "once belonged to an expatriate Nazi... Fritz Von Meyer". Dr. Sloan tells Marcy that Von Meyer was a bee expert who fled to South America after the fall of the Third Reich. There he discovered a colony of bees who had been mutated by radioactivity, "increasing their natural viciousness while endowing them with a collective intelligence". Von Meyer tried to control the bees but instead was attacked. The bees consumed him and he died... only to be reborn as "an aggregate man, his consciousness distributed amongst the irradiated bees that became living cells of his body". In other words, he retained his mind but was composed of nothing but bones and bees! Calling himself Swarm, he came to Los Angeles and fought the Champions. He was only defeated when Hercules flung the giant mutated queen out to sea and all the other bees followed, causing a dispersal of his consciousness and leaving only his bones behind.
Now, Dr. Sloan has the bones in his possession to see if any trace radioactivity of the bees still lingers. When Marcy protests, reminding the Doctor that Swarm almost destroyed LA, Sloan replies with, "imagine the benefits if normal bees could be similarly mutated to cooperate with mankind". (Yes, that's right, another scientist messing with things that any of we regular morons would know is destined for disaster. And to make matters worse, unseen, as Sloan's machines start up, a lone bee rouses itself inside the right eyesocket of Fritz Von Meyer's skull.
In the ESU cafeteria, Pete, Steve, and Phillip pick up some lunch. Pete excuses himself for a moment so that he can talk to Dr. Curt Conners. Pete is also TA for Curt this term and has already dealt with the Lizard and the mutated reptile called the Iguana. (Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32-#34, July-September 1979.) In order to defeat both lizards, Pete had to use Dr. Conners' enervator device to siphon off Curt's "lizardness" and transfer it to the Iguana. More of the ramifications of this in that upcoming Lookback. Promise.
This conversation is nipped in the bud by a loud scream. A shaky Marcy Kane enters the cafeteria and passes out in Steve Hopkins' arms. She is covered with bee stings.
While Steve and Phillip take Marcy to the infirmary, Peter checks out the corridor. There are hundreds of bees there, all attacking students. Pete notices that the bees are "stinging deliberately" so he assumes they are some weird mutant strain which escaped from Dr. Sloan's lab. He enters a nearby Men's room, somersaults into a toilet stall and changes to Spidey (making sure to web the stall door shut so no one will find his civvies). Then he comes out into the hallway again, right into a "full fledged panic". Bees everywhere, students stampeding in pain and fear. Spidey doesn't know what he can do to help. Strangely enough, though, the bees do not attack Spider-Man, "as if their purpose is to drive humans away and my spideryness makes them unsure whether I qualify". (Not exactly the scientific method in progress but apparently correct.) The bees soon decide that Spidey does qualify as human. They start to go for him. The webhead whips up a web shield for protection, then runs along the ceiling, trying to get to Dr. Sloan's lab as soon as possible.
(In the panic, all the other students get out of the building except for Chip Martin. "So much imput", Chip thinks, "So much power building up in me! It's overwhelming! It...it's glorious!")
Meanwhile, Spidey arrives at Sloan's office. He swings through the door, only to find himself between a fallen Morris Sloan and a flying Swarm (who is composed entirely of bees covering Von Meyer's skeleton and wearing that purple cloak for added effect). Swarm has decided to kill Sloan, since the scientist knows too much. Spidey doesn't know anything but he shoots out his webbing, forming a "protective cocoon". He has webbed himself and Sloan into a tight space away from the bees but has been foresighted enough to include the office window in the area of protection. While they have a moment, Sloan tells Spidey that there was a queen bee in Von Meyer's skull and that she instantly began breeding millions of bees when prompted by the doctor's radiation analyzers. These bees brought the collective unconsciousness of Fritz Von Meyer with them and, just like that... the return of Swarm! What's worse is that the queen is still capable of breeding "a hundred million more" queens if allowed to mutate to her full size.
Spidey figures that all this is out of his league. He helps Dr. Sloan out the window, telling him to contact the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. In the meantime, Spidey will do what he can to hold down the fort. Just after Sloan escapes, the bees eat through Spidey's webbing. The wall-crawler figures he is now defenseless so he might as well do something daring. He leaps out of the cocoon and faces Swarm but the villain commands his bees to slay the wall-crawler. In seconds, Spidey has hundreds of bees all over him, stinging through his costume and he can't think of anything to do "except die!"
In the letter section, hacks are raving about the appearances of Carrion. Bruce Sussman of San Pedro, California hopes "Carrion is defeated in such a way that will allow him to come back again in a future issue". (Sorry, Bruce!) Mike Dishian of St. Charles, Missouri thinks, "Carrion is Ned Leeds, right?" (Wrong, Mike!) And Mark Noveck of New York, New York finishes his letter by proclaiming, "For eternity, Make Mine Marvel!" (Are you still out there reading, Mark?)