Have you ever wondered what happened to the Gibbon after Amazing Spider-Man #112? Or when Abner Jenkins shifted from his Silver Age Beetle suit to his more modern version? Then you may want to tune into this issue of Spectacular Spider-Man!
In a private viewing room on the west coast (either Hollywood or L.A.), Felix Simon, the narrator (and self-assumed star) of the popular TV show On The Trail scolds his director, Morrie Toshiba, over Toshiba's reluctance to go big on their next project. Simon, who had just completed a project on the Loch Ness Monster, wants to feature Spider-Man for his next show. After Simon threatens to quit the show, Toshiba is forced to act, so he prepares to send a crew to New York City to get the latest Spider-Man footage.
Soon after, Morrie calls in his field reporter/cameraman Jack to give him the details on his newest assignment. Jack brings along his grip, Marty Blank, and introduces him to Toshiba. When the director tells Jack and Marty that their next assignment is to track down Spider-Man, Marty gets lost in the images of the web-slinger as he begins having flashbacks to times past. Marty then convinces his reluctant partner that they could pull off this assignment, so they accept the gig.
Later, back at his crummy apartment, Marty savors the opportunity to finally prove that he can strike as much fear into people as Spider-Man can. He's tired of being a laughing stock and he wants his chance at revenge against the web-slinger. He then digs out his old costume and prepares for his trip to the east coast.
Back in New York City, Spider-Man web-slings through the city lamenting his love life as Peter Parker. Whilst questioning Deb Whitman's logic for dating Biff Rifkin, he spots two hot rods about to drag race in the streets below. Unfortunately, there's an old man about to cross the street who is unaware of the speeding cars. Spidey swoops down, saves the old man and then web-ties the two roadsters together and heads off on his way. Spider-Man then comments to himself that things are going much better for Spider-Man than they are for Peter Parker.
The next day, in his secret Manhattan laboratory, Abner Jenkins (aka the Beetle) puts the finishing touches on his armor upgrade. After his suit was destroyed by Iron Man in a recent battle, Jenkins was forced to generate a new suit. These upgrades include more dextrous suction grippers (ie, his gloves), an 'electro-bite' blaster, retractable four-blade wings, and magnanium body armor. Suffice to say, the Beetle is ready to go. And after programming all the data from Spider-Man's recent battle with the Ringer (in Spectacular Spider-Man #58), he sets his sights on defeating the web-slinger.
Similar to Marty Blank, the Beetle wants to defeat Spider-Man because that will earn him some respect. Jenkins then loads the data from his super-computer into his battle-suit, this will enable him to anticipate any fighting strategy Spider-Man employs. The only thing left for him to do now is find Spidey, which he can do using his mini-radar units that he has scattered throughout the city.
As the story flashes over to one of Jenkins' mini-radars, a helicopter flies overhead. This chopper contains Jack and Marty and they are on surveillance for Spider-Man as well. After Jack jokingly refers to Marty as a gorilla, Marty loses his temper, grabs Jack and threatens him physically if he ever refers to him as a gorilla again.
Over at Empire State University, Peter is taking a walk with his friend Phil Chang. Phil is trying to keep the melancholy Parker's spirits up and helping him to forget his lady troubles. But that conversation ends quickly when Peter spots a freshman in his chemistry class, Greg Salinger, being intimidated by what appears to be a couple of big goons. Peter then runs inside a nearby building and changes into his Spider-Man costume.
Once outside, he tracks down the 'goons' only to find out that they're FBI agents. According to them, an old buddy of Salinger's was under criminal investigation. Realizing he made a foolish mistake, Spidey quickly makes himself scarce, bids the federal agents farewell and heads downtown as Spider-Man.
Soon after Spider-Man is web-slinging through the city, which allows both Marty and Jack to spot him from their helicopter AND the Beetle's mini-radars to pick up his signal. Jack and Marty are the closest to Spidey, so Marty quickly changes into his Gibbon costume, much to the confusion of his partner. He then leaps from the helicopter toward Spider-Man shouting, "...Gibbon lives again!"
A rooftop battle then breaks out between the web-slinger and Gibbon in which Spidey quickly takes the upper hand. After blinding him with webbing, Spider-Man tries to reason with the Gibbon, assuring him that he is not making fun of him. The Gibbon does not back down though, so Spidey continues to thwart his every attack. After dousing him with the water from a rooftop tank, Spider-Man tries to convince Gibbon that picking a fight with him won't prove anything to anyone, except that the Gibbon can take a few punches.
When his words don't change the situation, Spider-Man is forced to use his fists. He then clocks Gibbon with a haymaker, knocking the ape-man to the ground and out cold. As Spider-Man waffles over what to do next with Gibbon, his Spider-sense goes haywire as a nearby brick wall comes falling toward him. He quickly grabs the unconscious Gibbon from the ground to carry him to safety. Spider-Man manages to toss Gibbon far enough away from the collapsing wall, but he's not able to save himself. The brick wall knocks Spider-Man down but not out...
As Spider-Man slowly (and painfully!) picks himself up from the rubble, he finds himself face-to-face with the Beetle, who is ready to kick some Spider-butt!
This story proves that you can write an interesting story, that covers a lot of ground, without relying solely on the use of top tier villains. The Gibbon, who hadn't been seen since Amazing Spider-Man #112, makes a return to the Spider-verse after having been working in the film industry for the last few years. It's pretty clear he was trying to avoid Spider-Man during that time, but sometimes you just can't escape your fate. His desire to be "better than Spider-Man" gave the Gibbon a human touch and it was sophomoric enough of a goal to fit well with him as a character.
As the Gibbon story is playing out, Stern simultaneously unleashes the Beetle in the background, setting the stage for the next issue. Jenkins' beef with Spider-Man parallels the Gibbon, in that he needs to prove himself against a foe like Spidey in order to demonstrate his worth. The parallel was a nice touch, even if that villain trope has been used frequently over the years. This issue also saw the transformation of the Beetle to his more modern look, Jim Mooney's upgrade to the Beetle's visual appearance was a marked improvement in my opinion.
Stern also has a knack for writing Peter Parker well. As always, Peter is forced to bail out on a friend when he senses Spider-Man is needed. In this case, that friend was Phil Chang. But Stern does not leave it at that, as Peter is getting changed his internal monologue reveals how self-aware he is that he is a poor friend.
Stern spends a good bit of time demonstrating the bifurcation in Peter vs Spider-Man's life. Between the ladies and his lackluster effort as a friend, Stern shows that life is better for Peter as the web-slinger...and Spidey had a brick wall fall on him in this one!
One last bit for everyone to share a laugh with...as Jenkins was refining his Beetle suit, he downloads all of Spider-Man's fighting tactics from his super-computer to a disk. But he doesn't call it a disk, he calls it a "thin magnetic memory wafer." I laughed out loud when I read that. I can't tell if Stern was being intentionally cheeky with that name or whether he legitimately believed that was a cool name for the piece of tech!
This was a fun story, with lots of moving parts that built an interesting plot with C-List villains...4 webs