It was 1973. Stan Lee had given up writing all his regular series the year before. Gerry Conway, Gil Kane, and John Romita had just finished killing off Gwen Stacy, Spider-Man's long-time girl-friend. Kane and Romita left the scene of the crime a couple of issues thereafter. It was 1973. It was Amazing Spider-Man #125. What could Spidey readers expect next?
Turns out that Ross Andru was next. With no fanfare (much as he spent most of his career), Ross took over the art chores on ASM. For the next five years, Ross illustrated 56 of the succeeding 61 issues (missing only #132, 150, 154, 155, and 181), bringing a freshness and charm to the series. He was the perfect antidote to the grim doings of the Gwen Stacy tale. It wasn't long before fans started writing in asking about Marvel's "new" artist, unaware that Ross had been around, unassumingly, for quite some time. (Before Spidey, he was probably best known for his run on DC's Metal Men.) By the time he finished his run with ASM #185, Ross had teamed with three writers and helped to introduce a number of classic Spidey adversaries; among them the Punisher, the Jackal, the Tarantula, and (ahem) the Rocket Racer.
Ross Andru is no longer with us but his work remains. It is still charming, still vibrant, still some of Spider-Man at his best. Here's a classic Andru/Conway team-up, as the Web-head has his first encounter with the gigantic Grizzly.
|Inker:||David Hunt, Frank Giacoia|
|Cover Art:||Gil Kane|
(The cover warns, "Don't sneak a peek at our last-page appearance of a surprise super-villain!" So don't look ahead, OK?)
Late August in Manhattan and Spider-Man swings through the city, lost in thought, as usual. Three weeks ago, his apartment was blown up by a crazed Harry Osborn in his first bout of being the Green Goblin (ASM #136). Soon after, evicted from his ruined home, Peter is forced to room with his old High School nemesis Flash Thompson (ASM #138). While things are going surprisingly well between the two, the situation is only temporary. Peter needs a place of his own.
Actually, the reason for the web-slinging is to join Liz Allen for some apartment viewing. Liz has discovered a vacant place on 12th Street; a "tenement in Chelsea". As he arrives and changes into his civvies, Peter laments that his earnings from the Daily Bugle are not enough to afford a better place. In fact, during the course of his journey to see the apartment, Peter realizes that he is doing pretty well with coping with Gwen's death, then feels guilty about that (almost wishing for something "really lousy to happen"), calls himself "Mr. Masochism 1974", implies that he needs psychoanalysis, complains about what a tightwad J. Jonah Jameson is, whines that he just recently saved the city yet can't afford to live in it, and finishes by worrying that he'll probably get mugged. Yup, that's the Peter Parker I know and love.
He meets Liz Allen at a nearby newstand and she shows him the ad in the paper. "Three and a half rooms - one hundred and ten a month." Together they go to the address and ring the bell. For an answer, a short gray-haired woman in a green outfit screams down from a second floor window, "Yeah? Wha' dya' want?"
They tell her that they want to see the apartment. The woman buzzes them in, then tells them to "C'mon already. I haven't got all day." as they climb a "rickety stairway" to meet her. The woman introduces herself as Mamie, the building superintendent's wife. (We later get to know her well as Mrs. Muggins. I'm not sure if her first name is ever mentioned again and I can't recall a time that we ever saw her husband Barney. But tell me if I'm wrong, OK?) She shows Peter and Liz around a dingy apartment with cracked plaster on the walls. Peter, used to living in a swank East Side apartment with Harry all these years, has trouble adjusting to the change. Ah, but this place, according to Mamie, has a view of the river. "You haveta sort of lean out" and look west, she tells Peter. And maybe she's right, if you lean way out the window overlooking the alley and ignore the adjacent building only a few yards away. Still, the price is right. When Mamie asks, "So, what'dya say, Sonny?", Pete answers with, "Lady, I guess you've got yourself a deal."
Three hours later, Pete arrives at the Daily Bugle. Betty Brant is thrilled to see him, because the last time he was there, he had quit. (This was back in ASM #136. Pete, driven to distraction by his fears over the new Green Goblin, had asked JJJ for a leave of absence. When he was refused, he quit completely.) Pete tells her that he had just blown-up, that it was all talk, and "besides, I need the bread". Betty asks him if he's seen Mary Jane since she got out of the hospital. (Didn't know she was in? It's that same Goblin issue again. Mary Jane was caught in the blast that destroyed the apartment.) Pete tells Betty that he spoke to her the night before and that MJ is staying with her Aunt until she recovers. This is overheard by Joe Robertson, who invites Pete into his office. But their casual conversation is interrupted by a loud smashing sound coming from the elevator bank. Suddenly, the elevator doors burst off their track and a big man ("almost nine feet tall") dressed in a bear costume proclaims that "Nothing can stop me!" and "So, look out, New York, the Grizzly is back in town!"
(Yes, the Grizzly has one of those dopey outfits where he's covered in fur and his face pokes out of the bear mask's mouth, but let's not hold that against him, OK? He'll be the butt of jokes in the Legion of Losers soon enough. Let him enjoy his moment of being a formidable adversary, all right?)
The Grizzly cuts a destructive swath through the newsroom, smashing desks in two, swatting desks aside, lifting desks over his head. All the reporters make for the exits... except for three people blocked off by the Grizzly's approach. (Numbered for your convenience.) Joe Robertson (1) tells Peter Parker (2) to make for the exit while he tries to protect Betty Brant (3). Peter bolts through a nearby door as Betty Brant screams out "He's coming toward me! He's going to attack!" Betty faints in her chair while Robbie distracts the giant by smashing a chair on the Grizzly's back. The big bear isn't even fazed by this assault. He turns and slaps Robbie with the back of his hand, knocking the editor across the room and out.
But it turns out there is a fourth person who is completely oblivious to the attack. J. Jonah Jameson is still in his office, on the telephone, and he isn't pleased by the racket he hears outside. He goes to his office door, planning to give an earful to whoever is making the noise when he comes face to face with a charging grizzly bear. Jameson slams his door and hides behind his desk but this does little good. The Grizzly breaks right through the door, picks Jonah up and throws him out his window.
Let's backtrack a few seconds and move outside. Peter has changed into his Spidey duds and is making his way to the action by wall-crawling on the outside of the building. He happens to be there as JJJ comes flying out amid shattered glass. He uses his web to form a net and Jonah's relief at being saved is cut short by his realization of who his savior is. Spidey tells him "you'll have to live with the fact that you owe your life to the guy you hate most" and Jonah fires back with "It's a plot! A conspiracy! You're in cahoots with that madman up there!" Before Jonah can say any more, Spidey climbs through the broken window to confront the giant bear.
Spidey starts off by raining blows down on the Grizzly; punches that "would've knocked over the Rhino". But the man in the bear suit doesn't even feel them. He tells Spidey that "I used to be number one in this town, until Jameson destroyed me. Now, I'm number one again, thanks to a friend of mine.", then swats Spidey away with that same backhand swipe he used on Robbie. But Spider-Man is a bit more agile than Joe Robertson and he turns the force of the blow into a backflip, adheres to the wall, and leaps back, kicking the Grizzly in the stomach. Angered that this attack has actually hurt him, the Grizzly starts swinging wildly, trying to do damage with his claws. But Spidey evades all that, headbutts the giant in his stomach, then does a handstand in which he kicks the bear in the face.
The Grizzly starts whining, complaining that Spidey is not fighting fair. The Webhead responds with "What do you think this is, handsome? A boxing match, with rules and a referee?" This turns out to be the wrong thing to say to the Grizzly. With a cry of "I'm better than any bum in the ring, you hear?", the bear-man grabs Spidey by the ankle and swings him, hard, against a file cabinet.
Spidey seems to be knocked silly. The Grizzly exults, pronouncing Spidey as "Nothing but a weakling punk!" and stating that he wouldn't have lasted "one round in the old Garden" (that's Madison Square Garden, for the uninitiated). Deciding the web-slinger isn't worth "tearin' apart", the Grizzly departs, unaware that Spidey is faking unconsciousness and oblivious to the spider-tracer that the Webhead tosses onto his back. Spidey has decided on this course of action because of his concern for J. Jonah Jameson who is still reclining on a web that could dissolve at any moment. Inside, Betty Brant and Joe Robertson regain consciousness, just in time to see Spider-Man return Jameson to his office. He has webbed him up to keep him from struggling and he's webbed his mouth shut to stop the complaints.
"Across the city, church bells chime a midnight toll" as Spidey works through the night, searching for the tingle of his spider-tracer. He finds it, "in plush old Washington Square", which surprises him. He figures that the Grizzly must be an ex-boxer, not the sort of type who would live in such an exclusive area (of course, Pete, some boxers are paid alot of money, you know). Perhaps it is his puzzlement concerning all this that prompts his next strange decision. (Or perhaps it's the needs of Gerry's plot.) Even though it is after midnight and he is in a wealthy, exclusive neighborhood, the wall-crawler decides to change out of his costume and ring the doorbell as Peter Parker, rather than sneak around as Spider-Man. As he rings, his spider-sense goes off, warning him that there are two enemies on the other side of the door. The door opens and Pete asks if he can use the telephone because "I'm from out of town" (oh, good one, Pete!). "Certainly", a voice says. But who has answered the door? We, the readers, aren't shown but surely Pete sees someone, doesn't he? Or is he just talking to a figure in the darkness? Regardless, he cautiously enters, now knowing it's a trap because "nobody lets a stranger into their apartment in Manhattan". (As if having the door answered by an unseen figure isn't suspicious enough.)
Well, let's not belabor this. In spite of his spider-sense, in spite of his suspicions, Pete is unprepared for a green-garbed hand that punches him in the stomach, then karate-chops him in the neck. Somehow, this simple attack manages to knock out our hero (when all the blows by the Grizzly did not) and he is dragged away from the front door.
Slowly, Peter comes back to consciousness. He finds he is sitting in an armchair in a very plush sitting room. The Grizzly stands there; his chest out, his hands at his waist. And there is another figure leaping about triumphantly, a man dressed in green. This man recognizes Peter Parker and informs the Grizzly that wherever Peter is "Spider-Man can't be far behind!" Peter has never seen this mysterious villain up till now but he has heard his voice. And he recognizes it. It's the Jackal!
By the way, there's a reminder on the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page that the Mighty Marvel Calendar For 1975 is on sale in bookstores coast to coast for only $3.95. Get your copy today!