Len Wein’s run on ASM isn’t always looked upon fondly. Following the one-two punch of Lee and Conway, taking over the main Spider-Man book couldn’t have been easy for anyone. Wein certainly had some good moments mixed among the bad, and he went out with a bang on the 5-part Green Goblin arc on Amazing Spider-Man 176-180. Filling in the transition between Wein and soon-to-be Amazing writer Marv Wolfman was this yearbook story written by Bill Mantlo with art by Sal Buscema.
It’s the anniversary of Uncle Ben’s death and Spider-Man has come to visit his dear uncle’s gravesite. He’s obviously hard on himself for having failed to “repay” Ben Parker for taking him in and raising him as his own son. This train of thought leads to a complete retelling of Spidey’s origin story. In 1978 there may have been a few people living under rocks who had yet to read about our favorite hero’s origin, but now days I think everyone is fairly familiar with it. So I’ll save everyone a lengthy description.
The first flashback ends with the obvious inclusion of Spider-Man tracking down the burglar who murdered Uncle Ben. Interestingly enough, we would see this burglar again fairly soon as Marv Wolfman, the incoming Spider scribe, would bring him back on the famous story-arc leading up to Amazing Spider-Man #200.
As Pete is lost in thought at the cemetery, his spider-sense warns him of a fragile old lady approaching. That lady is, of course, Aunt May (and this may be the first time that Pete's spider-sense was triggered by poor May). Pete jumps into a tree and his reverie shifts from Amazing Fantasy #15 to Amazing Spider-Man #1. He recalls his attempt to join the Fantastic Four and J. Jonah Jameson’s many efforts to try and destroy him (from the Scorpion to the Fly). His thoughts bring him to the large collection of friends that he’s collected over the years, and soon enough he begins to linger on the thought of his lost love, Ms. Gwen Stacey.
Next up, Pete begins to focus on his enemies. On these next few pages, “Our pal” Sal Buscema is rewarded the opportunity to draw nearly the complete Spidey Rogue Gallery in all of its glory. His rendering of Spider-Man fighting Doc Ock with small panels containing the busts of numerous other villains surrounding them would make a pretty awesome poster.
After focusing on some of the characters he’s teamed up with over the years, Pete’s reminiscing eventually comes to the new woman in his life, Mary Jane Watson. “If ever anyone could replace Gwen Stacey – Mary Jane Watson is the one to try” reads the panel in question. Though Wolfman’s upcoming take on Pete and MJ’s relationship though would be anything but smooth.
Meanwhile, Aunt May has placed flowers at the grave of her husband. She walks off and Pete decides that he should make sure that his aunt makes it back to the bus stop safely. Before he does though, he leaps down to Uncle Ben’s grave so that he can leave a gift at the tombstone of his fallen father figure. Pete expresses that “It’s not the way I would have chosen it to happen, but if your death is to have meaning then I must rededicate myself to your faith that one day Pete Parker will one day do something to change this world for the better!”
As Spidey swings off, an unidentified man comes across Pete’s gift to this uncle. It’s a microscope, and it just so happens that this man’s son wants a gift of this caliber for his birthday. The man steals the microscope and decides that it’s just his lucky day. In a creepy grave-robbing sort of way, we’re left with the impression that Peter Parker has just made the world better for one kid on his birthday.
For the sadists that were hoping to see the Rocket Racer grace the pages of ASM #181 based on a teaser in the last issue, it must have been quite a surprise to get this career summary instead. I can only imagine that Bill Mantlo, Sal Buscema and Mike Esposito (who, at the time, made up the creative team for Spectacular) graciously stepped in at the 11th hour to put together this story after Marv Wolfman failed to get his infamous Big Wheel arc started on time. Wolfman would begin his two year run with Amazing on the following issue and Ross Andru would resume his penciling duties as well. Surprisingly, the distinguished Andru would only pencil four more issues for ASM before throwing in the towel; possibly because he couldn’t bring himself to continue to draw the ridiculous villains Wolfman was already beginning to create. (Big Wheel and White Dragon in a four issue span. Really, Marv?)
If you’re going to spend an issue of Spider-Man's flagship title going over his career, you could do a lot worse than Bill Mantlo and Sal Buscema. There’s obviously nothing new or exciting going on here, but it’s still neat to look back at a snap-shot of Spider-Man comics from the late ‘70s. The Gil Kane drawn cover is pretty fantastic too.
After printing another teaser about the return of the Rocket Racer at the end of this issue, we actually do get to see the long awaited return of the Racer on the very next ish. I recommend you read Al Sjoerdsma's fantastic retrospective of Wolfman's first two issues starting with Amazing Spider-Man #182.