Whereas last year all we were given for our Annual dose of King-Size Spidey was some phoned-in reprints, 1979 gave us what could potentially be the first crossover between Spider-Man titles in his history. So between this issue and the Spectacular Spider-Man inaugural annual we get a two-part Doctor Octopus epic, split between regular Amazing and Spectacular writers Marv Wolfman and Bill Mantlo in their respective titles (with superstar artist John Byrne contributing pencils for this issue and reliable Rich Buckler over in Part 2). There are some tangents along the way, but 80-odd pages of Spidey vs. Ock surely must be a good'n?
The last time we saw Ock was back in Amazing Spider-Man #159 in his final skirmish with Hammerhead after that whole 'marrying Aunt May' debacle. Spider-Man allowed the good Doctor to escape last time around, so let's see what he's been up to...
|Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #2
|Essential Spider-Man #9
We begin with a splash page that serves as one of those old-fashioned 'teaser' pages that faded out of popularity a few decades back. Doc Ock is holding a defeated Spider-Man over the edge of a construction site whilst the captions floating around him promise "A Mysterious Murder!", "Peter Parker - Criminal!", "Spidey's Identity - Revealed!", "And...Doc Ock's Greatest Scheme!". Well, they got to fill up these king-size pages somehow.
Well, let the real story begin. Well, actually a prologue first. We begin in an alleyway in the darkened early hours of New York City. A man (whose face is conveniently embroiled in perpetual shadow) runs back to his apartment, frantically thinking that they "know who I am! They're onto me!". He makes it inside, but is only greeted by an armed attacker. A fight ensues and our mystery man is pushed out of the window, seemingly killed on the sidewalk below. The attacker ponders "Was I too late? Did he get his message through to the feds?".
And onto Chapter 1: "Spider-Man! I Know Who You Really Are!". And we find ourselves beneath the city in the catacombs of subway tunnels, where an enraged Doctor Octopus has found his "carefully conceived plans" stolen. His terrified men accuse 'Jimbo', who "lammed outta here last night like the cat what swallowed a canary" (Doc Ock always hires the best). The Doctor, incensed that the world has "for too long ridiculed him" vows revenge. Which, really, reveals a lot of self-esteem issues plaguing Doc. No one was ridiculing him or laughing at him, he just sorta brought up that kettle of fish out of nowhere. Perhaps it's the bowl cut, Doc? Or the swimming goggles? Or the green and orange bodysuit? Anyhoo, revenge is vowed and onwards we go.
We shift our scene to a warehouse somewhere in the city (interspersed with Marv Wolfman revealing his apparent distaste for laugh tracks. No joke.). Our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man crashes in on a bunch of crooks, including the aforementioned Jimbo who it turns out was the armed attacker that killed our shadowy man the night before. Spidey defeats and ties up the gang but Jimbo (eternally in his fetching purple pinstripe suit) manages to slip away. A few moments later, Spidey is up on the rooftops pondering Jimbo's whereabouts when a mysterious man sneaks up behind him and asks for assistance. In the absence of a name for now, we shall call him Green Suit. He details the story of the previous nights murder; how Secret Service agent Kent Blake was murdered by Jimbo but made out to be a suicide. Spidey is suspicious, firstly because he's confused how this guy got the drop on him without triggering his spider-sense, and secondly because he just seemingly can't be bothered. However, a trip to Kent Blake's funeral the next day and seeing the guy's mourning wife and kids convinces Peter to help him out.
He returns home and ponders his next move. Astonishingly, our nameless Green Suit walks in through the front door and bluntly informs Peter he knows that he is Spider-Man. With "no time to play games" and forcing Peter into a corner, he convinces Peter to help. For some reason, Peter neglects to ask Green Suit what his name is. He gives Peter Jimbo's address and tells him to go there disguised.
Like the good boy he is, Peter turns up at Jimbo's address in his best criminal disguise. Which is a leather jacket, some sunglasses and some stubble that has seemingly magically grown on the ride over. Or maybe he's drawn it on, who knows. After "proving himself" by beating up Jimbo's guards, Peter introduces himself as "Kid Parker; the dude with the babyface and the fists of steel". Really, Pete? You have the opportunity to name yourself whatever you want and you choose to highlight your childlike features? Why not Massive Abs Parker, the guy with the washboard abs and the loins of fire? Heck, even Proportional Strength of a Spider Parker would sound more intimating. But okay, Jimbo hires little babyface Kid Parker and immediately they go into action.
The plan is to steal the parts for the swiped "super-type weapon plans" off a ship moored in the docks. They raid the ship and Peter, seemingly surprised that this criminal that has already committed murder intends to kill innocents, manages to snag the guard with his web before he's shot. Sneaky.
Meanwhile, Doctor Octopus is hot on their trail, still eager for revenge. After learning that Jimbo's gang have been bailed already, he goes on a rampage of New York in an attempt to find Jimbo (who has now been given the second name Ryan!). At last, he finds them and crushes into Jimbo's apartment where, of course, ol' babyface Kid Parker is now hanging out. Doc Ock immediately recognizes him (what, even through the stubble?!), what with the Doctor's history with Aunt May, and presumes that he's "on assignment for that newspaper you work at". Ock blows Peter's cover before forcing Jimbo's location out of a fellow goon. Well, actually, the goon promises to give him information once you "lemme down", but Ock immediately replies with "this information better be correct"and leaves. No one was put down and seemingly no information was given but I presume this is in aid of comic book suspense. Regardless, Ock leaves and the goons suddenly become loyal again and decide it's best to throw unconscious Kid Parker into the Hudson.
Peter wakes up and manages to escape from the river (stubble mysteriously disappearing in the process) and finds our mysterious friend Green Suit waiting for him. He gives Peter the Doctor's location and reminds him that he can "do whatever you want with Doctor Octopus...but remember, I want Ryan". Peter, all costumed up, swings on over to a penthouse apartment in the city and finds Doc Ock beating on Jimbo already. A fracas ensues but quickly ends with Doc Ock throwing Spider-Man off the roof. Once he swings back up, Ock's gone. Green Suit once again pops up out of nowhere, gives Spidey Ock's destination and again mysterious disappears into the night.
In a beautifully drawn scene down at Manhattan's "infamous Bowery", Doc Ock is carting Jimbo through the middle of the nighttime street and up towards a construction sight where apparently Jimbo has "stashed the plans". Spider-Man, however, once again interrupts. A magnificent fight scene follows, involving great Byrne-drawn action filled with flailing tentacles and Spidey entrapping Ock in a steel girder. Eventually, Spidey get the upper hand and whilst spinning Ock around, actually manages to rip one of his tentacles straight off. Spidey, the gentleman that he is, basically apologizes and offers to take him to the hospital. In all the confusion, Jimbo Ryan tries to make his escape but is stopped by our friend Green Suit. Jimbo seems extremely alarmed at Green Suit's presence, so much so that he literally manages to walk backwards off a wooden plank and fall off the building. That really does take something to achieve such levels of disregard for personal space. Spider-Man manages to swing down and rescue him but at the consequence of the three-tentacled Ock escaping. Jimbo is dropped off at police headquarters.
We're treated to an epilogue where Peter is walking towards the house of the late Kent Blake. Green Suit disappeared once again the night before and Peter, concerned that this guy has his secret I.D., figures that maybe Blake's wife be able to give him some information. They chat, with Mrs. Blake comforted now that Jimbo confessed to her husbands murder, and she goes to show Peter a picture of him. Peter is astonished to see that Kent Blake was none other than ol' Green Suit himself. But...but...if Kent Blake was killed "that would mean it was his ghost...no...don't want to think about this...something tells me I'm better off not thinking about this at all!". And he doesn't. Ever again. For some reason, Peter never wonders why a ghost was talking to him for the past few days or even how this ghost knew his secret identity. But hey, we had fun.
Interestingly, I originally thought that Kent Blake was merely a one-off character whom was created to fill this ghostly plot point. Turns out that Kent was created way before Spider-Man himself, first appearing in Kent Blake of the Secret Service #1 , May 1951. A WWII and Korean War vet, ol' Green Suit himself had been fighting the 'Red Menace' as a counter-espionage agent for years during Marvel's awkward 50's period. Which, admittedly, means he should be a lot older than the young guy we see in this story but in a universe where fellow WWII veteran Reed Richards still looks about 40 years old in 2013, I suppose we can just let that off. But it seems Jimbo Ryan managed to do what 20 years of communist spies and Captain Barto (no joke) never could.
In the backup features, we're treated to (albeit, very brief) character profiles of some of "Spider-Man's Most Famous Foes", which, judging by the inclusion of such star fan favorites as Man Mountain Marko and The Kangaroo, was perhaps running out of people to profile. We also get a layout of 'Peter Parker's Pad' (the former title of this very website), Empire State U, and a side-by-side of the Daily Bugle and the Daily Globe (which, by and large, both just look like offices).
Well, hey! A fun issue, no doubts about it. This could have been a fairly straightforward Doc Ock tale but Marv manages to craft a story that includes mystery, action, suspense and even a surprise (even slightly strange) ending.
Firstly, massive credit must go to John Byrne. This is Byrne at his Uncanny X-Men peak, before all the disastrous Chapter One and Mackie debacle that sours his name amongst Spidey fans, here he delivers simple gorgeous artwork. His New York City, especially at the perpetual nighttime that this story is set in, is beautifully detailed and evokes an almost noir-esque look at the city, full of sleazy back alleys and deep blue skylines. His understanding of dynamic perspectives, particularly the horizontal shots he does so well, keep the action looking fast and interesting. Unfortunately, apart from a few fill-in issues here and there this is the last we'll regularly see of Byrne's Spider-Man until 1999 and we all know what happened there. For now, however, let's use this as a prime example of the man at his peak.
In terms of the plot, Marv does well in juggling the plotlines he had set up and then leaving enough unresolved for Part 2. The murder of Kent Blake and mysterious Green Suit popping up constantly keeps the story interesting, and even if Peter dressing up as a criminal is a bit goofy, Marv pulls it off well enough and keeps the pace quick enough for it to be fine. The fight scenes between Doc Ock and Spidey are excellent and it'll be interesting to see how a tentacle-less Ock shall fare next issue.
The whole ghost ending is a bit strange, however. It's oddball fun, definitely, but to be merely wrapped in one page without further explanation isn't quite the payoff 32 pages of mystery warranted. Marv is an excellent plotter, but much like the Black Cat and J. Jonah Jameson mysteries he was cultivating in the monthly Amazing title at the time, it's almost as if he ran out of time and had to find any way of wrapping things up (admittedly, he left the other two for other writers to finish). Still, it's oddball fun and perhaps a full explanation would detract from it.
All in all, however, this is a very accomplished Annual. Too often these annuals can seem like a forced affair, artificially increasing the page count with material that didn't warrant it, but the pace is quick and the story is interesting this time around so it's thumbs up in my book.
It's a fun story that, although containing some strange elements that aren't quite accounted for, easily provides the kind of fun that these Annuals sometimes miss the mark on. It's great to see Doc Ock back, it's great to see Kid Parker make his babyfaced appearance and with John Byrne providing stellar pencils, it just seemed unfair to give it a lower mark. Inessential, yes, but still very good stuff whilst it's in front of you.
The fun doesn't end! Find out what Doc Ock's super-type weapon is and whether he can achieve plans with a tentacle gone MIA in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1!