Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Spiderman 34-38

These are the last five issues that Steve Ditko produced before leaving Marvel. Unfortunately they are a relatively mediocre batch of stories, with largely forgettable villains. They do move Peter Parker's life forward quite a bit and set the stage for the big showdown with the Green Goblin in #39-40.

ASM #34 features Kraven the Hunter. He is obsessed with killing Spiderman and mounting his head on the wall with his other trophies. Pretty grotesque. He returns to New York despite his prior deportation at the end of ASM #15 in an attempt to defeat Spidey. Dressing up as our hero, he assaults JJJ, knowing that the resulting news is sure to bring Spiderman into action to check it out. He and Spidey battle it out with a couple extra crooks thrown in for good measure, but in the end there's little real drama as Kraven is dispatched. He confesses to the police that he had been responsible for the assault on JJJ, clearing Spiderman's name.

The Molten Man returns in ASM #35. He was a pretty boring character and this is a nothing story. Ditto with #36, which highlights a new villain, the Looter, who became super after inhaling gases from a meteor. About the only interesting part of the latter story is this rather obvious characterization swipe from Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane:

ASM #37 is a stage-setter. Professor Stromm (first appearance) has been released from prison and is determined to get the man who sent him there. It turns out that this is Harry Osborn's father, Norman. The professor sends robots to destroy Osborn's facilities. Spiderman defeats the robots. As he is about to capture the professor, though, his spider sense reveals somebody at a window with a gun. Pushing the prof out of the way, Spidey jumps up to the window, but the person is gone, and it is clear that nobody could have been standing there. As the story ends, Peter wonders if he's losing his spider sense. We also see Norman Osborn with a rifle (perhaps the one at the high window?) vowing to eliminate Spiderman.

In ASM #38, Spidey faces "A Guy Named Joe". Joe Smith is a washout as a fighter and wrestler. But when he appears as an extra in a movie, he is transformed when power cables hit a puddle of chemicals he is standing in. When filming resumes, Joe discovers that he's extremely strong, and that he's angry at everybody. He goes berserk and breaks out of the studio.

Steve Ditko gives us his analysis of college protestors here:

Meanwhile Norman Osborn puts out a $20,000 contract on Spiderman. This causes every crook in town to immediately attack our hero on sight. Spidey battles them off, then manages to knock some sense into Joe Smith. In the end, Smith's manager arrives to tell him that the movie studio loved his work and want to sign him to a long-term contract, much to Spiderman's annoyance.

The end of the Ditko era is mentioned in the Bullpen Bulletins:

It's a shame that the last few issues of Ditko were mediocre, because the series as a whole was terrific, among the greatest runs in comic book history, with excellent plots, superb characterization, and surreal art.

Spiderman changed dramatically after #38. The most visible difference is that Peter Parker began to emerge as a hip, with-it guy instead of the nerdy bookworm of the Ditko era. But that is a subject for a future post.

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