A Trip Down (Comic Book) Memory Lane

Spider-Man: Mark of the Tarantula

Dropping by the local comic shop these days, it’s easy to criticize the work currently being done as “not quite up to par with the good old days when I was reading.”

That is, of course, until you get hold of a run of comics from your “good old days” and you realize that those comics weren’t exactly setting the world on fire either.

That’s pretty much the case with this collection of eight issues from the early ’80’s run of The Amazing Spider-Man. I had a few scattered issues from the various Spider-Man titles up to this point, but somehow it was these issues that I was able to collect and read in consecutive order. Looking back at the covers alone, I’m shocked my family a)purchased and b)let me read the issues collected here.

Many may complain the comics today are unduly violent or filled with graphic imagery. But I defy you to find a current cover that features Spider-Man taking on a giantnormous man-turned spider whose mouth is dripping with venom and the title of “Death Knell” in big bold letters across the cover.

236-_Death-Knell_

Putting aside my fond memories of this run of comics and the fact that I read them umpteen times in my pre-teen and early teenage years (often imaging how the stories might be transformed into an animated version on my television screen), I’ve got to say that this run of stories isn’t necessarily what you’d refer to as a classic run (that was yet to come in the next run of issues which introduced the Hobgoblin) but I’ll still admit I enjoyed visiting them again all these years later. The main thread tying these issues together is the corrupt Brand corporation. The company is up to no good and the Daily Bugle is determined to bring their dark deeds and experiments to the light of day.

Of course, this brings in a bunch of what could be considered second or even third tier villains to do battle with Spidey. The first two-part arc features the Cobra and Mr. Hyde, who have the bad fortune of being tied to a Brand informant named Nose Norton. Spidey gets caught in the middle of trying to rescue Nose and keeping various Daily Bugle employees out of the line of fire. Meanwhile, Mr. Hyde has an axe to grind with the Cobra and Spidey is squarely in the way.

The storyline is probably most memorable for the cliffhanger to issue 231 with Hyde standing over Spidey, threatening him if he doesn’t hand over the Cobra immediately. Back then I didn’t know where and if I’d be able to find the next installment, but I did know I was determined to find it somehow.

ASM231_Hyde2

The next arc features the title villain of this collection, the Tarantula. A third-tier villain who kicked off the run of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man, the Tarantula is a South American mercenary for hire with spikes in his gloves and boots. It’s when the Brand corporation offers him the chance to have powers equal to or greater than Spidey’s that things begin to go a bit awry — resulting in the Tarantula transforming into a big honkin’ spider (as depicted on the cover above). If you were a long time Spider-Man fan, there was some precedent for this back when Spidey was battling Morbius and grew extra arms. But I don’t ever recall our hero ever becoming a big honkin’ spider (though to be fair this does happen in the 90’s cartoon retelling..that may owe something to this storyline.) Add in fellow axe-to-grind-with-Brande villain the Wilo-the-Wisp and you’ve got three issues of mayhem, battles and changing allegiances. It’s not great comic book writing, but damn if it didn’t have my younger (and older) self turning the pages and eagerly looking for the next installment in the series.

It even ends on a rather dark note with the Tarantula committing suicide by cop rather than facing being a giant spider with a thirst for flesh for the rest of his life.

The next two installments in the collection aren’t really anything to write home about and after the epic battles and chaos of the first several installments here, they seem a bit disappointing. One features Spidey battling a guy who wears metallic stilts (he wants to make a name for himself by killing Spidey) and the other is an annual with the origin of Ms. Marvel.

I’d re-read each of these issues a couple of years ago in an Essential Amazing Spider-Man collection. But that collection lacked something this one does — namely being in color. The essential collections will give you a taste of the story but the arcs really come to life when they feature the full color as they were originally intended to be read. Drooling monsters aside, there are just some moments and panels that are far more striking and memorable when rendered in color.

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