Collecting a dozen or so issues of the original run of The Amazing Spider-Man, this may represent the most memorable stories of the Gerry Conway era. Starting off with the epic two-part story that “changed comics forever,” “The Night Gwen Stacey Died” set a new tone for the Peter Parker and his secret identity. It’s one of the few comic book deaths (outside of Uncle Ben) that has really stuck, though Marvel has certainly tried to mess with this by having clones of Gwen come back and then later revelations that Gwen and Norman Osborne were hooking up while she was off in London.
The two part story that features the end of Gwen and the original Green Goblin has been retold and given homage in multiple re-tellings of the Spider-Man story. But few are better than what Conway does in these two issues. Knowing the ending allows you to sit back and really examine how Conway and the creative team on ASM toyed with readers of the day, building up and foreshadowing the two major deaths to come.
As if that monumental two-part saga weren’t enough, we also get the introduction of the Punisher to the Marvel-verse and the Jackal to the Spider-verse. And both of these introductions occur in the same issue. The sad part is that said issue isn’t necessarily much to write home about. The Punisher is an interesting force to be reckoned with, but in his debut, he’s pretty much a one-note character. The backstory that we associate with the character comes later.
And in between a battle between Doc Ock and the return of Hammerhead, both of whom need Aunt May because (wait for it), she is the owner of an island with a nuclear facility on it, there’s a lot of crazy bananas stuff happening in these dozen or so issues.
But that doesn’t even cover what are, for me, two memorable installments of the Spider-lore. And while issues 124 and 125 don’t have the same impact on the Spider-verse that the “Death of Gwen Stacey” story does, issues 124 and 125 had a huge impact on my becoming a Spider-Man fan. If you’re a certain age, you may recall a series of records released under the Power Records label. While DC offered new stories with new artwork, Marvel instead offered up re-tellings of certain stories (at least on the first release wave!). This meant we got some incredibly dark, bleak and depressing stories hitting the pages, many ending on a cliffhanger of sorts in which our heroes are in a less positive place than when we started.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Spider-Man offering, “The Mark of the Man-Wolf.” Still reeling from the death of Gwen, Peter isn’t happy that J. Jonah Jameson is hounding the wall crawler and blaming him for the death of Norman Osborne. Determined to set JJJ straight, Spidey head to Jonah’s place, itching for a fight. But instead of the publisher, he gets to tangle with his son, former astronaut John Jameson who thanks to a moon rock pendant, transforms into a werewolf every 30 days.
It’s this bleak, dark storyline that Marvel thought would be just perfect for the kiddos to listen to over and over again as a book and record set. Sure the Power Record set drops all references to Gwen and her death and wipes away any subplots that don’t directly involve Peter, JJJ or the Man-Wolf. But if you listen to the record, it ain’t exactly the most fun Spidey story to adapt for young listeners. (The Incredible Hulk one is just as bad, ending up with the Hulk defeating his two enemies, only to be captured by General Ross!).
I have vivid memories of listening and listening and listening to the “Mark of the Man Wolf” on record as a kid. And thanks to the power of the Internet, the entire Power Records catalog can be experienced by modern readers, including “Mark of the Man Wolf.”
A depressed, bitter and angry Peter Parker and a pretty much non-quippy Spider-Man. I can only guess that Marvel decided the death of Gwen Stacey storyline was too much for younger readers and went with this instead.
I’ll admit it was fascinating to see the original material and see what made the cut and what didn’t.
This collection is chock full of memorable moments like that. And, quite frankly, it feels like the stories in here are more written to create a sensational cover than in actually having a storyline that makes a lick of sense. Did I mention Aunt May owns an island with a high concentration of uranium and that she nearly marries Doc Ock?!? I clearly recall my younger self, begging my parents to buy a copy of the “My Uncle, My Enemy” issue in a reprint form simply because the cover image is pretty amazing. Seriously, how could any young Spidey fan resist it?!?
And I haven’t even got around to Spidey building the Spider-Buggy with the Human Torch. Or how these issues set up the Harry becomes the Green Goblin storyline with all the subtletely of a two-by-four to the noggin.
Memorable, bananas and completely over the top. This isn’t the heights of sublime that we got in the Lee/Ditko era. But I’d argue that it’s completely memorable in its own unique, end of an era type of way.