May 27, 2015

Check Out the Avengers in the Golden Age! Spider-Man Will Surprise You!

12 Avengers in the Golden Age
by Duy

In superhero comics, names are a dime a dozen. Good names, however, are like prime real estate. Once you've got one, you want to attach it to a character that sticks, and you wanna trademark that sucker. It's no surprise we've seen a lot of repeated names in comics over the years, and even in this summer's blockbuster movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, we saw a bunch of characters who were not the first in superhero comics to lay claim to their nom du guerres. Let's take a look at the Golden Age characters with the same names as the Avengers!

Grant Farrel, granted ancient powers by the Norse God of Thunder, becomes Thor, wearing a costume that I'm sure Chris Hemsworth's fans wouldn't mind the movies adapting.

Quality Comics' Quicksilver, also known as the Laughing Robin Hood, was a speedster who was unique in the sense that he was also an acrobat! Years later, DC Comics would purchase Quality and use this character to great effect in The Flash, Impulse, and related series as Max Mercury, the Zen master of speed.

Bruce Banner was not Marvel's first Hulk! Back before the big superhero renaissance and when Marvel was publishing comics in the monster genre, a lot of big brutes with names like Torr and Groot (yes, that Groot) showed up. This "Hulk" was eventually renamed Xemnu.

Before The Vision was walking around as a synthezoid who should never ever ever be able to lift Thor's mighty hammer, there was a supernatural being of the same name running around two decades prior. He doesn't look so different, and he reminds me of DC's The Spectre, with a little bit of the Martian Manhunter (who came afterward, natch) thrown in there.

Also, Natasha Romanoff was not Marvel's first Black Widow! Published back when Marvel was called Timely, the original Black Widow is Claire Voyant (seriously) who has a death touch and brings the evil people to whom she believes is Satan. She was revived in the relatively recent limited series The Twelve, which has nice art by Chris Weston.

Officially an Avenger by the end of Age of Ultron, The Falcon also had a predecessor in the Golden Age. Of course, it being the 1940s, said predecessor was obviously not black.

Similarly, a future Avenger, The Black Panther, also had a namesake in the 40s. Like the Falcon's, this one was also a Caucasian.

Speaking of future Avengers, here's a Captain Marvel who isn't any of the famous ones. Yes, his entire body detaches from everything else if he wants. And yes, he's fighting someone named "The Bat," because MF Enterprises really wanted a lawsuit back in the day.

Ant-Man doesn't have a Golden Age namesake to my knowledge, but he has gone by other names, including Yellowjacket, who does have a Golden Age predecessor.

Ant-Man's wife/perpetual girlfriend, The Wasp, had two Golden Age predecessors, both of whom were pretty standard pulp-inspired characters.

There was also a Golden Age Hercules. (Where is Hercules in the Marvel Cinematic Universe? He's sorely needed.)

Now Captain Marvel (the famous one that says Shazam) had a villain in the Golden Age named Spiderman. That hyphen makes such a huge difference.

The most important one, however, is Lev Gleason Publications' Daredevil, who was Bart Hill, a mute hand-to-hand fighter with a boomerang two decades before Matt Murdock was a blind hand-to-hand fighter with a billy club. He was created by Jack Binder, revamped by Jack Cole, and popularized by Charles Biro, and held his own title for 10 years before handing it over to his sidekicks, The Little Wise Guys. This Daredevil was one of the most acclaimed characters of the Golden Age, even earning a special called Daredevil Battles Hitler. After he fell into the public domain, different publishers decided to use him. Erik Larsen integrated him into the Savage Dragon universe, and other companies have renamed him to avoid confusion with that other guy with the same name. He's been known as Reddevil, Doubledare, and most recently, The Death Defying 'Devil

Even Marvel's acknowledged the influence of this character. Here's one of the alternate reality costumes they've given Matt Murdock.

This Daredevil also influenced the look of Peter Cannon, Thunderbolt, who would be the inspiration for Watchmen's Ozymandias. There's a sequence of events that just introduces a bunch of sliding doors.

This column would not exist without Back Issue Ben and Pol Rua. But the entire column, from the clickbaity title all the way to this sentence, is dedicated to my good friend, whom I shall only refer to as "Great Success."

May 25, 2015

Legion of Super-Heroes: Forgotten Juggernauts, Part 8

Legion of Super-Heroes – Forgotten Juggernauts
Part 8 – Lantern Rings and Shape-Shifting Things
Ben Smith

The Legion of Super-Heroes is one of my favorite teams in all of comics. I’ve been writing about the Legion of Super-Heroes for several weeks. You should read my stuff, and then you should buy and read Legion of Super-Heroes comics. You should be our sponsor. For, as the prophet Ice Cube once said, “Life ain’t nothing but bitches and money.”

Let us continue.

Adventure Comics #521
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Geraldo Borges and Marlo Alquiza; Editor: Brian Cunningham

Earth-Man and Shadow Lass convene with Dyogene outside, who is re-determined to find a bearer for the Green Lantern ring. He bypasses them both and enters Legion headquarters, much to the chagrin of Shady. (Shady comes from a warrior culture, which is why she is attracted to Earth-Man.)

Is it gender-biased of me to always refer to beings like Dyogene as males? It is? Oh well.
A team of Legionnaires respond to a natural disaster incident in Africa. Wildfire and Dawnstar, split away from the rest of the team, track the incident to its source.

Dyogene, with the help of Cosmic Boy, reviews the Legion roster, and then confers with each team member to either offer, or decline to offer, them to accept the ring. Finally, Mon-El is the one that accepts the responsibility. (Mon-El is the good Superboy, so I fully endorse him taking on the additional power of a Lantern ring.)

Dawnstar and Wildfire continue their search into space. There, they are struck by a mysterious blue light, knocking out Dawnstar and destroying Wildfire’s containment suit.

Mon-El says his goodbyes to Shadow Lass, and then flies off to assume his duties as the Green Lantern of sector 2814.

I’m not entirely sure if the Legion was selling enough to justify taking over the main story of Adventure Comics at this time, or if they promised Levitz, or they had no better plans, but I’m all for it. Legion four times a month, I always say. Or I could possibly say. I’m not ruling it out.

Legion of Super-Heroes #8
Writer: Paul Levitz; Pencilers: Yildiray Cinar, Daniel HDR; Inkers: Wayne Faucher, Bob Wiacek; Editor: Brian Cunningham

Colossal Boy and Dream Girl are trying to learn what they can from RJ Brande’s private secretary, Pheebs, when they are attacked by the Durlan assassins.

Tellus has retrieved the comatose Dawnstar, and taken her to Medicus One for treatment (from longtime Legion physician, and eternally payment conscious, Doctor Gym’’ll).

Colossal Boy and Dream Girl continue to fight off the Durlan assassin. It does not work out so well for Pheebs. Earth-Man and Shady arrive as reinforcements.

Brainiac 5 and Chameleon Boy head for Durla. Chief Zendak arrives to speak with Cosmic Boy about his failure to save Brande, and surprises him by morphing into his true Durlan form and attacking.

Earth-Man and the others finish off the assassins outside. Inside, Cosmic Boy, Invisible Kid, Element Lad, and Cosmic Boy defeat the remaining Zendak Durlan.

Element Lad and Cosmic Boy tally up the votes for the new Legion leader, with the recently departed Mon-El receiving the most votes, and Brainy receiving the second. (I voted for Brainiac 5.)
I remember Levitz saying this result of the fan votes really threw him for a loop, as he had just basically written Mon-El off the team by making him the Green Lantern, but that’s what makes the voting so fun. I also like that they had Brainy voting for himself.

Adventure Comics #522
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Geraldo Borges and Marlo Alquiza; Editor: Brian Cunningham

A transport bound for the prison planet of Takron-Galtos (I love that there is a prison planet) is attacked by Sun Killer (think Sumo wrestler mixed with Age of Apocalypse Sunfire).

On Medicus One, Tellus and (longtime Legion character) Chief Cusimano look on at the still comatose Dawnstar. Cusimano needs Dawnstar to wake up so they can use her tracking ability to find the missing (and unknown to them, dead) Chief Zendak. Cusimano is notified about the Sun Killer’s attack, and contacts the Legion for assistance.

Sun Killer is attempting to free Saturn Queen, and physically threatens the crew to release her from her bonds. Green Lantern Mon-El arrives on the scene, and they fight.

Sun Killer uses his radiation powers to create red solar rays, bringing Mon-El to his knees. Dyogene senses the presence of an ancient deadly adversary, in the form of a flying blue baby.

Having more important things to do, like fight flying blue babies, Dyogene gives Mon-El a little green light boost, and he ends the conflict swiftly.

If you don’t like flying blue babies, or radioactive sumo guys, you really don’t like superhero comics.

Legion of Super-Heroes #9
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Yildiray Cinar and Wayne Faucher; Editor: Brian Cunningham

Brainy and Chameleon Boy arrive on Durla, where there is much posturing between the off-worlder Cham and the Durlan greeting party. Cham pulls out his “eggson of Brande” trump card, and that gets some traction with the locals. (Or as Brainy remarks, “curiously effective.”)

My goal is to now refer to myself as “eggson of Smith” in the very near future.

The two of them question the Durlan’s over the recent assassination attempts, and they take Cham to meet with the speaker, while Brainy is required to stay behind. Brainy is curious about the mentions of Brande’s money being used to help rebuild Durla. (Durla was involved in the “Six Minute War” which is often referred to in the Legion books. I love the idea of six minute long wars, and flying blue babies.)

At the United Planets council meeting, Timber Wolf and Tyroc stand by, hoping to sniff (or sound) out any assassins before they can attack. Surprisingly, RJ Brande appears before the council, alive and well.

Chameleon Boy tries to reason with the Durlan leader, that Brande would not want them to murder anyone in his name, while Brainy tries to reason out what is really happening here.

Chief Cusimano still needs Dawnstar’s power to try and locate the missing Chief Zendak, but she remains in a coma. Tellus offers to use his telepathic power to tap into her ability, which nearly overwhelms him with its scope.

After trying to locate any paths Zendak might have taken, Tellus returns to his own mind with the bad news that it does not appear that Zendak survived the attack.

Tyroc uses his power to ascertain that the Brande in attendance is a fake, and the Durlan assassin is forced to reveal his true form. They fight, and the assassin is forced to retreat.

Brainiac 5 defies Durlan orders, and interrupts Chameleon Boy’s meeting to take him home. Using his deductive powers, he has determined that they have ignored the first rule of detection, “follow the money.” The answer they seek is back on Earth, with Brande’s eggsister, Chameleon Boy’s aunt (who is also the woman who raised him).

Legion of Super-Heroes #10
Writer: Paul Levitz; Artists: Yildiray Cinar and Wayne Faucher; Editor: Brian Cunningham

Cosmic Boy notifies Mon-El that he has been elected as Legion leader and should return.

Mon-El is reluctant, due to his duties as Green Lantern, but agrees when reminded that if he doesn’t return, Brainiac 5 will take command as deputy elected leader.

Brainy returns from Durla just in time to hear their insults, but luckily he’s “hard to offend.” He relieves Cosmic Boy of command and begins issuing out orders to all the Legionnaires.

The Legion Espionage Squad (Phantom Girl, Chameleon Boy, Chameleon Girl) investigate Brande’s home. How great is it that there is a Legion Espionage Squad? A lot of their concepts are fun in the way that they sound like they were created by a 13-year-old, and that’s because most of the time they were.

Brainy lets Cosmic Boy in on his theory about the money. The Espionage Squad is identified as intruders by the house defense system. Cham’s aunt arrives and attacks them.
Dawnstar finally wakes from her coma, and immediately leaves to seek out the entity that attacked her.

Cham fights and defeats his aunt one-on-one. Long story short, she was after Brande’s considerable fortune, to use to help rebuild Durla. She killed Pheebs for access to Brande’s systems, Zendak to alter Science Police credit transfer monitoring programs, and the councilor to distract the Legion.

Thus ends the Durlan assassins storyline. Can’t say it was the best Legion story, but average Legion is still better than just about anything else. Including Batman and Superman. And Asterios Polyp. I’m pretty sure Asterios Polyp gave me polyps. That book may kill me yet.

Legion of Super-Heroes Annual #1
Storytellers: Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen; Inkers: John Dell and Scott Koblish; Editor: Brian Cunningham

Legendary Legion of Super-Heroes creative team Levitz and Giffen reunite to tell a done-in-one tale of the latest woman to become enthralled to the Emerald Eye of Ekron, and become the new Emerald Empress. Lightning Lass and Shrinking Violet happen to crash-land on her planet of Orando, prompting Sensor Girl to assist, as she is the absent princess of that planet. They manage to separate the girl from the Eye, and it flies off into space. Projectra (Sensor Girl) decides to stay behind and do what she can to help rebuild Orando.

I may have originally gone into this book with unrealistically high expectations, because I remember being really disappointed. And I hadn’t even read all that much of Levitz and Giffen Legion by that point. I like Giffen. Not like Duy, who weirdly hates his work. Anyway, it’s a fun read, worthy of your time and money. And it gave us this Legion History board game.

Let’s keep this party going, more Legion next week.

May 22, 2015

We Can’t See It Coming

We Can’t See It Coming
Travis Hedge Coke

In 2003, James Sturm and Guy Davis (along with crack letterer, Paul Tutrone, and colorist, Michel Vrana) the four issue miniseries, Unstable Molecules, for Marvel Comics. In 2004, it won the Eisner Award for Best New Limited Series (A look at that year’s nominees in several areas, particularly “New Album,” is enough to make one cry. Yossel, Persepolis, The Fixer… P. Craig Russell, Al Capp, Andy Diggle, Kurt Busiek, Carla Speed McNeil. 2003 was a godsend year for comics, and I don’t think any of us really took notice at the time.). In 2015, where we now sit tight, it seems almost forgotten. Why?

Because it was always going to get away from us.

Unstable Molecules looks like another pastiche, another “true version” or “story behind the story.” The real people who inspired the comic book Fantastic Four, carefully researched and seriously laid out by intelligent, artsy comic book talent. There are endnotes and everything.

Dr. Reed Richards is a scientist with a teaching position. HIs long-suffering girlfriend is Sue Sturm, raising her younger brother after the death of their parents and trying to stand up, if not stand out, in a town and in a relationship determined to make her invisible. Johnny, the brother, is a moody, confused teen, looking for thrills, trying not to get beat up, and obsessed with a superheroine he doesn’t know is actually based on his sister. Why is Ben there? Why is Ben ever there? He’s Reed’s friend, he likes Sue, Sue likes him, but he’s Reed’s friend and Sue is with Reed.

So we have our four, and the comic tells us that Susan will, eventually, create a Fantastic Four Foundation (As well as have a foundation in her own name, The Susan Sturm Foundation), that Reed will do important government work, that these likenesses were approved for charitable or for governmental reasons. So, we’re seeing four disparate people in the late 1950s come together as a family so that a superhero comic can be based on them. We are even promised follow-up comics, The Mad Thinkers and The Negative Zone, which will detail how the four of them became government agents and “their sad final years,” respectively. It tells us that within a year or two of this comic ending, the four of them will be “national heroes.”

Of course, this is the “real” world, so it will be more cynical, perhaps, than the superhero world we are familiar with, and they’ll swear more, Ben can go to a dirty movie if he feels like it (and he does). But, we see the familiar threads of the earliest FF comics coming out in metaphor or parallel plots. Ben longs for Sue, as he does in the comics. Johnny is hot for a woman who looks just like his sister, as happens in the comics. Reed is absent-minded about things not relating to work or his immediate interests. The sexy, blustery Joey King, hipster hanging at the beach giving recitations and seducing everyone is a proxy Prince Namor, scion of Atlantis. Johnny’s friend, Richard Mannelman, lusts for Sue and feels incredible shame and possessiveness as befits a boy who the Moleman would be based on. The Dr. Doom riff, Dunne, is deported from America and blames Richards for everything bad in his life. Sue is stuck being mother-sister to all the men in her life. Reed’s discovered and working on unstable molecules. Johnny likes hotrods. Johnny, frustrated with Reed, Sue, and Ben, runs away from home.

We know where this is going. We see the threads, the weave, the emerging patterns.

We don’t, actually. We see what we’re expecting.

In 2015, as in 2003, we know that Johnny Storm only ran away for about half an issue or so, of Fantastic Four, and has been a member, as have the other three, almost the entire time there has been a comic with that title. They always come back. They are always a family.

When Unstable Molecules ends, Johnny is just leaving. He’s leaving his sister, who Joey King used to crush on. He’s leaving his best friend, who also “loved” Sue. He’s leaving childhood. He’s leaving his town and he’s leaving himself.

We forget, perhaps, in that moment, that the comic told us earlier than in a year or two they will all be together as national heroes, as government agents. We forget that we’ve been promised a storied history.

Amidst Johnny leaving, Reed finds Sue and Ben together, half-dressed, close to sex, a party of scientists, comic book letterers, housewives and beatniks full-bore below in the living room. Reed says some nasty shit. Maybe it’s because he’s hurt. Maybe he is just a dick. It’s enough to remind us, though, that for more than forty years, we’ve seen Reed ignore Sue, bark orders, hide in his lab, and we’ve seen Ben pine for Sue and stick around, let her berate him, let Reed order him, and we’ve generally ignored Sue except in relation to who wants to sleep with her. Sue hasn’t just been insistently made the mother-sister of every man in her life - and she is surrounded by men - she’s the mother-sister who should put out, who would, obviously, if it weren’t for this social complication or that.

By laying all this bare and by ending on what was, originally, a very “to be continued” note, Unstable Molecules leaves us in a queasy uncertainty. They are getting back together, right? As a team? Right? They will do great things? (They will. The comic tells us they did. Sue is successful as a feminist theorist, social critic, and director of charitable organizations. Reed continues to achieve great breakthroughs in science for his government. Ben… probably slept with more women before rejecting them for inane reasons, and probably had a few more professional fights in him, but he was a national hero, so.)

More than this, we are stuck - I am stuck - wondering if it’s worth knowing more. Is knowing more going to hurt worse?

We weren’t promised a happy ending. In fact, we were warned repeatedly that many things will go bad. But, Sue seems to have come out entirely well, really. From a generally frustrating and tragic youth, she marries a good man, she has a fantastic career; she affects the world. Susan Sturm, who for all the world reminds me of Pamela Zoline and her creation, Sarah Boyle, from The Heat Death of the Universe, comes through the fire and the cold to be a strong and influential and fully human being.

Like Reed realizes about the molecules he is studying, we have been looking at the equation of the story wrong, we have been expecting a pattern to continue because we saw it forming, but patterns are in our heads. When a pattern falls apart, it is not because the elements in play failed in some fashion, just that we misjudged what was forming and anticipated wrongly.

We could have seen the comic note, repeatedly, how important Sue was in her lifetime, what she accomplished. We could, easily, have taken note of her indelible empathy, especially compared to the selfishness or cruelty exhibited by Reed, by Ben, their pettiness, King’s myopia. Dunne’s. These myopic, selfish failures of men.

The book club scene, where they discuss Peyton Place and Sue winces when one woman alludes to crimes of her father against her and another woman, her mother’s good friend before her mother passed, smiles in satisfaction at the other woman’s pain. This scene should have told us all we needed, but we were not looking. We weren’t, at least, looking at it rightly. We’re banking on Reed, the leader and smart man, the father figure. We’re banking on Ben to be the heart or the rock or the man-baby who will hold the center. Johnny Sturm, fiery representation of burning and impish youth.

Sue Sturm was invisible in the equation we thought we were looking at. She’s the girlfriend. The sister. The girl who would would totally sleep with us if she didn’t have a boyfriend, if she wasn’t our sister, if she wasn’t a woman and we, a child, if… if…

That’s forty years of comics, and also these four issues, condensed down to one sharp, crystalline recognition. By the letter that closes out the final issue, from the son of the man who made the comics based on Sue, who passed his design and his knowledge of these people to Jack Kirby so he could make the Fantastic Four comics, it’s abundantly clear that Susan Storm, the Invisible Girl, has mostly been bounced around her entire existence by men writing and drawing for boys.

Where they go from there is more dangerous territory, perhaps, than we have ever seen in another FF comic. A more fantastical and daring adventure than they have set out on before because it cannot be flinched away from. They can’t run off to another planet. There is no come-to-life movie promotional statue to distract them. Whatever comes next, they’d actually have to deal with it.

And, we might not be ready for that.

May 19, 2015

Jane Foster Was Always Worthy

So if you've been following the new Thor series or if you've been anywhere near a comic book news site for the past two weeks, you'll know who's under the mask of our all-new Goddess of Thunder. SPOILERS FOLLOW IF YOU'RE TRADE-WAITING.

Now, really, the way Jason Aaron had structured the story, there were only two suspects: longtime Thor supporting character Jane Foster, who is currently fighting cancer, or SHIELD agent Roz Solomon, whom Aaron created early on in his run back when Thor was of the Hemsworth variety. Most people I'd spoken to about it assumed it was gonna be Jane, so Roz ended up being the obvious but sensible twist, but then Aaron hinted at Roz too much, so Jane ended up being the new obvious but sensible twist. Either way, it was gonna be one of the two of them, and it did end up being Jane.

Any time you replace a superhero, there's bound to be a certain amount of backlash from longtime fans. For reasons that are probably sociological and too depressing for me to think about, that backlash seems to multiply if the replacement hero is a woman or a representative of a minority group. I don't quite understand it, as replacement heroes have been a trope of the genre since, at the latest, Barry Allen showed up in 1956 to become the second Flash. (Can someone name an earlier incident?) But it's easy to get jaded as a fan of superhero comics, since the only real status quo is change and eventually you probably just want things to settle down. Thor being replaced has also been a thing since Red Norvell in the mid-70s, so I can understand being dismissive of what one might see as a repeated plot. But all plots are repeated, right? It's just in the execution.

Jane has been the subject of quite a bit of "Why is she worthy all of a sudden?" conversations, but even ignoring the fact that the story has made it so that even Odin, who placed the enchantment on the hammer, cannot himself lift the hammer, the question for me is, why wouldn't she be worthy?

Think about it. In Marvel lore, Donald Blake is the human form of Thor Odinson, created by Odin so that Thor, not knowing he was Thor, would learn compassion and humility. It's in his guise of Don Blake that he once again becomes worthy of Mjolnir. In other words, Thor, the Asgardian god and warrior, stopped being worthy of Mjolnir once and earned the right to lift the magic hammer again once he started saving the lives of mortals as a physician.

The first time we're introduced to Jane Foster, she's a nurse working under Dr. Donald Blake. Over time, she became a doctor herself.

Her whole life has been dedicated to helping people. When you consider that Mjolnir has been lifted by Eric Masterson, an architect whose "worth" seemed to be based on helping Thor and almost dying a lot, and Dargo Ktor, a rebellious kid from the 26th century, it's really a wonder why people like Spider-Man or Carol Danvers can't lift it. But those guys, and Jane Foster, certainly have the credentials those others have — they want to help people. They're selfless.

This guy can lift Mjolnir. Really, given these
standards, Back Issue Ben would be worthy.

In the 10th issue of What If...?, from 1978, the premise is that Jane Foster finds the hammer of Thor. It's not "What if Jane Foster were worthy of the power of Thor?"; it's what would happen if she found it. She does, and she gets turned into the Goddess of Thunder.

She also has a romance with Odin, which, ew.

So really, the only question here is if she's actually ever tried lifting Mjolnir? And even then, it's irrelevant — even if she did, in 50 years of publication, contradictions are bound to arise. Seriously, there's a Spider-Man story by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko early on in Spidey's career that has aliens (it's the same story that introduces the Tinkerer). It's widely seen as a misstep in that legendary run. Roger Stern in the 80s wrote a story that explained that the aliens weren't really aliens, but no one remembers that story, so basically, the original story is still just a tale of Spidey fighting aliens that doesn't seem to fit well in Spidey lore. If a story did exist with Jane trying to lift Mjolnir and failing (and really, you're welcome to point me to it if one exists), all Jason Aaron has to do is ignore it. Or, you know, bring up the fact that the enchantment on Mjolnir changed so that even Odin and Thor Odinson can't lift the thing, and now Jane can.

There are stories where the hero gets replaced and aren't executed well (I'm looking at Dargo. I hate Dargo so much).  There are stories where it works (Reign of the Supermen gave us three — THREE — usable and sustainable characters, Beta Ray Bill has lasted for so long, Bucky Barnes as Captain America is one of the greatest stretches in the history of Captain America). But it's not the fault of the concept (Dick Grayson has replaced Bruce Wayne as Batman twice. Once was well done and lasted a couple of years. Once was not that well done and barely anyone mentioned it again). And in this case, the structure is sound. In this story, Jane Foster is worthy of Mjolnir. And in my eyes, she probably always was.

May 18, 2015

The Saga of the Spider-Mobile

The Saga of the Spider-Mobile
Ben Smith

Gerry Conway is one of the greatest and most influential writers in the long and storied history of Spider-Man. He had a hand in creating some major characters in the world of Spider-Man, to include the Jackal, Tarantula, and the Punisher. Along with that, he wrote The Night Gwen Stacy Died, my all-time favorite comic book story, and one of the most important stories in the history of the medium. Yet, all of that pales in comparison to his greatest creation, the spectacular Spider-Mobile.
"This was a notion that Stan had. Stan was put in an odd position because he moved up from being an editor/writer to being the publisher of Marvel Comics in 1970-71, and as a result of that, his priorities towards how to find revenues for the company changed," Conway said. "He was approached by, I think it was Hasbro, or it might have been Tonka Toys or something, who said, 'Listen, we found that what really works for toy characters, in addition to the figures, is if they had a lot of cool stuff with them. Could you maybe give each of your characters a cool car?' And so Stan said, 'Sure!' He didn't have to do it. He told me, 'You know, Spider-Man needs to have a car.' And I'm like, 'You do realize that Spider-Man swings on a web between buildings and the car would really slow him down doing that?' and he said, 'I don't' care what you do with it, just do it.' So we played it for laughs and we sank it in, I think, the same issue." (SDCC: Spotlight on Gerry Conway. Travis Fischer, Contributing Writer.)

The toy company was most likely Mego, who were the main producer of superhero toys at the time, and did release a Spider-Man-themed car, though it doesn’t bear any resemblance to the Spider-Mobile. It may not have been his idea, it may not have even been a good idea, but sometimes you can spin gold from the most unlikely of inspirations.

Amazing Spider-Man #126
Scripter: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inker: Jim Mooney; Editor: Roy Thomas

After evading the dangerous kicks of the mighty Kangaroo, Spider-Man is web-swinging across the city when he is waved down by a couple of guys that look suspiciously like Stan Lee and Roy Thomas. “Stan and Roy” are advertisers working on behalf of Corona motors, and they want to hire him to build a Spider-Mobile using a new non-polluting Corona engine, so that they can advertise it.

Spider-Man turns them down, saying that “the idea of a Spider-Mobile is first-class dumb.”

Quick tangent: Mary Jane and Flash want to do some coke and try and get Peter to join them. (Just say no to peer pressure, friends.)

Peter returns to the apartment he shares with the (slowly going insane) Harry Osborn, and discovers the rent hasn’t been paid in a couple months. Needing some quick cash, he swings over to the offices of Stan and Roy and accepts their offer, as long as they pay him a thousand dollar cash advance.

But, the catch is that he has to build the car himself. (Is this how car companies work? They hire people that don’t build cars to build cars for them? Between this and that episode of The Simpsons where Homer designs a car, I have no reason to believe that is not the way the motor vehicle industry operates.) Spider-Man then drops in on his only friend that isn’t Harry Osborn, Johnny Storm of the Fantastic Four, to see if he’ll partner up with him to build the car.

Apparently he accepts, because they’re working on some designs when Spider-Man has to leave to beat on the Kangaroo some more.

I’m fully in support of superheroes hanging out more. Who else is Spider-Man going to kick back and have a Coke with, Flash Thompson? That hop-head hepcat Harry Osborn? No, I don’t think so.

Amazing Spider-Man #127
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Roy Thomas

In-between some titanic tussles with the villainous Vulture, Spider-Man takes some time out to work on the car with Johnny.

Johnny and Spidey building a car together is pretty much the greatest thing that could happen to me in life. It’s basically the complete opposite of my worst nightmare, the Jackal, who is a creepy old man in a green mask, feeling up the Gwen Stacy he made in his lab. He’s the fictional equivalent of my 8th grade gym teacher, who was a tad too insistent that we all take showers after class, and pulled up a chair to make sure it got done. The Spider-Mobile has pulled open some disturbing old wounds today.

Amazing Spider-Man #130
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Roy Thomas

Spider-Man swings through Johnny’s open window (the Baxter Building's defenses had the day off that day) to see if the Spider-Mobile has been finished yet. Unfortunately for everyone involved, it has.

Equipped with a spider-signal, web shooters, and an ejector seat, Spider-Man and Johnny take the Spider-Mobile out for a test drive.

The only problem, being a lifelong New Yorker, Peter has never learned to drive a car.

Before long, this being Marvel New York, they happen upon four garishly dressed criminals.

Before he can finish webbing them all up with his fancy new car, Hammerhead comes barreling in, going head to hood with the brand new vehicle.

After a quick skirmish, Spider-Man returns to the car, webs up a couple of police officers interfering, and speeds off in his Spider-Mobile.

Peter parks it in an alley, and then activates its special cloaking device, making it appear to be a regular-looking car.

The only way you could possibly follow up co-creating one of the most popular characters in all of Marvel comics, the Punisher, is to immediately introduce a motor vehicle for a character that spends all his time swinging around the city on weblines. Next up, the Tarantula, who is like a villainous Speedy Gonzalez, only more racist.

Amazing Spider-Man #141
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Roy Thomas

After a period of neglect, Spider-Man takes the Spider-Mobile out for another spin, drawing the attention of some police cars.

Trying to evade the police, he makes a turn into what he believes to be an alleyway shrouded in fog, but is in actuality a pier.

Spider-Man is able to bail out just in time before the Spider-Mobile goes crashing into the Hudson River, sinking to the bottom.

I’m going to assume that Conway felt his obligation had been justly fulfilled.

Amazing Spider-Man #142
Writer: Gerry Conway; Artist: Ross Andru; Inkers: F. Giacoia and D. Hunt; Editor: Len Wein

Spider-Man swims down into the Hudson River to locate the sunken Spider-Mobile.

He finds it, but it’s too heavy for him to lift out on his own.

I’m also going to assume that Len Wein, who took over as editor for this issue, felt that the fans wanted… nay, needed an explanation for why Corona Motors would just let this blatant breach of contract slide.

Amazing Spider-Man #157
Writer/Editor: Len Wein; Illustrator: Ross Andru; Delineator: Mike Esposito; Pedestrian: Marv Wolfman

Spider-Man makes a return visit into the Hudson to look for the Spider-Mobile, after Corona Motors ran a personal column in the Daily Bugle threatening to sue him unless he delivered the car. (I don’t know how one would sue Spider-Man, or why Spider-Man would care, but okay.)

This time, he’s only able to locate one of the side-view mirrors, the rest of the car is suspiciously missing.

Does Spider-Man have his own separate credit rating? Will Corona Motors suing him go on his permanent record? These are the more important questions that need answers.

Amazing Spider-Man #159
Writer/Editor: Len Wein; Illustrator: Ross Andru; Embellisher: Mike Esposito; Cook & Bottle-Washer: Marv Wolfman

Two unknown individuals work on the Spider-Mobile, and succeed in restoring it to its former glory.

Amazing Spider-Man #160
Writer/Editor: Len Wein; Illustrator: Ross Andru; Embellisher: Mike Esposito; Head Mechanic: Irv Forbush

The Spider-Mobile makes its startling return, only this time, with a vengeance.

The driverless car attacks Spider-Man, sending him leaping into the air to avoid it.

A mysterious gas has apparently robbed Spider-Man of his powers, so he finds a pipe to vault himself over a wall to escape the carnage.

Landing on a nearby police car, they all see the Spider-Mobile peeking around a corner up ahead, but it vanishes in a puff of smoke.

Later, Spider-Man once again is enveloped by the mysterious power-sapping mist, and spots menacing headlights cutting through the fog just in time to dodge the Spider-Mobile’s attack.

Spider-Man leaps up the rooftops, thinking he’ll be safe, but is shocked to see the Spider-Mobile driving up the wall after him.

He bounds across the rooftops, but no matter what, the Spider-Mobile follows. Eventually it snags him with some webbing and wraps him up for transport back to its new master.

After a unique trip across the top of the city, Spider-Man comes face to face with the Spider-Mobile’s controller, the terrible Tinkerer. (Making his first appearance since all the way back in Amazing Spider-Man #2, which ended with him being revealed as an alien. Not one of the more revered stories in the oeuvre of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.)

After the obligatory monologue, Spider-Man breaks free, and takes the Tinkerer, his goon, and the Spider-Mobile head-on.

The Tinkerer was using the mist to clog Spider-Man’s pores and web-shooters, nullifying his powers. Unfortunately for the Tinkerer, bad driving takes both him and the mobile out of the fight.

Spider-Man makes quick work of the Tinkerer’s hired goon, and then delivers what’s left of the Spider-Mobile to Stan and Roy at the offices of Carter and Lombardo. (Seems like that web would dissolve and send the car smashing to the street below long before they could find a way to reel it in. Resulting in more personal injury lawsuits to go on Spider-Man’s credit rating.)

I’m amused that Wein felt strongly enough about the Spider-Mobile contract that he wrote his own resolution for it. This was seemingly the end of the saga of the Spider-Mobile, but brilliant ideas have a way of cropping back up in comic books, and the splendid Spider-Mobile would be no different.

One such place was in the massive Amazing Spider-Man #600. In a back-up story by Zeb Wells and Derec Donovan, Peter Parker is surprised to find the Spider-Mobile on display at the Smithsonian National Design Museum.

In Amazing Spider-Man #655 by Dan Slott and Marcos Martin, Martin sneaks the Spider-Mobile into one of the many stunning splashes in this instant classic.

Another back-up story in Amazing Spider-Man #1 (Vol. 3), features Joe Caramagna and Chris Eliopouos having Spider-Man give the reader a tutorial on all his equipment, including a cameo by the spectacular Spider-Mobile.

In the multiverse-spanning event Spider-Verse, one of the alternate universes apparently contained a sentient Spider-Mobile, as first rendered by Giuseppe Camuncoli and Cam Smith in Amazing Spider-Man #12 (and #13). (Dan Slott said on the Word Balloon podcast that this car's secret identity was meant to be "Peter Parked Car." -Cranky Editor Man)

Then by Olivier Coipel in the closing chapter (Amazing Spider-Man #14).

In Superior Spider-Man #30 by Slott, Christos Gage, and Camuncoli, the Spider-Mobile gets not one, but two pictures in the “web of remembrance.”

The Spider-Mobile played a key part in Mark Millar and Steve McNiven’s immensely popular Old Man Logan storyline beginning in Wolverine #66 (Vol. 2), serving as Wolverine and Hawkeye’s transportation throughout the story.

Last but certainly not least, Dan Slott (there’s that name again) and Ty Templeton delivered one of the funniest comics of all time, in the third issue of the Spider-Man/Human Torch mini-series. The series was a hilarious look back at past moments in the history of the Spider-Man and Human Torch relationship.

Part three would revisit the pair after they finished building the Spider-Mobile, with Johnny a little bit more on edge over Spider-Man’s driving than he was in the original comics.

After driving up and down and all around the city, they used the car to apprehend the Red Ghost and his Super Apes.

Much fun and many laughs were had by all.

That does it for my overly long and completely unnecessary look at the history of the Spider-Mobile. If you’re like me and you enjoy mirth and merriment, I highly recommend you track some or all of these comics down for yourself, and then purchase them using your delivery system of choice (be it comic, trade, or digital).

Next time, more comics!

Enjoy these wonderful stories featuring the Spider-Mobile: