Bizarro Back Issues: Spider-Mans, Man-Wolves And Frankensteins, Oh My! (1975)
One of the interesting things about Marvel Comics is how seamlessly they integrated horror characters into their mainstream universe. A lot of that, of course, is just convenience. Marvel is, after all, a superhero publisher, so even when they do a comic about Dracula or, say, an actual demon from Hell who runs around with his head on fire punishing sinners with his supernatural abilities, they still just treat them like superheroes that are just part of this bigger, weirder world.
As a result, while they might all get lumped in together, they never really stay cooped up in some spooky corner, and if you’re the type to dive into the quarter bin to look for a few cheap scares, that makes it pretty easy to find a spoooooky Halloween back issue. Sometimes Dracula shows up in X-Men and hits on Storm for two issues. Sometimes Blade joins a team of British heroes and helps fight aliens. And sometimes… sometimes Spider-Man gets kidnapped and strapped to a table with Frankenstein so that some weirdo you’ve never heard of can make “MONSTER SUPREME.”
That particular adventure is a titanic two-parter that runs through Marvel Team-Up #36 and 37, from the creative team of the legendary Gerry Conway, Sal Buscema and the supervillain himself, Vince Colletta, and it is a good one. Long-time CA readers may recall that I’m a huge fan of books like Marvel Team-Up just on principle — by teaming someone up with virtually anyone else from the same company over the course of 150 issues, you not only show how adaptable they can be to different kinds of stories, you help to build that adaptability, too. There are a lot of good reasons why Spider-Man (MTU) Batman (Brave and the Bold) and the Thing (Marvel Two-In-One) are some of the best characters in comics, but being able to see them do just about anything there is to do is one of the big ones.
That said, Spider-Man’s not exactly that far from a horror character to begin with. Don’t get me wrong, he’s planted pretty firmly in the superhero camp, but he also skitters around with his weird psychic spider powers and has an origin that reads like an issue of Tales From the Crypt. That’s another thing he has in common with the Thing (you know, the rock monster?) and Batman (you know, the guy who dresses in a Dracula cape with devil horns?), but here, Conway and Buscema bring it right to the forefront.
And they had to, because when Colletta’s around, you can’t really keep anything in the background. Heyo!
Our story opens with Spider-Man swinging in to stop a pair of run-of-the-mill crooks who just robbed a bank, and to be honest, it’s not exactly his finest moment. Sure, he’s doing whatever a spider can, which in this case means cracking jokes about encounter groups while also cracking jaws…
…but before he can actually web the crooks up and stick ’em to a lamppost, he’s kayoed by a laser beam that comes from out of nowhere. One might think this is something that Spider-Sense would warn him about, and that’s a complaint with some pretty solid footing. On the other hand, it’s kind of hard to argue the finer points of Spider-Man with the guy who, you know, wrote the death of Gwen Stacy. Point is, the crooks decide not to press their luck by shooting Spider-Man in the face while he’s knocked out, and instead make the smart choice to vamoose before the Punisher shows up to make this a team-up.
When he wakes up, our spidery hero has been strapped to a table next to Frankenstein’s monster…
…which, to be honest, is nowhere near the worst place a dude who runs around Manhattan in a skintight outfit referring to himself as a “swinger” has ever woken up.
Before moving on, I just want to take a moment to talk about how great this page is. Spider-Man wakes up quippy, which isn’t a surprise, but it’s basically amazing that his first instinct on regaining consciousness is to try workshopping a Don Rickles routine on a gigantic monster that is also tied down next to him. Seriously! Dude goes straight for insult comedy, but the best thing is that Frankenstein completely no-sells it. “Where did you escape from” being met with “I’m tied up, you idiot, I obviously haven’t escaped from anything” is the kind of ice cold shutdown that I think we all dream of. Between that and Spidey calling Frankenstein “Patches” on the cover, these two oughtta take this act on the road.
So just who’s behind the abduction and subsequent bondaging?
It’s Baron Ludwig von Shtupf — The Monster Maker! And that, friends is the type of truly unfortunate name that drives someone to a life of supervillainy. As you might expect, he plants to shtupf things up for everyone, particularly Spider-Man and Frankenstein, but Parker is having absolutely none of it.
As though this issue was not already awesome, Conway and Buscema decide it’s time to remind the reader that Spider-Man can lift a car without much effort. Peter just cold straight-leg kicks von Shtupf across the room, busts out of the restraints, and then bails out the window with Frankenstein in tow.
From there, Spider-Man and Mr. Adam Frankenstein spend a little bit of time eluding von Shtupf’s ski troopers — he’s a Baron in the Marvel Universe, of course he has ski troopers — and swapping origin stories so that everyone knows where they stand. Eventually, though, they run across a young lady (also on skis) being menaced by those selfsame ski troopers. Obviously, Spidey and Frankenstein make short work of them, but when they go to help the lady, she gasses them Batman ’66 style, knocking them out and (presumably) hauling them back to her ski lodge.
So for those of you keeping score at home, this is a comic where the hero has been knocked unconscious twice by page 12. I don’t think even Jack Knight beat that record.
Fortunately for Spidey’s dignity, he didn’t just get knockout-gassed by a snow bunny. It turns out that she’s Klemmer: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.!
Let me know if she shows up on that new TV show and starts talking about MONSTER SUPREME (which is like a regular monster, but with sour cream and guacamole). And really, if that doesn’t happen, what are we even doing here?
Anyway, Klemmer has been dispatched to take down von Cuss herself, and what’s more, she wants to do it spy style, as a secret operation. She has decided to pressgang the heroes into helping her out, but in the name of subtlety, she decides that Frankenstein has to sit this one out. One more time, for those of you in the back, she has decided that this operation needs subtlety, so she’s taking Spider-Man, the chatterbox in the red and blue luchador suit.
Amazingly, it does not go well.
Sure, things work okay when Spider-Man is just hanging ski troopers by their jaws (which looks extremely painful) and when Frankenstein busts in and starts slapping dudes around with the sound effect “WHAT,” but it turns out that the Baron had a secret weapon this entire time:
The mothercussing Man-Wolf. You know, J. Jonah Jameson’s son the astronaut who became a werewolf when he went to the moon and who is sometimes the Stargod of Other-Realm, with completely non-werewolf-based powers? Yeah, that guy shows up.
Before long, Man-Wolf and the Monster Maker overcome Spider-Man and Frankenstein and strap them down yet again, and this is where the story goes 100% cuckoo bananas as we learn the Baron’s plan:
He’s going to create Spider-Frankenstein-Wolfmans. How is this guy not Marvel’s most popular villain? I mean, we had an entire movie about stupid Justin Hammer, and Baron von Shtupf, the Monster Maker gets nothin’. Maybe he shows up in that Baywatch Nights episode Conway wrote…
Anyway, you may be asking yourself “but what about Agent Klemmer?” and really, you are about to wish you hadn’t. She escapes from the castle, but the Baron sends Man-Wolf out in hot pursuit. Unfortunately for Klemmer, she winds up trapped between Man-Wolf and a bunch of regular wolves, and…
No. No no no nononononono.
Some other stuff happens, but I’ll just jump ahead here and let you know that Klemmer distracts Man-Wolf by asking for dinner and then scrams, leaving him alone to quote Alpha 5:
CUT TO: The castle, where Frankenstein and Spider-Man free themselves with von Shtupf’s vivisection laser, then go to find the Baron himself. And really, while he has pretty grand plans for world domination via Spider-Frankenstein-Wolfmans, he walks straight into the biggest rookie mistake I think I’ve ever seen. Not only dodes this dude walk away trusting his automated device to dispose of the heroes, he then takes a nap.
And that’s pretty much that. Oh, except that Spider-Man and Man-Wolf get into a fistfight where Conway references their “instincts of malehood” that drive them to punch each other over a woman.
It’s… less than ideal.