Bizarro Back Issues: Spider-Man Battles Electro On A Talk Show (1970)
I didn't make it out to the theater to see The Amazing Spider-Man 2 this weekend -- I had some crucial paint drying that needed to be watched -- but all the hype surrounding it actually did make me want to go back and read some classic Spider-Man stories. The only question was which one would have everything that I wanted, which was pretty tricky since I've only really seen Andrew Garfield and Emma Stone lately thanks to their appearances on The Tonight Show.
But then I found one of the all-time classics, Amazing Spider-Man #89, the one where Spider-Man has to go to the laundromat with a bag on his head because he's trying to get money by appearing as a guest on a talk show. It's even got Electro in it -- although I don't think any of the other 83 villains from the movie make an appearance.
Released in March of 1970 from Stan Lee, John Romita Sr. and Jim Mooney, this issue actually is a genuine classic, and is part of what is arguably the single greatest superhero run of all time. I mean, I might point to Walter Simonson on Thor as the apex of ongoing superhero comics, but those first two hundred issues of Amazing Spider-Man are quite literally the foundation of modern comics. Say what you will about Stan Lee, but his tenure on that book alongside Romita and Steve Ditko is pretty unimpeachable. It's great.
That said, it's great largely because Lee and Romita were working off a formula that they were builing and tweaking as they went on, and "And Then Came Electro!" is about as true to that formula as you can possibly get. If you have ever wanted to know exactly what it was like to read any Spider-Man comic printed between 1965 and 1975, then this is the one to grab, True Believer.
Take, for example, this opening splash page:
As you may already know, Peter Parker Feels Bad About Himself. So bad, in fact, that he sits moping in the dark under the floating (and disapproving) heads of his supporting cast on a fairly regular basis. So what's got him so down this time?
Well, in the previous issue, Aunt May wandered into his room while he was out being Spider-Man and found a dummy made of web fluid in his bed and flipped right the heck out, only to have Peter show up and tell her she was just seeing things in order to protect his secret identity, causing her to fall into one of the many, many comas that she spent the '70s in. This, as you may have already realized, was kind of a dick move, but don't worry. Peter's well aware.
Our Hero, ladies and gentlemen!
On top of all that, Mary Jane Watson and her Aunt Anna return from a trip to Florida just in time to take care of Aunt May and also remind Peter that they're having a going away party for Flash Thompson, who has just recently been drafted to go fight in Vietnam. Seriously, this thing's a laugh a minute. Peter, of course, doesn't have the money to chip in for a party celebrating the highly probable death of the dude who used to beat the heck out of him in high school, so he feels even worse about himself. And since there's no crime happening, he can't even take his frustrations out on crooks and earn a little extra pay for his troubles.
But then! An idea strikes our hero for how he can solve all of his problems in one fell swoop: The magic of television!
So naturally, Spidey crashes through the window of a TV network, offers himself up as a potential guest for a talk show, and then roughs up one of the executives for talking smack about his outfit. This might not seem like the best way for one to be offered a role on television, but to be honest, I'm like 90% sure that's how Fallon did it.
Also, just in case you were wondering whether 48 year-old Stan Lee had any idea what The Kids were into, please enjoy Spider-Man name-checking Joey Bishop and Merv Griffin.
Regardless of his behavior, the execs agree to put Spidey on TV for an undisclosed sum of money (seriously, Pete thinks this is a gold mine but they never actually talk about it). While he's there, though, we once again learn that coincidence has edged out hydrogen to become the most common element of the Marvel Universe, because there's a brand new employee helping out at the studio:
Max Dillon, alias Electro!
Yes, Electro has been hired for his expertise as an electrician after being released on parole, but he's not satisfied at all with the straight and narrow and its attendant harrassing parole officer. So when he discovers that Spider-Man is set to appear on the show, he does the sensible thing, and decides to hit up J. Jonah Jameson for ca$h money in exchange for interrupting the show, beating up Spider-Man, and unmasking him on live television.
Now, there are a couple of things to note about this, the first being that Electro is pretty excited about this plan because, as he says, "the guy who does it won't even be breakin' the law!" Now, I am no expert on the New York State Penal Code, so I don't know what exactly it would take for a super-powered criminal to be considered to be in violation of his parole, but I'm going to go ahead and guess that committing assault on live national televison would probably do it, even if he somehow managed to pull it off without the thousands of dollars of property damage that you're usually going to get from throwing around lightning bolts in a television studio.
Spider-Man, meanwhile, is engaging in a bit of foreshadowing.
What a wonderful girl! Be a shame if something... happened to her.
Eventually, Spidy ends up on The Midnight Show, and at this point, you'd be forgiven for thinking he'd do pretty well with it. I mean, Spider-Man's witty banter is his trademark, right, and surely trading quips with the Vulture is a lot harder than giving some punchy one-liners to a guy named Marvin who's setting you up for it. And yet, what we have here is a performance so dismal that it is unquestionably the direct ancestor to today's Newspaper Spider-Man:
Needless to say, Electro's whole "attack Spider-Man in front of an audience that will hail me as a conquering hero for having my revenge, my revenge!" plan doesn't exactly work out as well as he hoped. Or at all, really. Instead, the crowd flips out and flees from the studio, which gets pretty thoroughly demolished in the ensuing brawl.
But just so you don't think it's all fun and games here in Bizarro Back Issue Land, I'll say right here that the actual fight is pretty amazing. Romita does a great job of raising the stakes, flashing back to Spider-Man's victory in their previous fight, where he grounded himself by attaching a wire to his leg (?!), and then establishing that in this one, he doesn't have that option so he needs to keep moving through the air, never touching the ground while he slugs out with Electro. It's really great.
The ending's a little weird, though.
But really, it's not any weirder than anything else that happens in this comic, so I guess that's a wash.
So, having defeated his nemesis, Spider-Man slinks off, having been the direct cause of the destruction of the TV studio, having destroyed his costume in the battle and burned his hands even through his gloves, and without even getting any money for it, leaving him even worse off than where he started.
Join us next month for more Peter Parker Feels Bad About Himself!