10 Cent Comics: Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #120
I’m not going to lie, I love me some mid-80’s Spider-Man. Not many people appreciate it like I do, but I really love how rough around the edges it usually is. The stories are often lined with the urban decay of New York in that decade (this one certainly is), and Spidey really goes to some interesting, if dark, places. I don’t think it’s much of a surprise that this was the era when the black costume reigned supreme, and even though it’s not in this book (despite the cover), there’s definitely that kind of aesthetic here.
Basically, the plot is as follows: A greedy asshole of a landlord hires a gang of thugs to scare away all his tenants, because he wants to knock down the building to make way for high rise apartments for rich people. But one old man who’s been there for decades won’t scare, and the gang starts leaning on him big time. This is where are friendly neighborhood Spider-Man gets involved, and learns all of this.
The next night, Spidey is keeping watch on the place for hours, making sure that the old man is safe. But when a nearby mugging distracts the wall crawler, and he has to stop it, the gang strikes, pushing the old man out of the building to his death. After the police deal with the old man’s body, the landlord and the gang just decide to say screw it, and burn the place to the ground. Spidey, meanwhile, has snuck in, and just as the gang member who killed the old man lights the place up, Spider-Man startles him.
The next 6 pages are Spidey doing his best Batman impression, creepily following the gang member through shadows as the building catches on fire more and more. Eventually, terrified, the gang-banger realizes he’s screwed, and break down- There’s no escape from Spider-Man. Spidey forces the guy to confess to everything, and the gang members and the evil landlord are taken away. Also, there’s a little bit of uplifting nonsense about Peter deciding to take action with the other tenants in his own building, but it’s basically just added to appease the Comics Code, I think.
Is it a little heavy-handed and simplistic look at urban decay? Sure. It’s far from perfect, cliched a bit, but I liked it. It’s dealing with some heavy issues, that especially at the time it was written, were very real for most urban kids. Writer Bill Mantlo is one of the great, under-appreciated writers of his day, and he wasn’t afraid to take on some serious shit. And the art by a young Keith Giffen (with long-time Marvel veteran Vince Colletta on inks) is.... well, it’s ugly, but in a very, very good way. His Spider-Man has a lot of the weird angles of Ditko’s, all of the art is exaggerated, but it completely fits the tone of the book. And there’s so much play with shadows and darkness, it has this wonderful, creepy vibe. This isn’t a happy story, and he makes sure it doesn’t look happy, either.
Gotta say, a dime well spent.