Author Archives: markginocchio
It’s always a special day when Chasing Amazing’s Mark Ginoccho favors Longbox Graveyard with a guest blog! Take it away, Mark!
Paul has been generous enough to once again allow me to have the run of the Longbox Graveyard so I could conduct a blogging experiment of sorts that connects LBG with my personal site, Chasing Amazing. Today, as part of my month-long acknowledgement/celebration of Daredevil’s 50th anniversary, I’ve written two concurrently published blog entries that put one of the great Marvel villains on a pedestal, Wilson Fisk, aka the “Kingpin” of crime. My Chasing Amazing post will examine Kingpin’s adversarial relationship with Spider-Man, while this one will shine a light on the Fisk/Daredevil dynamic.
Modern readers likely associate Kingpin as a Daredevil villain, and while they would be mostly right, it can not be forgotten that Fisk was first introduced as a villain for Spidey in 1967’s Amazing Spider-Man #50 and was a non-factor in the life of Matt Murdock/Daredevil until Frank Miller/Klaus Janson’s revolutionary run on Daredevil (Kingpin first appeared in ‘Ol Hornhead’s book in issue #170 in 1981).
Spider-Man and Daredevil are two of Marvel’s premiere “street level” heroes, so it makes sense for both to have a major beef with the New York City’s Kingpin of organized crime (not to mention Fisk’s blood feud with Frank Castle, aka the Punisher). But despite Fisk getting a 14-year head start tormenting the friendly neighborhoods of Spider-Man, his time going toe-to-toe with Daredevil is significantly elevated by the fact that Daredevil/Kingpin had far more groundbreaking creators crafting their stories over the past 30-plus years – most notably Miller and Brian Michael Bendis.
When Miller first took over on lead pencils on Daredevil in 1979, he immediately infused Roger McKenzie’s scripts with a film noir style that would become a trademark for the title. As Daredevil continued to struggle with declining sales, Miller was eventually given both scripting and penciling duties (with Klaus Janson providing inks), which is when the aesthetic and tone of the book would change for good.
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Gone was the glossy Silver Age-isms leftover from the 1960s and 70s, and in its place was a griminess and grittiness that probably smacks of “been there done that” to today’s audiences where everything related to comics (books, films, television, et al) is supposed to be DARK. But at the time these tonal changes were quite extraordinary. Miller’s style put the “Hell” in Hell’s Kitchen and while the sociopathic assassin Bullseye was certainly a worthwhile adversary for Daredevil to square off against, what the title really needed to ascend to the next level was a kingpin. Enter, Wilson Fisk.
The inaugural Kingpin/Daredevil arc spins off from a previous Amazing Spider-Man storyline where Fisk gives up the life of crime at the request of his wife, Vanessa. Miller and Janson introduce us to Kingpin in Daredevil #170 as a sumo-sized behemoth, tossing around his lackeys like ragdolls, while simultaneously making it clear to whoever is within earshot that he had officially divorced himself from his former life working as the “K” guy.
But like every mob boss in the history of media, Fisk learns the hard and fast way that one doesn’t just “leave” the criminal underworld. A full-blown gang war breaks out with rival bosses seeking the Kingpin’s “files.” At one point, Fisk is drawn out to make a deal and it turns out to be an ambush. A sonic blast causes a building to fall down, assumedly burying Vanessa underneath and leading Fisk to embark on a warpath of vengeance unlike any the criminal underworld has ever seen.
In the midst of all this, Daredevil has his first encounter with Fisk under the guise of “Shades,” a wannabe mobster trying out for Team Kingpin. Matt, of course, is just trying to gain access to Fisk’s files and learns rather quickly that Kingpin is not a man to be trifled with. After trying to break into his vault, Kingpin and Daredevil engaged in their first of many battles, with Fisk decisively getting the better of the hero and dumping him into a sewer pipe.
And thus marks the beginning of a very long and winding, complex hero/villain relationship. Miller’s characterization of the underworld plays into the wheelhouse of the Daredevil/Kingpin dynamic. There’s muck, dirt and grime everywhere. It’s unsightly. Daredevil, by definition, is a hero who lives in a world of darkness. The accident that caused him to become blind but also enhanced his remaining senses, gives him a unique power-set, but not the standard superhero skillset of super-strength, flying, advanced technology, etc. Kingpin, despite his rotund figure, is incredibly strong, but again, not “super-powered.” Plus, how fitting is it for a superhero who spends his “normal” life outside of his tights working as an attorney, to have an arch-nemesis that bends the law to his will?
Still, there’s more to the Daredevil/Kingpin dynamic that just the poetry of their interaction. At the onset of this inaugural “Gang War” arc, Miller sets out to connect Murdock and Fisk on an extraordinarily personal level. There’s a cat and mouse game going on that extends beyond the punches and kicks that are thrown. At the end of Daredevil #172, Fisk hands over the precious files to Daredevil, telling him to do what he pleases with it – that he will just rebuild into a stronger, meaner organization. And Daredevil realizes there’s nothing he can do to combat the tidal wave that is the Kingpin.
Miller/Janson ratchet up the drama between Daredevil and Kingpin during run of issues dubbed “The Elektra Saga,” which also marks the introduction of one of Marvel’s most famous femme fatales, Elektra Natchios. Elektra, a former love of Matt’s from college, has been hired as the Kingpin’s personal assassin.
During “The Elektra Saga,” readers learn that Fisk has a hand-picked mayoral candidate, the crooked Randolph Cherryh. When Daily Bugle ace reporter Ben Urich starts to reveal the scandalous link between Fisk and Cherryh, Elektra is deployed to send a message with one of her trusty sai. Urich backs off his story, but not before handing some of his research over to Daredevil. Among a pile of photos is one that shows Kingpin’s thought-to-be-dead Vanessa lurking in the sewers as a vagabond. Daredevil is able to use this information to gain total leverage over Fisk, getting him to pull Cherryh from the New York City mayoral race in exchange for Vanessa’s whereabouts.
These are the kinds of storylines that have the Daredevil/Kingpin relationship mimic a game of chess. In the penultimate issue of the inaugural Miller run on Daredevil, he even adds a scene where Kingpin tells Daredevil that the two of them are inextricably linked and are not that different from each other. But the mutual admiration society ends in brutal fashion during what many consider to be one of the greatest storylines in comic book history: 1986’s “Born Again” by Frank Miller with art by David Mazzucchelli.
If you’re a devotee of the “House of Ideas” and have never read “Born Again,” stop everything that you’re doing, run out to the store and pick yourself up a trade paperback copy (or find it on the Marvel Unlimited app) and then get back to me.
Thanks for doing that.
Seriously, “Born Again,” encapsulates everything that is wonderful about this sometimes-satisfying, often-maddening world of superhero comics. For the uninitiated, “Born Again” starts with Matt’s former love, Karen Page, hooked on drugs and in need of a fix. She sells Matt’s biggest secret – his Daredevil identity – in exchange for some drugs, and this information naturally finds its way to Fisk. Fisk uses this information to systematically destroy Murdock piece by piece: his home, his law practice… everything. Matt is so broken, when he goes to confront Fisk, he gets a beating that’s even more brutal than the first time the two squared off. Kingpin assumes victory, and goes on to live a life as a “legitimate” businessman.
Except as Fisk rightly notes, “there is no corpse,” and of course Matt finds a way to rise from the ashes. Daredevil completely rebuilds his life as gradually and systematically as it was destroyed, and even reconciles with Karen along the way. Daredevil dispatches of an evil Captain America-esque super soldier, Nuke, who had been hired by Fisk to go on a killing spree in Hell’s Kitchen. Together, Daredevil and Captain America produce evidence that connects Nuke and Fisk, thereby destroying his public image as a legit titan of the business world.
The storyline demonstrates just how far both Kingpin and Daredevil are willing to go to destroy the other, and while it ends on a note of optimism for Matt, the arc comes across as the end of the road for Fisk, whose grand plans that have been building since Miller first worked him into the Daredevil univrese have finally been ruined. Other writers continued to tackle the Daredevil/Kingpin dynamic, including a fun arc during the Ann Nocenti/John Romita Jr. that introduced another femme fatale in Typhoid Mary, but none were able to match Miller’s portrayal of the relationship.
Then Brian Michael Bendis came along.
Similar to Miller, Bendis is known for saving Daredevil from near-certain cancellation (though to be fair, BMB’s predecessor, filmmaker Kevin Smith, is who truly resuscitated Daredevil from a commercial standpoint). And like Miller, Bendis had a brilliant grasp of what made Daredevil/Kingpin such an effective hero/villain pairing. During the Bendis run, it wasn’t just about hackneyed world domination, but rather a slow moving game that was constantly being played out seven moves in advance.
Bendis (and artist Alex Maleev) had a fantastic grasp on the tone and rhythm of the underworld. A lot of Bendis’s most successful stories don’t even read like comic books as much as television/film scripts starring characters like Tony Soprano and Don Corleone. The first Bendis Kingpin story, “Underboss,” shows a weakening Kingpin who tries to maintain what little leverage he has left on Daredevil by hanging the threat of outing his secret identity over his head. When an arrogant wannabe mob boss demands that Kingpin reveal this information, it leads to Fisk’s (temporary) removal from his position of power when his entire crew betrays him and attempts to murder him.
Fisk returns to the throne eventually, as featured in the Bendis/Maleev arc “Hardcore.” But in a unique twist that demonstrates how the Kingpin/Daredevil dynamic continually finds way to evolve, Matt decides that he’s tired of the same old “cycle” with Fisk. He confronts Fisk and beats him within inches of his life, claiming that Hell’s Kitchen now belongs to Daredevil. It’s a shockingly brutal role reversal, and one of the few times the usually more passive Matt comes out on top when it comes to his physical altercations with Fisk.
Similar to how Miller leaves things at the end of “Born Again,” Bendis would go on to script a Kingpin on the ropes. With nothing left to lose, Fisk turns himself over to authorities. But in exchange for immunity, he promises to produce evidence that Matt is Daredevil and has obstructed justice many times over the years under the guise of this dual life. Fisk successfully sets Daredevil up to out his secret to the authorities, and the Bendis-era ends oddly, yet appropriately enough, with both Murdock and Fisk in jail.
Again, other creative teams would get a turn on Daredevil, and would go on to develop successful and interesting stories about Daredevil and Kingpin, but none would go on to be as riveting and significant as Miller and Bendis. These two indisputably defined the two characters and their relationship with each other in a way where Kingpin is now unblinkingly synonymous with Daredevil.
Perhaps if the Spider-verse ever had creators who had the long-game vision for Kingpin that Miller and Bendis did, the villain would still be better associated with the series in which he made his debut. Fortunately, Spider-Man would go on to have very successful inter-personal relationships with his own unique villains, while Daredevil’s existence in the Marvel Universe was likely saved by the addition of Fisk and the grittiness of his criminal underworld.
Thanks, Mark, for another outstanding contribution to Longbox Graveyard! Make sure you check out Mark’s post on Chasing Amazing that looks at the rise of the Kingpin within the Marvel Universe as a member of the cast of the Amazing Spider-Man series.
IN TWO WEEKS: #130 Punishment Is Black & White
Longbox Graveyard guest blogger supreme Mark Ginocchio of Chasing Amazing returns this week with a personal column about how a man without a cape may be the greatest super hero of all! Welcome back, Mark!
The comic book world is filled with superheroes with fantastic powers who make the impossible seem possible. But what this universe seems to be lacking is working class stiffs who still find a way to be extraordinary despite not having the ability to fly, shoot lasers from their eyes or leap tall buildings in a single bound.
As many of you should know by now, Spider-Man is my superhero of choice. What you probably don’t realize is that of all the Marvel Universe’s characters, Daily Bugle reporter Ben Urich is my ACTUAL hero.
First introduced by Roger McKenzie and Gene Colan in Daredevil #153, Urich is the Daily Bugle’s “ace” reporter. The character was elevated to iconic status via the pen of Frank Miller during his epic run on Ol’ Hornhead. During Miller’s run, Urich’s dogged reporting skills outed blind attorney Matt Murdock as Daredevil (though Urich would keep this information under wraps as a means to protect the hero). He then used his connections to Matt to get information that would help take down Wilson Fisk, aka, the “Kingpin” of crime, via the power of the press.
In later stories written by different creators, Urich would take down other businessmen-turned-costumed-criminals, like Norman Osborn (aka the Green Goblin). Urich often tap-danced on the lines of morality in terms of how he obtained information for his stories. But there was always an “ends justify the means” rationale to Urich’s work. If he successfully exposed true evil and villainy like Kingpin and Osborn, what difference did it make if he canoodled with unhappy gang members, or extorted the likes of Daredevil and Spider-Man for info?
So how could I possibly identify with this middle-aged, chain smoking newspaper reporter? For the first part of my professional life, Urich’s was the lifestyle I aspired to achieve. Ever since I was in high school, I had dreamt of being a newspaper reporter. I knew print journalism wasn’t a field where I would make a lot of money or become a famous celebrity, but I didn’t care. The idea of investigating a story – interviewing sources and putting all these ideas together like it was an 1,000-piece puzzle – was the most exciting career choice I could imagine.
I was 15 when I first understood the power of journalism. I had submitted an irresponsibly written piece about drug use in my high school. In retrospect, I should have been embarrassed. The story relied exclusively on hearsay and conjecture. When I insisted that the paper should publish or be in violation of my “first amendment rights,” the district superintendent called me into his office and calmly explained to me why he wouldn’t allow the article to run. By the end of the meeting, I should have left his office with my tail between my legs. Instead, as if it was some kind of drug, I was hooked by journalism. Here I was, some 15-year-old kid and I was being called in to meet with the superintendent of my school district over this stupid article which I knew was true, but was un-publishable all the same. Imagine the scare I could have put into him if I actually went about writing this article the right way. From that point on, I swore to myself I would write those articles, “the right way.”
In college, I interned at Newsday in Long Island, NY, at the time, one of the largest newspapers in the country. I mostly covered local business stories but one day, my editor sent me out assignment to a private marina where a Fortune 500 CEO was rumored to be selling his yacht because of his company’s poor financial performance. “Just talk to some guys at the marina and see what they’ll tell you about the CEO and the boat,” my editor told me. It was the epitome of a BS assignment. I probably wouldn’t even get access to the marina and if I did, nobody was going to talk to some 19-year-old with a press badge.
Through a little smooth talk and perhaps some omission of truth, I gained access to the marina (I told them I was interested in writing about the boat, without mentioning the CEO). Then I managed to find a dock worker who was extra chatty who not only told me about the CEO’s wild yacht parties and weekly boat races with other millionaires, he asked me if I wanted to ride ON THE BOAT. When I went back to the newsroom with quotes, color and pictures, my editor nearly keeled over in disbelief.
After graduating from college, I worked at a daily newspaper in Stamford, CT, for five years. I covered everything: obituaries, transportation issues, congressional politics and high finance. But the industry was changing. Print was on the decline. Newspapers were consolidating operations or going out of business all together. My paper was sold to a new media conglomerate that owned two others newspapers in the state. I left the industry and took a new job in corporate communications at a firm in New York City. These are the kinds of jobs hardened journalists dubbed “the dark side.” On my last day in the newsroom, my editor gave me a t-shirt that said: -30- … the short hand signifying the “end” of a news story. She told me that one day she hoped I returned to newspapers, but she doubt I would ever be that stupid.
I thought I was a true “newspaper man” but maybe I wasn’t. Maybe I was just a quitter who got drunk on the excitement, but couldn’t take the heartache and often isolation that comes with being a reporter.
Urich is a true newspaperman. While the media has long played an important role in the Marvel universe, Urich is the guy I wish I had the stomach to become. J. Jonah Jameson, editor-in-chief, later publisher of the Bugle, was more comic relief (though he had a few moments that made me proud he flew the journalism flag). Joe Robbie Robertson was one of the nicest guys around, but he was an editor. He rarely got his hands dirty digging into a story. He managed the slobs and the jerks who would do anything to break news.
Regardless of his methods, Urich’s principled stand against Fisk and Osborn took real courage. These were some of the Marvel universe’s most powerful and violent individuals, who could easily snuff Urich out like the end of one of his token cigarettes. But Urich soldiered on because for him, reporting was all he had. It made him feel alive, just like I still get that rush any time I get an opportunity to put on my old reporter’s hat again.
While Miller’s run on Daredevil is filled with memorable issues, my all-time favorite is Daredevil #179, which is narrated by Urich, and dubbed “my story.” The issue starts with Urich meeting an informant in a darkened movie theater regarding the New York City mayoral candidate Randolph Cherryh and his connections to Kingpin. The informant is then killed via an Elektra sai through the back (and through the theater seat). Urich is warned to stay away from Cherryh.
Does Urich relent? Of course not. He continues to investigate. During the issue, Urich talks about his “rules of journalism,” which include, “if it’s not supposed to be there, it’s a lead,” and “when in doubt, take a picture.”
The whole issue reads like a love song to the world of blue-collared shoe-leather reporting. Urich’s narrative reminded me of the time I was in high school and I went to a lecture being given by legendary reporter Jimmy Breslin, who told us, “the best stories involve climbing stairs and waiting in the rain to get them.” I.e., nothing newsworthy ever happens on the first floor of a building on a sunny day. Maybe that was Urich’s third rule of journalism?
Of course, this being a Frank Miller comic, Daredevil #179 ends with a swift kick to the family jewels if you’re a Urich fan. While secretly taking photos of a fight between Daredevil and Elektra, Urich coughs – foreshadowed earlier in the comic with all of his smoking (it’s a bad habit, Urich said). The cough earns Urich a sai through a side.
The first time I read this comic, I frantically jumped to the next issue in my trade paperback because I didn’t know if Miller had the stones to kill off Urich (it’s not like he couldn’t have been resurrected at a later date).
Fortunately Urich lives, and he’s ready to withdraw his hunt to take down Cherryh. “After everything I’ve been through …” he tells Matt. But even in defeat, Urich unknowingly has an ace up his sleeve. A photo of a bag lady – one of those “not supposed to be there” people he had referred to earlier – turns out to be the presumed deceased wife of Kingpin. Daredevil is able to use this information for leverage to get Fisk to withdraw Cherryh from the mayoral race.
In this instance, Daredevil gets to be the superhero, but it’s the legwork of Urich that saves the city of New York from a “gangster.”
I think my biggest disappointment during my time at the newspaper was the fact that I never had that one, game-changing story to hang my hat on. I had memorable experiences, and had the pleasure to talk to many fascinating people, both famous and otherwise. But I never took down the Kingpin of crime, or was threatened with a sai (though I was thrown out of a book signing by Don Imus for “standing too close” to him).
And the good news is, Urich is still alive and kicking in the Marvel universe, breaking stories and making a difference. After I’m done reading about my favorite superheroes, I can turn to a real-life hero as well.
Thanks, Mark, for the thoughtful insight on this most extraordinary “ordinary” man! Remember to visit Mark at his home on the web —Chasing Amazing — where Mark chronicles his pursuit of every single issue of Amazing Spider-Man!
IN TWO WEEKS: #114 Vengeance of the Molecule Man!
Once again, guest blogger Mark Ginocchio of Chasing Amazing provides much-needed Spider-Man content for Longbox Graveyard … this time with an in-depth look as some of Spider-Man’s most maligned foes! Take it away, Mark!
I know Paul O’Connor, the founder of Longbox Graveyard is probably sick and tired of me telling this story, but one of the first LBG articles I ever read was a “top 10” list of Paul’s favorite Marvel characters and I was absolutely floored that Spider-Man did not make the list. When I confronted Paul about it via social media (probably Twitter), he told me about how he grew up reading comic books during the Bronze Age era and that he was never all that impressed with the Spider-Man comics that were released during this era. I thought long and hard about his opinion, when I realized, he was absolutely right.
Amazing Spider-Man #121 … the death of the Silver Age, and definitely NOT a part of the Bottom 10!
Granted, some comic book historians credit a Spider-Man comic book, Amazing Spider-Man #121, aka “The Death of Gwen Stacy,” for marking the end of the Silver Age and the beginning of the grittier Bronze Age (though for the purposes of this article, I looked at all issues post-Stan Lee, starting with ASM #101). Beyond Gwen’s death, there were a few good/important stories during this time: the first appearance of the Punisher; the “original Clone Saga” which was infinitely more succinct and well-crafted than the mid-90s debacle; and some really interesting character moments for supporting cast members like Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, J. Jonah and his future wife (now deceased) Marla Jameson. But otherwise, the 70s/early 80s were a dark period quality-wise for the Wall Crawler, only rivaled by the trash trove of Spidey stories from the “Chromium” Age in the 90s.
And yet, one piece of awfulness stood out to me more than anything else from Spidey’s Bronze Age run. I was recently re-reading these comics in hopes of getting some fun storylines to mock and I immediately realized that the wave of new villains introduced for Spider-Man to fight during this era were enough for a dedicated post. That’s when I decided it was absolutely necessary to rank the (not) top 10 of these Bronze Age “bums” in order of horrid to comically absurd. My totally subjective criteria includes such factors as physical weakness of the character, awfulness of his origin story, ability to alarm the fashion police, and overall (lack of) impact on Spider-Man/Marvel comics history.
On with the list!
10. Green Goblin III (Dr. Bart Hamilton) – Key Bronze Age Battle: Amazing Spider-Man #174-180
Thought I’d start the list with a classic villain portrayed in a less than classic fashion. Dr. Bart Hamilton was Harry Osborn’s shrink who worked with Harry after he went crackers and tried to kill everyone Peter Parker held dear as the second Green Goblin. So naturally, while psychoanalyzing Harry, Hamilton, who has no supervillain background whatsoever, decides he wants to be king of the criminal underworld and assume the identity as the third Green Goblin. For some reason, this origin story just stretches the limits of plausibility for me, even by comic book standards. How does a professional psychiatrist just randomly DECIDE to become a supervillain? Bonus points for the fact that Hamilton is a total pushover, even with all of the Goblin’s weapons at his disposal. And once Spider-Man realizes he’s not fighting his long-time friend Harry, the good doctor goes down without much of a fight.
9. Cyclone – Key Bronze Age Battle: ASM #143-144
Peter/Spider-Man goes to Paris for Daily Bugle business and runs into a spandex wearing Frenchman who hates America because they didn’t buy his cyclone-producing technology while he was on the payroll for NATO. So he implements the technology into his costume and chooses to get back at America by kidnapping a loud-mouthed newspaper publisher. And in case you didn’t know he was a villain, let’s play into xenophobic stereotypes and have him call Americans stupid pigs another three dozen times. Yeah nationalism! Spider-Man is able to defeat Cyclone by pointing a bigger fan back in his direction. I’m sure there’s a joke there, but I’ll let you, dear readers, figure it out for me. While you do, I’m going to sit here and enjoy some “Murican wine and freedom fries.
8. Grizzly – Key Bronze Age Battle: ASM #139-140
This guy is as big as a bear. So let’s put him in a giant bear suit! He’s the original walking carpet (sorry Chewie)!!! If the costume choice wasn’t bad enough, his origin story ups the ante. A disgraced wrestler (Maxwell Markham) who has a vendetta against J. Jonah Jameson and the Bugle for some nasty editorials they wrote about his time in the squared circle. So basically this character is Andre the Giant if he became a supervillain, dressed up like a bear, and the New York Daily News wrote editorials about that time he ripped off Hulk Hogan’s cross, joined up with Bobby the Brain Heenan, and challenged Hogan at Wrestlemania III.
7. Gibbon – Key Bronze Age Battle: ASM #110-111
Tired of being made fun of for looking like a monkey, Martin Blank embraces his “beast within” by becoming the ape-like Gibbon. How this criminal persona helps with Martin’s self-esteem issues is beyond me. But the character is treated like a joke from the word “go,” and even the once-bullied Spider-Man laughs off the Gibbon’s criminal plans. Kraven the Hunter tries to mold Blank into his personal Spidey killing machine, but since this was years before Kraven became a legitimate supervillain who buried Spider-Man alive and assumed his identity, you can imagine how his partnership with the Gibbon went. Years later, Gibbon and Grizzly (#8) started a short-lived crime-fighting partnership (complete with the duo driving around in a “Grizzly Mobile”). It makes you wonder if these guys have some kind local watering hole they meet-up at and compare their tales of infamy.
6. Mindworm – Key Bronze Age Battle (Amazing Spider-Man #138
Mind control as a supervillain power is certainly nothing new, but Mindworm is a sad case study in taking a familiar science-fiction device and ruining it by creating a laughably awful-looking character who is impossible to take seriously as a threat. I guess Gerry Conway and Ross Andru dressed this mutant in a bathing suit because he lived in Rockaway Beach (near Flash Thompson), but beyond the costume, there’s also the mousey face and big forehead that scream “comic relief” rather than the next Victor Von Doom. Bonus shame points for the fact that Mindworm is eventually reduced to a drunken, disheveled mess who’s killed by street thugs in a later issue of Spectacular Spider-Man.
5. Hypno Hustler – Key Bronze Age Battle: Spectacular Spider-Man #24
I imagine this will be a controversial choice as the Hustler has become a cult favorite in recent years, especially after his appearances in Avenging Spider-Man #12 and #13 last year. It doesn’t change the fact that his first big Bronze Age appearance and battle with Spider-Man is a cringe-worthy affair (and I haven’t even mentioned Peter Parker dressing in a rented white “disco” suit). While it’s never explicitly said, it’s implied that the Hustler is a lousy musician who’s found a second calling as a white polyester-clad, petty criminal who hypnotizes his audience through the aid of his back-up band, the Mercy Killers in order to rob them. To give him a little bit of extra “juice”, the Hustler’s creators, Bill Mantlo and Frank Springer, provide him with dancing shoes that emit knockout gas and knives. Disco forever baby!! The Hustler is subdued when Spider-Man knocks off his protective earphones, thereby subjecting the villain to the hypnotic tones of his own back-up band. Granted, the Hustler is not designed to be a serious adversary for Spider-Man, but just because he’s a funny villain, doesn’t mean he’s still not a bum.
4. Stegron the Dinosaur Man – Key Bronze Age Battle: ASM #165-166
It’s hard to keep a straight face when you have to follow anybody’s name with “the Dinosaur Man.” Stegron was one of two “Lizard 2.0” characters considered for this list (the other being the Iguana), but there’s something about a guy injecting himself full of dinosaur DNA (and perhaps inspiring one of the biggest novels/motion pictures of the 1990s) and becoming a half-man, half-stegosaurus creature. The silliness is turned up to 11 when in an issue of ASM Stegron uses a re-animator gun to breathe life into a bunch of dinosaur fossils on display at the Museum of Natural History (thusly ruining one of my favorite exhibits in New York City). More importantly, Stegron is a perfect case study into what makes a good villain: the Lizard is a sympathetic character since he is the good-natured family man Curt Connors in human form. His reptilian affliction was caused by a failed attempt to regenerate his lost arm. Stegron’s motivation is world domination via the control of extinct animals. That’s dumb.
3. Swarm – Key Bronze Age Battle: Spectacular Spider-Man #36-37
Actual conversation I had with my wife while explaining Swarm: “So he’s a semi-dead Nazi…” Wife: “That’s always a good start.” Me: “Who’s actually a skeleton composed entirely of bees.” Wife: “….”
I admit that a long time ago I got over the self-conscious embarrassment I would sometimes feel when it was inevitably revealed that I was a huge comic book geek. But it’s characters like Swarm, aka Frtiz Von Meyer, the skeleton-man who controls killer bees after he grabbed a queen bee and embedded it in his brain, who make the wonderful world of superhero comic books a little difficult to defend sometimes. Beyond Swarm’s just overall general absurdity, there’s also a lot about the character that is scientifically implausible (most notably, how does a guy composed of thousands of individual bees able to “fly?”). He’s not exclusively a Spider-Man villain and actually made his grand debut against the “Champions” super-team, but his Bronze Age match-up with the Wall Crawler is crazy enough that I have to throw him on this list. Besides, I really wanted to capture that very genuine reaction from my wife.
2. Spider-Mobile – Key Bronze Age Battle: ASM #160
Shortly after the “Death of Gwen Stacy,” the forces that be at Marvel thought they would lighten the tone of Spidey’s comics by introducing the Spider-Mobile: Spider-Man’s very own vehicle that was clearly a satirical knockoff of the comic book world’s most famous automotive, the Batmobile. Giving credit where it’s due, Marvel very slowly laid the groundwork for the Spider Mobile, first having the “inventors” approach Spidey about putting his name on their product, then having Spider-Man (with help of the Human Torch) build it himself, and then finally having stories where the practicality of such a vehicle is openly questioned and mocked. When Mysterio II (another consideration for this list) creates an illusion of an alleyway and Spider-Man drives his new car into the river, we are under the impression that the Spider-Mobile is dead and buried. If only the whole saga ended there, we could call it a funny, albeit beaten into the ground story that I’m sure was born from a Marvel bullpen joke run amok. But the saga wasn’t over. The Spider-Mobile was revived by none other than the “Terrible” Tinkerer, a mad scientist who first appeared in ASM #2 before going on a very lengthy hiatus. And this time, the Herbie was fully loaded. The Spider Mobile had been repurposed as a pseudo-Spider Slayer, out for Webhead’s blood, leading to perhaps the greatest title of a Spider-Man comic ever: “My Killer, the Car!” Who knew after nearly three years worth of stories the big payoff for the Spider-Mobile was going to be the fact that it wanted to MURDER Spider-Man?
1. Big Wheel – Key Bronze Age Battle: ASM #183
Jackson Weele was having a bad couple of weeks. He was embezzling from his company and he hired a villain, the Rocket Racer, to steal some money for him to pay off his debts. Unfortunately, the Racer thought Weele was a bit of a joke, and continually disrespected him by calling him “Big Wheel.” So Weele did what any other person who was down on his luck and facing prison time would do. He made lemonade out of lemons. He visited the Tinkerer (him again!) and asked him to make him a device that could crush anything in its path – a gigantic metallic circle. You might even call it a “big wheel.” Finally, the world would stop disrespecting Jackson Weele. But this story ends as sadly as it started. You see, what Weele didn’t understand was with “great big powerful metallic wheels, comes the responsibility to learn how to operate them.” While barreling down a city street, Weele misses his targets, Spider-Man and Rocket Racer, and ends up in the drink. And just like that, it’s exit stage left Mr. Weele. Spider-Man even tries to save him, but Weele is presumed dead. He would get revived in 2006 in an issue of Spider-Man Unlimited, and the Wheel itself is currently being operated by the villain Overdrive in Superior Spider-Man #1 and Superior Foes of Spider-Man. But I think Weele’s story has much more honorable ending in ASM #183. He came, he saw, he rolled and failed. It’s the comic book equivalent of Luke Skywalker accidentally hitting the ejector button instead of the “fire” button when he had one clean shot to take out the Death Star. Actually, that would be pretty funny.
Well that wraps up my bottom 10 Spider-Man Bronze Age bums!
Thanks, Mark, for another terrific guest blog! Be sure to visit Mark at his home on the web — Chasing Amazing — where Mark chronicles his one-man attempt to collect every single issue of Amazing Spider-Man!
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