Spider-Man’s Bottom 10 Bronze Age Bums
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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