Great Moments In Comic Book History: Spider-Man Meets The Monster Maker


With the Marvel Cinematic Universe about to enter it’s fourth phase and having said goodbye the majority of the Avengers, it’s time to really go through the Marvel vaults and give some consideration to some characters who may not be as well-known as Iron Man or Captain America but who still deserve their own shot at cinematic immortality.

Consider, for instance, Baron Ludwig von Shtupf, the Monster Maker!

Baron Ludwig von Shutpf made his first (and, to date, only) appearances in two issues of Marvel Team-Up.  In Marvel Team-Up #36, he kidnapped Spider-Man from New York and Frankenstein’s Monster from the antarctic.  In Marvel Team-Up #37, he summoned Man-Wolf to join them all in his castle.  Baron von Shtupf was the latest in a long line of mad scientists and he had come up with the perfect plan for world domination.  Why not take three great monsters and combine them into one big monster?  It seemed like a good plan but Spider-Man, Man-Wolf, Frankenstein’s Monster, and an Agent of SHIELD named Judith Klemmer stopped him and left him tied up in his study.

The Baron would never appear again in the pages of Marvel Comics, which is amazing when you consider that even a character like the Living Eraser made a handful of appearances over the years before being permanently erased.  Was it because Baron von Shtupf’s name sounded suspiciously like a certain Yiddish vulgarity?  Perhaps.  Not bringing back Baron von Shtupf is a waste of a perfect good character so how about, Disney?  How about a little love for the Monster Maker?  Just imagine what Christoph Waltz could do with the role.

 

 

The main reason that I remember the Monster Maker is because, when I was seven years old, I found a copy of Marvel Team-Up #36 at a garage sale and I got excited because The Frankenstein Monster was on the cover.  My mom bought it for me.  When I got home, I read the comic and I was stunned to discover that it ended with a “to be continued” right after Spider-Man and the Monster discovered the Man-Wolf waiting for them in the Baron’s laboratory.  (This was when I was still too young to understand that all comic books ended with a “to be continued” because that was the easiest way to get kids like me to spend my allowance on them.)

I spent years searching for a copy of Marvel Team-Up #37 so I could find out how the story ended.  It was not until twelve years later, when I came across it on Ebay, that I was finally able to get a copy of the second part of the Monster Maker saga!  For that reason, I have never forgotten Baron von Shtupf and I guess I never will.

 

Marvels Team-Up #36 (August, 1975) and Marvel Team-Up #37 (September 1975)

“Once Upon A Time In A Castle” and “Snow Death”

  • Writer — Gerry Conway
  • Penciler — Sal Buscema
  • Inker — Vince Colletta
  • Colourist — Al Wenzel (#36) and Phil Rache (#37)
  • Letterist — Charlotte Jetter (#36) and Karen Mantio (#37)
  • Editor — Len Wein (#36) and Marv Wolfman (#37)

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”
  5. The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man

Great Moments In Comic Book History: The Debut of Man-Wolf in Amazing Spider-Man


As a super hero, Spider-Man never got any respect.

From the beginning of his costumed career, Spider-Man was often misunderstood.  Perhaps because of his early days as a professional wrestler, he was often dismissed as being an immature attention seeker.  Unfortunately, when you combine that with Peter Parker’s legendary lack of luck, bad things are going to happen.  Especially during the early run of Amazing Spider-Man, being close to Peter Parker meant that there was a good chance that you would end up dead and Spider-Man would somehow be blamed for your death.  Leading the charge would always be J. Jonah Jameson, the bombastic editor of The Daily Bugle.

At the start of Amazing Spider-Man #124, Spider-Man is again finding himself being blamed for two deaths.  This time, though, it’s personal.  Spider-Man is still coming to grips with the death of his first love, Gwen Stacy.  Meanwhile, both the police and Jameson suspect that Spider-Man is also to blame for the death of businessman Norman Osborne.  (What they didn’t know, however, was that Norman had actually been terrorizing the city as the Green Goblin and, as was revealed decades later, Norman wasn’t really dead.)  While Peter Parker struggles to get back into rhythm of everyday life, Jameson demands that Spider-Man be brought to justice.

However, Jonah has a bigger problem to worry about.  His son, John, has returned home.  John is an astronaut and, up until this issue, was always portrayed as being everything that Peter wasn’t.  While Peter was struggling to pay the bills and keep Aunt May from being evicted, John was going to the moon and returning a national hero.  John, however, has brought back something from his mission.  The moon rock that John wears around his neck as a necklace causes John to turn into the Man-Wolf, a werewolf who is full of rage at John’s father, J. Jonah Jameson.  Can Spider-Man save the man who has dedicated his life to making him miserable?

Spider-Man always had a rich and well-drawn supporting cast, with characters like Mary Jane Watson, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, and Harry Osborne becoming almost as well-known as the webslinger himself.  No character, though, was as beloved and hated as J. Jonah Jameson.  For all of his bluster, Jonah was frequently portrayed as being not evil but misguided.  He may have been too stubborn to admit that Spider-Man was not a menace but Jonah was often portrayed as having his own brand of integrity.  Usually, he tried to do the right thing.  The Man-Wolf saga put Jonah’s integrity to the test.  After years of accusing every super hero in New York of being a menace, how would Jonah react when the menace was his own son?

These two issues also provide a turning point in Spider-Man’s character.  Despite being haunted by Gwen’s death, Peter realizes that he cannot shut himself off from the world.  And, despite his justifiable anger at Jonah Jameson, Spider-Man still saves his life and protects his son because he know that’s what a hero does.

This saga ends with John Jameson temporarily cured and freed of the curse.  Of course, it wouldn’t last.  Man-Wolf would return, sometimes as a hero and sometimes as a menace.  And Spider-Man would be there to meet him.

Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #124 (September, 1973)

“The Mark of the Man-Wolf”

Writer:Gerry Conway
Inker:John Romita Sr., Tony Mortellaro
Colorist:Dave Hunt
Letterer:Art Simek
Penciler:Gil Kane

Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 #125 (October, 1973)

“The Man-Wolf Strikes Again”

Writer:Gerry Conway
Inker:Tony Mortellaro, John Romita Sr.
Colorist:Dave Hunt
Letterer:Art Simek
Penciler:Ross Andru

Previous Great Moments In Comic Book History:

  1. Winchester Before Winchester: Swamp Thing Vol. 2 #45 “Ghost Dance” 
  2. The Avengers Appear on David Letterman
  3. Crisis on Campus
  4. “Even in Death”

Halloween Scenes I Love: Spider-Man Goes To ESU’s Halloween Party in PS4’s Spider-Man


Not all good Halloween scenes have to come from a movie.  Sometimes, they can come from a video game!

One of my favorite missions in PS4’s Spider-Man is Back To School.  That’s where you, as Spider-Man, have to search the Empire State University Halloween Party for an Oscorp scientist named Dr. Delaney and rescue him from Mister Negative and the Demons.  Because it’s a Halloween party, you should be able to search for Delaney without anyone realizing that you’re the Spider-Man.  The bad news is that, again because it’s a Halloween party, almost every party goer is dressed up like one of your enemies.  And when Mister Negative does attack, it turns out that a drunk college student dressed up like the Rhino can be almost as dangerous as the actual Rhino!

A Late Review of PS4’s Spider-Man


It took me a little over a month to make my way through PS4’s Spider-Man.

I started playing around the middle of December and I finally completed the game on January 30th.  I didn’t play every day, of course.  There was one week when I was so busy with the real world that I didn’t play at all.  Most days, when I did play, I would spend maybe 60 to 90 minutes on the game, sometimes more and sometimes less.  All told, I’d estimate that it took about a total of 25 hours for me to finish the game’s story.  That’s not counting the time that I spent on side quests or the times when I would just swing through New York and appreciate the massive amount of work and detail that went into recreating Manhattan Island.

The first half of the game is probably one of the best advertisements for New York City that’s ever been put together.  Whether you’re swinging through Central Park or taking in the sights in Times Square, it’s hard not to get drawn into the game’s depiction of New York as being the most exciting city in the world.  Both Spider-Man and Mary Jane Watson get scenes in which they talk about how much they love New York.  At the start of the game’s third act, a major disaster happens and New York is suddenly trashed and no longer as friendly a place.  While the streets are controlled by the paramilitary mercenaries of Sable International, the rooftops are populated by snipers who think nothing of trying to shoot you while you’re trying to swing from mission to mission.  And yet, even when things are at their worst, the indomitable spirit of New York survives.  Even though a biological weapon has been detonated and there’s been a massive prison break, you can still find people taking a stroll through Central Park.  (Of course, now they’re wearing surgical masks and some of them are stopping to cough.)  Even after martial law is declared, you can still drop in on the quad at Empire U and find students hanging out.  J. Jonah Jameson (who, in this game, hosts Spider-Man’s favorite podcast) may be a braying fool most of the time but he’s right when he says that New York will never surrender.

(The game’s action is limited to Manhattan.  As much as I would have loved to have visited the Bronx, I understand that there’s only so much that one game can do.  When I tried to swim to Staten Island, I discovered that swimming is the one thing that Spider-Man does not do well.  When I tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, I got a warning telling me that I was “leaving the game.”  Maybe the sequel will take Spider-Man into the outer boroughs.)

Spider-Man is voiced by Yuri Lowenthal and, after playing this game, it’ll be impossible for me to ever think of Spider-Man as sounding like anyone else.  Whether he’s telling a bad joke or, when the game takes a detour into Spider-Man’s subconscious, battling his own demons, Lowenthal simply is Spider-Man.

The game features many of the members of Spider-Man’s supporting cast, with Yuri Watanabe, Mary Jane, Miles Morales, and Aunt May all making welcome appearances.  (Four of the story’s missions require the player to take on the roles of either MJ or Miles.)  As for the game’s villains, Doctor Octopus, Kingpin, Tombstone, Taskmaster, Norman Osborne, Mr. Negative, Electro, Vulture, Rhino, Scorpion, Screwball, and Shocker all play roles of varying importance.  Doctor Octopus is reimagined as being, before he goes bad, almost a surrogate father to Peter.  When Spider-Man battles him, he’s not only fighting Doctor Octopus but he’s also battling his own guilt.  We all know the old saying: “With great power, comes great responsibility.”  PS4’s Spider-Man is one of the few adaptations of the character that actually understands what that means.

While I liked the way that the villains were depicted and I think that this is one of the few Spider-Man adaptations to actually capture what makes Electro such an *ahem* electrifying character, I do wish that some of the boss battles had been more difficult.  While they do provide some challenge, they can also often be won just by pushing the dodge button until your opponents eventually tire themselves out.  For one battle, Spider-Man debuts a new suit designed to give him an advantage.  I won the battle without ever using the advantage.  Another battle can be won by finding a high place to perch on while your two opponents defeat themselves with friendly fire.

To anyone playing the game for the first time, my main warning would be to hold off on talking to a homeless man named Howard.  It’s tempting to go over and speak with him because his sidequest is located right next to the building where you go to visit Aunt May.  When you see the little blue diamond inviting you to visit with Howard, it’s hard to resist.  However, when you talk to Howard, you eventually end up agreeing to help him find all of his pet pigeons.  Those pigeons are located across the city and, as soon as you find yourself near any of them them, they’ll take off flying and, regardless of whatever else you may have going on, you’ll be expected to chase after them.  When it comes to Howard, hold off on talking to him until after you’ve taken care of the game’s main story.

Flaws aside, Spider-Man captures the spirit of its main character.  It’s not just about fighting crime, though there is a lot of that to do.  It’s also about making sure that Aunt May isn’t wearing herself out with her volunteer work.  It’s about trying to find time to cook dinner for MJ without neglecting the demands of being a super hero.  It’s about the sidequest where you rescue a civilian who, because he’s wandering around New York dressed like you, has attracted the wrong type of attention.  It’s about checking in on the research stations that Harry Osborne set up around the city before he mysteriously disappeared.  Sometimes, it’s just about taking the time to stop and take a selfie with a fan.  There’s plenty of action but, for me, the game was at its best when it was simply about Spider-Man swinging across Manhattan, looking for old backpacks and sometimes taking pictures of landmarks.

Spider-Man is one of the most enjoyable games that I’ve played in a while and I look forward to replaying it.  Next time, though, I’m telling Howard to collect his own pigeons…

Face Front, Marvelites!: RIP Stan “The Man” Lee


cracked rear viewer

I know it’s popular these days among a certain coterie of Comic Book Buffs to bash Stan Lee’s contributions to the medium in favor of artist/collaborators Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko . You’ll never find me in that crowd. Not ever. I learned to read (with the help of my dad) at the tender age of three through comics… simple stuff at first, funny books like YOGI BEAR and BEETLE BAILEY. As I progressed into the realm of superheroes, my vocabulary improved thanks to writers like Gardner Fox, John Broome, and especially Stan Lee, who took me to Asgard and Outer Space with Shakespearean-styled dialog and college-level words that made me keep a dictionary always at the ready. Screw you, Dr. Frederic Wertham!!

The Titanic Trio: Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko

Stanley Martin Lieber was born December 28, 1922, the eldest son of immigrant parents (his younger sibling Larry…

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4 Shots From 4 Films: Happy Birthday, Spider-Man!


It was 56 years ago today that The Amazing Spider-Man made his first appearance in the 15th issue of Amazing Fantasy.  After being bitten by a radioactive spider, Peter Parker developed super power but it was not until his uncle was murdered that Parker learned what it meant to be a hero.

With great power comes great responsibility and, as these four shots from four films demonstrate, movie stardom!  Over the years, Nicholas Hammond, Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland have all played America’s favorite web-spinning super hero.

In honor of Spider-Man’s birthday, here they are

4 Shots From 4 Films

The Amazing Spider-Man: The Chinese Web (1979, directed by Don McDougall)

Spider-Man (2002, directed by Sam Raimi)

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014, directed by Marc Webb)

Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017, directed by Jon Watts)

 

In Memory Of Steve Ditko


Self-Portrait of Steve Ditko

To many of us longtime comic book fans, Steve Ditko was an enigma.

We knew that, as the original artist on The Amazing Spider-Man and as the creator of Doctor Strange, Steve Ditko was responsible for much of Marvel’s early success.  Though he would never make a cameo appearance in an MCU film and the mainstream media will probably always continue to act as if Stan Lee is solely responsible for every character in the Marvel Universe, true fans know that, without Steve Ditko, Benedict Cumberbatch would never have cast as spells as Doctor Strange and Tom Holland would never have swung through New York as everyone’s favorite web slinger.

We all knew of Steve Ditko’s talent but the man himself remained a mystery.  He rarely gave interviews or made public appearances, saying that he preferred to let his work speak for itself.  And what work it was!  With Spider-Man, Ditko’s art captured not just the excitement of fighting criminals and saving the world but also the angst and anxiety of being young and overburdened.  With Doctor Strange, Ditko brought magic, both literally and figuratively, to the Marvel Universe.  Filling the pages with surrealistic images and out-of-this-world creations, Ditko kept Marvel relevant even as youth culture made the transition from the optimism of the Kennedy era to the drug-influenced psychedelia of the late 1960s.

Ditko left Marvel in 1966.  The exact story of his departure are unknown.  Perhaps, as a committed and outspoken Objectivist, Ditko chafed at the editorial restrictions that Marvel put on his work.  While Stan Lee wanted to sell comics, Steve Ditko wanted to reach minds.  After leaving Marvel, Ditko worked for several different companies, including Charlton and DC.  (He even returned to Marvel in 1979 and regularly contributed freelance work to the company.)  The best-known of his later creations was Mr. A, a reporter-turned-masked-vigilante who dispensed of criminals with uncompromising justice.

Despite his reputation for eccentricity, most people who worked with him described Ditko as being personable and cheerful.  According to Charlton’s Frank McLaughlin, “He was a very happy-go-lucky guy with a great sense of humor at that time, and always supplied the [female] color separators with candy and other little gifts.”

On June 29th, Steve Ditko was found dead in his New York apartment.  Rest in peace, Mr. Ditko.  Thank you for sharing your imagination with us.

From The Amazing Spider-Man #33:

In Strange Tales, Ditko introduced my favorite of all of Marvel’s “cosmic” entities, Eternity:

And finally, the character who may have been closest to Ditko’s worldview, Mr. A: