Saturday 1 January 2011

Super Spider-Man #171. The Death of Gwen Stacy & the Green Goblin.

Super Spider-Man #171, the death of Gwen Stacy

Something very strange happened in the Autumn of 1975. A number of the comics I'd been getting week-in and week-out for several years disappeared without trace from my local newsagents. The Mighty World of Marvel, The Avengers and Spider-Man Comics Weekly all vanished at around the same time. If not for Planet of the Apeswhat would I have had to keep me going? Fortunately, within a few months they were all back. But when Spider-Man Comics Weekly returned, it was in a whole new form.

It had been Titanised.

Like that other Marvel UK comic, Spider-Man's weekly mag was now printed sideways. This was good. Thanks to it allowing them to print two pages of artwork side-by side on every physical page, this meant you got twice as many pages for your money.

So what did you get?

You got trauma.

No sooner had the comic reappeared than this happened; Gwen Stacy died.

Now, I managed to miss the issue where she went but I sure as shooting heck had the next one, in which I discovered that in my absence Gwen had bought it. This was terrible. Gwen was blonde. She wore nice boots. She wore an Alice band. How could they kill such a creature? On top of that, by the end of this issue, the Green Goblin was gone too.

To say this was powerful stuff for a twelve year old would be no matter of hyperbole. Seeing Spider-Man clutching the corpse of his long-time girlfriend was quite the most moving thing I'd ever read in my life. This story and the ones that followed, as Peter Parker tried - and sometimes failed - to come to terms with the death of Gwen Stacy had a potency I'd never seen before in a comic and left an impression on me that remains to this day. I still regard the events of the next couple of years on that strip as the greatest era Spider-Man ever had. One that only dissipated when Ross Andru left the mag and Peter Parker graduated.

Super Spider-Man #171, the death of the Green Goblin
Two into one will go. The landscape format that showed us a whole new way of looking at comics.

Fortunately there was more. After that Spider-Man classic, the issue gave us a Gene Colan Dr Strange story. I don't remember if I could make sense of the tale at the time but, looking at it now, I don't have a clue what's going on. Dr Strange and Clea are in Dormammu's Dread Dimension but Strange has lost his powers and is having to rely on Clea to do "pagan" magic to achieve something or other. It's a bit of a surprise to discover Dr Strange's normal magic wasn't pagan. Now I'm left not at all sure what kind of magic it was. There's some sort of junkie in it, a man who seems to be Clea's father, Dormammu, Umar and various others and, frankly, I'm left bewildered by it all. It does though end with a giant Dormammu climbing up out of a huge crack in the Earth, ready to perform some evil deeds or other. So, if it leaves you bamboozled, at least it makes you want to read the following issue.

Next we get a centre-spread poster featuring Luke Cage and Mace. Like virtually all artwork produced specially for Marvel's UK comics, it has to be said it's not great.

Nor is the specially produced splash page for the George Tuska Iron Man tale that follows it. Shell-Head's up against The Controller who I think turned up in the pages of Jim Starlin's Captain Marvel. The presence of this tale baffles me. Up until now I was under the impression Marvel UK's Iron Man reprints ended when the comic switched to landscape format. Now I've discovered they didn't. This means I must've read years of Iron Man stories from that point on, with no recall of them at all. Essential Iron Man Vol 3 clearly beckons, as I try to find out what happened in all those tales I've forgotten.

Next it's a Thor adventure as he sets out to tackle Dr Doom after rescuing a protesting girl from a mini-riot. He soon finds out Doom's kidnapped her father in order to get him to build him some missile silos. In the flashback, the girl's clearly aged at least ten years since he was abducted, which implies he's taking an awful long time to build those silos and that Doom blatantly kidnapped the wrong silo scientist. In order to lure Doom out into the open, Don Blake plants a story in the papers that he's developed a cosmetic surgery technique that can cure any disfigurement. This seems rather thoughtless of him, as the hopes of disfigured people the world over will be built up and then cruelly dashed for no good reason. Aww but who cares? It's drawn by John Buscema, so every panel's a thing of simple beauty.

We finish off with a Thing/Black Widow team-up that I assume comes from the pages of Marvel Two-In-One. Much as I love the Thing - and the Black Widow - I'm not convinced Two-In-One was always the greatest comic Marvel produced, and this tale does little to change that. The story's pretty silly, with the Widow at one point whipping off her top to reveal she has the parts for a disruptor cannon attached to her back, hidden in a strip of fake skin. Let's own up, we've all done it. Meanwhile, the Thing spends half the story hauling in a three mile long stretch of cable to stop a bomb going off. As well as the somewhat lame story, the art looks terrible. Either Klaus Janson's inking doesn't suit Bob Brown's pencils or Janson's habitually lavish use of ink suffers unduly from being shrunk to half normal size.

So, was the landscape format a good thing?

Of course it was.

As said before, the great thing about it was you got twice as much story for your money. Where else would you get an entire 20 page Spider-Man story, plus seven to nine pages each of Dr Strange, Iron Man, Thor and the Thing, and a double-page pin-up, all for 9 pence? The downside isn't really the small size of the artwork. Apart from the Thing story, it really doesn't suffer. The main downside is the small size of the letters page which only has room for two letters. As it's clear from one of those letters that the comic's only recently switched to the new format, it would've been nice to see more room for fan reaction to the switch.


Caescarna said...

I've been meaning to ask about Lanscape format comics, I remember the format from when I was at Primary School, but couldn't remember much else about them.

Kid said...

Ah, happy days. I remember the landscape comics well. By the way, Steve - the Aurora Superman kit is up on my blog if you're interested.

Robert said...

Caescarna, there's an article on landscape comics, along with cover and poster reproductions, appearing in BACK ISSUE #63 (March 2013).

Scott said...

A few clarifications - I don't believe there was a significant gap during the switch to landscape formats (at least in the case of Spider-man - Spider-man Comics Weekly absorbed the Super Heroes Comic (which ended with issue 50) and became (deep breath) Super Spider-Man with the Super Heroes. Portrait SMCW 157 dated Feb 14 1976 was followed by the landscape SSMWTSH 158 dated Feb 21 1976. Also the Avengers 148 (dated July 14 1976) was the last issue - it then merged with the MWOM 199 the following week but was still a portrait comic. They then hung around MWOM for a couple of months before headlining the landscape Titans Weekly with issue 53 (Oct 20 1976) which then quickly ended with issue 58 to be merged with Spiderman and the titans 199 in dec 1976. Finally, the lansdcape format was dropped with issue 229 in Apr 1977 for several reasons (I believe there were problems with displaying the issues at newsagents due to the format plus in general they were burning through reprint material at a prolific rate - popular features were starting to catch up with the US issues). Only Titans and Spiderman underwent the landscape format and in both cases the experiemnt lasted for just over a year to 18 months - great value for money for the reader but ultimately it was dropped for technical reasons.

Scott said...

like the blog by the way - stumbled across this this morning and my nostalgia ometer just hit 11 :-)

Steve W. said...

Thanks, Scott. And thanks for all the info re the landscape comics.