In this feature, writer Rick Coste takes a look at the villains who have vexed our favorite wall-crawler over the years. From Doc Ock to Jigsaw, no villain is beyond the spotlight’s glare.
It was only a few months before that my obsession with comics, especially Spider-Man comics, had taken hold of my young mind and had refused to let go. I’ve mentioned it before, but that first issue was #133 and, as a kid, it was all about the covers. If the cover was good then I knew whatever was inside had to be good. Money was scarce at that age and I depended on my parents to buy me those first few issues, so it was quite some time before I was able to get my little hands on the follow-up to #133. And this was it. I finally had it and with it came a new villain… the Tarantula.
I remember staring at that cover on the ride home. What better villain for Spider-Man to face than one named after another arachnid, a deadly arachnid. He seemed to be the perfect antithesis to my hero. Plus he had a unique killing tool… steel shanks on the tips of his boots (a nod to James Bond villain Rosa Klebb from the 1963 film “From Russia With Love”). I’ve always been a huge fan of Ross Andru’s artwork, being that he was the Spidey artist I grew up with, and in these issues, Amazing Spider-Man #134-135, he and writer Gerry Conway hit a home run. The Tarantula’s debut is in a story that takes place on a day-cruise on the Hudson. A cruise that he plans to hijack and rob with the help of his henchmen. Unbeknownst to him there’s a small group of friends who are also on the cruise but with a much different agenda…to relax. This little group includes Liz Allan, Flash Thompson, Mary Jane Watson, and Mr. Peter Parker.
Peter disappears as soon as the hijacker makes his plans known to the terrified passengers, only to reappear in all of his Spider-Man glory to save the day. Who also shows up? The Punisher. He mistakenly believes that Spider-Man is in cahoots with the Tarantula. It is the Punisher who explains to Spidey that the Tarantula is actually Anton Miguel Rodriquez, an exiled mercenary from South America. In the Punisher’s words, Rodriquez is “‘a perverted Captain America for his country – super-hero for a fascist state.” They eventually take Rodriquez down and turn him over to the police. On a side note, it is in these issues that a crazed Harry Osborn witnesses Peter leave the apartment as Spider-Man. This sets the stage for one of the most explosive issues in Spider-Man history… but that’s a story for another day.
It isn’t long before Rodriquez manages to bust out of prison (Amazing Spider-Man #147-149). This time aided by another classic villain at the advent of another classic storyline. This villain is the Jackal, and the storyline serves as the setup for the infamous “Clone Saga” that will rock the Spider-Man Universe two decades later. Here, the Jackal uses the Tarantula to lead Spidey to the top of the Brooklyn bridge, along with Gwen Stacy’s clone, in a mad scheme to toss him off in a perverted replay of Gwen’s death. By the end of issue #149, the Jackal, aka Miles Warren, is dead, as is Spidey’s clone (… or was it?), and the Tarantula has apparently slipped away to fight another day.
Gerry Conway brought the Tarantula back in 1975 to torment Peter, and Empire State University, in the inaugural issue of Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man. Here Rodriquez is hired by the Lightmaster to kidnap the Vice Chancellor of Peter’s school as well as the mayor (Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #1-3). It turns out that the Lightmaster is also a professor at the school who’s funding was cut; so he figures the solution is to become the school’s chancellor himself, and that means eliminating all of the officials who opposed his funding in the first place. Not exactly the most sane plan, but one which involved not only Rodriquez but Kraven the Hunter as well.
Just to prove that he has the chops to take on other heroes, Rodriquez also shows up in the pages of Captain America (Captain America #224). Here Rodriquez attempts to hijack a mad bomb but Cap is quick to put the brakes on it.
Not to be deterred. Rodriquez takes on his old web-slinging nemesis again (Amazing Spider-Man #233-236, 1982). This time he has added to his deadly arsenal by stealing a page from Wolverine and equipping his fingers with retractable blades. He walks away from the encounter with a set of broken ribs and is taken in by the Brand Corporation who promises to make him as powerful as Spider-Man. Rodriquez jumps for the chance and is injected with a replicant spider serum. Unfortunately for the Tarantula this serum is still in the test stages and it comes with an unforeseen set of side effects.
As he slowly morphs into his namesake his humanity begins to slip away. Unable to deal with the horror that he has become Rodriquez commits ‘suicide by police’ and leaps off of a building into a barrage of bullets. He meets his demise on the pavement below, thus ending any dreams he may have had of beating Spider-Man.
If anyone missed the Tarantula after his death they didn’t miss him as much as Gerry Conway did. Six years after Rodriquez leapt to his death his creator resurrected the persona of the Tarantula by granting the costume to Luis Alvaraz (Web of Spider-Man #35-36). Alvarez was singled out by Rodriquez’s old government to fill the boots of their fallen hero. They offer the identity to him and something more… super-strength by way of a super-soldier serum similar to the one which turned Steve Rogers from a 98 lb. weakling into Captain America. The inventor of the serum, Dr. Karl Mendoza, once worked for the Red Skull but, unfortunately for him, this was to be his final act for Alvarez kills him as soon as serum is administered.
The new Tarantula, referring to himself as La Tarantula, takes on Spider-Man and a new Captain America (Spectacular Spider-Man #137-138). Steve Rogers had gone into temporary retirement at this point and John Walker (who later jumps into the identity of the USAgent) assumed the identity of America’s favorite son during this period. La Tarantula’s initial foray into the super-villain world is short-lived. With his hatred for Spider-Man ignited by this defeat he lays low for a couple of years only to return when Spider-Man is at his most helpless (Amazing Spider-Man #341 & 343). Unknown to La Tarantula, Peter had, only hours before, willingly allowed his powers to be removed by a machine built by the Tinkerer. Stepping in to give the powerless Spider-Man a hand is the Black-Cat who takes Alvarez out when he threatens Flash Thompson (he had a slight thing going with Felicia Hardy at the time).
Attempting to learn by his mistakes, Alvaraz decides that it is in his best interest to stay away from Spider-Man while he learns what it means to be a super-villain and a symbol for his country. He briefly joins forces with the Punisher in a battle with Batroc the Leaper in 1992 (Punisher #67-70), and in 1995 he fights his way into the pages of Venom: Sinner Takes All (#3-4). La Tarantula should have laid low for a while longer for this was to be his final battle. In a perfect example of the past coming back to bite you, La Tarantula comes face to face with Jenny Stewart, aka Wysper, whose husband he killed during a prison riot. Wysper is in line to join the Jury, a group of former guardsman for the Vault gone vigilante. During her encounter with La Tarantula it is revealed to her that Alavarez is the man who killed her husband so she does what any self-respecting widow would do…. she breaks his neck.
It’s been almost two decades since the world has seen someone in the familiar garb of the Tarantula. Spider-Man may not wish to see him brought back but I know of a certain writer who might.