The Spectacular Spider-Man was the first self contained ongoing “B-Title” featuring everyone’s favorite wall crawling super hero. And while it has always played second fiddle to the original monthly Amazing Spider-Man book, the first volume of Spectacular had plenty of remarkable stories throughout its 22 year run. “Spanning Spectacular” is my attempt to shine a spotlight on those memorable arcs, the creators who crafted them and the history of the book itself.
If you’ve been keeping up with Mark Ginnochio’s stellar retrospective of the ’90s “Clone Saga,” you probably already realize that it was a time in Spider-Man history that will never truly be looked upon fondly. What was once a promising concept quickly turned into an exercise in poor execution and over-indulgence. What you may not know, is that the infamous mid-’90s “Clone Saga” wasn’t the first time that someone decided to expand upon the idea of Miles Warren and his cloning technology. Just three years after the original ’70s “Clone Saga,” Spectacular Spider-Man writer Bill Mantlo revisited the controversial plot with what would end up being his first truly amazing Spidey story.
Before leaving Marvel for DC for the first time back in 1975, Gerry Conway’s last arc as writer of Amazing Spider-Man introduced both the clone of Gwen Stacy and a Peter Parker clone. It was a story that was built up for months before hastily coming to an end with ASM #149. Like the Spider-Mobile before it, the entire clone mess was thrust upon Conway as an editorial mandate. Apparently, shortly after the stunning death of Gwen Stacy in ASM #121, Stan Lee was ambushed by angry fans at conventions and speaking events. In defense, Lee promised the eventual return of Ms. Stacy and the Gwen clone was born. At the conclusion of Conway’s arc, the new Gwen leaves New York and Professor Warren along with his collection of Spider clones are presumed dead.
Other than a few references here and there (most notably in ASM #169), the entire clone ordeal was ignored by most Spidey writers until Mantlo introduced the ghastly Carrion in Spectacular Spider-Man #25. At first, Carrion is very much a mystery and an intriguing one at that. In his first appearance, artist Jim Mooney depicts the villain as a long and lanky ghoul with shredded clothing and a Goblin-like pouch hanging from his shoulder. His introduction is contained within an interesting arc that sees Spider-Man team up with Daredevil to take on the Masked Marauder and the Maggia crime syndicate. It’s during an impromptu meeting with the Maggia that Carrion shows off his supernatural powers to both levitate and to harness a flesh eating bacteria known as the Red Dust.
At first, Carrion’s exact motives are unclear. He considers Spider-Man a “loathsome, murderous insect” and is dead set on some sort of revenge. By the time Frank Miller fills in for Mooney as artist on Spectacular #27, we find out that Carrion’s claim to know “more about Spider-Man than he knows about himself” rings true when he trashes Peter Parker’s apartment and leaves behind a threatening message.
Speaking of Mr. Miller, the following couple of issues of the title are often the hardest and most expensive to find if you yourself plan on chasing down all 263 issues of the first volume of Spectacular Spider-Man. That’s because these issues feature Miller’s first ever attempt at drawing the horn headed hero known as Daredevil. In fact, this was some of Miller’s first published professional work. He had just broken into the industry in ’78 (having some of his worked printed by DC) and would take over as the main artist on Daredevil in May of ’79, mere months after his two issue stint on Spectacular. The rest, as they say, is history.
Within the pages of Miller and Mantlo’s two issue collaboration, we see Spidey and DD team up to beat the Masked Marauder (with Pete becoming temporarily blinded in the battle) and the eventual first fight between Parker and the mysterious Carrion. After discovering his apartment ransacked, Peter decides to meet up with Hector Ayala (aka the White Tiger) at the Empire State University library. When arriving at the library, Pete finds Hector unconscious and Carrion awaiting his arrival. At this point, our hero definitely knows that this new villain is aware of his secret identity and he’s forced to deal with the threat in his civvies.
With Jim Mooney back as artist with Spectacular #29, we find that Carrion has no desire to kill the man he hates without first making him suffer and thus he leaves Parker to contemplate the recent ever-so-strange turn of events. The following day, with the help of an undergrad who had been tricked into helping Carrion in his mission, the macabre villain strikes again. This time around, Pete is able to change into his Spidey duds before battling the enigmatic foe in an epic fight in the ESU gym.
Despite getting help from the White Tiger, Spider-Man is eventually incapacitated and carried back to Carrion’s (or should I say Miles Warren’s) laboratory. This is where all that clone stuff I was talking about earlier comes into play. You see, when Peter awakens, Carrion reveals himself to be none other than a clone of Warren himself. When Warren presumably died in ASM #149, his incubating clone was left to continue to age into death and eventually into some sort of strange ghost like state. When finally released, his only thoughts were the same of his maker, kill Peter Parker.
Things start to fall apart for the seemingly invincible Carrion though when he unleashes the strange (and oft forgotten) Spider-Clone known as the Spider-Amoeba. After Spider-Man escapes the grasp of the slithery, amorphous, tentacled reproduction, the Amoeba turns its attack on Carrion whom it ruthlessly swallows as the lab itself burnt around them. In the end, the Amoeba, Carrion and the lab of Miles Warren are lost to the burning flames.
This wouldn’t necessarily be the last we would see of Carrion. In a bit of retroactive continuity, the original Carrion was made out to be a vessel used by Warren to unleash the Carrion Virus into the world. The virus would end up being a plot point for a few different Spider-Man stories through the years and would even allow writers to re-introduce the character to the Spider-Man mythos by turning a normal man into the reincarnation of Carrion (twice).
Call me biased, but I think that this particular arc is one of the best clone-centric stories ever written in a Spider-Man book (though considering what was to come that may not be saying much). With this storyline, Mantlo was able to pull off mystery, suspense and plenty of solid action. Carrion, one of his finest creations, is a truly terrifying character reminiscent of a fiend from a horror comic with a decidedly superhero comic twist. This story was clearly the breakthrough narrative that alerted people to the talent that Bill Mantlo possessed as a writer. His time on the title was nearing an end though (don’t worry he would be back). In his place, would come a man who many consider to be the best Spider scribe ever.