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.
It’s nice to have Gerry Conway back in the world of Spider-Man. It’s no secret that I’ve soured a bit on the current run of the web-slinger’s flagship title. That’s why the news of Conway teaming up with fan favorite artist Ryan Stegman on the new Renew Your Vows ongoing is such exciting news to me. There’s no doubt that Conway still has the chops to write an ongoing Spider-Man title, even if it has been 44 years since he first started scripting plots for Peter Parker. His recent Carnage series has been given high praise and 2015’s “Spiral” mini-series was without a doubt my favorite Spider-Man story of last year.
“Spiral” was a story that focused on some of Spidey’s most famous crime bosses and gave Conway the opportunity to place the wall-crawler back into the depths of street level storytelling. This certainly wasn’t the first time that Conway tackled a gang war plot involving your friendly neighborhood wall-crawler though. In the early ‘70s, Conway set up a rivalry between Doctor Octopus and Hammerhead that resulted in a war that caught Spider-man and his Aunt May in the middle. Years later, after taking over as writer of both Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man in 1989, Conway crafted the Lobo Brothers Gang War, his best and most intricate crime story ever.
After creating the albino hit man Tombstone upon his return to writing Spider-Man in ‘88, Conway wasted no time introducing a couple of new villains in Spectacular Spider-Man #143. Eduardo and Carlos Lobo are Mexican gangsters who also happen to be mutant werewolves. Eventually, their organization grows to such an extent that it catches the attention of the Kingpin’s top lieutenant the Arranger. The Arranger sets in motion a series of events that would go on to threaten the Kingpin’s entire empire. First, he employs the Persuader (who was introduced just a few months earlier in Web of Spider-Man #35) to brainwash the Punisher into killing the Lobo Brothers. The assassination attempt fails (the Punisher ends up killing the Persuader instead) and the brothers head to New York in pursuit of revenge on the man that they think wanted them dead, the Kingpin.
Upon arriving in New York, the Lobo’s cut a bloody path through the criminal underworld sending a very clear message to the man they crossed the country to confront. The story of the Lobo Brother’s quest for revenge is featured as an ongoing plot in both Spectacular Spider-Man and Web of Spider-Man for pretty much the entirety of 1989. Teaming up with two iconic artists in Sal Buscema on Spectacular and Alex Saviuk on Web of, Conway was able to meticulously craft a compelling long form story about the brewing war between organized crime factions by utilizing both titles. With the Lobo’s wreaking havoc within the Kingpin’s empire, Conway soon brings in the Chameleon and Hammerhead, crime lords themselves who team up to grab a stake of the Kingpin’s territory.
As intriguing as Conway’s “Gang War” turned out to be, it was far from the only plot line that he juggled during this iconic period. At the same time, Robbie Robinson was standing trial (and eventually convicted) for not coming forward about the murders committed by Tombstone years ago. Daily Bugle secretary, and former neighbor of Peter Parker, Gloria Grant gets a chance to be involved in the plot in a major way when she begins dating Eduardo Lobo. Also during this time frame, Conway weaved other stories around his “Gang War” such as a possessed Hobgoblin showing up during the “Inferno” event, the appearance of a new Carrion and an in depth story about Robbie’s life in prison with Tombstone.
The “Gang War” itself eventually reached its grand finale within the pages of Web of Spider-Man #55. After arranging a meeting with the Lobo Brothers, the Kingpin and his new enemies are ambushed by the henchmen of Hammerhead and the Chameleon. Spider-Man intervenes and finds himself in a harrowing battle with Eduardo Lobo in full-on werewolf form. During the fracas, Gloria Grant (who had accompanied her boyfriend to the meeting), finds the Arranger’s discarded gun and picks it up for protection. With Spider-Man appearing to be in serious trouble, as the snarling werewolf gains the upper hand and comes in for the kill, he is unexpectedly saved by a silver bullet. Glory fired the Arranger’s gun (which had been outfitted with werewolf killing ammo) and Eduardo was hit. Running to the aid of her fallen lover, Glory is thanked by Spider-Man who expresses his gratitude for having his life saved. “Your life?” says a furious Gloria “What makes you think I was trying to save your life? I wasn’t aiming at Eduardo, I was aiming at you!”
With Eduardo killed and Carlos presumably captured by the police, the Lobo Brothers disappeared from the world of comics for decades. Carlos, accompanied by a werewolf sister, would finally re-emerge in Chris Yost’s Scarlet Spider title a few years ago. Two of the biggest stars of the Lobo Brothers saga would never again be given the spotlight treatment that Conway afforded them here. Gloria Grant and Robbie Robertson would mainly be relegated to the status of background characters for the next 20+ years.
Conway continued to write great stories for both Spectacular and Web of through 1990 before moving on to other projects. He wouldn’t really write a Spider-Man title again until his recent contributions that I mentioned earlier. It’s a shame too. In his initial 1970’s runs on both Amazing Spider-Man and Marvel Team-Up, Conway introduced some of the most memorable and lasting characters in all of Spider-Man mythology. Sure there were some duds along the way (I’m looking at you Cyclone), but Conway’s reemergence in the late ‘80s only solidified his place amongst the all-time great Spider scribes.
In 1991, following Conway’s excellent three year run on the book, another writer who would end up being considered one of the best to ever write the character took over the Spectacular title. Best known to Spidey fans for his early ‘80s stint on Marvel Team-Up and his groundbreaking 6-part story called “Kraven’s Last Hunt” (you may have heard of it), J.M. DeMatteis had some interesting stories to tell about the tortured son of Norman Osborn.