The Spectacular Spider-Man #2 (1968)

In ’68, someone at Marvel got it into their minds to release a magazine-sized Spider-Man comic. Exactly who that wise man was has been lost to posterity, but it seems pretty clear that the brass above Stan Lee’s head got it into their minds to try something different. Besides Marvel Comics, Magazine Management published a whole line of "real" magazines, including crossword puzzle magazines, romance mags, and even at least one "men’s" magazine of the time (if I remember the story right, the models used to work a couple of floors above Marvel’s offices, and one of the perks of working at Marvel was to occassionally get to go upstairs and ogle the models.)
Also, at this time, there were several magazine-sized horror comics on the stands. Jim Warren’s Creepy, Eerie and Blazing Combat were the gold standard, but there were a slew of imitators such as the Skywald mags. The early Warren mags were amazing comics, and I’ll talk about them soon.
So earlier in ’68, Marvel released the first issue of Spectacular Spider-Man, a black-and-white adventure of Spidey fighting the Green Goblin, as written by Stan Lee and illustrated by Johnny Romits. Several months later, a second issue was released, also by Lee & Romita, but this time produced in color. This is a 58-page epic adventure once again pitting Spidey versus the ol’ Goblin.
What’s striking about this book, really, is how typically Marvel it is. Stan didn’t dress it up at all for release in a fancier edition; instead, this comic just reads like a slightly longer Spider-Man Annual, or perhaps three issues published together, without the title pages.
Which is not to say it’s a bad story. Spectacular is a nice solid story of its era. The story features the iconic versions of the characters that so many people adore. We get the full cast of supporting characters: beautiful, loyal Gwen Stacy, hotheaded Mary Jane (in a very not MJ haircut), blustery JJJ, loyal Harry Osborn, and tortured Norman Osborn. Even Police Captain Stacy, Gwen’s dad who would later die saving Peter Parker’s life, is in this story, puffing his ever-present pipe.
But what readers really want from a story like this is a rousing battle between Spidey and his arch-nemesis. And they get it in spades. There are several really wonderful battles between the costumed hero and villain, but actually the most interesting scene happens when neither one is in costume. Norman decides to hold a party, obsensibly for his son’s friends, but really to psychologically torture Peter Parker, and tighten the screws on him. See, the Goblin knows Peter’s secret identity, and he wants to defeat his foe utterly. So Norman calls the party, knowing that Peter will worry about his friends. The scene builds wonderfully slowly, until Peter is able to wiggle off the hook. But Romita’s depiction of an ever more crazy Norman Osborn is just wonderful.
In fact, Romita does his usual sterling job on this story. Ring-a-Ding Romita is a real pro, and sometimes it’s easy to forget the quality of his work. But here, his art is so clear, so thoughtful and so professional, that it looks almost iconic. Inkers Jim Mooney and Frank Giacoia add a nice touch of mood to the piece as well.
This is a really nice comic, actually really close to definitive for Spider-Man. Who can ask for more?

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