PEAK SPIDER-MAN: The Enduring Power of the CONWAY-ANDRU Team

THE SPIDER’S WEB: A pairing for the ages…

Welcome to The Spider’s Web — an ongoing feature by novelist and Archie Comics Co-President Alex Segura that looks at Spider-Man’s development since his start in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15. (Alex has been re-reading from the beginning.) Each installment covers a specific period in Spidey’s history, with Alex giving you a kind of bouncing ball approach, as opposed to an issue-by-issue breakdown. Click here for the complete index of columns. — Dan

Issue #136. Pencils by Ross Andru.

By ALEX SEGURA

OK, we’re spinning along at a good clip — at around Issue #145 of The Amazing Spider-Man — and, dear reader, a LOT has happened.

One thing that really impresses me about Gerry Conway as a writer is his ability to not only juggle multiple plot lines, but to allow them to resonate.

For example, you can tell the guy loves Mary Jane. He wants Peter and MJ together, and he seems to have little love for Gwen — I mean, he killed her! — but he doesn’t let that get in the way of allowing Spider-Man to grieve, and in the process, allowing his love for MJ to blossom. That first kiss, in the airport before Pete leaves for Paris to save JJJ, is a special one — and really well done. Just great pacing and build-up.

Issue #143. Pencils by Andru.

Other examples:

— The cameos of the Gwen Clone (which we don’t know is a clone yet!) before her final, full appearance.

— The Jackal, in general. He starts off as a small-stakes villain, but we soon learn there’s more to him  — to a lesser degree, Jonas Harrow falls into this “cool subplot/slow burn” category. Worth noting is how Conway starts to utilize Miles Warren in subtle ways, eventually revealing him to be the Jackal.

— Conway takes the baton from Stan Lee in terms of Harry’s addiction, but deftly places him at the scene of his father’s death, which sets the stage for his discovery of Pete’s secret ID, and his own, eventual adoption of the Goblin mantle.

My point? Conway knows how to balance stories and knows how to keep the villain-of-the-month churn going, but is able to keep it interesting and play the long game. It’s a really special thing to see, and you feel like the entire series ups a level after Stan’s run comes to a close.

Conway’s also great at adding depth/conflict/motivation to older characters — Doc Ock’s weird plot to get Aunt May’s inheritance; Molten Man’s quickly decaying form; new takes on Mysterio, Scorpion, Vulture, and Green Goblin — they all feel stronger, more emotional and intense… and, for lack of a better word, more modern.

At the same time, Conway isn’t scared of adding to the mythos, something he also did with his lengthy Batman run. He introduces a number of memorable villains (some with more lasting power than others), like Cyclone, Hammerhead, the aforementioned Jackal, Tarantula, the freakin’ Punisher (not a villain per se, but still) — it’s so impressive to me, as a writer, to see how Conway was able to not only “play the hits” in terms of bringing in the familiar baddies (and improving on them), but also introduce some lasting members of the Spidey Rogues Gallery.

Now, to be fair, not all of the villains introduced work. The Mindworm is pretty lame, but for the most part, Conway’s batting average is pretty darn high.

On the art front, wow — is Ross Andru amazing or what? From his first issue on, it felt like we were all settling back into a comfortable, well-worn chair. The guy just knows Spidey, and I’d argue is only behind Romita and Ditko in terms of defining the classic, evergreen Spider-Man look. Honorable mention must go to Gil Kane, but you get my point. Glad he’ll be around for a bit.

A few more thoughts:

— As noted, Conway’s Jonas Harrow subplot is cool, and he makes for a useful concept — almost like he’s making his own writing desires (to fix/rebuild/relaunch some of Spidey’s weaker villains) come to life on the page. The Kangaroo, sadly, is still pretty lame.

— I found the Vulture two-parter, which introduced the short-lived Vulture III, to be a little convoluted and hard to follow, but overall, it was solid — a good shakedown cruise for the Conway/Andru team.

— It’s so funny to see the Punisher’s early appearances, because while the basics of the character are there, his entire attitude is so different. Still, what a great home run for Conway to hit so early.

— The Spider-Mobile idea is a joke, and it’s a relief to be reminded that it was never taken that seriously.

Issue #130. Pencils by Andru.

— Peter flirting with Betty Brant to get a line on where J. Jonah Jameson might be feels really creepy and weird.

— Love the return of Liz Allan and the introduction of Glory Grant.

— I just couldn’t grok the Ock/May wedding. It felt like a little too much. But I did appreciate that Conway dug back to Stan’s run and pulled a thread to use on his own. It managed to be a fun, wacky romp, though.

— Betty Brant was referred to as Betty Leeds in an earlier issue, but we only discover they’ve set a wedding date around #140. So, what gives? My vote is she changed her name early. Where’s my No-Prize?

— Having Harry as the Green Goblin is so smart, and adds so much more to the dynamic between them — but I don’t think it lasts that long, IIRC? We’ll have to see. Still, he comes out gunning and it makes for a great two-parter.

Issue #137. Pencils by Andru.

— Let’s zoom out for a second and just admire how much Conway’s done in such a short amount of time, OK? Gwen Stacy, Green Goblin, Gwen Clone, Pete and MJ getting together, Spider-Mobile, revamping classic villains, introducing at least three or four lasting, new ones… The guy just came in strong, and was lucky to have such a stellar artist in Andru to visualize everything. I guess you have to bring your best stuff if you’re following Stan!

— So, all this gushing about Conway leads me to what we’ll discuss next time — which is, alas, the end of his run! The Original Clone Saga brings it all to a close. Hope you’ll pop by.

MORE From THE SPIDER’S WEB

— The Timeless Brilliance of GERRY CONWAY’s SPIDER-MAN Launch. Click here.

— For the Complete THE SPIDER’S WEB Index of Features. Click here.

Author: Dan Greenfield

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4 Comments

  1. These were my first Marvel comics to purchase as a kid and I have to say what a gateway into the Marvel universe and Spider-Man they were! I still have them all as battered as they are. Sadly to this day I do have a few gaps as this was the pre comic shop days and if you missed an issue your really missed it in those days! Fun times they were and one of these days I will catch up on those missing issues.

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  2. I have always loved Ross Andru. Started my comic collection with Spider-Man 134 way back in the day. He grabbed me immediately. So did Conway.

    But, I beg to differ with you on the Mindworm being lame. Conway, I believe, is actually on record at Comic Con admitting he loved the character too. I loved his hippy roots and scary mind powers. But then, I’m the guy who loves the Star Trek hippy episode “The Way to Eden”.

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