Back issues are expensive. The cover to The Amazing Spider-Man #91 from 1970 may have a price of 15 cents on it, but trying to procure this item from your local comic book shop proprietor will require an outlay of funds in several multiples of that amount. The temptation is great, though, given how the issue was promoted in the Mighty Marvel Checklist at the time: “A brand-new villain! A search for Spider-Man, the murderer! And the most startling new twist in the wall-crawler’s life!”
One simple question needs to be answered: does this story live up to the hype?
The issues begins with the funeral of Captain George Stacy, the father of Peter Parker’s beloved girlfriend Gwen. The honorable police officer had died heroically in the previous issue’s landmark tale. (Denis Leary may not be in line for that hefty sequel bounty after all.) Problem is, Spidey was right in the middle of the melee that cost Captain Stacy his life, meaning the fair Gwendolyn has developed a fairly strong dislike for her boyfriend’s alter ego.
This is evidence of, in the favored phrasing of our hero, that old Parker luck.
Gwen’s dismay sends her into the office of Sam Bullit, a former colleague of her father who is now running for New York District Attorney on a strict law and order platform. This is the “brand new villain” promised in the checklist blurb, which was careful not to describe him as a “supervillain” nor add any sort of adjective like “sensational” or “exciting.” He’s just kind of a jerk in a suit.
He is also clearly well-qualified to get a job at Fox News if his electoral prospects don’t work out. Any demagogue needs an easy target, so Bullit decides that he’s going to make crushing the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man his overriding political cause, railing against the wanted hero with a fervor that sends women and children fleeing.
So we’ve got the new villain in place and the hunt for Spider-Man, murderer underway, just as promised. But those were fairly straightforward claims, statement of story fact rather than promises of sense-shattering turns. What about “the most startling new twist in the wall-crawler’s life”? I’m not actually entirely sure what that twist is. I suppose it could simply be Gwen’s newfound animosity towards Spider-Man, something that it surely going to cause some trouble for the perpetually beset Peter Parker. However, it’s probably the final panel:
Gwen has taken Sam Bullit up to Peter Parker’s apartment at precisely the time that the web-slinger returns from patrol. Parker is already well-known as the newspaper photographer who gets the most shots of Spider-Man in action, so the confirmation of a close connection between the two hardly seems like the most stunning development, even given the intensity of Gwen’s reaction. I think the fact that I’m uncertain about which new twist is meant to be startling is a pretty good indicator that the hype isn’t exactly justified in this case. As if in acknowledgment of that, the “Next Issue” box is spectacularly noncommittal.
Okay, so that’s selectively cropped to eliminate the promise of an appearance by Iceman, but that’s still more of a shrug than a cheer.