This should be interesting. I haven’t read this since it came out, and had never seen ASM Annual 5 at the time. I just read a paragraph about Peter’s parents in Spider-Man Saga and also the Stan Lee thing from last issue. Jerry Bingham tags in as penciler (What with Bags having just done two oversized issues, sheesh) as we pick up right where last issue left off. Peter’s in the kitchen getting a drink of water, trying to keep his hands from shaking.
The MJ smoking subplot is terrible. Makes you wish Joe Quesada’s decree that no Marvel character can smoke had come sooner. But Joe was just a rising star penciler at this time. Not yet boss of the whole business. Richard attempts to explain how they’re not dead. He explains that they worked as couriers for the State Department until The Red Skull approached them about becoming spies. They reported this to their superiors, who decided they should instead spy on The Skull. Richard says they had no training as spies (Which doesn’t jibe at all with that Untold Tales -1 released later).
Bingham’s Peter seems kinda lumpy, but one assumes this was not planned too far in advance, it’s probably a rush job.
On the sidewalk, Peter decides to suit up and leaves MJ to go home alone. She worries that he still doesn’t fully open up to her and she gets out another smoke. We hop ahead a bit to see Spider-Man at Avengers headquarters, where he learns The Red Skull is believed dead. His first instinct was to hunt him down and question him. He also finds out that The Skull who was active at the time his folks died was a fake, who was recently killed. That is a whole bunch of weird, a Russian spy named Albert Malik who became The Red Skull while the real one was missing. It’s a whole thing. Of course, he didn’t exist when ASM Annual 5 was made, so the real Red Skull happily talked about his plans for The Parkers, which he now never made. Messy! A brief montage shows us everyone’s having an awkward time. May has forgotten coffee gives Richard heartburn. MJ is doing a bad job at work and being snippy. Peter can’t concentrate on school (Man, when is the last time they bothered to show him at school in this period?).
Peter decides to go swing around and clear his head, like he usually does, but he encounters a window washer about to fall to his death. He tries to help, but he’s so distracted he doesn’t make it in time.
Bingham’s got the McFarlane eyes down to a science. Kind of interesting none of the mainstay guys fully copied them. Saviuk and Buscema just drew the eyes bigger. Larsen & Bagley kinda did their own thing. Anyway, our man takes a train to DC, but when he switches back to Spidey mode to swing around, he’s spotted by a mysterious man who happens to work for…
Skull is currently working with Viper in the Captain America series, it’s a whole thing. The Cap book more or less had 2 main features in this period, Cap getting most pages and Red Skull getting back-ups as Mark Gruenwald really dug into the character. Anyway, Spider-Man infiltrates The Smith Building, hur hur (Red Skull’s name being Johanna Schmidt and all), and immediately has to fight a small army of the same kinda goons he beat up back in ASM 324. He beats them up again with relative ease. They lure him to a trapdoor in the floor, which he seems to fall into to get the element of surprise back, then trounces more of the goons.
Spidey recognizes Solo and realizes this is going to get more complicated. He forces the info Solo wanted out of this guy and takes off.
All very exciting stuff for young me. I mean, this is a pretty wild angle, and I didn’t have 100 layers of grim cynicism about comics like I do now. Next issue, things get weirder. There are a lot of parallels between this and the clone saga that came later. Both dip way back into the past to tell you a story you may know from back then is wrong. Both have a pretty dramatic effect on Peter. It’s crazy how close together they are. The letter col mentions ASM Annual 5 has been helpfully reprinted in 2 recent issues of Marvel Tales for people who’d never seen them. That’s a smart choice. I wouldn’t see that story ‘til I read it for this blog, tho.