So over the past couple of weeks, I’ve discussed how Superman IV: The Quest for Peace was partly just an extended series of callbacks to better movies in the series. This is one of the inherent dangers of sequels, and it doesn’t just happen in movies.
For instance, The Amazing Spider-Man #230, from 1982, featured one of the coolest Spider-Man stories of the era, written by Roger Stern, and drawn by John Romita Jr. and Jim Mooney. In the previous issue, the Juggernaut had been sent to kidnap Madame Web, a psychic. Spider-Man had tried to stop him, but failed, and Madame Web had been injured, perhaps fatally. So as issue 230 opened, Spider-Man was determined to halt the Juggernaut’s escape and bring him to justice.
There followed a series of escalating attacks as Spider-Man hit the Juggernaut with bigger and bigger things to try to slow him down. For instance, Spider-Man hits the Juggernaut with a girder from a building being demolished, then the Juggernaut tears the facade off the building Spider-Man is perched on.
So Spider-Man hits Juggernaut with a wrecking ball, and Juggernaut knocks a whole building down, trapping both himself and Spider-Man under the wreckage. But Juggernaut just walks out from under the tumbled bricks, unfazed. So Spider-Man finds a gasoline tanker.
So Spider-Man decides in desperation to tear off Juggernaut’s helmet (his only demonstrated weakness), only to learn that Juggernaut had welded his helmet on. So an even more desperate Spider-Man covers his eye holes.
Yes, they’re sinking. The fight is occurring at a construction site, and the Juggernaut has stumbled out into the wet cement poured for the building’s foundation–a foundation 40 feet deep. Spider-Man leaps free and Juggernaut disappears under the cement (no, it didn’t stop him, but it made a cool ending for this issue).
The story was cool, with lots of action and destruction, Spider-Man as usual totally outmatched by a more powerful foe but fighting on anyway and finally, if not overcoming, at least breaking even. The issue was so popular, it was adapted into an episode of the TV series Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends, with the X-Men as guest stars in one of their first TV appearances.
But in the next couple of years, the powers that be at Marvel decided Spider-Man needed to be more impressive, so in 1984, they introduced Spider-Man with a new black costume as a result of the Secret Wars. Secret Wars also gave Spider-Man a defining moment of cool when Spidey took on Titania, an incredibly powerful super-villainess who had been giving all the more powerful heroes fits, one-on-one and totally dominated her.
Which leads us to The Amazing Spider-Man #269 and #270 from late 1985, a two-part story which tries to call back to the coolness of the Juggernaut story combined with Spider-Man’s defining moment of cool from Secret Wars, and ends up defining just how awful Marvel was during this period.
Written by Tom DeFalco and pencilled by Ron Frenz with inks by Josef Rubenstein (#269) and Bob McLeod (#270), the story opens with Firelord, former herald of Galactus, wandering randomly through the universe when he is attacked by a giant meteor “the size of a small planet.” He destroys it easily (just to show us how powerful he is) then realizes the neighborhood looks familiar. Turns out, he’s near Earth. So he decides to get a pizza. Seriously.
But as he’s threatening to destroy Tony’s business if his “savage desire” isn’t sated, a construction worker sneaks out and gets a bunch of his buddies together to do a little mutie-bashing, because yes, anti-mutant hysteria was a big deal in the X-Men books at the time, and they decided it wouldn’t be tiresome at all to make us read about that shit in Spider-Man, too. So the construction guys hose Firelord down, which doesn’t really work so well on him because he wields the Power Cosmic and all. But it does piss him off.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man just happens to be nearby and gets a big spike from his spider-sense, making him think the Beyonder might be nearby (because this story is also happening during the execrable Secret Wars II, in which… no, I’m going to save that one for next week). Spider-Man saves one of the construction workers and then attacks Firelord, not realizing just how cosmically powerful this guy is. Firelord then gets pissed at Spider-Man and chases him all over Queens, until Spider-Man realizes he’s outclassed and runs away to fetch the Fantastic Four to help.
Problem is, the Fantastic Four have disappeared, so Spider-Man decides he can’t just run away from the problem. He has to try to take Firelord down on his own.
Cue the next issue, #270, as Spider-Man begins his assault. And if you’ve read that previous issue with the Juggernaut, a lot of this will seem eerily familiar. First Spider-Man lures Firelord into an office building, hoping to have an advantage if Firelord’s movements are constrained by tight spaces.
Doesn’t help. So Spider-Man leads Firelord into a subway tunnel, hoping that the train will take him out. No such luck.
So next Spider-Man leads Firelord to, guess what, a building slated for implosion, and tells the guys to blow the building once he and Firelord are inside.
But dropping a building on Firelord doesn’t stop him, so next Spider-Man leads him to a gas station, where Firelord is caught in a huge explosion.
But that doesn’t stop him either, and just as I’m wondering how Spider-Man is going to trap Firelord in some concrete or something, Spider-Man gets pissed instead and decides to just punch him out.
Remember, Firelord was the former herald of Galactus, which puts him on a level with the Silver Surfer, which if you’ve seen the Fantastic Four sequel, you’ll know the Surfer is one seriously powerful dude, and not somebody you simply punch out. But apparently, Firelord has a glass jaw, because Spider-Man–not the Hulk, not Thor, not the Avengers or the X-Men, but your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man–puts him down for the count. And not even alien-symbiote-costume-boosted Spider-Man, but just plain old human Spider-Man (yes, he’s wearing a black costume, but for some reason, he was switching back-and-forth between his old red-and-blue and a cloth copy of the black alien costume, don’t ask me why).
This was obviously intended to be a bigger, better, louder version of the previous Juggernaut story, but it was just a total misfire on every level. Like Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, the callbacks just reminded you that it had been done better three years ago.