Here’s the sixteenth and final part of Balladeer’s Blog’s look at Spider-Man 1970s Classics. For Part One click HERE.
SPIDER-MAN Vol 1 #149 (October 1975)
Title: Even if I Live, I Die
Villain: The Jackal
NOTE: Of these two final installments of the lengthy Jackal/ Gwen Stacy saga, this first one wraps up the main storyline and the second one (below) provides a necessary epilogue to tuck away a major loose end.
Synopsis: We pick up right where we left off, on the rooftop where Spider-Man just defeated Tarantula, the Jackal’s latest cat’s paw against our hero. With the Gwen Stacy clone and the ear-plugged & blind-folded Ned Leeds nearby, Spider-Man is lapsing into unconsciousness from the slash he received on the back of his head from the drugged talons of the Jackal.
At last revealing why he has always been undetectable by Spider-Man’s spider sense, the villain removed his mask to reveal that he is really Professor Miles Warren, Peter Parker’s fatherly mentor and academic advisor for years at Empire State University. (Professor Warren had been a supporting character in Spider-Man stories since 1965.)
Peter finally succumbs to unconsciousness, and when he comes to, he is in the basement of an abandoned tenement building in lower Manhattan. He is bound to a table by specially-constructed straps and is alone with the Jackal, who is sitting on a nearby stool.
The villain tauntingly welcomes Spider-Man back to consciousness and the two exchange generalized hero and villain dialogue about how this is the Jackal’s moment of triumph. Enraged and careless from this latest betrayal and from the built-up hostility of the months-long war between the two foes, Spider-Man recklessly breaks free of the straps immediately in his zeal to get at the Jackal/ Professor Warren.
Our hero is still groggy from the drugs and should have waited. In similar circumstances in the past we’ve seen Peter bide his time until he’s fully recovered by taunting his enemies into a Villain Rant. This time he acted too rashly.
Spider-Man and the Jackal fight, but Peter is way too sluggish and winds up getting physically beaten and slashed up by the costumed Professor Warren. As web-head lies on the floor, conscious but defeated, the Jackal goes into his Villain Rant to explain his long vendetta against our hero.
NOTE: For efficiency’s sake I’m including not just the original explanation but also the details from Of Jackals and Juxtapositions, written by Gerry Conway after the fact to deal with various plot-holes. (You know comic book writing!)
First, the Jackal says to the fallen Peter, “And so it ends. The battle we’ve fought these many months is finally over. You’re probably asking yourself ‘Why? Why does he hate me? Why is he going to kill me?’ I’ll tell you why, Parker. I hate you because you’re young, I hate you because you were loved by Gwen Stacy … and I hate you because you let her die.”
Professor Warren goes on, confessing to how smitten he was with Gwen Stacy from the first day he saw her. At first he thought it was just a fatherly affection toward her since she was such a bright and attentive student in his bio-chemistry courses.
Flashback scenes illustrate each point Warren mentions. This next one shows him reading the newspaper headlines about Gwen’s death and he emotionally says “And when she died … When she died … Something died within me, too. I cried that day, Peter. Lord, how I cried.”
The Jackal’s rant goes on, as he mentions Anthony Serba, the lab assistant whom Professor Warren tried convincing Peter Parker and Ned Leeds might be the Jackal last time around. Serba had successfully cloned a frog.
Miles Warren was impressed with that accomplishment, and suckered Serba into a cloning stunt of his own. Warren oversaw Anthony’s development of mammal cell samples which the professor claimed were from rats. In reality, they were cell samples from the experiment covered last time around, back when Gwen Stacy was still alive and Serba had collected cell samples from all of Professor Warren’s students.
Miles had Serba clone Gwen and another student from his biochemistry class. Naturally, it wasn’t long before Serba could tell that he had really just cloned two humans and he panicked. He frantically told Professor Warren that the cell samples were really from people and should be destroyed before they grew any further.
Obviously, destroying the two clones was the last thing Miles wanted, so he murdered Anthony Serba to prevent him from ever telling anyone about this mad project. After disposing of the corpse and letting it seem like Serba had just disappeared, he took sole control of developing the clones.
The Jackal revealed he had been a research assistant years ago for the one and only Herbert Edgar Wyndham, a revered scientist who went on to become the High Evolutionary in Marvel Comics. Using advanced techniques he had learned at Wyndham’s elbow, Professor Warren not only successfully cloned the two students from his class but accelerated their maturation rate, so that they would reach adulthood in mere months.
To obtain the priceless scientific equipment and supplies he would need to carry out this activity he did what so many people in the Marvel Universe do – he adopted a costumed alter ego, in his case the Jackal, complete with artificial talons and intense physical conditioning.
In his new supervillain identity he was able to steal everything he needed to keep the clones alive and growing. He desperately longed to have Gwen back in the world of the living, and stayed devoted to “the re-creation of Gwen Stacy, and the acting out of my revenge for her death.”
In an accusatory tone, the Jackal tells Peter he’s figured out that Gwen never knew he was really Spider-Man, and that IF she had known it might have served as a warning to her and she might never have gotten killed by the Green Goblin, who obviously targeted her just because she was Spider-Man’s girlfriend.
Growing impatient as the clones matured, Professor Warren took action against Spider-Man, first using the Punisher against him, then entangling Spidey between Doctor Octopus and Hammerhead over Aunt May’s secret inheritance.
To his fury, Spider-Man had survived both those plots. So, since many people “knew” that the reason Peter Parker got so many news photos of Spider-Man in action was because web-head tipped him off about his activities, the Jackal began a regular surveillance of the apartment that Peter had shared with Harry Osborn at the time.
He could only be there when he found the time, but one day – the day the bomb planted by Harry destroyed the apartment – he watched through his binoculars as Peter Parker tossed out a web-sack to the nearest rooftop. Investigating, he found that the sack contained a spare Spider-Man costume and web-shooters.
Still unwilling to believe that his prized student Peter Parker, whom he’d known for years, was playing everyone in his life for a fool by keeping from them the fact that he was really Spider-Man, he moved on to another plan, hoping for undeniable proof.
Recruiting the Grizzly and devising a special costume to give that villain enough strength to rival Spider-Man’s, the Jackal and this new pawn abducted Peter Parker and attached the bugged harness to his right arm.
The harness allowed him to overhear every one of Peter Parker’s conversations for the day that he unwillingly wore it and to trace him wherever he went. The Jackal followed Peter’s every step, and from a distance observed him using his Empire State University lab equipment to remove the harness. Next, he witnessed Peter donning his Spider-Man costume and swinging off, conclusively proving that the student Professor Warren had trusted all these years was really the target of his revenge plans.
At that moment the Jackal realized how he had been able to catch Spider-Man from behind when our hero fought the Jackal and the Punisher – since Spidey’s famous spider sense only warns him about the presence of enemies, it failed to warn him about the Jackal’s approach because, after all, Miles Warren had long been Peter Parker’s friend.
Determined now to wait until the two clones were fully matured before he made his final move against Spider-Man, the Jackal went inactive for a time. Next, Professor Warren’s flashback narration shows us how emotionally unstable (and obviously horny) he was when the day at last arrived when the Gwen clone was fully grown.
Awestruck by her naked beauty, he helped her from the clone casket and promised her he would protect her and avenge her on their mutual foe. Because of the advanced techniques that Warren had learned from Wyndham/ the High Evolutionary, the Gwen clone possessed all of Gwen’s memories right up to the day a few months before her death when Anthony Serba took the cell samples from all of Professor Warren’s students.
Next, again using his advanced tech, the Jackal gave Gwen a post-hypnotic command to obey him in luring Spider-Man into the Brooklyn Bridge death-trap from last time around.
Noticing that our hero is beginning to recover, the Jackal wraps up, telling Peter to meet him, the Gwen Clone and the hostage Ned Leeds at Shea Stadium this night at Midnight for their final battle and the consummation of all his schemes. The Jackal escapes as Peter vows to be there.
To do something during his nerve-wracking wait until Midnight, Spider-Man swings over to the Daily Bugle building and switches to Peter Parker. We get a meeting among Peter, J Jonah Jameson, Mary Jane Watson, black City Editor Joe “Robbie” Robertson and Jonah’s secretary Betty Brant.
Betty is crying as she unburdens herself to the others about how not only is the new Gwen still missing, but her fiance Ned Leeds has disappeared, too. Jonah gruffly questions Peter about what he and Ned have been up to.
Peter lies and says he hasn’t seen Ned since they split up back at Empire State University earlier in the day after asking Professor Warren about Anthony Serba and the stolen cell samples. Peter had longed to talk privately with Mary Jane, to apologize about their last meeting and to discuss the depth of his feelings for her, since he hasn’t had a chance to do that ever since the Gwen clone showed up.
Jameson blows that chance, and, combined with Betty’s tearful state, Peter realizes there’s no graceful way to get MJ alone amid all this chaos so he pretends to be alarmed at Ned’s disappearance and leaves, claiming he’ll do all he can to find him.
Finally, Midnight approaches for our tense, strung-out hero and as Spider-Man he swings over to Shea Stadium, consumed with worry about how this night will end. Using the spider-tracers that he found along with the costume and web-shooters in the sack tossed from Peter and Harry’s apartment, the Jackal manages to confound our hero’s spider sense.
NOTE: Since Spidey now knows Professor Warren is an enemy, the Jackal had to resort to such deception to catch our hero off-guard this time. The villain knocks out Peter from behind and extracts something from him.
When Spider-Man comes to he says “Wow, I feel like I’ve been stung by a hornet” but realizes that another party has said those exact same words in unison with him. The Jackal turns up the stadium lights and our hero sees that the party saying his own words along with him is another man in a Spider-Man costume.
The Jackal tells both Spider-Men and the nearby Gwen clone that, obviously, the “other” student of his that he had cloned was Peter Parker. He didn’t know then that Peter was Spider-Man, but had planned to just make the Peter Parker clone tell him what the link was between him and Spider-Man when that clone grew to maturity. Unfortunately his impatience got the better of him and he started his vendetta prematurely.
Using the spare Spider-Man costume and web-shooters, etc, he has costumed the clone and injected him with the short-term memory cells he extracted from our hero after catching him off-guard a little while ago.
This means that, unlike the way the Gwen clone had memories that were months out of date, the Spider-Man clone has ALL of Peter’s memories right up to this present time. Both of them believe themselves to be the REAL Spider-Man, but only one of them is.
Ned Leeds – still blind-folded and ear-plugged – is suspended from the Shea Stadium scoreboard under a bomb set to go off at 1:15AM. The Jackal says only the real Spider-Man can neutralize the bomb and free Ned Leeds before the bomb explodes. The villain states that he implanted a post-hypnotic command in the Peter Parker clone that will cause him to detonate the bomb if he gets to it rather than save Ned.
Both versions of Spider-Man, with up to the minute memories, consider themselves the real one and fear that the other is the clone who will unknowingly detonate the bomb if he gets to it. Therefore, they start fighting each other while trying to get to Ned, each one thinking they are acting to save Ned’s life.
As the battle goes on, one of the Spider-Men (presumably the real one) starts to view this tableau as an epiphany. He is literally “fighting himself” the same way he has figuratively been fighting himself since he first became Spider-Man, doubting himself, blaming himself for every failure, every lost life, letting himself get tied up into knots with guilt and anxiety.
And, that Spider-Man says, “And I realize now that if I don’t declare peace, this self-war will never end.”
NOTE: This is the last issue of Gerry Conway’s long run writing Spider-Man. In my opinion he was genuinely trying to use this as a profound, turning-point character moment for Peter Parker, making him realize he needs to stop being so tormented, neurotic and guilt-plagued.
Unfortunately, Conway wasn’t around to carry through on that potential change in Peter’s outlook and the next writers went straight back to depicting Peter as an insecure bundle of neuroses always riddled with self-recriminations and consumed with anxiety.
Back to the story, as the Spider-Man against Spider-Man fight goes on, Gwen notices how cruelly the Jackal relishes all this. He glories in pointing out to her that the two combatants are consumed by the greatest identity crisis EVER.
The Gwen clone starts arguing with the Jackal, who doesn’t care if Ned Leeds dies or which Spider-Man dies first. At last, since she possesses the real Gwen Stacy’s fundamental decency she begins insulting the Jackal.
She pulls his mask off his face and angrily tells him he is nothing but an old, sick, jealous man and a murderer. In typical comic book fashion, being confronted like this by the image of the girl he was obsessed with makes Professor Warren reel with guilt and self-disgust.
He sorrowfully faces up to his crimes and his pathetic longing after Gwen Stacy and, with the bomb about to go off, rushes to it, saying that that is all over with now, and concludes with “No more killing! No more madness! No more Jackal!” And with that last bit he uses his claws to slash the rope binding the unseeing and unhearing Ned to the bomb.
Ned falls toward the fighting Spider-Men below, for them to catch. One of them says “Hey, the Jackal freed Ned” and the other replies “No, not the Jackal – Professor Warren.”
But the bomb is still set to go off, which it does, killing Professor Warren and causing the entire structure with the scoreboard to collapse amid the explosion.
After all the dust settles from the destruction, we are shown the dead Professor Warren, crushed under some wreckage. We are also shown that one of the Spider-Men has been killed under the wreckage. Nearby, another Spider-Man emerges from amid the destruction, having shielded the now-unconscious Ned Leeds with his body.
The Gwen clone comes running over to them, shouting “Spider-Man! Are you … is he … are you both all right?” The surviving Spider-Man says “That depends on what you mean by all right, Gwen. We’re alive, Ned and I … barely. Mr Leeds will be unconscious awhile, but …”
Gwen interrupts “I didn’t mean Ned. I meant …” And Spidey replies “The other ‘me’? He’s gone, Gwen.” She asks “But are you sure that you’re …” “Oh, I’m the real one, Gwen, believe me.”
Quite reasonably, Gwen asks “But how can you be sure?” Our hero says “Simple. I … uh … far out.” after it at last hits him that he can’t be sure since the Jackal injected the clone with Peter Parker’s most up to date memories before the battle started. (This is the loose end which the next issue below will address.)
EPILOGUE: A cemetery in Queens near sundown of that same day. As Peter Parker looks on and a cab driver waits, the Gwen clone lays some flowers on the grave of the original Gwen Stacy. Her dialogue says “I have to think of her as someone else, Peter. As someone I knew long ago, when we were both … very young.”
And she goes on to reflect on how she has all of Gwen’s memories, but none of the feelings that go with them. To that point, she leads up to telling Peter “I think it would be better for both of us … if we didn’t pretend to be the same people we were when Peter Parker loved Gwen Stacy … and she loved him. I wish I could know you the way she knew you, Peter, but I can’t. And because I can’t, this is goodbye.” And she kisses him on the cheek.
Torn up inside over once again “losing” Gwen Stacy, Peter says “Gwen, maybe if we -” But the Gwen clone touches his face and says “Don’t say it, Peter. Just turn your head … and please don’t look back.”
So saying she picks up her suitcase and gets into the cab, which drives off. Peter doesn’t look back at her but stands there with a tear rolling down his cheek.
Next, we cut to a bit later, after darkness has fallen and Peter is walking along the sidewalk to his apartment building in Chelsea. He reflects to himself “Losing a girl like Gwen once is hard. Losing her a second time … even if it’s what you want … is even harder. Someday, somebody’s going to explain this world to me. How two people can need each other but still know that they shouldn’t have each other.”
As he walks up the stairs to his apartment he notices that someone is inside waiting for him. He thinks to himself “It’s HER, it’s got to be HER … and it IS!” And we readers see that he did not mean the Gwen clone, he meant Mary Jane Watson.
The two stare silently at each other for a few moments, then Peter says “Lady, am I ever glad to see you. You and nobody BUT you.”
MJ, still a bit hurt from their last meeting, says “Do you mean that, Tiger? For real?” Peter replies “Come here, and I’ll show you.” And the two kiss as Peter closes the door on us readers and locks it.
NOTE: At long last I can point out that THIS ending is what I meant as the “bookend” to the epilogue scene in the issue where Gwen Stacy died. Party Girl Mary Jane was facing a decision between going out to have a good time or staying with the crying Peter to comfort him over Gwen’s death. She chose to stay and comfort Peter, closing the door like Peter just did.
SPIDER-MAN Vol 1 #150 (November 1975)
Title: Spider-Man or Spider-Clone?
Villains: Vulture, Sandman, Kingpin and Professor Smythe
NOTE: Issues like 50, 100, 150 etc are big anniversary issues for comic books and often feature very special stories. This one did a superb epilogue to the Jackal Saga and wrapped up the Spider-Man or Spider-Clone question very nicely … Until long years later other writers would ruin it all.
The narration tells us that it is hours later. Mary Jane has gone home, and Peter can no longer lose himself in her company, so he is back to the nagging worry that he may be the clone that the Jackal made of Peter Parker and not the real one.
He dons his Spider-Man costume and swings off into the night, reflecting on how he hid the dead body of the other Spider-Man until he can find out which of them is the real one. He also reflects on how he destroyed Professor Warren’s Jackal costume and rigged the crime scene at Shea Stadium so that the police would tell Ned Leeds Professor Miles Warren had died saving him from the explosion for unknown reasons.
At length Spidey arrives at the New York city laboratory of Doctor Curt Connors (who sometimes turns into the Lizard). He plans on using Connors’ lab equipment to determine if he is a clone the same way other doctors verified that the new Gwen was a clone. As he enters the skyscraper office in which lies Curt Connors’ lab, his old foe Professor Smythe, inventor of a long series of failed “Spider-Slayer” machines, watches his arrival on a viewscreen.
Smythe states that he has had cameras trained on the Daily Bugle building, the Connors lab building and other spots frequented by Spider-Man and at last he has his quarry. Back at the lab, Curt Connors shows up, telling our hero that he flew into town to prepare for a speech he will be giving at a university the next day.
Our hero confides in Dr Connors about his clone dilemma but without revealing his secret identity. Connors begins running a series of extreme tests on Spider-Man, pointing out like Gwen’s doctors did a few issues back that since a clone has less overall wear on its organs, etc that it CAN be determined if a body is the original or the clone. Connors also mentions that emotional responses might also tell the tale, but emotions can’t be summoned up on command, so they need to dive in and start the physical testing.
Much later, Dr Connors has Spider-Man lie down on a sofa in his office while he finishes working on the test results. Our worried hero is soon lured outside by the taunting calls of his old foe the Vulture. Spider-Man swings out to fight him, to make sure Dr Connors stays safe.
After a brutal battle, the Vulture seems to disappear on contact with an alleyway wall. Our puzzled hero is next attacked by Sandman, and after another lengthy battle this foe, too, seems to disappear just as our hero was getting ready to finish him off.
Next, the Kingpin attacks web-head and, just like with the other two villains, he too simply vanishes when faced with defeat. Now, Professor Smythe enters the scene, driving a large version of his Spider-Slayers, this one a combination of a tank and a robotic spider.
Smythe does a Villain Rant, telling Spider-Man how he found him, and as the battle between Spidey and this Spider-Slayer goes on, Smythe goes on to mention how he softened up our hero before attacking him by unleashing android versions of Vulture, Sandman and Kingpin on him, to exhaust him and leave him too weak to win against him.
Spider-Man by this point is in the clutches of one of the spider-legs of the Spider-Slayer and is being bashed repeatedly against some alleyway walls while Smythe gloats about his impending death. Our hero thinks to himself that maybe it’s all just as well, since he couldn’t live with being just a clone anyway.
His final thoughts, in some genuine emotional reactions, are of Aunt May and of the woman he now realizes is his TRUE love, Mary Jane Watson. That realization lights a fire in Peter’s belly, since he realizes that the clone could NOT have had such an emotional reaction because the clone, possessing Peter Parker’s memories ONLY, would be deadlocked between Gwen and Mary Jane.
Our hero realizes that since he WASN’T thus torn, he has to be the REAL Peter Parker. Smythe notices Spider-Man’s renewed efforts to fight back and taunts him that it’s too late for that. Our hero proves him wrong by bursting free, then tearing the top off of the Spider-Slayer vehicle and punching Professor Smythe unconscious.
As another bit of 150th issue nostalgia, he leaves Smythe webbed up with a note for the police that says “Compliments of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man,” in a throwback reference to the very early issues of Spider-Man.
Next, Spidey goes back up to Curt Connors’ lab and finds the exhausted Curt asleep with the finished lab reports next to him. The narration says “An exhausted man sleeps, fruit of his labors beside him. The rest is well-earned and Spider-Man does not disturb it. He merely takes what he came for – a report he will not read … for this night in one test neither he nor Curt Connors could possibly have foreseen, he had already found his answer.”
And Spidey throws away the papers on which Curt Connors wrote the test results. THE END.
NOTE: If only writer Archie Goodwin had instead written “a report whose results he knows even before he reads them, for this night in one test neither he nor Curt Connors could possibly have foreseen, he had already found his answer.”
Long years later, desperate writers for Spider-Man would retcon things so that the other Spider-Man had NOT really died at Shea Stadium and would pretend for a time that the Spider-Man who threw away the lab report was actually the clone, not the real thing. That led to the real Peter Parker giving up his identity to the clone, while mistakenly thinking it was the real Peter.
All of that nonsense played out over several issues, which ended with the real Peter learning that he really IS the “real” Peter after all, and the clone adopts the secret identity of Ben Reilly and is still an alternate Spider-Man in the Marvel Universe. How pathetic and unnecessarily convoluted.
Even worse, decades later Marvel also retconned things so that Norman Osborn wasn’t really dead, either, and that he and Gwen had had an affair in which he had gotten her pregnant.
Marvel also made it so that Professor Warren had also created a clone of HIMSELF before he died, a clone who became the supervillain called Carrion and set out to kill Spider-Man. They claimed Carrion had a method of jamming our hero’s spider sense as a way of explaining away any potential inconsistencies from the original Jackal storyline.
Ironically, even in the movies, Marvel is getting used to doing what ultimately gets people fed up with superhero stories to the point where they can’t take any of them the least bit seriously: too many retcons and parallel events and multiverses.
OKAY, THAT ENDS MY LOOK AT SOME CLASSIC 1970s SPIDER-MAN STORIES WHICH WERE, UNFORTUNATELY, RENDERED IRRELEVANT AND MEANINGLESS YEARS LATER.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ MANTIS/ KANG/ CELESTIAL MADONNA STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ KREE-SKRULL WAR STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s ADAM WARLOCK/ GAMORA/ THANOS/ MAGUS STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s BLACK PANTHER VS KILLMONGER STORY CLICK HERE.