The Small Lebowski:
Issue(s): Spider-Man #18, Spider-Man #19, Spider-Man #20, Spider-Man #21, Spider-Man #22, Spider-Man #23
Erik Larsen's house burned down (!) after he started this story, and to help him stay on schedule, a back-up story is included in issues #19-20. That story is by Terry Kavanagh/Scott McDaniel/Keith Williams, and features a brief fight between Spider-Man and Diablo.
The gist of it is that a museum had unearthed a cache of old potions that Diablo stored before he was trapped by villagers prior to his first modern day appearance. There is also an Electroll.
Spider-Man has a weird resistance to the idea that Diablo's alchemy can work, since he's a student of science. This despite what his own lying eyes are telling him and the fact that he's hung around with enough magic types like Dr. Strange to know better. He satisfies himself by using some "applied science" to ground and short out the Electroll. And Diablo engages in some 'modern day alchemy', using pepper and mace against Spider-Man.
In the end, it turns out that the potions in the cache that Diablo was after are all dried up and useless. The saddest thing about that is that Diablo says that he'll never be able to create any more Electrolls using modern day ingredients.
Ok, now on to the Erik Larsen story. As with the Round Robin: The Sidekick's Revenge arc in Amazing Spider-Man that was published slightly prior to this (but may appear later in the project depending on where this story gets placed), this is a guest laden blockbuster style story...
...that makes little sense but is a ton of fun. In fact, whatever adjective you'd use to describe the Round Robin story, this has more of that. The plot makes less sense, the guest appearances are more gratuitous, and any attempt at character examination (such as the conflict between Night Thrasher and Moon Knight over the treatment of Midnight in Round Robin) is pushed to the wayside in favor of more fights, more explosions, and more giant extra-dimensional aliens.
The death count is also much higher. The story starts off with someone killing off the Cassadas, the family that Sandman used to rent a room from. The idea is that Doctor Octopus threatened to hurt that family if the Sandman betrayed him in the previous Secret Six storyline, which he did. But the murder of the Cassadas was actually done by the other members of the rest of the Sinister Six, who want to trick Sandman into joining them in seeking revenge against Doc Ock for betraying them last time (and Sandman is really dense about realizing who is really responsible). That turns out to not be a good idea, because Doctor Octopus has acquired some adamantium arms (and he kills the people that supplied them) and because Electro has actually been hired by Doc Ock to bring the rest of the Sinister Six back to him.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man and Ghost Rider fight a confused cyborg.
But the cyborg gets away, and Spider-Man is invited by Sandman to watch his back when he and the other Sinister Four confront Doctor Octopus.
Sandman is turned to glass by Doc Ock, as he was in the last story. The rest of the Six are subdued and convinced (with some secret help from Electro) to join up with Doc Ock again.
It turns out that the Hulk is also on the scene. He was sent by the Pantheon.
Doc Ock's adamantium tentacles are presented as a decisive factor, allowing him to decimate Spider-Man (to be fair, the Hobgoblin uses gas to cancel Spidey's spider-senese a good portion of these issues) and defeat the Hulk.
I have mixed feelings about this, but ultimately i think it's ok. My key contention is that the adamantium shouldn't make Ock's arms more powerful, only unbreakable. In that sense the adamantium shouldn't mean a thing to Spider-Man. He should be able to dodge Doc Ock's arms no matter what they are made of. But without his spider-sense, Spidey can't dodge anything, so it makes sense that he'd lose here. As for the Hulk, he's not even going to try to dodge anything, and once he's caught in Ock's tentacles, he can't break out. Doc Ock also has improved the power source for his arms, so they arguably are more powerful. And that means that the Hulk could potentially be beaten up by the Doc Ock. Peter David disagrees, though, and will address this in a future issue.
Spider-Man is tossed into the river. He's rescued by Nova, but Nova rudely doesn't stick around to help further, despite Spidey obviously being in bad shape.
Spidey goes home and builds himself some upgraded web shooters, and then he bumps into Solo, who is lurking around the Daily Bugle, which is also how Sandman was able to contact him. As i've said before, i don't think Spider-Man's secret identity is doing a ton of good (and for Sandman, why not contact him through their Avengers ID cards?).
Solo has reasoned that the Sinister Six are terrorists, so he's decided that he wants to kill them. This story was my first encounter with Solo (and also Sleepwalker), and you can see why i thought of him as nothing more than a Punisher clone. With the main thing that distinguishes the Punisher from Solo (i.e., Solo hunts terrorists elusively) being diluted, he's just a guy with guns that Spider-Man doesn't want to work with because he doesn't approve of his methods. Spider-Man even calls Solo his "second favorite gun-toting loner", so what else was i to think?
Solo puts a bug on Spider-Man so that he can follow Spider-Man to the next fight with the Six (or Five). And what follows is probably the best use of Mysterio i've seen since the Silver Age, with Mysterio making Solo think that he's killing all of the Sinister Six while they are actually escaping.
Mysterio's illusion makes Solo think that Spider-Man is Doc Ock, so he turns to kill him last. But then the Cyborg from earlier shows up and saves Spider-Man.
The cyborg takes Spider-Man to its maker, who turns out to be a scientist affiliated with SHIELD. The scientist gives Spider-Man an eye "patch" and "cast" to help with the injuries he's sustained, making him look like Deathlok.
Not coincidentally, Spider-Man bumps into Deathlok when he's leaving the "Care Labs" facility. Deathlok wants Spider-Man's help in investigating Care Labs, because some scientists working there worked on the program that created him, and in return he agrees to help Spider-Man against the Sinister Six.
Not to denigrate Deathlok, but Spider-Man has already tried to contact the Avengers and the FF, but they weren't available. With regards to the Avengers, i wonder how that works now that they have a support team (e.g. Peggy Carter) who answers calls and can call in reservists. Was literally no one available to help? I used to be a fine with a generic "I tried the Avengers but couldn't reach anyone", but now that the Avengers have a larger support organization and Spidey is a reservist, i want a little more. But seriously, Deathlok's good too.
Spidey and Deathlok trace the Sinister Six to a dimensional portal. They enter the other dimension and find that the Six have slaughtered some 143,000+ "alien life forms" (according to Deathlok's computer). I told you this story had a massive death count. They then leave the dimension and head back to Care Labs, where the Sinister Six have slaughtered an additional 47 people and wounded 162 more.
Spidey and Deathlok are repelled by the Sinister Six.
By the way, Toy Biz made a Spider-Man-as-Deathlok figure, and their version of Electro came with the weapons that he got from the dimension that he and the Sinister Six raided.
The Sinister Six's big plan was to raid that dimension for its weapons and to get a new ally, and then i guess to raid Care Labs for cyborgs or something, and then, to attack a Hydra base to acquire a doomsday satellite.
The staellite is the ultimate goal. Which makes you wonder why Hydra never used the satellite. I guess the Six are thinking smaller; they just want to hold the world at ransom, while Hydra wants to take over.
Anyway, Spider-Man gets back in the action and bumps into Hulk, Ghost Rider, and Sleepwalker on the way there.
The problem with Sleepwalker is that Rick Sheridan can wake up at any time.
And a bigger problem is that the Sinister Six's new ally from that other dimension is Gog.
On the upside, the big battle attracts the attention of the news media, and therefore other heroes.
From that point out, the heroes pretty much have the upper hand.
Even Sandman, still in glass form, helps out, although Spider-Man yells at him for being too violent.
What passes for character work in this arc is a subplot involving Mary Jane getting a part in an Arnold Schwarzenheimer movie (imagine a world with both him and Arnold Schwarzburger. We could have had twice the number of big dumb action movies.).
I'll wait until you are done recovering from the psychedelic effects of MJ's tights before continuing...
The problem is that MJ is required to do a nude scene for the film. And Peter is not cool with that. So every issue of this story has MJ and/or Peter repeating that basic problem, until the final issue where MJ decides for herself not to pose nude. MJ can instead prove her acting abilities by hiding from Peter the fact that she's throwing him a surprise party (which gives Larsen a final chance to draw Spidey's supporting cast before he leaves).
Ignoring that clumsy attempt at depth, this is a fun sugar rush of a story.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 896,425. Single issue closest to filing date = 604,500.
Quality Rating: B+
Chronological Placement Considerations: I covered the Diablo story first because it can take place directly before the main story. The Thing does not have a cast in this story, pushing it back in publication time prior to Fantastic Four #357-360. The Hobgoblin raises some additional complications regarding placement. In Ghost Rider #16-17, he was zapped by hellfire, and the next time we see him (except for a brief teaser cameo in Moon Knight #31) is in Moon Knight #32-33, where is is rapidly switching between his human and goblin forms. He's captured in Moon Knight #33, and appears in prison in the Name of the Rose storyline starting in Web of Spider-Man #84. During the course of Name of the Rose, his human and goblin forms are split. If we take this story out of the equation for a second, the next time we see him again is in the issue directly following this arc, in Spider-Man #24, which is an Infinity War tie-in. And at that point the Demogoblin half is drastically more demonic and wearing a different costume. So it seems to me that this appearance takes place before that split. But it doesn't fit well with the period where he is switching back between forms either. So what i have done is place it prior to Moon Knight #32-33, but after Ghost Rider #16-17. It's noted in Moon Knight #32 that the transformations are coming with more and more frequency, so it's possible that this story could occur after he's hit with hellfire but while the transformations aren't happening yet or happening infrequently. Note that this pushes things out of sequence for this series, since Moon Knight #32-33 take place directly after Spider-Man #13-14. The good news is that this adjectiveless Spider-Man series has been entirely continuity agnostic, so that shouldn't be a problem. If necessary we could always assume that the Hobgoblin was having a temporary remission and escaped between the Moon Knight and Name of the Rose stories, but if it fits this way i think it works better. Nova's attitude in this story, especially early on, works better before Amazing Spider-Man #351-352 anyway. A footnote referring to Dum Dum Dugan says that this story takes place "before current SHIELD issues".
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (6): show
Whether or not it was intentional, "Spider-lok" really just looks hilarious, almost like a parody of the era than just another part of what was going on.
Posted by: Ataru320 | November 20, 2015 3:27 PM
First three scans here are sideways on Safari. I love these issues, as well as the Sinister Six story from ASM. My favorite work from Larsen.
Posted by: Robert | November 20, 2015 3:43 PM
The Sinister Six commit genocide in this story. That is quite an escalation for some of these guys; in Electro's first appearance, for example, he showed remorse for seemingly-killing Spider-Man during their fight!
Posted by: TCP | November 20, 2015 3:45 PM
Very fun story. I had the last issue or two as a kid and eventually got them all via trade so I never realized there even were back-ups in the early issues (the trade didn't reprint them obviously).
I think the crazy cyborg in this story is supposed to be a re-built Crimson Commando, but I've always been kind of iffy on that because I seem to recall him getting blown up toward the end of this storyline...been a while since I read it so I don't remember the details.
Posted by: Red Comet | November 20, 2015 4:04 PM
As a kid, this was my first Doc Ock story and to me it's the baseline he should be written at. Very very dangerous, right up there with Doom or Magneto as someone who can make entire teams of heroes go "oh crap" by showing up.
But yes, fnord, you're right about the doomsday satellite plothole. And I'm pretty sure Ock is also going for full-on world domination in this story, like Hydra themselves.
Posted by: Thanos6 | November 20, 2015 4:34 PM
Yikes at the Glassman attack! No wonder Doc Ock had to go and fetch a new body!
@Ataru320 I thought thought the same about Electro's weapons.
Goodness, there's just too much to say about all this. It all seems to be quite energy filled if nothing else. xD
Posted by: Max_Spider | November 20, 2015 6:49 PM
The cyborg design almost seems like a prototype for Larsen's SuperPatriot, who came along in 1992:
Posted by: cullen | November 20, 2015 7:01 PM
The Cyborg here kind of, sort of is Super-Patriot (Larsen version). He's also Crimson Commando, sort of: the character here is based on the cyborg design Larsen conceived for Crimson Commando when CC was going to be a member of a Larsen/Nicieza X-Factor book, which never happened because PAD-Factor happened instead. But this Cyborg's memories and his reference to "Dominic" (i.e., Avalanche) do match up with Crimson Commando's experiences getting maimed in Iraq. When we eventually do see Crimson Commando again he is indeed a cyborg, but he looks a bit different from here. It's arguable whether Crimson Commando should be tagged here: Larsen seems to have intended it to be him, and this story is compatible with CC's eventual reappearance, I believe, but there's nothing that puts this Cyborg's ID beyond dispute.
After Larsen left Marvel, he repurposed the design again for Super-Patriot.
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 20, 2015 10:52 PM
The Appendix goes into the details, http://www.marvunapp.com/Appendix/cyborgxs.htm
Here's Larsen's X-Factor: bian-nicieza-and-erik-larsens-unused.html
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 20, 2015 10:59 PM
Gah. Here's the Larsen X-Factor link again: https://afghanant.wordpress.com/2009/06/13/fabian-niciezas-and-erik-larsens-x-factor/
Posted by: Walter Lawson | November 20, 2015 11:01 PM
Posted by: cullen | November 21, 2015 2:39 AM
fnord, after the first can of the Cyborg/Crimson Commando, you say the "Sinister Four confront Sandman" when it should be "confront Octopus."
Posted by: Thanos6 | November 21, 2015 6:31 AM
One thing your review didn't make clear, fnord- Octopus paid Electro to get the Sinister Six back together, so he is indirectly responsible for what happened to the Casadas.
Posted by: Michael | November 21, 2015 9:27 AM
Thanks Thanos6 and Michael. Made a few edits.
Posted by: fnord12 | November 21, 2015 10:22 AM
I don't really like this story. I know it's supposed to be a "dumb summer blockbuster", but I don't like dumb summer blockbusters.
Also, I really, really don't like the idea that the Sinister Six committed genocide. This is way too serious crime to pin on some of these guys.
Posted by: Piotr W | November 21, 2015 3:35 PM
It's worth noting, dat per da candles on da cake in the last page, Spidey is celebrating his 25th birfday. Cementing da youngest age he could possibly be if you don't start counting X-mas issues.
Posted by: JC | November 24, 2015 5:33 PM
I am a HUGE fan of Erik Larsen... but I am not really a fan of this particular story. For me, "Revenge of the Sinister Six" is the perfect example of why Larsen's sensibilities and ideas work so much better on his creator-owned series Savage Dragon than on a book like Spider-Man, which is set firmly in the Marvel universe.
The fact that the Sinister Six commit mass murder in this story really should have earned all of them the death penalty. But these are all classic Spider-Man foes dating back to the early 1960s, so of course we aren't going to see any of them get the electric chair.
Larsen would later do similar stories in Savage Dragon, with massive superhero battles causing widespread death & destruction, but since he owns all the characters he was able to show lasting, long-term consequences in them.
Likewise the scene at the end where crystalized Sandman shreds Doctor Octopus into a bloody mess, nearly killing him. As I recall Larsen later said he did that as a challenge to the next writer to figure out how to bring back Doc Ock. Instead, the next time we see the character is in an issue of Incredible Hulk where, aside from a few band aids on his face, Octopus is completely back to normal. Oh, yeah, and he's also back to being an incompetent loser who gets defeated by the Hulk in one page, because Peter David totally disagreed with the Hulk getting such a beating in this story.
On the other hand, in Savage Dragon, Larsen could totally upend the status quo for any of his characters, leave them maimed or dead or whatever, and then would not have to worry about all of that being completely ignored two months later in the pages of Spawn or Youngblood.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of these issues was the subplot of Peter and Mary Jane arguing about whether or not she should accept the acting role that required nudity. It's sort of a preview of the interesting and oddball conversations Larsen would often have in Savage Dragon as he developed all manner of weird romantic relationships between different characters.
Posted by: Ben Herman | November 28, 2015 9:39 PM
Re: the Sinister Six and capital punishment- Larsen was careful to put the lab they destroyed in Manhattan. New York doesn't have the death penalty. Since the lab was government owned, they could have tried for a federal death penalty but at the time this story was written the federal government hadn't executed anyone in 29 years.
Posted by: Michael | November 28, 2015 11:18 PM
Especially after reading everyone else's comments, I see this story as a harbinger of the kinds of things Geoff Johns does at DC and some Marvel writers do today: taking Silver Age concepts and "updating" them by retaining the colorful and goofy aspects, as well as "good vs. evil" monochrome morality, but adding ultraviolence to the mix.
Larsen was of course doing this well before Johns ever wrote a comic, and there are hints of it int he early issues of Mackie's Ghost Rider, as fnord notes in those reviews. But it's really with Johns that it becomes a widespread technique.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | November 29, 2015 11:14 AM
Wait, it's got Ghost Rider, the Hulk and the original FF? And it's 1991? How on earth did they not include Wolverine in this?
Posted by: Erik Beck | January 21, 2016 7:34 AM
I thought this was absolutely awful. Genuinely surprised to see it get a B+.
My main problem is that Spider-Man is made to look like a lousy hero. Not only does he consistently fail to stop Doctor Octopus (and also the other members of the Sinister Six who are never important) but every time he comes back with a new upgrade and a new set of guest stars, he continues to fail. In the end, Doctor Octopus is not defeated by Spider-Man's perseverance or his heroism or his intellect, he's defeated by the amount of guest stars finally reaching a point where it would be too hard to write him as having beat them all with his "new Adamantium arms" (mind you, Larsen still gives a good shot at making sure he holds his own).
And the guest stars just show up to either get worfed by Doctor Octopus or say "Hey, can't hang around for anything besides the cover and a splash page, so why not read my book instead!".
Coupled with the sheer lack of characterization given to anyone, the lack of any real story and the lengthy tangent with Cyborg X that turns out to be nothing beyond Larsen trying really hard to pitch us a Cyborg X/Super-Patriot series, it's just not very good.
I would be VERY curious to see the letter response to Larsen's go at being a writer. I would say this shoddy tale serves the purpose of making McFarlane's work look pretty impressive by comparison.
Posted by: AF | March 2, 2016 11:51 AM
I absolutely loved the visceral thrill of seeing Larsen draw Spidey and the rest of the Marvel Universe get the snot beaten out of them by an empowered Doc Ock and Sinister Six.
Plus the cameo by cousin Kristy puts it over the top.
Posted by: JC | March 5, 2016 2:38 AM
Ben Herman and Michael: Judging by Lethal Foes #1, it seems like Doc Ock was the only one convicted of the mass murder and other charges for crimes committed during this story. My guess is that lawyers for the remaining members of the Sinister Six argued that they were coerced by Ock and his powerful adamantium arms into helping him (a few panels in issue 19 show this theory may have a little truth to it). And this being the Marvel Universe, it probably worked.
Posted by: mikrolik | April 2, 2017 8:10 PM
Diablo says (and editor's note confirm) his appearance here is set after his trouble in Alpha Flight 102-103
Posted by: fragsel | September 30, 2017 7:07 AM
Thanks fragsel. I think i had it right previously based on the footnote but screwed it up trying to adjust for all the guest stars here. I've moved the Alpha Flight issues back in publication time.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 2, 2017 3:04 PM
O boy. I remember this being a real fun story and loved it at the time. And I have real bad taste and love 90's comics...but Erik Larsen art looks brutal to me. Didn't age well, IMO.
Posted by: Mquinn1976 | October 2, 2017 6:38 PM
Since there were so few Sinister Six stories at the time, I really liked this one initially, but I agree with previous comments that I didn't like the members being turned into casual killers. I think Electro, Hobgoblin, and Octopus would be capable of mass murder, perhaps, but not Mysterio and Vulture. Too many guest stars (even if it was a kind of joke that Spider-Man couldn't recruit them until they were all available at once) and Larsen's art is just sloppy. The Mary Jane subplot here is among the laziest here, too. The only things I like here are 1) Dr. Octopus trashing the Hulk and 2) Sandman getting angry enough to shred Ock for his crimes, bot of which are highly controversial.
Posted by: Jonathon | October 2, 2017 8:56 PM
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