Credits: Gerry Conway (writer), Alex Saviuk (penciler), Keith Williams (inker), Rick Parker (letterer), Bob Sharen (colorist)
The Plot: Peter Parker arrives at his alma mater, Midtown High, to begin his stint as a substitute teacher. He encounters Steve Petty, an introverted scientific genius. Football star Jake Dorman is angry with Steve for refusing to tutor him. Peter breaks up a confrontation between them, then follows Steve to the science lab. He learns that Steve’s father has arranged for ICM technology to be donated to the school. One of ICM’s donations is the Living Brain, which Steve reactivates after another run-in with Jake. As Spider-Man, Peter is eventually able to stop the robot. After the melee, Steve disappears.
The Subplots: A mystery man, Roland Rayburn, is mentally manipulating a taxi driver. Meanwhile, in a South American republic, Capitan “El Arana” Alvarez kills a dissident student. He’s soon selected by the government to become the new Tarantula.
Web of Continuity: The Roland Rayburn and Tarantula storylines are carried over to Spectacular Spider-Man, which Gerry Conway will begin writing in a few months. Peter says he’s been “gone six years” from high school, placing his age here at 23 or 24. He’s substituting for a week (with a “temporary teaching certificate”) as a favor for his old principal, Principal Scott. The Midtown principal in Untold Tales of Spider-Man was named Davis, but that’s an easy enough continuity problem to fix (modern Marvel couldn’t even keep Peter’s school consistent with the original issues). Midtown High is now a graffiti-covered dump, compared to a “scene out of Full Metal Jacket” by Peter.
Forever Young: Well, c’mon, it’s a story about Peter Parker teaching at his old high school. There’s no way Marvel of this era was under the impression that Spider-Man was supposed to represent “youth” (the Marvel of the ‘70s that had him graduating college probably didn’t feel that way, either). One of the students sarcastically asks if Peter went to Midtown High during the Ice Age.
I Love the ‘80s: Many of the students at Midtown are ‘80s punk rockers, and even the less extreme students (like Jake on the cover) have rather embarrassing haircuts. Jake also complains about Steve ruining a “forty dollar pair of jeans” after Steve accidentally spills his lunch on him.
Review: Now we’re getting somewhere. Almost. This is the first issue of the Gerry Conway/Alex Saviuk run, although a few more fill-ins are still on the horizon (Conway isn't officially announced as the regular writer until several issues later, so maybe these two issues were also considered fill-ins). The Conway/Saviuk material is why I have fond memories of this title, and I believe Conway goes on to have the longest stint as writer, and I know Saviuk certainly draws more Web issues than anyone else, so some much-needed consistency is on its way. I believe the idea of Peter becoming a teacher has shown up three times over the years. In the ‘70s, it’s my understanding that he briefly taught undergraduates as a graduate student. In the ‘00s, he was a full-fledged teacher at an incorrectly named, and located, Midtown High during JMS’ run. And here, in a long-forgotten two-parter from the ‘80s, he’s back at Midtown High as a sub. This had potential as a new status quo, but the idea is quickly dropped after this arc is over (Peter does re-enroll at ESU as a graduate student later this year, which I assume was the creators’ way of reviving the school element of the franchise).
It’s obvious from the cover and choice of villain (both taken from ASM # 8) that this story isn’t taking itself too seriously. However, it’s not really played as comedy, either. During his stint, Conway will occasionally use outright goofy villains, but still treat them as real threats. Spider-Man’s honestly afraid that the Living Brain is going to kill him throughout their fight, which is actually more dramatic than it has any right to be. I think this was probably the tail-end of an era where a writer could present a silly villain, acknowledge their ridiculousness, and then sell it as a lethal menace. Living Brain probably had no business appearing after 1964 (think about how crazy Marvel’s timeline is if a robot like this was built while Peter Parker was in high school), but this issue kind of pulls it off.
Conway also continues serious character arcs in those issues with the goofy villains, and there’s a glimpse of that here. The connection between Peter and Flash and Steve and Jake isn’t just implied; Peter outright acknowledges it as soon as he sees them (for some reason, that makes using such an obvious idea a little more palatable). Peter reflects on his own high school misery, and wonders if he can reach Steve. The misanthropic Steve actually takes a liking to Peter, because he assumes the great Peter Parker from the school’s science awards must be a great scientist today. Peter doesn’t know how to tell him that his scientific career hasn’t gone anywhere (which could’ve been an invitation to have Peter beat himself up, but Conway doesn’t really go there). Conway avoids an obvious cliché and actually inverts the bully/victim relationship a bit. Jake actually isn’t that bad of a guy, while Steve is perpetually angry and clearly a brat who doesn’t deserve a lot of sympathy. Peter wonders if Jake is someone he just can’t help, as the story continues to the next issue. This isn’t the greatest start for the new creative team, but it has more depth than you would expect out of a “teenager resurrects the Living Brain” story. Conway’s Spider-Man always feels “right” to me, and Saviuk’s Romita-style work is a good fit for the title.