A Scorpion Off Baker Street

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It’s early to mid-June, 1978, around the same time of year as right now. My aunt and uncle—still living on the first floor of the house, but getting ready to move to another part of town soon—are having a garage sale. The backyard is full of old stuff they’re trying to sell, and full of people as well, looking for bargains.

I spend some time there that morning, watching with curiosity before departing on my bike to go buy some comics in Maplewood Center. There was a stationery store there on Maplewood Avenue between Highland Place and Baker Street that was a regular spot I’d hit up for comics. Forty-two years later, that stationery store is still there (or at least it was last time I checked), though they don’t sell comics anymore and the store probably has a different name. I couldn’t tell you with certainty because I don’t know what name it had then or now. (Was it simply “Maplewood Stationery”? Could that still be what it is today?)

When I get back to the yard the radio is playing. I spent most of the rest of the day there, occasionally looking up from the comics I’m reading. On the radio, which is likely tuned in to either 770 WABC or 660 WNBC on the AM dial, I hear two songs played multiple times over the course of the afternoon. One is “Feel So Good” by Chuck Mangione:

The other is Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street”:

“Baker Street” just might stick out in my memory because I had been riding my bike around a Baker Street this same day. A quick hop onto the web and Billboard confirms that these two songs would have gotten heavy airplay around this time. “Feel So Good” peaked at number 4 on June 10, 1978, while “Baker Street” peaked at number 2 on June 24.

I’m sure I bought multiple comics that day, but there’s only one I can recall specifically: Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #21 (Aug. 1978). A rather unremarkable issue in most ways, but of personal significance to me is that it was my introduction to the Scorpion, at least in comics form—I may have seen him in a repeat of one of the ’67 Spider-Man cartoons that was (I believe) then in syndication prior to this. He was one of the last recurring villains of the Ditko era for me to discover in the comic pages, if not the very last. (I’m pretty sure it was either him or Mysterio.)

Also of interest is that this was during the timeframe when Peter Parker had first proposed to Mary Jane Watson. The proposal actually took place as the cliffhanger over in Amazing Spider-Man #182 (Jul. 1978) and this story is set the next day, as MJ refers to it happening “last night” in the following sequence:

This is a very different Mary Jane than the one we’re accustomed to seeing. Here it appears that she’s taking Pete’s proposal very seriously and, in fact, that it’s actually weighing on her mind rather heavily.

In Amazing Spider-Man #183 (Aug. 1978), we get the MJ we know all too well delivering her answer to Peter.

Funny Fact: According to Mike’s Amazing World, ASM #183 went on sale May 9 while Spectacular #21 went on sale May 21. So at the time of MJ’s heartfelt dialogue, many readers (though I don’t think I was among them then) had already seen her jilt Pete in rather cavalier fashion almost two weeks earlier.

Bill Mantlo was the writer on Spec while Marv Wolfman was doing ASM at this time and it’s clear that there wasn’t much coordination going on between the two writers. As I’ve discussed in the past, Mantlo’s work was very hit or miss for me (at least when it came to the regular superhero titles), with this situation providing a good example. Mantlo’s portrayal of Mary Jane feels like fan fic that was written by someone who wanted Pete and MJ to get together—a sentiment I shared at the time, as I was still a Pete-MJ ‘shipper at that point. About five years later, Mantlo made a similar error when he put Spidey and the Black Cat together as a legit couple—yet again, this was something that thrilled me at the time, but in hindsight was a very awkward pairing that didn’t make much character sense based on what we’d seen before.

Marv was the superior writer and had a much better handle on MJ, as well as the rest of Spidey’s supporting cast during this period. What he gave us rings far more true in the context of the Spidey mythos as a whole; in fact his whole run on ASM was great.

The action in PPTSSM #21 turned out to be no great shakes either. Despite the fact Spidey loses his web fluid early in the story, which was meant to put him at a great disadvantage for this conflict, he basically finishes the Scorpion in three punches.

On the pop music side of things, what’s notable here is that the Bee Gees are nowhere to be found in the Billboard top five at this point, after the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack had dominated the airwaves all winter and into the early spring. (Though the Gibb family wasn’t completely unrepresented on the charts—I think youngest brother Andy was charting around this time with “Shadow Dancing.”) By July, the Stones cut “Miss You” would take a stranglehold on the top spot of the singles chart.

This was also the season the Yankees made their historic comeback against the Red Sox, winning me a $5 bet with my uncle. 1978 was a good year.

 

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