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Spider-Man -- a Rockomic
"From Beyond the Grave!"

COVER IMAGE NOT FOUND 1972, Buddah Records
Script by: Stephen Lemberg
Music and Lyrics by: Stephen Lemberg
All tunes performed by: the Webspinners
Art by: John Romita
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NOTICE #1: SPOILER WARNING This is a review of an audio Spider-Man adventure released as an LP in 1972. In preparing to write this, I discovered that the entire album, with a new introduction, can be downloaded from the performer's website. So, if you've never heard it before and have a fast modem and 40 minutes to kill, then stop reading right here and go to http://artists3.iuma.com/IUMA/Bands/Ron_Dante/index-2.html
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NOTICE #2: DISCLAIMER There are no convenient album notes with lyrics printed out, so any mondegreens in this review can be entirely blamed on me and my faulty ear. I calls 'em as I hears 'em.
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"Spider-Man: a Rockomic" is packaged as a single vinyl LP with a foldout jacket. The front depicts a classic Romita image of Spidey. The inside has five wordless, watercolored strips by Romita that correspond to the action on the album. Each strip ends at the point that a musical interlude is present in the story.
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Episode One! "Peter's Nightmare!"

Somewhere in the city, Spider-Man is spotted by a group of policemen, who begin taking potshots at him. As he avoids their bullets, he hears a sepulchral, eerily familiar voice calling to him, as if in pain: "Spider-Man! Spider-Man!" He tries to locate the source of the cries, but encounters instead... the Vulture! His oldest enemy, who taunts him with laughter and the claim that he knows who Spider-Man really is! Spidey moves to nab his foe, only to see the Vulture vanish before him. Before he has time to think, Spidey hears more laughter and hisses from the Lizard on a nearby rooftop. Still, the eerie voice calls to him, while the Lizard tells him that there is no voice, and Spider-Man is going insane! Then the Green Goblin appears, pummeling him with stun pumpkins, and telling him that he was a loser as Peter Parker, he's a loser as Spider-Man, and he'll always be a loser. Spidey can't concentrate, between the attacks, the taunts, the laughter, and the voice, still calling, calling to him for help.

Suddenly, Peter is awakened from his nightmare by the sound of a ringing telephone. On the other end is the voice of Aunt May. But all is not well. May Parker has been abducted by the Kingpin, who knows of Peter's reputation as the Daily Bugle's foremost photographer of Spider-Man. He tells Peter that if he ever wants to see his aunt alive again, he'll take a picture of Spider-Man for him, using a specially prepared camera that Peter will find waiting on his doorstep. But this picture... will be Spider-Man's last!

Musical interlude: the swingin' "Spider-Man Theme" (No, not the one from the TV cartoon.)
Sample lyrics: "Move like a spider,
Groove like a man,
Wall-crawling superhero
Your friendly Spider-Man.
Amazing, amazing,
How does he ever win?
A product of the American dream
See him glide, see him fly.
No one lady's sex machine,
He makes all the little girls sigh. (Oooh!)"
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Episode Two! "Spider-Man Remembers!"

As "Santa Lucia" soflty plays in the background, the Kingpin recaps his plan to a pair of particularly dimwitted flunkies. He then helpfully explains that he's the head of the Maggia, and three hundred pounds of solid muscle, so they'd better not make him angry.

Concerned for Aunt May's life, Peter wonders whether it may actually be time for Spider-Man to die. His secret identity has brought him nothing but misery, and isn't worth his aunt's life. Besides, he's been lucky up till now, but the day must come when Spider-Man will lose a fight. Better to retire now while he can still make the decision himself. He thinks back to the day his life changed...

At a science exhibit at Midtown High, a professor with a bad German accent explains that when radioactive gamma rays criss-cross, they produce what is called "gamma ray radioactivity." No one notices a tiny spider drift down into the path of the rays, and... well, you know the story. Peter designs a costume and a pair of web-shooters, looks into the mirror, and Spider-Man is born!

Musical interlude: the mellow "It's Such a Groove to be Free"
Sample lyrics: "It's such a groove to be free,
Leave my teenage troubles behind,
Lay my past 'neath a mask
And climb to impossible heights.
I never dreamed
It could happen to me,
To finally be free of the cloud that was holding me down painfully.
But now I'm free,
Unbelievably free,
I only look down on the town that always gave nothing to me."
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Episode Three! "Spidey's Dilemma!"

Spider-Man becomes a media hit, until the day at a television studio when he allowed a thief to run past him without attempting to stop him. When he returned home, Peter found his house surrounded by police, who told him that his Uncle Ben had been shot and killed by a burglar. Peter changed to Spider-Man and ambushed the burglar in the old Acme warehouse, where the police had him boxed in. Capturing the killer, Peter realized that this was the burglar he could have stopped earlier. Later, at Ben's funeral, as a choir sings "Rock of Ages," Peter quietly vows to use his powers in the cause of justice from then on.

END OF SIDE ONE

Peter's reverie ends, but he still can't shake his nightmare from his mind. Suddenly he realizes that the voice that was calling to him in his dream was that of Uncle Ben. He thinks back to what Uncle Ben used to say to him when he was younger... "The stronger the man, the heavier the load. With great power comes great responsibility." Peter realizes that as Spider-Man, he must never give up. He has to find and rescue Aunt May, and bring the Kingpin to justice, because that's what it means to be a superhero!

Musical interlude: the peculiar "The Stronger the Man, the Heavier the Load"
Sample lyrics: "The greater the power,
The heavier the responsibility.
Moses walked his people
Right into the sea.
And Joshua fit a battle
With a trumpet in his hand.
For the hero of the story
Can't find any glory
Any other way."
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Episode Four! "Strange Ally!"

Peter's spider-sense begins to tingle. Another eerie voice, different from the one in his dream, beckons Spider-Man to follow it. Peter sees no one, but the voice tells him that it's invisible astral form will guide his movements. Unable to resist, Spidey swings to a Greenwich Village home where he finds a man in a red cloak sitting quietly in a chair. Dr. Strange bids him welcome.

Spidey recognizes the name. The pair gazes into the Eye of Agamotto, where they see a feisty May Parker held by the Kingpin's men. Dr. Strange tells his friend to prepare... he will not fight alone tonight.

Musical interlude: the New Orleans-y "Goin' Crosstown"
Sample lyrics:
"Goin' crosstown, gonna roll tonight,
Gonna kick a tail or two.
Bring a little action
To the criminal faction,
Show 'em what a good man can do.
'Cause we got the POW, and we got the BAM,
It's time to get together and stand up to the man.
'Goin crosstown, gonna rock tonight,
Show 'em what a good man can do."
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Episode Five! "From Beyond the Grave!"

Dr. Strange locates the Kingpin's plush hideout in an abandoned sewer line. He casts a spell to place May Parker into a deep sleep, to protect her from what is to come. The pair of heroes bursts into the room, and as Dr. Strange disarms the thugs with an incantation, Spider-Man takes on the Kingpin in a rollicking fight scene set to the instrumentals of "Goin' Crosstown." A defeated Kingpin attempts to escape, but his path is blocked by Strange, who recites another spell. Flames shoot up from the ground, demonic laughter is heard cackling in the distance, and the Kingpin is pulled down... down... into... ?

Spider-Man attempts to stop whatever is happening, but Strange warns him to keep away, that there are forces at work that he could not understand. He explains to the horrified Spidey that the Kingpin has been swallowed by an illusion... the illusion of justice from within his own mind, and that he may return one day.

Somewhat relieved, Spider-Man asks Strange how he knew that he needed his help. Strange replies that he received a call, a call for help from beyond the grave, that he couldn't ignore. He bids his new ally farewell, but asks him one favor... that he deliver a message to his friend, Peter Parker. He asks Spider-Man to tell Peter that his Uncle Ben is very proud of him this day.

As Strange flies off, a satisfied Spider-Man swings away, as the strains of "It's Such a Groove to be Free" softly fade into the distance.
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The songs on this album were perfomed by the Webspinners; in real life, one Ron Dante, who also recorded "Sugar, Sugar" as the Archies, "Tracy" as the Cuff Links, and "Leader of the Laundromat" as the Detergents.

Though there are no acting credits on the jacket, actor Rene Auberjonois has stated in interviews that he was the voice of Spider-Man/Peter Parker on this album. You probably know Rene as Odo on "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine," Clayton Endicott on "Benson," and Father Francis Mulcahy in the motion picture, "M*A*S*H."

I'm somewhat disappointed by the fact that we never learned what the Kingpin's gimmicked camera was supposed to do. And somewhat puzzled by the reference to Spider-Man as a "sex machine" in the "Spider-Man Theme." That's not the Spidey I remember from 1972. By the way, if you listen, you'll find that they managed to fit Stan Lee's name into the theme.

They went a little overboard with the reverb at times, especially during Peter's nightmare. I can barely make out half of the villains' dialogue in that scene.

It's a kick to hear Dr. Strange actually reciting his incantations. But the actor does not pronounce Agamotto, Oshtur, Faltine, or Satannish the way I do in my head. I like my pronunciations better, especially on the latter.

"Strange man, that Doctor."

-- Bob
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