Death in comic books is nothing new. In fact, many heroes have gone to the big comic rack in the sky and when they do, it’s been covered on major news outlets. Who doesn’t remember when DC killed off Superman via a beat down by Doomsday in the 90’s or when Marvel killed Captain America in 2008 via an assassination? Most recently even Archie Andrews, the fun loving iconic character and poster boy for Archie Comics, was killed when he was shot trying to protect one of his friends. Even Wolverine of the X-Men could not escape Death’s grip. But when most comic villains die, no one makes a big deal about it. Sure, when Norman Osborne’s Green Goblin bit the big one and when Kraven The Hunter killed himself, it sent shockwaves through the comic world, but there were no major stories in newspapers or on TV. And then you have guys like Baron Blood, Baron Zemo and Egghead who die and it seems that no one cares. The comic world just moves on like nothing happened…well this update is about just one of those types of death that seems to be forgotten by modern comic readers. The death we are looking at today is that of The Tarantula! So let’s dress in black and remember the life and crimes of Anton Miguel Rodriguez aka The Tarantula in his last story arc that took place in Amazing Spider-Man.
So we should start this remembrance of Tarantula by doing some bios for the major players in this 4-issue story that leads up to his demise, but first I would like to talk a little about my past. When I was a kid, my brother and I had a lot of comics, and many of them were Spider-Man issues that our Mom and Grandma would pick up for us at garage sales. The rest would come from some antique stores in our hometown, Waynesville, or local comic shops like Mavericks and Bookie Parlor, and man we had a blast reading them! I can even remember sometimes my brother would even read the Spider-Man comics to me out loud as I played with toys listening to the adventure. There is four major story lines that I can remember from the Spider-Man comics of my youth, and one of them is the death of Tarantula. I can remember for some reason liking Tarantula and always considered him a major bad guy in the Spidey universe, even though he was in reality a minor character. And when I first read these issues I was shocked that they just killed one of his bad guys off in such a horrific way. But I do feel it’s time right now for us to take a look at the characters that make up this tragic death in comic history. Some of these bios I took from Marvel.com while others I wrote myself or found elsewhere.
Bitten by a radioactive spider, high school student Peter Parker gained the speed, strength and powers of a spider. Adopting the name Spider-Man, Peter hoped to start a career using his new abilities. Taught that with great power comes great responsibility, Spidey has vowed to use his powers to help people.
As a revolutionary terrorist in the small fictional South American republic of Delvadia, Anton Miguel Rodriguez was expelled from his small organization after murdering a guard without reason during a robbery. Anton then went over to the side of the repressive fascistic-dictatorship government, where they created the Tarantula identity for him to serve as a government operative and his country’s counterpart to Captain America. After alienating his masters, Tarantula embarked on a criminal career in the United States. He is also the second bad guy to take on the persona of The Tarantula.
Jackson Arvad was the chief scientist for electromagnetic research at the Brand Corporation until a laboratory accident shattered the “magno-chamber” in whose vicinity Arvad was working. The disaster thrust Arvad’s body into the magno-chamber’s electromagnetic field. This caused the molecules of Arvad’s body to gradually disperse, and he was left there to die by his superior, James Melvin. However, Arvad did not die and he soon discovered that he possessed a certain degree of mental control over his body’s molecules. Each time he relaxed control over his molecular structure, it became more difficult for him to resume a solid state. Fearing that his body’s molecules would drift apart and he would be unable to reintegrate them, he contacted criminal scientist Dr. Jonah Harrow. Pretending to help him, Harrow implanted a tiny receptor in Arvad’s skull so that he could disrupt the Wisp’s mental control over his molecules. Harrow then forced the Will-O’-The-Wisp to carry out certain criminal activities to advance Harrow’s plans. During this crime spree, the Wisp encountered Spider-Man, who later tried to persuade him to resist the man controlling him. Will O’ The Wisp finally decided to turn against Harrow, but upon realizing the Wisp’s intent, Harrow activated the device in the Wisp’s skull and dissipated him.
James Melvin was the president of The Brand Corporation and is a sleazy and greedy man who will do what ever it takes to make himself rich.
So there we have a look at the power players in this game of life and death for The Tarantula. I want to thank Mavericks Cards And Comics for having these issues in stock, and before we enter this look at his demise I grade these comics on a standard 1-4 star rating and am looking at how well the comic keeps to the source material, its entertainment value, and its art and story. So with that let’s pay our respects to The Tarantula.
The Amazing Spider-Man # 233 ***
Released in 1982 Cover Price .60 Marvel Comics #233 of 441
J. Jonah Jameson has called a meeting in his office over a missing two bit hood named Nose Norton who has some information that could lead to one of the biggest busts the city has ever seen of a corporation called BRAND. Jameson has already paid for the info and is mad his informant is M.I.A., and worse those he can hurt have placed a hit on his head. Jameson has offered a $1,500.00 bonus to whoever works for him and finds Norton! This news piques the interest of Peter who needs to money for school and to help Aunt May as well as Ben Ulrich, newshound and friend to superhero Daredevil. Meanwhile a South American company has hired the terrorist The Tarantula to find and kill Norton, who is hiding out at a small gin joint, and when Ben gets a tip Peter follows him and together they track down and find Norton just as The Tarantula does and with a quick change Peter becomes Spider-Man and takes on The Tarantula just as Ben and Norton exchanges words which leads to Norton being shot by two private detectives hired by BRAND, as Spider-Man makes a fool out of Tarantula by beating him quickly. He changes back to Peter Parker, and he and Ben notice that Norton being shot and a South American terrorist being called in to make a hit all seems way too odd.
This is what a good old classic Spider-Man comic is all about. On one side you have the action of Spider-Man, and on the other the day to day drama of Peter Parker. In this issue Spider-Man is as wise cracking and smart assed as ever before and really does his best to try and find Norton in order to get the bonus money to help pay off his student loans as Peter Parker and to help Aunt May with her retirement center idea she wants to build. Spidey gets to make fools of some low life scum and gets to put a beatdown on The Tarantula. Peter Parker in this issue has two plots going on, one is just getting the bonus money and the second is he captures the eye of a cute blonde named Amy who is thinking of flirting with him to get back at her current boyfriend Lance Bannon. The Peter parts are good, but let’s be honest we all read for the Spider-Man parts! The Tarantula, whose real name is Anton Miguel Rodriguez, in this issue is down and out and while once a major player in his home country, is now just a petty arms trader who had to change his name, and by getting this hit he could make himself a top player again! He tries so hard to beat Spider-Man in the fight and busts out not only his poison tipped boots but also claws that drip the same deadly poison, but this has no effect as Spidey still gets the upper hand leaving him defeated on a garbage ship floating in the water. The story is really good and has a noire feel with Nose Norton being a wanted man from all sides because of information he knows, and his only hope is to trust no one! The story really makes me want to see how it all plays out and what BRAND and this South American guy want from Norton that no doubt will end in his death! Not to mention how will Ben Ulrich come into play. Reading this comic again after all these years really just makes me want to read more and more classic Spider-Man issues cause I am having a blast reliving this storyline! I should also say the art is done by John Romita Jr. and Jim Mooney and is good solid work, and the issue had a great Rotten Ink smell! So let’s move onto the next issue in this story and see where it goes.
The Amazing Spider-Man # 234 ***
Released in 1982 Cover Price .60 Marvel Comics #234 of 441
Nose Norton is in a coma as Ben and Peter come up empty handed on the photo proof that the BRAND Detectives shot first. But the big news is that one of the BRAND Corporations facilities has been blown up by Will-O-The-Wisp who blames the company for giving him his ungodly powers. Meanwhile across town Tarantula is feeling beat up with broken ribs and a bruised ego after losing to Spider-Man in their last fight. He is visited by a BRAND Company doctor who informs him that they wants Spider-Man out of the way and will help him do so by making him just like Spider-Man! Meanwhile in Peter Parker’s world, he has a run in with Amy Powell who tries her best to flirt with him, but she is blown off by Peter who still is hung up on a past breakup. Peter Parker goes to BRAND to try and get an intern job and see what secrets he can dig up when he comes across James Melvin, a slimy government weapons maker who is nothing but bad news. With the help of a spider tracker and the building’s air vents, Spider-Man follows him to a giant lab were they dip Tarantula into a vat of chemicals hoping to make him strong and Spider-Man like and use him as a agent for the company. Spider-Man has heard enough and busts from the vent and tries to stop it all just as Will-O-The-Wisp comes busting in to destroy the lab and building. As Spider-Man fights with Wisp, who thinks Spidey has been paid by BRAND to stop him, Melvin uses a new ray gun that hurts Wisp and as Spider-Man pulls his confused “friend” from harm’s way, The Tarantula comes out of the vat deformed and looking like a human spider!
Spider-Man is knee deep in trouble in this issue as he not only has to deal with Tarantula but now also James Melvin and BRAND as well as Will-O-The-Wisp! And while he knows Will-O-The-Wisp is a confused being, he still lands a jaw breaking punch in their fight to try and snap some sense into him. Peter Parker in this issue dwells on his love for thief Black Cat who he thinks is dead, and even gives the cold shoulder to blonde cutie Amy. He also shows that years of science work pays off as he gets to enter the BRAND Companies facility under the fake story of an intern interview. Will-O-The-Wisp is a light ball of rage as the only thing on his mind is revenge and with that means blowing up buildings! Tarantula, poor guy, is beat up pretty bad and falls for a plan that leaves him looking like a spider version of the horror character The Fly. Plus the plot thickens as Norton is in a coma, BRAND is clearly an evil business empire, Tarantula is now a walking freak of nature and Will-O-The-Wisp is a nut who wants to teach his one time tormenters a lesson, making this a fun story line. The art in this issue is done by John Romita Jr. and Dan Green, and this is twice that Romita Jr. has had a second artist with him, wonder why that is…my guess is they had him working on so many books at the time that the second artist was there to help him get them done on time. So let’s move on and see just were the story takes us in this next issue!
The Amazing Spider-Man # 235 ***
Released in 1982 Cover Price .60 Marvel Comics #235 of 441
Spider-Man toss the injured Will-O-The-Wisp to the side and starts to fight against the freak version of The Tarantula. Spidey learns that while he is strong like him, Tarantula is lacking the spider sense that allows him to know when punches are coming. Will-O-The-Wisp wakes up as Dr. Melvin is trying to take him prisoner. While he has been weakened, Wisp turns into his light ball and enters the fight against the mutated Tarantula. As those two go at it, Spider-Man saves people from the destruction their fight is causing. Wisp and Tarantula fall into the near by water and are believed to be dead via drowning. Spider-Man quickly turns back into Peter Parker and leaves the BRAND facility and returns home to find all his pictures he just took are trashed due to the radiation the machines in the lab were giving off. Mean while J. Jonah Jameson gets some bad news that his big news story on the corruption of BRAND has to be canceled as the government says that if they run the story it will ruin their case against the giant company that they as well are trying to bring down. Spider-Man breaks into James Melvin’s home and watches as Will-O-The-Wisp also appears and confronts Melvin who realizes that he was once Wisp’s boss and that his own actions lead to an accident that left his one time employee into his light energy being! Will-O-The-Wisp uses mind control and is about to have Melvin kill himself when Spider-Man comes to the rescue and this causes the two to exchange blows, but a scream stops them in dead tracks when they see Melvin in the arms of the even more mutated Tarantula!
The more you find out about BRAND, the more you dislike this fake comic world company as they even have ties to the oil companies…yep they are icky. The issue has a really nice touch when they have a government agent come and speak to the Daily Bugle staff that was working on the write up about BRAND, and he shares all types of past comic book activities that were connected to them. Spider-Man once more uses his brain and follows leads and learns some things about his enemies just by hiding and listening. He also seems to act as a voice of reason to Will-O-The-Wisp whose obsession with revenge has clouded his mind and leads him toward killing. Will-O-The-Wisp’s backstory of a scientist pushed too hard from his boss that leads to a horrible accident is straight out of a 50’s Sci-Fi B-Movie. Wisp also comes off as a good guy who is doing bad things because he thinks it’s the right thing to do to make the wrongs right. James Melvin is a fat slimy creep who is doing bad things to make himself and his employers rich, because with a slimeball like him money talks and the world’s safety comes last. Tarantula who is a mutated freak now seems to be becoming more and more spider like and losing the human side of himself as his appearance keeps changing for the worse. Artwork is this time around done by John Romita Jr. and Frank Giacoia and as always looks great. So with us coming up on the last issue, I want you to ask yourself if you don’t know how this is ending already how do you think Tarantula is going to die…pick now and see if you’re right as we head into the final issue in this story line.
The Amazing Spider-Man # 236 ***
Released in 1983 Cover Price .60 Marvel Comics #236 of 441
Tarantula is holding a passed out Melvin in his arms as Will-O-The-Wisp informs Spider-Man that this mutated menace is under his control now. Little do they know the head of the oil company is watching what’s going on via a TV chat box trying to figure out a way to cut ties with BRAND and leave them holding the bag for all the bad deeds they have done. Tarantula breaks the mind control when his brain drifts further away from being human and that more of an animal who wants to eat! Will-O-The-Wisp knocks the mutated freak out as Spider-Man saves Melvin from a doomed death and leads Wisp on a city wide chase after he hides Melvin in a safe spot. Meanwhile a news crew have spotted Tarantula and are following him, as Spider-Man tricks Wisp into flying through a machine that mixes up his body molecules he takes him to Melvin to try and talk sense into him that the best revenge he could get is by turning him in and not killing him. As the pair get to Melvin, they see that Tarantula is about to eat him for a midday snack! Spider-Man fights with the Tarantula who now has very little left of his human brain as well as his body now is more like a giant spider. Wisp comes to and takes Melvin to safety and hypnotizes him into telling the police all the bad things he has done. In the end Spider-Man watches as Tarantula looses control and leaps off the building towards the cops below who all open fire on him as he splats on the ground below. In the end Peter Parker at the Daily Bugle watches the news report with the staff on BRAND and James Melvin being under investigation by the government as well as the oil company who are in fact the puppet masters pulling all the evil strings.
So for those of you who guessed that Tarantula was going to die by leaping off a building and getting shot and splatting on the ground, consider yourself a true cheesy comic bad guy fan…and for those who got it wrong, maybe next time. This issue marks the death of Anton Miguel Rodriguez as The Tarantula, and it’s a sad end as when he as the giant spider leaps from the building he begs the cops below to kill him. Tarantula was a prideful character who could not stand losing a fight to Spider-Man, and his ego and pride are what lead him to accepting the offer of BRAND who wanted a fighting machine to protect them and do their own bad wishes. Spider-Man keeps going even when he is worn out and tries his best to not only save the a-hole Melvin from death but also talk sense into Will-O-The-Wisp not murdering the slime ball all the while fighting off the crazed Tarantula. So needless to say I think he’s earned a rest day of eating chicken wings and watching pro wrestling. And it looks like Will-O-The-Wisp has learned that while revenge can be sweet, murder is not and he puts his faith in the law system to bring down BRAND now that Melvin has squealed like a pig on all the bad things going on at BRAND. So as you can see while things got better for Will-O-The-Wisp, they didn’t work out for Tarantula whose only release was in death. The art in this issue was done by John Romita Jr. and Frank Giacoia and once more is that classic Spider-Man look we all grew up loving. Check out below for The Tarantula’s transformation during this comic storyline.
Back in the day when a character died in a comic and you were young, it meant something and no matter how small the character was it had an impact on the reader. And The Tarantula’s death had that effect on me as over all the years of reading comics his death and Kraven’s has always stuck out. The fact he turned into a giant spider and leapt to his own death was shocking for me at the time and also in a strange way always made me think of the old film The Fly. So with this let’s take a moment of silence for The Tarantula.
The next update will be a little silly and a little less filled with grown men dressed as spiders as we take a look at yet another photo comic based on a Jess Franco film that has an old woman dress as a spider…thats right it’s Mari Cookie And The Killer Tarantula. So make sure to come back for that cheesy good time. So until then read a comic or two and make sure you appreciate all your favorite villains as they might not be around forever.