Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Marvel University Christmas Special: Peter Parker, Rock Gawd!

Happy Holidays from the Professors at Marvel University. 
Being the thoughtful souls we are, we'd like to present a very special Christmas present to all our students...

Best Present Ever. ‘Nuff Said.
By Joe Tura

Sometime in 1972, a record album was released that changed a young boy's life. Exile on Main Street by the Rolling Stones? Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust? Foxtrot by Genesis? Nah, it was Spider-Man: From Beyond The Grave: A Rockcomic, released by Buddah Records. It might have been a birthday present, maybe a Christmas present. Not exactly sure having a December birthday, and after all, it was 41 years ago. Either way, it remains one of my all-time Top 10 favorite albums to this day! I even displayed the awesome John Romita album cover poster included with the record on my bedroom wall for nearly 20 years. (Alas, without tearing apart my garage, it seems to have vanished, which is quite sad….)

Part of Marvel and Steve Lemberg’s attempt to branch out into every possible walk of life, it sold over 150,000 copies in the first three weeks. According to Sean Howe’s fascinating Marvel Comics: The Untold Story: “There was talk of a Thor radio series, to run in sixty-five, five-minute installments, a $2.5 million arena-rock show based on various characters, and a Silver Surfer film starring Beach Boy Dennis Wilson. [Really????] But all of this went on the back burner while Lemberg put together a rock musical LP called Spider-Man: From Beyond the Grave, featuring the former lead singer of the Archies. Marvel’s world domination would have to wait a little longer.” Which was fine with me!

The beauty of this album is it was like having a Spider-Man annual come to life—with songs! That's right, it really is a full-blown rock and roll extravaganza, which was followed a couple of years later by the awesome Power Records adventures that featured truncated actual comic books, or new stories with super lame villains like "The Conquistador" or "The Dragon Men"—both featured on 1974's 5-story Spider-Man LP. It also had to be an inspiration for the late '70s Spider-Man TV show starring the legendary Nicholas Hammond, as well as the slightly infamous musical Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. How could it not be? There are terrific voiceover performances led by Rene Auberjonois (the uptight Governor's aide from Benson and star of The Feud) as Peter Parker, Thayer David (Journey to the Center of the Earth) as a nasty Kingpin and more that I can’t remember because I can’t find the poster that had the cast list on the back. And who could forget the super-catchy songs from The Webspinners, who was actually Ron Dante, the man behind The Archies’ “Sugar, Sugar”, co-producer of Barry Manilow’s first nine albums (he sang backup on “Mandy”!) and former neighbor of George Plimpton.

Ah, but is it a good story, you ask? Heck, yes! Written by Lemberg, it’s tailor-made for a young Spidey fan (or any age of Spidey fan), borrowing nicely from both Amazing Spider-Man #100 (the Nightmare sequence) and ASM #95 (the origin sequence), but adding its own twists by pairing Spidey with Dr. Strange and adding an Aunt May kidnapping. From Beyond The Grave even features brand-new, wordless but wonderful Romita-drawn panels inside that give you a dynamic look at the action as if unfolds on the turntable. But you know what? Enough of my yakkin', let's spin the tale, shall we!

Episode 1: Peter's Nightmare
We open on a plethora of police whistles, with Spider-Man hearing a strange voice calling him. (“Spider-Maaaaannn…Spiiiiderrr-Maaaannn”) Going towards the voice, he’s met by The Vulture, who says, “Spider-Man only harms those he loves”, then The Lizard, who calls Spidey “nuttier than a fruitcake”, and finally The Green Goblin, who basically calls him “a loser”. All this is a nightmare in the mind of Peter Parker, who’s awoken by a phone call—from The Kingpin! The corpulent crook is holding Aunt May hostage so Peter will use a “special camera” to kill Spider-Man—and he only has 24 hours to comply and save Aunt May’s life!

Favorite line: “The Vulture perches where he pleases!”

“Theme from Spider-Man”
Our first song, a radio hit if you believe the press, is bouncy and carefree, complete with non-stop funky wah-wah pedals that would make Eric Clapton proud. You'll be tapping your web-footed toes all day! One thing that always bothered me though is calling Spidey a "sex machine" that "makes all the little girls sigh". What the heck does that mean to a 6 year old? We also get the obligatory Stan Lee cameo in one of the lyrics “Stan Lee’s Spider-Man”—maybe the first Stan cameo ever?

Favorite lyric: The often-quoted (by myself and Prof. Tom Flynn) “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”

Episode 2: Spider-Man Remembers
The Kingpin is planning the “biggest crime wave in history”, especially with Spider-Man out of the way thanks to the kidnapping of Aunt May. To help him are two bumbling crooks that can’t tell time and are around seemingly only to hear Kingpin’s vain rants. Peter Parker thinks back to “that fateful day at Midtown High” and the radioactive spider bite at a science lecture that gave him his powers. Accosted by two “a couple local creeps”, he snaps a lamppost (CLANG-UNG!) and takes off up a wall. He realizes what happens, dreams up his famous webshooters (SHHHI-KUH, SHHHI-KUH—no, not the THWIP of the comics) and designed a costume, meaning “Spider-Man was born”, heading towards fame and fortune—or so he hoped!

Favorite line: So many! Let’s pick three: “Carlo, what time is it?” “Uh, the big hand is on the three, and the little hand is on the six. Uh, that’s 36, boss.”
“You’re lucky I don’t break you in half—but I’m feeling generous.”
“Let’s get out of here, that cat’s a tiger!”

“Such A Groove To Be Free”
The ballad of the album, and the easiest to ridicule, this one talks of how Peter feels “free”. Free from the constraints of being held down by his peers and how groovy it is to “leave my teenaged troubles behind”. How discovering his powers and new Spidey costume makes Peter feel like “the man of the hour”. But will this power go to his head? Will he truly discover fame? Well, we all know what happens next…
Favorite lyric: “I never dreamed/it could happen to me/To be free of the cloud/that was holding me down painfully”

Episode 3: Spider-Man's Dilemma
Spidey becomes a celebrity on a “coast to coast” TV show, but fails to stop a burglar in the studio. He arrives home to find out Uncle Ben has been killed and takes off after the killer. Tracking him to a warehouse, he realizes the killer is the burglar he failed to stop—it was his fault! At the funeral, Peter vows to always use his spider powers for justice, and to make up for his Uncle’s death! And Side 1 ends on a tragic note…

Favorite line: “I know that old warehouse. It’s been deserted for years. They can hold off an army in that moldy dump, but he won’t hold off Spider-Man!” (MMUUUU-UHHHHHHH)

Episode 4: A Strange Ally
Spider-Man hears the strange voice calling him again, and realizing it was Uncle Ben’s voice, he remembers the words of his father figure, using them to fuel his search for Aunt May and to stop the Kingpin once and for all! 

Favorite line: “Petey, never forget. The stronger the man, the heavier the load. With great power comes great responsibility.” Yeah!
Close second: “Sane, insane…Loved, hated. It doesn’t matter! A man might quit, but Spider-Man is more than a man. I’m a superhero!”

“Stronger The Man”
A slight Grand Funk Railroad vibe drives this number, inspired by Uncle Ben's classic words, but embellished by a motivational mix of smooth horns, a groovy sax solo and Steve Cropper-esque guitars. You’ll want to fight The Kingpin yourself!

Favorite lyric: "For the hero of the story/Can't find any glory/Any other way" 
Close second is the baffling “The greater the power/the heavier the responsibility/Moses walked his people/right into the sea” Huh?

Episode 4: A Strange Ally (cont'd)
Spidey’s spider-sense starts tingling, but there’s no one there (OOOEEEEEOOOWWWW)—wait, it’s Dr. Strange in his astral form! (A Strange Ally—get it, Dr. Strange…becomes Spidey’s ally…oh, let’s move on.) Guided to Strange’s Sanctum Santorum, he’s helped by the Sorcerer who shows him, via the Eye of Agamotto, Aunt May’s current condition, which is taking no guff from Kingpin’s henchman but still in trouble. Name-dropping every mystical morsel in the building, Strange volunteers to help Spidey take down Kingpin’s deadly scheme, and the unlikely pair “head cross town” to do battle!

Favorite line: “There is much you must know, and little time to tell it.”

“Goin' Cross Town”
The best! From the jazzy New Orleans-style horns to the ridiculously memorable lyrics, this one will have you singing all year! It must be heard to be believed, but check out some of these couplets: “Teach a bad dude the lesson/That he better stop messin/With the likes/Of me and you”; “Cause we got the power to turn wrong right/if we get together and stand up and fight”; “Bring a little action/to the criminal faction/Show ‘em what a good man can do”; “They’ve been lookin’ for trouble/Now it’s comin’ on the double/A lesson in black and blue”

Favorite lyric (as if you could pick just one!): “We don't need no blackjack/we don't need no guns/we’ll whack ‘em on the fanny/and watch ‘em run.”

Episode 5: From Beyond The Grave
They track the Kingpin’s secret lair to an abandoned sewer line directly beneath Times Square, which Spidey calls “The perfect hideout for the Kingpin—right under our noses.” Huh? Dr. Strange weaves a spell that makes Aunt May fall asleep so she’s not shocked when the duo breaks in to save her—which they do! (KERR-ANNNGGG!) Strange gets May out of there, making the henchmen’s guns vanish and leaving Spidey to battle the Kingpin one on one! The massive Maggia head uses all his tricks, stun blaster in the cane (ZZZYYYKKK! ZZZYYYKK!), gas charge in the tie pin (FFFFFSSSSSSSS!), but Spidey has him on the run—until Dr. Strange returns, casting a spell that sends the Kingpin away in mystical flames! Spidey questions Strange’s tactics, but the Sorcerer explains it was only an illusion. Seems he received “a silent call from beyond the grave” to help Spider-Man with his dilemma, and asks the wall-crawler to tell his friend Peter Parker “his Uncle Ben is very proud of him today.” And Strange exits with the words “Enough said.” (Seriously!)

Favorite line: “Can the small talk, fat man, and let’s get it on! Maestro, if you will…”

The “long day” over and Aunt May safe, Spidey sighs and heads home as music from “Such A Groove To Be Free” swells…The End!

Favorite line: "Strange man, that doctor."

Now that's some quality entertainment! If you don’t own a copy (and why don’t you?), information on From Beyond The Grave is hard to come by unless you scour the blogosophere for fans of the album, but I hope I’ve managed to spin a bit of a web girdle for all of you. Copies of the original LP can be found for sale online on eBay and other outlets. For you young'uns that don't have a turntable ("Dad, what's a turntable? Is that like a big iPod?"), you can check it out for free on Grooveshark, as well as on YouTube (Thanks to Prof. Flynn for the heads up on that!), and is well worth checking out in any form. You might even want to give it as a holiday present! “Enough said!”

All lyrics by Stephen Lemberg and performed by The Webspinners.

Special thanks for Prof Flynn for his assistance with this article. When I first met the mighty Cimmerian summarizer, the topic of this album came up within a day or two of us working together, and we bonded instantly! When we moved locations and shared cubicle space, we would actually sometimes play the tape and crack up all day, singing along with the songs. To this day, he’s the only other person I’ve ever met who owns a copy of this invaluable piece of music history.

The author, at age 6, with his brand new obsession

Next Wednesday, New Year's Day, we return to our regularly scheduled programming with March 1973, Part Two!


  1. Thanks for sharing your love of this record! Merry Christmas!

  2. Thanks for the fascinating piece, Professor Joe. You've made all our Christmases (Christmasi?) even merrier.

  3. I didn't meet Professor Joe on a Christmas day, but it was still one of the best presents ever. COP for NAL!

  4. Interesting. You don't see many six-year-olds whose hairlines have already receded quite so dramatically.

    Despite misspelling the object of the exercise ("Rockomic," per the illo), this is tons o' fun, and a valuable public service for familiarizing those of us who don't/won't own it with this little slice of vinyl history. It's pieces like these that make MU more than just a chronological survey of the Silver and Bronze Ages...not that there's anything wrong with that.

    Not sure which is more hilariously inappropriate, calling Peter a "sex machine" (especially given his ill-starred love life), or comparing him to Moses. And the casting is fascinating: Auberjonois (M*A*S*H, KING KONG, DEEP SPACE NINE) would be a bit of a head-scratcher to play Peter physically, but I'll bet his voice was suitable, while David (DARK SHADOWS, THE EIGER SANCTION) seems ideal for the Kingpin.

    Great job, Professor Joe, and most of all, it's a treat to get the lowdown on something that helped bring two of my best friends together (long before I knew them).

    Merry Christmas indeed.

  5. Professor Joe,
    If this doesn't get you into the rarefied, upper reaches of the Executive Treehouse, it's time to revisit the coup plans. Great stuff; an insightful look at some tuneful Mighty Marvel Merch that deserves it's place in history! Love the lyrics, and we can mix and match:
    "That cat's a tiger/Sex machine like Moses/Kicking Pharaoh-Kingpin butt/And pullin' all the ho's-is!"

    I'm off to YouTube!

  6. Thanks, everyone! I hope you all had a listen at this classic piece of Marvel magnificence! It's so ridiculously fun, everyone should own a copy! Or listen for free ASAP! So proud to be part of the faculty!