Monday, December 9, 2019


The introduction of Will-O'-The-Wisp, a character brought to comics by writer Len Wein and artist John Romita (the concept taken from a fanzine Wein was connected with around 1966), appeared to be well-received by readers of Amazing Spider-Man following his debut in 1977:

"What interests me is this strange, new entity which calls itself Will-O'-The-Wisp. An unusual villain ... he's a tragic figure, forced to perform acts repellent to him, and hoping to regain his lost humanity. He seems to be one of Spidey's more fascinating foes, even from what little we've seen of him. And I hope we see much, much more."

"...Will-O'-The-Wisp is probably one of the most original and fascinating villains we'll see this year."

"Will-O'-The-Wisp is one of the more memorable of Spidey's antagonists, with a sufficiently bizarre appearance and interesting enough powers to make their fight an enjoyable one."

"I demand, I insist, I implore you--bring back Will-O'-The-Wisp! Never has a new character made such an impression on me. If you don't bring him back, I'll never forgive you."

"Will-O'-The-Wisp is about the most mysterious, most enigmatic hero villain to come along in... in... well, I don't know when. Please bring him back... soon! And when you do, please, don't reveal too much about his past. I like him as he is!"

"The Will-O'-The-Wisp was fantastic! He showed potential for becoming a real super-hero."

Before such high praise rolled into the Marvel offices, you'd think it would have been a tad premature to label the Wisp as a "SUPER-STAR!" right out of the gate.  Yet try telling that to the copywriter(s) for each of the covers of the Wisp's two-part story, who seemed convinced the character was going places:

Yet even if you weren't quite convinced of the Wisp's SUPER-STAR! status by story's end, chances are you were more than satisfied with a solid story by Wein and artist Ross Andru, which demonstrated their chemistry on the book while including most of the basics of a decent Spider-Man tale which usually tend to keep one engaged throughout. For example, in addition to appearances by friends of Peter Parker's, such as Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn, there's also Peter's romantic interest, Mary Jane Watson, along with rather a surprising turn for Peter's Aunt May:

We'll also be witness to a rather disturbing conversation between Spidey and Joe Robertson, City Editor of J. Jonah Jameson's "Daily Bugle"; and there's of course Jameson himself, who has taken the next step in hounding his webbed nemesis with yet another "Spider-Slayer":

Memory fails when scientist/biologist Dr. Marla Madison (Jameson's future wife) became a robotics engineer. You have to wonder what other credentials she'll spring on us at some point.

And speaking of Jameson, we find that Peter Parker has cause to worry about the contents of an envelope in Jameson's possession (though temporarily in Peter's, following Spidey's visit to Jameson's office safe):

All of which avoids overshadowing the Wisp, considering how prominently he's featured. We don't discover all there is to know about the Wisp in this story--but we're provided with sufficient enough information on the circumstances of his creation, the nature of his abilities, and the reasons behind his actions to be intrigued by both his power and his character. For instance, what sort of adversary runs a truck off the road in order to steal a mysterious device, only to tend to the injuries of its occupants before departing?

(Perhaps the Wisp is simply showing his gratitude to the driver for providing him with a catchy, and suitable, name.)

Before Spider-Man can investigate the Wisp, however, there's the little matter of the Spider-Slayer to attend to. And while it's obvious that Dr. Madison has given the Slayer some surprises that manage to catch Spidey off-guard, Jameson's eagerness to bring down his foe doesn't bode well on this Slayer's first run out of the lab (emphasis here on "run").

As for the Wisp, Spider-Man spots him while departing from Jameson's office with the evidence envelope--and just in time, since the Wisp is on his way to committing another theft of his own, this time an envelope of plans he's tasked to deliver to an unknown third party. It becomes clear that the Wisp isn't acting of his own accord, and that he's been coerced to behave thus in exchange for his controller's promise to make him human once more; but here and now, Spider-Man only sees a super-powered figure moving through the wall of a building in order to commit a robbery, and acts accordingly.

This initial meeting between the two provides us with a further demonstration of not only the Wisp's powers, but, fortunately for Spider-Man, further evidence that this man has no wish to act as he does. Yet that realization may come too late for Spidey, given the complications that crop up in what becomes a very strange and potentially deadly encounter.

With Jameson's bull-headed intervention, the dynamics of this confrontation change considerably, as Spider-Man regains the initiative by making use of the Slayer to distract the Wisp. But before the Wisp can act further, something forces him to withdraw from the scene--and that leaves Jameson to deal with Spider-Man, a role he clearly relishes.

But although we get another demonstration of what the Spider-Slayer can do, Jameson somehow manages to suffer defeat once more--and by practically the same means.

As for the Wisp, we finally discover who's been pulling his strings--disgraced surgeon Dr. Jonas Harrow, whose experiments have given us the likes of Hammerhead and the Kangaroo and now uses the Wisp for his own ends under threat of dissolution.

In the meantime, Peter has taken the opportunity to make additional prints of the photos from Jameson's envelope and return the originals to Jameson's office. Afterward, however, the Wisp intercepts him (as Spider-Man) near Times Square, seemingly intent on killing him in order to preserve his own life. In the battle that follows, we're given a more broad demonstration of just what the Will-'O-The-Wisp is capable of.

The lines finally drawn between them, Spider-Man and the Wisp square off for a final clash. But to underscore the tragedy that follows, it's only now that the Wisp reveals the true circumstances of his situation and his actions, when both men have resolved to bring an end to this conflict by dealing definitively with the other--and it's only now when Spider-Man prevails, in the only way that matters most for the man who decides to make his stand at last.

To twist the knife in light of the fate of the Wisp, Harrow manages to slip away scot-free. Needless to say, however, there is too much mystery left hanging here not to be put to use in a future story, and so it's reasonable to expect the return of either Harrow or the Wisp at some point--preferably the latter, given that none of those plaudits above made mention of the Will-'O-The-Harrow. As for Peter's predicament with Jameson, you can see its resolution in a previous PPC post which covers the whole story in detail.

Amazing Spider-Man #s 167-168

Script: Len Wein
Pencils: Ross Andru
Inks: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Joe Rosen


dangermash said...

Ross Andru's Spider-Slayer looks flimsy, unstable an£ not remotely dangerous, A real comedown from those of Ditko, Romita and even Kane.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading this story in the UK Spidey weekly in September/October 1977 but, curiously, neither of those covers were used - only UK-exclusive covers.

Big Murr said...

I'm not in synch with this love for WIll-o-Wisp. A better (faux)villain than many lame character attempts, but he doesn't generate any great anticipation in me to see him get a seat in Spidey's Rogues Gallery.

That Spider-Slayer looks flimsy? Well, that resonates all the way to Amazing Spider-Man #800. Jonah brings it out of mothballs in an attempt to stop Norman Osborn/"Red Goblin"...and the Slayer gets crunched like a pop can in a few panels. Maybe Dr. Marla Madison really should have stuck to biology as her major. (But then, it's not superheroes that make the Marvel Earth different from us, it's that everyone with a Genius Badge is a polymath extraordinaire)

Tiboldt said...

Spider-Slayer is the wrong name, since I don't think any version has ever slain a single spider let alone Spider-Man.

Attempted-Spider-Slayer? Spider-Assaulter? Arachnoyer?

Comicsfan said...

Well, dangermash, a remote unit like the Spider-Slayer is only as formidable as its operator--which may help to explain why the Slayer was mostly a danger to itself. :D

Anonymous said...

Man, this is a great couple of comics. I love this character.
I dunno why, exactly. I had #168 as a kid and I read the covers off.
There was something spooky and weird about the guy that put a hook into my young brain.
Heck, I even liked that funky spider-slayer with a T.V. for a head. Ya need some comic relief once in a while.
You would think being able to control you own molecular cohesion would be a cool power to have, but apparently it's not much fun if you hafta concentrate all the time to keep from flying apart.
I enjoyed this post!


Anonymous said...

...Aggravated Spider-Assaulter?


Comicsfan said...

M.P., that's a winner! Feel free to split your on-its-way no-prize with Tiboldt. ;)