It was 1976, and Marvel had decided that two Spider-Man books (Amazing and Marvel Team-Up) weren’t enough anymore. Thus the Specatcular Spider-Man was born, without much of a sense for why it needed to exist. This sort of market saturation was new to Marvel at the time, DC had published two Superman and Batman books since the 40’s (not counting their team-up books), so I suppose it’s actually sort of surprising that Marvel took this long to try it. Apparently it worked for them since Web of Spider-Man launched a few years later.
Anyway, the book itself isn’t bad, it just lacks its own identity. The closest it comes to that is by having the White Tiger brought in as a supporting character. In its first year the book has 5 different writers (Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Jim Shooter, Bill Mantlo & Chris Claremont) and nearly every issue refers back to the flagship Spidey comic in some way. Eventually Bill Mantlo becomes the regular writer, and he begins to tell some very odd stories:
Arkansas trucker turned hero Razorback helps Spidey battle obscure Adam Warlcok enemy Man-Beast, who in turn is disguised as the Hate Monger (replaces Hitler in the role).
Frank Miller draws a rematch between the Masked Marauder, Spidey and Daredevil (the original took place in 1966).
Spidey and Moon Knight team up to battle the horrible French stereotype, Cyclone
The undead, clone of the Jackal (who was in turn a clone), Carrion first appears
And then there’s the Hypno Hustler.
Now I actually have a lot of fondness for the Mantlo Spidey, although his stories were never perfect. He has a thing for creating some very high concept characters (Cloak & Dagger, the Answer, reimagining Silvermane as a cyborg) that sound great, but who no one has ever been able to write successfully. That all starts here, probably with Carrion and his power to fly because the Earth will not let him touch it.
I also have to give a brief shout out to the art here. The great majority of this book is drawn by Sal Buscema at his best. Buscema is the artist who first introduced me to the character, during the later J.M. Dematteis run. He tends not to get much attention, mostly having a rep for simply being prolific at Marvel. But he draws some of Spidey’s best battles, really having a knack for capturing the villains in particular. His Vulture is the definitive take on the character to my mind, and his Morbius and Hate Monger issues in the collection are particular high points.