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Comic Book / Untold Tales of Spider-Man

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Untold Tales of Spider-Man is a Spin-Off of the Spider-Man series of Comic Books. Written by Kurt Busiek (with Tom DeFalco and Roger Stern each co-writing the last few issues with him) and penciled by Pat Olliffe, it featured new stories set in the early days of Spidey's crime-fighting career, interweaving its plotlines with those originally created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko.

The title was part of an experiment by Marvel Comics to publish a number of new titles for only 99 cents, in hopes that the low price point would attract new readers who might have been put off by the higher prices for comics at the time. It ultimately ran for 26 issues (#1-25, with an issue #-1) from September 1995 to October 1997, as well as two annuals. A follow-up one-shot by Busiek and Stern, Untold Tales of Spider-Man: Strange Encounter, detailing Spider-Man's first team-up with Doctor Strange, was released in August 1998.

A three issue mini-series titled Amazing Fantasy also written by Busiek and painted by Paul Lee served as a direct followup to the last issue of the original Amazing Fantasy title and a prequel to the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man, even continuing the original numbering of Fantasy, and was released from December 1995 to March 1996, showcasing Peter's first steps into becoming a superhero. It is considered a spinoff of the main Untold Tales comic and included in collections of it, with some events that occur in the mini even getting mentioned in the main comic.

Untold Tales of Spider-Man provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: After discovering the thrill of helping Spider-Man, Peter Parker's classmate Sally Avril decides to use her acrobatic skills to fight crime. She creates a blue-and-white costume, calls herself Bluebird, and arms herself with various homemade egg-themed gadgets. Subverted in that she's not actually any good at it at all: she's extremely egotistical and overconfident, acting as if she has Plot Armor that she clearly doesn't.
  • Adaptive Armor: Commanda's armor can generate a force field, fire electric shocks, and change its shape and appearance at her will.
  • Armed with Canon: Occurred since Untold Tales ran around the time the regular Spider titles were entangled in The Clone Saga mess; this became exacerbated when John Byrne created Spider-Man: Chapter One, his attempt to update the old Lee and Ditko stories. Needless to say, Byrne simply disregarded most of what Busiek had done. That said, Chapter One was stricken from canon before even finishing and subsequently Untold Tales was back in canon.
  • Art Shift: The backup story of Untold Tales #-1, "Hydra and Go-Seek", was written and drawn by Fred Hembeck.
  • Ascended Extra: Sally Avril, the bit-parter shown turning down Peter Parker's request for a date (in favor of the "dream boat" Flash Thompson) in Amazing Fantasy #15, Kurt Busiek made her a much more prominent and important character in this series. Also, Jason Ionello, who was retroactively identified as one of the many unnamed students occasionally shown in the background back in the The Amazing Spider-Man (Lee & Ditko) comics and basically becomes something of a "partner in crime" with Sally Avril in her various exploits here.
  • Asshole Victim: Downplayed. In the Amazing Fantasy follow-up issues #16-18 and this series, Sally Avril is shown to have been a somewhat callous and self-absorbed young gal who tended join in with the other students in their bullying and mockery of Peter Parker, and a budding young glory hound whose reckless seeking for fame and fortune ultimately got her killed. When she saw her friend Liz Allan offering Peter Parker condolences for Uncle Ben's untimely demise, she broke off the conversation by calling Liz away (to "that, ah, Social Studies thing") while offering no condolences of her own. While Amazing Fantasy #17 reveals that she did have some history of being childhood friends with Peter Parker along with the rest of "the gang" before they drifted away from him and gravitated to Flash Thompson in high school, she doesn't ever seem to have been one of the closer ones. She was also more than willing to try to use both Peter Parker and Jason Ionello (to whom she seems to have been somewhat closer) as her stepping stones, at one point trying to blackmail Parker into helping her launch her career as Bluebird, and later pressuring Ionello to drive her around the city to newsworthy events to help launch her career as a news photographer even though he only had his learner's permit. Despite all her misbehavior, her death was every bit as devastating to Peter Parker as to the rest of her classmates, and Johnny Storm (of all people) ultimately had to talk Spider-Man out of feeling guilty for his incidental involvement in it.
  • Call-Forward: One issue sees Spidey facing Hawkeye, who was an Iron Man villain at the time. Spidey realizes that Hawkeye is just being used by Black Widow and tries to convince him that he can be a hero.
  • Continuity Nod: Lots, due to the nature of the series.
  • Confronting Your Imposter: Averted, Spider-Man never bothers going after the fake Spider-Man running around Forest Hills committing minor vandalism to smear him, he's too busy dealing with Batwing. Flash Thompson ends up stopping him instead, revealing him to be a mentally unstable Jason.
  • Criminal Mind Games: Issue #6 has Spidey and the Human Torch working together to stop The Wizard, who left logic-based puzzles as clues to his next caper. The crime spree is The Wizard's attempt to prove that he is smarter than the Torch, but Genius Bruiser Teen Genius Spider-Man solves them all fairly easily.
    The Wizard: You can't have solved that equation that fast! You can't! I'm smarter than you — smarter than any costumed clown — and I'll prove it! You hear me? I'LL PROVE IT!
  • Dawn of an Era: A minor subplot in Amazing Fantasy is how a new era of superheroes are slowly making their presence known, with Peter being one of them.
  • A Day In The Lime Light:
    • Issue #16 focuses on Mary Jane during this period. Highlighted is her perspective on knowing that Peter is Spider-Man.
    • The -1 issue (an issue taking place before the main series) focused on Peter's parents during their spy days. This was notable in that they rarely show up in continuity.
  • Deconstructed Character Archetype: Ascended Extra Sally Avril is basically the kind of Kid Hero Peter Parker might have turned out to be if Uncle Ben's death hadn't shaken him out of his own callous disdain for his classmates and self-absorption. Rather than true heroism, Sally's motivations for taking up first being the costumed vigilante Bluebird and then a career in news photography like Peter are fun and fame and fortune. Her weapons were all but useless in a fight (something Electro pointed out when he mocked her for trying to knock him out with one of her ether-filled eggs) and are broadly implied to have been something Jason Ionello developed for her, since he was the one with the scientific mind. When Spider-Man finally got tired of bailing her out from the sticky situations into which her own reckless posing as a superhero had gotten her, he had to stand back and let one of the Mooks she was fighting alongside him punch her in the stomach to convince her she was not cut out for superheroic work. Then her own recklessness and vanity got her killed anyway when she talked Jason Ionello into being her driver even though he only had a learner's permit, and pressured him into running a red light.
  • Didn't Think This Through: One of Sally Avril's gimmicks when she was trying to be the costumed crime-fighter Bluebird were capsules filled with ether, which she called "ether eggs". If she threw it at someone it would break open and the ether was supposed to render him unconscious. (How an underage high school student got a supply of ether, which is classified as an extremely hazardous substance and therefore highly regulated, is never entirely explained, but Jason Ionello was shown to have some scientific skill, so it's possible he whipped some up for her; making the stuff mostly only requires some rudimentary knowledge of chemistry, alcohol, sulfuric acid, and some equipment that might well be available in a high school lab.) The first time she tried to use one—on Electro, no less—he mocked her as it smashed harmlessly against his chest, pointing out (quite accurately) that ether evaporates so quickly, you have to pour a large quantity on a cloth and hold it over the victim's mouth and nose for several minutes before it will render him unconscious. (To add insult to injury, Electro was never the smartest or most educated of Spidey's enemies, having been a blue-collar worker trained mostly only as an electrician; so it's somewhat interesting that he happens to know about this.) Naturally, Electro pretty quickly had Bluebird on the ropes, and Spidey had to come bail her out.
  • Dropped a Bridge on Her: Given some play, in that in the issue where she died (#13), the story momentarily made it seem that Sally's antics as the Kid Hero wannabe Bluebird were going to get her killed when Spider-Man stepped back and let one of the Black Knight's goons punch her in the stomach to clarify to her that she was foolishly risking her life and limbs fighting bad guys when she didn't have any real powers, but this was not what ultimately killed her. Instead, she got into a horrendous car wreck the next evening when she egged Jason Ionello into running a red light, which got their vehicle T-boned by a city bus, killing her almost instantly. While this is a rather mundane way for a character in a superhero comic to die, her development as an Ascended Extra in the previous issues, and the devastating impact her death had on her classmates in later issues (particularly Jason Ionello, who survived the accident, and then had to face down his disapproving classmates and his Survivor Guilt once he'd recovered enough to return to high school) makes her death seem a lot more tragic (especially since this is one of the all-too-common ways teenagers in high school have been known to die in Real Life), and Peter Parker's own grief and guilt (even though she wasn't a very good friend to him and—as the Human Torch points out—he wasn't to blame) quite understandable.
  • Everyone Has Standards: In one early issue, Jason attempts to prank Peter by stealing all the clothes in his gym bag while he's showering. Most of the other teens think Jason just crossed the line from funny to overly cruel, and even Flash, usually the first to harass Peter, is rather uncomfortable about it, complaining he's had nightmares about things like this.
  • Expy: In keeping with the high school focus, two of the new characters are analogues for characters from Archie Comics: Tiny is a big dumb blonde jock like Moose, and Jason Ionello is a sneering dark-haired friend nobody likes just like Reggie. Some of the later issues also play up Flash and Liz's resemblance to Archie and Betty. They're also something like morally inverted counterparts to Flash and Peter: Tiny being a big Book Dumb athletic guy who proves not to be just another Jerk Jock like Flash once Peter gets to know him a little better; and Jason being an embittered brainy guy who craves fame and fortune much as Peter did when he first got his powers, but is not as ethical and honest, and his tragic loss (of Sally Avril) due to his irresponsibility does not morally reform him the way Peter's loss of his uncle Ben did.
  • False Flag Operation: Menace, the villain Spider-Man and X-Men team up to fight, is seemingly a powerful teleporter with a Touch of Death, and leads a horde of blue-skinned minions, proclaiming mutant superiority as loud as he can. In reality, Menace is actually a group of anti-mutant criminals trying to incite public opinion against mutants while filling their own pockets. The deadly touch is just a cybersuit, and they can’t teleport at all, they just show up in different places at the same time to make it look like they can.
  • Femme Fatale: Commanda doesn't hesitate to morph her armor into a low-cut dress when she tries to seduce Spider-Man.
  • Festival Episode: Issue #19 features the teenage Peter Parker taking pictures of a festival for J. Jonah Jameson.
  • Hate Sink: The Undertaker from Amazing Fantasy #16 is a con artist running a large racket where his men target widows and widowers with a fake story of how their deceased loved one made a down payment for some sort of furniture as a last gift, conning the loved one out of all the money they have left and leaving them in financial ruin and profiteering off their grief. Spidey is absolutely disgusted at the man's cruelty.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: Spidey, as usual.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: In "Strange Encounter," Spidey manages to save everyone sucked into Dormammu's dimension, and after all they've gone through even J. Jonah Jameson admits that Spidey is a hero after what he's done. However, when he sees all the trauma everyone is suffering from as a result of going through such a traumatic experience and learns none of them may ever fully recover from it, he has Dr. Strange erase everyone's memories of the past day to prevent that, even though it means they'll have all forgotten all the good he's done.
  • Hidden Depths: During her focus issue, Mary Jane plays up her party girl attitude, while her thoughts reveal how much her family troubles and other issues bother her. She also tries to figure out the depths of Peter Parker, who she feels isn't just a shy bookworm or just a wise-cracking superhero.
  • I'm Not a Hero, I'm...: Peter's character arc in #16-18 of Amazing Fantasy. He repeatedly insists he isn't any sort of superhero like the several of the other ones newly popping up like the Fantastic Four, but instead only someone who's trying to help out. It's only after defeating the villain Supercharger and saving several people does he finally recognize that maybe he is a superhero after all.
  • Irony: In Untold Tales of Spider-Man #16, which focuses on Mary Jane Watson, she says several guys were interested in her when she rejects going on a date with Peter. She does not want to go out with someone who can't get their own date. While in Amazing Spider-Man #25, Mary Jane meets Betty Brant and Liz Allan, two beautiful girls who were both vying for Peter's affections at the time.
  • Jerk Jock: In addition to Spider-Man regular Flash Thompson, Untold Tales featured Tiny McKeever, one of Flash's pals, who initially comes off as a copy of Flash. Peter eventually discovers why he's such a jerk: Tiny is under constant pressure from his abusive father to keep his grades up for football but genuinely lacks the intelligence, so Tiny takes it out on Pete because school seems so easy for him. When Peter later offers to tutor him, Tiny eventually softens up.
  • The Load: Since Sally Avril desired some of the "glory" she thought Spider-Man's heroics were bringing him for herself, she created a blue-and-white costume, called herself Bluebird, and tried to team up with Spider-Man with an arsenal of (mostly useless) egg-themed gadgets. Unfortunately, her overinflated ego and reckless behavior made her such a nuisance and a hindrance to him that Spider-Man finally let one of the Black Knight's thugs take a free shot at her to convince her to give up on her ambition to be a superheroine.
  • The Man Behind the Man: The person who hired the Scorcher to steal weapons and electronic plans in issue one is revealed to be none other than Norman Osborn. Literally foreshadowed due to him appearing as a shadowy figure and standing in front of the Oscorp building.
    • The person backing the Headsman is eventually revealed to be The Green Goblin.
  • Multilayer Façade: When The Crime-Master demands that the Green Goblin reveal his secret identity as a prerequisite for their team-up, due to the Goblin having deduced his own, the Goblin agrees and removes his mask to reveal...J Jonah Jameson! Turns out Norman Osborn had guessed Crime-Master would make this demand and was wearing a detailed Jameson mask. Completely unecessary at that, as fans who read the original Crime-Master storyarc knows that he died in a shootout with police before he could reveal the Goblins identity, fake or not.
  • Mutants:
    • Batwing, who was originally a prepubescent boy until he got lost in the Carlsbad Caverns and drank water polluted from illegal chemical dumping.
    • There's also an issue where Spider-Man encounters the original five X-Men.
  • My Greatest Failure: Spidey blamed himself for Sally Avril's death, believing that she would still be alive if he had let Bluebird be his sidekick as she wanted and mentored her.
    Spider-Man: She'll never laugh again. She'll never toss her head the way she did, instantly dismissing whatever she didn't want to think about in favor of something new. She'll never smile, never capture everyone's attention with a few words, never light up a room with her determination and humor. She could be obnoxious, even pushy, but she was vital and alive and fun to be around and now she's gone...
  • Mythology Gag: When Peter attempts to go to an eye doctor after his glasses were broken by Flash in the original comics, he uses the alias "Peter Palmer," a nod to the first Chameleon story mistakenly giving him that surname instead of Parker.
  • Never Speak Ill of the Dead: To say that Sally Avril had her faults is to make a mild understatement: she very willingly went along with Flash Thompson and even Jason Ionello in their taunting and tormenting of Peter Parker (particularly an incident in which Jason stole Peter's clothes while he was showering; even Flash didn't approve of that prank, but she seemed to find it slightly amusing), showed a callous lack of concern for him as he was grieving over his uncle's death, and was more than willing to go along with Jason's attempts to find out Spider-Man's secret identity. She even tried to blackmail Peter into publicizing her exploits as Bluebird when she found out about his taking photographs for the Daily Bugle. Even so, when her own recklessness got her killed in a car wreck, Peter was still thoroughly devastated, as detailed in My Greatest Failure above. In the end, he only began to be consoled when the Human Torch (who didn't even like Spider-Man) pointed out he had no good reason to blame himself for her death.
    Human Torch: You stopped her from doing something dangerous. That's all. She chose to do something else dangerous, but that's not your fault.
  • Previously on…: To help out readers without encyclopedic knowledge of Spider-Man history, the compilations include a one-page summary of recent events, both from Untold Tales and from the original the Lee-Ditko run. Spider-Man also provides various bits of exposition in his thoughts and narration on how he got to where he is at the moment to bring readers who do have the original comic books (in reprints or compilations) up to speed on where in the old stories' continuity they are.
  • The Power of Hate: Jason embraces this as a way of dealing with the guilt of Sally's death and targets Spider-Man. Unusual for this trope, he isn't effective at it, being limited to trying to frame Spider-Man for petty vandalism and theft, and is eventually caught by Flash Thompson, and revealed to be legitimately unbalanced due to the guilt and in need of professional help. Spider-Man himself never even bothered to try to catch him.
  • The Power of the Sun: David Lowell, a.k.a. Sundown, who first appeared in Untold Tales Annual #2.
  • Revision: The whole point of the series. Busiek even included a timeline indicating where each story took place among the the Lee-Ditko run.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Sally Avril, one of Peter Parker's fellow students. She tries to become a vigilante like Spider-Man, but he tries to dissuade her due to the risks. Undaunted, she later dies in an auto accident after recklessly pursuing Spidey to get photographs of him in action.
  • Save the Villain:
    • Spider-Man saves J. Jonah Jameson from being framed by the mob in issue #15.
    • He also saves the Kingpin from the Vulture in #20, though he has no idea he's doing it, he never actually saw who Vulture was going after, and even if he had, this was before the two had even met. The Kingpin, for his part, actually directs his assistant to call in the police over the Vulture's intrusion, casually pointing out that as Wilson Fisk, humble dealer of spices, he has no reason to fear the authorities.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: Mary Jane sees Peter run into his house, then sees Spider-Man crawl out of Peter's bedroom. It would be years later before she finally reveals to him that she always knew who he was.
  • Sewer Gator: The Lizard takes reptiles from the zoo in "Cry...Lizard!" and leads them into the sewers to make them into an army.
    Spider-Man: Alligators in the sewers, Lizzie? Isn't that a little... cliché?
  • Suicide by Cop: Batwing attempts this when Curt Connors attempt to cure him seemingly fails.
  • Talking Down The Suicide: Of all people, The Vulture does this when he stumbles across Jason on a rooftop, preparing to kill himself over the death of Sally Avril. Unfortunately, Vulture does this by convincing Jason to embrace The Power of Hate instead, and blame Spider-Man for Sally's death rather than dealing with it in a healthy way.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: In their confrontation in #20, Spider-Man talks down the Vulture by complete accident, when pointing out that it's not the Vultures style to do someone else's dirty work (he'd been freed from prison to kill The Kingpin), and asks if this is what he wanted in his old age; to be a weapon for someone else. Vulture, who was already ambivalent about the whole thing, stopped fighting and turned himself in.
  • They Would Cut You Up: This was the motivation behind Batwing's rampage in Untold Tales #2. When Spider-Man discovers that Batwing is actually a frightened mutated child and promises to get him help, Batwing freaks out completely.
    Batwing: Not going... get cut up by scientists... like mom said!
  • Too Dumb to Live: While he's neither too blunt nor at all flippant on the subject, Johnny Storm demonstrates some remarkable insight into the situation when consoling Spider-Man over Sally's death, pointing out that her impulsiveness and overconfidence would likely have gotten her killed regardless of anything he did or didn't do: had Spider-Man offered to train her, she might just as easily have died foolishly trying to take on the Black Knight (who—though his powers were no match for Spidey's—would easily have been able to Curb Stomp her).
  • "Ugly American" Stereotype: Richard and Mary Parker (Peter Parker's parents) exploited the stereotype in India by playing "Ugly Americans" with two goons guarding an enemy installation, portraying themselves as crude and tacky tourists while asking the guards if they'd be so nice as to take their picture. Figuring they had better send these annoying foreigners on their way as quickly and with as little drama as possible, the guards fell for the ruse. The "camera" the Parkers gave them was actually a knock-out gas dispenser.
  • Villain with Good Publicity: The Spacemen are four astronauts who got their powers from a secret space mission, and are immediately lauded as honest heroes by renown anti-vigilante J. Jonah Jameson. In reality, they're washout trainees who used their powers to steal money while framing Spider-Man along the way.
  • Water Tower Down: Occurs in the first issue, where an inexperienced Spidey fights The Scorcher (an armored arsonist) in a warehouse.
  • We Used to Be Friends: As shown in Amazing Fantasy #17, Peter was actually close friends with Liz, Jason, Sally, and Tiny when they were all children, but as they got older and they began showing different interests from him they gradually drifted apart, which ended with them gravitating to Flash and becoming his "gang" as he came to be the most popular student on campus.