Villains assemble! The Sinister Six have proven to be quite a handful for Spider-Man over the years.
As a lifelong Spidey fan, certain issues of Amazing Spider-Man have defined my fondness for the Wall-Crawler – namely Gwen Stacy’s death (Amazing Spider-Man #121), Norman Osborne’s “death” (issue #122), the introduction of the black costume (issue #252), Venom’s debut (issue #300) and the unveiling of the Sinister Six (Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1). While the first four milestones dealt with deaths and births, the last one stands out in a unique way.
ASM Annual #1 is THE benchmark for all David vs Goliath tales. It was also the personification of what “against all odds” really means, as a powerless Spidey took on the combined might of Doctor Octopus, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Vulture, Mysterio and Sandman! The impact generated by such a gathering is near-cataclysmic, so you can bet that the recent hype about a movie spin-off based on the Sinister Six truly went beyond my wildest imagination!
In case you haven’t caught any of the numerous trailers for The Amazing Spider-Man 2, allow me to clue you in on the build-up and Easter Eggs related to the Sinister Six. Besides the appearances of Electro, Green Goblin and Rhino, we also got a glimpse of what looked like Doc Ock’s tentacle arms and the Vulture’s wings, which got us wondering who the sixth member of the team would be.
With the movie opening on May 1, we pay tribute this week to the Sinister Six by revisiting their most sinister acts!
Gathering The Six
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964)
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
Acknowledging that they stand a better chance of eradicating him collectively, they kick off their devious plan by kidnapping Betty Brant (Peter’s love interest back then) and an innocent bystander who coincidentally happens to be Aunt May!
While it would have been one heck of a slugfest if all six villains had taken on Spidey at the same time, Doc Ock instead opted for individual confrontations, with Spidey having to take on (in this order) Electro, Kraven, Mysterio, Sandman, Vulture and finally Doc Ock, with the location of the next battle (and ultimately, the hostages) to be revealed once he had defeated each of them.
What makes this story a classic is the fact that Peter takes on the six villains without any powers! Similar to Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 movie (where Peter loses and later regains his powers), this issue has him overcome with guilt because of Uncle Ben’s death, resulting in a temporary loss of his arachnid abilities. With Aunt May and Betty’s lives at stake, Peter is forced to don the web suit and head off to battle Electro. Fortunately, an electrifying moment during the battle re-energises his powers, thereby ensuring back-to-back victories against Electro and the four subsequent villains.
The final showdown with Doc Ock in a giant aquarium certainly lives up to its main event billing. Spidey inevitably emerges victorious – although Aunt May came out of it all totally oblivious to the fact that she was a hostage!
Return of the Six
Amazing Spider-Man #334-#339 (1990)
Writer: David Michelinie
Artist: Erik Larsen
Dubbed the Return of the Sinister Six, this six-parter is actually quite an entertaining read, but it was unfortunately overshadowed by withdrawal effects caused by the departure of Todd McFarlane, who left the title with issue #329 to kick-start the adjective-less Spider-Man title.
Learning his lesson from the Six’s first outing, Doc Ock ups his game by using the team’s common hatred for the webslinger to mask his plan for world domination. As expected, Doc Ock eventually betrays his teammates, only to be stopped by the combined might of Spidey and the Sandman!
Return of the Sinister Six later inspired an animated episode and Nintendo-based video game with the same name.
Revenge of the Six
Spider-Man (Vol 1) #18-#23 (1992)
Writer/Artist: Erik Larsen
What makes this event different from previous Sinister Six encounters is the scheming and counter-scheming involved as the Six’s grudges are not just against Spidey, but also with their fellow members as well as their former comrade, Sandman.
While the Sandman issue is easily resolved when Doc Ock transforms his sand body into solid glass, the rift between Doc Ock and his members is a lot more complex – after all, Ock did betray them during their last outing. Ironically, the distraction offered by the flow of heroes helps to unite the villains, resulting in half-a-dozen issues of mindless slugfests!
Despite this, I found a couple of positives in this outing, namely Erik Larsen’s ascension as a reputable Spidey artist, his stunning rendition of Nova, and the nostalgic feeling of this being a beautifully woven Marvel Team-Up storyline.
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol 2) #12 / Peter Parker: Spider-Man #12 (1999)
Writer: Howard Mackie
Artist: John Byrne and John Romita Jr
Frankly, this episode would not have made the cut as a worthy Spidey tale if it wasn’t for the inclusion of Venom, and the presence of Byrne and Romita Jr.
Triumph Of The Six
Amazing Spider-Man #642-#647 (2010) / #682-#687 (2012)
Writers: Mark Waid / Dan Slott
Artists: Paul Azaceta / Stefano Caselli
Building up across two major story arcs – Origin of the Species (#642-#647) and Ends of the Earth (#682-#687), Doc Ock’s grand plan this time involves destroying the planet by accelerating the Greenhouse effect using his Octavian Lens satellites that are positioned around Earth.
Unlike the past half-baked world domination plans of the Six, this time they have to be taken seriously. The threat is so serious that even the Avengers show up, only to succumb to the Six’s might! The ensuing battles are of global proportions, as heroes and villains from across the globe rally to combat Doc Ock’s act of genocide. What makes Ends of the Earth even more memorable is the fact that this is Doc Ock’s final attempt at world domination, because he only has a few months to live.
While Spidey and the heroes eventually manage to save billions of lives, the supposed death of Silver Sable (though her body is never found) sours the victory. The event also marks the beginning of the countdown towards Doc Ock’s biggest victory over Spidey – this story is where the seeds for the consciousness swap between Otto and Peter are sown.
And we all know what comes next!