I love an underdog. I don’t watch sports, but when I happen to see a game I automatically root against whichever team is the more popular. Maybe I just get off on being contrary, but I don’t think that’s all there is to it. I think it’s the idea that these guys keep getting their asses handed to them but never call it quits. My taste in comic book villains is a great example of this fascination.
A longtime favorite of mine, to whom I was first introduced via a pop-up book, is the Tarantula. I’d inherited the book from one of my older brothers , so it was probably my first real Spider-Man story. And I loved it… but it wasn’t because of the wise-cracking hero. Spider-Man himself was all well and good in my eyes; A young photographer who fought crime in a suit that was for some reason red and blue. But this mustachioed bandit with the accent? This unashamed stereotype of every Spanish-speaking culture, all wrapped in one big racist tortilla. He was, in my 3 year old eyes, Spider-Man’s greatest foe. The way I saw it, he was Peter’s opposite number. Another spider-themed character, but this one was a criminal. And he had knives for shoes.
For those who aren’t familiar, the Tarantula was a South American mercenary who donned a special pair of boots with pointed tips. These tips were sometimes coated in poison, sometimes electrically charged, but always muy dangerous. He was one of the many characters the Jackal contracted to take down Spider-Man, and failed just as hard as the others. And he spoke comic book Spanish, which means he spoke perfect English but peppered it with Fifth grade Spanish vocabulary words. Problems become “problemas”, every man he meets is a “Señor”, and very becomes “muy” without batting an eye. However, he comes up with some very obscure English words on the spot. His English teacher (presumably the same person who taught Colossus and Nightcrawler) should have made sure they were clear on how to say “goodbye” before teaching them the word “triumph”.
He was eventually mutated into an actual Tarantula and killed himself, only to have his pointy shoes filled by a successor who was virtually indistinguishable from the original.
Shortly after that, I learned to read and started devouring the then-current Spider-Man issues. And it was a hell of a time to be into comics. It was David Michelinie’s run on Amazing Spider-Man. Kraven had recently eaten a bullet, Venom had just premiered and the Sinister Six would be reforming not too long after. So, between the guy who was essentially Spider-Man with a mouth and the fella with eight robotic arms, The Tarantula was clearly not the perfect foil to Spidey. That period of Spider-Man comics was packed with great stories and appearances from just about all of his villains. Tarantula did show up once in that era (albeit with a different man beneath the mask) and that was when I realized that he was not the big deal I thought him to be. He was a joke. He was a racist joke in tights. But even if the rest of the world didn’t find a thick accent and spiky loafers as threatening as I did, I soldiered on. I am not ashamed to admit that I am a Tarantula fan.
All images and characters depicted are copyright of their respective owners.