I love the Shocker.
No, no, no. I didn’t mean that Shocker. Get your mind out of the gutter. For shame all of you, for shame.
I am talking about my man Herman Schultz. That is right. Ol’ Quiltie (Quilty?) himself. The incredible vibrating man wrapped in yellow and brown.
Now why do I love him so? Well…
First, I have to confess, is simply early exposure. As I noted last week, I did not start collecting comics in earnest until my teens. However, every summer during my pre-teen years I could live with a comic book collector for one week when my family visited Chatham, Massachusetts.
On Main Street in a store called the Mayflower there were two spinner racks of comics towards the back half of the store. Each wire rack was filled to the brim with recent Marvel and DC offerings—and Archie too, but I never even sampled those—and for that one week each summer, I was able to select a couple to a few comics for purchase. I read those 2-5 comics every day while we were up there multiple times, and then brought them home to revisit them again and again.
In the summer of 1992, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #364 was one such comic. And on that cover, bedeviling a jumping Spider-Man achieving an unlikely pose thanks to the delightful Mark Bagley? Shocker.
Reading comics for me back then was a lot like reading comics is for most kids when you first start and I would argue it was even more intense in 1992 than today. There is so much going on that you only vaguely grasp. These characters have history that you’ve never read, never even heard of. The books have subplots that have been running for issues, sometimes even years, and they are only touched on for a page or two or even less—sometimes just a panel! Comics are filled with secrets and in lieu of the true accurate knowledge, you start to imagine what the history might be, what the subplot might refer to. You fill in the blanks until you can confirm your impressions.
For me, that was thrilling. It was like having these secrets that you needed to decode, this small part of a much larger treasure map that would be so rewarding when you put it all together.
And so, into these exciting secretive world dropped Schultz and I fell in four color love.
See, almost immediately when I started reading comics, I developed a thing for villains. I loved the heroes, don’t get me wrong, and I cheered for the good guys to win, but the heroes were in every issue. You might catch a team-up with a b or c-level guy—I encountered and fell in love with Moon Knight when he guested in a Spidey book—but largely the heroes were always on hand. Villains, on the other hand, you might see once and never again. Spider-Man was easy to understand because every Spider-Man book had him. But a villain like Shocker? Oh he had so many secrets.
Even amongst villains though, Shocker seemed different from jump street. He was not confident and bombastic, he was scared. He did not want to fight Spider-Man, he just wanted to get away from him. He mumbled about losing his friends. He seemed angry too, but not like super villain angry. Like cornered rat angry.
As I grew up and my ability to buy and read more comics grew, I made an effort to track down more Shocker comics. I found those Scourge issues that explained why he was so scared. I read later stories that showed him struggling with his anxiety and insecurity. I collected the trading cards that featured him and learned even more. And by the time I unraveled the puzzle that Shocker had been to 11 year old Tim Stevens, you know what, I still loved him.
First, the look. It was weird, he is literally wearing a quilted costume, and the colors were not the kind I was used to seeing for heroes or villains. But I just dug it. I liked that it was odd and different and also sensible given his powers.
Second, he was smart. Yes he was a petty crook but he was also a largely self-taught engineer who had created his own gear. For some reason that made him feel so much more tragic to me. If he had managed to go to school instead of prison, he might have been a classmate of Peter Parker’s in college. Perhaps someone who helped Spider-Man, maybe even a costumed ally.
Instead, his stint in prison as a young man led him to create the Shocker persona and gear and ensured that he would never be anything but a criminal.
Third, there was that fear and insecurity. In a sea of arrogant geniuses and super powered beings, Schultz ended up standing out, ironically enough, as a palooka who was too scared of death to ever make it to big leagues of super villainy but too deep to walk away from wearing a costume and doing crimes. The idea of a career super villain who kind of hates what he does, who is sure he will die by some murderous vigilante’s hand any day now—just like his friends—but still does it because, hey, it is living, was and is fascinating to me.
Fourth, he’s versatile. He can take all of New York hostage by blacking out the city as he did in the 70s or he can be a sort of witless nice guy criminal as he was in the brilliant SUPERIOR FOES OF SPIDER-MAN. He can be almost too scared to fight Spider-Man on one page and then three pages later have a hold of Spider-Man’s head and be pouring on the power so intensely the Spidey is convinced that Shocker will shatter his skull any minute. He can be a noble criminal who knows he is stuck in this life but still has some morality as in LETHAL FOES OF SPIDER-MAN or a slimy opportunist who will do whatever to make a buck as he was under Dan Slott’s pen when he tried to kills a subway full of jurors. All of those actions feel consistent for Shocker because he is so low-key versatile, something you cannot exactly say about the Green Goblin.
So while I would never tell you The Shocker is Spider-Man’s best villain, push comes to shove, I will always have to admit he is my favorite. All because we were both in the right place at the right time in a store in Chatham, Massachusetts in the summer of 1992.