I love the Shocker. No, not that one. Get your mind out of the gutter. For shame all of you, for shame.

I’m 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? I have to confess, it’s simply due to early exposure. I didn’t start collecting comics in earnest until my teens. However, every summer during my pre-teen years I lived with a comic book collector for one week when my family visited Chatham, Massachusetts.

Shocker
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

From Humble Beginnings

On Main Street in a store called the Mayflower, there were two spinner racks of comics towards the back half of the store. They filled every wire rack to the brim with recent Marvel and DC offerings. For that one week each summer, I was able to select a couple of comics for purchase. I read those two to five comics every day while we were up there and then brought them home to revisit them again and again. In the summer of 1992, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #364 was one such comic. On that cover, bedeviling a leaping Spider-Man? The Shocker.

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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 can only vaguely grasp. These characters have a 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’re 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. A small part of a much larger treasure map that would be so rewarding when you put it all together. So Schultz drops into this exciting secretive world, and I’m hooked.

Shocking, Isn’t It?

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 they were in every issue. You might catch a team-up with a b or c-level guy, 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. A villain like Shocker? Oh, he had so many secrets.

Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

Even amongst villains though, Shocker seemed different. Schultz wasn’t confident or bombastic, but afraid. Shocker didn’t 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 supervillain angry. Like cornered rat angry.

As I grew up and my ability to buy and read comics grew, I made an effort to track down more Shocker issues. Later I read stories that showed him struggling with his anxiety and insecurity. I collected the trading cards that featured him and learned even more. By the time I unraveled the puzzle that Shocker had been to eleven-year-old Tim Stevens, I loved him even more.

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A Superior(ly Silly) Foe

First, the look. It’s weird, he’s literally wearing a quilted costume, and the colors weren’t the kind I was used to seeing for heroes or villains. I just dug it. I liked that it was odd and different, and also sensible given his gimmick.

Second, he was smart. Yes, he was a petty crook, but he was also a largely self-taught engineer who 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, ensuring that he would never be anything but a criminal.

Third, there was that fear and insecurity. In a sea of arrogant geniuses and superpowered beings, Schultz ended up standing out, ironically enough, as a palooka who was too scared of death to ever make it to the big leagues but was in too deep to walk away from wearing a costume and committing crimes. The idea of a career supervillain who kind of hates what he does, who’s sure he’ll die by some murderous vigilante’s hand any day now but still does it because, hey, it’s living, was fascinating to me.

Shocker: The Versatile Man

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 pour on the power so intensely the Spidey is convinced that his skull will shatter any minute.

Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment.

He can be a noble criminal who knows he’s stuck in this life but still has some morality like in LETHAL FOES OF SPIDER-MAN or a slimy opportunist who’ll do anything to make a buck as he was under Dan Slott’s pen when he tried to kill a subway full of jurors. All of those actions feel consistent for Shocker because he’s so low-key versatile, something you can’t exactly say about the Green Goblin.

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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’s 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.

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