Spider-Man: Bells of Doom!! is one of a series of audio adventures based around your friendly neighbourhood Spider-Man. When I was a very young kid I thought that phrase meant that he was only the Spider-Man for friendly neighbourhoods, and I always wanted to see the Spider-Man who swung around the hostile neighbourhoods. Over four decades later, I still reckon that’s a great idea. Honestly, I’m as astonished as you are that Marvel hasn’t hired me yet.
“Bells of Doom!!!” was released in 1974 by Power Records, who had previous form in that regard: steady releases based around established franchises such as Marvel and DC comics, Planet of the Apes, Star Trek, and a lot of classic monster stories: Frankenstein, Dracula, Werewolf, etc.
Some of the earlier releases were “Book & Record” combos, where the “book” was frequently the comic-book from which the audio version has been adapted. “The Action ‘Comes Alive’ as You Read!!” boasts the cover of those releases. Sadly, that’s not the case here — no free comic for Unky Rusty, folks. Insert sad face here. Probably just as well, though, because unlike some of the others in the series, “Bells of Doom!!!!” is an original adventure.
The format is a 7″ disc, to be played at 33⅓ rpm. For those readers listening in metric, that’s a 17.78cm disc. 33⅓ rpm is the same in both imperial and metric — and, indeed, in Kelvin — though of course we’re less inclined to use fractions these days, so it should be 33.33333 etc. By rights I should carry on to the end, but the internet doesn’t have enough space for all those threes and I don’t have the time to type them.
Unusually for a 7″ disc of the era, the sleeve is actually a little taller than it is wide, 8″ (20.32cm), though I’m not sure why that is. My first thought was that it might be to match the size of the “Book & Record” releases, but they appear to be taller again.
Anyway, what’s it about? Well, in this 8-minutes long adventure, sound engineer Sean Strickland — in the guise of Ultra-Sonic-Man — has been zapping buildings throughout New York with his sonic cannon in order to bring Spider-Man out into the open so that he can kill him and thus prove to recording executives that he (Strickland, not Spidey) is the greatest sound engineer in the world. The way you do.
Being only eight minutes long, and given that the characters have to keep explaining to the listeners where they are and what they’re doing, it’s all over way too soon. Some of the other releases in the series are more substantial: “The Mark of the Man-Wolf” is almost twice as long.
Ultra-Sonic Man was created specially for this record, and, well, you can tell. He’s a bit rubbish compared to most Spider-Man villains. Aside from willingly giving away his secret identity the very first time Spidey meets him — which kinda negates the point of wearing a mask — he doesn’t even want to rule the world or anything: he just wants to cause a lot of damage and kill Spidey in order to pad out his C.V. What was so wrong with adding in a bunch of made-up hobbies like swimming and reading the way the rest of us do?
A line from the record — “I’ll prove that I’m the greatest sound-man of all time, and I’m starting right now!” — was sampled by recording artists Stetsasonic and MF Doom, so Ultra-Sonic Man does end up with some sort of career in the music industry beyond this adventure. Even though he doesn’t deserve it.
I’ll be blunt, folks. “Bells of Doom!!!!!” is not the greatest Spider-Man story ever told. But you don’t have to take my opinion, you can find that out for yourself… it’s available right now on YouTube for you to attempt to enjoy. (I don’t know what the copyright situation is with that recording, so it might not last on YouTube. If the link doesn’t work, try searching.)