Monday, June 9, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #48

"DOUBLE DEFEAT!"
Writer: Roger Stern | Penciler: Marie Severin | Inker: Bruce Patterson
Letterer: Rick Parker | Colorist: Ben Sean | Editor: Denny O'Neil
Funeral Arranger: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Spider-Man manages to smash his way out of Belladonna's trap, but finds that she is not on the other side of the glass porthole as he had believed -- it was only a video screen with which he was speaking. The Prowler attempts to kill Spider-Man, but Belladonna's monitor explodes, wounding the villain. Spider-Man turns the Prowler over to the police and heads home. Soon after, the Prowler escapes from Bellevue Hospital and sets out to find Belladonna.

The next day, Peter Parker heads to a property manager's office and learns that the loft where Belladonna's trap was set is leased to Desiree Vaughn-Pope. Spider-Man heads to Desiree's apartment but finds her sister Narda in residence instead. After he explains to Narda that he believes her sister to be Belladonna, Narda tells the web-slinger that Desiree is on her way to Roderick Kingsley's office for a meeting. Worried that Belladonna will strike again, Spider-Man departs immediately.

However as soon as he has left, Narda reveals that she is actually Belladonna, and calls Kingsley to tell him Spider-Man has joined forces with her and is en route to kill him. She then orders her men to meet her at their hideout for a new assignment. Spider-Man soon drops into Kingsley's loft, and the forewarned designer guns him down. Meanwhile, Narda heads for her hideout, but is trailed by the Prowler. She attempts to pay him off, but he prepares to kill her anyway before escaping with her money. Spider-Man arrives and saves her, having used a dummy in a fake costume to trick Kingsley, then takes out her men when they arrive moments later. Narda and the Prowler are arrested and Spider-Man departs, considering that perhaps he's actually won for a change.

The Sub-Plots: Peter receives a call from J. Jonah Jameson, recently reinstalled publisher of the Daily Bugle, which gets Peter thinking that perhaps Jameson wants him back on staff. Soon after, Debra Whitman drops by Peter's apartment to say hello and the two wind up going out for coffee after a malfunctioning light bulb sets fire to an oversized teddy bear Peter has kept in his apartment ever since his housewarming party some time before. While there, Deb comments that she's "never talked to a man in his bathrobe before", which seems to be a coded admission that she is a virgin.
The next day, before visiting the property manager's office, Peter calls Aunt May about a visit, but she states that she's going out "motoring with with a friend" -- the still unnamed Nathan Lubensky.

Continuity Notes: Belladonna references issue #43 as she notes that Spider-Man's webbing can now stand up to her deadly gas.

After escaping from Belladonna's death trap, Spider-Man runs once more into Detective Sergeant Snider. Snider is unexpectedly cordial to Spidey, prompting the web-slinger to feel unusually guilty when he runs out on the cops after turning the Prowler over to them. As he swings away, Spider-Man contrasts Sinder with Lt. Keating, last seen in issue #46, and recalls that he was recently cleared of all charges in the death of Captain George Stacy in the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #186.
The previous issue is referenced when the new Prowler recalls stealing his gear from Hobie Brown, the original Prowler -- and then it comes up again as Peter recalls that Desiree dislikes Roderick Kingsley about as much as Belladonna.

When Spider-Man speaks with Narda, she fills him in on her sister's feud with Kingsley, who attempted to buy out their company and who then planted a story about their cosmetics causing skin disorders when they refused to play ball.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "When I first created [Roderick Kingsley], I described him as a cross between Rex Reed, who was this famous newspaper columnist and television personality at the time, and Jim Backus, who played Thurston Howell III on the old GILLIGAN'S ISLAND television show. ... Mike Zeck read my description of Kingsley and drew him in some very effeminate poses. When the book came out, some readers complained because they thought we were making fun of gays in the fashion industry. Kingsley wasn't gay; he was just a little effeminate." -- COMICS CREATORS ON SPIDER-MAN, Titan Books, 2004
Also On Sale This Month: Our hero meets Madame Web in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #210, and Machine Man in MARVEL TEAM-UP #99.

Spectacular Spider-Mail: More letters predating Stern's run appear in this issue. This time, readers sound off on issue #42 and FANTASTIC FOUR #218, with which that story crossed over. And in response to one reader's concern that SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN has become like MARVEL TEAM-UP with no sub-plots and no ongoing continuity, the editorial response states that "Returning SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN to its original premise is exactly what Rollickin' Roger Stern is working hard at right now..."

My Thoughts: The "Belladonna saga" is a relatively obscure Spider-Man storyline, notable mainly for being some of Roger Stern's earliest work with the character, and for introducing Roderick Kingsley, who will go on to retroactively become a major player in the web-slinger's history. Yet I can't help loving this series of issues. In a way it's a prototype for Stern's Hobgoblin stories. We have a mysterious villain(ess) whose true motives are unknown, we have a red herring as to her true identity (her sister no less, lest we forget that lookalike brothers play a role in the Hobgoblin's reveal as well), we have Spider-Man always one step behind her much of the time, and it all takes place over the span of multiple issues. There's even a scene with a criminal, mildly disfigured by an explosion, escaping from the hospital by stealing a nurse's car -- something which also happens in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #245, right in the middle of Stern's Hobgoblin stories!
I actually like Belladonna as a villainess, too -- Her "costume" is pretty cool in a forties throwback sort of way, and I like that she wants to kill Spider-Man simply because he scares her, and really for no other reason. She even tells him at this issue's start that "I hope you'll realize that this is purely personal, Spider-Man! I just don't like you!" I wouldn't have minded seeing Belladonna stick around as the distaff version of the Kingpin -- Spider-Man has had very few, if any, strong female opponents over the decades, after all, and she could have made for a good recurring foe -- but such was not her fate. This is her final appearance to date, and I highly doubt anyone is clamoring for a SPIDER-MAN: BELLADONNA LIVES mini-series by Stern. I mean anyone other than me, that is.
The new Prowler is a character I'm fine never seeing again, however. He fills his role here nicely as the "third wheel" wild card in the Spider-Man/Belladonna conflict, but beyond that, there's not much to the guy. Hobie Brown will contiue to lay low for several more years, but eventually he will return as the heroic Prowler, and he's really the only guy I want to see in the costume (though I believe that Todd DeZago and Mike Wieringo will do their own "criminal steals the Prowler's gear" in SENSATIONAL SPIDER-MAN sometime in the late nineties).

I didn't comment on Marie Severin's artwork last month, but I feel I should again note that she is the strongest artist among Stern's collaborators thus far. Her Spider-Man is still completely on-model with the John Romita version, and her depictions of the supporting cast continue to impress as well. Plus we have a cover by the great Frank Miller to cap things off -- and I'm pretty sure it's the only time Roderick Kingsley has ever headlined cover on his own (since that's a dummy in the Spider-Man suit he's shot up).
The Belladonna storyline may not be for everyone, but I really like it. Strong artwork, good use of the supporting cast, and a genuinely compelling mystery serve to keep readers engrossed all the way to the end. It's a shame Belladonna's story has come to an end, but she's certainly not the greatest of the enemies Stern will throw at Spider-Man.

Next Issue: Spider-Man meets -- the Smuggler!

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