Monday, June 30, 2014

PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #54

"TO SAVE THE SMUGGLER!"
Words: Roger Stern | Plot & Pictures: Marie Severin | Inks: Jim Mooney
Letters: Jim Novak | Colorist: Ben Sean | Scrutiny: Dennis O'Neil
Medic: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Spider-Man stops a car chasing an ambulance, but learns that the car contains police officers while the ambulance, transporting a witness, was hijacked by criminals. The web-slinger catches up with the ambulance, but the criminals escape, distracting our hero by way of attempting to knock a marquee onto nearby civilians. The web-slinger finds that one of the villains dropped a matchbook from a restaurant called the Chrysanthemum and the Sword, then heads to a nearby police precinct, where he learns that the kidnapped witness is the Smuggler.

Later, after spending the day at Empire State University as Peter Parker, Spider-Man heads to the restaurant, aboard a boat in New York Harbor, to investigate. He finds the Smuggler tied up below decks and frees him. They fight their way out together past the restaurant's samurai guards, but the Smuggler is shot in the escape. Spider-Man rescues him just as the police arrive. The restaurant's owner demands that the authorities arrest the webbed wonder for terrorizing their establishment, but Spider-Man exposes the place as a drug-smuggling front, using patrons' doggie bags to get the goods into New York. The wall-crawler is cleared by the police and the Smuggler taken back into custody.

The Sub-Plots: Phil Chang is filling in at Debra Whitman's desk because Deb is sick. This prompts Peter to recall that he wanted to speak with Deb about a "jerk" named Rifkin who she recently started dating.

Moments later, the sub-plot no one demanded -- grad student Marcy Kane suddenly and mysteriously wearing various head coverings -- is revisited, as she claims the turban she's now sporting is the newest fashion fad.
Continuity Notes: Steve Hopkins has been tracking Marcy's assorted head-gear, and notes that she's had different things atop her noggin "for the past month" -- meaning that one month's time has elapsed since issue #46, the first appearance of Marcy in a head-scarf. The rarely seen Professor Sloan, head of the Empire State physics department and Peter's boss as a teaching assistant, puts in a single-panel appearance as well.

The car pursuing the ambulance at the story's start has been commandeered by the overbearing Lt. Kris Keating, who chews Spider-Man out for interfering in his chase. He also name-drops the Maggia, Marvel's answer to the Mafia, as the Smuggler's kidnappers.
Detective Lou Snider also puts in a return appearance, still far more amiable toward Spider-Man than most police authority figures. He coerces the wall-crawler to come to the station house for a statement, where he reveals the Smuggler's true name of Erik Josten and encapsulates Josten's history as a European mercenary and super-villain named Power Man. SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #49 is referenced, as are AVENGERS #21 -- Power Man's first appearance -- and POWER MAN #21, the issue where Luke Cage battled Josten for the Power Man name. Snider also mentions that Josten served Count Nefaria as a member of his Lethal Legion, though no issue is footnoted.
The Smuggler is said to be losing his powers since they were siphoned off by Nefaria -- a process which also resulted in the Living Laser's unstable condition in IRON MAN #153. Snider explains that as a result, Kris Keating convinced the Smuggler to turn state's evidence in exchange for immunity from the U.S. government.

Keating shows up at Snider's precinct house and an enmity is displayed between the two lawmen, on-page together for the first and only time, prompting Spider-Man to depart.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "Once I asked Marie [Severin] for a scene with two ambulance drivers, and she drew Stan [Lee] and his brother Larry [Leiber]. It didn't look as much like them after Jim Mooney inked the page, but I scripted them as Stan and Larry anyway. I'm still surprised I got away with it." -- COMICS CREATORS ON SPIDER-MAN, Titan Books, 2004
What Stern doesn't note in the above comment is that the "Stanley" and "Larry" presented in this issue are cold-blooded Maggia hitmen! "Well, what are you fools waiting for?" Stanley asks his men when Spider-Man shows up. "He's not bulletproof, you know!"

Also On Sale This Month: Madame Web returns in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #216, as Spidey takes another break from MARVEL TEAM-UP, once more turning headliner duties over to the Hulk.

Spectacular Spider-Mail: There's no letter column this month, however last issue, which we skipped, did have one. In it, Stern thanked Bill Mantlo for the fill-in story, then responded to comments on issue 50, addressing the fact that Spider-Man's web-shooters always seem to run out of fluid simultaneously, chalking it up to bad luck, and also speaking to a fan-cited mistake regarding the continuity of the Tiger amulets, with the tease to read POWER MAN AND IRON FIST for the answer to the apparent goof. Readers also sound off on Aunt May's engagement and call out an erroneous footnote regarding Luke Cage's appearance in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #122 (it should have been listed as 123).

My Thoughts: A servicible issue. Not outstanding, but not terrible, either. The highlights are in the returns of Kris Keating, always a fun thorn in Spider-Man's side, and the unusually friendly Lou Snider -- and the rivalry between the two. Unfortunately, as noted above, I believe this is the only time we see these two interact on the same page. Keating remains a semi-regular recurring character for the remainder of Stern's SPECTACULAR run, but Snider disappears entirely for quite some time. Each man has a single appearance during Stern's time on AMAZING SPIDER-MAN.

But anyway -- I like seeing Spider-Man interact with different police types. Following the death of Captain George Stacy -- far and away the best of those characters -- in the late sixties, Spidey had no regular police contact for a while. Jean DeWolfe was eventually created by Bill Mantlo in the pages of MARVEL TEAM-UP, but she was too much of a genre stereotype -- the tough-as-nails lady cop -- for me to take seriously.

Also, on the subject of law enforcement, Stern throws in a nice bit at the story's conclusion where Spider-Man, surprised at the cops' presence so close to the restaurant, asks what they're doing there. Snider sarcastically responds that they did their jobs -- used police work to get to the bottom of the case. It's a funny reminder that, from time to time, the police can be just as competent as a superhero.
As far as the issue's main story goes, it's interesting to see Stern return to the Smuggler so quickly. Though possibly this was Marie Severin's idea, as she is credited as the issue's plotter (which even gets her a "Written by" credit in the ROGER STERN OMNIBUS collection). Which, when you think about it, seems really odd since Severin did not pencil either issue 49 or issue 50, the two stories featuring the Smuggler. Perhaps she read those installments and liked them or just wanted to draw the guy for some reason. Or maybe her contribution to the "plot" was something simpler like, "Spider-Man has to rescue and work with an enemy", and Stern ran from there. Who can say?

Also, it may be worth noting that one of the samurai in the employ of the Chrysanthemum and the Sword is named Onihashi. The only other Onihashi I've ever heard of is the Arashikage family swordsmith in the pages of Larry Hama's G.I.JOE. That series was still a year or two away at this point, and Onihashi's first appearance a couple more years beyond that -- which leads me to wonder where Stern came up with the name. At first I considered that it could be something from literature, but a Google search of the name turns up only G.I.JOE related results, or results where it's a generic Japanese family name. Makes me wonder if there was an Onihashi who hung around the Marvel offices or was in some other way an acquaintance of both Stern and Hama.

The final item of note regarding this issue is the cover. We saw a quote from Stern last week in which he referred to it as "really sweet". And it is. It's Spider-Man dropped into one of Frank Miller's favorite scenarios, a samurai fight. The black background really sells the thing, too. Not even the garishly colored masthead can detract from the power of the image. But the thing that I find most interesting about is, per the signatures on the left-hand side of the image, this is Frank Miller inked by fellow eighties superstar Walter Simonson! I don't think I've ever seen that combination before. It's a fantastic collaboration.

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