Monday, September 8, 2014

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #236

"DEATH KNELL!"
Writer: Roger Stern | Artists: John Romita, Jr. & Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Joe Rosen | Colorist: Bob Sharen | Editor: Tom DeFalco
Araneophile: Jim Shooter

The Plot: Will-O'-The-Wisp reveals that Tarantula is under his mental direction, but soon after he explains, the mutated mercenary reasserts his primitive brain and attempts to devour James Melvin. Spider-Man rescues Melvin and spirits him to safety on a rooftop while Wisp and Tarantula fight.

Wisp disengages from Tarantula to pursue Spider-Man, but the web-slinger has already hidden Melvin by the time Wisp finds his quarry. Spider-Man leads Wisp on a chase around the city, eventually subduing him by tricking him into flying through three dynamos. Spider-Man takes the weakened Wisp back to Melvin, explaining along the way that Melvin doesn't need to die because the Department of Justice will soon bring the Brand Corporation down.

But the Tarantula has found Melvin and is once again about to kill him when Spider-Man intervenes. Will-O'-The-Wisp realizes that violence may not be the answer and flies Melvin to safety among the police gathering below. Tarantula, frustrated over losing his prey, jumps off the roof, begging the authorities to finish him. As he falls, he is gunned down by a hail of police bullets.

Will-O'-The-Wisp mentally coerces Melvin to confess about Brand's illegal activities, then departs. Later, Roxxon president John T. Gamelin makes a televised statement condemning Brand and promises to shut the subsidiary down immediately.

The Sub-Plots: None, as this is entirely a wall-to-wall action story. This does, however, mark the end of the Brand Corporation plot dating back to SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #57.

Continuity Notes: During the opening scene, Will-O'-The-Wisp explains how he and Tarantula survived their apparent share demise last issue, and how the Tarantula came to be under his control.
Roxxon president Gamelin (who for some reason looks like a hermit) and Chairmain of the Board D'Angelo conspire to keep a broadcast of the Spider-Man/Tarantula/Wisp fight off the air for fear their company could be implicated by the skirmishing group's chatter. The reporter who briefly covers the fight, Gerardo Jiminez, is initially seen wishing he had been sent to cover the congressional campaign of Sam Wilson, a.k.a. Captain America's former partner, the Falcon.
Uncle Rog Speaks: "People are always saying, 'Peter Parker is like Everyman.' No, Peter Parker isn't Everyman. Peter Parker is the smart guy in your class. He's the wizard. He comes up with all this stuff." -- The Spider-Man Crawlspace Podcast, episodes 35 & 37, 2008
The Spider's Web: Kudos are paid to the Cobra story in issue 231, with special thanks for bringing back Spider-Man's underarm webs. Also, a reader suggests that Marvel celebrate Spider-Man's 25th anniversary with an eight month-long story beginning in the anniversary month of AMAZING FANTASY #15 and ending in the month AMAZING SPIDER-MAN debuted, crossing over into SPECTACULAR and MARVEL TEAM-UP. ...Did this guy eventually get a job at the Marvel marketing department in the nineties??

Also On Sale This Month: PETER PARKER #74 writes Deb Whitman out of the picture while bringing back the Black Cat. Spidey and Tigra compare Agility scores in MARVEL TEAM-UP #125.

My Thoughts: Man, "suicide by cop" would've been heavy material for a primetime drama in 1982, never mind an issue of SPIDER-MAN! I am a huge fan of Roger Stern's time on the web-slinger, as should be quite evident by now, but I'll be the first to admit that he hasn't taken many risks yet. His stories, while not formulaic, have tended to favor the patterns established by Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and John Romita all those years before -- which is not a bad thing! A "back to classics" approach is usually exactly what I favor for superhero serials.

And as a bonus, when Stern proceeds as described above, fitting his stories into a sort of pre-existing mold, it's downright shocking when he pursues a different tack and gives a villain a send-off like this. To date, no other main villain has definitively perished in one of Stern's spider-stories. Some have had ambiguous fates, but there have been no on-panel deaths. But here we have the mutated Tarantula cut down by New York's finest, by his own choice since he cannot bear to live in his new form.
Even more tragic is the fact that the Tarantula meets his end by his own choice -- not the choice of suicide, but the choice to become this monstrous thing in the first place. Brand offered him the opportunity to become a super-operative two issues ago and he accepted. For all we know, they probably would have forced him into the experiment had he declined -- but he didn't. He embraced the idea as a way to get back at Spider-Man. Surely this thought, that he has been forced to suicide by his own actions, must have flashed through his rapidly deteriorating brain as he leapt into the hail of gunfire.

Quite a tragic, compelling, and touching send-off for a second-rate villain from the seventies. Even after all the awful things he's done, I can't help mourning for Anton Miguel Rodriquez. No one should meet so gruesome an end -- and Stern's willingness to branch out and explore this idea makes the end to this issue one of his stronger efforts.

Still don't like Will-O'-The-Wisp, though.
Next Issue: A fill-in script over a Stern plot brings us a done-in-one adventure pitting Spider-Man against one of Daredevil's classic...ish foes.

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