Monday, November 16, 2015


By Tom DeFalco, as told to David Michelinie
Photos: Mark Bagley & Mike Esposito
R. Parker, signs on | B. Sharen, in the red | J. Salicrup, indicted
T. DeFalco, shrieks

The Plot: Spider-Man beats up some drug dealers at Manhattan's Pier 7 and leaves them for the police. But a rival gang arrives first and kills the men, leaving Spider-Man to take the rap. Matt "Daredevil" Murdock vows to get to the bottom of the case. Meanwhile, the Kingpin of Crime orders his men to capture one of the High Evolutionary's Purifiers, which have been patrolling New York in recent days. Elsewhere, young Robbie Baldwin and his mother arrive in Manhattan to take in some Broadway shows.

Daredevil and Spider-Man cross paths at Pier 7 and join forces to clear the web-slinger's name. Elsewhere, Robbie is accosted by a group of muggers and transforms into Speedball, his kinetically charged alter ego. A group of Purifiers arrives and kills the muggers, and Speedball follows them back to their base. While Spider-Man and Daredevil comb the city for clues as to who killed the dealers, the Kingpin interrogates a captured Purifier and learns of the High Evolutionary's plans. Speedball also gets wind of their plot, which involves a transmitter atop the Empire State Building.

At Kingpin's order, one of his men plants himself at a seedy dive and waits for Spider-Man and Daredevil to show up and continue their interrogation roadshow. The man tells them that the drug dealers were killed by a new gang headquartered atop the Empire State Building. The heroes head there and find the Purifiers' transmitter. While Spidey and Daredevil fight the Purifiers, Speedball also arrives at the building and heads to the top floor to disable the transmitter. The Purifiers succeed and Speedball carries out his task but nearly plummets to his death; his life saved by Spider-Man.

Knowing Daredevil and Spider-Man will be after him for the planted information, the Kingpin arranges for the wall-crawler's name to be cleared, to get them off his back. Spider-Man is embraced as a hero once more and all returns to normal.

Continuity Notes: This issue features the first appearance of Speedball, future New Warrior and eventual defenseless punching bag for Marvel's writers circa CIVIL WAR and beyond. He apparently has a strong interest in theater.

The Kingpin wants the Purifiers stopped due to their association with the armored warriors who trashed his South American drug supply in PUNISHER ANNUAL #1 -- the first direct connection between any chapters of "The Evolutionary War".

X-Factor sure finished up their repairs on the Empire State Building in a hurry! It was demolished in their annual, but it's in one pristine piece here.

It's not exactly a continuity note, but it's worth noting that Daredevil and Spider-Man behave as if they're unaware of each other's secret identities in this story, even though at this point they've known for a couple years.

Circa 1988: Recently "Born Again," Matt Murdock works at a free legal clinic in Hell's Kitchen at this point in his career. The newspaper article he peruses on Spider-Man's apparent killing spree is written by Charlie Snow.

The Kingpin is accompanied through the entire issue by the Arranger, his right hand man for the majority of the eighties.

The High Evolutionary's Plot: Per one of the Purifiers (speaking to the High Evolutionary via a video monitor): "Operation 'Big Sleep' is set, master! At precisely midnight, our operatives in the Empire State Building will transmit a signal to render everyone in the city unconscious! The sterilization process can then proceed. By morning, all subjects with unacceptable DNA patterns will be eradicated!"

Okay, so for the record, so far: X-FACTOR ANNUAL = High Evolutionary wants to kill genetic offshoots such as the Subterraneans. PUNISHER ANNUAL = High Evolutionary wants to wipe out the drug trade, apparently due to its detrimental effects on humanity. SILVER SURFER ANNUAL = High Evolutionary wants to map "humanoid" DNA for unknown reasons. NEW MUTANTS ANNUAL = High Evolutionary wants to remove all mutants' powers and has a specific code against killing indiscriminately. SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL = High Evolutionary wants to discriminately kill everyone in New York with "unacceptable DNA".

I'm beginningto think the editorial mandate behind this crossover was just a memo that said something vague about DNA. Not all of the above items are mutually exclusive, mind you; they're just poorly connected and the back-and-forth with regards to whether or not the High Evolutionary wants to actually kill anyone is confusing.

My Thoughts: As I noted when I stared this project, as a kid, the only "Evolutionary War" chapters I read were the three Spider-Man installments. Of those three, this was my favorite. It was a pretty straightforward story, and it had that lovely retro-looking cover by Ron Frenz and John Romita.

I still like the issue today, and it's probably my favorite of the "Evolutionary War" installments I've read so far. Yes, a large part of that is simply that it's a Spider-Man story and Spider-Man is my favorite superhero. But beyond that we have a strong script from David Michelinie, who I generally always enjoy, and whose Spider-Man was the first run I read month in and month out (though I didn't start till after Todd McFarlane's ugly artwork had left the series). Michelinie has a good grasp of Peter Parker, and he throws some very funny Jonah Jameson scenes into the issue, too.

And of course there's the artwork, which is the strongest yet in any of these annuals. Mark Bagley is at the very beginning of his career here, and there's certainly some roughness around the edges -- but veteran inker Mike Esposito cleans his work up nicely, and while this is done in a very "Romita"esque style, there are definitely strong traces of the artist Bagley would eventually become. (I should note Bagley is one of my favorite comic book artists these days.)

But my absolute favorite thing about this issue is the fact that Kingpin, of all characters, now knows more about the High Evolutionary's plans than anyone save Apocalypse. Kingpin's captured Purifier sings like a canary off-panel, and when the interrogation is complete, the Kingpin is seen thinking about "'Eliminators'...'Purifiers'...'Gatherers'... All under the command of a being called the High Evolutionary?" It cracks me up that New Yorks' crime lord is the first person to make a connection between these disparate stories by pegging the Purifiers in South America as the same ones in New York, and that he's the first person (again, except for Apocalypse and perhaps the Silver Surfer) to even learn that the High Evolutionary is involved in all this!

If there's one criticism to be leveled against this issue, though, it's that Speedball feels completely extraneous to the story. His plot runs parallel to Spider-Man's, only intersecting for one page at the very end. If he was excised from the story he wouldn't be missed. His appearance here really reads like a mandate to introduce the new character into an "event" to get him a higher profile. (And the fact that the story is plotted by Marvel's editor-in-chief helps to solidify that theory as far as I'm concerned.)

Also, I should note that, as I mentioned some time back, this Omnibus doesn't include the backup stories -- which is fine in most cases, but in this case the first backup in the annual featured Speedball's origin. So he shows up here with his brand now power, completely inexperienced, but we never learn where that power came from. That particular backup might've been handy to include in the book.

But it's hard to go wrong with Michelinie and Bagley, and Spider-Man, Daredevil and the Kingpin. Not even the ever-unclear nature of the High Evolutionary's master plan can sink this one.


  1. But my absolute favorite thing about this issue is the fact that Kingpin, of all characters, now knows more about the High Evolutionary's plans than anyone save Apocalypse

    He does that, as we will two years later see on the first arc of GHOST RIDER, when Kingpin's an active part in preventing Deathwatch killing the whole city with a biotoxin. We also remember how he was a tad pissed off when Black Cat allowed the remote of a WMD land in Dr. Ock's hands forcing him to leave... his... own... city! The man's better connected than many, and uses that to prevent any wholesale destruction which would be bad for business, but I think he secretly also just loves NY.

    That's why he bribes Hulk to stay away from there by passing his worn pants to him.

    1. I never read the nineties GHOST RIDER series, though I've gathered that as far as Howard Mackie comics go, it's generally pretty well-liked. I do remember the Black Cat/Doc Ock bit, though.

      I thought the scenes of all the villains weeping over Ground Zero in the 9/11 AMAZING SPIDER-MAN issue were kind of tasteless and dumb, but I have no problem with that act infuriating the Kingpin. I think he really does love New York, like you said. That's certainly the direction the NetFlix DAREDEVIL series went with him.

    2. I think GHOST RIDER is again one of those things where a lot of the celebration comes from the artist particularly, in this case Mark Texeira, doing something differently in the beginning of the 90's. The plot is occasionally all over the place, and the subsequent retconning of everything you ever knew making Danny Ketch a half-brother to Johnny Blaze will take a lot away from both characters. I may give myself as more of a fan than I really am, it was our publisher's will mostly that I'll read it back in the day from our anthology book I was a subscriber to. Pretty much like the movie, enough fun things done right.

      But really, you can't but help loving Kingpin's role in various shenaningans. He's a rare character for whom Secret Wars II really worked; it's hilarious when everyone else is just wondering about a skyscraper turned into gold and Kingpin is already heisting the whole thing. He's like the Thing of the villains: works in just about any kooky story you drop him into.

    3. It's true; he's fought almost all the A-listers at this point, even Captain America and the X-Men!

  2. X-Factor sure finished up their repairs on the Empire State Building in a hurry! It was demolished in their annual

    If I remember correctly, the damage in their annual was still a result of "Fall of the Mutants" (when Ship careened into during the fight with Apocalypse). Your point still stands though, and I'd be curious if X-FACTOR showed the still-damaged Empire State Building after this annual (I can't recall offhand).

    1. I think I phrased that poorly. I didn't mean it was actively demolished in the annual; I was trying to say it had already been demolished when the Annual took place. I appreciate the correction, though, because as I look back at what I wrote, I see how you read it that way.

  3. Not a fan of McFarlane I take it ?
    I personally rather like McFarlane and Larsen and Bagley. I always felt their predecessor were a bit too static at times,
    and I never cared much for Romita sr.
    His Peter was too handsome and slick and his Spiderman too static and plastic. ( sacrilege I know )
    Peter was gangly, stringy and ordinary. Romita beefed him up too much and made him too handsome.
    The only artist that really drew a good adult Peter as Ditko originally intended him was Ron Frenz.

    Speaking of Ditko, ( yes this segue is why I went on about Romita. ) It's a shame that the back up story in this case wasn't included because Speedball was co created by DeFalco and Ditko.
    And this was one of the last few times that Ditko worked for Marvel.
    He worked on a Marvel Comic Presents story, with Larsen on inks in 89. ( I told you about that )
    And then he co created squirrel girl in 1992 with Wil Murray and his last Marvel work was for an Iron Man story in 1998.
    So while I am not a huge fan of ditko's art, its a shame to omit one of the co creator of spiderman and one of the co founders or the Marvel universe and original marvel bulletin pen, last few marvel stories.

    And he has, since he walked away from Spiderman in 66, never ever felt the need to return.
    That kind of conviction is admirable, he could have easily returned to Marvel and gotten a steady paycheck, but instead he stood by his convictions.
    I don't agree with his (political) ideas and views but I find his willingness to stand by his ideals and convictions admirable.

    And in the 80's he also drew bloody Transformers coloring books !
    And I had one of the damn things in the mid to late 90's by way of what amounts to a dollar store.
    The Autobot smasher, to be exact.

    1. We'll have to agree to disagree on John Romita, Snowkatt! I think he drew the definitive Spider-Man and the definitive members of his supporting cast. And, though it went against Ditko's vision, I loved that he glamorized the web-slinger's world so much.

      You're right that I dislike Todd McFarlane, though. Even as a kid, when I saw no flaws in the work of Rob Liefeld, I couldn't stand McFarlane's art. His people were all lumpy looking, like they were made out of Play-Doh, and I initially couldn't stand any of the changes he made to Spider-Man (smaller webs on the costume, bigger eyes, different webbing, etc.). I've since come to appreciate his version of Spidey, but only when it's drawn by other artists, like Larsen and Bagley.

      I wonder if Ditko receives royalty checks for all the Squirrel Girl appearances these days? Though even if he does, it's possible it goes against his philosophy to cash them. Now I'm imagining Marvel's accountants calling him every once in a while to ask why their accounts aren't balancing correctly.

    2. Well horses for courses, different tastes and all that.
      I only saw Romita's art work, long after I saw McFarlane, Larsen and Ron Frenz so it rather jarred with me as being too slick and glossy.
      I do like Romita jr's art, his 80's art. His more modern blocky art not so much.

      As a kid I liked McFarlane, but my favorite Spiderman artist is Larsen.
      My first Spiderman comic i got my hands on in the mid to late 90's was ASM 341, with Larsen on art duties.
      Even as a kid I hated Liefeld. My first exposure to him was X-force 4, the second part of a cross over with McFarlane's Spiderman 16.
      And even then I knew this was crap.

      Back in 2012 Ditko did say he had received no royalty cheques on the 4 Spiderman movies. Maybe this changed by now, but I find it hard to believe Ditko cares much.

    3. Well it certainly makes sense if you saw Romita's stuff after those others. I was exposed to Romita very early through MARVEL TALES reprints and some little digest comics reprinting the Doc Ock story from AMAZING 53 - 56 and the "stone tablet" stuff from 68 - 75. So that Romita/Mooney art is pretty much my definitive Spider-Man.

      (Which isn't to say I dislike later artists' versions -- as I said, I really like Bagley and Larsen, among others. I just couldn't/can't stand McFarlane, though it's more for his civilians than his Spider-Man, since I eventually got used to the design changes he made.)

      I can believe Ditko not receiving royalties for the Spider-Man movies, since Spidey was created long before the royalty system was in place. Stan Lee sued Marvel for some money from those films, and Ditko would never do such a thing. But Squirrel Girl was created well after Jim Shooter put a royalty program into place, so the situation there might be different.