Comics : Marvel Comics Presents #50

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This story is part of an Arc: "Life's End"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Year of the Woman

This review was first published on: 2003.

Background...

We conclude this three-part arc featuring the Femme Fatales. The first two parts have been terrible, but sadly things will get worse before we're done!

In Detail...

"Breaking Point"
Marvel Comics Presents #50
Jun 1990 : SM Guest
Summary: Spider-Man/Wolverine Teamup (Credit SM Story)
Arc: Part 3 of "Life's End"
Editor:  Terry Kavanagh
Writer:  Erik Larsen
Pencils:  Erik Larsen
Inker:  Josef Rubinstein
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 Reprinted In: Wolverine vs. Spider-Man (TPB, Marvel Comics Presents)
Articles: Bloodlust, Critical Mass, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Whiplash

Spider-Man and Wolverine lie unconscious on the floor. Bloodlust stands over Spidey, her nails at the ready. Savage Dragon Guy now holds the little mutant girl by the throat in the crook of his arm, lifting her off the ground so that I'm surprised she doesn't choke to death. He tells her to get used to it. "Killing's our business and it's your first day on the job" he says. Whiplash stands to the side and notes that "They look dead already" just to clear things up in case you thought that Dragon Guy's comment implied that the two heroes were dead, which it sure seemed to do. Her hands are completely free of the whips which Spidey trashed so she must have some sort of cool eject system so that she doesn't have to drag crushed and torn up metal from the backs of her hands as she walks. The guy with the gun, who is wearing the exact same sort of outfit as the Burglar who murdered Peter Parker's Uncle Ben still holds his gun on the guy with the bag over his head. "Lemme off the wall- crawler" he begs his boss, "I owe him for what he did to my brother." (Ah! The Burglar's brother with the same taste in clothes! Don't worry. It gets worse.) Critical Mass puts his hands on his hips and laughs it up. "Did the two of them really think they had a chance against Critical Mass and his band of baddies?" he rhetorically asks.

But Massy is laughing too soon. It turns out that Spider-Man and Wolverine are both playing possum. They leap up simultaneously and attack. Wolvie goes right for Whiplash's face and, by the looks of the illustration, he rips about half of it away in a big gout of blood. Spidey settles for kicking Bloodlust in the jaw with his left foot and then acts surprised to learn two pages later that the blow didn't knock her unconscious. (I mean, come on, Spidey, she took adamantium claws to the gut and is still standing. You think you're going to take care of her with your foot?)

The two heroes leap about for a bit, dodging force blasts from Critical Mass. Spidey tells Wolvie he will "deal with Chunk Style here", adding, "You might want to check your pockets for missing lunch money when this is all over". Mass has degenerated down to yelling, "Die! Die! Die!" over and over but changes to "Hey, no fair!" when Spidey blinds him with a big glob of webbing over the eyes. Apparently, that's all the wall-crawler means by dealing with Chunk Style because he leaves Mass, jumps over to the Savage Dragon Guy, punches him in the face, breaking his nose ("Ow! By dose!" says Savage Dragon Guy), and makes with the jokes... "As for you, let go of the girl, keep your hands to yourself, and get some breath mints."

Wolverine, claws extended, leaps toward the guy dressed like the Burglar, telling him to say his prayers. Those prayers are answered ("There is a God!" says Burglar Guy) when Critical Mass zaps Logan right in the solar plexus with one of his force blasts. (Nice job dealing with Chunk Style, Spidey!) The head villain has burned the webbing off his face and the scorch marks can be seen around his eyes. He extends his hands and tells the good guys, "You won't stop me. I'm a bad dude."

Did I say Burglar Guy's prayers were answered? Sorry about that. In the next instant, Spidey comes up behind him and taps him on his shoulder. When Burglar Guy turns to look, Spidey socks him in the jaw in a nice panel styled after Ditko's original from Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962, page 11, panel 3 (though in the original panel Spidey says, "And then my fists will do the rest" and in this one he says, "I don't like your taste in clothing". ) The next panel in this story duplicates the next panel in Amazing Fantasy as Spidey grabs his unconscious opponent by the jacket and is shocked by the revelation of his identity. He says, "That... that face! It's... oh no, it can't be!" in both stories but then the versions part ways. In the original, Spidey sees that "It's the fugitive who ran past me! The one I didn't stop when I had the chance!" In the Larsen version, he sees that "It's my dentist! And he's wearing the same type clothing as the guy who shot my Uncle Ben!" (Yes, really, Pete's dentist! And don't forget he announced earlier that he owed Spidey "for what he did to my brother" which seems to imply that the relationship between the Burglar and Spidey's dentist is... not current continuity as far as I can tell.)

Now, then. Just to emphasize the point that the whole story has gone completely to hell, there's a glitch on the top of the next page. Even as Bloodlust lets out a growl and attacks the web-slinger (this is the part where Spidey is actually surprised that she is still conscious and where he makes yet another joke about how Wolverine is supposed to be dead), there is some printing above her that says "Presents", as in "Stan Lee Presents" though what it's doing there, I couldn't possibly tell you. Bloodlust probably would have been better off if she had stayed unconscious because all that happens here is that Spidey jumps out of her way and she crashes right through the floor.

In the background, Wolverine has Critical Mass by the throat, preparing to skewer him with his claws. In the foreground, Spidey is hailed by Savage Dragon Guy who has trouble speaking well with his broken nose. He has managed to get a hold of the little mutant girl with one arm while he points the dentist's gun right at her head. "Sdop id, all ob you!" he yells, "Id's ober! Wog away frob here. Go or I'll blow a hole id her head the size of Nebrazga. I bead id. I'b dot kiddig."

This is finally too much for the little crying mutant girl. She yells "No!" with such force that it rips through her gag. The wall-crawler's spider-sense kicks into high gear and he knows he must get out of there. Then the whole place explodes, four people are incinerated into skeletons (unless it's just four different angles of the same guy) and the whole warehouse comes apart. Only Spider-Man emerges from the rubble.

Sometime later, back at his apartment, Peter Parker spreads out the photos taken by his automatic camera which has apparently survived the explosion. Mary Jane peeks over his shoulder at the shots of Whiplash, the Savage Dragon Guy with the mutant girl, Critical Mass's belly and some incinerating skeletons. Pete can't believe it but in all the pictures there are "no shots of Wolverine, none of Arnie's face, and none of my dentist". His brown eyes wide with confusion, he tells MJ, "Nobody but me survived the explosion. No bodies were found in the rubble. This is getting too weird. Everybody I know turns out to be or is related to one of my foes. Harry, his dad, my old costume, Professor Warren, Ned Leeds, Frederick Foswell, Jean DeWolf's brother, Liz's stepbrother, Glory Grant's boyfriend. And now Flash's girlfriend, Arnie, and my dentist!" (Wow! Arnie is Flash's girlfriend? I didn't see that one coming!) Battered by all the coincidences and worried that "my being Spider- Man somehow causes all of my casual acquaintances to turn into super-powered bad guys", Pete is no longer sure "what's real anymore". He gets down on his knees and hugs Mary Jane around her legs, begging her to help him. MJ puts her hand on Pete's head and assures him that she is real, that he's going to be fine, and that she loves him.

Now, that's not much of an ending but at least it would make some semblance of sense. Unfortunately, there's still one more page to go. The scene shifts to an airport in Kansas. Wolverine is there with the little mutant girl and her father who are both in disguise. Logan tells the dad "When I heard you were abducted, I gave your pal, Fred, a call. And then I called some of my own friends. It was a challenge to find you. But I'm not a man without resources. It was sheer luck that Spider-Man happened by. I made sure when I spotted him that he saw me." Let's pause for a moment. First, I do have a theory as to who Fred is but I'll hold that until we get to the end. Second, what friends did Wolvie call? Whoever they were, they didn't show up, so why does Erik even bother to mention them? Third, we now learn that Wolverine wanted Spidey involved and made sure he was seen (by just standing on the roof, apparently) in which case why didn't he just explain he was alive instead of playing this silly game with the fight and the pretending that he didn't want Spider-Man around? Let's resume.

"I guess desperation is the best teacher, kid" Wolvie says, "You could've blown up the building and teleported us to safety at any time. Push came to shove, you learned fast. You may be the most powerful mutant ever. It'll be up to your father to train you to use your powers wisely" and so on and so forth. He has set up new names and new identities for the father and child, given them new appearances and arranged for them to live in Kansas. We now finally see the father's face. It is recognizable to long-time comic fans even though blonde hair, glasses, a blonde mustance, and stubble on the chin alter it. If the face isn't familiar, don't worry. The clues come fast and furious in the last two panels. The man says "Holy Moley" and mentions that he's an orphan. The mutant girl tells us "We've been trying to keep a low profile ever since daddy lost his super-powers." And finally, Wolverine gives a salute to the man, calling him "Captain" as well as referring to him by his new name of "Mr. Beck". "Good luck" he tells them. "Good bye, friend" says the man who was once was the original Captain Marvel.

Not the original Marvel Comics Captain Marvel but the original Fawcett character from the 1940s. "Holy Moley" was his favorite expression. Billy Batson, Cap's secret identity, was an orphan. "Mr. Beck" refers to C.C. Beck, the original illustrator and co-creator of the character and I assume "Fred" refers to Freddy Freeman, the secret identity of Captain Marvel Jr. All very clever, I suppose, but what does any of this have to do with anything? With the coincidences? With Critical Mass? What precisely were his powers anyway? What about Pete's dentist being the Burglar's brother? What about this kidnapping? Why did these villains bother to commit it? How did they even get together? Does any of this make even the slightest bit of sense? I would love to tell you that all of this is explained but all I see is a little yellow banner in the lower right hand corner of the last panel that reads, "End".

For all I know, Critical Mass, the Savage Dragon Guy and Spider-Man's dentist all bought the farm in the warehouse explosion but Whiplash and Bloodlust survive. They join up with Knockout and Mindblast, two other female super- villains, and tackle the web-slinger as the Femme Fatales in ASM #340 (October 1990) and again in ASM #343 (January 1991). They hang out with lots of other super-women in the burgeoning Femizonia created by Superia in Captain America #389-391 (Early August-Early September 1991). Whiplash breaks away from the team, joins up with Killer Shrike, Orca, and Shockwave, fights the female White Tiger and loses to her all in a few pages of Heroes For Hire #4, (October 1997). Nobody's taken much notice of the Femmes since then which I guess is just as well except Whiplash can be seen hanging out at the Bar with No Name in Tangled Web #13 (June 2002)

In General...

I love Erik Larsen. I really do! But this early writer/artist effort just doesn't have much to show for it. Even the overriding "coincidence" theme seems to be nothing more than a coincidence itself by the end of the story. And that last page with "Captain Marvel" just seems to be Erik admitting that he made it all up on the run.

Overall Rating...

By the time all is said and done, there isn't a thing about this whole story that is worth more than a half a web.