Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #191

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This story is part of an Arc: "24 Hours To Doomsday"
     Part 1 / Part 2

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 1998.

Background...

Poor Spencer Smythe. He started out his comic book life as a respectable scientist who had the misfortune of teaming up with J. Jonah Jameson after inventing his spider-slayer. (He was so respectable that Peter Parker even went to visit his Manhattan lab in ASM #28.) But by the time he was done, he was a stereotypical raving genius/madman villain type, too obsessed with his hatred of JJJ and Spider-Man to realize he was killing himself. And then the final indignity... After his death, he suffered the dread Baron Zemo syndrome, being replaced by a heretofore unheard of son.

Spencer's case is in fact much sadder than Zemo's... or even Kraven's for, in his case, his son, Alastair, is a true weenie if there ever was one. Believe me, there are no plans to feature Alastair in "Looking Back" any time soon. Spencer, on the other hand, can be seen right here and now. It's the least we can do for the unfortunate slob.

Editor: Steady on there, Al! Remember that Spider-Man was created as an Everyman, a sort of Anti-Hero. Well, Alistair was just an Anti-Villain... an obese, self-centred, sexist good-for-nothing who is, perhaps, the first villain to truly say something meaningful about the human condition, by illuminating through juxtaposition the narrow, centralist attitude we have towards evil in a modern dysfynctional society. "Surely," he says, "if alternative story-smiths can redirect and challenge our thinking with heroes who have human flaws, then why can the same not be true for villains."

"Must all villains be sinister, powerful, conspiracy-wielding masterminds, or brutal, death-dealing battle-worthy conveyers of silent death? No!" (Alistair insists). "No! There must be a place in our world for the criminal who is pointless without being amusing, stupid without being interesting, and slobbish without being challenging... Surely?"

In Detail...

"Wanted For Murder: SPIDERMAN!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #191
Apr 1979 : SMURF 191.500 : SM Title
Summary: Spider-Slayer
Arc: Part 1 of "24 Hours To Doomsday"
Editor:  Marv Wolfman
Writer:  Marv Wolfman
Pencils:  Keith Pollard
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Al Milgrom
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 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #9
Articles: Betty Brant, Jameson, J. Jonah, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Robertson, Joe "Robbie", Professor Spencer Smythe

J. Jonah Jameson is on a rampage. He believes that Spider-Man killed his son (as covered in the web-slinger's battle with the Man-Wolf in the previous issue) and he is on the phone with District Attorney Tower trying to get a warrant out for our hero's arrest. Of course, there's no body, since John Jameson is not dead. While falling off the Brooklyn Bridge, he was teleported with a loud "fwish" to a pocket dimension by a dying Professor Spenser Smythe.

(Going to backtrack a minute here. In ASM #186, a shadowy figure at a large video screen is revealed to be, in some way, responsible for the Chameleon's attack upon Spider-Man. In #187, Electro tells Captain America that he is getting paid 25 grand for destroying a power station and it is implied that his employer is the same mysterious figure. In #189, the figure is behind the new attack of the Man-Wolf. It is finally revealed in #190 that the mystery man is Professor Smythe and that he is dying from radiation poisoning. All those years of using unsafe materials to concoct his spider-slayers have caught up with him and he wants revenge on JJJ and Spidey. Do all these behind-the-scenes shenanigans actually fit together into a coherent master plan? Weeeelllll... not really. In any event, the Man-Wolf next appears in a Spidey comic in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #3 (1981), returning from the other dimension. (Is there any good reason why Smythe would send him there rather than simply kill him? Ummm... don't rush me... I'm thinking! I'm thinking!)

Anyway, JJJ thinks his son is dead but Blake Tower won't do a thing about it because there is no corpse. Nevertheless, Jonah has written a scathing editorial denouncing Spidey and the mock-up of the next morning's front page of the Daily Bugle is all set up.... the headline proclaiming, "Spider-Man Killer!. It's not enough. This is a Jameson rampage unlike any other. He conceives of the idea of lowering the price of the paper to a dime to entice readers to his editorial. He leaves his office, pushing past Marla Madison and actually shoving a reporter named Lessman out of his way.

Now, somewhere in the hinterlands between pages 2 and 3, Joe "Robbie" Robertson has cut out JJJ's editorial for (in panel one of page 3) Jonah bursts into his city editor's office to complain about it. Robbie explains that the Legal Department considers the editorial libelous. "I don't give a hoot about Legal, Robertson", says Jameson. "Spider-Man killed my son! I won't stop hounding him until I see him nailed!" "Like another innocent man was nailed, Jonah?" replies Joe. (Hmmm. So, is Spidey a Christ figure now or what?)

Jonah Jameson will not be mollified. He wants to see Spidey "strung up on Times Square, so help me!" Joe tries to change the subject. He has a photo assignment and would like Jonah's permission to assign Peter Parker. But JJJ refuses. "I don't know how, but there's always been a connection between Parker and Spider-Man. I want Parker fired... as of right now!"

But, as Jameson stalks off with Marla, Joe ignores his orders from his boss. He has no intention of firing Peter Parker. On the contrary, he tries to call Peter to offer him the assignment. But Peter's line is busy. He is in his dark room, developing photos and on the phone to Mary Jane Watson. It was back in issue #183 that MJ blew Peter off by turning down his engagement. (Check it out in the Looking Back segment of PPP Volume 3 #5.) Now he tries to get back in her good graces. MJ agrees to one date... "tomorrow, six o'clock, in front of the disco, don't be late".

Pete hangs up the phone feeling good. With MJ back in the picture, he hopes he can get Betty to lose interest in him (Betty's been hot for Pete's bod since she reappeared in #184) and go back to her husband Ned Leeds. Pete also has finished his last gym class and fulfilled that missing credit needed to graduate. "I'm ready to pick up my diploma tomorrow." As soon as he hangs up the phone, it rings again. It is Robbie with the photo assignment, which involves going to the King Tut exhibit. Once Robbie agrees to get Pete two free tickets (one for him and one for MJ), our hero changes to his Spidey gear and goes web-slinging, feeling on top of the world.

Well... not entirely. He is still haunted by the incident the night before with the Man-Wolf. John Jameson had returned to his human self and Spidey held him by the hand as he dangled off the Brooklyn Bridge. But somehow John "squirmed free" and then disappeared... "vanished into nothingness".

Spidey's reverie is interrupted as, below him, he sees a speeding green sedan. He stretches some webbing across the street to stop the speeder but the car goes right through it "like it was made outta paper". His webbing has been doing a lot of this sort of thing lately and Spidey has been meaning to re-work the formula but hasn't found the time. Now isn't the time either as the car heads right for an "old lady" (who doesn't look all that old, really) who is crossing the street. Pete leaps down and, using split-second timing, grabs the woman and leaps away from the car. And what is his thanks for this? She belts him with her handbag while screaming, "You're a murderer! You killed poor Mr. Jameson's son!"

The web-slinger makes his escape from his rescuee ("Lady, you don't need help! What are you anyway? A black belt with the pocketbook?") and leaps off in pursuit of the car. He finds it, still speeding, heading right for a building. Apparently, it is not a reckless driver but a car without brakes... out of control. Grabbing onto the back bumper, Spidey anchors his feet at the curb and pulls with all his might to prevent a potentially fatal crash. He manages to stop the car completely, but he is completely exhausted and his arms feel like they're "three feet longer than they were before". The driver leaps out to thank his rescuer... until he sees it is Spider-Man. Then, with frightened pleas of "Don't hurt me!" he gets back into his car and speeds away. (Hey, what about those bad brakes?)

Spidey can't understand it. He risked his life to save this man. This is the thanks he gets? But then he notices a stray copy of the Daily Bugle lying at his feet. The headline is hard to miss. In huge block letters, it reads (as we already know) Spider-Man Killer. Spidey tears the paper in half and exclaims, "All right Jameson, now you've done it! We've been sparring for years! But now you've blown it, mister! You've blown it!"

Meanwhile, Jonah and Marla show up at Spencer Smythe's apartment. JJJ knows that Smythe has vowed to never assist him again but, with John's death, he won't take "no" for an answer. "Money is no object! I want the best spider-slayer you can build." The astonished Professor cannot believe his luck. Excusing himself and taking a pill to try to ease his persistant cough, Smythe wonders at the way his intended victim has dropped right into his lap. ("That blithering fool has handed me his death right on a silver platter.") He agrees to Jameson's request but insists that Jonah "send the woman away".

Across town, Spider-Man visits the office of District Attorney Tower. Frustrated, he tells the D.A. that "Jameson's pushing me to the wall and I don't know what to do!" He tells Tower that he didn't kill John Jameson. Tower tells him that "if you're innocent, sue him for defamation of character" and Spidey is ready to do just that until the D.A. also adds that he'd have to reveal his identity to bring suit. The stymied web-slinger slams his fist down, accidentally turning Tower's desk into firewood. "I can't win, can I?" says Spidey. "I'm screwed any way I turn. What can I do?" Tower refuses to offer legal advise and instead tells Spidey that "this mail came for you", adding "this isn't your private Post Office".

Back at Smythe's lab, the Professor shows Jameson his new slayer. Jonah is unimpressed. It looks like a big metal bug with glowing red eyes. (Actually it looks rather like the Blue Beetle's flying bug.) Smythe insists that this is his finest spider-slayer yet, then holds out a metal manacle and tells Jameson to wear it. But as soon as he locks it on Jonah's wrist, all pretense of a partnership vanishes. "I've done it!", Spencer crows. "You stupid insufferable fool! I've just killed you, but it will take 24 hours before you fall!" To JJJ's shocked questions, Smythe reveals his hatreds and his impending death. "Yes, I'm dying... and after I've lured Spider-Man here, you, too, shall die as well!"

Back in his Chelsea apartment, Peter finally gets around to checking on his web formula. He determines that "chemical pollutants in the air" have altered the fluid. He decides that the best way to combat this is to "mix small amounts and keep them fresh from now on". (This concept disappeared about as fast as Pete's ulcer, didn't it?)

He finally gets around to checking the mail he got from Tower. It is from Claredge Advertising... "the ones who're merchandising life-size Spider-Man punching bags". The letter informs him that the company is pulling out of the deal. Even if Spidey is innocent of Jameson's charges, there is simply too much controversy for the company's tastes. Furious at Jameson for ruining a chance for him to make money, Pete lashes out by kicking his couch. His furniture ends up piled in one corner of the room. "Why?", Pete cries, "Why do I always do this to myself?"

Donning his costume, Pete decides it is time for a showdown with Jameson. "Im gonna barge into that fancy office of his and show him how his stupid editorials can make someone real mad! And, like they say on that T.V. show... he's not gonna like me when I get mad". (That show, by the way, and forgive me if I'm stating the obvious, was the Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno.)

In his rage, Spidey never notices the spider-slayer tracking his movements. By the time he pays attention to his spider-sense, the machine has already dispatched steel threads that wrap themselves around him. "Oh my aching back, I don't believe it. A spider-slayer!", thinks Pete. "I thought those jokers went out of style with high-button shoes!" The webhead relatiates by yanking on the thread, pulling the slayer off the wall. While the robot is righting itself, Spidey manages to snap his steel bonds. The slayer charges "like a mad bull" but Spider-Man leaps out of the wy and runs up the wall of the building. The bug follows right behind. Deciding that escape is not the answer, Pete turns and punches the thing. But it wraps him up in its legs and leaps off the building... taking him with it.

Spidey has no webbing. "I forgot I left it on the counter to settle." (Bet you never heard that one before.) His arms are pinned so he has no way to brace himself. All he can do is "flow with the fall". But the impact is severe. It crumbles the spider-slayer and leaves Spidey-Man unconscious. Spencer Smythe drives up in a green van, puts Spidey in the back, and drives away.

When the wallcrawler regains consciousness, he is sitting in a chair in Spencer Smythe's lab. One arm is shackled. And only when Smythe explains it does Spidey realize he is shackled to J. Jonah Jameson. "The shackle that binds you", says Smythe, "is, in reality, a very deadly explosive! One that is primed to blow in 24 hours!" And if the shackle is tampered with before that, the explosion will be triggered right then. Why doesn't Spencer just blow them up right now and be done with it? Who knows? Let the poor guy pick his own method of revenge.