Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #216

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 2000.

Background...

After Madame Web's debut in Amazing Spider-Man #210, Spidey dukes it out with Sub-Mariner and Peter is awakened for the first time by the hopeless country sound of Lonesome Pinky. Our hero meets and beats Hydro-Man, dates Debbie Whitman, and gets his job back at the Daily Bugle. He accidentally bleaches out his Spidey suit, battles a mechanical spider sicced on him by the Wizard and his new mysterious female partner, enounters a gorgeous new neighbor that has him forgetting Debbie Whitman, and fights a fire on the roof of his building... a fire set off by the Wizard. With the residents of the building put up in a hotel until repairs are made, Peter cuddles with his new neighbor even though he doesn't even know her name.

Later he teams up with Sub-Mariner, only to be defeated by the Frightful Four (the Wizard, the Sandman, the Trapster, and the mystery woman). He is beaten bloody by the Sandman and runs to Debra Whitman for solace. He is put in a death trap by the Wizard and is saved by the Sub-Mariner. The mystery fourth member of the evil FF is revealed to be Llyra, an old enemy of Sub-Mariner. And Peter is heartbroken to discover, when his new love attacks him with a knife, that his mystery neighbor is Llyra (this time in disguise), too. Which brings us to ASM #216 and the return of Madame Web.

In Detail...

"Marathon"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #216
May 1981 : SMURF 216.500 : SM Title
Summary: Madame Web, Marathon
Editor:  Al Milgrom
Writer:  Denny O'Neil
Pencils:  John Romita, Jr.
Inker:  Jim Mooney
Cover Art:  John Romita, Jr.
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Articles: Aunt May Parker, Deborah Whitman, Jameson, J. Jonah, Madame Web, Madame Web, Madame Web, Madame Web, Nathan Lubensky

It is a chilly Spring day and Spidey is in a dark mood. The fire damage to his building is repaired so he must leave his plush hotel room. His leg hurts him badly, his costume is torn up and his head is woozy from his battle with the Frightful Four. He decides he needs some TLC from Debbie Whitman, so he stashes his websack of possessions and his costume and heads for the subway. (But he wears a bandage wrapped around his head. Not a good fashion statement by our hero.) While on the subway, Peter muses about his relationship with Debbie. He decides that he has not appreciated her enough. Maybe this is finally the woman for him. Maybe this is the woman who can make him get over Gwen Stacy and settle down.

The subway car arrives in Greenwich Village and Peter limps out. On his way to the surface, he sees a poster urging people to vote for Barney Wicker who is "running for the seat in Congress that became vacant last month". But Peter's not too interested in that. He has arrived at Debbie's building which looks to him "like a cool glass of water in a desert".

He gets to her door and knocks, announcing himself. But Debbie, startled by his unexpected arrival, won't invite him in. She already has company in the form of Biff Rifkin, a friend from her hometown. Biff is the type of fellow who says things like "Hi, Guy! Do any little thing for you?" and "Hasta la vista, chumgo! Don't take any wooden subway tokens." but he also has his arm around Debbie and that speaks volumes to Pete. He leaves, with the memory of the kiss he shared with Debbie causing "something cold [to form] in the pit of his stomach".

Outside, Peter realizes that his leg hurts so badly he should go to the hospital. It is too painful to continue walking so, risking exposure, he takes to the webs without donning his costume. He swings by a residence where a couple is arguing. The man can't believe his overweight wife has spent thirty dollars for a new pair of shoes... shoes she plans to wear in the marathon. On the television, a talking head is informing the public that the "first annual Spring marathon" takes place tomorrow. "Over 16,000 entrants are expected to run the 26 mile course through all five New York City boroughs. The event is being held to handle the overflow of athletes from the great Fall race."

But Peter has heard none of this news. He arrives at the Greenwich Village Medical Center and swings onto the roof. It is late but there are still alot of people on the street so, rather than climb down the side of the wall, Pete lowers himself down an air shaft by his web. "Emergency ward", he says, "here I come".

Three hours later, Peter's X-rays are finally ready. ("What'd you do", he says to the Doc, "hand paint 'em?") He is told that his leg isn't broken but he does have a severe sprain. The doctor tells him to stay off the leg for a week and that she will be right back with a bandage. But while the doctor is gone, Pete overhears a conversation taking place on the other side of the curtain that serves as a wall to the examination room. "You got the spot picked out?", asks one voice. "Yeah, and the gun is ready.", is the reply. "He thought he'd win. But that sucker'll be outta the race... permanent.", says one figure. "Yeah. Ain't never gonna run again.", says another. Pete realizes that they are discussing murder.

Peter peeks through the curtain in time to see three people running for the exit. He tries to follow but is hobbled by his bad leg. Nevertheless, he makes it all the way outside, hoping to catch a glimpse of the conspirators. Unfortunately, the trio board a taxi and Pete never gets a good look. He returns to the examination room, wondering who their intended victim is. The doctor is there, ready to wrap his leg with an Ace bandage. While she does so, Pete asks if she knows who was in the adjoining cubicle. "They could've been anyone.", the doctor replies.

This conversation is interrupted by an injured runner being helped into the emergency room by two other runners. "Oh dear. Another running injury.", the doctor says and immediately gives the marathoner preferential treatment. Peter eavesdrops and puts two and two together. "Those guys said the guy they kill will be 'out of the race'," he recalls and comes to the conclusion that "They're planning to shoot one of the marathon runners."

As he puts his boot back on, Peter considers the possibilities. There are sixteen thousand entrants in the marathon and the victim could be any one of them. The race covers twenty-six miles of streets and nearly every building in that length could harbor a sniper. "It'd take a miracle worker to tell where the killer will be hiding", he decides. But, fortunately, Pete knows a miracle worker. Her name is Madame Web.

From a pay phone, Pete calls the psychic. He doesn't have to say a word. Madame Web knows who is calling and why. Unfortunately, though, the "psychic vectors are not in proper alignment for me to peer into the future", she tells Peter. (Uh... if you say so, MW.) She can give him none of the information he seeks. Still, if anything becomes clear, she tells him, she will pass the information along. Frustrated, Peter decides to forget the whole thing and go home. He leaves the hospital and, standing next to another sign urging New Yorkers to vote for Wicker (do you get it yet?), he hails a cab and returns to 410 Chelsea Street.

Back home, things look fine from the outside but the inside is another matter. The damage from the fire has not been repaired. In Pete's apartment, the "walls are stained, plaster's cracked, water damage everywhere". The worst thing, though, is the smell of smoke which has worked its way into everything... including all of Pete's clothes. He needs a whole new wardrobe and, if that isn't bad enough, his country-singing next door neighbor starts warbling again. ("O the fire burnt up my favorite cactus, didn't even need no practice." Ouch.) Pete retreats to the bathroom to put cold water on his face. While there, he consoles himself with the notion that he's not the only loser in New York City. "Like that guy in the race tomorrow, probably has no idea anybody's gunning for him". (Hold it. The race is tomorrow? Then what about those injured runners in the hospital? Well, they were practicing for tomorrow's race, see. They were even wearing numbers so their practice would look really authentic. All right?) And the more Pete thinks about it, the more he knows that, "half-crippled, tired, depressed, overworked" as he may be, he cannot stand idly by and let any harm come to anyone.

So it is that, the next morning, as sixteen thousand fill the Verrazano bridge waiting for the marathon to start, Spider-Man sits atop the bridge's highest tower, keeping an eye on things. He remembers that the mystery men referred to the frontrunner (get it now?) so he decides to focus on the first hundred runners or so. Suddenly, the silence of the morning is shattered by a "screech of tires". A lone car, "doing at least ninety" crashes through the police barricades and heads right for the mass of marathoners. In a flash, the wall-crawler leaps down and shoots webbing under the tires, bringing the car to an abrupt stop. Spidey jumps down to the car (hurting his leg in the process), considering the idea that the driver is an assassin trying to make the killing look like an accident. But he quickly notices that it "smells like a distillery" in the car. The driver is a passed-out drunk. As Spidey remains distracted by the car, the race begins. Spidey runs along the cables of the bridge, anxious to reach some buildings so he can web-swing instead of using his bum leg. He manages to keep up with the racers but he fails to notice that the emergency phone on the bridge is ringing.

The mass of runners stretches across the bridge, allowing little room to maneuver. In the crunch, no one notices that a wheelchair racer has been pushed to the edge of the bridge. Before anyone knows it's happening, the disabled participant tumbles right over the side. With a quick shot of webbing, Spidey snags the racer and brings him back up to the bridge. The man is courageously unfazed by the incident. "Soon as I catch my breath", he declares, "I'm gettin' back in the race". Just then, another emergency phone rings. Spidey hears this one, but he ignores it. He's too busy following the flow of the runners as they leave the bridge behind and "scatter onto the streets of Brooklyn". ("How far we gone?", asks one winded participant. "Two miles", answers another. "I'm gonna die", says the first one.)

But nobody is going to die if Spidey has anything to say about it. He spots a shadowed figure standing on an overpass as the racers run by below. And it looks like the figure is holding a rifle. The webhead swings into action, clearing the restraining fence of the overpass and kicking the figure squarely in the chest. He grabs the man by the lapels of his coat and waves a fist in the man's face. But it isn't a rifle that the man is toting. It is a banjo. With the offended musician threatening to report our hero to "the police, the FBI!", Spider-Man swings off... "too embarrassed to apologize". (Now, there's a lame excuse.)

One hour and fourteen miles of running later, the marathoners reach the Fifty-Ninth Street Bridge heading into Manhattan. Spidey is worn out just keeping track of them. "Why don't they have the decency to collapse?", he asks himself, "I never thought I'd hate physical fitness". Now, as the runners arrive in Manhattan, comes the hard part. "The course goes past a hundred skyscrapers and apartment buildings", all potential hiding places for a gunman. A block from the oncoming racers, four men on a burned-out tenement, are using the fire escape as a perch. When a fifth man arrives, they welcome him, but the weight becomes too much. The fire escape pulls loose from the wall and plunges toward the street. But, standing on one lamp post and hooking his webbing to another, Spider-Man snags the falling fire escape. The five men climb to earth courtesy of a web ladder. But, in the meantime, the racers have gotten three blocks ahead so Spidey hurries off, unaware of yet another Wicker poster and yet another ringing telephone.

Catching up to the race, Spidey spots a pickpocket working the crowd. He has no time to stop and apprehend him but he can "put a crimp in his style". As he swings by, he shoots two sprays of webbing on the pickpocket's hands. It looks like the crook is wearing boxing gloves. There will be no more thievery for at least another hour.

Twenty miles into the race, the runners cross the Willis Avenue Bridge into the Bronx. It is the time of the race where exhaustion kicks in and "the runners myst rely on determination and courage". But, for some, courage is not enough. One runner has a heart attack and collapses. The nearest ambulance is oblivious to his plight. It is at a gas station getting a fill-up. All they have to keep them busy, complains the paramedic, are sprained ankles and infected blisters. But that changes quickly, as the stricken runner is lowered down to the ambulance by means of a spider's web. "Better hurry", Spidey tells the ambulance crew, "He's alive but he's in bad shape."

It's only a couple of miles now to Central Park and the finish line. Waiting at the park entrance are J. Jonah Jameson, Peter's Aunt May, and May's main squeeze of the time Nathan Lubensky. JJJ is telling May that he is there to take pictures and "show your nephew how it's done". (But who knows why May and Nathan are there.) Jonah is not pleased when the first arrival to the finish line is Spider-Man. "You can stop pretending to be a photographer", the wall-crawler tells the publisher and Jonah is so incensed at the comment that he blusters for a bit before he realizes that Spidey has webbed up his camera. "Errrr!", says Jameson.

Spidey swings back to the runners who are now a half-mile from the finish. He has checked bushes and trees and there is no sign of any gunman. Again, a pay phone rings and again the webster swings right by, but this time a specatator answers it. "It's for you, Spider-Man, sir!", he yells at the web-swinger. Spidey can't believe that anyone would know that he is there but he takes the call. It is Madame Web telling him that the "psychic vectors have aligned". She has his information. "Two men armed with armalite AR-10 automatic rifles are waiting at the water tower fifty yards to the right of the finish line", she tells him, "Their intended victim is named Barney Wicker." Spidey races off, leaving the phone receiver dangling. He can't believe how dense he's been about all this. "The killers meant 'race' as in politics", he realizes, "Not as in running!" But the two 'races' are about to collide head-on. Barney Wicker is scheduled to greet the marathon winner "and when he does they'll have a clear shot at him".

The web-slinger leaps over the finish line banner and podium and swings to the water tower. There are indeed two men with rifles there and they decide they have to kill Spider-Man if they hope to accomplish their mission. They fire off several bursts and it is only Spidey's speed and agility that keep him from being shot. He hides on the other side of the tower and considers his moves. He doesn't dare attempt a direct attack. Not against such fire power and with that bum leg. At any moment, the gunmen will circle around and spot him. Gripping the top of the tower, he considers, "Maybe I can heave this roof down on 'em". But the roof is heavy and Spidey is exhausted. His "arms feel like spaghetti" but he reaches inside himself for one big final push. With a "Skrakch!", the roof lifts off the tower and falls on top of the two killers. Spidey can barely stand up but the gunmen are unconscious. The assassination has been aborted. Spider-Man is the victor. Down at the finish line, another man has reached inside himself to "find one final effort". The crowd, arms raised, cheer the runner. The marathon, both marathons, have been won.