Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #291

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This story is part of an Arc: "Spider-Slayers"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Absolutely Amazing

This review was first published on: 2006.


Upon previous ponderings of how his life is cemented in the role of Spiderman, our favourite Arachknight spent the last issue trying to reconnect with his past, linking back to the nostalgia of his childhood by bidding on his old microscope from a church auction.

Peter then has his epiphany in life, finally realizing what he is lacking. Once he unties his tongue, he blurts out a proposal to Mary Jane!

In Detail...

"Dark Journey!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #291
Aug 1987 : SMURF 291.500 : SM Title
Arc: Part 2 of "Spider-Slayers"
Editor:  Jim Salicrup
Writer:  David Michelinie
Pencils:  John Romita, Jr.
Inker:  Vince Colletta
Cover Art:  Al Milgrom
Staff Only
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man/Mary Jane...You Just Hit the Jackpot
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man: The Wedding (TPB)
Articles: Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Smythe, Alistaire

So, last issue left us, the readers, with a mighty fine cliffhanger. Upon cracking open the tender pages of this issue, we see the drool-er-ific face of MJ, and a caption reminds us of the weighty importance of Peter's dangling question from the previous ish. Scrolling our eyes down the page, we expect to see her answer...


NO?! What do you mean, 'no', Mary Jane?! Guys like Peter Parker don't come around more than once in a lifetime, and he's offering you a shot at true happiness!

When I read this storyarc for the first time, I think I was actually a little bit furious at MJ's response. Peter is making a legitimate bid at getting his private life together, and despite all he has ever done for her, the countless times he has reached out to help, supported her while Mary Jane struggled with her family problems, and the undeniable fact that those two are a wonderful pairing, she throws up her 'party-time' facade and takes off to Pittsburgh! Hmmph, Peter certainly wasn't the only guy to be discouraged at her answer. But chucking all the bitterness aside, as Peter escorts MJ outside to a waiting taxi, Pete's senses start tingling, although he is unsure of what could be the source of triggering his spidey-sense. As it turns out, a delivery van suspiciously turns down an alleyway, and as it crawls to a stop, out rolls what is very accurately described as "non-standard cargo."

Enter the newest Spider Slayer, or perhaps more importantly, the spiteful hate of Alistair Alphonso Smythe. With a synchronized sequence of whirs, hums and kliks, the latest generation of the Spider Slayer assembles itself. To put things in perspective, this issue is close to twenty years old, and there is a substantial gap between what was considered cutting edge technology at the end of the 80's, and the technological breakthroughs of today's world. But if this version of the Slayer could be summarized with only three adjectives, they would be: Long, Purple and Ridiculous.

It draws a bit of a similarity to a metallic version of Stretch Armstrong, what with the incredible tensile deformation the limbs are capable of stretching out to. The metal monster proceeds to climb up from the back wall of the apartment building, to gain access to MJ's apartment in a most unconventional manner. No back windows? No problem for this Slayer! Smythe's robot places his hands upon the wall, and with, uhh.. "an incredibly powerful magnetic field" ruptures the wall, gaining himself access to MJ's abandoned apartment. However, Smythe's search is cut short, as two old ladies hear the commotion down the hall, and their voiced thoughts of calling the police to investigate, scare Smythe off. As Peter broods while strolling the streets of Manhattan, and MJ broods herself, on a plane bound for Pittsburgh International, we are offered a glimpse into the one-dimensional mind that is Alistair Smythe's. Although it is slightly unfair to label Smythe this way, as we shall see later in the story arc, his tale is one of sadness and pity. For the moment though, let's just focus on the source of Smythe's hatred. We, the readers, learn that Smythe is a paraplegic, confined to a wheelchair and forced to intake nourishment through an IV drip. Meandering through the issue, I really got the sense that Alistair didn't have the greatest relationship with his father, as he repeatedly mentions his desire to "1-UP" him, bettering him at every task associated with the defeat of Spidey. Saying that, Smythe releases his upgraded mobile electronic trackers into the city, and we cut to Pittsburgh suburbia.

MJ arrives at her sister's house, and is greeted warmly by her nephews. They have been under the care of Alice Larkin, while MJ's sister Gayle has been away. Mary Jane has had her share of personal problems for quite some time, but even she is shocked to find her sister is in jail. In Allegheny's county jail, MJ is greeted with ice cold bitterness from her sister. Gayle shows no gratitude towards MJ's flying out to Pittsburgh to help. Gayle retorts, "We needed your help four years ago!..Where were you when we really needed you?" MJ is taken aback, and her wall of toughness crumbles away when Gayle tacks on, "Go back to New York, Mary Jane. Look after yourself, it's what you do best."

Meanwhile, our favourite crime fighter is webbing his way through a construction site, trying to clear his mind. Smythe's tracers pick him up almost immediately and Smythe's robot starts off the fight with a cheapshot from behind. (Good thing he misses.) The Spidey Slayer enters the fight full of reckless hate, and Spiderman tries to slow him down with a good shot of web fluid to the robot's head. However, the Slayer is coated with a Teflon-like material that prevents the webbing from adhering to its outer shell. During the fight, Smythe reveals to Parker the reason for his hatred; "You lured my previous slayer into electrical wiring, then left me assuming the slayer was well insulated!" Turns out, enough current got through to Smythe, his nervous system was scrambled, and the man was left rendered to live in a shell of his former life. Smythe, having a hard time keeping his emotions in check, screams "It's all your fault!" and hits Spidey with a cloud of ethyl chloride. As the spindly arms of the slayer tighten around Spidey's ribs, a nearby construction worker rushes to the rescue, and severs the arm by smashing the blade of his bulldozer right on top of the slayer's exposed limb. Smythe is forced to lick his wounds and retreat.

MJ comes home to a darkened house, and when she flicks on the lightswitch, is greeted by someone who she wasn't expecting. But we'll have to wait until next issue to find who that is! Peter is on the verge of reaching a decision on how to handle his life. He wants to be there for Mary Jane, but he also has to face the responsibilty of abandoning NYC, and leaving it to the Spider Slayer to tear it up. Enter a sobbing Mary Jane, who calls Pete, and pleads with him to come to Pittsburgh. Most importantly of all, before she hangs up, she whispers "I love you." The fanboy in me couldn't help but giggle gleefully at this moment. Peter's mind is made up: to Pittsburgh we go! We leave this issue with Peter musing on the plane about his situation, but feels that the police, fire crews, and national guard should keep the city safe while he is gone.

But, in an awful string of luck, the ethyl chloride sprayed onto Spiderman, was laced with a tracing chemical, and Smythe has homed in onto Parker's whereabouts, and in yet another piece of bad luck...Smythe just purchased the last first class ticket to Pittsburgh!

Oh boy, things are looking up for next issue.

In General...

Well, overall it was a solid issue. I can't help but feel that during this stretch of writing, the creative team at Spider-Man was doing absolutely everything right. Although it had ended on rather rubbery legs, the Hobgoblin saga was a classic, defining the Spider-Man of the 80's. And they continue the high-octane pace, this time taking a look at Peter's life out of the costume. It's a solid issue, nothing sparkling, but the fact that Mary Jane and Peter are about to have their lives take off and reach new heights together, is definitely something to get excited about!

If there was one bone I could pick about this issue, it would be the artwork. I don't mean inside the covers, JRJR is as good as always here. But the cover of this issue bothers me. For one, it's rather boring. The background is doused entirely in a dull red, with row upon row of girders serving as the backdrop. But what really bothers me about this title, is that the Spider Slayer is painted the wrong colour!

Maybe it's just a small lapse on the editor's part, not picking that up. But it still bugs me!

Nitpicking aside, it's a solid issue, and it sets up what is sure to be an exciting finale to the story arc.

Overall Rating...

Decent, average story, but laced with important issues in Peter's private life. I like Smythe, I really do. He may have a one track mind, but he's a character who I pity, and I feel guilty on behalf of Spiderman that he's been confined to such a miserable fate. MJ's character is really starting to pick up. Even though the complications in her life just seem to keep on piling up, we can sense she's about to have a real breakthrough in her depth of character. Perhaps what is best about this issue, is that the reader knows Mary Jane is starting to rethink her original response to Pete's question, especially considering she declared she loved him!

Mainly, let's hope for good things to turn great in ish #292.