Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #11

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Spectacular Beginnings

This review was first published on: 2005.

Background...

While he did have a very successful run on Marvel Team-Up, Chris Claremont never scripted the monthly adventures of our favorite web-slinger in either Amazing or Spectacular Spider-Man except for this one fill-in issue guest-starring Medusa.

In Detail...

"A Life Too Far"
Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #11
Oct 1977 : SM Title
Summary: Medusa
Editor:  Archie Goodwin
Writer:  Chris Claremont
Pencils:  Jim Mooney
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Jim Mooney
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 Reprinted In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1
Articles: Mary Jane Watson-Parker

It is 5:00 PM at Manhattan South Medical Center and a delicate procedure is taking place in Operating Room One. The patient is a young man who went through a truck windshield. He has "about a billion lovely pieces of glass scattered like shrapnel through his abdomen" and, as Dr. Jack Tryon says, "Every last one of 'em's got to come out." Peter Parker is watching the operation from the theatre auditorium above when he is approached by another doctor (named Freddy). This doctor tells him that "the kid on the table" has "absorbed a deadly chemical toxin" along with the injuries to his abdomen. The doctor tells Pete that "luckily... there's an antidote" then asks Pete if he knows the young man well. Pete admits that he doesn't know him at all but explains that he and Mary Jane were checking out the art show set up on a stone wall surrounding Central Park when an out of control Rand Meachum truck came right at them. Before Pete could react, a blond haired teen rescued him and MJ by pushing them out of the way, putting himself at risk instead.

The phone, a direct line to the Operating Room, rings and Freddy answers. Dr. Tryon is on the other end, informing Freddy that the patient is stable and wondering where the antidote is. Freddy tells Tryon that the only supply is in Brooklyn and is currently being processed. "Even through rush hour traffic", Freddy expects the antidote to arrive in plenty of time. He hangs up and turns to talk to Peter but Peter is no longer there. Because Pete has eavesdropped on the conversation and is intent on helping out as only he can.

He runs down an empty hallway, jumps out an open window, wall-crawls barefooted to the roof, and changes into his Spidey gear. Along the way, he obligingly thinks through the situation, providing us with some much-needed exposition. It turns out that Pete learned from Professor Nichols, his Chemistry teacher, that the "deadly chemical toxin" attacks the nervous system "like certain kinds of snake venom". He knows that "without the antidote, death is quick and agonizing" and that "the kid has about two hours before the damage becomes irreversible". Pete thinks that rush hour is a bad time to be taking an ambulance from Brooklyn to Midtown and that "one traffic jam and the kid loses". So, he decides that Spider-Man will "follow them every foot of the way", ready to step in if his services are needed. And so Spidey takes to his webs, heading for Brooklyn. Below him, the traffic is already beginning to build up.

By 5:21 PM, Spidey has made it to the Brooklyn Bridge and his mind drifts back to the moment of the accident so that we can get it in a little more detail. (But first he slips in one more bit of exposition: "The Professor told me the antidote's pretty tricky stuff. One slip-up during its preparation and the whole batch is worthless." Does that raise the stakes high enough?) Pete and MJ are enjoying the sidewalk show when Pete's spider-sense starts "going crazy". He looks up in time to see the truck coming at them and knows that he must use his spider-power in public in order to save them. He has no choice, he is about to act, when the young blonde man shoves them out of the way. Inside the truck, the driver is slumped down over the steering wheel. The rescuer manages to sidestep the truck, get a handhold through the open window on the passenger side as it rushes by, pull himself up, somehow open the door and climb inside, grab the steering wheel and yank it to the left to avoid hitting any of the pedestrians... all the time explaining that the driver looks like he's had a heart attack and how he must have "jammed his foot down on the accelerator" when he passed out and explaining everything he has to do in order to avoid a massacre. But when the truck hits the stone wall, the young man smashes into the windshield, then gets doused by a loose canister with an easily opened top containing the neuro-toxin; part of the cargo in back that is apparently separated from the driver by nothing more than a screen. From there, it is up to Peter Parker to save the day. He opens the passenger door and drags the injured kid out of the truck. (As he notes that, "the driver looks like he's had it, poor guy".) The windshield and the toxin are bad enough but Pete sees that the truck is burning and spilling gas. Just after Pete and the boy are clear, the truck explodes. The young man is taken to the hospital and Peter decides to go along.

Now, back in the present, Spidey arrives at the medical center in Brooklyn in time to find the ambulance crashed into a wall and the two attendants stretched out in the road. When Spidey puts one in a sitting position and asks him what happened, he is told that something "like lots of arms" tore the ambulance apart and stole the serum. Spidey looks behind him and sees a silhouetted figure fleeing on a distant rooftop. He crawls up the nearest wall, runs along the roofs and tackles the fugitive. With the "lot of arms" description and the fact that the theft involves medicine, Spidey is sure that the party responsible it Doctor Octopus but Ock never had shapely legs like these! The shadowy figure gets right up after being tackled by Spidey and reveals herself to be Medusa... the "lot of arms", of course, being the strands of her living hair.

(Medusa is no longer clothed in the green form-fitting body suit... not sexy enough, apparently. Now she wears a purple tank top with purple hot pants, a purple mask, purple gloves, and purple go-go boots. She has a belt holding up the hot pants that is monogrammed with the letter "M" and she's looking bigger and bustier than ever. Which, uh, is neither here nor there, of course. *Focus, Al, focus!*)

When Spidey sees whom he has tackled, he figures there must be a mistake. But then he sees the vial of serum tucked into Medusa's belt and he knows that she is the culprit. Spidey asks Medusa for the reason she has stolen the antidote but all he gets is a big clump of hair used as a battering ram right in his face. As she pummels him, Medusa tells him that she cannot reveal her reason for stealing the medicine "save that my need is desperate." "But I warn you, my human friend" she adds, "if you attempt to stop me in my mission, you will die." Which may not sound like much but it's a far cry better than the "presumptuous costumed clod" smack she laid on Spidey in their last meeting.

After being socked in the head a couple of times, Spidey fights back by shooting a baseball bat-sized gob of webbing at Medusa. But, much to his surprise, she avoids it by simply ducking. (Spidey decides that his aim is off because he is "groggy from those two hair shots". Where else will you ever see an explanation like that?) Then, Medusa wraps some of her hair around the web-slinger's wrist, yanks him off his feet and smashes him into a chimney. (Yes, that's right, the old "smack 'em into the chimney" bit again but this time she apologizes for doing it! Definitely a kinder, gentler Medusa from the last time.) Spidey tries to explain why he needs the serum but Medusa doesn't reply to him. "She's acting" he thinks, "like she couldn't care less!" Realizing that he is "on a tight schedule", the web-spinner decides he "can't afford to be gentle". So he rips off a big chunk of the chimney and throws it at his opponent. She, however, catches it easily with her hair, rips it apart and starts throwing the bricks back at the wall-crawler "like bullets out of a machine gun". Spidey can't dodge them all and ends up being pummeled into unconsciousness. With Spidey out of the action, Medusa strides away. She is pleased to see that the webhead still lives but she is running late. "Each second I delay" she says, "I risk annihilation for those I hold most dear."

Some time later, Spider-Man regains consciousness to find Medusa long gone. He checks his watch (which he is wearing on his right wrist just below his web-shooters) and is shocked to find that it is 5:59. He has "barely an hour left" to get the antidote to the hospital. Fortunately, he "managed to stick a spidey tracer to [Medusa's] belt" while she was tossing him into the chimney. (And if you look at page 15 panel four, you'll see a flashback to the moment Spidey was tossed into the chimney clearly showing him shooting his webbing onto Medusa's belt, and sticking a spider tracer to her. But if you look back at page 11, panel 5, you'll see the exact same illustration... except that Spidey isn't shooting or sticking anything onto Medusa anywhere. Oh well.) So, he takes to his webs, following the tracer. Along the way, he wonders why Medusa seemed so single-minded and ruthless. "Unless... she's got no alternative" he reasons, "Maybe somebody hypnotized her, blackmailed her" but then decides he doesn't care what the explanation is. All he knows is he's traced her to Coney Island and he's ready to take her on.

It is 6:12 PM and Medusa is running along the arcade just off of Coney Island's boardwalk. She is doing her best to stay in the shadows but, suddenly, she is bathed in the light of the spider-signal. "Tag, Red" says Spider-Man from above, "You're it!" Panicked by Spidey's appearance when she is so near her goal, Medusa starts running and gets snagged in a giant strategically-placed spider web. The wall-crawler dangles upside-down from his web strand and prepares to have a chat with his captive. But Medusa isn't playing. She uses her hair to pull down the wooden building on which the web was attached, dumping it on Spider-Man and gets back a little of her holier-than-thou spunk. "Human fool!" she yells, "I haven't time to listen to your childish prattling!" Then she runs off again.

Spidey extricates himself from the fallen shack, reminding himself that unbreakable webbing isn't much use if it's attached to something that can be pulled down on top of him. It is now 6:20 PM and Medusa is heading for the roller coaster, Spidey hot on her heels. Deftly, Medusa uses her hands, feet, and hair to climb the roller coaster scaffold even as she grabs a few "spare train wheels" with her tresses to use as weapons. She makes it to the top of the track's highest peak with Spidey right behind. The wall-crawler snags her leg with some webbing, hoping to stop her before she can start flinging train wheels at him. And a roller coaster full of riders is heading their way.

Calling her opponent "wall-climber", Medusa fights back by yanking on the webline, drawing Spidey closer, then chucking the train wheels at him. One hits him in the solar plexus but the other goes flying off and smacks into the "main support brace" of the roller coaster. Once again, Spidey is in the grip of Medusa's hair. She prepares to fling him away even as he informs her "it isn't wall-climber. It's wall-crawler! If you're gonna insult me, do it right!"

It is now 6:28 PM as Medusa tosses Spider-Man right into the front of the oncoming roller coaster. She steps to the side and lets the roller coaster cruise by her. Spidey is stuck on the front of it as it drops down a big hill. "I think I'm gonna be sick" he says. Suddenly, ahead of the car, the main support brace breaks and the tracks collapse. The roller coaster is heading right for it. Spidey responds by leaping over and behind the speeding car. One of the passengers declares, "Spidey's saving himself! Leavin' the rest of us to die!" But Spidey is doing no such thing. He's stationing himself behind the car and shooting out a web strand with each hand. One strand is attached to the back of the roller coaster. The other strand is attached to... nothing. (In three panels, all we see is the strand stretching off into space somewhere.) Whatever it's attached to, it must be pretty strong because the "train's doing better than sixty" and Spidey's using the one web strand to brace him while he tugs back on the other web strand. First of all, he worries whether his webbing will hold. Then, as the wooden slats under his feet start cracking, he wonders whether he will hold. He can't take much more of it. He feels like the train isn't slowing down at all. Then, just before it reaches the ruptured track, the roller coaster stops. All the passengers cheer him, but Spidey is too busy dropping to his knees to fully appreciate it.

At 6:43 PM, Medusa arrives at "a derelict pier at the far end of Coney Island". She enters a shed. The other Inhumans (Black Bolt, Triton, Karnak, Gorgon, and Lockjaw) are inside. Karnak cradles a balding blue-skinned man in his arms. This is Falzon, referred to by Medusa as "our Kree friend" and he is in need of the serum if he is going to survive. Medusa tosses the vial to Karnak and then Spidey breaks into the shack by using a pier strut as a battering ram. The force of the blow knocks Medusa off her feet and Spidey immediately covers her with webbing. Triton steps in, asking Spidey to "wait", saying, "You don't know what you're doing!" but Spidey is no longer in the mood. He clocks Triton with a strong right hand and the amphibious Inhuman finds himself sitting on the floor, wondering where the rest of his marbles went.

Karnak steps up, intending to take on the web-slinger but Falzon grabs him by the wrist and holds him back. "I am still too weak to finish my work alone" Falzon tells Karnak, "I need your help." For the first time, Spidey notices the "blue geezer". He also notices a huge machine behind Falzon, which is "as big as a house". Then he no longer has time to notice anything else because Gorgon steps up and slams his hoofed foot on the ground, which shatters "the floor for half the length of the pier". But it doesn't stop Spider-Man who simply leaps up and grabs onto a girder that is supporting the roof. Perched up there, the wall-crawler snags Gorgon on the chest with some webbing, pulls, and tugs the goat-like Inhuman towards the hole created by the hoof-stomp. Gorgon tumbles obligingly through the hole and right into the drink. "If there's a shark down there," the webhead says, "tell him Spidey sent you!"

Spidey is about done in, what with rescuing the roller coaster and fighting Medusa and tugging on Gorgon and everything. Still, he doesn't hesitate to jump down and confront the "strongest Inhuman of all"... the silent Black Bolt. But Black Bolt only stands and faces him with his arms crossed which sends a clear message to Spider-Man. It is time to stop fighting and start talking. (Well, Black Bolt isn't going to talk but you know what I mean.) As Medusa frees herself from the webbing and Gorgon climbs out of the hole in the background, Spidey explains the situation to Black Bolt and tells him he needs the antidote immediately.

Before Black Bolt can answer... (Hah! Little joke there.), Karnak steps in and informs his King that Falzon only required a little bit of the serum. The rest is available for Spider-Man. But Spidey looks at his watch (which is now on his left wrist) and tells the Inhumans that "the serum's got to reach the kid in the next seven minutes or he's good as dead". Spidey knows that he can never make it back in time. But the web-slinger cannot fly and Black Bolt can.

Black Bolt takes the vial of serum. With Spider-Man yelling instructions to him ("Operating Room 1, Bolt! Give the vial to Dr. Jack Tryon!"), the mute Inhuman takes to the sky! Will he make it in time? That's not even an issue. Which is why the next panel takes us all the way to 9:53 PM at Manhattan South Medcenter for the anticlimactic aftermath. By this time, Spidey and the rest of the Inhumans have shown up. Dr. Tryon tells them that "Black Bolt got the serum to us in the proverbial nick of time" and that the boy is "gonna be all right". Once Spidey hears this, he bids everyone a good night and prepares to leave. Gorgon growls that this is "Just like a human. After what we've done for them, not even a thank you." and this comment really cheeses the web-spinner off. After the chase he went through courtesy of the Inhumans, he is ready to "bust [their] collective heads" and he raises his right fist in the air to prove it. But before Spidey and Gorgon start duking it out, Medusa steps in and informs the wall-crawler that he should indeed thank the Inhumans since "tonight we saved your world". After Spidey scoffs at this ("Hah!" he says.), Medusa elaborates. It appears that the big machine in the shack was actually a "Kree anti-matter warhead left in orbit around Earth years ago by an officer named Yon-Rogg" (who was the nemesis of the original Marvel Comics Captain Marvel). It turns out that "a few months ago the bomb fell into the sea" and that "somehow the re-entry engaged the arming system". In other words, the world was ready to be destroyed except that the Inhumans got a hold of the warhead and brought in Falzon to defuse it. Except that "he tripped a booby trap... a Kree nerve gas" and the only cure was the serum. Without it, Falzon would not have survived to defuse the bomb. (Ah, there's nothing like a long-winded explanation at the end of an already anti-climactic conclusion and Medusa never does explain how she knew that the needed antidote was riding in that ambulance. I'm getting as cheesed off here as Spidey.)

The wall-crawler is not in a conciliatory mood. After hearing Medusa's explanation, he pulls away from her hair (which she previously wrapped around his wrist to prevent him from putting it to Gorgon) and tells her that she could have told him all this earlier. Gorgon roars, "We had no time for trifles". The Inhumans were saving the world, he bellows, "What does one boy's life count against that?" "If you don't know the answer, Gorgon, I'm not sure I can tell you!" says our hero as he walks away. "But I'll leave you with a parting thought, people" he says, "You've been dubbed the Inhumans for a long time. Don't let it push you into fitting the part!" And, yes, one final time check: "10:00 PM... Silence."

In the Spectacular Spider-Mail, Meredith Robbins of Thousand Oaks, California "would like to suggest some female guest-stars. There are so many good, meritorious heroines in the Marvel Universe. I should like to see some of them here. Like Phoenix, Madame Masque... the Wasp, Sue Richards, and Tigra to name a few." Well, I can't help with anything that may have happened back in 1977, Meredith but how about a little "Year of the Woman" for 2003?

In General...

Chris Claremont was writing some pretty good Marvel Team-Up stories at the time of this issue but this script is far below those standards. (Maybe that's why a story that is clearly in Team-Up's domain ended up as a fill-in in Peter Parker.) It's all so contrived; it makes you want to scream. The accident, combining a broken windshield, toxic chemicals, and an acrobatic rescue is completely ridiculous. The countdown is time-worn and hokey. The battle between Spidey and Medusa is unnecessary. Spidey's exactly right at story's end. All Medusa has to do is explain things. Claremont knows this, too. That's why he tries to defuse the question at the end with as much subtlety as the defusing of the bomb. And speaking of the bomb, the whole explanation for that is so twisted and painful that I... AAAAARRRRGGGGHHHH! Sorry, couldn't hold back that scream any longer. So, after three months of "The Year of the Woman", we've learned that there are more Spidey stories out there with female opponents than it appears at first glance. Now, the next question is, "Are there any good ones?" Not yet! But we'll keep looking!

Overall Rating...

One and a half webs.