Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #138

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Spectacular Beginnings

This review was first published on: 2009.

In Detail...

"Night Of The Flag!"
Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #138
May 1988 : SM Title
Summary: Tarantula and Captain America, Tombstone
Editor:  Jim Salicrup
Writer:  Gerry Conway
Pencils:  Sal Buscema
Inker:  Sal Buscema
Cover Art:  Sal Buscema
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Articles: Mary Jane Watson-Parker, The Persuader, Robertson, Joe "Robbie", Tarantula II, Tombstone

Tarantula's lunging at Spider-man, who's being held from behind by Captain America, about to impale him on a boot spike. The spike connects, Spidey drops to the ground. Tarantula calls him a traitor to his country and to freedom everywhere, spitting on him and monologues for awhile longer over his body. It was all a feverish fantasy though--Captain America breaks Tarantula out of his reverie, saying if they want to find Spider-man before sunrise they better start tracking him now. As they exit, Cap asks Tarantula why he made his secret base out of a garbage scow--Tarantula says it's so he is constantly reminded of the "basura", or garbage, that he came to the states to exterminate. Tarantula gives Cap a skewed, lie-ridden account of what happened last issue, saying Spider-man aided a known terrorist, Elvira Corona. Cap thinks that none of it feels right, that it doesn't jive with his idea of who Spidey is, but that he has to follow his orders.

Pete and MJ are at the immigration offfice, trying to see if they can help Elvira, MJ's make up girl that Tarantula attacked last issue. Ms Michaelson, the woman at the office, says Elvira can't prove she was continuously living in the country since 1981, and will likely have to be deported. Pete and MJ leave, thinking the situation looks more and more hopeless.

At the Bugle office of Robbie Robertson, Robbie's working late and is interrupted by Kate Cushing, who said the morning edition went out an hour ago, that he should go home and get some sleep. Robbie said he just got carried away with his research; when Kate asks if she can help, he says it's private--and personal. Robbie leaves, Kate realizes somethings up and goes into his office to investigate, finding a dossier on Tombstone, "the most feared mob hit man in the midwest".

At downtown's Federal Building, Tarantula incapacitates a distracted guard and let's himself into the cells of those being held for deportation. Cap has to stop Tarantula from overdoing it on the guard, telling him he's down and that's enough. Cap says he doesn't like Tarantula's methods. They find Elvira's cell--Tarantula interrogates her in Spanish, which Cap doesn't speak. Tarantula demands to learn how she got in touch with Spider-man last issue, and threatens her family if she doesn't come clean. She gives up Mary Jane's name in terror. Tarantula says they have a name and are close, turning to leave. Cap looks at Elvira crying for a moment, and follows Tarantula out the door.

At an office on Wall Street, a blonde man named Rayburn is discussing business on the phone, when suddenly he's interrupted by Tombstone, who grabs him by the shirt collar and lifts him high in the air. He tries to bargain with Tombstone--Tomby says "the Arranger says you would try that"..Rayburn's eyes start to glow yellow: he says "you don't want to hurt me..you WANT to let go..". Tombstone says the Arranger told him Rayburn would try that too. Tombstone says it won't work, that he's ready for him, that Rayburn has some kind of charisma that makes people do what he wants them to. Tombstone says Arranger wants to make use of Rayburn's talents, and that if Rayburn thinks he's persuasive, wait until he meets the Arranger.

Pete's having a nightmare in he and MJ's new place of all his enemies coming at him at once. When he wakes he tells MJ he empathizes with the illegals they saw--that he knows how they feel hunted and desperate. Suddenly the phone rings--MJ answers, it's Elvira--she only has time to say something about the Westside Freight Yard before the line goes dead. Pete says he knows how to help her, and dons the red and blue costume.

Upon arriving at the trainyard, Spidey reflects that it's probably a trap, that someone was probably faking Elvira's voice to get to Spider-man. His spider-sense goes off--he's surprised to find Captain America behind him. Spidey breathes a sigh of relief, saying that for a moment he thought Cap was the enemy. Cap says, "bad news--I am".. and whacks Spidey with his shield. As lands, Tarantula pops out of an empty traincar and sticks Spidey with his poisonous foot spike. Spidey manages to elude them for a few moments, to regain his composure, while his advanced metabolism fights off the drug's effects. Cap begins to have second thoughts, wondering how the original Captain America would've dealt with the situation? He begins to have a change of heart.

Spidey somehow gets his foot caught in the railway track, the drug taking over his system. Tarantula jumps in a railway cart, determined to bowl Spidey over and kill him, saying Spidey killed Tarantula's predecessor. Spidey says he died by accident, Tarantula says maybe, he doesn't really care, which Cap overhears. Spidey slips out of his boot at just the right minute and delivers a kick to Tarantula, who falls on the railway track and breaks his knee. Tarantula is hollering for Captain America, who is standing stoically on a train car watching them from above, and then turns his back and leaves.

Back at the garbage scow on the Hudson, Cap intercepts Gulliver South, who's trying to leave the hideout. South says he just heard Spider-man turned Tarantula over to in the INS as an illegal, and where was Cap? Cap says he had some thinking to do, and learned South was a rogue agent with no legal authority to act on. South unwisely berates Cap for questioning him, and Cap knocks his lights out, leaving him unconscious on the garbage heap.

Finally, Pete and MJ are watching Elvira boarding a plane along with her family. Because of the publicity, Pete says, Elvira and her family will be safe from reprisals in her homeland, and will probably receive political refugee status from Maggie Michaelson. They look on as Tarantula is being escorted (in handcuffs and still in full costume, naturally) to the plane to be deported as well. Pete says sometimes you have to relish the small victories. MJ says it's the small defeats that break her heart.

In General...

As I have never followed Captain America comics, I had to do some checking to see who was in the suit at this time. After facing Nuke who, with the corrupt blessing of the government, destroyed Hell's Kitchen over in Daredevil, Steve Rogers resigned as Cap in disgust and John Walker (who later became US Agent) took his place for awhile. Walker is practically worthless here, and isn't even moved to help Spidey even as Tarantula gets the drop on him. Sure, he punches out Gulliver South at the end of this tale, but it would've been equally as cathartic to see him at least bounce his shield off of Tarantula's head here as well.

This issue suffers from a paucity of the supporting cast, save for Robbie, who's connection with Tombstone is further teased out. Robbie's acting like Mr. Secrecy, but then leaves the file on Tombstone on his desk for Kate Cushing to find. The situation with Robbie and Tombstone, as well as with the Arranger and Rayburn (The Persuader), is actually one of the more interesting subplots of this time, but there's not much here except another nod to it.

Another ho-hum entry from Conway/Buscema. The story never rises much above ham-handed symbolism with mediocre action, and Buscema's art, particularly the red & blue-costumed Spidey layouts, seem old- fashioned and hopelessly staid compared to what's going on over in Amazing at the time (though rusty with the webhead in these early issues, Buscema really comes into his own on this title and sets into a very respectable 100-issue run on it). Despite those gripes, this was still a mildly fun two-parter, and made for a decent read.

Overall Rating...

Simply average through and through, but this issue is on par with #137 and is at least not much of a step down in quality. A bit more action might've helped, something the last ish had much more of somehow along with all the set-up.