This is part one of a two part story that re-introduces and updates the Looter. The Looter (for anyone who has not read Al’s review of Amazing Spider-Man #36 on this site) is Norton G. Fester and he got his power from inhaling the fumes of a meteorite.
This issue’s guest star is Nighthawk, otherwise known as Kyle Richmond. He first appeared in Avengers #69 as part of the Squadron Sinister but later reformed and joined the Defenders in Defenders #13. He’s basically a Batman rip-off.
The issue starts with a splash page of Nighthawk landing on the balcony of his New York City after a recent adventure. He enters his apartment and finds someone rifling through his study! Before he can confront the intruder, Nighthawk is blinded by a flash of light (or should I say Dazzle Gun?) and knocked across the room. Not the greatest introduction ever.
Luckily, Nighthawk got a good look at the thief and recognized him as the Looter. He uses his own personal library to looks up info on the villain (for those youngsters that don’t remember life before the internet, people used to look up stuff like this on microfiche). Apparently, there wasn’t much info in the newspaper articles he found, because he decides to check in with Spider-Man since he was the person that originally captured the Looter.
He flies out into the night and since this is only an 18-page story, he finds our hero on the very next page. Spidey thinks Nighthawk is trying to attack him, though, and gives him a swift kick and right cross that knocks Nighthawk onto a nearby roof (that’s two knockouts in one night)! He eventually recovers and explains that he just wants information and alerts Spider-Man of the Looter’s return. They decide to split up to follow the only two leads they have - Nighthawk goes to the prison where Norton escaped from and Spider-Man visits Looter’s old hideout.
Nighthawk visits the state penitentiary and the warden explains how the Looter escaped. Hold onto your hats, because this one’s a doozy! It seems Norton was a model inmate and never gave anyone any trouble. That is, until he got a new cellmate. After a little goading Mr. Fester got so angry that he ripped apart the bench he was sitting on and knocked down the cinderblock wall with his bare hands.
I’ll let him explain why this didn’t happen sooner: “All these years, the thought never occurred to me that I might use my strength to escape. I’d always been such a law-abiding citizen until I gained my power. I just never thought – never realized – what my power could do. But now -- I’m free!” Really, folks, that’s the explanation Gerry Conway decided to go with - not amnesia or head trauma - but just plain forgetfulness.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man visits the Looter’s old lab. Turns out it has been sold and a cult has moved in. This is pretty much just a sneaky way to introduce the goateed and ever-scowling Jeremiah, who will become the main baddie a couple of issues from now (thankfully, not in a Spider-Man headlined story).
Suddenly, the Looter jumps off a ledge and lands on Spidey’s back (our hero’s Spider-Sense must get spotty reception in this area). After a few good wallops the Looter (who now has officially rechristened himself Meteor Man) jumps off of Spidey and grabs onto a flagpole. Our hero, flustered by the unexpected onslaught, is left to fend for himself as he quickly falls to the ground.
Now, Conway must have remembered that the last time these two fought Meteor Man used a parachute of some kind. (Actually, if you look it up, Meteor Man was just using an inflatable parachute as a getaway gimmick.) Anyway, he’s in a parachute again. After Spider-Man recovers from his fall (thanks to a well-placed webline) he swings after the Meteor Man and gives him a nice kick to the back. That doesn’t faze our villain, though, because he just gently rocks and sways out of the path of Spider-Man’s continued attacks (what, is he coated in Teflon all of the sudden?). Spidey makes one last desperate leap but falls short. Thankfully, Nighthawk arrives on the scene and saves him from his second fall of the night.
The two superheroes land on a nearby roof where Nighthawk says he’s calling off the hunt. He explains to Spidey that Meteor Man isn’t really a menace, he just needs more help than a prison is likely to provide. Spider-Man is flabbergasted. He says Meteor Man is dangerous and he needs to be brought in. He even goes so far as to call Nighthawk a coward. Nighthawk decks him one, then flies away.
Well, this is just not very good. Conway tries to bring in some drama by injecting a silly debate between punishment and rehabilitation but in the end it falls flat. This might have resonated in the Seventies, but forty years later it just sounds hokey.
Is it my imagination, or did Nighthawk not actually do anything in this caper? We don’t learn anything about his powers or motivation. And am I the only one who thinks Nighthawk’s logic is lacking? He says Meteor Man needs help because of his psychotic behavior, but then just quits the chase? How exactly does he expect this situation to resolve itself? Good thing there are real heroes like Spidey around to pick up the slack!
In the end, both our heroes don’t come out smelling like roses in this one. Nighthawk gets knocked out twice while Spider-Man almost falls to his death twice.