We continue our three part Looking Back at the classic Kingpin/Schemer story arc, as started last issue in Amazing Spider-Man #83.
|Pencils:||John Buscema, John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
That snow that started falling at the end of the last issue is really coming down now. But Spidey is out in it, for some reason, reclining in a web hammock he has strung up under a ledge and reading the latest Daily Bugle. The headline announces a "Five Thousand Dollars Reward!" for the capture of the Schemer. (Though I can't imagine anyone other than Spidey and some thugs even know that the Schemer exists!) Our mercenary hero is pleased that he didn't capture the Schemer in their last battle (never mind that the crime boss is getting innocent people, like Gwen, injured or killed) since there wasn't a reward on his head yet. "But now... man, could I ever use that five thousand bucks!" he says.
Spidey reads further, trying to discover who is offering the reward. But the article doesn't say. It only mentions a post office box. (Ah, that responsible Daily Bugle! Some anonymous source offers a reward with no explanation and they splash it all over the front page of their newspaper.) Spidey doesn't care "where the dough is coming from" as long as he's "the one to get it". And so saying, he takes to the webs, swinging through the snow-covered city. (His copy of the Bugle just disappears from one panel to the next. What did he do, just dump it somewhere?)
Did I mention that the snow is now really coming down? The webslinger comes upon a bus, spinning its wheels, thoroughly stuck in the snow, and he leaps down to assist. But while he's trying to push from behind, the bus driver sticks his head out the window and calls for help. As far as he can tell, "Spider-Man's tryin' to hijack the bus!" This outburst scares the web-slinger away. He scales a wall, wondering when he'll learn to mind his own business. "I'd better stick to finding the Schemer," he decides even as he spies a man in a green trench coat walking through the snow. Assuming that the man is one of the "punks around town" (must be that trench coat that convinces him), Spidey swings down and grabs the guy by the collar. But when he tells his captive he is looking for the Schemer, the guy pulls out a police badge and says, "I'm lookin' for him, too!" Spidey takes a powder in a hurry, leaving an angry "cop on decoy duty" shaking his fist and screaming at him for making him blow his cover.
So, Spidey continues to swing through the city, determined to "get that reward". After all, "Gwen's birthday is coming up," he blurts. (What's the matter, Spidey? Afraid if you don't shell out, Gwen's going to find herself another sugar-daddy?) This embarrassing train of thought is, fortunately, interrupted by the ever-reliable spider-sense which tingles as he swings by a bar. He peers in one of the upper-story windows of the building and discovers a man sacked out in bed with a bottle of rotgut on his bedside table and his gun and holster hanging from the bedstead. Spidey recognizes him as "one of the Schemer's hoods from yesterday's fight" (and he manages to make this ID even though the guy is presently not wearing a coat of any kind!)
The web-slinger enters through the window and announces his presence by yelling out, "Okay, buttercup, rise and shine! I wanna talk to you!" The man wakes up (and now that he raises his head we can see he is the thug with the eye patch which he has even worn to bed along with his clothes and shoes) and reaches for his gun. He doesn't have the gun for very long. It flies out of his hand as Spidey grabs him by the shirt and shoves him, upside-down, against the wall. The wall-crawler gets right up in Eyepatch's face and demands to know the location of the Schemer but the thug doesn't know. "He changes hideouts every day!" he says, "He calls us, we never contact him!" Spidey decides that the goon is too frightened to be lying, so he webs him to the wall (still upside-down) and heads out into the snow once again.
His search continues for a couple more hours before it finally sinks in that it is the middle of winter and he is "chilled to the bone". With that he decides to "knock it off for a while". He drops down into the alley where he has hidden his clothes and changes back to his Peter Parker duds. (He still just has the ineffectual yellow jacket and he puts it on right over his costume with no other shirt underneath... except that he takes the jacket off in the next scene and has a brown turtleneck on!) As he plods through the snow, passing a billboard mockingly using a woman in a bikini to advertise airline flights to Florida, Pete wonders whether it is too late to go visit Gwen. She is now back home from the hospital but he hasn't dared see her since she kicked him out of her hospital room. He has avoided another visit because he doesn't have a good excuse for not visiting... except that he is out as Spider-Man avenging her injury but he can't tell her that, can he? He considers the possibility of telling Gwen the truth, and then rejects it. "What if my confession made me lose her? I couldn't bear it!" he concludes.
Peter arrives at the Stacy home and it turns out to be late enough that Captain Stacy (who answers the door, wearing a nifty smoking jacket) wonders "what brings you out at this hour?" Even though it is late, the Captain is still awake. So is Gwen. She is sitting in a big green armchair, dressed in a pink robe with white fluffy slippers on and a big white pillow behind. (She also has a white sheet pulled up over her legs in one panel but that sheet disappears in the panel right after that.) Gwen looks away when Peter enters the room. She confesses that she is still awake because she is doing a lot of thinking. "I was trying to make up my mind" she tells Peter, "about us!" Pete sits in a chair beside her and puts his hand on her arm but Gwen doesn't look at him. "There's so much about you, Peter... so many things you're so secretive about!" she says. Peter assures her. Although he has secrets, he tells her she can always rely on the way he feels about her. Just then, Captain Stacy comes in, carrying a tray with three steaming cups of cocoa. (He whipped that up in a hurry, didn't he?) He apologizes for entering at an awkward time but, for Peter, the timing couldn't be better. Peter sips his cocoa, hoping the diversion will end the discussion, but Gwen has one more topic to probe. She is curious about the accident. She remembers the truck falling over on them but notes that Peter was not "even scratched". Captain Stacy notes that the parking meter "acted as wedge when it snapped off" but Gwen doesn't entirely buy into that. As she continues the questioning, Peter realizes he must get himself out of this situation. So, he does what anyone else would do. He jumps up and drops his full cup of cocoa on the rug! Then, he makes some lame excuse about having caught a chill out in the snow and beats feet out of there! (Works every time!)
Outside, in the ever-deepening snow, the Schemer hangs out in his car, which is almost completely buried in a snowdrift. This suits the Schemer just fine. His fancy-schmancy automobile is as good as any headquarters and "the mound of snow... makes as good a hideaway as I could want". He leans back and watches a television set mounted on his dashboard. The anchorman on the news is urging the city to "be on the lookout for the Schemer". Suddenly, he takes it into his head to tackle the Kingpin. ("I've waited long enough!") To do that, he must get his car going but instead of getting out with the scraper and the shovel, the Schemer just presses a button and "the heating ducts at the edges of [his] car" melt the snow in seconds. Then his snazzy green car with the jet packs on the back is able to navigate the snow-filled streets with ease.
On his way to the Kingpin's headquarters, the Schemer decides to take a little detour just for the pure pleasure of it. He stops at a building where a group of the Kingpin's goons are having themselves a little card game. They go for their guns as soon as they see the Schemer coming down the stairs. The Schemer has a gun of his own and he shoots a pistol right out of a thug's hand. The rest of the hoods decide to "rush 'im!" reasoning, "He can't get us all!" (Good thinking. But why not all shoot 'im? He can't disarm you all.) The "rush 'im" idea doesn't quite work out the way they expect it to. The Schemer grabs onto the banister of the stairway and braces himself as he kicks one of the hoods in the face. Then, using his knowledge of pressure points, he grabs another thug by the wrist and reduces him to jelly. The Schemer's attack is so impressive that it knocks the jackets right off three guys. (That's the only explanation I can come up with as to why these guys are suddenly in their shirtsleeves.) With his gun trained on them, the Schemer orders them to give a message to the Kingpin. "His reign of crime is at an end and the Schemer's has begun!"
The Schemer heads out again into the snow. Two of the thugs watch from the window. One thinks he "must be outta his skull" to take on the Kingpin. The other thinks that, if anyone can succeed in the attempt, "I'm bettin' the Schemer's the man!"
At his mansion, the Kingpin stands in front of a roaring fire and thinks about his son Richard "going to his death hating me for what I am". Two goons interrupt to tell him that the Schemer is out to get him. (But they don't look like two of the goons from the card game.) The Kingpin, magically whisked behind his desk, bangs a fist on it that sends things flying all over. He orders his men out, threatening them with bodily harm. Then, he turns to see his wife Vanessa standing in the doorway behind him. She is disappointed to see this violent display since they have agreed that he would leave this part of his life behind. But the Kingpin declares that he has "too many enemies" to be able to do this. For one, "there is a new upstart who calls himself the Schemer". The Kingpin shakes his fist at the thought of anyone challenging his power. Vanessa, however, is sad and fatalistic. "What does it matter?" she thinks, with her son Richard lost to her.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man has decided that "hunting the Schemer is better than facing Gwen's questions" and he is standing out on a snow-covered ledge ready to continue the search. He web-slings around, staying warm by moving fast, as below him the snow clean-up continues with the help of a steam shovel. He arrives at one of the Kingpin's warehouses and hears voices inside. For one panel, the snow becomes a blizzard as Spidey stands on the roof listening in. Inside, four men are playing cards and discussing the Schemer. Apparently these are the same four guys that the Schemer attacked except that one has a green hat now and one has a black turtleneck and is wearing sunglasses. They have heard that the Schemer has a special car "rigged up" with weapons that is so distinctive that you can "spot it a mile away". (Another brilliant idea by the man who thinks of himself as the smartest guy in the city. "A special car you can spot a mile away." Why don't all crooks drive around in those?)
So, having overheard this, Spidey takes to the heights and looks around Manhattan for a special car. For once his luck is with him and he spots it right away.
And now, the unsuspecting Spidey reader of 1970 turns the page of his comic and encounters, for the first time, the short-lived gimmick of cheating on the page count. For a time, Marvel reduced story pages to 19 but still numbered them as 20. They did this by turning the two pages that appeared in the centerfold (pages 12 and 13) into half pages with cheesy stamp and coin ads (to start) underneath. This ploy begins in this issue and continues, for over a year, until ASM #99, August 1971. ASM #100 still has 19 pages but without the half-page deception. And soon after that, the whole double-sized 25-cent experiment happens.
Spidey swings down to the strange car. As he gets closer, he notices that the car is equipped with "one-way windows" so that the driver can see out but anyone outside cannot see in. This convinces him. The car must be the Schemer's! He lands on the roof and peers down at the windshield. Inside, the Schemer sees him and accelerates the car. This burst of speed shakes Spidey off. With the web-slinger sprawled in a snowdrift, the Schemer decides he "shouldn't waste a golden opportunity like this". He turns the car around and aims it right at the web-slinger. Just in case hitting a guy with the front end is not enough, the Schemer's car has a battering ram that projects right out of the grillwork. (Seems to me this would only make it harder to hit somebody but it saves trips to the body shop.) Spidey is positioned just in front of a lamppost as the car charges. He shoots some webbing to the top of the post and swings out of the way. The battering ram smashes into the post and topples it but Spidey does one of his somersault moves and lands on the roof of the car again. This time, the Schemer decides to stop playing around. He drives his car right off a dock and into the river! Once in the water, Spidey is forced to let go. The Schemer peers through a high-tech periscope to be sure that he has shaken the wall-crawler off. Then he ignites some jets that levitate the car right out of the water and back onto land. And off he drives again, his target... the Kingpin!
Seconds later, a very wet wall-crawler drags himself back onto the dock. The Schemer is long gone but he has left tire tracks in the snow. Spider-Man intends to follow them. (Apparently unconcerned that it is winter and he is now soaking wet.)
Not long after, the Schemer's nifty car pulls up outside the gates of a four-chimney mansion. He presses a button on his dashboard that activates his "ultra-sonic circuit breaker" designed to "instantly neutralize any electrical alarm system within a three-block radius". (Man, this car has every extra you can think of!) With that, it is an easy matter for the Schemer to sneak onto the grounds. In short order, he is standing right outside the Kingpin's office. He can see the big man inside, "in all his obtuse obese unawareness", sitting at his desk. As the Schemer enters through the French doors, the Kingpin hears him and turns. (The doors are not even locked and where the heck are all the Kingpin's guards?) He rises from his desk and faces the intruder. Then, the Kingpin hears footsteps behind him. He suspects a trap and turns, expecting another attacker. But the new arrival is Vanessa and she tells the two men to "Stop while there still is time!" Wedging herself between the two men, with her arms outstretched to ward off each of them, Vanessa turns to her husband and reminds him of his great strength. "I've already lost a son!" she says, "Must I now see my husband transformed into a murderer?" (Uh... Vanessa? Isn't the Kingpin already a murderer?) She then turns to the Schemer, looks him in the eye, and tells him to get away while he can. But there is something she sees in the Schemer's eyes that stops her cold.
Outside, Spider-Man has reached the end of the trail and found the Schemer's car. He makes his way to the mansion, clings on the wall outside the French doors, and sets up his camera. Then, the little vandal smashes his way in, rather than open the doors as the Schemer did. He is not all that surprised to find the Kingpin in the room with the Schemer.
Spidey bears down on the two villains with visions of winning "a doubleheader" but he forgets about the speed of the Kingpin. The big man is on him in an instant, with a powerful left-handed punch that sends Spidey crashing back into a whole slew of furniture. He ends up hitting the wall, knocking a big chunk of plaster off, revealing the bricks underneath.
The Kingpin presses his attack with another big punch but Spidey rolls away and the blow misses. (And no wonder. Have you ever tried to punch someone who is sitting on the ground while you're standing up? Well, no, neither have I, but it can't be easy.) Kingy's fist impressively goes right through the wall but the punch also sets him up to be hit in the snoot by Spider-Man. Enraged ("I've never hated anyone the way I hate you" he says), the Kingpin rips the carpet off the floor with his bare hands. (The carpet, by the way, is at various times blue, a dark purple, and, yes, orange. At the time the Kingpin tears it loose, it is a brownish-gray.) Then, he yanks on it, as if he is pulling a tablecloth off a table. All the furniture (and Spidey) goes tumbling into the air together.
Now, I know what you're wondering... if the Kingpin yanks the whole carpet loose, then where is he standing? On the floorboards, of course. At least that's where he is by the next panel, when he has bundled Spidey up inside the thin and tacky looking rug (which is now green, by the way). He pulls the enshrouded web-slinger next to him and raises his fist to try another one of those "punch someone on the ground" doomed-to-failure moves. Next thing Kingpin knows, Spidey strikes with a punch of his own, which rips right through the rug and clocks Kingy in the jaw. The wall-crawler rips his way through the rest of the rug. The Kingpin is on his hands and knees, stunned. So, Spidey webs him up and brings him to the police, right? Wrong. He's still so obsessed with the five thousand dollar reward that he leaves the room, looking for the Schemer. He doesn't find him but, on the bright side, he gives the Kingpin time to recover. Within the carpetless room, the crime boss gets to his feet and notices that both Vanessa and the Schemer have vanished. He is afraid that the Schemer's plan from the start may have been to abduct his wife.
Having come up empty on the Schemer, Spidey returns to the scene of his battle... just in time to see the Kingpin opening a secret door and escaping into a transparent transport tube. Vowing to make the Schemer pay for taking his wife, the Kingpin rides a current of air upward and escapes. Spidey is left alone in the destroyed room (which is now on the second floor if page 20 panel 5 can be believed). He recovers his camera but he has otherwise come up empty. "No money, no glory, no nothing!" he mutters as, head down, he makes his way out of the mansion.
Spidey doesn't cheer up too much over the next year of issues. He gets the flu (#86), reveals his secret identity to his friends only to weasel out of it later (#87) and witnesses the death of Captain Stacy (#90). This last event sets Gwen against Spider-Man (#91) and eventually results in her flight to England to stay with her Uncle (#93). Then the Green Goblin returns (#96) and Harry Osborn suffers a drug overdose (#97). So, when is the next really happy moment in Peter Parker's life? When Gwen returns from England and runs into his arms in ASM #98 (July 1971), more than a year after these Schemer and Kingpin events. (Enjoy it while you can, Pete! Less than two years later, she's dead!)
The story of the Kingpin and his son picks up about a year and a half later in the pages of Captain America and the Falcon. In issue #s 145-146 of his mag (January-February 1972), Cap battles the hordes of Hydra led by the Supreme Hydra and a mysterious man sitting at a console. In #147 (March 1972), he unmasks the new Supreme Hydra and reveals him to be Richard Fisk, the Kingpin's son. The man at the console is the Kingpin himself. In this story, it is revealed that Vanessa has the Kingpin taken away to an institution. Richard decides that his ignorance and naivety are to blame for his father's condition. This inspires him to crime as a career choice. He uses underground contacts to join Hydra and quickly rises through the ranks. After "nearly a year" he is Supreme Hydra and he becomes determined to cure his father who is still in a state of total shock at the institution. Richard sends his Hydra agents to abduct the Kingpin and take him to Hydra headquarters. There a special "hyper-shock-treatment" is used on the Kingpin. The Hydra men then bring the Kingpin home where he soon recovers. Richard also arranges for the Kingpin to become the head of Hydra but makes Vanessa promise that his father never know it is his son who has arranged all of this. By the end of the issue, the true head of Hydra is revealed to be the Red Skull who has duped the father and son team into helping him animate the Fifth Sleeper. The Kingpin and Richard join Cap, the Falcon, and SHIELD to defeat this menace and then fade into the woodwork. When the Kingpin finally returns to face Spidey in ASM #163-164 (December 1976-January 1977), he reveals that Richard was left "dying in my arms" after participating in the battle against the Sleeper. The Kingpin puts his son in "cryogenic suspended animation" until he can capture Spidey and steal the web-slinger's vitality to resurrect his son. Richard is cured, of course. Otherwise he wouldn't be around to take on the identity of the Rose. Some other time with that, okay?
And, yes, Captain Stacy has pretty much figured out that Peter is Spider-Man but then he goes and gets himself killed five issues later.
Part two keeps the ball rolling with the focus on the Kingpin, though it's hard to take the "rug-pulling" incident seriously, it's still a pretty good story. Let's offer a kindly three and a half webs.