This is the third and final part of “Spidey’s Totally Tiny Adventure”, the serial that ran through all of Spider-Man’s annuals in 1990.
|Writer:||Gerry Conway, Peter David, Stan Lee, Tony Isabella|
|Pencils:||Gil Kane, June Brigman, Ross Andru, Steve Ditko|
|Inker:||Gil Kane, Mike Esposito, Stan Drake, Steve Ditko|
The Psycho-Man returns! Who? Well, he debuted way back in 1967 (see Fantastic Four Annual #5) and his most recent scheme pitted the Invisible Woman, transformed into the villainess known as Malice, against her teammates. It’s a long story and if you’re interested in all the details you can check out Fantastic Four #280-284. Basically, his gimmick is that he can control other people’s emotions. Also, he is very tiny and hangs out in the Microverse.
The story proper starts out with Spidey manacled to a table as electric current courses through his body. Nothing like some good old-fashioned torture to start things off! (Remember the innocent days when only the bad guys did that?) Psycho-Man is at the controls but complains that he needs more power because he is still getting a negative energy flow. “After all my working, my planning, I can’t fail now.” What exactly is his plan anyway, you may ask? Well, he wants to siphon off the Uni-Power from Spidey.
The Uni-Power, for those that don’t know, is a manifestation of the Enigma Force. It travels the universe and possesses random individuals, turning them into the entity known as Captain Universe, during times of great need. Also, it is somehow linked to the very fabric of the Microverse, which is why P-Man wants it for himself.
He continues, “When I think of the time I spent, the money it cost, the danger involved… all to trap Spider-Man here in Sub-Atomica…” Let’s break that statement down a bit, shall we? First, how much time does it really take to shrink Spider-man down to sub-atomic size? This entire story seems to take place within 2-3 hours, tops! Maybe he is talking about the time he spent planning to shrink Spider-Man down? Well, our hero lost his Captain Universe powers in Amazing Spider-Man #327 (circa February 1990) and this annual came out sometime in the summer of 1990 so let’s say six months real time. I’ll be generous and say that is about three months in Marvel Time (in truth, probably less). So it took him three months to figure out how to shrink Spidey? Size manipulation is kinda his schtick, so I don’t see what took him so long. Second, the money it cost? Dude is cruising around in his own spaceship! Somehow, I don’t see him flippin’ burgers at the McDonald’s on the corner trying to save up the cash for a shrinking ray. And don’t say that he had to pay someone on Earth to shrink Spidey, because way back in the first part of this story it looks like it was caused by the combination of Ant-Man’s shrinking gas and a random science experiment involving quantum particles. Is he saying that he funded that entire project on the off chance that it would snare Spidey? Thirdly, the danger? Again, the dude lives in a spaceship within a subatomic universe, surrounded by robots and machinery that cater to his every whim. What danger is he in except for the obvious trouble that happens whenever you tangle with any kind of superhero? The process of shrinking Spidey doesn’t seem dangerous at all. He could pretty much school OSHA on the whole growing things big and shrinking things down process. Anyway, enough dissection of ludicrous plot points. Let’s get on with the story, shall we?
Spider-Man clues P-Man in that he hasn’t had the Uni-Power for months now. If only P-Man had asked his dozen or so previous prisoners (who are all former Captain Universes as well) how the Uni-Power works he could have figured that out himself. Disappointed, P-Man shocks Spider-man into unconsciousness and directs his tentacle robots to carry his prisoner to a cage amongst all the other aliens. Spider-Man wakes up to find green tentacles menacing him. Still weakened from his torture session, he can’t fight back. Fortunately, he discovers (via telepathy) that the tentacled alien is benevolent and its touch actually reinvigorates him.
Meanwhile, P-Man enters another room in his spaceship. This is his inner sanctum, where he keeps his “ultimate power and greatest handiwork”. We don’t see what that actually is, though, except for a glimpse of a glowing, man-sized globe.
The tentacled alien relates to Spider-man how they were all captured and experimented on just like Spider-Man. By now fully recovered from his recent ordeal, Spider-Man immediately decides on a jailbreak. And it just so happens that P-Man broke Stupid Villain Rule #143: Never leave tools or weapons lying within reach of your captured hero. Yes, he placed Spider-Man’s webshooters in a glass case right across from his cell just to taunt him. Spider-Man’s new tentacle friend opens it easily and returns them to their rightful owner. From there it’s just one webline tossed over some conveniently placed control switches (breaking Stupid Villain Rule #12: All door opening controls should be a safe distance from the prisoner’s cells) and voila, we have ourselves an alien break-out!
P-Man’s alarm goes off, however, and he finally does something halfway competent. He releases a mind control gas that makes all the aliens go crazy and fight amongst themselves. Our hero’s spider-sense warns him and his able to swing above the gas and duck into a vent that leads right to P-Man’s inner sanctum. Then, Spider-Man randomly decides to just push some random buttons on some random controls he finds and the glowing, man-sized globe opens up to reveal… a tiny sun and a couple of floating molecules! Somehow Spidey (because he’s such a science whiz, I guess) immediately recognizes as a “miniature universe”.
While our hero is distracted, P-Man fires a laser at him which Spidey easily dodges. Then P-Man threatens to control Spidey’s emotions with his handy control tablet (that reads FEAR, DOUBT, and HATE). But before he can even push a button Spider-Man snags the control module and smashes it against some machinery. Dude, P-Man, you had one ace up your sleeve and you just let some random superhero neutralize it! Now the fight will have to come down to hand-to-hand combat.
They trade punches while P-Man reveals his master plan. After his last defeat by the FF, he returned to the Microverse and shrank down the entire solar system of Sub-Atomica in order to hold it hostage. He promised the citizens that he would return them to normal size only if they declared him their ruler. Which, surprisingly, they did. Only then, however, did P-Man discover that his growth ray didn’t have enough power to enlarge an entire solar system because “It takes more energy to make things larger than to make them smaller.” And he apparently didn’t know this, despite proclaiming himself the master of size manipulation earlier this issue. Then, based on absolutely no scientific information whatsoever, he decides that only the Uni-Power would be, uh, powerful enough to help him (hey, it’s right there in its name, so I guess it makes some sense). Spidey immediately points out flaw #923 in this “plan”. Why didn’t P-Man just shrink himself down to Subatomica’s size? P-Man admits he didn’t think of that (a classic example of a writer hanging a lampshade) but promises he will do so after he dispatches our hero.
During the fight they fall through a chute and end up in outer space, I think (it’s hard to tell exactly where they are supposed to be with all this worlds-within-worlds malarkey). They’re definitely outside of P-Man’s ship, at least. With the flick of a button P-Man grows three times as large as Spidey. This looks like the end our hero, but then a canon pops out of P-Man’s vessel (which the caption calls a worldship) and shoots Spidey with a ray. Did P-Man finally wise up and go for the easy kill? No, it’s the aliens again! They’ve shaken off the effects of the gas and have somehow managed to find an enlarging ray. Now Spidey grows three times as large as P-Man. I think you can see where this is going… P-Man grows bigger still, and picks up a star (yes, a star… I told you they were in outer space) and throws it at our hero. Spidey dodges, and then gets another dose from the enlarging and the two opponents are finally the same size. P-Man brags that no matter how big Spidey grows his size-control device will always make him the master. So, of course, Spidey smashes it with one blow. This effectively ends the threat of P-Man, since somehow the device’s size control was reversed and now he is growing smaller and smaller. Coincidentally, Spidey starts growing bigger and bigger. (I’m not sure how all this works exactly because the aliens on the ship stay the same size. This size-control thing must be more complicated than I thought.)
Anyway, our hero emerges from the microscope slide he started out on. Harry Osborn is still there, but MJ is nowhere to be seen. Spidey starts to explain what happened, but thinks better and just leaps out the window, leaving a befuddle Harry behind. We next see Peter at home, with MJ measuring him up against a wall like you do with little kids (do people still do that? I do). And of course the scene ends with them falling into bed together, like all good Spider-Man stories during this time period.
As an epilogue, we see the assorted aliens that assisted our hero huddled around the worldship controls. They wonder what will become of them since they were kidnapped, shrunk, and can’t return to their homeworlds. In the end, they decide to shrink themselves and live in Sub-Atomica. “Because size, after all, is merely relative.”
The final chapter of a story should tie all the loose ends together, or at least make sense of the major plot points. This one, unfortunately, just highlights the stupidity of the whole scenario. Conway really dropped the ball on this one. It reminds me of his worst MTU stories.
This is a sad showing for a classic villain. He can literally bring your worst fears to life. He can up your hate until you lose all self-control. He can fill you with so much doubt that you are incapacitated. And all he does here is throw a few punches and gets knocked around.
Psycho-Man is one in a long line of Kirby creations that lingers in Marvel limbo to be dusted off once in a while for copyright reasons. It’s clear from his showing in this issue that no one really knows how to handle him correctly. Well, John Byrne did a pretty good job during the previously mentioned Fantastic Four run, but that’s more of an exception that proves the rule.
The Uni-Power and Captain Universe first appeared in Micronauts #8 (1979). They made sporadic appearances in the 80s and even got a mini-series in the 90s (but then again didn’t everybody?).