Web of Spider-Man Annual #7

Background

This is the third and final part of “The Vibranium Vendetta”, the serial that ran through all of Spider-Man’s annuals in 1991.

Story 'The Machine And The Man'

A large man in a trench coat walks down a hall past some guys with guns. He enters an office where the Kingpin waits. His suit disappears in a flash of light and... Ultron stands revealed! While Ultron is loath to work with mere humans, he says he needs Kingpin’s resources. The Kingpin agrees to give Ultron the location of the vibranium as long as Ultron gets a sample for him to examine. The Kingpin wants the vibranium for the money he can make from it, while Ultron just wants it to make his armor more powerful.

(As an aside, this seems like a severely powered down depiction of Ultron. He's essentially signed up to be the Kingpin’s lackey. You'd think someone that can take on the entire Avengers would be able to power his through just about anything that stands in his way. Ultron justifies this collaboration by saying he doesn’t want to meet the Avengers again before he is ready for them, but that just sounds like he is going through a rather human-like crisis of confidence!)

Meanwhile, our heroes (Black Panther, Iron Man, and Spidey) are having a conference of their own. Black Panther reiterates how Wakanda is the only source of natural vibranium and its economy depends on it. While reviewing the info Iron Man downloaded from Roxxon's computers (see the previous installment for details, natch) they find out there is an instability in the artificial vibranium that Roxxon is marketing. They don’t get any details on what that means exactly, however. Black Panther wants to bluff Roxxon into tipping their hand. Iron Man wants to be sure before confronting Roxxon because of his past history with them. Spider-Man, the science student, makes a remark that he is fascinated that synthetic vibranium is a combination of organic and inorganic matter (hmmm, I wonder if that will be relevant later on?). Iron Man, the inventor, doesn’t care so much, but does wonder where the robots from last night came from.

Then, we get a one-page interlude of Ultron’s underground factory which is producing more robot soldiers. Ultron reiterates his need to incorporate the new vibranium into his armor to make himself invincible. Then, he says, “All flesh will die!” Get this guy some chill pills, stat!

The next day, Peter is at ESU again and talking to Ethan and Chip the botany guys in the lab. They are arguing about whether their plant growing experiment is working and ask Peter to judge. Pete states the obvious, “botany isn’t really my field” and looks out the window and thinks about Roxxon.

Meanwhile, T’Challa is at the Roxxon offices and pressuring Mr. Jonas Hale into halting the sale of their synthetic vibranium. Mr. Hale calls his bluff, though, and sends T'Challa packing. He is shook up by the encounter, though, and orders a hit on the king of Wakanda. (Yes, it is the 1990s, where evil corporations have assassin squads at the ready who can get away with anything, even a hit on foreign royalty, it seems.) T’Challa is walking somewhere grassy, right outside the Roxxon headquarters, when he is confronted by six men with knives and clubs. But, of course, six men are easy for Black Panther to keep up with, even in a three piece business suit. Spider-Man shows up and webs them up. They agree that although they know Roxxon sent the killers, there’s no way to connect them to the company and decide to leave them webbed up and head back to the university.

Iron Man arrives before they get there, however. He talks to Dearborn again and tries to get him to come clean about the secret of the synthetic vibranium. Before the argument can get too far the U.S. Army suddenly rolls in and announces that it’s taking over security for the facility that's housing the synthetic vibranium (and, yes, it is still being stored on campus). They quickly set up a force field around the warehouse and then open fire on Iron Man! He blasts one soldier only to find out it’s really a robot (duh)! Dearborn turns into Sunturion again and teleports inside. He is checking on the crates of vibranium just as a giant spider-like boring machine, with Ultron at the controls, busts through the floor! Ultron smashes Sunturion but during the melee the boring machine is taken out. Now, Ultron only has time to grab one crate before jumping back down the hole he made. He says that he will analyze it and reproduce it in mass quantities, but for the time being the Kingpin will have to get his own sample. (But if he can analyze it and make more himself, why not just give half to the Kingpin? Wouldn’t that be more logical?)

Anyway, Spider-Man and Black Panther meet up with Iron Man once again for a page full of revelations. Iron Man tells them about the fake army guys and the forcefield and Spider-Man immediately surmises that the Kingpin set it up, but he is still confused on where the robots came from. Then, Sunturion appears and explains the whole bit about synthetic vibranium being unstable and how it eventually turns into Antartic vibranium, which actually melts metal! He says Roxxon has stabilized the process with microwaves but now it is decaying anyway. Spidey chimes in about the botany experiments using microwaves and how they must have affected the organic part of the synthetic vibranium, causing it to decay more rapidly than normal. Everyone decides to split up. Spidey and Black Panther go to the botany lab while Iron Man and Sunturion go into the sewers after the “mechanical man” he fought.

While Spider-Man takes out the robot soldiers still hanging around, Iron Man catches Ultron before he can get very far in the sewers. Sunturion is hit by Ultron's laser canon. Iron Man hits him with full repulsors, but Ultron automatically repairs the battle damage. It’s a stalemate. Meanwhile, Spidey finds out the botany guys aren’t messing with microwaves right this second, but that doesn't matter because they have caused a chain reaction and the building is collapsing around the crates of synthetic vibranium! There doesn’t seem to be a way to turn it off! Just then, they get a phone call from Kingpin who tells him how to defeat Ultron, something he apparently dreamed up after their initial meeting. (Firstt, how did Kingpin know where to find Spidey? And second, how did he know Ultron was going to betray him? It happened only an hour ago.) Anyway, Iron Man is locked arm in arm with Ultron when he gets Spidey’s broadcast. Iron Man uses a special frequency to lock Ultron’s armored body up and Sunturion uses a giant energy blast to knock him down under some rubble. They grab the crate of vibranium and return to the surface. Now, last time I checked Iron Man’s suit is made of metal (Sunturion and Ultron, too, come to think of it). But IM’s armor is a-okay when he gets topside and tosses the stolen crate back in with the rest.

The heroes have to make a quick plan to get rid of the synthetic vibranium in order to contain its damage. They can’t blow it up and they can’t vaporize it (don't ask me why). And there’s no safe place to store it. Or is there? The Black Panther suggests sending it to the Earth’s core where rock and metal are already melted. Sunturion could teleport it there, but he balks because it is still technically Roxxon property. Everyone is shocked that he wouldn’t do it even to save the city (and potentially the world). That leaves Iron Man. He burrows down underneath the building (uh, exactly how long would it take him to shoot through 25 miles of rock?), does some quick calculations, then collapses everything on top of the crates he carried down there. (How his armor withstood the kind of heat that melts rock is not explained.) He flies out and the latest worldwide crisis is wrapped up in less than three pages!

Then, everyone gets a happy ending. Wakanda's monopoly on the world's supply of vibranium is restored. Iron Man just saved the world for the 3,481st time. Spidey gets to swing off to visit his wife. Even Arthur Dearborn is fed a line about “rogue corporate malcontents” by Jonas Hale and his faith in Roxxon is restored.

General Comments

This is an exciting climax to this three-parter, no doubt, but some elements feel a bit rushed and not well thought out.

Overall Rating

For an annual, this isn't too bad of a story. It's a lot better than the serial from last year. And with the regular writer of the Amazing Spider-Man on the creative team, it feels like the Spidey we all know and love.

Footnote

Ultron-13's first appearance was actually in Dardevil #275 (December 1989), a story that occurred during the Acts of Vengeance crossover that took place in every Marvel Universe title at the time. Then, about a year later he fought the West Coast Avengers in West Coast Avengers #65-68 (December 1990). After the episode I just reviewed, he returns to the pages of West Coast Avengers in West Coast Avengers #89-91 (December 1992). His power levels went up and down during this period, and this is one of the weaker showings for such a classic villain.

(As for that whole Antarctic vibranium thing? I'll leave it to the experts to unravel its rather convoluted history. I expect a 100 page term paper double-spaced on my desk in the morning!)