Peter Parker, still out in Los Angeles on assignment for the Daily Globe, had just defeated the villain Tatterdemalion with a little help from the Werewolf in Marvel Team Up #93. However, before he and the Werewolf could take a victory lap (or even have a post-fight conversation for that matter), Spider-Man took off after a mysterious woman who had been following him that whole evening. To add another bit of intrigue to this mystery woman, Spider-Man was the only one who could see her!
Eventually, Spider-Man was able to track the woman back to her home, where she revealed her identity to him. Her name was Dansen Macabre and she wanted Spidey's help in a war that she was about to wage...
For the sake of chronology within this story, I'm going to jump to a flashback scene that occurs on pages 6 and 7. That flashback picks up directly following the events of Marvel Team Up #93. Inside Dansen Macabre's home, Spider-Man scolds the mysterious woman for playing tricks on him (ie, making it so that only he could see her). She apologizes for that and explains that that is one of her powers and that she wanted to keep her meeting with him secret. Dansen goes on to explain that there is a man called the Shroud, who has designs on ruling all the mobs in L.A. She claims he has supernatural powers that were given to him by the chaos-worshipping cult of Kali. Apparently that cult is diametrically opposed to Dansen's sect, who has tasked her with stopping the Shroud. Dansen then begins a dance to entrance Spider-Man, putting him under a hypnotic spell so that he will do her bidding. Struggling to maintain control of his own conscious thoughts, Spider-Man complies and is soon headed out of the window looking for the Shroud. Dansen tells the web-slinger that the Shroud is at the same club in which he had battled the Tatterdemalion earlier that evening.
This brings us back to the beginning of the story, where Spider-Man has returned to the jazz club and is now suspended from the ceiling on his web-line. He finds a man and woman cleaning up after the chaos caused by the Tatterdemalion. This is the same man and woman who almost intervened in Tatterdemalion's attack but were prevented from doing so by a mysterious man, as seen in Marvel Team Up #93. Spider-Man uses his web-line to pull both of them up to the ceiling in order to get answers regarding their involvement with the Shroud.
His interrogation does not last long though and suddenly the Shroud appears before him. Spidey's first instinct is to attack the mysterious figure, but he quickly realizes that was a bad idea. Suddenly Spider-Man finds himself immersed in complete darkness, with only his Spider-sense to guide his fighting. After taking a couple of blows, Spidey lands a punch on the Shroud, knocking him out cold. He then scoops of the villain's unconscious body and swings off toward Dansen Macabre's home.
Once there, Spider-Man hands the Shroud over to Macabre, she is quite pleased with the efficiency of the web-slinger's work. Things take a dark turn though, as Macabre reveals a sinister aspect of her plan. Wielding a ceremonial knife, Dansen prepares to sacrifice the Shroud for his transgressions against Shiva, the Hindu god she worships. Spider-Man does not want this to happen, but he is still under the mind control of Macabre. As Dansen prepares to kill the 'Shroud' a different Shroud comes flying in through the window. Apparently, when Spider-Man was stuck in the darkness back at the club, the Shroud swapped himself out of his costume and placed his employee in his stead. That is who Spider-Man knocked out and took to Macabre, allowing the real Shroud to find Macabre's home.
A battle soon breaks out between the Shroud and Macabre, and the Shroud unleashes a blinding amount of light, which breaks Macabre's control over the web-slinger. Dansen tries to re-establish control by initiating her dance, but the Shroud blacks out Spidey's lenses on his mask, preventing him from seeing. The Shroud, however, falls to the ground (presumably because of the dance). With the Shroud subdued, Macabre goes in for the kill. Spider-Man is able to intervene though, since he had not succumbed to the magic of her dance moves.
Dansen then uses her powers to disappear (ie, prevent people from seeing her), and begins to attack both Spider-Man and the Shroud with her knife. She is able to maintain the upper hand at first, however Spider-Man and the Shroud are eventually able to track her and prevent her from escaping. The Shroud then lands a knock out blow on the villainess and they ultimately decide to leave her there (since the authorities won't have any charges to press on her).
The story doesn't end for the Shroud and Spider-Man, however, as the web-slinger attacks him because of his desire to unite the L.A. mobs. The Shroud does acknowledge that he his doing that, but before he can explain himself further, Spidey pounces. Unfortunately for the web-slinger, he is unable defeat the Shroud as the mysterious character blots out the lights again and manages to escape. At first Spidey decides to go out after him but then decides he's had enough of L.A. and that it is time to return home.
Soon after, at the airport, Peter Parker is approached by a mysterious man who claims to know he is Spider-Man. The man reveals that he is not a threat though, because he doesn't know Spider-Man's civilian name. He also reveals that he is blind, and thus cannot describe him to the authorities. He then walks off saying, "now you know one of my secrets!" Obviously this was the Shroud and he was attempting to gain Spider-Man's trust for his help against Dansen Macabre. When Peter tries to prevent him from leaving, he is unable to touch the Shroud because he had made his body intangible with a patch of darkness. Suffice to say Peter is super happy to return to New York...where things are normal!
The first thing that jumped out to me from this story was how similar Shroud's powers are to Marvel's character Cloak. Truth be told, I was unaware that the Shroud had debuted six years prior to Cloak and Dagger's first appearance. I've always held Cloak's power set in high regard for how innovative it was at the time he appeared, but I probably should walk that back a bit given the look and powers of the Shroud...and since he came on the scene before Cloak. I just wanted to get that off my chest before I get into the story.
This story was able to wrap up Peter's trip to L.A. and all of the loose ends that were initiated in Marvel Team Up #93, so from that perspective, it was a success. I also enjoyed the mystery around the Shroud. In particular, his plan with the L.A. mobs. He clearly acknowledged that he is doing that, but, given his potential as a hero, there may be a greater purpose he's serving. The value to me as a reader was simply that I got enough information around the Shroud to be interested in him as a character, but I still realize there's much more to him that needs to uncovered. Well done by the creative team!
It wasn't all good though, there were some real cornball moments in this story. The largest of those centered around Dansen Macabre. First off, let's start with her name, Dansen...she's got a name like that and her powers involve...dancing. For real?? She's the dancing Dansen, now I know these are comic book stories, but that is a little too silly. And the scene where she puts Spider-Man into a trance...(below)
...that scene made me laugh out loud. I know I'm being tough on this one, but oh my that sequence was silly.
There were two other plot holes that I struggled with as well. First, when Dansen does her dance in front of the Shroud (who protects Spidey by blotting out his lenses), the Shroud just falls over. There's no reason for it, because we later find out that he's blind. Of course it allowed for him to become vulnerable as a plot device, so Spidey could save him, but it made no sense in the story. Did he pretend to fall over? Was it a ploy to trick Macabre? Who knows?
Secondly, and this one is a little nitpicky by me I'll admit. But the man from the club at the beginning of the story, Shroud's employee and the one he used a decoy, was of African-American descent. The Shroud was depicted as a Caucasian. So, Spidey fights a white guy as Shroud at first, but after the lights went out and he knocked out 'Shroud'...he didn't notice that it went from a white person to a black person? The art clearly shows it. It seems kind of silly I know, but as a reader it really stood out and you could tell something wasn't right, but the story didn't address it all. How could Spidey not notice that change in the complexion of the Shroud? I guess because Spider-Man was under a trance, he wasn't thinking clearly? Ah well, we may never know.
On the upside, any Spider-Man book with Mike Zeck on the pencils, in my opinion, is enjoyable. And Zeck's artwork did not disappoint at all in this one.
An interesting story with some nice intrigue built around the Shroud, but too many corny aspects and plot holes to keep this one from being higher than 3 webs.