An old face from Spider-Man's past is about to resurface – but have things changed for Joe Smith since we last saw him?
We open in a Ney York subway. As the train comes to a halt Joe Smith carefully makes his way out onto the platform, ever vigilant for pick-pockets. Glad to be free from the confinement he starts on his journey through the four blocks to his work place, where he works with special needs children. Having lost a son, the work is the most satisfactory thing he could be doing. Things didn't start out well for Joe (so we are told) but having received a helping hand he was able to make a fresh start. In contrast (he muses), the neighbourhood he now works in didn't receive the same kindness, morphing from a decent place to live to a thriving gang land in a few decades. Spotting a patrol car outside the schools he fears the worst and bursts in demanding to know what's happened. Though not as terrible as it could have been, there was a break-in during the night in which the TV and computer were stolen and everything else vandalised to the point of near destruction. The police state that although they have a complete list of the stolen items, the current short-handedness means there is little they can do. While his teaching partner despairs over how people are meant to be more civilised than apes, one of Joe's student assures him not to worry because Spider-Man will help them.
That night in his apartment Joe dwells on his encounter with Spider-Man all those years ago (Amazing Spider-Man #38), in which the Wall-Crawler stopped his rampage and gave him a chance for a second start on life. And even after the death of his son caused a return of the berserker rage, Captain America was there to make sure he didn't return to his old ways. It transpired that the chemicals that gave Joe his powers combined with his emotional distress to cause a post-traumatic stress flashback. The medication used to suppress this recurring also helped dissolve the chemicals and resulted in the loss of his powers. But powers or none, if there are no Spider-men or Captain Americas to clean up this neighbourhood then who will? Recovering his old costume from his wardrobe, Joe hits the streets. Despite it only turning dawn he has no problem in locating a gang of thugs out in full force. Wary but no less off-put one of the gang members inquests who he is, to which he responds a name isn't important - all that matters is that someone is taking the initiative to clean up the streets. Three against one proves to be more problematic then he realised however, and despite his boxing skills Joe is soon backed into a corner at knife-point. Just then, a mob comprising of the local denizens appear and chase off the thugs – turns out people were ready to take action, all they needed was for someone to show them the way. Even though he lost the fight and the victory will be fleeting, Joe feels secure that there is a brighter future, and that you don't need powers to do something exceptional.
"Mister Smith Goes to Town" was a low point to this annual for me. I'm sure there are some hard core fanatics out there who were applauding the return of Joe Smith so loud their mother could hear them from the basement. I however could not get through the tedium of yet another piece of 'you don't need powers to be a hero' motivational garbage and keep a still stomach. I found Joe to be dull and the story style a tad boring - all told as an inner monologue that was every bit as plain as the rest of it. I really can't think of any reason to have included this story in such a knockout anthology other than as filler, and thus I recommend the only reason to read it is if you really do have no other motivational material to read. Good animation though.
A blatantly obvious metaphore that floats atop a sub-standard story about a forgetable character. Give this one a miss and skip to the the final story. Fortunatly it does boast some superb animation to keep you satisfied as you flip on through.
Joe Smiths first appearance back in Amazing Spider-Man #38 was Steve Ditko last issue run on Amazing Spider-Man.
Also Joe Smith was stopped by Captain America in Captain America #246.