We conclude our looking back at the two-part Hitman story that began with Spectacular Spider-Man #4.
|Cover Art:||Dave Cockrum|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1|
Yes, you heard me right. The Hitman has been hired by Mr. Morgan to kill Spider-Man, not the Vulture, just to spoil his revenge! The gunman raises his rifle to fire. Poor Spidey is still too addled by the electroshock and the grenade blast to resist. So, the Vulture is forced to come to his rescue. After all, the Vulture is determined to get his revenge and he is furious that his opportunity is being taken away from him. He rushes at the Hitman and knocks him to the ground. A stray shot from the rifle misses everyone. As the Hitman and Vulture tussle, Spidey recovers just enough to make his move. Even though he feels like he should be in "an intensive care ward", he doesn't just escape; he leaps into the fray, knocking both bad guys for a loop. As the villains strive to rise, Spidey somersaults to the ceiling, grabs the Hitman's gun with his webbing and uses it as a club to whack the Vulture in the jaw. He then swings it back to try the same maneuver on the Hitman but misses. The Hitman, it appears, is more than just a marksman. He is fast and agile enough to evade the attack, then "tumble, roll, and come up shooting" with one of the pistols holstered at his hip. The wall-crawler evades the shot and escapes by jumping out of a nearby window. Before Spidey even gets to the outside wall, the Hitman has clipped off four more shots, which puts him, Spidey realizes, "in the Punisher's class".
Now, while Spidey is scaling the outside wall to escape, let's look back at the previous issue for a moment. Remember Spidey and the Vulture were at the bottom of the elevator shaft and the Hitman arrived at an elevator door just a few feet above them. So they must be in the basement, right? No. Spidey leaps out of a window that is at least one story up from the ground. Since when do elevator shafts stop on an upper story? Good thing for Spidey that this one did or he wouldn't have had a window out of which to escape!
Inside the building, the Hitman races to the window. He has been surprised by Spidey's speed but now feels like he has seen enough of it to compensate with his next gunshot. He never gets the chance. The Vulture tackles him from behind with the intent to kill. The Hitman responds by pulling a can of mace out of his belt and spraying the Vulture right in the eyes. Blinded, the Vulture smashes through a window to the open skies. His only thought is to get "cold air, water, anything" that will get rid of the burning pain.
The Hitman watches the Vulture go, then pulls out a nifty video transmitter to communicate with Mr. Morgan. He reports his "first encounter" as "Resolution negative" but Morgan is a little more blunt about it. "You blew it", he tells his hireling, adding, "Any of my own men could've done that". The Hitman replies that getting revenge on the Vulture by killing Spider-Man "is a unique punishment" that requires a little extra work. He feels that the first encounter actually went very well, particularly when you consider that he managed to plant tracing devices on the backs of both Spider-Man and the Vulture.
On the roof of an adjacent building, a shaken Spider-Man watches the Vulture fly off. (And look! There's the tracer right on his back!) He's too weak to follow and besides he should be at home "cramming for Friday's Physics Exam" but figures on settling for a hot shower before getting back into costume again.
At the same time, Flash Thompson and Mary Jane Watson have taken a table at the restaurant run by the big bald guy with the mustache. They ask about Sha Shan but he tells them that he has no employee by that name. Flash tells MJ that he knows it was Sha Shan but MJ suggests they take their conversation outside, since the owner is still listening in. As soon as they leave, the owner goes into a back room, climbs some stairs and opens the door of a bedroom. Inside, sitting on the bed, her hands clasped in despair, is Sha Shan.
Outside, MJ and Flash walk through the snow, trying to figure it all out. MJ reminds Flash that Peter was with him when he spotted Sha Shan. She suggests they go to see him to see if "he has some thoughts".
But Peter isn't home just now. He's up on the roof of the building where he stashed his civvies. He reaches under the ledge to retrieve his web bundle and discovers that he had previously placed it right under a leaky pipe. Now the web pack is soaked through and, in this weather, has frozen solid. There's nothing else to do but websling home with the "wash and wear bowling ball" tucked under his arm.
In his headquarters, the Hitman uses his new knowledge of Spider-Man and the Vulture to modify his weapons, even as he watches "twin scanning screens" revealing the locations of his two tracers. He is professional enough to know the value of patience. For the moment, he is content to wait.
In the shadow of his cigar store Indian, Spider-Man opens a window and enters his apartment. He dumps the frozen web ball on a table where it lands with a "klunk!", opens the top drawer of his dresser and finds it empty. He has run out of clean clothes. He rummages through "the world's largest collection of dirty laundry" and finds nothing worth wearing... "Unless mildew gets very popular". And so, he is forced to go with what he's got. He opens the frozen web pack, boils up a big pot of water on the stove and (using the back end of a broom) ladles his frozen clothes into it. Just then, of course, MJ and Flash show up and knock at the door.
With nothing to wear but his Spidey suit, Pete has to think fast. He removes his gloves and boots (mask is already off, of course), grabs a sheet off the bed, and covers himself with it. When he opens the door, he tells Flash and MJ that he was taking a nap. "And cooking in your sleep?" asks Mary Jane as she notices smoke billowing out from the kitchen. The threesome race into the room to see steam filling the room from the boiling pot. MJ uses the broom to pull Pete's shirt out of the water... a shirt many sizes too small now. "So this is why we haven't seen much of you lately" she says, "You've been running a secret laundry for Munchkins, right, Petey?"
And back at his secret headquarters (which turns out to be inside his own private jet), the Hitman notices that Spider-Man's signal "has been stationary for a while". He assumes this means that the wall-crawler is "settled in for the night". What better time to stage his next attack?
An hour later, the Vulture (just crouching on a ledge beneath the full moon) is shot at by the Hitman who is riding by on his cool-looking Peter Fonda Easy Rider chopper. The shots miss... intentionally. The only purpose is to anger the Vulture and get him to follow. The Vulture swoops down upon the Hitman but fails to snag him. Instead he follows the assassin, just according to the Hitman's plan.
Back at Peter Parker's Pad, our hero has finally managed to get Flash and MJ to leave. He has been making conversation for an hour with the sheet pulled up and covering his Spidey suit, all the time pretending that it was covering his bare bod. Flash promises to go out and "scrounge up some duds" and Pete convinces MJ to accompany him on the mission. As far as can be seen, no discussion of Sha Shan has taken place at all. Just as Pete hustles the duo out of his apartment, he hears a loud crash, as if there was "a wreck on the next street". It is the sound of the Vulture finally catching up to the Hitman and knocking him off his snazzy motorcycle.
The Hitman is a bit surprised by the Vulture's success. He had hoped to make it to the next block where Spider-Man is, according to his tracer, but hopes to attract the web-slinger anyway "if the battle's loud and long". He starts by pulling a flare gun from his belt and shooting it off right in the Vulture's eyes. Then, he is kicked in the head from behind by an arriving Spider-Man, zooming in on his webs.
The Hitman falls to his hands and knees in the snow but he is not knocked unconscious. Spidey stands over him, preparing to deliver the coup de grace but his spider-sense starts alerting him to an approaching danger. The Vulture is streaking down from the skies, heading right toward him. With perfect timing, Spidey somersaults in the air, flipping over the Vulture. The flying bad guy is too swift for the web-slinger to land on his back, so Spidey is forced to shoot out some webbing and catch the Vulture by his feet instead.
The Hitman has recovered by this time. He loads a "boomerang blade" into his newly refitted rifle and aims it at the two costumed figures who are silhouetted by the moon. With unerring aim, he fires the gun and the boomerang blade severs Spider-Man's web. (And returns to the Hitman just as a boomerang should... but how does he deal with the blade when it returns to him? Ouch!) Spidey plummets to earth, with no choice but to whip up a web trampoline between two buildings. When he bounces back up in the air from his webbing, the Vulture is there to give him a hard punch in the snoot. He crashes hard into an alley, knocking over garbage cans. The instant that happens, the Hitman is shooting at him, giving him no time to recover. Spidey knows that the Hitman is "intentionally driving me into flight" but he has no choice but to do just that. He sends out a webline and swings away.
The Hitman watches him go, very pleased with his handiwork. He leaves Spidey to the Vulture for the moment while he contacts Mr. Morgan again. Morgan is no cheerier than last time. "The Syndicate recruited you as an answer to the Punisher" he says, "Mess up now and that rep's blown!" Breaking off his transmission, the Hitman gets back on his cycle. His two foes have already left the scene but he can still track them with his tracers (those tracers are still on there?) and he can tell they are working their way up to Central Park.
Now, apparently, Central Park was the scene of "extensive subway construction" at the time Archie was writing this story, so Spidey and the Vulture find themselves battling on the top of a huge metal crane. Spidey punches the Vulture with his left hand but the blow has little effect. The Vulture can tell that Spidey is faltering. The wall-crawler is so tired that his legs buckle beneath him. The Vulture knows "this is the finish" and he swoops in for the kill. Unfortunately for him, the Hitman has arrived on the scene. Aiming between the two figures with his telescopic sight, the Hitman fires off a shot that interrupts the attack... and sends the wall-crawler tumbling off the crane. For an instant, the Hitman wonders if he has blown it. He only wanted to spoil the Vulture's attack, not to end it all yet. But then, Spider-Man instinctively shoots off some webbing that catches on the top of the crane. He hangs on, unmoving, dangling up in the air. The Hitman assumes that his first shot only grazed the wall-crawler but this moment is too good to pass up. He sights his rifle at Spidey knowing that "this is a hit they'll talk about for years!"
And so it comes to this. Spidey appears unconscious, hanging in the air. The Vulture comes down to finish the wall-crawler off. The Hitman trains his sites right on Spidey's head. He plans to wait until the instant that the Vulture tries to take his revenge and then steal it by putting a bullet in Spider-Man. But what neither of the villains takes into account is that the wall-crawler is faking. In a blur of split-second decisions, Spidey comes to life and wraps his legs around the Vulture's waist. The Hitman fires off his shot. The webster twists in the air putting the Vulture between himself and the bullet. Specifically putting the Vulture's power pack in the way of the shot. The bullet shatters the Vulture's power source. Without it, he can't stay aloft, and he falls to the ground crashing through some wooden planking into the construction excavation where, Archie tells us, "the police can finally claim him".
Spider-Man turns his attention to the Hitman. He dodges a series of gunshots and crashes through a fence but the Hitman has fled the scene. The shots were laid down to cover his escape. Now that the Vulture is out of action, the Hitman knows that his assignment is blown. (He can't continue to thwart the Vulture's revenge if the Vulture isn't in any sort of shape to get that revenge.) As Spidey puts it, "fighting for free just wasn't the Hitman's bag". Spidey has also put two and two together. He realized, when the two villains showed up "practically on [his] doorstep" that he was being tracked and he deduced from this that the Hitman was anxious to tantalize the Vulture as much as possible. Therefore, he took the chance that he could fake helplessness and not have the Hitman blow him away until the last second. He reaches onto his back and finds the tracer that the Hitman put there. "Maybe if I turn it over to the Punisher" he decides, "he can find some way to trace who made it". But, for now, he plans to let the Hitman get away. After all, he has to get back home before Flash and MJ return and wonder, "how a supposedly clothesless Peter Parker can be out roaming the New York streets".
(We can assume, I suppose, that Spidey did get back in time since MJ and Flash never refer to the incident.)
The following issue (PPSSM #6, May 1977) reprints Marvel Team-Up #3 (July 1972), but Archie Goodwin picks up where he left off in #7 (June 1977), with Spidey bursting into Mr. Morgan's headquarters, then webbing up and threatening the crime boss. Meanwhile, Flash Thompson continues his search for Sha Shan only to discover (in PPSSM #8, July 1977) that the bald restaurant owner with whom he's been dealing (whose name is Achmed Korba) is Sha Shan's husband! Unfortunately, Archie leaves the series after #8, turning the storylines over to Bill Mantlo. Mr. Morgan is not mentioned in the book again and Bill turns the Sha Shan subplot into the excruciating Brother Power-Sister Sun four-parter. Too bad.
It takes Chris Claremont, in Marvel Team-Up #88 (December 1979), to finally take care of Mr. Morgan (at least as far as Spidey is concerned). The web-slinger, the Invisible Girl, Police Captain Jean DeWolff and a SWAT squad from the NYPD force Morgan and his men to surrender. This opens the door for the New York mobs to be taken over by Morgan's old nemesis, the Vulture, as revealed in PPSSM #44-45 (July-August 1980). Spidey beats him.
Oh, and, hey, a whole bunch of people wrote in to offer alternatives to the letter column name of "Peter Parker's Pad" (which seems like a pretty fine name, if you ask me). Alternatives offered were, "Peter Parker's Pen Pals", "Parker's Podium", "Peter Parker's Pix", "The Parker Page", "Daily Bugle Bylines", "Peter Parker's Spectacular Spider-Mail", "Alter Ego Altercations", and "Web-Zingers". Not much of a selection, is it?
Did Spidey ever give the Hitman's tracer to the Punisher? I don't know but the Punisher does join the fun when the Hitman makes his next (and final appearance).
There's no real punch in these stories, but they are just good plain old fun. What's more, Archie's little "sad sack" moments for Spidey (getting knocked off the top of the bus by a tree branch, having his civvies frozen solid in the web pack, shrinking his shirt in the boiling water) that really make the issues a treat. Four webs for each.