Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #123

 Posted: 2009
 Staff: Adam Winchell (E-Mail)

Story 'With Friends Like These...'

  Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #123
Summary: Chris Keating (The Foreigner) kills Blaze, frames Spidey
Editor: Jim Salicrup
Writer: Peter David
Pencils: Dwayne Turner
Inker: Art Nichols
Cover Art: Dwayne Turner

In a big opening splash page, Spidey's clinging to the side of a building when he sees an explosion coming out of Black Cat's nearby apartment. "Felicia!" he yells out. He swings across the distance to her place in an instant. He comes through the balcony, calling out for her but then realizing that if she's unconscious why would he expect her to reply to him? He finds her out cold on the ground. He scoops her up off the floor, she tells him not to forget her jacket. Pete says he's got the ugly jacket. Cat says it's not ugly, it's stylish.

Later on, after the fire trucks have come, Cat says she's feeling light-headed and asks Spidey for mouth to mouth. She says Pete broke up with her because she wouldn't accept him under the mask, but that she will now. Their talk is interrupted by Captain Chris Keating of the NYPD. Keating says he's a part of the grunts the public hires to protect themselves from people like Spidey and Cat. Spidey's spider-sense goes off around Keating all the time and he wonders why, chalking it up to hostility from the police department. Keating says he's sick of seeing Spidey on the scene of every emergency call he responds to, that it's suspicious. Cat says Spidey was busy saving her butt, and does Keating remember that she brought in the killer who was ripping Keatings "grunts" to shreds a few weeks back (referring to Sabretooth). Cat says she makes his life easier, and in return Keating should leave her and her friends alone, and tells Spidey to get them both out of there. Spidey is impressed with how Cat told off Keating.

As they swing away together, Spidey thinks how graceful, athletic and beautiful she looks, and how he's more attracted to her than ever. But he wonders just what he was doing around Felicia's place to begin with, despite Cat promising to do him harm. -Things seemed so peaceful this morning, he thinks, as goes into a flashback, sitting at home in his bathrobe and black-costume bottoms. The phone rings and it's Felicia. She tells him to just listen, and if he's sitting. Pete has a seat on his wall. Cat says someone slipped a note under her door a few minutes ago, which says since she's Spidey's lover she'll be the first to die, and then the note burst into flames. Pete thinks, "that sounds like---nah, couldn't be".

Cat says she was hoping he would come over, since she's getting a little nervous. Pete replies incredulously "Nervousness? From the lady who just trashed Sabretooth, one of the deadliest killers around?". This makes Felicia mad, and says forget it, don't feel like because she saved him from Sabretooth that he has to help her. She slams the phone down, saying "Men!". Pete says his instincts tell him to stay far away from her, but how can he refuse someone who's come to him for help? Which is how he ended up in front of her building when the explosion happened.

Later on a rooftop, Cat and Spidey are talking again. Cat says they need to find someplace to hole up for awhile and asks if Pete still lives in that rat's nest of an apartment. He says "Rat's nest? That's my home", to which Cat says "good, let's go!". When Pete starts to protest, she says "do you have a better idea?". They get to Pete's rooftop, but a couple of his female neighbors are sunning themselves in bikinis on the rooftop. Cat cracks that she sees why Peter stays in a dump like his, with "tootsies" like them hanging around. Pete says they can't go in with them on the rooftop, that he's running out of ideas for evading them. Cat says "have you tried this?" and hollars at them "Run!! It's Spider-man!". One of the girls say if he's chasing some bad guy, they might get killed. They run away and Spidey and Cat slip in the skylight.

Outside, MJ is pulling up in a taxi, thinking how her and Peter's relationship has changed since she told him she knows he's Spiderman. She thinks they need to resolve things between them, and is at his place to do so. Someone calls to her from another cab, her friend Alfredo. He says he got to her place just as she was leaving and followed her in a cab to here. MJ says it's a bad time and she has to sort things out with Peter. Alfredo asks sort things out how, but then says don't answer, he thinks he knows. He gives her his card with the number for his private line if she ever wants to sort things out between them. As his cab pulls off, he says maybe he'll try to call her at Peter Parker's place.

Up in Peter's place, Cat asks Pete if he remembers when she used to take pictures of him in action, and how everything is better with two people involved. Peter says he doesn't want to chit-chat and asks what Cat's plans are while her place is being cleaned up and if she's going to a motel. Cat says she's not made of money, and wants to stay there with Peter. Pete says she always hated his place, and that she's never even called him "Peter" before. Cat says she's changed and doesn't want to run from the real world anymore, that she's grown up and Pete should see how much, putting her arms around him. Pete says to knock it off. Felicia says Peter can lift a bus but he can't get one little cat off of him? And that maybe he really doesn't want to. Suddenly, MJ knocks at the door and Peter knocks Cat away. He introduces Felicia and MJ and they snipe at each other for a bit. Pete asks what MJ's problem is, and she says though it's none of her business, she thinks Felicia's pulling his strings, like he's at her beck & call. Pete says that's ridiculous, when Felicia suddenly interrupts saying she just thought of someone who can help. Pete says, "Great! Let's go." Pete asks MJ what she wanted to talk to him about. MJ says she just wanted to chat. As Spidey and Cat swing away out the window, MJ is calling Alfredo's messaging service. She leaves a message saying she wants to know if he's busy tonight.

At the waterfront, two men are meeting, one carrying a package. He introduces himself as JD. The other man is Kirk Donoghue. JD says the Foreigner would like Kirk to review the contents of the box and verify them, for Kirk will be responsible for returning them. Kirk isn't paying attention as he's rifling through the box. JD lists the contents aloud as: one face mask, one gaudy leotard, one ammo belt with flame cartridges, six disk concussion grenades and one self-contained flame gun. JD asks Kirk to sign for everything. Kirk says he won't sign his name on anything, and if JD doesn't start calling him Kirk, he'll fry his brains, as he gives the flame-gun a test blast. The Foreigner is paying Kirk 10k plus an additional 20k if he defeats his opponents, using any measures except brutality, as the Foreigner apparently deplores brutality (he does?).

Spidey and Cat are waiting to see the Foreigner at his office lobby. Cat says Foreigner is honest but does come in contact with shady characters. Spidey says the Kingpin is an "honest guy" too, but that they know he's a major crime lord. Cat says Foreigner is nothing is like Kingpin, that a woman can tell. Cat asks how come if she's willing to forgive Spiderman for the past misunderstandings, why can't Spidey do the same for her? Spidey thinks to himself that his gut tells him not to but there's no way he can say that. Suddenly a woman bursts in the office shouting for her no-good two-timing husband. The receptionist says he's in his office and the woman bursts in. Cat expresses shock in Foreigner being married, Pete says he may not be much longer. Two gunshots are heard--when Cat and Spidey come in, Foreigner is slumped in his chair. His wife's holding the smoking gun saying she's glad she did it, and would do it again. Spidey says he'll web him up and get him to the hospital. The wife says "don't bother". Upon inspection, Spidey learns it's a dummy seated behind the desk. The wife removes her mask--it's Foreigner. "That was my wife" he says. Cat says he almost gave her a stroke. Foreigner introduces himself as Rafael Sabitini, better known simply as "Foreigner". Spidey says "Foreigner, huh? Gee I have all your albums". He asks after the Foreigner's accent, where's he hails from. Foreigner says here and there, kisses Felicia hello. Spidey's spider-sense goes off.

Cat brings Foreigner up to speed. Foreigner says he knows who targeted her, someone who came to Foreigner asking after importing small arms and incendiary, which he says he would never import. This man in question said he would get big from icing two costumed losers. "He probably meant you two. No offense". says Foreigner. He identifies the man as Kirk Donoghue, a small-time hood Spidey captured long ago, newly released. Donoghue purchased a costume from two teenage college students so he would have a colorful identity--the Blaze. Spidey says not those two idiot college kids again. Foreigner says he has Blaze's number, calls and arranges an appointment with him, so Cat & Spidey can intercept him. After they leave, JD, the Foreigner's butler, says he delivered the materials to Donoghue, but that he doesn't trust him. Foreigner says that where they differ, that Foreigner doesn't trust anybody.

Cat and Spidey burst in to what seems to be an empty department store where Blaze is supposed to be. They head to a security office, where Blaze is. Blaze says he had a feeling it was a set-up and got some insurance. He thumbs the security monitor behind him showing where some goons have some woman tied to a chair--the woman is the department security guard. Blaze says he was hired to take Cat & Spidey out but knows he has no chance, so he gives them the chance to buy him out of his contract for 30 grand. He threatens to kill the woman otherwise, raising the volume so Pete and Cat can hear her screams. Spidey, enraged, knocks Blaze into the next room. Blaze crashes against a wall and Spidey webs him up, saying they have to find that woman fast. Spidey notices Cat's claws are sharpening. She says they're fine as they go back to normal. The split up to explore the store faster. Cat says she's got a feeling on the back of her neck--her hackles are rising. One of Blaze's goons fires shots at her from a handgun. Cat shoots him with a crossbow, saying sporting goods was the wrong place to stage an ambush. She orders the guy to tell her where they're holding the woman or she'll rip his freaking face off.

Spidey meanwhile is not having much luck finding the hostage either. Another henchmen tries to sneak up and shoot him and Spidey pulls a bookcase down on him. Spidey hears a scream from around the corner. When he gets there, he finds the dead guard. Blaze and his men had already assaulted and murdered her before they even started looking, and filmed it on video tape. Pete smashes the VCR that they presumably used to show them the tape. Cat finds him and Peter tells her the guard is dead, she may not be the only one when he gets his hands on Blaze. When they go back to the spot where he was webbed, he's not there. Blaze is loose and armed with his fire cannon, comes upon them with his guards. Spidey takes them all out one by one, saying he doesn't care about his guns or his men, he's going to take him down, and make the woman Blaze murdered the most important thing in the world to Blaze. Blaze hurls a concussion grenade at Spidey, which he catches with a webline and launches back at Blaze. It explodes and sends Blaze flying.

Spidey grabs a hold of Blaze, ready to pummel him when Keating and his men bust in and stop him. Apparently someone spotted Spidey and Cat sneaking in, and called the cops. Plus, Blaze set off the fire alarm by using his flame gun. Keating tells Spidey to back away. Spidey says Blaze is lucky that the cops showed up when they did, that he would've loved to break his crummy neck. Later, Spidey's thinking on a rooftop how he sounded like Charles Bronson with all his tough talk. When he saw the poor dead woman he just went nuts, and since the rest of the world has gone nuts why can't he? Cat asks him if he's okay, he answers that he got into being Spidey to help, but all he seems to do is make things worse and worse. He says the bad guys get more brutal, the good guys get dead, and wonders what has happened to the world? What's one to do when they feel like they're sinking? Cat says you reach out for something to keep you afloat, lifting his mask and kissing him.

Finally, Keating comes down to the cell they're holding Blaze in. Keating says he knows Foreigner was behind his hiring, that he knows the whole scheme. Blaze says Foreigner was just using him, so he tried to take advantage of the situation, and that Foreigner will never know. Keating grabs him and breaks his neck. Keating then grabs on the cell window bars and with a crunch, pulls a section of the wall out and yells for the guards. When the guards come, Keating says it was Spider-man who kicked in the window, bars and all and broke Blaze's neck. One of the guards says he never pegged Spider-man as a murderer. Keating says you just can't trust anybody nowadays.

General Comments

As consistently good as Peter David's scripting has been on this run of Spectacular, this issue was a bit of a slog. He's trying to tie together all the strands of the story he's been building with Black Cat and Foreigner, but it's starting to seem that the payoff won't be worth all of the build up. This issue's villain Blaze was a character created by David in his first Spidey work, the excellent Spectacular Spider-man (Vol. 1) #103. Kirk Donoghue was a bit of a stooge in the story because he was supposed to be, but bringing the Blaze persona back for this story just seemed a bit pointless--except for the obvious aspect of killing him to frame Spider-man.

David writes the Foreigner as shady and eccentric, and we get the most laughs out of his quirks. There's not much deepening here of the Spidey/Cat dynamic--if she agreed with the Foreigner to set up Spider-man as she did #117, she seems like she's in over her head and now an innocent woman is dead for it. Letting innocents get killed doesn't seem like something Felicia would actually allow.

The art by Dwayne Turner really makes reading and writing about this issue a kind of chore. So much of the action takes place in dense, small panels with indistinct line work. The page is loaded with crowded layouts like that and the lack of variety drags the story's flow down. Turner's pencils lack the fluidity and sense of gritty realism that Rich Burchett and Mike Zeck brought to recent issues. When Turner draws the security guard that the thugs kill here, she's wearing what looks like an evening gown. What kind of store security woman would wear an evening gown to work? There are too many little disconnects in this issue like that.

Overall Rating

Hard choice to grade down Peter David's work like this. Even his weakest issues blow away most other mediocre Spidey writer's entire body of work. 3 webs for the story, but minus half a web for the weak artwork.

 Posted: 2009
 Staff: Adam Winchell (E-Mail)