Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #13

 Posted: 2003
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)


In 1993, Marvel used each of the three Spider-Man Annuals to feature "the Pulse- Pounding Premiere of a Brand New Marvel Superstar!" They tried to spruce up the sales pitch by selling all of the issues in their own sealed plastic bag and included a "New Character Trading Card". None of these characters was worth remembering by the time we got to 1994. Though as much a failure as the others, here's the most promising of the bunch. The Third Annual Annual Lookback At Annuals Annual, Year of the Woman Style brings you The Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #13 (1993) and Nocturne.

Writer J.M. DeMatteis wrote three out of the four stories in this issue and he is usually thought of as one of Spider-Man's more successful scripters. So how did he make out this time?

Story 'Emergence'

Hunker down, everyone, for an eleven page Prologue that introduces Nocturne before we ever get a glimpse of Spidey. It is the East Village in New York City and it is raining hard outside. We are inside the thoughts of police officer Angela Cairn, "a black woman with Cuban and Native American blood in me", who wears her hair in corn rows and is garbed in jeans and an orange t- shirt. She is on the couch in her apartment, just back from her work shift and unable to sleep although it is quite late. She has always been an insomniac, rarely able to get to sleep before dawn. This evening she tries to read a book called "God Speaks" ("But he wasn't speaking to me that night.") and listens to Mussorgsky's "Night on Bald Mountain" but none of this helps so she lights some candles and sits around and broods. (Yes, all of this detail is not only in the script but in the first three panels of the story!) She moves to the window and stares out while she broods over Jackie Kessler, her "partner and dearest friend". (And in case you don't believe it, there's a photo on the wall of Jackie, a slim blonde, and Angela standing together in their police uniforms and a photo on a table of Jackie and Angela hanging out on the beach in bikinis with Jackie holding onto a beach ball.)

Now, in spite of the photo of Angela and Jackie in uniform, we are then reminded that, of late, Angela is a plainclothes detective, which means that Angela and Jackie weren't partners, they were... "partners", if you know what I mean. Unfortunately, Jackie happened to be one of the cops in attendance at New York University Medical Center on the day when the rat-creature called Vermin escaped and she was killed along with a number of other cops in the process. Angela replays the moment over and over in her head every night, imagining "Vermin clawing at Jackie, slashing that beautiful face, reaching out for her neck and snapping it without a thought". Every night she cries over it.

(All of which is a pretty slick example of J.M. retconning his own work. The footnote refers us to Spectacular Spider-Man #178, July 1991 for the details of Vermin's escape but if you look it up you will find that the whole scene is actually encapsulated in bloody photographs shown to Spider-Man by Dr. Ashley Kafka. They are all grisly, bloody shots of dead doctors, nurses, and police officers but there is no reference to anyone in particular... certainly not Jackie Kessler. Detective Angela Cairn doesn't even appear in the series until a year later in Spectacular Spider-Man #190, July 1992. She is a tough no-nonsense cigarette smoker who shows up to take Harry Osborn away from Dr. Kafka and lock him up in the Vault. Her only reference to the Vermin episode is to tell Kafka, "Lotta people died when Vermin busted outta here, including a couple of cops. And you can bet we're not gonna let that happen again." When she next appears in Spectacular Spider-Man #195, December 1992, she ups the count by telling Spider-Man "Vermin killed five policemen the first time it broke out of here" but still no mention of any personal loss until this issue, giving the sense that J.M. came up with the whole "partner's death" angle later. Doesn't matter, though. It works just fine here.)

Angela reflects that her colleagues would be surprised to see her crying as she does every night. She has built up a reputation for being "tough as nails" but having "a heart like stone". And she has worked hard to achieve this; afraid of letting people into her life because she has had too much experience with being hurt or having something happen to take her loved ones away. Like Jackie. Unable to shake the pain free this evening, Angela reaches for her spirit cards. (Not Tarot cards exactly but cards with different spirit totems on them taught to her by her mother who is the Native American side of her heritage.) Angela does a reading and pulls a card, representing her spirit totem. It is a drawing of a bat on a white background. She picks it up and gazes at it.

Just then, the phone rings and surprises her so much she drops the card on the floor. The call appears to be a tip from a "street-snitch" named Herbie Fillmore about the "Mutilation Killer". As Angela puts it, "There was something out there... It tore its victims to shreds... It wasn't even my case. But I'd made it my case. I knew that this was related somehow to Vermin and that horde of mutates he ran with." This all relates to Spectacular Spider-Man #194-196 (November 1992-January 1993) in which Spidey, Dr. Kafka, and Vermin encounter other monstrous mutates who, like Vermin, were created by the second Baron Zemo. By the end of this adventure, Vermin is cured and Angela knows this but she can't quite bring herself to believe it. In "his" call, "Herbie" has given Angela a location for the Mutilation Killer and that is why Angela finds herself in a warehouse near the river at three o'clock in the morning with her gun drawn. It all seems pretty unlikely but she knows Herbie and knows that Herbie wouldn't steer her wrong... or would he? Suddenly, a grotesque shadow looms above her and Angela is knocked unconscious.

She wakes up, thinking about bats flying out of the darkness. She is in an ornate Victorian sitting room, with a large Oriental rug, and a fire burning in the fireplace. She is also strapped into a big metal chair which looks like it has bat wings on the back. There are cables from a machine attached to her head. A misshapen figure approaches and when it steps into the light she sees that it is covered in fur, has at least six extra, smaller arms hanging off its sides and shoulders and has a large ruby-like stone in place of its right eye. (The left eye is normal but is as red as the ruby.) It has sharp teeth and drools green slime and it is impossible to tell if it is a male or a female or whether those terms even apply. It tells her that it has been watching her for some time and that the call this evening was not from Herbie but from it. It further explains that the drawing room belonged to Zemo and that the machine is the one that Zemo used to create his mutates. (Already the machine is causing Angela such pain that it seems she barely listens.) The creature admits to being one of the Baron's mutates but unlike all the others, "I chose not to go with Doctor Kafka seeking false hope". On the contrary, it likes what it is and it has studied Angela Cairn enough to know the detective hates "all of Zemo's children". And so the mutate plans to engage in a little ironic justice of its own. It tells Angela that Zemo's machine "digs down into the deepest darkest most shameful corners of our unconscious minds, the places where we keep our secret shames, our secret selves and transforms us into the very things we hide away". Then the mutate pulls the switch and Angela feels every cell in her body exploding. "Ten thousand bats flew through my head tearing at my brain," she tells us and she screams and screams and screams as the mutate cherishes every minute of it. But the screams are internal screams only because Angela soon discovers that she has no voice.

When the procedure is over, Angela is dead. And yet, she wonders, if she is dead, "how was it I heard its awful voice, smelled its rank, vile breath, felt its hands on me as it stripped me" as the mutate, mildly disappointed, takes her body, dresses it in what it calls a funeral gown (a lavender dress with huge robe-like sleeves and a slit in the skirt from the ankle to the waist), and, while muttering "What a pity, what a pity" over and over, drags her by the hair and throws her into the river.

As she sinks into the water, Angela realizes that "the question of whether I was truly dead or alive didn't really matter" because she had "been dead since Jackie was murdered". The last thing visible is her hand and then the river swallows her up. Days pass, with Angela still aware beneath the waves, her mind occupied by the bat... "The symbol of rebirth through shamanistic death". Then her hand appears from out of the water and she rises up, but now her eyes glow redly and she is supported in the air by giant brown batwings that have sprouted from her back. Feeling returns to her limbs as she, somehow, conjures up mist around her. "I heard" she tells us, "the darkness sing to me, a shadow- symphony, a nocturne, that carried me up above the world, higher than I'd ever dreamed." With her mother's voice echoing in her mind, telling her "The bat kills our patterns of seeing, of being, and he is not gentle. But if a person can descend into the grave of the soul, can endure the unendurable pain, maintain their sanity while their very selves are shattered like a mirror, melted down then reconstructed, something truly great will rise up when the Shaman is resurrected", Angela wonder if this applies to her even as she cannot accept that Zemo's machine has turned her into "something great". But with the mist around her and the nocturne in her ears, "a part of me... thought that perhaps this was a kind of greatness after all".

The following evening, Spider-Man stands amidst a menagerie of Baron Zemo's mutates who are nearly all chanting his name. But what looks like a menacing situation is anything but. This scene takes place in Dr. Ashley Kafka's offices and the mutates are surrounding Spidey in gratitude. It is not long after the events of Spectacular Spider-Man #196 (January 1993) in which Spider-Man freed the mutates from the tyranny of Zemo and they are "simply showing our thanks". Dr. Kafka, who is still middle-aged and a bit dowdy in this story which takes place before Marvel decided to decrease her age by about twenty years and turn her into another of the dozens of indistinguishable hot babes, enters along with Edward Whelan, a young black man who was once Vermin. Ashley, Edward, and Spidey go into the Doctor's private office. Spidey is impressed by the layout of Kafka's "new digs". "A lot more room than your old setup at NYU", he says. Ashley explains that she is now being funded by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four and has all the space she needs to try to return the mutates to normal but she has so far only been successful with Edward. Edward himself is confident that the mutates will all be cured eventually and he assures Spider-Man that he is better than ever. "Vermin is gone," he tells the web-slinger, "Dead and buried". Spidey is happy to hear it. He tells the Doctor not to worry. "If you could make a miracle happen for Ed, you can do it for the others too" he says.

After Spider-Man leaves through the nearest window, Ashley tells Edward that he may be overly optimistic and may have to "allow the possibility that you're somehow unique" and that what worked on Vermin may not work for the rest of the mutates. Edward has thought about it but he will not give up hope. After all, he was once a creature "so hideous, so vile that it still sickens me to think about it". He is prepared to stand trial for Vermin's crimes and expects to be haunted his whole life "by the faces of Vermin's victims" but still, in spite of everything, he is a man again. This, to him, is a miracle and he has faith that Dr. Kafka can do it again.

Spider-Man, meanwhile, swinging away, is not quite as optimistic. He wants to believe that Edward is cured but he has seen too many cures come to nothing... such as Dr. Curt Connors' repeated cures from being the Lizard... to be convinced now. In fact, he worries that Edward is even now reverting to Vermin, since the murders by the Mutilation Killer seem so similar to the rat- man's M.O. Spidey did not bother to tell his friends that his main reason for visiting was to see if his spider-sense picked up any twinges in Edward's presence. It didn't, but it begins to tingle now as a bat-winged creatures strafes him and causes him to let go of his web.

At first, Spidey falls, trying to get a glimpse of his fleeing attacker. Then he snags a ledge with his webbing and swings himself up to the roof. He finds it hard to put into words but he had this feeling as the winged creature flew past, "like I was being barraged by waves of emotion, a thousand conflicting feelings sweeping over me, seeping into me". (Seems like he put it into words pretty well if you ask me.) Fog engulfs him as he worries that he has a new threat to deal with. Of course, "worrying is what I do best", he thinks.

For a long time, Angela hides in the shadows, watching Dr. Kafka's lab but she never goes in. "Perhaps" she thinks, "I was afraid to learn that she couldn't help me. Or perhaps I was afraid to learn that she could." At night she goes home to her apartment and looks at herself in the mirror. She still has her cornrows but somehow her hair has grown out below them, falling nearly to her waist. It has also turned completely white, as have her eyeballs, which seem to have no pupil or iris. Her fingernails have grown about five inches each to become claws. Her ears have turned Vulcan. And I forgot to previously mention that her dress is cinched in the middle with a wide dominatrix-type belt. Angela looks at herself and tries to scream but cannot. She finds that she is mute. This unsettles her just a little bit and she goes on a tear, trashing her apartment. Then, she spreads her batwings and flies out a window without bothering to open it ahead of time.

Spider-Man is still prowling the city and it occurs to him that the person to talk to about the Mutilation Killer is Detective Angela Cairn. So, he just happens to be outside Angela's place when a batwinged creature smashes out of her window. Spidey assumes this is the same creature that previously knocked him from his web. He swings after her and grabs her, snarling up her wings and causing both of them to fall. He wants to know who she is and what she wants with Angela. (Spider-Man is never the sharpest tack on the bulletin board in these kinds of situations. Yes, she's changed a fair amount but one close look at Nocturne will tell you that she is actually Angela.) The two land with a "Wunk!" on a rooftop. Angela, already half-mad with despair, wants nothing more than to get away from the web-slinger so she lashes out with her claws and knocks Spider-Man across the roof. It is only now that she realizes that her "speed and strength had increased amazingly" and she figures this is enough to take care of the wall-crawler but she doesn't know Spidey very well, does she? He somersaults in mid-air and lands on his feet on a small metal chimney (which is crushed quite a bit by the impact). Then he springs right back into action and smacks right into Nocturne head-on.

Angela retaliates with her fingernails, slashing through Spidey's costume and cutting him badly. This is enough to convince the webhead that this creature is the Mutilation Killer. His chest burns with pain and his shirt gets soaked in his blood but Spider-Man fights back harder than ever. "Better to bleed to death" he figures, "than let that thing loose again!" All of which, makes Angela more hopeful, believe it or not. She never particularly liked Spider- Man but she knows he is honorable and caring. Maybe he can find some way to help her. She tries to tell him who she is but she cannot speak. Angela's frustration and anger seems to translate to different parts of her body. Her hair (yes, her hair!) takes on a life of its own and wraps itself around Spider- Man's neck. Spidey pulls the hair away and punches Angela hard so she falls flat on her back. She is actually glad that Spider-Man has done this because she was afraid that she couldn't stop herself from killing him. Still, she is out of control and cannot stop. She gets up and shoots Spider-Man with a force blast that comes out of her temple... or some damn thing. The wall-crawler is staggered but Nocturne pulls herself together enough to back off and fly away.

Spidey doesn't know what hit him. "It was as if she'd hit me with a blast of pure emotion" he thinks. It takes him thirty seconds to shake off the effects of the blast. Then, before he loses her in the fog, Spidey throws a spider- tracer and tags Nocturne with it. Still clueless as to the identity of his attacker, the web-spinner wants to first check in Angela's apartment before pursuing Nocturne. He is afraid that the detective may be wounded or dying. Upon entering Angela's home through the shattered window, Spider-man is relieved to find it vacant. But he is disturbed to see the destruction as if "there'd been some kind of struggle". He wonders if Angela Cairn is already dead, "her body dumped somewhere by that bat-winged devil". Then he tapes up his wound (or so he tells us but we don't get to see it so I can't tell you what he may have used as tape) and searches for a clue. But all he finds are the spirit cards now lying on the floor. Every one is turned face-up to reveal all the animal images. Spidey seems to focus in on the one with the spider totem.

Feeling both exhilarated and afraid, Nocturne returns to the warehouse by the East River where she encountered the mutate she now knows must be the Mutilation Killer. She finds the Killer warming itself by the fire in the drawing room. It hears Nocturne approach and turns to look. At first it is shocked to see that Angela is still alive. Then it starts to laugh as it sees the batwings and realizes that the transformation took place after all. It welcomes Angela "to the beginning of your new life" and then offers to look for the Baron's champagne "to drink a toast, my dear, to your transformation". But Angela is in no mood. In fact, she becomes furious over the fact that the mutate seems to be treating her metamorphosis as a joke. She leaps at the mutate and tries to wrap her hands around its throat. The Killer turns out to be quite strong, however, and it has no trouble flipping Nocturne over its head and onto the floor. Then it starts punching away at Angela, spouting out a slew of psychobabble nonsense about how "I've liberated you... set you free of the shackles of your limited human existence...the blood of outsiders runs through your veins, you have always been an outcast, a pariah, you've always stood beyond the circle" and so on. As it punches, it slowly changes its form until it looks just like a naked Angela Cairn and Nocturne understands how the Killer was able to get the jump on its victims. It is a shape-shifter and it "became the ones they loved, trusted most of all". This so offends her that Nocturne strikes back. She uses one of her wings to knock the Angela-figure back. Then she attacks, "letting my new power flow through me, welcoming it".

And so Nocturne attacks with her claws and her rage. She slashes and rips and lifts the mutate in her image over her head with her hair (yeah, her hair!) and throws her to the ground. Then she wraps the hair around the Angela-thing's neck and starts choking her. (That old trick again!) She is too "lost in [her] fury" to see the smile on the false Angela's face and too innocent of J.M. DeMatteis-type psychological introspection to realize that the mutate "wanted me to lose control, to surrender to what I'd become and kill the woman I'd been". So, she falls into the trap and raises her claws over the faux Angela with murderous intent. Fortunately, she is restrained... by a spider-web attached to her wrist, which yanks her back and flings her against a wall.

Spider-Man has followed his tracer and he is happy to see he has arrived just in time because he is still completely clueless and thinks he has just rescued Angela Cairn from murder. The disguised mutate adds to the illusion by yelling out, "Spider-Man, that's her! That's the Mutilation Killer!" So, Spidey smacks Nocturne in the side of the head with a hard right. His spider-sense tries to warn him that things are not what they appear but he ignores it as he punches Nocturne again and again. He holds her by the neck with his left hand as he prepares to knock her out with his right. He can "feel those waves of emotion crackling around her, ready to blast out at me" and he knows he has to finish things off in a hurry but, for some reason, he... hesitates, and in that moment, she nails him with some sort of blast right into the eyes. But this blast isn't an attack. It's a communication. Spider-Man gets a strong mental image of Angela Cairn and he now knows that the woman standing in front of him is the transformed detective. (By the way, the included trading card tells us that Nocturne is seven feet tall but this panel shows Spidey and Nocturne standing side by side and Spider-Man is taller... unless the "seven feet" refers to the tips of her wings. Which it could, I guess.) So, our two heroes stand there and look at each other until the mutate tries to stir things up again. It screams, "What are you doing? I'm Angela Cairn! Stop the thing before it gets away!" and Spider-Man seems to obey. He clenches his right hand into a fist and rears back. Nocturne is sure he is going to strike and tells us that "In that moment, in that infinite agonizing moment, I lost all faith". But instead, the web-slinger punches the mutate in Angela's form and Nocturne finds her faith again.

So, it seems to be over. The Mutilation Killer is knocked back by Spider-Man's punch and recoils into a wall hard enough to put a hole in it. The impact shakes the mutate's concentration and it reverts back to its real multi-armed form. But instead of letting things lie, Nocturne cannot overcome her emotions. She flies over to the mutate and goes for its throat. When Spider- Man tries to pull her away, Nocturne uses a wing to send the web-slinger flying. So, Spidey must revert to reason. He calls Nocturne "Angela" and reminds her that she is a police officer. "The law has to mete out the punishment," he says. But the mutate urges Angela in the other direction. "Slay me, sweet sister" it says, "and become me". And just to really get the symbolism going, Angela can see her reflection in the mutate's big ruby-like eye.

For reasons she can't explain, Nocturne backs off. Maybe Spider-Man's words have gotten to her or maybe it was something in the mutate's eyes. "It... she... wanted so desperately to die", thinks Angela, finally confirming the sex of the mutate for us, "for all her talk of exulting in life outside the circle, reveling in her mutated existence, there was something so lonely about her so unspeakably sad that it broke my heart. We really were sisters but not in the way she'd imagined."

A little bit later, Spider-Man and Nocturne stand on the roof of the warehouse as police cars begin to congregate down below. Spidey tells Nocturne that the equipment found in Zemo's lab should help Dr. Kafka in her "search for a cure". Then he suggests that Nocturne join him at Kafka's lab to see what the doctor can do for her. But Nocturne isn't interested. Instead she touches Spider-Man's cheek and flies away. Why? Well, because she is confused and afraid but also because she did learn something from the Mutilation Killer. She learned how to indulge in J.M.'s psychobabble. "You see, the mutate was right" she thinks, "Angela Cairn wasn't free. She was a prisoner of other people's images and expectations. She was a butterfly forced to spend her life in someone else's cocoon. But now the cocoon had burst, once and for all. Angela was gone and Nocturne was born. Then I was free. It was time to test that freedom, to taste it, and ride it high above the world." Blah, blah, and blah.

Spider-Man lets her go. Since the moment that she touched his cheek, he is feeling a little psychobabbled himself. As he webslings away, he thinks, "What did I feel when she touched me? Maybe something I've felt inside myself, in those moments when I've considered giving up my life as Spider-Man: a sense of purpose. A sense of destiny. (But he's not done yapping yet.)For all the pain that wearing this mask has caused me, for all the seemingly-endless struggles, I'd never go back to what I was before. Y'see, when that radioactive spider bit Peter Parker (My God! We're back to the radioactive spider!) it didn't so much change who he was, as make him who he was meant to be. (Hold it! There's more!) Maybe Angela Cairn found a similar truth that night. I like to think so. I mean, who can argue with destiny? You know what they say: It's all in the cards." And just to really pound it into your skull, the last panel shows the two spirit cards side by side. The bat up above and the spider card below but overlapping a bit on the top of it.

No, wait. There's more. (Not of Spidey's final speech, but of the Annual.) That story may be over but now it's time for an eight-pager solo- starring our Brand New Marvel Superstar.

Through the Window

It looks like only moments later with Nocturne flying over the city streets but actually it's weeks after and she's just been flitting around aimlessly since the end of the last story. She is tempted to think she has "transcended the problems and paths of the common man... somehow ascended to a higher sphere". But then she looks down into an alley and sees two men kicking the crap out of a third man. (Nocturne keeps referring to the victim as a "boy" but he doesn't look all that young. A teen-ager, perhaps.) And so, quoting Dostoyevsky to herself ("Good and evil are so monstrously mixed up in man."), Nocturne descends out of the fog, grabs one of the thugs around the neck with her hair (yes, her hair) and grins out of the darkness at the other like the Cheshire Cat. That other thug takes one look at Nocturne suspended in the air, her right clawed hand extended out at him, her left hand holding his unconscious buddy by the back of the shirt, and he runs for it. By the time he reaches the street, Nocturne is waiting for him. She has "a few things I wanted him to understand" but, since she has no voice, she has to use other methods to communicate her meaning. She flies down at the thug, grabs him by the head and smashes his skull into a brick wall. Then, cupping her hands around his chin, she fires an "emotional blast" right into his mind (as well as using one claw to cut a big bleeding gash down his cheek). The purpose is to "know the pain and shame" of being a victim... and I think he gets the point. Then, having done that duty, Nocturne goes over to the victim, kneels down, and holds him in her arms, like a Pieta with big protective batwings. She suddenly flies straight up into the air with the victim in her arms, leaving the thugs unconscious below. Not long after, the boy is safely being monitored in a hospital bed. (He even has a pretty nurse taking his pulse.) Nocturne watches from the darkness outside his window. She puts her hand up on the glass as if touching the boy. She can't seem to forget about the incident since the victim reminds her so much of herself.

Finally she tears herself away and soars over the city again. She thinks about how she's been living for the past few weeks. She hasn't felt the need to eat at all and she has slept wherever she can, "on rooftops, abandoned buildings, even sewers". Now, looking back, she realizes she has been in shock ever since her transformation. She has kept going by feeling freedom in her new identity, "Above the world... transcending reality." But the incident with the victim has brought reality back and, before she knows it, she finds that she is hovering over her childhood home.

She has not seen her mother for months, since long before the transformation, too busy to look in. Now she hovers outside her old bedroom window, wanting nothing more than to fall into her mother's arms and have a good cry while she tells her all about it. And there her mother is, in her bedroom, in a chair next to her old bed, going through a gilded box that holds drawings and mementos of Angela's childhood. We get a hint that Angela's father may have frequently left her "as brutalized and confused as the one [she'd] just rescued" and that her mother would rescue with tenderness and by teaching her "to honor [her] inner voice". Now, though, she sees an old woman in mourning, who has learned that her Police Detective daughter may have been the latest victim of the Mutilation Killer. Her mother goes through all the things she has saved from Angela's youth and when she gets to an earring, she clasps it in both hands, leans back, and cries. Nocturne recognizes what the earring is and she cries too. "Mother'd given me that earring," she tells us, "when I was fifteen. Carved with her own hands out of buffalo bone. She told me to wear it proudly, as a symbol of my uniqueness; that the power of the buffalo would help me find pride in what I was, not in what others expected of me." She had lost track of the earring over the years but, clearly, her mother never did.

Her mother cries until she falls asleep in the chair. She awakens to find the bedroom window open and the earring missing. Nocturne has slipped in, tried to use her emotional powers to soothe her in her grief, and taken the earring away. Her mother looks out the open window and sees a winged figure silhouetted against the full moon. And, though she doesn't know it, that figure is swearing to watch over her like a guardian angel and feed "her love when her soul is hungry". In return, Nocturne only asks for "An artifact to give me strength, if I find myself broken and bleeding, in an alley, to give me pride, even if all the world labels me a freak. To help me remember who I once was as I continue on the road to who I'm supposed to be." And she now wears the earring her mother once gave to her as that artifact.

We can't stop now! J.M. DeMatteis is on a Native American roll. The third story in the issue stars the Black Crow, last seen in Spectacular Spider-Man #193 (October 1992). It's called...

In Your Eyes

Once again, we're treated to a lot of mist but this time there is a crow flying above it. The crow hovers outside a Queens apartment, then flies through an open window, bringing the mist in with it. The crow settles down in an empty wheelchair with the mist rising up until everything is obscured. When the mist drifts away, a man sits in the wheelchair instead. And the man wakes up from a dream as "wide as creation" to discover that he is still wheelchair-bound and still trapped in a city he wants no part of. In despair, he leans on the windowsill and recalls the words of his grandfather. "The white man's world... is a sterile wasteland. They've paved over the magic in the earth, buried the sacred spirits beneath mile-high towers." Once he laughed at these words. But now, paralyzed by an accident and stuck in an "existence of poverty [and] helplessness", Jesse Black Crow finds he much prefers dream to reality. He lifts himself into bed and clenches his fist, as he falls asleep, striving to overcome his feelings of despair. Or, perhaps, I should say, "D'Spayre".

(The story of Jesse Black Crow is nicely recapped in Spectacular Spider-Man #191, August 1992. He is born and raised on a Navajo reservation but moves to New York as an adult to earn his living in construction, forgetting the ways of his ancestors. One day, he falls twenty stories from the girders of a new high rise and yet does not die. As he lies comatose in the hospital, "some great winged force in the deepest part of him [is] being born". When he recovers consciousness, he finds that he has lost the use of his legs. He also has blackouts and dreams of flying and communing with the great spirits. And he burns with grief and shame at the slaughter of his people throughout history in ways he never did before. In his need to revenge his ancestors, he transforms into a crow and then into a masked man wearing loincloth, battle paint, and feathers and attacks the symbol of his oppressors, Captain America in Captain America #292, April 1984. The battle ends when Cap realizes the symbolism involved and kneels to the Black Crow, who laughs, lifts Cap to his feet, embraces him, tells him "The earth spirit is pleased" and flies away. The Black Crow later saves Cap's life in Captain America #300, December 1984 and makes the rounds of some other heroes' books before deciding to school Spidey and the Puma in Spectacular Spider-Man #191-193, August-October 1992.)

As Jesse writhes in his sleep, a skeletal, caped figure hovers above him. This is the creature D'Spayre, first seen giving Spidey and Man-Thing fits in Marvel Team-Up #68, April 1978. D'Spayre relishes Jesse's agonies. "Your pain is food to me," he tells the sleeping man. He taunts Jesse by revealing that the Black Crow is a god who "descends from the great void and enters into you using you as its vehicle to move through man's world". (Jesse is asleep, of course, and cannot hear him.) He adds that he "lives for human suffering... for pain and tears and blood" and that the Crow acts like a guardian angel "leading people up out of my grasp and into the arms of the one I hate most". (Meaning God, I suppose.) For this reason, D'Spayre seeks revenge on the Crow and plans to annihilate him through Jesse. But as the demon puts his hand on Jesse's head, the mists seep into the room and the paralyzed man turns into the Black Crow. He rises up and socks D'Spayre in the jaw. "Did you honestly believe I wouldn't feel you hovering around my host?" the Black Crow asks, "Intensifying his fear and depression? Did you honestly believe I'd stand by and let you crush him severing my link to this plane?" And, of course, the answer is "No". Even as the Black Crow transforms into a giant crow and claws at D'Spayre's face, the demon reveals that he was hoping his opponent would emerge. After all, he has spent years "struggling to pierce the veils of protection you placed around the human" and he wouldn't barge right in without a plan. (It's not much of a plan but it is a plan.)

First the two super-beings crash through Jesse's window (only the crash is a "krash" in the sound effect). Now outside with room to maneuver, D'Spayre transforms into a great winged, horned creature with brown fur, three faces (two of them on his chest) and tentacles sprouting from below the two lower faces. The tentacles wrap around the Crow in his crow form. Then D'Spayre begins what he does best as he tries to lead the Black Crow to despair. First, he mocks him for being so arrogant that he will not reveal his existence to Jesse, pointing out that he would rather let his human host "sink into madness rather than share your power with him". The Black Crow tells him that his relationship with Jesse is his own affair before escaping the tentacles by converting his body to living lightning and reforming his human body on a rooftop. But something is wrong. The Black Crow finds himself in great pain. D'Spayre descends and lands hard on the Crow's back, knocking him down. "You're not the human's master, much as you think you are," he tells the Crow. "You need him, perhaps more than he needs you!" And the Crow realizes that this is true, that he "condemned Jesse to a living hell" and now D'Spayre is "reaping the rewards".

Now, the Crow tries to rectify things by calling to Jesse's mind but Jesse has succumbed to despair and will not aid him. In an effort to get Jesse to emerge, he assures him that he has flown, that the dreams are real. Then, he calls on Jesse to look at the world though his eyes, to see the world "not dead, not sterile but alive! Vibrant!" and filled with sacred animal spirits... the spider, the horse, the bat, and the puma. The Black Crow promises Jesse that they will fly together and "share this vision with the world" and with that Jesse joins him, no longer just a host but aware of who he is. This gives the Crow new strength and he uses his power to create a double of himself to confuse D'Spayre enough that he can break free. Then he turns himself into the living lightning and strikes the demon right in the two faces on his chest. (Which always looked like a vulnerable liability if you ask me.) D'Spayre, staggered, falls to the ground and covers his face with his hand. The Black Crow stands above him and thanks him for unwittingly aiding him with his test. Yes, it turns out that the Crow used the demon to see if Jesse was ready to take the step to "the next level of spiritual advancement" and D'Spayre was just the opponent he needed since "all men use the fires of despair to forge their strength, to bring them closer to the Great Spirit". Cringing, D'Spayre begs the Crow "don't destroy me" and the Crow obliges. After all, if he destroyed D'Spayre he would "rob men of the power they gain from facing [him]". Then he really heaps it on thick, telling his opponent that "You have your part to play in the Great Spirit's drama, as have I" which, understandably, ticks D'Spayre off enough so that he vows, "I won't forget this humiliation, Black Crow. The day will come when you and your human host both will die by my hand." And with that he flies away.

Soon after, Jesse Black Crow wakes up in his bed with a start. At first the pain starts to settle in on him again as he realizes it was all a dream. But then a soothing voice seems to come to him, assuring him of the reality of his dreams and promising "the time is coming soon when all will be explained to you". And with that, Jesse Black Crow smiles.

There is one more story to go. No J.M., no Native American mysticism, no tie- in to recent issues, no Spider-Man. But it does have breakdowns by John Romita, Sr. Here's JR Jr.'s creation, the Prowler, starring in:

Jaded Perception

The Prowler is Hobie Brown, a young African-American man who once worked as a window washer. Deciding to gain publicity for some inventions he created for window washing, Hobie builds a battle suit and becomes a super-villain called the Prowler ("Being a superhero can be too slow... it may be days, weeks before I find some crook to tackle. But a super villain can go into action right away.") in Amazing Spider-Man #78, November 1969. But Spidey steps in (in ASM #79, December 1969) and defeats the Prowler, only to let him off with a handslap. After that, Hobie does his best to become a hero.

As this story begins, Hobie is working out alongside a young boy in the Sons of the Tiger Martial Arts Studio in Chinatown. They are each dressed in a karate gi and are lashing out with right leg kicks simultaneously.

Now, I'm not going to get into too much history in service of this little eight page story but I should mention that the Sons of the Tiger consisted of Abe Brown, Bob Diamond, and Lin Sun and they first appeared in Deadly Hands of Kung-Fun #1, April 1974. It is revealed at some point that Abe Brown is Hobie's older brother, but I'm not sure where. The Prowler actually appears in the Sons of the Tiger strip in Deadly Hands #21, February 1976 fighting the White Tiger but there is no mention of his relation to Abe there. A little more of the Sons history a bit later on.

Hobie and the kid are not just kicking for the sake of kicking. No, they are in a fight with two other men. The boy succeeds in kicking his opponent in the chin but Hobie's kick is blocked by his opponent's right hand with "an outer arm block". Then Hobie's foe, an Asian man wearing a jade pendant of a tiger's head, uses a "reverse punch" (which seems to mean that he socks him with his left hand) to knock him to the ground. Hobie, frustrated, believes he'll "never learn that maneuver" but his opponent cheerily offers him a hand up and assures him that he just needs "a little self confidence".

At the same time, the boy's opponent, a black man wearing a jade pendant of a tiger's paw, gets up and puts his hand on the boy's shoulder. "Hector, little buddy", he tells the kid, "I've never seen a better flying front kick". He stands up, puts his arm around Hector and tells him, "keep it up and you'll make brown belt in no time". All of this praise for a boy just makes Hobie sigh.

Hector reaches out and touches the man's tiger paw pendant (starting to sound like some strange sort of pedophilia, isn't it?). He asks his Master if he will get one of "those cool amulets when I become a black belt". The man has to tell him "no". He explains that he was once part of a crime fighting team called the Sons of the Tiger. He is, of course, Abe Brown and the other man in Lin Sun. Abe tells Hector that he and Lin and movie star Bob Diamond were the members of the group and explains that "the jade pendants granted each of us the strength and abilities of one another". He doesn't mention that the amulets are picked up by Hector Ayala when the Sons throw them away in Deadly Hands #19, December 1975 and that Hector uses them to become the White Tiger. Nor does he mention that Hector gives up being the Tiger in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #52, March 1981 when he gives the amulets to the police detective known as Blackbyrd with the instructions to return the pendants to the Sons of the Tiger. I guess Blackbyrd must have done just that. Hector wouldn't be interested in any of that anyway because he can't get over the idea that Abe was hanging out with a movie star like Bob Diamond. "You're crankin' me!" he says.

Hobie mentions to Lin that his brother seems to really admire young Hector. Lin tells him that Hector is not only Abe's favorite student but also Abe's only student (making it easy for him to be his favorite student, I would think) now that "some lousy developer has been scaring them away to force us into selling our school". Lin leads Hobie into his office and shows him a valise with the Prowler's outfit and weapons in it. "I assembled those weapons you designed for your outfit," he tells Hobie, which simply means he shoved it all into a briefcase, as far as I can tell. But Hobie seems very pleased. He tells Lin that he is "a true friend", only to be interrupted by a loud crash out in the main room. Lin runs out to see that a flying man has smashed right through their plate glass window. The man announces that he has been hired to kill them all because "certain parties perceive you as uncontrollable pests" and tells them all he is called Killer Shrike (last seen in the Spider-verse in Web of Spider-Man #91, August 1992).

Lin Sun is the first one to attack. He bounces off a trampoline to try to get to Shrike but fails. Even this impressive leap cannot reach the flying man because this is a room with a very high ceiling indeed. (Shrike, by the way, has these black cape-like wings for flight, a pair of bladed gauntlets that can shoot electricity and this long plume on the back of his head that manages to make him look dopey all on its own.) Abe Brown tries next. He swings on the gymnastic rings, attempting to kick Shrike but all he gets is a blast of electricity from the villain's gauntlet instead. As Abe falls to the ground, Shrike swoops down and grabs Hector. He tells Lin Sun that "unless you agree to sell this studio, I'm gonna hurt [Hector] real bad". But there is one other man in the studio that Killer Shrike doesn't know about. Hobie Brown has changed into his Prowler outfit. He jumps up on a wall and blasts Shrike in the back. As he does this, he tells the villain that "Some time ago, a child in my care was killed and I was helpless to do anything about it. Listen, good, Shrike, I will never be that helpless again", and I don't have a clue what he's talking about. The footnote refers us to the aforementioned Deadly Hands #21, February 1976. In fact, Hobie does fight the White Tiger because he thinks Hector Ayala is guilty of killing a child. That incident, which takes place in a South Bronx trainyard in Deadly Hands #20, January 1976 has nothing to do with Hobie but, hey, if he wants to conjure up false memories in order to provide motivation, who am I to say he can't? (And, by the way, the Tiger didn't do it. An over-anxious night watchman kills the boy by clubbing him too hard on the back of the head.)

It's now Killer Shrike's turn to fall to the ground. Hobie leaps down and catches Hector in mid-air. Then he makes the mistake of thinking that Killer Shrike is defeated. He turns his back on the villain to find out if Hector is hurt. Abe is still dazed, on one knee with a hand to his head, but Lin Sun is paying attention. Lin sees the Shrike start to get up and he yells to the Prowler to "Look out!" But too late. The Shrike hits the Prowler in the back with an electric blast, and then jumps on his back. But Hobie slashes the Shrike's chest with his metal claws, forcing the bad guy back. The Shrike counters, however, with his own "talons" (namely those blades on his gauntlet). The blade severs the "pneumatic cartridges" on the Prowler's wristband and the ensuing explosion blows the two combatants apart. Unfortunately Killer Shrike recovers quickly while the Prowler cannot stand. His wrist has been broken as a result of the blast.

It looks bad for the good guys but then Abe tells Lin to "give him your amulet". At first, Lin resists the idea but soon agrees. Both men hand over their pendants and the apparent power from the tiger head and one of the paws is enough to get the Prowler to his feet and to launch an attack. He holds his broken wrist close against his chest but he can still use his legs by leaping up and clocking the Shrike in the head with a flying front kick. (Which, you'll recall, was the same maneuver he failed to pull off at the start of the story.) The Shrike is knocked unconscious. Lin and Abe race up and tie the villain up with their black belts. They remove the Shrike's wrist blasters, rendering him harmless.

Now that it's all over, Hobie takes the pendants off to return them to their owners. Abe tells him to "Keep them" since "They're just plastic replicas, a dime a dozen." (Thus, Lin's reluctance to hand over his amulet, you see. He wasn't being power-hungry. He just knew that the pendant was a fake.) Abe adds that the real pendants "were returned to their true owners in K'un L'un some time ago". (Don't even bother to ask me when this happened. I'm still trying to get it into my head that plastic replicas of the Sons of the Tiger pendants, of all things, are plentiful in the Marvel Universe. And if they are plastic replicas, why did Abe tell Hector that he couldn't have one?) Hobie then realizes that the pendants were no help at all and that he accomplished the flying front kick all by himself. "See?" says Abe, "a little self-confidence can go a long way".

Time for our big finish.

Nocturne returns in Amazing Spider-Man #395, November 1994, able to talk, and allied with a feral Puma. By the end of Spectacular Spider-Man #218, November 1994, she has returned Puma to his Thomas Fireheart persona and flies away from Spider-Man, to be seen no more.

The last time Edward Whelan was seen in the Spider-books (Spectacular Spider- Man #230, January, 1996) he was still cured of being Vermin. If anything has happened to him since then, I can't help you with it. Does anyone know?

Dr. Ashley Kafka got younger and started looking like a super-model somewhere along the line. But that seems to happen to all Marvel women eventually. I mean, look at Aunt May these days! Not to mention the young slutty May in Trouble!

Did Dr. Kafka ever cure Zemo's mutates? I don't know but I tend to think not, seeing as a group of Zemo creatures called "Protoids" turned up in the pages of Thunderbolts #43, October 2000.

The Mutilation Killer, I believe, was a one-hit wonder.

The Black Crow next appears in Captain America #443, September 1995 in which he introduces himself to the Living Legend which he shouldn't have to do because, as previously mentioned, he's met Cap several times before. The Crow has not turned up since then.

D'Spayre next appears somewhere in Cable (which I could care less about, to be honest with you) and then sticks his nose into the whole Clone Saga thing in Web of Spider-Man #128, September 1995.

The Prowler turns up next in Night Thrasher (which I also could care less about, to be honest with you) before stooping to competing in the Great Game in Spider-Man Unlimited #14, December 1996.

The Sons of the Tiger have no more appearances, as far as I can tell. They're done... until dredged up from limbo sometime in the future, that is.

Killer Shrike next appears in... ah, hell, I've lost track. Who cares about Killer Freakin' Shrike's appearances anyway?

And I'm not going to get started on the White Tiger, since he wasn't even in this comic except to say that he was killed (about as definitively as a comic character can be killed) in Daredevil Vol. 2 #40, a.k.a. Daredevil #420, February 2003.

General Comments

So, what about this issue? Well, it really is J.M. DeMatteis at some of his worst. Too wordy, overwhelmed by purple prose, preachy, and brought low by the deadly combination of pop pseudo-psychology and pop pseudo-mysticism. Nocturne is a thoroughly boring character and the Black Crow isn't much better... or much worse... or whatever. (The paucity of later appearances for these two is more than a coincidence, I suspect.) Spidey is so marginalized in his own annual that the main story would probably work better if he weren't even in it. Still, when you look at the crop of Spider-writers in 1993, a bad day of DeMatteis is better than a good day of anybody else.

Overall Rating

Three Webs.

 Posted: 2003
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)