Web of Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #51

 Posted: 2005
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)
 Staff: Kerry Wilkinson (E-Mail)

Story 'The Crimelord Of New York'

Now, let's really get down to it.

A meeting is taking place in a poorly lit room in an undisclosed location. Six men are in attendance. One of them has a face that looks like it responded badly to plastic surgery. He introduces himself to the other men as the Chameleon and he declares that he is ready to become the crimelord of New York. The other men are the directors of the Maggia (though they claim to be "respectable businessmen"). The Chameleon has come to them for permission to take over the mobs. One man with bluish-black hair and beard states that the Kingpin is already the crimelord in New York. The Chameleon perfectly imitates the man's face as he informs him that he intends to replace the Kingpin. A man with red hair and mustache wonders what qualifies the Chameleon for the job. The Chameleon imitates that man's face as he replies that he has "the will to take power and to hold it". He believes that "Fisk has lost that will". A third man asks him to elaborate. The Chameleon switches to his usual white mask-like face and tells the Maggia men about the war between the Kingpin and the Lobo Brothers. "Now the Lobos are in New York picking off the Kingpin's lieutenants as easily as a pair of foxes hunting rabbits" he says, "And what does Fisk do to stop them? Nothing! He's weak. He's lost his grip!" The directors ask for a little time to consider the situation. Thirty minutes later, they return with a name on a card. "Contact this man" they tell the Chameleon. "He too has an issue with Wilson Fisk. If you two can come to an agreement, perhaps an alliance, we'll support you both."

The Chameleon exits from a gentleman's club just a block away from the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington D.C., pleased with the outcome of the meeting. He may not have the Maggia's support "but clearly they won't interfere". And the man they told him to contact may actually be some use to him, as well. He presses a stud on his belt that instantly alters his appearance, just as a doorman asks him if he wants a taxi. He turns it down. After all, he has a limousine coming. For, he has now assumed the appearance of J. Jonah Jameson and "J. Jonah Jameson always travels first class."

Back in New York, Spider-Man stops to jaw with some of the Kingpin's men at Port Authority Bus Terminal. The three hoods are waiting for a bus to Boise, Idaho. Spidey, perched on the roof of the bus, says he "heard some of [the Kingpin's] boys were running out of town" but he can't believe they're going to Boise. One goon tells him not to "knock it". "My cousin is from Boise" the hood tells Spidey, "And he says it's safe there." When Spidey asks what they're safe from, another hood tells him "wolves".

Spidey retreats to a lamppost as the men board their bus. He would like to scoff at their fears but he keeps thinking about his clash with an apparent werewolf the night before. All he can conclude is, "I don't know." Soon after, the wall-crawler sneaks into his window at home. Since Pete and MJ were evicted from their fancy condo apartment (in Amazing Spider-Man #314, April 1989), the couple has been forced to share Peter's old room in Aunt May's house in Queens. The room is too small for the both of them but all of the apartments they've looked at have been "either too small or too shabby or too far away from Empire University", not to mention too expensive. Pete changes into his bathrobe and heads for the bathroom down the hall. But the bathroom is occupied. He can tell because he can hear someone throwing up within. Seconds later, Mary Jane's cousin Kristy opens the door and exits the bathroom. (Kristy has been staying with the Parkers since The Spectacular Spider-Man #145, December 1988 when she showed up in New York, claiming that her parents sent her there from her home in Indiana when they went on a trip to Europe. Her parents did take the trip but have no idea that Kristy has gone to New York. MJ and Peter cleverly palmed Kristy off on Aunt May in Web of Spider-Man #47, February 1989 but now are sharing space with her again.) Kristy, a very thin, teenage redhead with freckles, currently wearing an extra-long t-shirt with Mickey Mouse on it, seems too cheerful to be sick. Pete asks if she had a touch of food poisoning and Kristy agrees that she "had a bad piece of fish at dinner". Still, Peter knows that MJ thinks Kristy is hiding something, though he doesn't want to think about it. He just wishes Kristy's parents would hurry home from Europe.

The next morning, an unshaven J. Jonah Jameson watches TV from his bed. His arms are spread out with his wrists tied to the bedposts. The weatherman on television warns that it is going to be a cold winter day with "temperatures ranging in the low to upper 50s". (Yeah, that's what it says! Cold Winter Day with temperatures in the upper 50s!) The Chameleon enters the room, bringing Jonah some breakfast on a tray. He tells the imprisoned newsman that there's a bright side to everything. "You can't catch a winter cold if you don't go out in the winter." (What with the temperature in the upper 50s and all.) Trying to spoon-feed Jonah like a baby, the Chameleon tells him that he plans to use the Daily Bugle as his "very own private intelligence network" to get info on the Kingpin. Enraged, Jonah kicks the tray aside and vows that his friends will stop the Chameleon. The villain instantly transforms into Jonah's double and tells him, "nobody is going to rescue you" because "you don't have any friends".

Later that morning, Peter Parker visits the Daily Bugle and has a conversation with Kate Cushing. She tells him they are not interested in buying any of his photos. It all boils down to Jonah who is "on a real anti-Spider-Man kick lately and the only Spider-Man photos he likes are the ones that... Nick Katzenburg takes". And even as Kate explains this to Pete, Jonah walks by with Katzenburg and the two of them are clearly very chummy. Pete's spider-sense tingles when Jonah walks by (as it has been doing ever since the Chameleon stole JJJ's identity) but he merely assumes it has to do with Jonah's current vendetta against Spider-Man.

Katzenburg goes on his merry way as Jonah stops outside his office. Joy Mercado is sitting at the secretarial desk because "Gloria took an early lunch". JJ asks Joy to retrieve the complete file on Wilson Fisk "including any material we couldn't confirm for publication". Joy digs into the file cabinet but comes up empty. "That file is gone", she tells the disguised Chameleon, "Someone must have taken it."

And in the lobby of the building, right by the elevator, Glory Grant passes the Kingpin file over to Eduardo. She expresses her fear that Mr. Jameson will discover that she has taken the file but Eduardo assures her that that will never happen. He puts his hand behind her head, pulls her to him, and kisses her. This is intended to be the classic kiss-off. Eduardo has only been using Gloria to get information on the Kingpin. Now that he has it, "I am done with you", he thinks. And yet... he can't bring himself to pull away, he cannot bring himself to reject her. "Who has seduced whom?" he wonders as the kiss goes on and on. The elevator doors open and Peter Parker walks out, almost colliding with the lovers. As he passes by, his spider-sense tingles again. Rather than believe that there is danger from both Jonah and Gloria's new boy friend, our hero decides he "must be web-swinging too hard". He doesn't have time to worry about it. He has to meet with Mary Jane to do some apartment hunting.

Soon after, the couple is being led to an available apartment on the Upper East Side by a blonde real estate agent in a casual blue pantsuit. Peter is afraid that the address is too exclusive and that they will not be able to afford it. But MJ tells him that her friend Regina has assured her that the apartments are all rent-controlled and will only cost $600 a month. The agent opens a door and welcomes them to their new home. "Nice entrance hall" says Peter, "but where's the rest of the apartment?" And, of course (you're way ahead of me) this is the whole apartment. One tiny little room with a kitchenette, a bathroom, and one window with a view of a wall and a fire escape.

Needless to say, the Parkers don't take it. (Though I'd be tempted to snap up a place on the Upper East Side at $600 a month no matter how small it is except... where would I put my comic collection?) In fact, MJ storms out of the building in a fury. She is ready to kill Regina for her recommendation and fumes over the fact that Jonathan Caesar has evicted them from their condo and has tied MJ's money "up in court for the next umpteen billion years". (Jonathan Caesar, the owner of Pete and MJ's condo, introduced himself as an admirer of MJ's modeling in Amazing Spider-Man #304, Early September 1988. He was soon revealed to be a stalker (the first one) who had pictures of MJ all over his wall (the first one). In ASM #308, Early November 1988, he became MJ's kidnapper (the first one). When he was finally thwarted, he retaliated by evicting MJ from her apartment.) Peter tries to make light of their problems and this makes MJ mad at him. "All you want to do is look on the bright side and make nice all the time," she yells, and she is so upset that she thoughtlessly throws her modeling portfolio into the street where it is hit by a passing car. Her headshots get "scattered halfway across the East Side". "Look at it as free publicity" Peter says, trying to look on the bright side again. Then, he takes MJ in his arms and kisses her. "I love you" he says, "Everything else is just detail."

Next stop for the now-calmed-down Parkers is Midtown General Hospital to visit MJ's friend Lorraine Mandel. Lorraine previously appeared in Web of Spider-Man #49, April 1989 as a fellow model who taught MJ all the "ins and outs of the modeling biz" but who turns out to have a serious drug problem. An overdose lands her in the hospital. Now, MJ is hoping to give Lorraine "a push to quit using cocaine". Peter stops MJ in the hospital corridor and tells her to tread lightly. It's one thing to be supportive, Pete says, but he learned from Harry Osborn's drug problem (first revealed in ASM #96, May 1971) that no one can kick an addiction unless they want to. MJ concedes that Pete may be right but she still has to try.

The Parkers enter Lorraine's room. A perky MJ calls her friend "pretty lady" and asks how she is doing. Lorraine angrily asks MJ to get her out of the hospital, "get me some clothes, get me some money, get me some blow! Otherwise leave me alone." MJ promises to "be there for you" if Lorraine wants support but she refuses to help her stay addicted. Lorraine lashes out, calling MJ a "two-faced creep", who "wouldn't have a career if I hadn't taught you how to move, how to dress, how to have style!" She yells at the Parkers to get out. "I hope you drop dead!" she screams.

MJ is devastated by the ordeal. Out in the hall, Peter comforts her with a hug. A middle-aged couple approaches them. They are Lorraine's parents and they tell Pete and MJ that they are taking Lorraine back home with them to a drug rehabilitation center where they hope "she can be whole again". (And I'm pretty sure we never see Lorraine again.) MJ offers any help she can give. Mrs. Mandel tells her she's already done more than enough but a shaken MJ replies, "Have I? I wonder."

(This scene, by the way, is a wonderful example of the command Gerry Conway had over the spiderverse at this time; how he could see the whole playing field and was firing on all cylinders, to mix a metaphor. The story that introduced Lorraine Mandel was a one-shot guest-scripted by Peter David. When was the last time you saw any Spider-writers tidying up loose ends left by a previous writer, much less bother with a plot detail from a fill-in issue? Gerry bothers and it only makes the weave of his tapestry that much stronger.)

That night, the Arranger heads home in the back of a limousine. His reports indicate that five more men are dead and ten are missing. And still all the Kingpin "cares about is his obsessive campaign against Daredevil". Just then there is a "thump" on the limo's roof as if something has landed there. The Arranger looks out the rear window and sees a huge brown-haired wolfman leaning down from the roof, looking in. The wolfman smashes a clawed hand right through the window and pulls the Arranger out on top of the trunk of the speeding car. Then, the wolf stands upright on two legs and speaks. "I am your death, Senor", he tells the Arranger. The driver looks in his rearview mirror and witnesses the attack. Shaken, he loses control of the limo and it crashes into a roadside newsstand. Then, from nowhere, Spider-Man swings down and kicks the werewolf away from the Arranger.

The wolf is barely fazed by the attack. He slashes Spidey's abdomen with his claws, telling him "I could have butchered you the last time we met". (Except I don't think these two have actually met. Spidey encountered Eduardo, the blue-black furred werewolf. This is Carlos, the brown-furred one.) But, the wolf continues, he does feel "a debt of honor" for Spidey's help in Dallas "when the Kingpin's assassins tried to kill my brother and me" so he is backing off the attack, though he now considers the debt canceled. Spidey doesn't know what the werewolf is talking about but he has heard enough to get an idea of "who's snarling under all that hair". Before the conversation can proceed further, the Arranger's driver steps up behind the wolf and fires four rounds right into its back. The werewolf knocks the driver over and leaps away. As soon as the monster is gone, the Arranger comes out of the limo where he has been hiding. His eyes are wide and his clothes are tattered. He puts his hand on Spider-Man's shoulder and tells him he has a proposition.

At the same time, a car is driving on a deserted street on the eastern tip of Long Island. The driver appears to be J. Jonah Jameson and he is visiting the man suggested to him by the Maggia. He holds the card up that he received in Washington D.C. It gives the name "J. Harrow" and the address "18 Herdling Lane, North Shore Township". The disguised Chameleon drives up to a gated estate. There is a guard (named Oswald) at the entrance dressed in a white suit. "I'm here to see Mister H," says the man in the car. The guard tells him to "beat it" but then is thrown off-balance when he looks at the driver and sees himself dressed in the same white suit but holding a gun with a silencer. The Chameleon puts a bullet into the guard and lets himself onto the grounds of the estate. Still disguised as Oswald, the Chameleon drives up to the front door. Two men are guarding it. They ask Oswald why he has left his post and needle him for the trouble he's going to get in. ("The boss'll probably make you watch one'a those old Jimmy Cagney gangster movies again. Ha.") "Oswald" pulls his silenced gun out and swiftly murders them both. Then he lets himself in.

Now, the name ("J. Harrow") on the card actually belongs to a criminal scientist but the man using the name is not the creator but the creation. Mister H. is the crime boss called Hammerhead. He is presently working out in his own private gym (Hammy is not wearing his shirt but he still has his regular slacks on held up by his suspenders) and he is frustrated by the shoddiness of his equipment. He has just head-butted a punching bag into oblivion and it's "the third one [he's] busted this week". Behind him, someone claps and ridicules him with a "Bravo! Most impressive... in a childish sort of way." Hammy turns around to see who is razzing him and finds himself face to face with the Kingpin. Instantly, he puts his head down and charges. This is his chance to get revenge for the way the Kingpin kicked him out of the rackets. But his charge never makes contact. The Kingpin leaps out of the way. "Nobody your size could move that quick," says Hammy and he turns to renew the attack. But the Kingpin is nowhere to be seen. Instead, he confronts the Amazing Spider-Man who sits on the top of a boxing ring post. "Maybe I'm not the size you think I am," says the apparent wall-crawler, "Maybe I'm not even who you think I am." Hammerhead doesn't care who his opponent is. He charges again and splinters the post. "Spidey" leaps away, and then changes to his true appearance (Well, as true as his appearance ever gets) of the Chameleon. He pronounces himself impressed and admits that he has been testing Hammerhead. The gangster is not about to let up. He demands to know who the white-masked man is. "Give me one good reason I shouldn't kill you right now!" he says. The Chameleon introduces himself as a potential friend and gives as his "good reason" a chance at revenge for Hammy against the Kingpin.

At the Arranger's condo, the mob lieutenant tells Spidey that the werewolves are the Lobo Brothers. He asks for the web-slinger's help but Spidey tells him to "get real". "I don't make deals with scum," he says. But the Arranger knows exactly what button to push. If Spidey doesn't help, he says, "a gang war between the Lobos and the Kingpin might well destroy Manhattan". Does Spidey want to be responsible for all the innocent people who will be caught in the crossfire? And there's that word that always snags him. "Responsibility." "How can I say no?" thinks Spidey, "How can I say yes?" The wall-crawler doesn't know what to do.

General Comments

Gerry Conway's vision is beginning to shape now. He's brought back Hammerhead – who he created originally and is beginning to build up the factions in the upcoming Gang War.

As the lead in to that, this story achieves what it sets out to without really being anything memorable in itself. Spidey working with the Arranger (and ultimately Kingpin) is a bit difficult to buy as a plot development though. The whole 'protecting citizens' thing is quite a thin thread to dangle things on and I'm sure a better way could've been thought of to get Spidey into the mix.

Perhaps Conway's greatest strength, though, is the way all the plot threads tie together. We see Lorraine from issue 49, Kristy's descent into a full-blown eating disorder has begun, Pete and MJ are still looking for a place to live, Jonah is still kidnapped … it all shows how Conway is thinking through the bigger picture rather than going with the moment and deciding about continuity later.

Overall Rating

Solid but unspectacular story-wise and the art is OK but nothing in comparison to the fabulous work of Todd McFarlane on Amazing.


Details by Al, General and Rating by Kerry.

 Posted: 2005
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)
 Staff: Kerry Wilkinson (E-Mail)