It may not be true anymore, in these dim days of reboots and gatherings of five, but it wasn't so long ago that I knew exactly what Spidey's worst storyline was. It wasn't the City Stealers, it wasn't Blood Rose, it wasn't Maximum Carnage (though that one is close). It's the one that droned on for four issues, gratuitously guest-starred an X-Man, needlessly killed off a major character, and was never resolved. What else could I be talking about but Live and Let Die (Web of Spider-Man #113-116, June-September 1994), which introduced (and dismissed) Facade?
This issue originally came packaged in a sealed plastic bag which included a "Bonus 16-page Preview of the Upcoming Spider-Man Cartoon Series!" as well as an "animation style" transparency featuring Spidey eluding Dr. Octopus. I know some collectors who buy issues like this and never open them. A wise move this time around. If you never open it, you never have to read it.
It is evening in New York City and Spidey dangles from a web, observing the crowds at "the Grand Opening of the New Macro Science Museum". The event is sponsored by Morelle Pharmaceuticals and they plan to unveil a "new breakthrough in bio-organics". The world's scientists and the press are there to observe the demonstration. Spidey knows he should be attending as photographer Peter Parker but the word on the street is that someone is planning to "crash the festivities". So, he remains in costume and on alert.
Inside, Lance Bannon mills through the crowd accompanied by his fiancé, Amy Powell. Neophyte photog Cole Cooper is there, too. Lance is expecting an impending promotion to the "head of the Daily Bugle's photography department" but he proves to be less than generous with his expertise to his fellow employee. Cole Cooper approaches for some pointers and Lance quickly snubs him. Amy reminds him, in a whisper, to be nice to Cole and to remember what it's like to be the new kid on the block.
Felicia Hardy is also in the crowd. She has discarded her Black Cat costume for a low-cut black evening gown with skirt-slits that reach to her waist and reveal her legs fully. She has a large white boa around her neck and an "audio implant" in her ear courtesy of the Tinkerer. Her outfit attracts plenty of attention but Felicia thinks, "jaded jet-setters don't quite know how to react to an ex-jewel-thief like the Black Cat". Yeah, that must be it.
Elsewhere, Mike Wilson, the curator of the museum, has cornered reporter Betty Brant. She is trying to get some information for her newspaper article but Wilson is trying to get some... well, let's just say he invites Betty on a "personal tour of the administration suites" and leave it at that. Before Betty has a chance to refuse, the conversation is interrupted by Archer Bryce, "renowned European industrialist from very, very old money". Bryce gets rid of Wilson by telling him his wife is looking for him, and then orders champagne for himself and Betty. He turns on the charm, telling Betty that he "knew your late husband years ago on the continent... but even his glowing descriptions didn't do you justice".
On the other side of the room, a tuxedoed J. Jonah Jameson admires the way his wife Marla Madison looks in a green dress with long green gloves. The Jamesons have had some rocky moments in their marriage of late and Jonah hopes to have some quiet moments together to rectify things. But he is interrupted by the arrival of his son John, who is at the event with his boss, Dr. Ashley Kafka (and Ashley has never looked so good). Jonah has been extending a job offer to his son for weeks and is disappointed to learn that he is now employed as Chief of Security at Ravenscroft asylum for Dr. Kafka. So, even as Ashley and Marla quickly reach a first-name basis and mutually admire each other's work, Jonah tells John that, "no son of mine is going to molly-coddle dangerous super-psychos with a friend of that blasted Spider-Man". The discussion flares up into an argument. John walks away, defiantly telling his dad that "I don't want or need your approval or your job at that two-bit rag you call a newspaper".
Outside, Spidey notices a "weird flash of light on the other side of the museum". He moves in to investigate.
Inside, Felicia moves in on Mike Wilson who has managed to elude his wife once again. Wilson offers to show Felicia his "pride and joy... the working-display micro-fusion generator on the second floor that powers this entire museum".
Across the room, Betty continues her conversation with Archer Bryce. She is angling for an "exclusive interview... about your company's interests here" but her pitch is interrupted by Bryce's assistant, Victor who inform his boss that the "demonstration is about to begin downstairs".
In the elevator down to the demonstration, Lance Bannon tries to get J. Jonah Jameson to either "take this Cooper hound off my tail" or get a "big pay raise" for accommodating the young photographer. Jonah is in no mood for Lance's whining. He tells Bannon to do his job "and stay out of my face!" Marla, disgusted by Jonah's outburst, goes ahead without her husband. Jonah knows Lance didn't deserve such a furious response but "he's an easier target than my son". John Jameson is as regretful for the way he reacts as his father is. In no mood for Marla's concern, he loses himself in the crowd just as the demonstration is about to begin.
The crowd enters an auditorium and finds seats. Behind a podium on a stage is Dr. Thomas Haney and he introduces "Morelle Pharmaceuticals' revolutionary new breakthrough in bio-circuitry". It is a prototype, built to "inspire the private capital needed to perfect our still-experimental neo-bionics". It is, in short, a huge green-and-silver metal suit known as F.A.C.A.D.E.; which stands for (you had to ask!), Full Acclimation Combat And Defense Explo-skeleton. Behind the doctor, a Plexiglas shield protects the viewers as Facade flies about, firing green laser bursts from its hands, lifting huge weights with ease, and withstanding a barrage of gunfire. Dr. Haney bombards us with all sort of technical gobbledygook ("non-concussive paralytic arcs", "bio-integrated systems", "groundbreaking techno-organics"), but the gist of it is Facade is fast, tough, strong, and "all but invulnerable". Jonah Jameson finds it "incredible", Lance Bannon finds it "impressive", John Jameson finds it "interesting" and Archer Bryce finds it "intriguing".
Outside, Spider-Man has followed a "trail of fused hand-and-footholds" (whatever the heck THAT means) to a top-floor window. The alarm has been rerouted and the administration offices are empty. His spider-sense warns him to leap. This allows him to avoid being struck by an explosively-thrown playing card... the Ace of Clubs, to be exact. It comes from the mutant known as Gambit.
(OK, let's be honest with each other, all right? I stopped reading Uncanny X-Men back about twelve years ago, so I have no real knowledge of Gambit. All I can tell you is that he is a Cajun named Remy Lebeau, he wears a very dopey-looking costume of purple and blue covered by a trench coat, he has wild brown hair and pupil less red eyes, and his power is the ability to throw playing cards and have them blow up. Anything beyond that, you're on your own.)
Knowing Gambit is one of the X-Men, Spidey is surprised to find him breaking and entering. But Remy admits that he "comes as a blood-member of t'e thieves guild" (like I said, you're on your own) and that's all Spidey needs to hear to fire a couple of web-balls at his opponent. Gambit responds by throwing his cards with just enough energy to blow up Spidey's web-balls. This also provides enough smoke "to cover his escape from the room".
Back in the demonstration room, Felicia uses her "enhanced hearing modules" to listen in on the explosions upstairs. Up on the stage, the demonstration is concluding. Dr. Haney explains that, at this stage, Facade still needs a human being inside the armor to control it. This operator must wear "full body insulation" to protect the nervous system from the trauma induced by the armor. The man inside exits out of the chest of Facade. He is dressed in a purple outfit that is uncomfortably close to the costume of that major-league bad guy... the Eel. Haney opens the floor for questions. Ashley Kafka wants Marla Madison to "ask him about cumulative trauma from the..." *SNORE!*... huh, sorry, I must have dozed off for a second there.
During the Q and A, Betty Brant slips out, looking for Archer Bryce. Lance and Amy sneak away from Cole Cooper. Lance steers them into a storage closet where he pulls out a small box that he accidentally drops. A ring pops out of it and Amy knows the question before Lance can ask it. "Yes, Lance", she says, "I'd love to marry you" and the happy couple seal the engagement with a kiss.
Responding to the explosions, Felicia has also left the crowd. She changes into her Black Cat outfit, complete with "night-vision contact lenses" courtesy of the Tinkerer and makes her way up the back stairs. At the second floor, she pauses, sensing something odd on the other side of the door. But the blasts have come from up above so, using her "claw-cable" Felicia continues her climb to the third floor.
For reasons at which I can only guess, the landscape of the third floor has turned into a series of huge sand dunes. Spidey and Gambit continue to duke it out with the web-slinger firing webbing at the trench coat and Remy gassing on about some "sense of familial duty, to insure t'at my people are not involved in a spate of violent robberies I been trackin' from New Orleans"... *SNORE!* ... no, no, really. I'm awake, I'm awake! Gambit claims that he is reaching behind his back only to free his coat from the webbing but the webhead's spider-sense tells him that Remy is "reaching for something behind his back". Spidey strikes with a quick punch but Gambit eludes it by slipping out of his trench coat. He holds an energized card in his hand and rears back to fling it but his aim is disrupted by the arrival of an intervening "claw-cable". The Black Cat has arrived on the scene and she tells her colleagues to "save it for the real bad guys". While the two heroes have been fighting, she has figured out where the true thieves actually are. "The sound-proofed landscape" they are presently on (you know... the sand dunes) has triggered a thought in Felicia's sub-conscious. Are you ready? "The total lack of any and all noise" on the second floor when she passed the door; "even background machinery humming... was just too quiet".
The trio goes down to the second floor. (Can you stand the excitement? You realize we're not even through the first of four issues?) The area is empty but Spidey senses that something is wrong. There should be "three rent-a-cops" guarding Mike Wilson's "pride and joy" generator, who seem to have disappeared. Now, in one panel, Spidey actually says, "Micro-fusion's not the source of trouble, Gambit", while the Cat actually thinks, "Motion-sensitive filaments in my mask are pointing straight to the closet." (Aaarrgghh! The jargon! The jargon!) Felicia opens the closet to find the three guards unconscious and brutally beaten. By whom? A trio of invisible guys known as the Silencers! They attack Gambit who now, inexplicably, has a fighting staff in his hands. And he's so surprised that he yells out, "Arret!" which is French for "Stop!" though I'm not sure who he's talking to. (French, because, you know, he's a Cajun.)
Spider-Man joins the fray but he can't tell whom he's fighting. The Silencers have somehow managed to short-circuit his spider-beacon and the generator for the building "with some kind of electro-magnetic pulse" which plunges "the whole museum into darkness".
On the lower floors, guards are ushering museumgoers out of the building. Dr. Haney chooses to stay with the Facade armor. A departing Mike Wilson tells the doc to lock the doors. He also leaves "two guards posted outside".
The fight on the second floor continues. As far as the heroes can tell, there are three enemies but Spidey's tip informed him that there would be four. Gambit warns the Black Cat that the fourth is probably hovering by the unconscious guards. But the Cat is already on top of it. She claims to have fought the Silencers before, though no comic has ever told the story, and she knows their M.O. She tells the others that they are "four mercenary stealth experts that specialize in stealing state-of-the-art technology including the light-refractive materials and sonar-reflective implants that effectively cloak them from sight and sound". (Got it?) But Felicia's new "senses and motion detectors" can pick up the Silencers. She finds the female fourth member and kicks her square in the stomach. Then, she cuts deep with her "vibra-claws" which short-circuits the Silencer's camouflage, rendering her unconscious.
Spidey, meanwhile, has a simpler method. He listens to his spider-sense and becomes aware of one of the Silencers sneaking up behind him. Just at the right moment, he uses a backward head-butt to put his opponent out. With half the team down, one of the Silencers confronts the heroes, telling them that they must be allowed to leave "with the nuclear power-source" they came for. The power source they are after is in the generator. If he isn't given what he wants, he will destroy the generator which would do "major damage" to the building. Spidey is all for letting the Silencer have his way but Gambit declares that the Silencer's voice has given away his location. Slipping an Ace of Spaces from his sleeve, Gambit throws it at the source of the voice. The Silencer is eliminated with a "Shpoof".
Only one more to go, but, at that moment, Mike Wilson enters the room. The Silencer gets behind him and wraps his arms around the curator's neck. Spidey, however, has another idea. He reaches down to one of the unconscious villains, takes two "obviously incompatible" wires from the camouflage suit and touches them together. The result is a "simple disruptive counterpulse through their mutual camouflage fields". (You didn't think you were all through with the jargon, did you?) In other words, the touching of the wires on one Silencer, renders the last Silencer visible. Wilson takes advantage of the moment by shoving a forearm into the Silencer's face. The menace is ended. It is time for, in Gambit's words, "t'e cleanin' up".
Outside the museum, Marla can't find Jonah, Ashley can't find John, and Betty can't find Bryce (conveniently making them all suspects in what follows). What Betty does find is the four Silencers hanging from an upstairs window, held by a spider-web. She realizes that, "this is going to be one juicy story".
On the roof, the three heroes review the situation. Sirens are heard and Spidey deduces that Wilson called the authorities. Gambit assumes that the Silencers entered the building through the front door with the rest of the guests, then donned their outfits and made for the second-floor generator. Their target was the "radioactive fusion-core" of that generator, not the Facade armor at all. The Black Cat offers a lift to Gambit and the heroes swing off: Spidey going his own way.
But, back inside the museum, Lance and Amy emerge from the storage closet and realize that something is wrong. The building is dark and empty. At first, it's romantic (Amy hopes they're "locked in for the rest of the night".) but Lance trips over the dead body of Dr. Thomas Haney. He puts Amy back in the closet for protection, and then goes sleuthing. He hears a sound over by the stage and spots someone in the shadows, sneaking into the Facade armor. Lance can't tell who it is but he takes a photo with his "infrared camera lens" and this may allow him to identify the thief who is, most likely, Haney's murderer as well. His impending scoop thrills Lance but, before he knows it, he is confronted by the huge figure of Facade. "The bio-armor is thought-controlled," says the man inside allowing him to immediately become Facade. (This, I suppose, is a clue... assuming we care. The thief seems to have knowledge of the armor that JJJ or John probably do not have. This pretty much leaves us with Wilso n or Bryce.) The man in the armor uses some kind of electro-blast to shock Lance into unconsciousness. He then steals the camera that contains the incriminating photograph. At that moment, Amy comes out to see what is happening. Two security guards arrive as well. Facade, startled by this, drops the camera and has no time to retrieve it. Amy comforts a recovering Lance while Facade blasts his way through a wall and flies off into the night.
Unfortunately, there is plenty more of this stuff to go. But first, a mention of the Bullpen Bulletins in this issue. It eulogizes Jack Kirby who died shortly before at the age of 76. It is perhaps appropriate, in a twisted kind of way, that Jack's passing is mentioned in such a truly bad comic book. The loss of Jack was, in many ways, the loss of the grand super-hero epic. Reading this awful example of the genre just makes the significance of Jack's death reverberate even more. Six years later, it is still a sad event for fans everywhere.