It seems Marv Wolfman's new direction for Spider-Woman was to turn it into an anthology book of dark tales, after the fashion of DC's House of Mystery. This approach debuted in issue #8: here's the second story from that number.
Gunther Malone, small-time crook, was part of a gang that robbed a charity benefit for a children's hospital. Then he made off with the loot himself, betraying his fellow thieves. They didn't take that well, and as our story opens we see Gunther, desperate, working feverishly in a construction site late at night. He hides the package of money behind a wall that he seals up with cement. Confident that the loot is hidden where no one else will find it, he runs down the street. He doesn't get far: his erstwhile companions do a drive-by shooting and plug Gunther's back full of holes.
(Gunther's companions appear to be wearing fedoras and wielding tommy guns. I guess Carmine Infantino used 1930s gangster movies for reference.)
Gunther's assassin remarks that he "couldn't miss hitting that suit of his-- even with my eyes closed." He's right: the suit is garish, a mass of alternating purple and black stripes. And if that wasn't hideous enough, Gunther's topped off the ensemble with a yellow beret. Looks as if Gunther was committing crimes of fashion, too.
So much for Gunther. Cut to "Marcus Evanier", a down-on-his-luck salesman hunting for a new job in the classified ads. "Marcus Evanier," get it? Ah, there's nothing comics writers find more amusing than industry in-jokes. We readers are more apt to find them irritating distractions. But anyway: Marcus doesn't want to bother applying for the job. His wife is convinced he still has the skills to be a salesman, but Marcus is too ashamed of his shabby wardrobe. Marcus' wife, not to be deterred, calls in a favour from her brother. And her brother can certainly get him a suit: he happens to be night watchman at the morgue, where Gunther's corpse has just been wheeled in.
Lest we forget who the star of this book is, we get two panels of Spider-Woman lurking outside the window of the operating room where Gunther's corpse is receiving an autopsy. "Having learned nothing," the narrator tells us, Jessica "takes off into the thickening black of night." I wonder what she expected to learn? Ah well. Cut to Marcus, walking down the street in Gunther's suit, happy as can be. He's well aware of the provenance of the suit, but doesn't seem to care. (His nonchalance at wearing the suit a gangster was murdered in is far more chilling than any of the occult hugger-mugger shortly coming our way. We've already seen him laconically acknowledge the need to conceal the bullet holes.) Sure enough, the suit has made Marcus confident enough to ace his interview, and he lands a job as a book salesman. Tucking his first project-- Luck: How to Find and Keep It-- into his breast pocket, Marcus hits the street, feeling like a winner.
Unfortunately for Marcus, Gunther's murderers happened to see him walking to the interview, and naturally assume that only Gunther would be willing to wear a suit like that. Reporting back to their boss, they receive fresh orders to kill Gunther again, and this time make it stick.
Cut again to two panels of Spider-Woman, combing the city for information on Gunther Malone. Now she's found information she could use: Gunther worked for "Tough Looey's mob." ("Tough Looey"? Ugh.)
While she ponders that clue, we cut back to Marcus, who's got problems of his own. "His legs make him turn a corner which he doesn't want to turn... Astonished, he reaches out-tries to stop himself... he can't help himself! He is moving against his own will! "
Dun dun DUN! Wolfman has finally lost it as a scripter. This page is covered in acres of purple prose that describes what we can already see without words on the page: Marcus, his body shaking, makes an involuntary trip to the construction site where Gunther died, and begins excavating the loot. While he works, Tough Looey's men arrive. They can see plainly it isn't Gunther in the suit, but orders are orders, and they shoot him through the heart.
Enter Spider-Woman and her fists of fury. "Scum of the earth-- you did not grant life-- you cannot take it away! " Uh, I'm pretty sure they can, Jess. But she's almost right, because Marcus isn't dead. The bullets aimed at his heart were stopped by the book he was carrying in his breast pocket.
Spider-Woman doesn't understand who Marcus is or how he could have survived, but she doesn't care. Having subdued the gangsters she flies away into the night, leaving Marcus to call the cops, and also to return the stolen money. Marcus explains to his wife later that the suit must be cursed, but she disagrees: it got him a new job, a reward for finding the stolen money, and kept him alive. Clearly the suit is blessed!
And the story ends, hopefully before the reader has time to think about any of this.
But if the reader does have time to think about any of this, it all falls apart. Why should Gunther's suit come to life as it did? Having come to life, why would it want the money Gunther stole? If the suit is so powerful, why is it that Marcus' life is saved by the deus ex machina of a book in his breast pocket? What does Spider-Woman have to do with any of this? If she's so concerned about getting the money back, why does she leave it in Marcus' hands, when she's got no reason to trust him?
Wolfman provides a lame response to all these questions: "Needless to say, there is no answer. How often is there one?"
In Spider-Woman? Not often, Marv. But thanks for giving us the perfect epitaph for your run on the series.
One web. More bad artwork, more ludicrous dialogue, and-- of course-- more incomprehensible plotting. But we'll bump it up half a web higher than its companion story for being refreshingly free of misogyny.
So long, Marv Wolfman; welcome aboard, Mark Gruenwald. Gruenwald's pen is responsible for two of the best single issues of Spider-Woman's first twenty-five issues, one of which he produced for his very first issue on the book. Tune in next time... if you've followed along this far, I promise you won't want to miss it.
And watch for a mini-essay sometime soon summing up Wolfman's run on the title, and trying to account for why it was so poor.