Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #156

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 2001.

Background...

The identity of the new Scourge has been bandied about in recent issues of Thunderbolts. In fact, in the fiftieth issue Scourge was revealed to be... I haven't a clue. I haven't read any of it. But I do remember the original. The Scourge of the Underworld was a device more than a character. Shouting his trademark "Justice is Served!" after each kill, he was an assassin who just happened to bump off only lightweight bad guys, conveniently trimming down Marvel's stable of dead wood super-villains. He made his first appearance in Iron Man #194 (May 1985) in which he killed The Enforcer. (Who? Yeah, that's the point.) By the time he was stopped in Captain American #320 (August 1986) he had eliminated nearly 30 useless criminals, some of whom were Spider-Man opponents. Part One, then, of an occasional Lookback series highlighting web-slinger foes polished off by the Scourge of the Underworld.

This poor sap didn't even get the dignity of an individual death. He was gunned down with seventeen others in a bar in Captain America #319 (July 1986). Actually, that description could apply to several other Spidey villains, but in this case I'm talking about... the Mirage! And, hey look!, it's the wedding of Ned Leeds and Betty Brant too!

In Detail...

"On a Clear Day, You Can See... The Mirage!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #156
May 1976 : SMURF 156.500 : SM Title
Summary: Ned Leeds Marries Betty Brant, Mirage
Editor:  Len Wein
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  John Romita, Sr.
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 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #133
 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #7
Articles: Watson, Anna, Aunt May Parker, Betty Brant, Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius) (Cameo), Flash Thompson, Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Jameson, J. Jonah, Elizabeth (Allan) Osborn, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Mirage, Leeds, Ned, Robertson, Joe "Robbie"

The sun is already coming up by the time the Amazing Spider-Man makes his way home after his encounter with the W.H.O. computer (ASM #155, April 1976). He is exhausted as he lands on the laundry-draped roof of his apartment building. All he can think of is getting "a hot shower, a glass of cold milk, and a few hours sleep". He can't afford to do much more than that. Ned Leeds and Betty Brant are getting married in the afternoon and Peter Parker is the Best Man. Suddenly, his spider-sense screams at him and he is attacked from behind by... "a broom?" hidden by the drying linen. Mrs. Muggins, broom-wielder and landlady, steps out from behind the sheets. "No freaky-lookin' sex fiend is gonna go prowlin' around my apartment building" she declares as she revs up for another swing. This blow knocks the wall-crawler right over the side of the building. Mrs. Muggins is shocked by what she has done. She certainly didn't mean to kill the pervert. But, when she looks down at the street, there is no dead body there. "My husband Barney was right!" she decides. "I just gotta stop takin' them medicinal nips in the mornin'!"

Spidey, meanwhile, is wall-crawling in the tiny space between buildings. He intentionally toppled over and disappeared so that Mrs. Muggins would think she had an hallucination and "won't start wondering what Spider-Man was doing on the roof of Peter Parker's apartment". (Oh, good one, Spidey. Make your poor lush of a landlady think she's seeing things. What's next? Painting pink elephants on her walls?)

The wall-crawler slips through the window of his place, goes to the refrigerator and takes a big gulp of that cold milk he is craving, right from the carton. It's sour, of course, and Peter must pour the rest of it into the sink. (That's for being mean to Mrs. Muggins, Pete!)

Meanwhile, in the Bowery district, a raggedy man hides in an alley until a police car has passed. The man, dressed in blue pants, a filthy brown coat, and frayed light purple hat, has appeared twice before (in ASM #152, January 1976 and ASM #154, March 1976). In those appearances, he rummaged through garbage cans, lamenting that a man of his stature had been forced into such a life. He had taken to drink, (and was seen somehow pouring a drink while both hands were on the cup) mugged a man from a distance without touching him (but the method used was hidden from us), and fled in terror from some mysterious pursuer. Now, he plans to rob the liquor store across the street. Before he can make his move, however, the hackles rise on his neck. He turns to look behind him and discovers, to his terror, that "He's found me again!" Cowering from the mysterious figure, the derelict apologizes for leaving him and promises to make it up to him. But the pursuer disappears, leaving the man "shivering like a frightened child". The terrified man knows he cannot continue this way. "There has to be an end to it!" he vows, "And I know of only one person in all the world who can help me!" So saying, he gets to his feet and makes his way out of the Bowery.

In his East Side apartment, J. Jonah Jameson admires himself in the mirror. He's all ready to give the bride away. In Rockaway, Flash Thompson makes his way from his apartment. In Forest Hills, Aunt May and Anna Watson depart, with May telling Anna (for perhaps the millionth time) that "my Peter used to go with Betty Brant". In Staten Island, Liz Allen leaves her rooming house musing over her memories of High School and how she thought Peter and Betty made the perfect couple. In suburbia, Joe Robertson waits in the car while Martha and Randy make their way down the cobblestones. And in Chelsea, Peter Parker has not yet left his apartment because he can't figure out how to tie his bow tie. He is interrupted by a knock at the door. It is Mary Jane, ready to accompany him to the wedding. MJ easily ties his tie for him, while calling him "Brown-eyes" (yes, it looks like Peter's eyes are brown this month) and promising to be less possessive than she has been in recent months. "You know, MJ" says Pete, "you'd make someone a wonderful something!" "If you're not careful, Mr. Parker" says MJ, "I might just take you up on that." And with a slam of the front door, the couple head off to Ned and Betty's wedding.

The ceremony is scheduled to take place in the Cupid Room at Morgan's of Malverne. It is only one of many weddings going on in this huge glass-dominated building. (The others, if you're curious, are "the Shapiro, Jabbar, O'Hara, and Calhoon weddings".) The lobby, which looks a bit like the inside of the Guggenheim Museum, awes Peter. It rises up several stories with a winding staircase leading to each level. Far above is an immense glass chandelier. "We're gonna need a Sherpa Guide to help us find Ned and Betty's wedding" Pete suggests. MJ thinks they should be "daring" and "ask the guy at the Information Desk".

Once they find the Cupid Room, Pete and MJ split up; she in search of Betty, he in search of eats. (He hasn't eaten a thing "since yesterday".) Pete finds the table of food but so has everyone else. It "looks like Ned and Betty invited the entire Bugle staff" and every one of them is swarming around the goodies. (And I think I see Aunt May in there stuffing her face, too!) "Welcome to the Day of the Locust" thinks Pete.

Most of the food is gone by the time Peter gets some and he has to settle for "these little hot dogs" and what looks like a deviled egg. But just as he is about to take his first bite, MJ calls to him to "stow the chow"! It's too late for eating. The ceremony is about to begin.

So, everyone heads for the room with the altar. Peter, stomach growling, takes his place to the right of Ned Leeds. Mary Jane stands to the left of Betty Brant. The minister begins the ceremony.

But, as the service is going on, four men with suits, hats, sunglasses and briefcases approach the man at the Information Desk. Before his eyes, the clothing of the visitors changes to yellow jumpsuits with stripes, blue boots and gloves, and headpieces that pull up over their scalps but leave their ears exposed. The leader's outfit is even fancier. He has a blue belt that not only encircles his waist but also moves up his chest and encircles his neck as well. His headpiece includes a rather ineffective mask that looks like a big "X" on his face as well as an extra piece on each side of his head that pretty much just look like big ears. Before the Info Desk clerk can make fun of their clothing, one of the men shoots him with a tranquilizer dart. They shove the clerk under his desk, "seal off the building" and take to the stairs. "There are a half-dozen weddings under way here today" declares their leader, "guests all carrying large amounts of money for gifts, women all wearing their most expensive jewelry". A perfect day and place for a robbery.

They begin at the Shapiro wedding, hold it up at gunpoint, and collect all the valuables. Then they run over to the Jabbar wedding and do the same thing. Down the stairs they run to the O'Hara wedding where they have the guests put their cash and jewelry into a suitcase. Then over to the Brant-Leeds wedding (I guess the Calhoon wedding lucks out) just in time to interrupt the minister's call of "if there is anyone who can show just cause why these two should not be wed", et cetera, et cetera. Finally, the leader of the bad guys introduces himself. "I am called the Mirage," he says, "and I've come here to rob you blind!"

The Mirage begins by grabbing Liz Allen's purse. Liz protests and Harry Osborn tries to get the purse back for her. But the Mirage casually smacks Harry away. This gets Joe Robertson and J. Jonah Jameson up to protest. But Jonah's forceful manner evaporates when one of the Mirage's goons shoves his gun right into JJJ's nose. Instead of protesting, the terrified publisher asks, "if you gentlemen would accept a check".

Peter, meanwhile, is trying to figure out a way to sneak off and change to Spidey. He thought he "was a compulsive neurotic wearing my Spidey outfit under my clothes today of all days but I guess I was merely prophetic". He also has his web-shooters already hooked up on his wrists. This allows him to carry out a swiftly-formed plan. Pete notices the light switch over on the wall. While everyone else is focused on the burglars, he shoots some webbing onto the switch, gives a little tug, and sends the room into darkness. Mayhem ensues and it is a few minutes before the crooks get the lights back on again. By the time they do, the Amazing Spider-Man is entering the room by walking on the ceiling. (And Mary Jane who, you may recall, was retconned into knowing Spidey's secret identity from the beginning, proves that she doesn't know it here by yelling, as the wall-crawler enters, "Hey, where's Peter?" Either that or she's just really into the idea of blowing his cover.)

The Mirage orders his men to set their "multi-guns on kill" and fire away at the wall-crawler. (I'm not real sure what these "multi-guns" are but I think the Mirage has watched too many episodes of Star Trek.) He tells Spidey he will not stand by and let someone else step in and "rip off [their] action". The web-head is appalled that the Mirage would think he is only there to commit his own robbery. "Actually" he says, "I just dropped by to give Ned and Betty my best on their wedding day". Saying this, he leaps right at the Mirage with both feet extended. He is inches away from kicking the bad guy right in the chops when suddenly the Mirage isn't standing there anymore. He is, in fact, about five feet to the wall-crawler's left.

Spidey can't believe he missed. For an instant, he hesitates and one of the Mirage's goons tries to ventilate him with his nifty "multi-gun". When Spidey leaps away, he comes out with one of my favorite villain pronouncements: "Hey, stand still, blast ya!" Spidey doesn't, of course, because he knows "if I stand still you will blast me!" Instead, he leaps about the room, shoots his webbing, and snags the guns from two of the goons. The third goon takes a shot at Spidey and misses. (And comes out with another of my favorite bad guys lines to Spider-Man: "Nobody can move that fast!") The wall-crawler kicks the gun out of the third guy's hand, adds it to the other two, and webs all three guns up on the ceiling. Then he turns to the three thugs, gives them a "bring-it-on" gesture, calls on them to tangle with him hand-to-hand, and adds a little taunt... "What's the matter? Scared?"

Well, you can't taunt three goons like that without guaranteeing a reprisal. All three henchmen leap on Spider-Man at once. It doesn't do them any good. Spidey kicks one of them away, then lifts the other two and plays a game of "Spin-the-Badguy". After a few pirouettes to loosen their grips, the webhead flings the two hoods hard against the wall. The third thug recovers from the kick and takes the wall-crawler on again. But Spidey puts him out with one punch and that is the end of the henchmen. Unfortunately, Spider-Man has forgotten about the Mirage.

That oversight is swiftly corrected as the Mirage does a little "leap-and-two-footed-kick-to-the-back-of-his-opponent's-head" of his own. Spidey figures his opponent to be just as easy to subdue as his now-unconscious buddies. He leaps at the Mirage and comes up with air once again. The Mirage is standing a few feet to the right of where he leapt. Having mis-fired on the villain twice now, the web-slinger wonders aloud whether the Mirage is even really there at all. The bad guy dissuades him from continuing that line of thinking by punching him solidly in the stomach and following that up with a right uppercut to the jaw. (And this "guy's got a punch like the kick of a mule". Don't they all?) When Spidey shakes the cobwebs out, he is surprised to see the Mirage standing way over by the base of the stairs. When our hero leaps to that spot, the Mirage is about fifteen steps up the stairway. After another Spidey leap, the Mirage is yet fifteen steps further up than that. (And he comes out with his nifty slogan which, sadly, he probably didn't get to use too often before he got cacked: "That's the nature of a Mirage, wall-crawler. It's never where it appears to be!")

Now it's the web-slinger who is reduced to uttering the villain's cliché. "Stand still, will ya?" he calls to Mirage as he leaps to the next spot. But this time, the webster is faked out. Instead of appearing farther up the stairs, the Mirage appears just to the right of where Spidey has landed. He gives our hero a karate chop to the back of the neck and then kicks him all the way down the stairs. As he tumbles down, Spider-Man realizes that "there's got to be a gimmick to this". He knows he must discover what it is if he is going to win this battle. And, conveniently, the Mirage takes this moment to blab too much about his abilities, thereby giving the wall-crawler an edge.

Spidey falls all the way down to the lobby. The Mirage slides down the stair's banister, telling Spidey he studied "visual electronics" so that he could become the equal of his hero, Spider-Man. Now, he's disappointed that "the notorious wall-crawler is just another turkey when the chips are down". He contemptuously springs off the banister and kicks Spidey right in the chops. But now the web-slinger has got the idea. When he takes a swing at the Mirage, he notices that he is trying to punch a "3-D holographic image". He deduces that the dopey looking ears on Mirage's costume are the projectors of the image. Further, he decides that the real Mirage is "shielded by some sort of invisibility screen" while his image is projected. ("All the years I spent studying visual electronics." Good one, Mirage!) All our hero has to do is figure out how to use this knowledge to his advantage.

The Mirage has gotten so cocky, he hasn't caught on to any of this. Proclaiming, "The King is dead, insect! Long live the King!" he again punches Spidey in the jaw. When the wall-crawler shoots out some webbing and swings by, the Mirage thinks his opponent is so discombobulated that he "missed by a mile". But Spidey isn't aiming at the Mirage. He has decided to swing up to the top of the giant chandelier. Then, in a blatant disregard for property and the well-being of his foe, Spider-Man detaches the giant light fixture and turns it into a "cutglass cannonball". The eyes of the Mirage go wide with shock. He runs for it, frantically trying to get away from the immense missile. His holographic image disappears to reveal the actual Mirage is actually halfway across the room. But it does him no good. The chandelier is big enough to get him no matter where he is. It shatters on top of him, knocking him unconscious.

Spider-Man checks the Mirage to make sure he is only knocked out. "The metallic shell of integrated circuitry he wore under his costume protected joyboy from the brunt of the impact" he says, but, of course, he wouldn't have known that before he dropped the glass. With sirens heralding the arrival of the police, Spidey decides to leave the Mirage as is. Besides, he has to get back to the Cupid Room for the conclusion of the wedding ceremony.

He sneaks back to his clothing to change back to Peter Parker. And things have definitely taken a turn for the better. Pete has "finally figured out how to tie this stupid bowtie". Re-entering the Cupid Room, he tells the others that he slipped out to call the police, and then couldn't get back in because of Spider-Man's battle. MJ tells him that "you had us worried half to death" and that Aunt May "was coming apart at the seams". J. Jonah Jameson berates him for not getting news photos. Betty Brant just wants to get back to her wedding.

So, everyone assembles once again. The minister finishes the service and Ned and Betty seal it with a kiss. "Congratulations, you two" says Peter, "it's about time!" Outside, the happy couple jumps into their waiting car. They are off to Paris where Ned has been assigned as a foreign correspondent. J. Jonah Jameson actually sheds tears into his handkerchief. He thinks Ned and Betty are "two of the nicest kids" he's ever had work for him. "I should've given them that raise when they asked for it" he says. And Aunt May catches the bouquet that Betty appears to have thrown right to her. "Betty couldn't have been serious, could she?" wonders May.

But perhaps the idea of May Parker as a bride isn't so far-fetched after all. May returns to her home, still carrying the bouquet. She plans to "fix myself a nice quiet dinner, watch Tony Orlando and Dawn on TV", but, on entering her home, discovers the derelict from earlier in the issue sitting in her armchair. She cowers in fear, threatening to scream, but the raggedy man shushes her, calls her "dear", and asks her if she recognizes him. He removes his hat and pulls back his coat to reveal a bowl haircut, sunglasses, and four metal tentacles. Doctor Octopus has returned from the dead.

Unfortunately for the poor Mirage, his best days are behind him once this issue is done. He appears again in Marvel Two-In-One #96 (February 1983) with the lame idea to kidnap The Thing who is recovering from a battle in a hospital. But he never gets that far. Instead, he tangles with Daredevil who, as a blind man, is not distracted by Mirage's gimmick and uses his hyper-senses to locate and take out the villain. After that, he is reduced to sitting in a bar and getting gunned down by Scourge. Sad, really.

Unfortunate, too, is the marriage of Betty and Ned, which goes through its ups and downs until Ned's murder at the hands of the Foreigner's men (in Spider-Man versus Wolverine #1, February 1987) puts a sad and unnecessary end to the whole thing. Shortly thereafter, Ned is revealed to be the Hobgoblin (Amazing Spider-Man #289, June 1987) in another messy storyline that is fortunately retconned much later. So, now, things are back the way they used to be... except that poor Ned Leeds is still dead.

As for Doctor Octopus... so many questions. (And a couple of answers. The way he poured a drink while holding the cup with both hands, the way he tripped his potential victim from a distance was by using his metal tentacles, of course.) You say you want to know what happens next? You say you want to know who's haunting him? You say you want to know why he has gone to Aunt May? You say you want to know what he means when he says he's back from the dead? You got it. You got eight frelling issues of it. It's next!