Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #182

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This story is part of an Arc: "The Rocket Racer's Back in Town!"
     Part 1 / Part 2

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 1997.

Background...

"I know the original Kangaroo is dead - killed by a radiation overdose. I mean, the guy was probably the silliest super-crook I ever faced! Except for maybe the Rocket Racer." - Spidey in Spectacular Spider-Man #242 (January 1997).

Actually, the above quote is a bit hard on the skateboarding anti-hero. (Spidey WISHES these two were his silliest opponents.) Check out Jonathan's list of the Top Ten Worst Villains for a passel of even sillier foes. Still, when the Rocket Racer first appeared, there is no denying that he had oblivion written all over him.

In that first throwaway appearance in Amazing Spider-Man #172, the Racer was actually featured on the cover but easily defeated after only four pages, acting as a comic-relief prelude to the return of the Molten Man. Well, think about it. A guy riding a rocket-powered, wall-hugging skateboard? I doubt even his creator, Len Wein ever expected to see the Rocket Racer again. But, when Len finished his tour as Amazing's scriptor and fan favorite Marv Wolfman took over (the same Marv Wolfman who made Tomb of Dracula a must-read in the 70s and Teen Titans a must-read in the 80s), he inexplicably began his reign with the two issue return of guess who?

Marv's time on Amazing is one of the stranger writing stints the book has seen. (So strange it is hard to believe it is Marv's work. What happened to him anyway? Did he lose a bet?) It was so strange that the Rocket Racer wasn't even the silliest character in the two-part Amazing Spider-Man #182-183. (But more on that later.) It is so strange that hard on the heels of the Racer story were disjointed issues featuring the White Dragon (speaking of silly villains), Pete's college graduation, Spidey's exoneration by the police, the Chameleon, Captain America, Electro, Jigsaw and the Man-Wolf. Things didn't settle down until the return of Spencer Smythe in Amazing #191. By the time Marv got over his yips, he gave us some terrific stories with the Black Cat and the "death" of Aunt May, but that first eight months or so... ouch! You want to know the strangest thing of all? The Rocket Racer has since appeared so many times that he is almost a regular part of Spidey's supporting cast. And you know what? After awhile he starts to grow on you. Strange, huh?

The Rocket Racer is, by my count, only the second African-American villain to become part of the Spidey rogues gallery (the first, the Prowler, wasn't really a villain at all... of course, nowadays neither is the Racer.) Even now, there are almost no black opponents for Spider-Man. Cardiac is, like Prowler and the Racer, more of an anti-hero than a villain. Vermin has been reformed. Who else is there? Tombstone? The Tinkerer's assistant, Toy? Help me out here, guys!

And while you're working on that, take a look at Spidey's first full-length battle with the Rocket Racer. Amazing Spider-Man #182 and 183. Marv Wolfman writes AND edits. (Maybe THAT explains everything, huh?) Ross Andru, nearing the end of his long distinguished run on Spidey, pencils.

In Detail...

"The Rocket Racer's Back in Town!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #182
Jul 1978 : SMURF 182.500 : SM Title
Summary: Rocket Racer Returns, Peter first proposes to MJ, she refuses.
Arc: Part 1 of "The Rocket Racer's Back in Town!"
Editor:  Marv Wolfman
Writer:  Marv Wolfman
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Ross Andru
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 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #8
Articles: Aunt May Parker, Betty Brant, The Big Wheel, Glory Grant, Jameson, J. Jonah, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Rocket Racer

Spidey is out web-slinging, thinking about Harry "happily settled back with Liz" (after the Green Goblin events of ASM #176-180) and that "things seem to be working out between Flash and Sha Shan" (is there any reason why Sha Shan was banished besides the fact that Flash is now too young to have served in Viet Nam?) when he spots a red and gold streak zip out of a high-story window. It is the Rocket Racer, carrying a satchel, using his gravity-defying skateboard to ride down the wall. (And all of those bricks must make for a bumpy ride.) The Racer notices Spidey and tries to lose him. His equipment has been souped up by the Terrible Tinkerer and he absolutely must, for reasons of his own, complete his assigment and collect the cash.

He dodges into an arch, riding upside-down on the roof. Spidey webs the exit to the arch shut but an 18 wheeler drives through just at that time and breaks through the web. The Racer takes advantage of this to escape and he is barrelling along on the ground now when he feels a web suddenly attached to his back. This time it is Spidey perched up on the underside of the arch but the Racer uses his magnetic clamps and "rocket-powered punch" to zip up and plow into the Web-Spinner. The skateboarder dashes down a subway kiosk and onto the subway tracks (now that has to be bumpy) with Spidey in hot pursuit. As the Racer travels around a corner, the Webhead loses sight of him and is next faced with an eyeful of onrushing train! He leaps to the roof of the tunnel as the train barely passes by underneath. ("If Poor Peter Parker didn't keep on his diet, half my back would'a been shaved off," he thinks.)

The Rocket Racer is gone, so Spidey, still in costume, waits for an uptown train. "Just what I need to get back to Peter Parker's Pad." (All right!!) When he enters the car, the terrified passengers ALL exit. "Nuts", Spidey says, "could it be my breath?"

Meanwhile, the Racer arrives at the "Forbush" construction site to meet with crooked businessman Jackson Weele. Rocket Racer's satchel contains embezzlement evidence against Weele and RR demands his "ten thou in small bills" but Weele checks the case and discovers "the Minerva document...the most damaging evidence against me" is not there. "You know it, Big Wheel", taunts the Racer. The deal has changed. Ten thou for the satchel. Ten more for "the Minerva stuff". The Racer gives Weele one night to think it over. Either pay or be "on bread and water for the next fifteen years".

Back at PPP, Pete is settled into a large ugly green armchair wondering "if everything's settled down, why do I feel like an unmade bed?" He decides it may be because everyone else's lives are progressing but not his. Maybe, he thinks, it's time he settled down. But the idle thoughts must wait. It is time for his visit with Aunt May, still in the hospital after the Goblin ordeal. On his way out, Pete runs into his landlady Mrs. Muggins and just as he rounds the corner a mysterious female figure in a red beret asks Mrs. M. if Peter is home. Upon being told that she just missed him, the figure asks if she can wait in his apartment. "I have business with him", she says.

Peter arrives at the hospital where Mary Jane is sitting beside a resting May. He tries one of his old-time banters, saying, "Hey, you're looking good, Tiger, ready for a game of..." but May cuts him off with "No, Peter, dear, I don't think I'll be playing football anymore." May wants to be serious. She's been thinking of her days with Uncle Ben; thinking of them growing old together, sharing both good and bad times together. Her point to Peter is clear but right in the middle of it, she drifts off to sleep. A nurse comes in to tell Pete and MJ they must leave as "your Aunt's roommate needs her rest". As the twosome leave, Pete's spider-sense goes haywire in the hospital waiting room. He sees nothing unusual, not noticing the downcast but familiar looking young black man.

Pete and MJ go their separate ways, Pete thinking that, "Even Aunt May feels I ought to settle down". He goes to the Daily Bugle where J. Jonah Jameson is so distracted by something that he keeps calling Glory Grant, "Miss Brant". JJJ is cancelling appointments and when Peter asks for an advance, the usually cantankerous publisher offers no objections. He tells Pete to see Joe Robertson about it, tells him he hopes his Aunt is feeling better, then closets himself in his office. Peter asks Glory what the deal is. "He sounded downright civil." "He's been like that", Glory says, "since he spoke to Marla Madison".

Down at the docks, Jackson Weele has decided to commit suicide rather than face the Rocket Racer or the consequences. Just as he begins to jump, the skateboarding blackmailer comes up behind. "Hey, Turkey," RR says, "You ain't goin' nowhere!" (Is he a Bob Dylan fan, perhaps?) Racer pulls him back, then taunts him, calling him "Turkey" and "Big Wheel", bragging that the Tinkerer has souped up his skateboard so he can follow Weele anywhere. He gives his victim three hours to pay up, then departs, leaving Jackson Weele with a brand-new idea. "The Tinkerer, eh?", he thinks.

And on we go to a "rundown little coffee shop" on 45th Street. Two cops, Helen and Frank, are there. Frank is working hard to get Helen to date him. "You're the shapliest flatfoot I've ever seen", Frank declares. (Oh, wait. It gets worse.) A radio call comes in for them. A suspicious Negroid male on a skateboard on FDR Drive. The two take off in their squad car, Helen driving. ("Oh yes, one other thing, Frank." "Uhhh, yeah?" "Take your hand off my knee." Ewwww. Marv...is all this necessary?) They come upon the Rocket Racer traveling in the other direction but Helen uses her brother's demolition derby expertise which she learned (Is this more about these characters than we ever needed to know? What are they, Spidey regulars now? Bring them back! No, on second thought...) to hop the divider and block the Racer's way. "Since when did Starsky and Hutch move to the Big Apple", RR wonders. It hardly matters. The Racer flips right over the entire car, which allows the squad cars trailing him to smash into Helen and Frank, knocking their car flying. They end up impaling a billboard high up in the air. Frank says, "Tell me, did you get your driver's license out of a cracker-jack box?" (Frank gets the last word? Ewwwww.)

Meanwhile, Spidey is web-slinging when he notices the squad car stuck in the billboard. He doesn't have to ask how it happened. He has seen the Rocket Racer as well. Spidey puts a web on the bad guy's back, then creates web water skis for himself. As the Racer rockets along FDR Drive, Spidey uses him like a speed boat to waterski the East River alongside. But when the Rocket Racer takes a turn, the web gets tangled on a column and snaps. Pete worries that his webbing seems to be getting weaker lately ("Something must be affecting my original formula.") but it sounds more like spin control than an actual plot point.

In any case, he again catches up to the Racer, who is now riding along the SIDE of the 59th Street Bridge. Spidey jumps in front of him but, after the Racer fires his micro-rockets, he finds himself slipping. It seems that the rockets have loosened the rust on the bridge and Spidey can't find a good handhold. As he falls, he uses his web to grab on to the bottom of the bridge, then swings back up to face the Rocket Racer.

Again, he intercepts the villain but this time, the Racer hits him square with a "rocket punch" (sounds like something out of Silver Age Superman, doesn't it?) and he falls right into the midst of traffic. By the time he extricates himself, the Rocket Racer has split. Spidey has had enough anyway. "Well, frankly, who gives a hairy bongo?", he decides. He has better things to do.

The Rocket Racer is hiding inside a large stone chimneystack nearby (Could it be...? Nah!) but Spidey leaves. "I've still got the toughest confrontation of my career waiting for me."

Later, Peter knocks at Mary Jane's door. She has just come from the shower and is in no mood for games. Saying, "I was in the neighborhood and I thought I'd share some dessert with you", Pete hands her a box of Cracker Jack. "I haven't had these since I was in mini-skirts", MJ replies and then announces that she has found the hidden prize...a toy ring. But, in fact, it is a real diamond ring and Pete helps her slip it on her finger, saying "Mary Jane, will you marry me?" And MJ's response? "Gulp!"

On we go, to Amazing Spider-Man #183 but first...

In other news, Stan's Soapbox on the Bullpen Bulletins page announces the appointment of Jim Shooter as Editor-in-Chief.

And on the letters page, Commander Quotey (and His Lost Marvel Madmen) from Minneapolis has the whole Bart Hamilton/Harry Osborn/Green Goblin story doped out after reading only the first two parts of the five part story. Nicely done, Commander! And what the heck ever happened to you? You used to be a big-time letter hack. Where you been keeping yourself, son?

Footnote...

Go on then, read how the story concludes in Amazing Spider-Man #183.