Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #203

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 2002.

Background...

You say you're tired of the same old Lookback? You say you're looking for something a bit different, something like a weird one-issue knock-off that features the Dazzler, the Lightmaster, and Star Trek: The Motion Picture?" Then do I have the Lookback for you!

Marv Wolfman's tenure as writer on Amazing Spider-Man was winding down. After spending more than a year weaving together the different Burglar/Mysterio/Death of Aunt May plot threads that tied up in Amazing Spider-Man #200, January 1980, Marv coasted to a finish with a two issue Punisher story, part one of a two part Black Cat tale... and this strange little standalone with more light shows than you can shake a strobe at.

In Detail...

"Bewitched, Bothered, and Be-Dazzled!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #203
Apr 1980 : SMURF 203.500 : SM Title
Summary: Lightmaster, Dazzler
Editor:  Marv Wolfman
Writer:  Marv Wolfman
Pencils:  Keith Pollard
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Frank Miller
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 Reprinted In: Essential Dazzler #1
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #230 (Story 1)
 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #9
Articles: Aunt May Parker, Flash Thompson, Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Lightmaster

The Amazing Spider-Man is swinging low above the empty streets of Manhattan late one night when he sees a woman with long red hair, dressed in a white danskin, big bracelets, armlets, hoop earrings, blue face paint to cover her cheeks and eyes, and a small disco ball around her neck. She is roller-skating (in the days before roller-blading) rapidly down the middle of the deserted street with a big glowing ball trailing right behind her. Spidey takes one look at the scene and jumps to the conclusion that Will-O-The-Wisp is back in town. He doesn't know how this can be since the last time he saw the Wisp "his atoms were scattered from here to Cleveland" (by Dr. Jonas Harrow back in ASM #168, May 1977) but he hasn't time to worry about that now. It looks to him like "that girl needs help" (even though she has very smoothly made a quick turn to the right by swinging around a convenient lamp post) and he leaps from building to building in pursuit, planning to "become tonight's one-man cavalry".

Down on the street, the roller skater is getting a little bit frantic. She can't shake the ball of light (that she refers to as "he") no matter how hard she tries. Suddenly, she loses her balance and starts to fall. The light is going to run into her. But then, she is swiftly yanked up into the air by a strong strand of webbing. Spider-Man has joined the action. He pulls the woman high up on the side of a building where she faints right in his arms.

Soon after, the woman recovers consciousness on a neighborhood roof. Spidey sits on a chimney watching her and he has finally figured out that this woman is the Dazzler. He has seen posters around town advertising her act. Now he wants to know why a disco singer is being pursued by the Will-O-The-Wisp.

Why does it take Spidey so long to identify the Dazzler? And why does he think of her as a disco singer and not a super-hero? Because this is only Dazzler's second appearance (her first being X-Men #130, February 1980) still almost a year away from the first issue of her very own series (cover-dated March 1981). At the time of this story, the Dazzler is just a disco singer.

Dazzler tells Spidey she doesn't know whom this Wisp guy is that he's talking about and, besides, she's not sure she should trust the wall-crawler anyway. Just then, a man carrying a boom box on his shoulder walks by on the street below. The music from the box wafts up to the Dazzler on the roof. This is highly convenient since Dazz's super-power is the ability to absorb music and transmute it into light. It suddenly occurs to her that Spidey may be in league with her pursuer since she's read the Daily Bugle and knows "what kinda guy you're supposed to be like". (Yeah, I know. Spidey just saved her when she was dead meat so this makes no sense. But you sort of expected it, didn't you?) So, she soaks up the boom box music, grabs her disco ball in her right hand, and sends a light blast through it which knocks Spider-Man off the roof.

Wondering why his spider-sense didn't warn him, Spidey shakes off the blast, creates a web trampoline between two buildings, springs right back up to the roof, and is surprised to find that the Dazzler has gotten away already. The web-slinger considers three items. 1. Dazzler somehow nullified his spider-sense. 2. In escaping, she moved much quicker than he thought she could. 3. Even though she is just a disco singer, she managed to use a mirror ball to blast him with light. Conclusion? "Something tells this little Spidey that the Dazzler is a tad more than a mere singer!" With no further line of investigation, the web-slinger swings away wondering, "since she seemed to not know who the Will-O-The-Wisp was", who is after the Dazzler?

Later that evening, back at his apartment, a shirtless Peter Parker is putting a TV dinner in the oven when he hears a knock at his door. He answers it and is greeted by his old friend and former roommate Harry Osborn. Pete lets him in and Harry sits on the big wooden spool table. Peter notes that he hasn't seen much of Harry lately and Harry agrees that their paths haven't crossed much "ever since you and Betty broke up and you started teaching and working". (Pete starts dating the married but separated Betty Brant Leeds in ASM #184, September 1978. Betty slaps Peter's face and goes back to her husband in ASM #195, August 1979. Pete's first day as a graduate student teaching assistant appears in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32, July 1979 Harry's last appearance was in ASM #199, December 1979.) But, Harry says, "At least we'll all be together tonight!" Peter doesn't know what he's talking about but he is interrupted by another knock before he can ask Harry for details. This time it's Flash Thompson at the door and he asks Peter why he isn't ready yet. When Pete wonders what Flash is talking about, his old high school nemesis reminds him that "We agreed to all see Star Trek tonight!"

Twenty minutes later, the three men are at the Forum Theatre to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture. Peter can't believe they'll actually get in since the line goes around the block. Flash assures Pete that "my ex-girl friend is the cashier" and that "she'll already put our tickets aside". (It may be hard to remember these days, what with all the Star Trek series and movies out there, but the first Star Trek film was a very big deal. Fans of the old series had waited over ten years to see the crew of the starship Enterprise once again... the cartoon series doesn't count... and here was Paramount giving them a film back in the days when TV shows were never later made into motion pictures. It was more than a Trekkie could ever hope for. (Yeah, yeah, I know... Trekker.) Too bad the movie had to suck!)

Meanwhile, the Dazzler has apparently been on the run ever since she so stupidly ditched the Amazing Spider-Man and she just happens to end up in the alley behind the aforementioned Forum Theatre. She is all tuckered out from her frantic skating and must pause for a short rest. Too bad for her that the ball of light hasn't tired out one bit. (And this reminds me to ask a question: Is the ball of light traveling at the speed of light? And, if so, how can you outrun it by roller skating?) Anyway, the ball of light shoots right into the Dazzler's body which immediately knocks her unconscious. As she lies flat on her back in the alley, her disco ball rises up from her neck. It, and her high boots and bracelets start to glow. Then tentacles shoot out from these spots, meet a few feet away from her and begin to coalesce into a glowing human body. And just like that, the Lightmaster stands before her, back in the world of flesh and blood again!

(The Lightmaster, first appearing in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #3, February 1977 is Edward Lansky, former Vice-Chancellor of Empire State University. Before joining the administration, Lansky was "a Physics prof specializing in light phenomena". He creates his alter ego in order to kidnap the university officials who were denying him funds to further his research. Spidey defeats him by jolting him with electricity. He returns in PPTSM #20, July 1978 teaming with the Enforcers to battle Spider-Man and the White Tiger. It turns out that the electrical charge that Spidey used in their last encounter has changed Edward Lansky into "a being of pure, unstable energy" who must surround himself "with light at all times merely to stay alive". He hooks himself up to the city's power system, which eventually causes a blackout. Once the power is out, Lightmaster cannot hold his molecular structure together. He fades away to nothing... until now!)

Lightmaster crows for awhile, as villains are wont to do, carrying on about how "the Dazzler's powers have plucked me from the dimension of light I had been banished to" (I'll buy it if you'll buy it) and how he plans to "hunt down the man who killed me" (he means Spider-Man apparently, though you can't really blame the wall-crawler for much) which gives the Dazzler time enough to regain consciousness and get to her feet. She is still very weak and wants to know the reason for it. Lightmaster explains that she is a source of light while he requires constant light to keep going. He tells her that he intends to keep her forever as his prisoner so that she can act as his battery. (Kind of a Green Lantern relationship sort of deal.) Dazzler, of course, wants no part of it. She takes to her skates once again but doesn't get far. Lightmaster uses his powers to "manipulate light... turn it solid" and creates a giant hand that grabs Dazzler by the scruff of the neck and pulls her back. (Kind of a Green Lantern solid hand kind of thing.) He further proves his superior power by shooting light beams of destructive force out of his hands, demolishing the wall behind our heroine.

Inside the theatre, up on the big screen, the Klingons are appearing in their battle cruisers. A photon torpedo powers up... and the whole stinking screen explodes! The wall attacked by Lightmaster is the back wall of the theatre, of course. Some of the people in the theatre sit and marvel over the incredible special effects. "It looks like this theater's on fire!" one says. "You jerk!" another replies, "This isn't a movie! This is real!" In the melee, Peter Parker feels his spider-sense tingling. But it doesn't take super-human senses to figure out that the "explosion blasted into the theater" which means that the danger is outside! So, Peter sneaks away from Harry and Flash and changes into his Spider-Man duds, missing the rest of Star Trek: The Motion picture and I'm here to tell you, Pete, that you didn't miss much. He makes his way to the alley in back where he finds the Dazzler on the run once again. But this time, it isn't a ball of light after her, but a glowing man flying through the air like a bullet fired from a gun. This time, Spider-Man recognizes the pursuer as Lightmaster. He swings down, kicks Lansky right in the snoot and tells him, "I thought you had gone to bye-bye land, Lighty! You shoulda stayed there!"

Lightmaster is knocked to the ground but he retaliates immediately. He raises his left hand and fires a solid beam of light that turns into two hands holding two big golden cymbals. The cymbals clash together with Spider-Man in the middle. And the Lightmaster starts blathering about how he is "not yet prepared to stage our final battle" and only prepared to give Spidey "a mere demonstration" of his power, which baffles me, to be honest with you. I mean, if your power is creating solid things out of light, then how much preparation do you need? You can create cymbals with little hands holding them that clash together and hit Spidey, for crying out loud! And you're not prepared to stage the final battle? Come on!

It gets worse. With Spidey on the ground, with Spidey's head spinning (we know this because Keith has drawn those little electron orbits around Spidey's head), the Lightmaster gloats that "it would be so easy to destroy you now (But...!) but as I can do that any time, I shall merely swat you like the insect you are!" (But wait...!) And so saying, he creates a giant golden fly swatter out of the light that flows out of his right hand and tries to swat the web-slinger with it! (But wait, if it would be easy to destroy him now then how come he has to prepare for the final battle?!) Spider-Man gets it together in time to leap out of the way of the swatter but he doesn't take into account the possibility that Lighty will make yet another fly swatter out of the light that flows out of his left hand... which is what he does. This swatter clobbers the webhead, sending him flying up in the air, across the alley and into another one of those wooden water towers that Spider-Man always seems to crash into. The wood shatters and falls on top of him. The water soaks him. He is so beaten that he "can't stand... can't even pick up my head... just wanna ... wanna... lie down... and... unnnghhhh". Which, you'll pardon me for mentioning, has to be the easiest takedown of Spidey we've seen in a very long time. You'd think he was anxious to get back to the Star Trek movie or something.

With the web-slinger out of the picture, Lightmaster surrounds himself and Dazzler (who must have just been standing around watching the action instead of skating like hell out of there) in a big ball of light. This ball soars up into the air, across town to Empire State University, where "with the speed of a falling meteor", it plunges down and goes right through the ground to a secret laboratory beneath. (Which is fine for Lightmaster since he is now made out of solid light but how did Dazzler pass through the ground into this underground facility?)

So, Lightmaster returns to his very elaborate lab filled with all sorts of big metal fancy-looking machines and it's no wonder the administration cut his funding if he was blowing all his money on stuff like this. He has put Dazzler on a tilted table designed to hold a person prisoner where he locks her hands down in metal clamps and covers her with electrodes. (Just the sort of thing a university loves to spend lots of money on!) Using all his fancy machines, Lightmaster deduces that Dazzler is a mutant. He explains that her ability to transform sound into light affected him in the Light Dimension. Every time she gave a concert, he gained more strength until he was finally strong enough to send out a ball of light designed to capture her. Now that he has her in his clutches and has used her to completely return to his own dimension, Lighty plans to "continue to absorb [Dazz's] power in order that I may get ever stronger and stronger!"

But not so fast! Suddenly, Spidey smashes down and emerges from some green metal thing that may be a door but looks more like he's just jumping out of one of Lighty's machines. Lightmaster can't believe that the wall-crawler has tracked him down but Spidey explains that he assumed the man who was "once E.S.U.'s Vice-Chancellor" would return to the campus as a hideout. Once he got in the vicinity, Spidey used his spider-sense, he tells Lansky, to take him the rest of the way. (There he goes again. Blabbing about that spider-sense. You'd think he'd want to keep it a secret.) Lightmaster attacks with a light blast but Spidey uses that aforementioned sense to leap out of the way. That does it. Lighty is through messing around. He pulls a lever on one of his machines and the Dazzler begins to glow. "Her lithe body" says Marv, "seems covered with lambent flame." Hubba-hubba!

Has Lightmaster learned from his last foray with big machinery (in PPSSM #20) when he caused a power blackout and sent himself into another dimension? No, he has not. This time the entire lab erupts in flames resulting in "a sudden, inexorable moment of fiery hell". Spidey instantly leaps over to the Dazzler, covers both of them with a hastily constructed web dome and saves them from the conflagration. When the fire fades and is replaced by a "smokey vagueness", the wall-crawler peeks his head out of the dome for a look-see. Lightmaster is nowhere in sight so the webhead decides "he must have fled before this place went up".

He turns back to Dazzler and releases her from her bonds. He offers her his hand to steady her but Dazz spurns Spider-Man's help. His feelings wounded by the rejection, Spider-Man turns away... until his spider-sense starts screaming at him. Instinctively, he does a backward somersault that gets him out of the way of a light blast attack from the two wrists of the Dazzler. (And we know she's gone bad because she starts talking like a villain... referring to Spidey as "Insect" and using ten words where one will suffice in such sentences as "Oh, my friend, that is where you are most definitely incorrect! It may take longer than I wish, but you will most assuredly perish!"

The attack continues with Dazz firing one light blast after another and tearing up the lab something awful (all the parts that weren't obliterated in the "moment of fiery hell") while the wall-crawler leaps and flips and dodges until he ends up at the bottom of a big hole that goes right up to the surface (which must have been made by the explosion, I suppose, but I sure can't see how). Declaring, "I'm leaving this joint", Spidey springs up to the surface. Dazzler's light blasts just miss him by inches and Spidey can't understand why Dazzler is so ticked off at him. (He still hasn't caught on to the fact that Dazz is possessed by the Lightmaster even though she's practically gotten down on the ground and rolled in it. Genius at work. Oh brother.) Once on the surface, Spider-Man fires off a web and takes to the air but Dazzler is right behind him. She has created a flying carpet out of light and uses it to rise to the surface. Then she gets right behind Spidey, bragging about how she "can move at the speed of light" (except if she could she wouldn't have such trouble catching him) and severs his webline with a well-placed blast of light. "Now you shall fall to your doom!" she says. I mean, she might as well have a sign on her head that says "under the control of the Lightmaster" but Spidey still doesn't sniff this puppy out.

And, yeah, he doesn't fall to his doom either. The nearest building is only a few feet below him and he merely does a quick flip and sticks to the side of it. Dazzler attacks with a "double light barrage" but the web-slinger twists his body and avoids it. Righting himself on the building, the webster goes on the offensive, climbing up to try to meet Dazzler but the disco singer fires a huge light charge that tears off half of the building across the street. Spidey must act fast to create a web net before all the "flying chunks" of building drop down on the bystanders.

So, now Dazzler has Spidey where she wants him. He's busy saving people. He's defenseless. What does she do? Blast him with one of those charges that just demolished half a building? No. She creates a vacuum cleaner out of light and uses it to try to suck Spidey up. (Now, explain to me how having light powers enables you to create something that sucks the air up!) Spidey finds himself being pulled right toward the mouth of the vacuum... until he thinks fast and covers the mouth of the vacuum with webbing. (Please stop me if I'm starting to bug you with all these interjections but I don't understand how this works. This isn't really a vacuum cleaner Spidey is facing. It's solid light that only works like a vacuum cleaner. If Spidey stops up the end, why not just change the structure of the light so that the hole of the vacuum is somewhere else? It's not stuck in one shape. It's malleable for God's sake! Or better yet, why not just blast him with another one of those things that wiped out half the building?!) Well, anyway, the webbing does the job and the vacuum cleaner is stopped. Now, Spidey acts fast. He shoots his webbing over Dazzler's eyes, blinding her. Then, instead of pressing his advantage and clocking her right on the jaw, he turns tail and runs. The thing is, he's so tired he can barely stand up. And besides, it finally occurs to him that something is not right about this battle and the genius needs some down time to think about it.

So, he sneaks down to an alley and changes back to Peter Parker. (Even though, you know, he must have left his PP duds back at the movie theatre.) He's still buttoning up his shirt, revealing the Spidey suit underneath when Dazzler flies by overhead on her light-derived "carpet" yelling, "Where are you, Spider-Man? Show yourself, you fool!" (Just look down at the ground, you dope!) But Spidey has no intention of showing himself. He "barely trudges home" and flops into bed, dressed in only the tights from his costume. After a ten hour sleep, he does a backward somersault out of bed, recharged and ready to take on the Dazzler.

But first, he heads over to the Daily Globe and sells some Dazzler photos to Barney Bushkin. (Yes, this takes place during Pete's stint at the Daily Globe.) He goes to Restwell Nursing Home to visit Aunt May. (Yes, this takes place when Aunt May is in the nursing home.) She tells him she's almost ready to come home. Then, he actually finds the time to teach a Chemistry class at Empire State University before finally getting back to Spidey action once again. And during that time, the web-slinger thinks he has figured it all out. He knows that "Lightmaster needs light to survive" and that he hasn't been outside of the light dimension long enough to absorb enough light to stick around. Therefore, when the explosion took place it "probably returned bright eyes to that other dimension but not before he completed his link with the Dazzler". Therefore, reasons our resident genius, "he's probably somehow controlling her in order to return to our dimension". And having doped all this out for our benefit, the web-slinger lands on and enters an abandoned building where Dazzler is sitting amidst the cracked paint on the floor hugging herself. She is so happy to see Spidey that she runs up and hugs him. (First, she asks him how he found her and he explains that he planted a spider-tracer on her when he webbed up her eyes..., which, of course, is not shown in the panel where the webbing takes place.) But even as Spider-Man holds her close, his spider-sense tingles and he somersaults aside before he is kayoed with a light blast from Dazzler's eyes. Apparently, Lightmaster abandoned his hold on Dazzler during the time she was cowering and hugging herself but has reasserted himself to attack the wall-crawler.

Spidey now knows that Dazzler is not the enemy. So, he webs her legs together, webs her arms to her sides, webs her eyes again, picks her up, and hefts her over his shoulder. Then, he webslings back to E.S.U., finds another convenient hole that now leads to the burned out laboratory and returns to the scene of the explosion. Still, Spidey is happy to find that the "wall unit" he needs "seems to be undamaged". He sets Dazzler down but she has built up enough energy to eye-blast through the webbing. Spidey ducks out of the way of the blast and slaps her across the face, knocking her out. Then, he puts her back in the machine in which Lightmaster had her imprisoned previously. (Or, at least, so he says. It sure doesn't look like the same machine. It looks like he just laid her out on the floor, webbed her hands and feet down, and webbed some big snaky tube to her stomach.) He has brilliantly deduced that Lightmaster took control of Dazz's body by flipping that switch down. Now Spidey figures to reverse the result by... you got it... flipping the switch up! And does it work? Of course it does! The Lightmaster is forced out of Dazzler's body and returned to the Light Dimension. Spidey is so confident in his cure that he immediately helps Dazzler up. But you knew it couldn't be that easy, right? Because Dazzler is still possessed and is faking! So with Spider-Man vulnerable, she... well, no. Actually it is that easy and the good guys have won. Dazzler is still weak from the ordeal. She sits on the floor with Spidey kneeling over her. He puts a hand on her shoulder. She puts a hand on the back of his neck. "How can I ever repay you?" she asks. "Don't worry, beautiful" says Spidey, "I have a strong hunch we'll figure out something." You go, Spidey! You sex machine you. Except... that can't be the end, can it? Dang. Just when it was finally starting to get good!

Not much left to say after this one. Lightmaster regains his real body in Marvel Team-Up #113 (January 1982) but hasn't been seen much since then. Dazzler gets her own book, loses her own book, and joins the X-Men. You know, the usual bit. Captain Kirk outtalks V-Ger but has to sacrifice Decker in the process. And Star Trek's been motoring along ever since.

In General...

Do you sort of get the feeling that Marv was ordered to use Dazzler to help in the promotion of her upcoming book? That must be the case because his heart clearly wasn't it in. This is the writer who just completed his classic run on Tomb of Dracula about eight months before and would create (with George Perez) the hugely popular New Teen Titans only seven months later. In his stint on Amazing Spider-Man, he wrote the storyline that wove together the rebirth of Mysterio, the introduction of the Black Cat, the death of Spencer Smythe, the possibility that J. Jonah Jameson looked under Spider-Man's mask, the return of the Burglar who killed Uncle Ben and the apparent death of Aunt May. And then there's this issue. Spidey acts like a dope. Lightmaster acts like a moron. Dazzler acts like a ditz. And Pete doesn't even get to watch the whole Star Trek movie. If you're looking for Marv's worst Amazing Spider-Man issue, you've found it, my friend, you've found it.

Overall Rating...

One puny web.