Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #209

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 1998.

Background...

"To Salvage My Honor!" is a decidedly average issue, made notable only by two individuals... Denny O'Neil and Calypso.

Denny O'Neil is a veteran comic book writer and editor best known for his work at DC comics, primarily his ground-breaking "issue-oriented" Green Lantern/Green Arrow work with artist Neal Adams in the 70s. For the briefest of times, Denny moved over to Marvel before returning to work for DC. While at Marvel, Denny spent a year writing the Amazing Spider-Man in a generally ignored stint that took place between the reigns of Marv Wolfman and Roger Stern. (He wrote fourteen issues and plotted a fifteenth: #207-219, 221, 223). While some of his concepts and characters have been criticized (well, ok... ridiculed), Denny's work was generally solid and a Looking Back feature is well past due.

In his issues, Denny generally specialized in either using villains not associated with Spider-Man or creating a new series of strange characters for the web-slinger. The established villains included Mesmero, the Frightful Four, the Grey Gargoyle, Ramrod, and the Red Ghost. Denny's own creations were Fusion, Madame Web, Hydro-Man, and Calypso.

Of course, Calypso was not considered much of an opponent for Spider-Man until Todd McFarlane used her with the Lizard in his "Torment" storyline (Spider-Man #1-5, August-December 1990) which followed the death of Kraven. (Before that, she was essentially a goad to get a reluctant Hunter to fight Spidey. She didn't even show evidence of her voodoo abilities until her second appearance in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #65, April 1982.) Since then, she has been killed, resurrected, and seemingly killed again. But, she had to start somewhere. This is her first appearance. Amazing Spider-Man #209. Denny O'Neil, Alan Weiss filling in on the pencils, and a whole slew of inkers.

In Detail...

"To Salvage My Honor!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #209
Oct 1980 : SMURF 209.500 : SM Title
Summary: Kraven, First Calypso
Editor:  Al Milgrom
Writer:  Denny O'Neil
Pencils:  Alan Weiss
Inker:  Al Milgrom, Bob McLeod, Bob Wiacek, Josef Rubinstein, Klaus Janson
Cover Art:  Alan Weiss
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 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #9
Articles: Calypso, Deborah Whitman, Kraven The Hunter, Spider-Woman I (Drew)

Somewhere in the Caribbean, in a room filled with jungle masks, drums, and hunting trophies, Kraven the Hunter demonstrates his prowess in spear throwing. His companion, Calypso, a striking black woman with corn-rowed hair, wearing purple tights, zebra-striped top, gold shoes with high heels, arm bracelet, and Cleopatra-like necklace, taunts him by telling him that his eye has lost none of its sharpness, yet she regrets the waste. Kraven asks her to explain herself and Calypso replies that "When I first came to care for you, you did not waste your talents on mere mannequins. You hunted the real Spider-Man." (And, indeed, we can now see that Kraven's spear is embedded in the chest of a life-size Spider-Man model.) Calypso twists the knife further by implying that Kraven quit his pursuit of the web-slinger because he is no longer young, but the Hunter reveals that "I abandoned the pursuit of my old enemy for another, deeper reason. I became so obsessed with defeating him, that I was willing to use any method! I lied, I cheated, I behaved like a jackal! My hate for him cost me my honor, my soul."

"How dreadful for you!", Calypso replies, and clings to Kraven's arm in loving support, but her words seem insincere. She reminds Kraven of his last "humiliation" at Spider-Man's hands and asks if it still rankles. "Yes", he replies, "but what rankles more is the knowledge that I used an innocent Tigra in my war with the arachnid and still he defeated me!" (That was in Marvel Team-Up #67, March 1978.) Kraven prefers not to dwell on it. Instead, he must prepare to deliver a shipment of animals to New York. Calypso, still clinging, goads Kraven by saying, "Yes! Perhaps things will be better for you there."

Meanwhile, Peter Parker and Debra Whitman are having a date, seeing the sights in Soho....

(Blonde, bespectacled, and a secretary in the Empire State University Physics Department, poor shy Deb Whitman is eventually shuttled out of Peter's life in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #74 (January 1983) (to make room for the Black Cat) where it is revealed that she is separated from a physically-abusive husband and is undergoing therapy to deal with "delusions" that Peter Parker is Spider-Man. Peter eventually reveals his identity to her but Deb thinks he is simply wearing a Spidey costume in order to shock her into a realization of the absurdity of the idea. Apparently cured, Deb leaves town to repair her life. Pete assumes that she will eventually end up with Biff Rifkin, Deb's hometown boyfriend and Pete's rival for her affections, but we never find out what happens to her. Neither Deb nor Biff are seen in these pages again.)

Deb is in a "lost mood", worried about her aging uncle. "He owns a small shipping line down on the docks and he's been threatened by thugs!" Deb wonders if Pete can use his "newspaper contacts" to help but he shoots her down with a brusque "No chance, Deb! Sorry! Between shooting pix for the Globe and studying and teaching, I just don't have the time." (If the reference to the Globe is confusing... this story takes place in the wake of JJJ's "Jonas Harrow-induced" insanity, when a fired Peter Parker took his business to the Daily Globe.) Chastened, Deb walks off, promising Peter not to "bother you with it again".

Later, feeling like a heel, Pete changes to Spidey and decides to check out the docks. He is momentarily intrigued by a "Noah's Ark"-like freighter, which is unloading dozens of animals in peaceful single-file. Spidey reasons that these creatures "must be headed for the New Staten Island Zoo" and nearly sticks around to see that all goes well. But, reminding himself that "I am not the world's keeper", he decides to keep "webbing my way down the docks" looking for "a line on Deb's uncle". Below, disguised, Kraven the Hunter watches Spider-Man swing away and wonders if the web-slinger is already onto him.

The Hunter looks to Calypso for reassurance but she is no longer by his side. Instead, she is in the process of removing a lock from a cage that contains some of the more dangerous animals. "By freeing the animals", she thinks, "I can force Kraven to return to his natural greatness."

"Within a minute" the caged animals are freed and stampeding! Kraven discards his disguise and goes into action. He grabs a gorilla who has knocked a guard to the ground and applys pressure to "a nerve in his skull", knocking the ape unconscious. ("I always heard Kraven was a bad guy!", says the guard, "Wait'll I tell the wife!")

Spidey notices the commotion as he swings away and he heads back to the freighter to check. As he does, an eagle flies by him and the wall-crawler takes it on himself to pursue. Up on a nearby rooftop, a red-haired supermodel in a bikini and spiked heels (not MJ, but an incredible facsimile!) is freezing her ka-toof off, posing by the ledge. Suddenly, the eagle flies by and knocks the startled woman off the building. Spidey, uttering jokes so lame I refuse to repeat them here, arrives and snags the eagles with webbing while simultaneously catching the model and depositing her back on the roof.

But Spidey's rescue is outdone by Kraven the Hunter who, back at the docks, captures a bear, python, lion and bull before finishing up with a crocodile. When an assisting longshoreman suggests that Kraven "sling it in the hold with the rest", the Hunter grabs the man and tells him, "I might consider slinging you, my friend, but the animals I respect. I suggest you do likewise!" Just after Kraven leaves, a web-wrapped eagle is lowered down to the stevedore. Spidey have watched Kraven's finale and thinks, "I would have figured that Kraven was responsible for what happened, but I saw him helping." Deciding it isn't any of his business, the wall-crawler swings away.

Back at a trophy-filled room (which I thought was in the Caribbean but seems to have moved with its occupants... perhaps it's on the ship), Calypso tells Kraven that she saw Spider-Man open the cages. When Kraven expresses doubt, Calypso calls him a coward and slaps him in the face. An enraged Kraven cries out, "I could crush you, woman!" "Yes, you could", Calypso replies, "but could you crush him... Spider-Man?" Kraven brazenly claims that he can but he is clearly unsure. Calypso presses her advantage, telling him that "until you meet Spider-Man on the field of honor, you will not know if you are truly Kraven the Hunter or only a pale shadow of Kraven". A tortured Hunter decides she is right.

At the Daily Globe, editor Barney Bushkin waits with new Circulation Manager Rupert Dockery for a tardy Peter Parker. (At that moment, he is busy changing out of his Spidey togs after his "little side trip to the piers" and is, as a result, ten minutes late.) Balding, overweight, and puffing on a cigarette, Rupert Dockery is a clear take-off of Rupert Murdoch, the Australian magnate who has translated sensationalism in the newspaper business into a media empire. (We can tell that Dockery is not American because he uses words such as "chap".) Knowing Peter is an ESU student, Dockery tells our arriving hero that he'd like to "get pictures of hanky panky between Professors and female students". When Peter replies that "there is none", Dockery hints that Peter should, then, go out and fabricate the photographs. "Sheesh!", Peter thinks, "What a sleeze!"

And, three thousand miles to the west, in Los Angeles, the original Spider-Woman reads about Rupert Dockery's transfer to New York and the Daily Globe. She has had her own unpleasant experiences with Dockery in the pages of her own comic, but, let's face it, there's no connection between that and this story. The only reason for this vignette is to get people to pick up Spider-Woman's book. Whatever good it did was temporary at best. Her series expired about a year and a half later.

In the time it took to look in on Spider-Woman, Peter has decided to not take Dockery's sleezy assignment. A disappointed Barney Bushkin says, "Parker's being dumb, Mister Dockery" but all of this is interrupted by the arrival of Kraven the Hunter who demands that the Globe print his challenge to Spider-Man on the front page of its latest edition. ("A fight to the death!") "The enmity between us must be settled forever. Let him come to me at midnight... let him come or be known as coward!" To Bushkin's question of how Spidey will know where the meeting is to be, Kraven produces a spider-tracer and says, "He can use his spider-sense to follow the signal to where I will be waiting." (I hate it when everyone seems to know about the spider-sense.) "Of course", Peter thinks, "I don't have to go." "But, of course he does."

That night, Spidey traces the signal to the Museum of Natural History. He slips in and notices two unconscious museum guards. "Kraven doesn't want any spectators at all!", he decides. Finding no sign of his foe in the darkened building, Spidey sings out, "Come out. Come out. Wherever you are!", then wonders aloud whether Kraven is going to ambush him. Immediately, the lights come on and Kraven calls out, "No! That would be unworthy of me."

The Hunter stands on a walkway one floor above the wall-crawler and leans over the railing. Before beginning the brawl, he asks the web-slinger why he freed the animals down at the docks. Spidey denies all knowledge of this. Kraven persists, demanding an explanation. A hot-blooded Spidey replies, "Mister, I don't owe you zip because to me you're nothing but a lot of mouth! I'm sick of all your strutting and blabbing." The furious Hunter leaps over the railing to the floor below, yelling, "Prepare yourself!"

Nearby, in the shadows, Calypso watches, getting off on Kraven's "joy of the kill, a joy I share".

The battle begins. Spidey leaps up on the stuffed elephant exhibit. Kraven breaks the glass of a display of ancient spears. He tosses them at Spider-Man, but the webster dodges every one. "Should I wait", a caustic webhead says, "till you find a kitchen sink to throw?" But, the hail of spears do force Spidey to leap to a nearby wall and, before he can leap away, a net drops from the ceiling and ensnares him. "I was not trying to hit you!", says Kraven, "No! I was driving you toward the trap I set for you! You behaved like any stupid creature behaves!"

Quickly, Spidey works free of the net but Kraven paralyzes him with his "deadly nerve-grip". The webhead is out on his feet. Kraven pounds away at him, savoring his moment of victory. "Calypso. Watch!", he yells, "Watch me as I triumph!" and his blow sends Spider-Man crashing to the floor.

Now, sadly, the whole thing wraps up in two very quick pages. Spidey lands by a dinosaur skeleton, thinking, "Uhh! He struck my nerve centers. Can't lift my arms or move my legs!" Kraven grabs the spiked tail off the dinosaur, all the while blathering about Spidey's resemblance to the extinct creature. ("You were born victims!") But, during this time, Pete has regained enough feeling in his fingers to use his web-shooter. He webs Kraven's legs together, causing the Hunter to fall. The dinosaur tail is dropped and the spikes miss Spidey by inches.

The webhead is still wobbly but he manages to get to his feet and take the fight to Kraven. (And there is no evidence at all of the webbing that surrounded Kraven's legs only seconds before.) He decides that the only way to maintain the upper hand is to steer Kraven to the staircase and take the both of them thumping down the steps. (The only problem with this plan is that all the evidence points to the fight already taking place on the ground floor. Kraven jumped down to attack Spidey, remember?) When they reach the foot of the stairs, Kraven is now as woozy as Spidey and the web-slinger takes advantage by laying a haymaker right into his opponent's chest. The Hunter goes flying right out the front door and into the waiting arms of the police.

In a quick, one panel wrap-up, it is revealed that one of the Museum guards recovered and phoned for the authorities. Calypso has already been captured and is shocked to see Kraven come tumbling out of the museum... so easily defeated. (When, Denny began this issue by saying, "Her name is Calypso and she bears watching" on the splash page, did he mean "she bears watching" in future issues? Because, let's face it, this initial "watching-behind-the-scenes-captured-by-the-cops-off-camera" appearance is a little bit lame.)

On the rooftop, Spidey runs away, thinking, "I won! But I don't feel much like celebrating. I have a hunch Kraven was looking for a way for us not to brawl and I was too hotheaded to hear what he was saying! Will the conflict ever end for us, or anyone who can't try to communicate?"

Rupert Dockery reveals his true criminal colors in the following issue (#210) which also introduces Madame Web. Deb Whitman's uncle and his shipping line re-surface in issue #211 when Spidey takes on the Sub-Mariner. In #212 Deb's uncle is involved in the experiment-gone-awry that brings about the creation of Hydro-Man. Also in #212, Pete goes back to work for the Daily Bugle... "Strictly free-lance", JJJ tells him, "You're not on the payroll."

And, yes, as we all know, the conflict with Kraven eventually ends in a tragic fashion. That lack of communication would prove to have dire consequences for both men.