Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #310

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Other People's Villains

This review was first published on: 2005.

Background...

Originally, the "Other People's Villains" feature was only supposed to run through 2004 as the "Year of the Woman" feature ran through 2003. It's only still around in 2005 because I missed so many of the last PPP issues. Here's one that I promised back in November some time.

Everyone remember Ulysses Bloodstone? First introduced in Marvel Presents #1-2 (October-December 1975), Bloodstone was a tribal hunter for a migrating group of primitive humans ten thousand years ago. In his hunting, he stumbled on a creature named Ulluxy'l Kwan Tae Syn, a C'Thulu-looking fellow, who had a jewel in his possession known either as the Bloodgem or the Hellfire Helix which was a "focus" through which all "magical energies that bind the universe all pass through". Well, anyway, you don't need all this detail here. Suffice it to say that the gem exploded and a chunk of it embedded in our tribal hunter's chest where it gave him strength and immortality. Over the succeeding ten thousand years, Bloodstone and Ulluxy'l warred over the rest of the Bloodgem fragments. What does any of this have to do with Spider-Man? Well, it's only two degrees of separation from Bloodstone to the wall-crawler and the connection is Killer Shrike.

After his two issue Marvel Presents run, Bloodstone became the back-up series in The Rampaging Hulk #1, January 1977. There he encountered the mysterious group known as the Conspiracy who ultimately had motives so convoluted I'm not going to begin to describe them here... but check out Bloodstone's entry in The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe: Book of the Dead 2004 if you're interested. One of the agents of the Conspiracy, first appearing in that issue was Simon Maddicks, known as Killer Shrike who was outfitted by Roxxon Oil using technology created by and stolen from a guy named Paul Hazlett who himself used his invention to become the super-villain called the Raptor (in Marvel Super Heroes Spring Special #1, May 1990). But I digress. Maddick's attack failed when Bloodstone forced his Shrike power wrist bands together, causing a short-circuit and putting the villain into a coma (in The Rampaging Hulk #2, April 1977). While in the hospital, Shrike was revived by fellow Conspiracy agent Stephen Weems, the Modular Man (in The Rampaging Hulk #5, October 1977). With Bloodstone dying in The Rampaging Hulk #8, April 1978 (and his series ending, of course) the two villains needed a new home and new heroes to combat. They found them in Marvel Team-Up #90, February 1980, in which they battled Spider-Man and the Beast, who accidentally killed the Modular Man by shooting him with the wrist bands of the unconscious Shrike. (At least, I think they killed him. Anyway, he hasn't appeared since.) Killer Shrike showed up two more times against Spidey... first when he was working as a bodyguard under the name Harold Simmons protecting the Brand Corporation's James Melvin and ending up kidnapping Dr. Marla Madison when his equipment was possessed by the Will-O'- The-Wisp in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #57, August 1981 and second when he was finally defeated by the web-slinger in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #102, May 1985. His next meeting with the wall- crawler was here, with some glitzy Todd McFarlane artwork and a special surprise villain.

In Detail...

"Shrike Force!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #310
Dec 1988 : SMURF 310.500 : SM Title
Summary: The Shrike, Tinkerer, Peter goes back to College
Editor:  Jim Salicrup
Writer:  David Michelinie
Pencils:  Todd McFarlane
Inker:  Todd McFarlane
Cover Art:  Todd McFarlane
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 Reprinted In: Legends Vol. 2: Todd McFarlane (TPB)
Articles: Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Tinkerer

We start with a bang as Killer Shrike flies down and uses his left wristband to blast a hole in an armored car, sending greenbacks flying all over the place. Shrike wears a Batman-based costume; gray shirt and tights, blue-black briefs, gloves, boots, cowl, and overly-large cape. He has a shrike on his shirt instead of a bat, he has a long blonde crest coming out of the back of his mask and he has those wrist blasters but, for all intents and purposes, he's Batman. (This is all Todd's adaptation. Before this appearance, Shrike had a blue costume and a cape/mask combo much less reminiscent of the Dark Knight.) Three security guards are blown away from the truck. One seems to be hanging out of a dumpster, one is sitting up against that dumpster and the third is knocked flat on his back, as Shrike tells them all to "play it smart an' you'll get away with a few bruises" while he holds more big bags full of money than he would ever be able to balance. Actually, it looks like there is a fourth guard (in the next panel) who is bleeding from the nose and mouth but still conscious as he inches toward his gun. He never gets there. Shrike spots him, comes up behind him, and positions his wristband "titanium talons" over the guard's head with the intention of striking him dead. It never gets there. Just as Shrike makes his move, the talon is hit with that knotted-up webbing that Todd always liked to draw. Shrike looks up to see Spider-Man clinging high above to the wall of the nearby building (in a great perspective shot by Todd in which we see the webbing still firing from his wrist shooter all the way down to Shrike's stymied talon). Shrike looks up, sees Spidey, declares, "Your webbing never could hold me!" and severs it with a swipe of his other talon. But it was all a diversion anyway, to give Spidey time to leap down and double-kick Maddicks right in the head. It looks like a pretty severe shot but Shrike shrugs it right off and comes back blasting from his power band. Spidey leaps away, dodging the blast. So Shrike makes a little joke about how "You'll be tossed out with the rest o' the garbage when I'm through", picks up a dumpster and holds it high over his head. (This is not the dumpster where the guards are. We can see it in the background with the guards still lying around it.) Just as Shrike lifts the dumpster, he hears sirens. The police are on their way. Deciding not to take on Spider-Man and the cops, he flings the dumpster and makes his getaway. Spider-Man, by all appearances, leaps clear of the dumpster before it hits.

But let's go back to Todd's artwork for this whole sequence. First of all, where is the armored car parked? In an alley? That may explain some of it. Anyway, the dumpster with the guards around it is on the right side of the truck. It's impossible to tell where the still-awake guard is as he is reaching for his gun. Is he one of the guys around the dumpster or not? When Shrike grabs him, we see that they are right behind the truck and that only the back of the truck has been blown open. So how did the three guards end up around a dumpster near the front of the truck? When Spidey shows up, the dumpster disappears, though I suppose we can assume it is just off-panel on the other side of the truck. Now we see that the left side of the truck is right next to the building on which Spidey is perched so we must be in an alley after all. But when Shrike attacks Spidey with his wrist blaster, the truck disappears altogether as does the guard who was going for the gun. Suddenly, the two costumed figures are about a hundred yards from the dumpster. Shrike is between Spidey and the unconscious guards so he is facing away from the guards as he hefts the dumpster. But when he decides to throw it, he clearly throws it at the guards, even though the panels give us no indication that he has turned around. Spidey is clearly drawn leaping away from the dumpster so that it won't hit him. But David must have noticed that Todd drew Shrike throwing the dumpster at the guards because he has Spidey think, "I knocked the dumpster away before it hit the guards!" Sure doesn't look that way to me, though.

In any event, this business with the dumpster gives Shrike time to fly away. Spidey looks up, decides Shrike is "already too far to snag with webbing or a spider-tracer" and climbs up the wall to retrieve his camera. He clicks the camera back on his belt and swings away, hoping that the Bugle will be interested in buying the pics because, as usual, he "could use the money". And why could he use the money even though he just finished a tour promoting his photo book "Webs" (from ASM #304, Early September 1988 to ASM #308, Early November 1988) and probably made a chuck of cash from the publication? Because he's going back to college and is registering this very day! He has been awarded a research assistant grant but it is only nine thousand dollars a year... not much, particularly in New York City... and he figures to be in a money-draining post-graduate program for years. (Which he'll never actually finish, as we all know... but Pete doesn't.) But just in case you're starting to believe that a guy with a best selling coffee table book is really in desperate need of money, let's watch Spidey as he heads home to the swank Bedford Towers where he and MJ have a condo. (From which, yeah, they'll be evicted in ASM #314, April 1989.) He clings to the outside wall by the balcony and enters through a window that doesn't look like it even opens. While inside, he starts to pull off his mask when his spider-sense starts buzzing. Turns out Mary Jane is entertaining a little man with a droopy mustache, thick glasses and suspenders who speaks with a German accent and "t'anks" her "for der iced tea". After MJ ushers her guest out the front door, she turns to see Peter, his mask hanging off the top of his head, hanging upside down on the ceiling. "Local Schnapps salesman?" he asks. MJ explains that the little man is a locksmith who was there to change all the locks since nutty obsessed Jonathan Caesar, the owner of the Bedford Towers, used a passkey to get in and kidnap MJ back in ASM #307, Late October 1988. Peter leaps down to the floor where MJ pulls his mask completely off and hands him his new set of keys. "The only key I'm interested in is the one to your heart," says our silver-tongued hero and MJ prepares to give Pete a little sugar when the poor sap remembers that he has to get down to ESU to register. He slaps himself in the forehead in frustration but MJ promises a celebration afterwards. (Celebration of what? Registering? New keys to the apartment?) "Dinner at 21?" she suggests, "Maybe a movie? And, hey I've got a great idea for dessert!" (When you're older, kids, when you're older.)

So, on Pete goes to Empire State University where his registration is a success. He only has time to take two courses (no wonder he can't ever graduate) and he managed to get the two he wanted. His next stop is the lab where he will put in his work. He walks into a large, state-of-the-art facility that so impresses him that his eyes go wide. There is already a young brunette woman in a lab coat there. Peter introduces himself as the "new Research Assistant for Dr. Swann" and the woman says she is Anne-Marie Baker, "your fellow R.A.". Anne-Marie has a distinct accent and Peter, joking (I think) asks if she is from Alabama. No, it turns out Anne-Marie was born in Toulouse, France but raised in London, England and has been in the states assisting Dr. Swann since last semester. (This is more than we've learned about some characters who have been around for decades.) Pete thinks Anne- Marie is "going for the ol' Master's Degree, too, eh?" When she says she is going for her doctorate, Peter seems to be put firmly in his place. Which is just the moment that Dr. Evan Swann enters the room. (Swann is a short man with sandy hair and a beard without a mustache.) Anne-Marie introduces the two men and Swann scratches behind his head and asks if Peter plays pinochle. He then puts the hand he was using to scratch on Peter's shoulder. This, according to Anne-Marie, means, "they're getting on splendidly". A thin man in jeans, a green shirt and white tie, toting a box marked fragile on his shoulder, interrupts this lovefest. He tells Swann he has a "delivery from Midtown Science Supply, one integrated geradyne" and all of a sudden Swann gets nervous. He signs for the delivery as Anne-Marie reminds him that "we'd already exceeded our equipment budget". Hesitantly, Evan tells her "e- everything'll be fine", then takes his box and heads out of the room into his private lab. Anne-Marie tells Peter that the doctor "has been acting rather odd lately ordering exotic materials for some experiment he won't talk about" but then she blows it all off with "I'm sure he'll be all right once classes start". Peter is not so sure about that. When Swann opened the door to his private lab, Peter's spider-sense started to tingle. (This seems to mean that the spider-sense can be blocked by a door, which is the first I've ever heard of that.)

Peter's preoccupation with Dr. Swann is with him far into the night. He and MJ come out of a showing of Bambi and MJ notes that Pete wasn't even looking at the screen half of the time. (MJ, by the way, is filmed here in hooker-vision; wearing purple Capri slacks, a purple halter-top and an opened white jacket with big billowy sleeves. Todd is really the first one to create these slutty looks for MJ but they continue well into the 90s. They may have set fanboys slavering back then... maybe they still do... but they look pretty silly these days.) Pete apologizes for his wavering attention span but doesn't tell his wife that he's worried about Dr. Swann. "Guess I'm just depressed at the concept of doing homework again!" he says. As they near home, Peter tells MJ to go on ahead while he heads off to Baskin-Robbins for some jamocha fudge ice cream. He walks about thirty yards before he turns, comes back to MJ, and tells her the truth. He admits that his spider-sense tingled at ESU and that he has to check it out. He tells her he lied to spare her worrying and she replies that she will worry but that "I love you for respecting me enough to trust me with the truth". Pete says, "And I love you for being you" and they share a touching kiss.

In the next panel, David tells us "The night lengthens, as all across Manhattan, yawning residents tune in 'Johnny Carson'. A few flip to 'The Late Show'." (Ah, Johnny just died a few days before this writing, I'm sorry to say.) Over at ESU, Dr. Swann is up late pouring over his notes with a pen tucked behind his ear. (He even has a little black book called "Notes".) Peter, as Spidey, enters the room through the window and tells Swann he "caught a whiff of something decidedly unkosher". (Spidey is upside down, clinging to the bottom of the Venetian blinds with his hands but, somehow, the bottom of the blinds is pushing up as if gravity is also hanging upside down, instead of getting stretched down by Spidey's weight. It would work if the panel was upside-down, but then Swann would be standing on his head.) Swann tries to put up a good front, threatening to call security but as soon as Spidey calls his bluff, he collapses into a chair and buries his head in his hands. Spidey demands the key to the private lab and Swann tries to resist but then someone comes out of the lab and makes Evan's resistance moot. Spidey turns to see our surprise mystery villain emerge: the Tinkerer! (First seen way back in ASM #2, May 1963 when he was called the Terrible Tinkerer and appeared to be an alien.) The Tinkerer holds up a little box about the size of a cigarette pack and announces that his latest invention "is now complete". "Let me guess," says Spidey, "it's a laser module for Teddy Ruxpin, right?" (Teddy Ruxpin was a teddy bear, based on a children's story who could play various tapes allowing him to talk and move his eyes and mouth and so on. They were a big deal back when this story was written but, I think, are mostly forgotten now.) The Tinkerer replies that his device "creates phantom electrons in an energy flow" which "fools sensors into thinking more electricity is present than actually is" so that "properly installed it can double even triple the speed and power of certain weapons systems". This seems like gibberish to me but, hey, I'm not the electronics genius... the Tinkerer is! Spidey wonders why the Tinkerer is bothering since "you gave up fighting good guys". (Sorry, not chasing that one down. If anyone knows what issue that refers to, please let me know.) The Tinkerer admits that he did but that he still creates weapons for paying customers. In this case he has created this "power booster" for a client he expects "any moment now". And just as he says that, Killer Shrike smashes through the window into the room.

Spidey turns to see Shrike and just can't believe it. "Aw c'mon!" he thinks, "if someone wrote this in a story, nobody'd believe it!" (This is a common writer's device to try to make something believable... have a character remark on how unbelievable it is. But I don't know what David is worried about. Compared to some plot twists in comics, this one is as reasonable as they come.) Shrike sees Spider-Man and wonders how the web-slinger knew about this. Simultaneously, Spidey realizes that the Shrike is "strong enough on his own" without getting a hold of the power booster and Shrike realizes that he'd better grab the invention before Spidey puts a stop to it. So, the wall- crawler dives at Shrike even as Shrike flies over him and tries to blast him with his wrist shooters. Spidey turns and fires webbing at Shrike but Shrike flies out of the way. With webbing not working, Spidey decides to try brute strength. He leaps up and kicks Shrike right in the back. Shrike shrugs it off and fires his blasters again. Now, Spidey sums it all up in a couple of thought balloons. "[I]f I go on the defensive, I have to keep dodging his power blasts!" he thinks, "And if I move in close his martial arts and razored talons make him even more dangerous! Have to find some way to strike long distance." And even as he thinks this, the wall-crawler leaps over Shrike's cape, uses his webbing to snag some now-junked piece of lab equipment and swings it at his opponent. Shrike seems to evade the junk but fires off an unaimed power blast that hits some chemicals and starts a fire. (This is where David should have used that "I wouldn't believe it in a story" line.) Immediately, Spidey breaks off his fight with Shrike and uses his webbing to yank Dr. Swann to safety.

Shrike, meanwhile, looms over the Tinkerer, telling him that he doesn't have the money for the power booster because Spider-Man disrupted his robbery (which we saw at the beginning of the story) but that he will pay for the device as soon as he can. The Tinkerer tells Shrike that he works "strictly cash and carry" but changes his mind when Shrike puts the point of one of his talons right under the Tinkerer's chin. Suddenly, extending some credit doesn't seem so bad and the Tinkerer hands the power booster right over. Shrike clips the booster into his system and then turns to face Spider-Man who is standing there like a lunk with a fire extinguisher in his hands. Shrike starts up some heavy- duty gloating, points his talons at Spider-Man and pulls the trigger... only to have the whole thing backfire with a great "Shazazhrrakk". (Wonderful sound effect.) Eyes wide, mouth open, the overloaded Shrike can only stand there and mutter, "Agh-gh-gh-gh-gh-gh-gh" as the Tinkerer looks at him with scorn. "Of course I assumed you'd attempt a double-cross" he tells the Shrike, "That's why I withheld one circuit, to be added only when payment was made! Without it, that booster overloads any system it was meant to enhance. You lose." And Spidey takes it from there, punching the Shrike up against a wall and into unconsciousness with a "Plam". But when he looks around for the Tinkerer, he finds the villainous inventor gone. Dr. Swann, sitting on his duff on the floor (and what happened to the fire anyway? Did Spidey put it out with that extinguisher?) tells the web-slinger that the Tinkerer ran into his private lab and that the door locks automatically. "No problem" says the web-spinner as he shoves the door off its hinges and across the room. But when he enters the room, he finds it empty and the window open. Figuring the Tinkerer had "some sort of escape vehicle stashed", Spidey doesn't even bother to look... even though the Tinkerer may just be running down the street for all he knows. Instead he turns back to Dr. Swann, grabs the unconscious Shrike by the cape and says, "At least one criminal will go to jail." A crestfallen Swann replies, "Yes one or maybe two."

Some time later, the cops arrive and lead Killer Shrike away. Dr. Swann is also to be arrested. Before that happens, Spidey asks him why he turned his lab over to the Tinkerer. Swann explains that he never graduated from High School because of a family illness and financial problems. Later, he couldn't get a decent job so he bought a diploma and used it to get into college. From there he earned multiple degrees but still had that initial fraud hanging over his head. Somehow the Tinkerer discovered this and blackmailed Dr. Swann by threatening to reveal the truth if Swann didn't turn his lab over. "I was afraid to lose what I'd worked decades to build" Swann says, "Now, I'll lose everything." And two cops lead him away to jail.

Spidey watches them go and thinks of the irony that, "We both needed degrees to get the jobs we wanted". Except that Swann made the mistake of cheating to get where he wanted to go. "And now a brilliant career may be over" thinks Spidey. "Guess that makes me the lucky one." But he can't be too consoled by that. As Todd gives us a close-up of Spidey's left eye lens, leading to a panel of pure white, the web-slinger solemnly thinks, "Whoopee".

Now, even though the last page of this issue clearly shows Dr. Swann being led away by two policemen presumably under arrest as an accessory to the Tinkerer, he is back in the lab in the very next issue. Also there is Anne-Marie who tells Peter that the University kept Swann on but "He was stripped of tenure and privileges." Evan and Anne-Marie continue to show up sporadically. Swann even became Captain Universe for a short time in Web of Spider-Man Annual #5, 1989. Neither has been seen, however, since ASM #350, August 1991.

Jonathan Caesar remained a danger to Mary Jane until he was murdered by Hal Goldman, another obsessed MJ fan in ASM #339, Late September 1990.

Killer Shrike and the Tinkerer have shown up all over the place, most recently lined up side-by-side in the S.H.I.E.L.D. files in Secret War #1, April 2004. We may eventually find out whether these two have a larger Secret War role to fill... if the rest of the mini-series ever comes out.

In General...

It's a pretty routine story as these things go. The only thing that lifts it above the standard super-hero slugfest is the lesson that Dr. Swann learns about the consequences of cheating on his resume. Unfortunately, that lesson is negated when Swann is back, little the worse for wear, in the following issue. I loved Todd's artwork when his issues were new but they don't seem to stand the test of time for me as Ditko, Romita, Kane, and Andru did before him. Or maybe I just have a bias against the big hair and hooker outfits.

Overall Rating...

Two webs.