Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #429

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 2001.

Background...

It is the day after Norman Osborn has suckered Spider-Man into beating him up in his own penthouse apartment in Spectacular Spider-Man #250 (October 1997). Norman plays the victim and allows himself to be bloodied up because he is getting the entire event on videotape. Now the media have shown clips from "The Osborn Tapes" to an outraged public who are demanding "Spider-Man's immediate arrest".

In Detail...

"The Price!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #429
Nov 1997 : SMURF 429.500 : SM Title
Summary: Spidey & DD Vs. Absorbing Man & Titania
Editor:  Ralph Macchio
Writer:  Tom DeFalco
Pencils:  Joe Bennett
Inker:  Al Milgrom, Bud LaRosa
Cover Art:  John Romita, Jr.
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Review
Articles: Daredevil, Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius), Doctor Octopus II (Carolyn Trainer), Green Goblin I (Norman Osborn), Jameson, J. Jonah, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Robertson, Joe "Robbie", Titania

The Daily Bugle has Norman's beating spread out all over their front page (with the headline "Who's Mad Now?: Spider-Man Maul Caught on Tape"). One reader finds a lot of humor in the incident. "S'funniest thing I've seen in this rag since they stopped runnin' Calvin and Hobbes!" he says. The speaker is Crusher Creel, the bald muscle-bound criminal called the Absorbing Man for his ability to absorb the properties of any material he can touch. At this moment, Crusher is completely white, having (presumably) absorbed the properties of the newspaper, and he leans over a living room table making a mess by sloppily chowing down on a breakfast of pancakes, hash browns, and sunny-side-up fried eggs. He is talking to his significant other, the super-strong villainess known as Titania.

Titania enters the room dressed in a purple robe, drying her long red hair. She nags at Crusher for not eating in the kitchen but the Absorbing Man tells her to "gimme a break". He has been working on a way to "see us through the winter" ever since his previous mercenary deal fell through and now he sees a way to make some decent money. There is an offer from the Bugle of a million dollars to whoever can take down Spider-Man and Crusher thinks that he and Titania should collect that dough. But Titania disdainfully swats the newspaper out of his hands as she asks, "Are you out of your ever-loving mind?" She reminds him that they will never be able to collect any reward money since they are wanted by the police themselves. But Crusher has seen an article on the super-group called the Thunderbolts and this has given him an idea.

Several nights later, two lowlifes named Tito and Simon are trying to break into an appliance store by wrenching the back door open with a crow bar. Tito is hoping to "score a couple'a decent sized TVs" but it is not to be. Seconds later, "your friendly neighborhood web-swinger" arrives on the scene. Tito and Simon, afraid of being beaten up, run for their lives. Their yelling brings a policeman. Tito says that Spidey is "assaultin' us just like he did that Osborn dude". Spidey tries to tell the officer that this isn't true but the cop is unwilling to listen. He points his gun at the web-slinger and announces, "You're busted!" Spidey has no choice but to flee into the night.

The next morning, Peter Parker talks to his wife Mary Jane about the incident, as they get dressed. MJ reminds Pete that she "...told you so! Told you so! Told you so!" With a million dollar reward on Spidey's head, "Even I'm tempted to turn you in!" she says. Pete knows he needs to expose Norman Osborn "for the monster he is" and thereby clear his name. But it's not that simple, MJ reminds him. After all, Norman knows Spidey's identity and would be willing to reveal it if he is exposed. MJ explains that Norman will be a threat to them as long as he is alive and Spidey is not the type to do any killing. Her solution is "to pull back at least until the heat dies down". She asks Peter to promise not to "become Spider-Man for a while unless it's absolutely necessary". A reluctant Peter makes the promise.

Meanwhile, over at the Robertson residence, Joe and Martha talk about J. Jonah Jameson. Robbie knows that Jonah can be impossible but this situation is different. Since Norman Osborn returned, JJJ has "been behaving differently... oddly". Robbie can't understand why Jonah would let Norman buy into the Daily Bugle to begin with. "It's almost like Norman has some strange hold over him." (Correct me if I'm wrong... and I could easily be wrong because there is so much material from this sorry time of Spider-Man's history that I've forgotten... but isn't this "strange hold over Jonah" theme one of many different subplots that was entirely forgotten along the way?) Martha tells Joe not to worry about it. "You're only an employee," she says, "and not an exceptionally well paid one at that". Joe knows he should stay detached but he finds it difficult when "my publisher is encouraging rampant vigilantism". He puts on his suit coat and heads for work.

Elsewhere, others read the Bugle and think their own thoughts. Nate Grey, known as X-Man, can't believe the story. "The Spider-Man I know is much too responsible to go after an innocent man" he thinks. The recently resurrected Dr. Octopus and Carolyn Trainer gloat over the web-slinger's misfortunes (except that Ock wants to destroy Spider-Man himself). And, at X-Men HQ, Wolverine would like to get his newspaper back but the Beast refuses to relinquish it until he has finished reading Dilbert.

And at Matt Murdock's home, Foggy Nelson lectures his blind partner about being up and about in his robe while he's "still recovering from a gunshot wound". (It happened in some previous issue of Daredevil. Don't worry about it.) Matt tells Foggy that he only plans to "visit with an old friend". What he doesn't say is that the "old friend" is Spider-Man who is accused of beating up Norman Osborn who is the father of the late Harry Osborn who was married to Liz Allan Osborn who is currently dating Foggy Nelson. Whew!

His left shoulder is still a bit tender from the bullet wound but Matt doesn't let this stop him from donning his Daredevil costume and heading out into the city. The way he figures it, "every bounty hunter on the East Coast is probably gunning for the webhead by now". He thinks Spider-Man can use "a little moral support".

At the Daily Bugle, Joe Robertson tells his boss that they need "a serious sit down" but Jonah blows him off because he's late for a meeting with Osborn. Robbie would like to know what the deal is between the two men. He's concerned for the way Jameson has been acting lately and tells him, "You look like a man who could use a friend". Jonah puts his hand on Robbie's shoulder and tells him he would really like to confide in him, but then Norman enters the room with a bandage on his left cheek and a band-aid across his nose and the moment between Jameson and Robertson is lost.

Norman tells Jonah that their meeting will have to wait and then invites the two men out into the bullpen. There he introduces them to "Thunder Girl and Lightning-Bolt" who "claim to have recently gained super powers" which they want to use to help capture Spider-Man. (Lightning-Bolt says they would use the reward to "make a downpayment on a secret headquarters or order up a Lightningmobile wit' all the extras.") Thunder Girl is big and well built and has great amounts of flowing red hair. Lightning-Bolt is bigger and muscular and wears a shield on his back in the shape of a (what else?) lightning bolt. Their costumes are blue with gold tumbling down the front, ending in a jagged bolt effect. Of course, it's fairly easy to see they are actually Titania and the Absorbing Man.

At Empire State University, Peter walks Mary Jane to her class. (Remember when MJ decided to go back to school? That's another sub-plot that got unceremoniously dropped.) Rain has started to fall. MJ likes it. It gives her "an excuse to snuggle with my man in public", as they walk together under an umbrella. MJ heads into the building that houses her class, turning back at the last moment to remind Peter to "stay off the walls" and stick (no pun intended) to his promise. And Pete intends to do so but, as soon as MJ is out of sight, his spider-sense goes off. He looks up and sees a figure "racing along the rooftops". He can't tell who it is but he can't ignore the possibility that it is someone, like the Green Goblin, who knows his secret identity and who has it in for him or for MJ. He runs into a nearby alley and is seen by Professor Mark Howard, who is perhaps named for the other two Spidey writers at the time: DeMatteis and Mackie. (Do you remember this guy? I don't. Probably another sub-plot that never came to anything.) Howard tries to buttonhole Pete to discuss his work in class but, when he glances into the dead-end alley, he finds it empty. Peter just "seems to have vanished". That is because he ran up the wall and started changing into his Spidey suit, of course. On the way, Pete kicks himself for breaking his promise to MJ so quickly; a promise he fully intended to keep. But he can't ignore the possibility that Norman has planned some surprise, so, here he is, all dressed in the Spider suit and swinging over to the next roof to try to catch the mystery prowler by surprise.

But the surprise is on Spidey's side when he discovers the shadowy figure to be Daredevil (with some hospital tape wrapped around his waist and shoulder). Spidey expresses disappointment that DD is apparently out for the reward. ("Has that measly old chest wound forced you to give up chasing ambulances?" he says.) Daredevil tells him he is only there to hear the story of what really happened with Norman Osborn.

Spidey explains that Norman Osborn knows that he is Peter Parker. He also tells DD that "contrary to what he says publicly, Norman Osborn is the original Green Goblin". (But when DD asks if he can prove it, Spidey admits that he can't.) He goes on to say that Norman trashed his house... and then admits that he lost his temper when he confronted him. "But he had it coming. Honest!" he says. DD takes a moment to consider this then decides that he believes the web-slinger. ("Swell," quips Spidey, "One down and a few million more New Yorkers to go!")

Just then, a low-flying helicopter interrupts the conversation. Spidey realizes that this is what set off his spider-sense, not Daredevil. DD can't focus his "hyper-sensitive hearing" because of the engine noise. He can tell that the copter pilot is talking on the radio to someone but he can't make out the words.

Back at the Daily Bugle, in an otherwise unoccupied room, Titania asks the Absorbing Man how he came up with the idea of assuming the role of super-heroes. He says he noticed how well "that new team'a super-stiffs... the Thunderbolts" was received and he got the idea for new costumes. (At this point, I believe, no one was wise to the Thunderbolts being super-villains disguised as heroes so Crusher's inspiration is greater than even he suspects.) "Who knows?" he says, "If goin' straight pays better'n crime, we might do it for real!"

Just then, Norman and Jonah enter the room to tell the duo that a traffic helicopter has found Spider-Man down on the E.S.U. campus. Thunder Girl and Lightning Bolt, confident of winning the reward, take to the streets. Norman turns around and calls the police "to report that the Absorbing Man and Titania are in town". "I assume you saw right through their pathetic masquerade," he says to JJ. A look at Jonah's face is enough to reveal that he did not.

Back at the campus, Spidey tells DD to sit tight while he has a talk with the helicopter pilot. He announces himself by leaping right into the pilot's field of vision and yelling "Buga-Buga!" The pilot is so terrified ("P-please don't hurt me!" he cries.) that he is ready to tell Spider-Man everything. Minutes later, the webhead returns to DD to report that J. Jonah Jameson has "hired half the helicopters in this city" to look out for him. Even in a now-pouring rain, the desire for "the overtime and the bonus" is enough to fill the sky with choppers. But then Daredevil's sensitive hearing picks up "a large metallic object" falling down towards the two of them. He also picks up the heartbeats of two super-humans.

The object turns out to be the Absorbing Man's huge ball-and-chain. (No, not Titania. His real ball-and-chain!) Spidey and DD avoid being struck by leaping aside. But DD thinks that they will run right into the owners of the two heartbeats if they leap away from the roof. He suggests following the course of the ball-and-chain as it crashes right through the roof. The heroes jump into the hole, in time to see a Professor and his class scatter out of the room. Thunder Girl and Lightning Bolt are right on their heels. Thunder Girl wonders if the Bugle will pay a reward for Daredevil too but Lightning Bolt doesn't care. He's willing "t'toss him in fer free".

Spidey leaps over Lightning Bolt while Daredevil evades Thunder Girl. Spidey doesn't recognize the costumes or the heroes' names but the voices are familiar. ("We're just a pair'a common super-stiffs who are dedicated t'truth, justice and yer million buck bounty," says Lightning Bolt.) Daredevil tells Spidey not to be confused by appearances. His senses tell him they are fighting the Absorbing Man and Titania. Spidey decides to get a closer look. He punches Lightning Bolt solidly in the jaw. "Yep!" he says, "That profile definitely belongs to Crusher Creel." So, Crusher decides to dispense with the unsuccessful masquerade. He touches his ball-and-chain and takes on the properties of stone or lead or steel or whatever the thing is. He swings it at Spidey, smashing a doorway into firewood. He then touches a nearby locker gaining its distinctive "grill slits" look covering the top half of his face. (My recollection of school lockers is that they were pretty easy to pound on. Not the sort of thing you'd want to absorb. Still, Spidey doesn't attack. He knows that Creel is way out of his power class and thinks his only chance is to keep out of the A-Man's reach.)

In an adjacent classroom, our old friend Professor Howard is still asking anyone and everyone if they have seen Peter Parker. Just then, Spidey comes crashing right through the wall and the Prof finds that he has other things on his mind... like running away.

Back at the Robertson home, Joe has joined Martha for lunch. She is happy to have him home but she knows the real reason he is there is because he is angry at something at work. Robbie reveals that Jonah sat back and let "Osborn bully him into hiring a couple of leg-breakers to go after Spider-Man". Martha suggests that this is illegal and Joe replies that JJJ is "completely out of control". Just then the radio broadcasts a news bulletin concerning the battle at E.S.U. Even though they are wearing different costumes the attackers have been identified as A-Man and Titania. Robbie rises from his seat. He knows he has to get back to the Bugle before everything hits the fan. But Martha grabs him by the wrist and stops him. Joe was about to voice a thought when the radio blurted its message. Martha wants him to finish the thought. Isn't he wondering, she says, "how much longer can you put up with this madness?"

Back at E.S.U., a student tells Mary Jane to run for it because Spider-Man and Daredevil are having a brawl with a couple of villains. MJ can't believe Pete has broken his promise already. "Y-you're sure it's Spider-Man?" she asks. And, yessiree. It sure is.

Back at the fight, Locker Man has had no luck in walloping Spider-Man (like that was a surprise) so Absorby leans down, touches the floor, and turns into Splintered Wood Chip Man. Titania, meanwhile, can't lay a finger on Daredevil. He taunts her with, "Would it help if I tried fighting with my eyes closed?" A seriously pissed Titania announces, "I'm really going to enjoy hurting you!"

Spidey and Wood Chip Man have made it down to the ground floor. A-Man is gassing on about being able to "follow wherever ya lead" but the wall-crawler's more concerned with his spider-sense. It is telling him that there are big doings outside. He leads Absorby onto the steps of the building, where they find themselves surrounded by cops stationed behind their squad cars, their guns drawn. But Spidey is the one who is surprised when the cops say "You're both under arrest!"

Above the action, helicopter pilot Rodney Andrews gives a call to J. Jonah Jameson letting him know what is what. Jonah transfers Rodney's call to a rewrite man, just as Joe and Martha Robertson enter his office. JJ starts to give instructions to his city editor but Robbie interrupts him. He has stopped in to let Jonah know that he is taking the rest of the day off since he needs "to think about my future with this paper".

Back at the scene, Spider-Man leaps high into the air, trying to wear Crusher down "by striking at him from more directions than he can count". Absorby gets fed up and flings his ball-and-chain up in the air at Spider-Man. He misses; but hits Rodney's helicopter instead. Now, you would think that a wood-chip ball would just shatter against the side of the helicopter but, no, it is the chopper that takes the brunt of this. Flames erupt from the back of the copter and it starts to fall from the sky.

Spidey knows the pilot will die unless he can do something. He ricochets back and forth from building to building (at least, that's what he says he does... we don't get to see it) which builds enough momentum up for him to leap through one side of the chopper's open cab and leap out the other side with Rodney in his arms.

Inside, Titania thinks she finally has Daredevil cornered but she is too dense, apparently, to realize that there is a window behind him. "You're mine!" she yells triumphantly, as she rushes him. "I'm afraid I already have a girlfriend but it's nice to be wanted", quips DD as he leaps aside. She goes right through the window and falls two stories down to the ground. Titania is too tough to be hurt by such a fall. She starts to get up when she hears Crusher yelling at her to "Run!!" She can't understand why he would be so panicked... then she sees the crashing helicopter heading right for her. It collides with her in an immense explosion. (When the sound effect is "Pwakadoom!" you know it's big.) Crusher, still in his wood chip form, forgets all about his battle with Spider-Man. He rushes into the fire to try to save his ladylove. He is in for a shock, however. In order to cope with the massive conflagration, Crusher must absorb the flame and become living fire. He can't convert to flesh and survive the fire and he can't rescue Titania as long as he is made of flame. He ends up standing in the fire, paralyzed by indecision. "W-what am I gonna do?" he wonders. Just then, Spidey leaps into the fire with protective webbing covering his hands and face. He tells Crusher to "step aside". If he can get to Titania before the webbing melts, "there may still be hope" to save her.

Still in the building, Daredevil looks down on the devastation. He fears for the lives of Spider-Man and his opponents. Then he hears two heartbeats coming out of the flames. Then he realizes he hears a third. Below, Spider-Man exits the fire, carrying an unconscious Titania. A huge Crusher Creel also exits behind.

Shortly thereafter, Crusher hugs Titania close as he calls for a doctor. A cop tells Daredevil that all the rain "prevented the fire from spreading across the campus". He thanks DD for convincing Crusher to surrender. DD tells him that Spidey really deserves the thanks. "Yeah" says the officer, "wouldn't I just love to run into him! But I'm guessin no one's gonna claim that million bucks today!" "Yeah" says Daredevil, "and hopefully not ever!" Above them, Spider-Man swings away.

Later, Peter Parker runs up to meet his unhappy wife. He starts to apologize for being late but MJ doesn't want to hear it. She thinks he probably could have been on time "if you had kept your promise". When Peter starts to protest, she tells him to "Save it! I'm in no mood for lame excuses!" "I'm cold, wet, and very disappointed," she says as she walks away from him. Peter can only scratch his head and wonder why these things always happen to him.

If you want to know what happens next, check out the Reviews Section. There's more than enough there to get you up to date on the past four years.

And let's not forget the rating. Usually I don't give any webs out for old issues but this one should have gotten a regular review at the time, so...

Overall Rating...

The relationship between Crusher Creel and Titania is really the high light of this issue. They are both such lovable dim bulbs that it's hard to remember that they are big and nasty villains. Creel's idea of impersonating good guys is fun and the conclusion, with Crusher giving up the fight to save his love, is a touching conclusion. But all the other business in the issue seems so tired and boring. MJ's snit with Peter is dull. Norman controlling the Daily Bugle? Yawn. The secret that ties Jonah to Osborn? Snore. Robbie implying he might quit? Zzzzzzzz.

The artwork, by the usually enjoyable Joe Bennett, looks rushed and confused. Everybody's heads look like they were chiseled out of bricks, the "camera angles" are awkward and do nothing to further the story, and details are so murky it is hard to tell, for example, what Crusher is touching each time he is using his absorbing powers. I wouldn't be at all surprised if Joe B. was called at the last minute and pulled an all-nighter at his drawing board to get this sucker finished. So... two webs are as good as this gets.