Comics : Untold Tales of Spider-Man Anthology
This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club
This review was first published on: Dec 2012.
Some of you may have read The Doom’s Day Novel Trilogy (Spider-Man & The Incredible Hulk: Rampage (Doom's Day Book 1), Spider-Man & Iron Man: Sabotage (Doom's Day Book 2), and Spider-Man & Fantastic Four: Wreckage (Doom's Day Book 3)), co-written by Eric Fein to which our esteemed Editor gave three and a half webs to each book. I haven’t read those books but I have read Eric’s Spider-Man short story included here. Is it also worthy of multiple webs?
Untold Tales of Spider-Man Anthology (Story 14)
Summary: Alistair Smythe straps Jonah into his latest slayer against Spidey; Scorpion appears!
This story’s title page features a great John Romita, Sr. illustration of J. Jonah Jameson sweating it out as he watches Spidey fighting the Scorpion on a viewscreen, with Alistair Smythe gaping at him from another screen. (We don’t know where Jonah is but will soon find out that he’s inside a spider-slayer.) That’s a good way to start.
In the story itself, J. Jonah Jameson has just won the Humanitarian of the Year Award, chosen by the citizens of New York City. After working late at the office on his acceptance speech, he climbs into his limo, heading for home. But suddenly, the limo swerves out of control, running up on the sidewalk. The driver claims he can’t release his foot from the gas and the car is not responding to his actions. When he tries to turn the ignition off, he convulses and falls unconscious. The car drives into a dead-end alley and crashes into the wall. JJJ, bloodied and dizzy, crawls out of the car. Before falling unconscious, Jonah sees “the form of a large man approaching him.”
Like that scene? Here it is again from a different perspective. A man “at a control console in a dimly lit lab” watches JJJ get into his limo. He presses a button and a “spiderlike droid” attaches to the car’s rear bumper. The man pushes another button. The spider-droid shoots out “a bundle of fiber-optic tendrils.” Some of them attach to the steering column. Others bore “through the floorboard: where they grab “the driver’s right foot, attaching it to the gas pedal.” These tendrils contract, forcing the driver’s foot down on the gas. After the limo crashes, the man speaks “into a commlink,” saying, “Mr. Gargan, our prey has been subdued. Please, take the necessary action.” Those of us in the know recognize Gargan as the real name of the Scorpion. Of course, those of us who looked at Johnny’s opening illustration already know the Scorpion and Smythe are the villains in this piece.
Meanwhile, Spider-Man webs his way to the Daily Bugle. He drops down into a nearby alley, changes to Peter Parker, and takes his latest pix of Spidey battling the Rhino to the city room. There he finds all sorts of frantic activity. Robbie Robertson tells him that “Jonah’s missing” and presumed kidnapped “or worse.” Kate Cushing sends Peter to the crime scene to get some photos. “I’m sure Jonah will be all right,” Peter says, “He’s a tough old goat.”
Just then, JJJ wakes up, chained down on a hospital gurney in a lab. He sees “a large mechanical construct twenty feet tall and ten feet wide, surrounded by scaffolding and held up by suspension cables.” “Several smaller robots” service it. The lab’s resident reveals himself as Alistair Smythe, which makes Jonah realize that the robots are spider-slayers. Smythe tells JJJ that he has “inherited my father’s journals and his lab equipment. And I have inherited his crusade. My father’s enemies became my enemies.” And, for Jonah’s pressuring of Spencer Smythe into making more slayers, Alistair blames the publisher for his father’s death.
Then Mac Gargan joins the conversation. Smythe says he and Gargan “recently crossed paths and he explained to me how he was another victim of your crusade,” of how Jonah financed Gargan’s transformation into the Scorpion with “no thought to the psychological damage the treatments had done to Gargan.” (These guys sort of have a point.) When they learned of Jonah’s Humanitarian of the Year award, “the hypocrisy [was] too much…to swallow.” So Smythe built a giant spider-slayer designed to carry Jameson as a helpless passenger. “I’m going to arrange for you to finally be the hero you’ve spent years saying you are, by letting you destroy your favorite public enemy, Spider-Man,” Smythe tells Jonah, “Of course, there is the chance that Spider-Man will finish you off first.” With that, the Scorpion loads JJJ into the giant slayer.
Some time later, Spidey is on the Daily Bugle building’s roof expecting an attack. He has received a tip from a “street source” about an event at the Bugle. “And the guy behind it was the Scorpion.” When the giant spider-slayer attacks, Spidey knows that Smythe is also involved. He grapples with the robot. Just when he thinks he has won, the slayer jettisons four legs. One of them wraps around Spidey’s leg and administers an electrical shock. Ignoring the pain and further shocks, Spidey rips it away from his leg. Whereupon the slayer blasts a hole in the roof.
Inside the slayer, JJJ winces at the destruction to his building. As the slayer burrows from floor to floor, attacking innocent people, he starts to wish that Spidey would stop the robot. “What a revelation,” says Smythe over the radio, “Rooting for your greatest enemy to succeed.” And, sure enough, Spidey yanks on some wiring and circuitry and stops the slayer, only to have a voice announce, “This mechanism will self-destruct in sixty seconds.” Hearing this, Spidey picks up the slayer, takes it to the roof, and throws it toward the East River. As soon as he does, the Scorpion attacks him. But the Scorpion also opens his big mouth, saying, “First you knock off Jameson for me, then I kick your butt.” Realizing that Jonah must be inside the slayer, Spidey puts a spider-tracer on Scorpy, snags the robot with his webbing and climbs onto its back.
Even as Smythe taunts Jonah, Spidey rips the top off the slayer, climbs in and frees JJJ from his bonds. But then the slayer lands in the river. Spidey drags Jonah, who is “unconscious and very pale” from the wreckage and brings him to shore. Just as he is about to administer mouth-to-mouth, Jonah comes to. Spidey promises to bring help and tries to web-sling away, only to find his shooters clogged up with “river muck.”
The Scorpion is ready to celebrate the deaths of his greatest enemies but Smythe tells him both Spidey and JJ are still alive. “I saw you disobey my direct orders by making yourself known to Spider-Man before Jameson was dead. As a matter of fact, because of your big mouth, they’re both alive,” Smythe says, adding, “You’ve ruined everything, you thickheaded lout! I should kill you, but I have more important things to do. So just get out.” Scorpy doesn’t take well to this and attacks Smythe with a “stinger-blast.” Smythe sics his mini-slayers on Gargan. Then Spidey shows up, having followed his tracer (and he had extra web-fluid in his belt) and defeats both foes. Rather too easily, unfortunately. As he does so, he says something that may well be the theme of this story, “Oh, here we go again, another chorus of ‘My life stinks and it’s all your fault.’ Well, let me tell you something, bug-boy, I’ve had it with you idiots. Neither one of you can admit to the fact that you’re both responsible for the shambles that your lives have become. Yeah, Jameson helped by making the offer or funding the projects. But you dopes embraced his cause all the way.”
The next night, at the Humanitarian of the Year dinner, JJJ gets up and refuses the award. “It would at this point strike me as hypocritical to accept it,” he says, “having just come face to face with two villains whose origins in a small part can be traced to me.” Still, he promises to “continue to crusade against the costumed vigilantes and other superpowered crazies that they attract. Especially that menace Spider-Man, who I can assure you exacerbated the problem with Smythe and the Scorpion.” Jonah gets a standing ovation for his speech but Peter doesn’t take a photograph. He has changed to Spidey to stop “a band of heavily armed men about to break into the banquet.” And so it goes.
If you’ve just finished reading this recap and feel like you’ve heard it all before, that’s sort of how reading the story feels too. The one real innovation is having the two best-known victims of JJJ’s crazed hatred of Spidey finally team up, although even that is tempered a bit since they kind of teamed up in the “Invasion of the Spider-Slayers” storyline, specifically in Amazing Spider-Man #370, December 1992 wherein Smythe sends a robot against Spidey while he’s busy fighting the Scorpion. But beyond that possible new wrinkle, the story is of the most pedestrian. Even Eric’s prose is uninspired. I’m not looking for great writing here but I expect more from my descriptions than “The impact took out several letters so that the DAILY BUGLE was now the DA UGLE” or from my comparisons than “[The Slayer] emitted a high-pitched noise that…sounded like a pain-filled scream,” or from my dialogue exchange than “’I hope you wind up in hell for this, Smythe,’ snapped Jonah. ‘I’ll go if you will, Jonah. And since it looks like you’ll be getting there first, you can save me a seat next to you.’” And any possibly interesting story complications are resolved in the most pedestrian ways. Here Smythe has designed an ingenious way to get Spidey to kill Jonah and the Scorpion shows up early, not only to fight, but to let Spidey in on what’s going on! And here is a nice wrinkle of Spidey’s web-shooters becoming clogged with crud but it doesn’t go any farther than to have Spidey tell us after the fact that “I’m glad my spare cartridges of webbing weren’t water damaged.” As for the big speech about how Smythe and Scorpy are responsible for their own problems, well, yeah, maybe, but, let’s face it, J. Jonah Jameson should be in prison for his involvement as well. And, what’s with showing us Jonah’s abduction from two points of view? I mean, we’re not talking Rashomon here. Why is this necessary? And, one more thing, Eric spells Smythe’s first name “Alistair.” He’s certainly not the only one that has done this but it has been established to be “Alistaire” with an “e.” Is this a big problem? No, but it does feel symptomatic of the half-heartedness of the whole.
A disappointingly routine tale, particularly after the superior “Arms and the Man.” One and a half webs.
Next: The last story in the book, believed by some to be the best in the volume. Is it?