Comics : Untold Tales of Spider-Man Anthology

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Book of the Month Club

This review was first published on: 2008.

Background...

Story #2 "takes place in the general vicinity of Amazing Spider-Man #10 (March 1964), presumably so that it precedes Bennett Brant's demise in Amazing Spider-Man #11, April 1964 since it deals with Spidey's first experience with possibly causing a death.

In Detail...

"After the First Death..."
Untold Tales of Spider-Man Anthology (Story 2)
SMURF 010.850
Summary: The first death in Spidey's crimefighting career.
Editor:  Kurt Busiek, Stan Lee
Writer:  Tom DeFalco
Illustrator:  Patrick Olliffe, Ron Frenz
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Review

A soggy Spidey swings through rainy Manhattan looking for crime shots for the Daily Bugle. He comes upon Kent and Wayne Weisinger on the roof of Stockbridge Jewelers, planning to rob it. Confident that he can end the fight anytime he wants to, Spidey stretches it out so that his automatic camera can take as many photos as possible. Kent and Wayne have a longstanding sibling rivalry marked by Kent's resentment of being the "muscle" to Wayne's "brains" along with feeling that his brother always cheats him. During the fight, Kent appears to charge at Spidey but when the web-slinger leaps out of the way, Kent doesn't stop, charging into Wayne and knocking him off the roof. Wayne falls five stories to his death and all the by-standers think Spidey did it. Guiltily, Spidey flees, forgetting about Kent altogether.

So, Kent goes to Wayne's estranged wife Jeannette to tell her the news. "Solid ice," Jeannette could care less about Wayne's death except that she's lost her meal ticket. When Kent blames the death on Spider-Man, Jeannette gets an idea on how to cash in.

In fact, Peter Parker seems to be the only one emotionally affected by Wayne's death. He has a sleepless night, trying to cope with the situation. Unguarded, he admits to J. Jonah Jameson that he has photos of the incident. His resolve to not sell the photos is beaten down by Jameson's arm-twisting and his own need for money. He sells the pictures and is then introduced to Jeannette, now the grieving widow of Wayne, who has come to JJJ for help in instituting a civil suit against Spider-Man. At school, Peter's conscience makes him counter Flash Thompson's avowal that "Spidey's no murderer" with "Maybe the wall-crawler didn't actually kill the man... but that doesn't mean he shouldn't be held accountable for what happened." Back in action, Spidey hesitates over stopping a purse-snatcher, fearful that he may cause another tragedy. Back home, Peter doesn't know what to do. He recalls that Uncle Ben's death made him swear, "that no innocent person would ever again be made to suffer because Spider-Man had failed to act. It had never occurred to him that anyone would suffer because of Spider-Man's acts." And while Wayne wasn't exactly innocent, "he had suffered because Peter had acted irresponsibly." He ends up having one of those vague discussions with Aunt May where he can't tell her any details because she doesn't know he's Spider-Man, yet she manages to hit the nail on the head, telling him in this case, "Everybody makes mistakes, Peter. You just try to learn from your failures as best you can, and you move on. You'll always get another chance to do better as long as you keep at it."

Meanwhile, Jeannette decides to kick Kent out of the deal and keep any anticipated profits for herself. So even as Spidey sucks it up and gets back into action, proving himself a hero, Kent decides he's not going to be kicked around anymore, buttonholes a TV reporter and gives an interview in which he reveals "that he deliberately pushed his elder brother off the roof of Stockbridge Jewelers because of numerous past frustrations." At Midtown High, Flash crows over Spidey's exoneration but Peter won't let the web-slinger off so easily. "A real hero would have found a way to save Wayne Weisinger" he says, "He would have acted smarter, reacted quicker, or behaved more responsibly... And that's something Spider-Man will have to live with for the rest of his life."

In General...

Now this is more like it! Tom DeFalco has been employed by Marvel for a lot of years and has never really gotten the respect he deserves. His work has always been solid and occasionally, as in the case of Spider-Girl and this story, inspired. Here, he not only explores a turning point in Peter's life (his involvement with a death for the first time) but uses a concept I'm not sure I've ever seen in a Spidey story: the notion that our hero would drag out a fight he can easily win just to get more photos. Spidey is thinking of it all as a lark. He's playing video games while the Weisingers are fighting for their freedom and their lives. The fact that Kent intentionally murders Wayne, using Spidey as a diversion, does not negate the wrongheadedness of Spidey's actions. By the end of the story, though exonerated, Spider-Man remains haunted. Deservedly so. Call it a follow-up lesson to the death of Uncle Ben.

Tom sets up a nice little trap for Spider-Man here. The by-standers blame him, the police hunt him, J. Jonah Jameson sets his lawyers against him, Jeannette Weisinger has a powerful case against him. About the only way he can wriggle out of this is if Kent confesses to the willful murder of his brother. In my first read-through, I felt this deus ex machina was the story's great weakness but after looking at it again, I decided that the confession is entirely in keeping with Kent's character as so nicely set up by DeFalco. He has been under his brother's thumb and is now under his sister-in-law's thumb. It's no great stretch, especially after Jeannette tells him she will keep all the profits for herself, for him to voluntarily accept punishment in order to be the one in the limelight all on his own. In fact, it makes perfect sense that he would do so. What first seemed to be the story's sole weakness is actually one of its strengths.

By the way, Tom also plays the proper name honorarium game that Will Murray plays in the first story but his seems more fun. The Weisinger family is named for Mort Weisinger, the notorious Silver Age Superman editor. Jeannette is named for Jeannette Kahn, the longtime DC Comics publisher. Kent and Wayne are named, of course, for DC's biggest properties: Superman (Clark Kent) and Batman (Bruce Wayne). It is appropriate, then, that Tom makes Kent the muscle while Wayne supplies the brains. I'm not sure what the deal is with all the DC references, though. We'll have to ask Tom.

Oh, and there's a wonderful Ron Frenz/Pat Olliffe illustration leading off this story showing Spidey, mask off and anguished, as he perches on a ledge out in the pouring rain.

Overall Rating...

Great stuff! Let's hope the rest of the stories are more like this one than the first one. Full marks.

Footnote...

Next: The Sandman and the Torch guest-star in story #3.