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...

Given their chance to write an Untold Tale of Spider-Man, John Garcia and Pierce Askegren apparently decide that what the world needs is another Looter story.

In Detail...

"Better Looting Through Modern Chemistry"
Untold Tales of Spider-Man Anthology (Story 4)
SMURF 038.600
Summary: Spidey tackles the Looter while unable to make web fluid.
Editor:  Kurt Busiek, Stan Lee
Writer:  John Garcia, Pierce Askegren
Illustrator:  Alex Saviuk
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Issue
Review

Peter Parker is in line at the ChemCo chemical supply house on a Friday afternoon. A man who looks vaguely familiar is in front of him. The man orders two helium cartridges but the price has gone up and he only has enough money for one. The ChemCo clerk is unsympathetic, not accepting a check or any other form of payment but cash. The man is forced to only buy one cartridge. Peter is sympathetic but can do nothing to help. He is buying plastic polymer to make web fluid, since his supply is dangerously low. But the price of the polymer has also gone up and Peter doesn't have the money to pay for it.

Back at Empire State University, Peter literally runs into Gwen Stacy. Since this story takes place "a few weeks after Amazing Spider-Man #36, May 1966", Gwen is still in her ice-queen phase concerning Pete; disdainful but trying to draw him out. She invites him to join the gang at a demonstration by sports star Johnny "The Ray" Ramos. Pete wants to go but he has to get money for his web fluid. He goes to the Daily Bugle to ask J. Jonah Jameson for an advance. It seems that JJJ is stuck without a photographer for a reception he is holding to premiere a new Bugle section on emerging technologies. He tells Peter he can get an advance at 4:30 PM if he agrees to join Jonah to photograph the reception.

At 4:30, Norton G. Fester, the man Peter saw at ChemCo, enters the Neville K. Trelayne Memorial Mineral Museum, knocks out the guard and cracks open a meteor just like the one from which he got his super-strength. He inhales the gas within and gains extra strength which he shows off by tossing a motorcycle into a fuel tanker causing a massive explosion.

Pete shows up at 4:45 to pick up his check, having spent too long in a camera shop. He gets the cash and prepares to hurry to ChemCo, which closes at 5:30. But Aunt May calls the Bugle and he wastes time talking to her as she asks him to buy eggs so she can make cookies.

At 5:00 Fester, now in his Looter costume, destroys an electrical substation with his bare hands. At 5:35 Peter shows up at ChemCo only to be told by the clerk that he's too late and must wait until Monday. Peter briefly considers using his spider-powers to break in and steal the polymer but he knows he won't do that. Just then Sally Green shows up and asks if he'd walk with her to Chesney's "a local soda fountain". Peter agrees.

Meanwhile, the Looter continues his vandalism, smashing any fire hydrants he encounters and going into subway stations and tearing up the tracks. Peter ends up at the soda fountain with Sally having a grand time. But just as he is about to invite her to join him at the Bugle reception, Flash Thompson, Harry Osborn, and Gwen show up and ruin his timing. (Aren't they supposed to be at Johnny "Ray" Ramos' demonstration?) When he hears a news report over the soda jerk's radio announcing blackouts, disastrous traffic jams, and a major fire on the Upper East Side, Peter knows Spider-Man needs to investigate. He begs off, saying he must run an errand for his Aunt but Sally thinks he is running from Flash Thompson and she loses interest in him.

On his way Uptown, Spidey runs out of web fluid so he hitches a ride from a Newscopter. The Looter, soaring through the air on his built-in helium balloon watches him. Fester muses over the fact that he was released on bail after his loss to Spidey. Knowing that he will be convicted in his upcoming trial, he has devised a plan to steal enough money so that he can skip town. As Spidey deals with the burning fuel truck and the cops are busy with the other disasters, the Looter robs Cassidy's Fine Jewels. Coming upon the ruined power station, Spidey rescues the security guard who then tells him that the "costumed lunatic" who did this wore a "purple and white costume, had a backpack and a tool belt." Spidey recognizes that description. It also makes him realize who was in line in front of him at ChemCo. Then he remembers "a leaflet...casually tossed at him by J. Jonah Jameson" and he realizes where the Looter is going. (The leaflet was a list of exhibits apparently trucked in for the reception and one of them is... well, guess what?)

Sure enough, Fester crashes the Bugle reception. Having finished his crime spree, the Looter now prepares to breathe in the gas from yet another meteor, this one "nearly the size of a telephone booth." (How many of these dang meteors are there?!) Spider-Man shows up before Norton can puncture the meteor and he is forced to flee. Spidey gives chase and hangs on as Norton sails away on his balloon. Fester manages to knock Spidey off but the struggle puts a hole in the balloon. He lands and patches the balloon but in the meantime, Spidey has rescued himself as well. But Norton gets to his car (somehow) where all his loot is. Trouble is the word has gone out and the authorities are watching all of the routes off of Manhattan Island. Fester knows his only chance is to get the balloon up and running again so he goes back to ChemCo to steal a helium canister. But Spidey has deduced this and, hitching a ride with the news chopper again, gets there a head of Fester. He grabs a polymer compound and a "reagent jug with attached hose" which he combines and sprays on the Looter's feet, anchoring him to the floor. "It's not webbing, but it'll have to do" says Spidey.

Of course, Spidey takes pictures of the Looter's defeat and he hopes this will be enough to mollify JJJ for his no-show at the reception. He also grabs the bottle of liquid polymer he needs for webbing and puts the money on the counter. Tonight he's going to make some more webbing but first he has a long walk home. He wonders where he can stop to buy some eggs for Aunt May. Then it starts raining on him. "Some days, it just didn't pay to get out of bed."

In General...

So, is that the moral of the story? It sometimes doesn't pay to get out of bed? Or is it, "it's okay to wreck a store and take what you want as long as you put money on the counter"? Or maybe, "it's okay to take an advance in pay for a job and then not show up for it as long as you're doing something more important like chasing super-villains"? Actually, it's not the confused morality of this story that makes it so aggravating. It's that it takes 27 pages to tell a story so simple it should have been told in less than 10. Twenty-seven pages! That makes it the third longest story in the book! And what happens in it? The Looter finds two more meteors, wrecks a bunch of stuff, and tries to jump bail. Spidey runs out of web fluid, makes Sally Green think Peter Parker is a chump, stiffs JJJ, and beats the Looter. That's not even a story. That's barely a scenario! And not a very interesting one either. So how did these two writers stretch this out into 27 pages? By lingering on everything! Spidey's dousing of the fuel truck fire takes a full page. His rescue of the security guard takes over two pages. Pete and Gwen spend nearly a page discussing Johnny "Ray" Ramos for no reason whatsoever. Hell, J. Jonah Jameson takes a full page at the reception wondering where Peter Parker is! So, it's lots of exposition and description and minutia for very little pay-off. I mean, hey, it's nice to see Sally Green but what's the point, really? (And does she have to be so shallow and fickle?) And what is the deal with all these meteors? I'm surprised there aren't dozens of guys out there with the Looter's powers. And what is a meteor the size of a telephone booth doing at a reception for a newspaper's new feature on emerging technologies, anyway? Ack, don't even bother to figure it out. Nothing to see here. Move on, move on.

Alex Saviuk provides the illustration for this story, showing Spidey crashing in as the Looter tries to nab the last meteor. It's a decent enough drawing but nothing spectacular. A bit like the story itself. No, strike that. Much better than the story itself. If you're only reading selected stories from the book, then definitely skip this one.

Overall Rating...

When I started writing this I thought I was going to give the story two webs. But after going over it all and seeing how superfluous, inane, and stultifying so much of it is, I'm dropping that down to one web. I'd better stop thinking about it or I might drop the rating again.

Footnote...

Next: The Green Goblin comes calling in story #5.