Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #16

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Spectacular Beginnings

This review was first published on: 2007.

Background...

After Bill Mantlo's four-part "Brother Power, Sister Moon" storyline, writer Elliot Maggin takes over for an issue. Don't worry, Dependable Sal Buscema's still here.

That saga ended with Spider-Man and Razorback taking down the Man-Beast's plan to wreak general havoc and saving Flash Thompson's girlfriend Sha Shan from being a pawn in his plans. Sha Shan herself was instrumental in his defeat.

Chronologically (and thanks to our friends at the Marvel Chronology Project, Spidey appeared in Marvel Team-Up #71 with the Falcon between last issue and this one. The March, 1978 issue of the flagship title is Amazing Spider-Man #178, and features Spidey taking on the new Green Goblin in a storyline that takes place after Spectacular Spider-Man #20.

In Detail...

"The Beetle and The Badge!"
Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #16
Mar 1978 : SMURF 180.700 : SM Title
Editor:  Archie Goodwin
Writer:  Elliot Maggin
Pencils:  Sal Buscema
Inker:  Mike Esposito
Cover Art:  Sal Buscema
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 Reprinted In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #1
Articles: The Beetle

On a rare quiet night for our hero, Spider-Man webs around the city looking for excitement when he spots a motorcycle cop in hot pursuit of a perp speeding away in a car. Spidey knows that the driver of the car might not be that dangerous, but "then again, he could be the Human Torch's charm teacher...and we can't let that guy get away with anything!"

The motorcycle cop - whom we soon learn is named Joey Macone - turns out to be something of a daredevil himself and his fancy maneuvering leads the car to somehow shake Spider-Man off its roof: "Hope my fans didn't see that...both of them would be appalled!"

The chase continues with the officer crashing his motorcycle on top of the car, sending it out of control and about to crash from the elevated West Side Highway into the Hudson River below. But Spidey webs the car just in time.

The Daily Bugle makes a hero out of Macone as Peter managed to get a photo of the officer apprehending the counterfeiters. Jolly Jonah sends our intrepid shutterbug to get photos of Macone at home. All is not well there, as Macone's wife is fearful that his heroics will get him killed and leave her a widow. She may well leave him first. Pete, realizing he's come at the wrong time, takes some tense photos and gladly leaves.

Meanwhile another cop walks to a non-precinct location and reports the location of some evidence to a shadowy figure who ends up being...the Beetle! He needs whatever's locked away and uses his resources to start a mini-crime wave in the area to keep the police distracted. The only officer to be left at the station? Officer Macone, who's placed on the communications board to stay away from excitement.

Meanwhile Peter notices the heavy siren activity and changes to Spidey, his Spider Sense noticing something (the approaching Beetle) but his other senses directing him to an attempted busjacking nearby. The Beetle proceeds to enter the precinct and knock out the desk sergeant, leaving Macone as the only one there.

Spidey wraps things (and criminals) up at the bus and heads back to where he felt trouble. Meanwhile Macone has figured out that someone has broken in and wants some evidence. He hides from the Beetle who finds an attache case which seemingly contains only office supplies.

Spidey makes the scene (crashing through a window for the second time in four pages - hey, he does it on the cover too!) and the two combatants begin to battle. Spidey becomes dazed but avoids a big blow and pushes the Beetle into some evidence. Macone notices that some of the evidence that's fallen includes packets of heroin and has an idea: he waters down the drug to make a paste and sticks them to the suction cups of some of the Beetle's tentacles. The Beetle swats him away effortlessly but Macone's ploy gave Spidey a plan. He takes off his webshooters and tries the same thing with the fluid. He manages to gum up the works, leaving the Beetle helpless and defeated.

Macone is badly hurt but will be okay. He tells Spidey that he checked out the briefcase and later at a special ceremony to honor him tells the media that the case had a false bottom with counterfeit money. The briefcase had been stolen from the crime syndicate and the Beetle sought to retrieve it.

Even though Macone has been promoted to detective, all is not well for him and his wife. Peter spies his wife sadly leaving the ceremony, perhaps with her own resolve. He knows that this type of photo might be a good human interest story, but can't bring himself to take it.

In General...

Much, much better than your average fill-in story, the story of Joey Macone and his wife has interesting parallels to stories later on with Peter and Mary Jane dealing with his career. Heck, the wife's name is Mary Ann. And if you put straight hair on Joey and red hair on Mary Ann, it could be them! Although I don't think MJ would wear an apron.

What does all of the adulation and heroism mean if it endangers the life of a loved one or leads to the dissolution of a marriage? The theme of duty to society vs. duty to one's family is an age-old one and is explored as well as possible here given the character's small role in the Spidey-Verse.

My goodness, that old Beetle costume is hideous. It appears a few times more...the Beetle is seen next in the classic "Defender for a Day" storyline in Defenders 62-64. He then appears next in part of another classic saga, the Demon in a Bottle storyline in Iron Man. His armor is pretty well destroyed by the Armored Avenger in battles taking place in issues 126 and 127 of that title. OHOTMU says that the first appearance of the new armor is in the Beetle's next appearance, Spectacular Spider-Man #58. This issue was pencilled by John Byrne as was ol' Abner's entry in the deluxe edition of OHOTMU. Perhaps Byrne designed it? Whoever did made a welcome improvement.

It seems that the Beetle went through a whole lot of trouble to retrieve this attache case. The resources he had to call upon probably cost quite a bit just to get back some fake money. Ah, the mysterious ways of the "Crime Syndicate."

The early car chase takes place on an elevated portion of the West Side Highway. All of the elevated stretches were torn down by 1989, rendered obsolete very quickly due to its inability to handle truck traffic. In fact, this lifelong New Yorker doesn't remember ever seeing the elevated highway, though I was a little on the young side when it was built and I barely remember the Westway controversy that was abandoned due to public pressure. The highway is now ground level and has various names along its route on the western side of Manhattan, including West Street, Route 9A and the Joe DiMaggio Highway.

I was surprised to see such an open mention of heroin. It had been seven years since the classic "code-less" drug issues, Amazing Spider-Man #96-98, a storyline which actually preceded the "My ward is a junkie!" issue (#85) of the legendary Green Lantern/Green Arrow run by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams by a few months. But we were still a few years away from the industry moving away from the newsstand and toward direct sales. I'll have to keep my eyes open for other such references.

And, hey, who knew that an illegal drug had such practical purposes? Did MacGyver ever make super glue out of heroin?

Overall Rating...

A very good fill-in issue with a sensitive storyline and the usual dependable art by Our Pal Sal.

Footnote...

The letters page of this issue talks a little bit about continuity problems between the Spider-titles. The Editor remarks, "Both Amazing Spider-Man and PPTSS are entering a transition stage"...and that new ASM scripter Marv Wolfman (a few years before his greatest triumph as creator of the New Teen Titans for DC) would be meeting with Spec scribe Bill Mantlo: "As soon as these two can sit down and start spinning their webs, the continuity between the two books should begin to be as tight as we once hoped it would be." No mention was made of Marvel Team-Up.

A house ad at the bottom of the letters page features Ghost Rider, coming "from out of the fiery pits." Very interesting to see that with the new movie less than a month away as of this writing.

The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins trumpet the coming of several titles, including Spider-Woman and Power Man and Iron Fist, "the most winning combination since Starsky and Hutch!" Also mentioned are Jack Kirby's new creations, Devil Dinosaur and Machine Man.