Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #61

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Other People's Villains

This review was first published on: 2004.

Background...

The idea this year is to spotlight villains who originally faced other heroes than Spider-Man. For those of you in withdrawal from the end of the Year of the Woman, we're going to begin with an OPV ("Other People's Villain") who fits both categories: Moonstone.

The original Moonstone was a thief named Lloyd Bloch who broke into a university science building and attempted to steal a blue moon rock that originally came from the Watcher's blue area of the moon. In a fight with security guards, a bullet hit the rock and it merged with the thief's hand. He gained powers from the rock, took on the identity of Moonstone and fought Captain America, initially in Cap #170, February 1974.

Dr. Karla Sofen was a respected psychiatrist but also secretly the assistant of the evil Dr. Faustus. When Captain America thwarts Faustus in Cap #192, December 1975, Karla avoids capture. She then uses her pull as a renowned shrink to visit Moonstone in prison. Using hallucinogens and voice control that she learned from Faustus, Karla convinces Moonstone to reject the stone. It materializes on the palm of his hand; Karla takes it and absorbs the power, making sure to mess with Moony's mind in the process so he can't reveal her treachery. She ends up bedeviling the Hulk and Captain America for a while and then has this one encounter with the Amazing Spider-Man.

In Detail...

"By the Light of the Silvery Moonstone...!"
Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #61
Dec 1981 : SM Title
Summary: Moonstone
Editor:  Tom DeFalco
Writer:  Bill Mantlo, Roger Stern
Pencils:  Ed Hannigan
Inker:  Jim Mooney
Cover Art:  Ed Hannigan
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Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Essential Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #3
Articles: Deborah Whitman, Lizard

Spider-Man, carrying a duffel bag on a shoulder strap, is web-slinging his way through a Manhattan alleyway when he spots a kid climbing down a length of torn sheets he has tied together and tied to a fire escape. The boy, no more than eight or nine years old, has descended one story but is still two stories up from the ground when the sheet tears. Next thing he knows he's falling. By all rights, this should be the last thing this boy ever does in his life except that Spider-Man just happens to be above him. The wall-crawler snags the boy on the back with some webbing, hauls him up, and then carries him to a nearby roof. Once safe, the boy sheepishly admits that he was descending by bed sheet instead of fire escape because he was trying to be just like the web-slinger. Once he gets over his shock, Spidey takes off his right glove to reveal his web- shooter. As he fires a web-strand, he tells the boy that "my webbing's a lot stronger than your sheets". Then he balances on the top of a chimney with one hand, explaining that it is also easier to do things like web-slinging if you can stick to any surface and have the strength and agility he is exhibiting. The boy tells him that he can do twenty pushups but Spidey tells him he is not listening. "I have special powers which make me Spider-Man" he says, "Nobody else has them!" (The boy brings up Spider-Woman and Spidey says, "Maybe I should have let you fall?") Spidey goes on to say that "you could get hurt trying to do what I do without spider-powers" and adds that he sometimes wishes he didn't have them himself. "I wish I could spend my time boltin' down Big Macs instead of beltin' down super-villains" he tells the boy since "super heroes don't get off when the three o'clock bell rings! It's a full time job without pay!" Then Spidey takes his leave, telling the kid to "scoot along home, use the stairs, not the sheets and keep off the ceiling, okay?"

As he continues on his way, Spidey thinks about the boy and what a "nice kid" he was. He hopes he "painted a grim enough picture of super-heroing to send him back to his homework" and then recalls that he didn't have time to do his own homework this evening. By then, he has arrived at Empire State University so he decides to sneak into the science building and get his work done there before morning. In order to sneak into the science building, he has to go around to the rear entrance. There he finds a figure that looks like a man dressed in purple pants, a green jacket and brown hat. The figure walks up to the big double doors marked "No admittance". Spidey knows that those doors are always locked and he perches up above wondering how the figure is going to get inside until he sees a glow surround the stranger. Then the "man" walks right through the door as if it didn't exist.

At first, Spidey tries to convince himself that he needs to finish his Chemistry paper rather than chase a new mystery but he gives up on that notion pretty quickly. Coming up with a new catch phrase ("When danger calls, Spider- Man crawls!"), he enters the building through a second story window. He goes to a classroom to drop off the duffel bag (which contains his Peter Parker clothes) and then takes to the ceiling. He crawls along in the dark hallway, letting his spider-sense guide him.

Back on the first floor, the intruder has arrived at the locked door leading to the office of Dr. Curtis Connors. The figure shoots a laser light from a finger. This light melts the lock and the door swings right open. The figure enters the room and turns on the light switch, then realizes that the light will attract attention. So, the stranger turns the light off again and uses a hand to generate an ultraviolet beam to illuminate the room. The beam strikes a steel locker across the room and the intruder decides that this is the only storage space in the room that is big enough to hold the device "he" is looking for. The figure opens the cabinet and pulls out Curtis Connors' "greatest achievement... the Enervator!"

(If this is Curt's greatest achievement, I feel sorry for the guy. Originally built to regenerate cells and rekindle life-sparks, Curt did use it to restore Spider-Man's life force in ASM #164, January 1977 after his vitality was stolen by the Kingpin. Later, however, the enervator was instrumental in the creation of the evil Iguana in PPTSSM #32, July 1979. At that time, the enervator was as large as a closet but Spidey built a portable version so he could take it into the sewers and defeat the Lizard and the Iguana in PPTSSM #34, September 1979. The feedback from the enervator eventually turns Spider-Man into the Spider-Lizard in PPTSSM #39, February 1980. All in all, I wouldn't call this an invention to be proud of.)

Just then, the whole room is lit by the red and white of the spider-signal. The figure fires a laser blast at the source of the light and manages to "zap a hole" right through the signal. But it is merely hanging from the ceiling on some webbing, serving as a decoy while Spider-Man sneaks up on the other side. He stands on the ceiling, reaches down and grabs the figure by both wrists. What he doesn't expect is that the figure is strong, strong enough, in fact, to pull him right off the ceiling (his feet are still attached to the ceiling tiles but the tiles come off along with him) and throw him across the room. (The spider-signal and its webbing get detached and go flying across the room with him.) The figure tells Spidey, "Yes, I am strong, stronger than you and once I get what I've come for, I'll be stronger than anyone alive." Spidey sees the enervator and thinks this may just be true. Then he realizes something else. The disguised intruder is actually a woman. (Thank God we got to that. I'm tired of trying to conceal that fact.) With that secret out in the open, the woman decides to reveal herself. She flexes and all of her outer clothing comes apart in tatters (the hat goes flying off her head). Underneath, she is wearing a gold costume with white boots, white gloves that nearly go up to her elbows, and a white helmet with a metal crest on the top. A white circle (which is supposed to be the moon, I suppose) serves as an emblem on her typically-ample Marvel-woman chest. She announces that she is "the woman-warrior men call Moonstone!" (I don't know what women call her. Ba-doom-boom! Thank you, thank you. I'm here all week.) Then, to emphasize the point, she picks up an entire laboratory double sink set-up that must weigh about a ton and uses it as a club to try to swat the web-slinger. Spidey merely leaps over it, even as he tells Moonstone that he has never heard of her. Moony calls him a cretin and then lets him know that she has fought the Hulk and Captain America. Spidey's reply? "Since they're still making headlines and you're not, I assume you lost!"

Now, if you thought the building was unoccupied while all this is going on, you'd be wrong. Science graduate student, teaching assistant, and Peter Parker colleague, Marcy Kane is working late in her office space and she wonders what that crashing sound is. She walks out into the hallway and traces the sound to Dr. Connors' office. Not hard to do. It is even easier to do when Spider-Man comes crashing through the door's window and lands amidst a spray of glass fragments right in Marcy's path. Spidey tries to shake "the stars out of his eyes", sees Marcy, and tells her to get out of there (calling her by name). Just then, the entire door blows out in a jumble of ragged wood as Moonstone plows right through. Marcy takes off running down the hallway. Spidey calls her by name again which gets her wondering, "How does he know who I am?" The wall-crawler tries to protect Marcy by shooting webbing over the goggles built into Moonstone's helmet. ("You can't zap what you can't see!") But Moonstone merely lifts her helmet up so she can see again. She doesn't care if Spidey sees her face since, "I have no so-called secret identity to hide! Being Moonstone is enough!" She raises her hands over her head and releases a two- handed light blast that topples Spidey and catches Marcy right in the back. Moonstone goes back into the Doc's office to pick up the enervator but Spidey is more concerned with Marcy Kane. Immediately, he sees that she is not breathing so he rolls up his mask, bends down, and starts giving her mouth-to- mouth. "I'm real glad I took that course on CPR" he thinks. (I kid you not.)

While Spidey is busy, Moony slips out of the office with the enervator and heads for the stairs. (She has her helmet back on and the webbing seems to have completely disappeared after only a few moments.) She looks down the stairwell and sees a campus security cop coming up the stairs. Since she has what she wants, Moonstone sees no reason to continue to fight. She smashes out of a window and flies off into the night. The guard threatens to shoot but Moony is so fast that he doesn't even get his gun out of his holster before she is gone.

Spidey hears the guard coming and he knows that he will be blamed for the destruction if he doesn't clear out. But he can't bring himself to leave Marcy. He looks behind and sees his duffel bag sitting on the floor in the classroom where he left it. (Let's recap. Spidey climbed into a second floor window, left his duffel bag in a classroom nearby, ceiling-crawled through the dark before coming upon Moonstone in Connors' office, which was probably on the first floor. In other words, there is no way that that duffel bag is in a classroom right next to the fallen Marcy. Except... there it is.) So, Spidey shoots a webline at the bag and drags it over to him, even as he continues to give mouth-to-mouth to Marcy. Between breaths, he quickly changes out of his Spidey suit. When the security guard arrives, gun drawn, he finds Peter Parker kneeling by the now-breathing Marcy. Peter orders the guard to get an ambulance. "This woman" he says, "is in shock."

Nearby, ESU secretary Debra Whitman and her boyfriend Biff Rifkin are walking near the campus after going out for pizza. Deb notices an ambulance heading for the science building so she wriggles out of Biff's arm and runs to see what is going on. Deb arrives just in time to see Marcy Kane loaded into the ambulance. The security guard is there and he turns out to be a real blabbermouth. He tells Deb that Peter Parker found her unconscious and administered artificial respiration. Biff has walked up next to Deb by this time and he overhears this last bit. "What do you know!" he says as the ambulance drives off, "Old Petey-o's a hero." Deb agrees and then thinks, "Peter's the nicest guy I've ever known but he never seems to have the time for me. He's always breaking dates always letting me down, always off somewhere else at those very moments when I need him most. Biff may come on strong, but he is attentive, dependable, everything Peter isn't, yet, if I ever needed help, would Biff be able to come to my aid as Peter came to Marcy's?" Biff, who has no idea what Debra is thinking, puts his arm around her and assures her that her friend will be all right. "Oh, I hope so", says Debra.

Inside the demolished office of Curt Connors, Peter Parker is spinning his yarn for the police. He tells them only that he heard a crash, came running, and found Marcy on the floor. He decides to skip the part about Moonstone and Spider-Man, figuring they'll eventually hear that from Marcy anyway. But the cops find out about Spidey's involvement a lot sooner than that. Even as Peter is wrapping up, one officer finds an object and brings it over to his Captain. It is the spider-signal "with a neat hole melted through the middle of it". The Captain notes that the webbing hanging on it is still sticky. This means "Spider-Man was here when that girl was hurt". Peter starts worrying about the headlines in tomorrow's Daily Bugle but just then a one-armed man in a lab coat enters and tells the police that "I seriously doubt that Spider-Man would harm that girl. Burns and shock aren't in the wall-crawler's itinerary". The police ascertain that the new arrival is Dr. Curt Connors and appreciate that he is willing to vouch for Spider-Man but tell him they still have to put an all-points bulletin out on the web-slinger anyway. Peter gets away by telling the police he has to get to his homework assignment but he is really anxious to change into his Spidey duds so he can talk to Dr. Connors. He gives his name and address to the police in case of further questioning and then leaps up the stairs carrying his duffel bag. The police tell Curt to report in if Spider-Man returns and then they too take their leave. Curt looks around his devastated office and hopes that Spider-Man does return so he "can ask him what really happened here". Right on cue, Spidey peers, upside down, into the office window and greets Curt. He lies to his friend, telling him he heard everything that went on because he was hiding outside the window the whole time. He prepares to tell Doc Connors what is missing but Curt can already guess: the portable enervator that Spidey built. Curt is fond of the device because he believes that it has cured him of being the Lizard. (Sorry, Doc! Plenty more Lizard time to be logged by you!) But he does recognize that the enervator is unstable, that "it can increase cellular energy in geometric proportions or totally drain the vitality from a living organism". Which means that the theft of the device is not a good thing. Spidey asks Curt how the machine will affect Moonstone and he replies that "There's no way of containing the radiation once it's activated and no way of predicting what that radiation will do to an individual's biochemistry." (Yeah, Dr. Connors' greatest achievement all right.) Spidey asks if there is any way to trace the thing and Curt just happens to have a detector "attuned to the frequencies emitted when the enervator's turned on" which he appears to pull right out of his pocket. Spidey takes the tracer and heads out into the night, hoping to talk Moonstone out of using the enervator before it harms her.

In Lower Manhattan, construction workers have demolished all the condemned buildings on their site except one. That one serves as the temporary headquarters of Moonstone. She is hanging out in a room that is still very nicely furnished with a Victorian-looking couch, antique table and a painting on the wall. The enervator sits on the table next to a still-functioning telephone. Moony is just now hanging up that phone with her right hand as she clenches her left hand into a fist. All night she has been calling various criminal organizations offering her services only to be turned down, one by one. She is convinced that this is because she is a woman. Still, she is not prepared to go out on her own. "But I must work for someone!" she says, "I've always worked for someone!" Cue the flashback!

Karla thinks back to when she was the "gun moll... mistress... pupil" of Dr. Faustus. She was willing to do this because the Doc represents power and she lusts after power. (And she's looking pretty sharp in a black body suit with gun belt and ammo belts criss-crossed across her chest.) When Captain America defeats Faustus, Karla is "forced to go elsewhere for the power I craved". Then, as mentioned in our intro, she visits the original Moonstone in prison and uses "hallucinogenic gas and certain techniques I'd learned from Faustus" to induce "a hyperpsychosis in my predecessor" and convince him "that the only way he could regain his sanity was to reject the very moonstone which gave him his laser powers". With her new powers, Karla offers her services to the criminal group known as the Corporation. They send her off to battle the Hulk where she holds her own, more or less. When the Corporation is defeated, Moony "was identified with the losers" and no one is interested in hiring her. Now, she believes that the only way to "get the attention of those criminal organizations... is to show them that [she] is more powerful than ever". To that end, she plans to go on a "crime spree the likes of which this city has never seen". And to really boost her power, she puts the portable enervator on her back and turns it on. The resulting boost makes her feel as if every cell is "infused with pulsating limitless power". She stands there amidst a glow, with her arms raised above her head and all she can say is, "Oh - my - heavens!"

In fact, the enervator is throwing off so much power that the whole abandoned building starts to glow. That and the fact that "Doc Connors' enervator- detector practically jumped off the scale" lead Spider-Man to Moonstone's hiding place immediately. He leaps into the window and tells Moonstone to turn the enervator off at once but Karla isn't interested in listening to him. She smashes right through the wall, taking Spider-Man out with her, and the web- slinger realizes that the enervator has "magnified her power a hundred times over". He saves himself by attaching his webbing to the top of a crane at the construction site. Moonstone, glowing all over, flies down into the hole made by the construction work. She walks over to a bulldozer and tugs on the big shovel in front. Spidey can't believe that she can "possibly heave that thing" but Moony has no trouble separating it from the bulldozer and winging it right at the wall-crawler. He avoids it but has to let go of his webline to do so. This sets him up to be snagged. Moonstone rips a tractor tread off the bulldozer, hangs onto one end, while she snaps it like a whip and wraps it around Spider-Man's midsection. Spidey knows that "getting her to unstrap the enervator is gonna be harder than [he] thought" but he also knows that "if she doesn't unstrap it and soon it's gonna kill her". (Well, actually, what Curt said is that "there's no way of predicting what that radiation will do to an individual's biochemistry". As someone who was bitten by a radioactive spider and lived to tell about it, Spidey should be more careful about pronouncing exposure to radiation as deadly in the universe that he inhabits.)

In any event, Moonstone starts to pull Spidey down to earth, telling him, "You should have left me alone". But using his speed, the web-slinger slips out of the tractor tread, shoots a web down to the top of the bulldozer, swings around on it and kicks Moonstone right in the chops, leaps up to the back of the crane and then back down to the ground behind his opponent. This all happens in the space of one panel so you know it is happening fast. It happens in the amount of time it takes Spidey to reply to Moony's Garbo-like line with, "I can't, Moonstone! There's something about you, maybe your perfume, that keeps me coming back for more!" It happens so fast that Moonstone is still recoiling from the kick by the time Spidey comes up behind her and lifts the enervator right off her back. The sudden loss of the enervator's power "causes every fiber of her being to scream in anguish" and Moonstone crumbles to the ground. Thinking the battle is over, the web-slinger is just about to turn off the enervator when Moonstone grabs him by the arm and yanks him into the air. She may have lost the power of the enervator but she is still a pretty tough customer by herself.

The shock of this attack causes Spidey to let go of the glowing machine. It flies out of his hands and lands in a heap of rubble right by the stairway leading down into the construction hole. Five policemen have arrived on the scene and they approach the enervator. They fear that it may be a bomb and wonder how close they dare get to it.

Now, Moonstone is really ticked. She figures the police will snap up the enervator before she can retrieve it. She fires a laser blast at Spidey (who is no longer in her grasp) but he somersaults away from it. He still tries to explain that the device will probably kill her but she doesn't believe him. But if she wants proof, all she really needs to do is take a look at the cops who are passing out from the enervator's leaking radiation. The officer in charge is still standing. (We know he's in charge because he reports over his walkie-talkie that "my men are dropping like flies". Since he seems to be the only one out of the radiation sphere, he must be the type that sends his subordinates in to do the dirty work.) He calls in and notifies the cops above on the street to clear the area. There are two policemen up there (one is named Riley) and they are faced with a small crowd pressing in, wondering what is going on in their neighborhood.

So, there are more people than ever in danger from the enervator. As Spidey continues to evade Moonstone's laser blasts, his senses tell him that "the enervator's releasing radiation all over the place". He must shut the machine down soon or there may be multiple casualties.

Moonstone isn't helping matters. She uses her laser blasts to separate the crane from its cab. It starts to fall to earth. At first, Spider-Man thinks it is intended as a weapon against him, so he leaps away. But then he sees that it is actually heading for the crowd up on the street; the crowd that ignored the warning to clear the area and is now "too rooted in fear to run". The shadow of the crane settles over the horrified faces of Riley and the crowd but Spider-Man acts quickly. He attaches webbing to the crane and some more webbing to the abandoned building. He holds the building web in his right hand and the crane web in his left. Then he strains his muscles "to the limit" as he keeps the crane from falling any farther. Then he exerts his willpower to swing the crane around and toss it back at Moonstone who is too busy making her way back to the enervator to notice. The crane catches her smack in the back and knocks her unconscious.

But that's only half the problem. The webhead's spider-senses are telling him that the enervator is about to overload and go critical. He jumps down (head first!) to the ground, snags the enervator with a webline, pulls it away from the fallen cops, and flings it under the condemned building, which we can now see has been undermined and is only being held up by a whole series of pilings. (If we but glance back to previous pages, we can see that the building was not originally like this. It had one area that was open on its bottom floor with three pillars in place there but it doesn't look like it is like that all the way around. In two later views, it looks like the building is more in keeping with what the web-slinger sees now. Lucky for Spidey that some ripple in reality caused the building to change.) Spidey's luck holds. The enervator explodes but all it does is take down the condemned building. Plenty of smoke and sounds and rubble but nobody hurt. Spidey reflects that, "Moonstone doesn't know how lucky she is but I expect the Warden will tell her!"

The next day, Marcy Kane lies in a bed at St. Luke's Hospital and tells a police investigator that all she remembers is "Spider-Man trying to save me from some crazy woman in a wild costume". The cop scratches his head and tells Marcy that that fits with what they've pieced together. "We've got Moonstone so I guess Spider-Man's in the clear" he says. Peter Parker arrives (as the cop leaves) with a bouquet of flowers for Marcy. She tells him she's sorry for giving him a hard time at school. Peter tells her that she doesn't have to apologize. Then Marcy says, "I wish that it had been you who'd been zapped by Moonstone instead of me!" which puts Peter completely off. "I should have known!" he thinks, "For a minute I thought I detected warmth emanating from Ms. Marcy Ice Queen Kane!" But then Marcy swats Pete in the back of the head with her pillow and tells him that she was joking. It's a pretty lame joke but Marcy hasn't done much joking. "Not bad for a first try" she says, "Give me a chance, maybe I'll get better at it." "A chance?" Peter says, "Lady, you've got it!"

If there were any plans at the end of this issue to start a romance between Peter and Marcy Kane, it never came to pass. In fact, Marcy may have been completely serious when she said she was telling her first joke because she later is revealed to be an alien named Kaina from Contraxia (in the Jack of Hearts Mini-Series, January-April 1984, I think) who becomes the lover of the Jack of Hearts (I kid you not!) Good thing her alien physiology is enough like human so that Peter's CPR worked on her, eh?

Lloyd Bloch, the original Moonstone, eventually recovers from his Karla-induced psychosis, gets himself subjected to the same process that gave super-powers to Count Nefaria and becomes Nefarius. In Captain American #379, November 1990, he kidnaps Karla with the intention of killing her. But Karla uses her powers of persuasion to convince Lloyd to think of her as a lover instead. Cap and Quasar appear to tackle Nefarius but it is actually Karla who finally takes him down. She and Lloyd are taken away by Quasar to the prison known as The Vault.

Moony's attempt at free-lancing only confirms her belief that she belongs with a team. She joins the new Masters of Evil under the command of Egghead in Avengers #222, August 1982. She and Tiger Shark are the only holdovers from that group when the newer Masters of Evil under Baron Zemo attack in Avengers #273, November 1986. When the Masters decide to pretend to be heroes in Thunderbolts #1, April 1997, Karla takes on the guise of Meteorite which is a whole other story and as good a place to stop as any. (In other words, I didn't read that whole series so I'm not sure what's become of her lately but I suspect she'll be on hand in the upcoming Avengers/Thunderbolts Mini-Series.)

In General...

It's really a fairly run-of-the-mill single-issue story. The main plot is routine and the art is nothing special. But it is fun to see Spider-Man up against established villains that he has never faced before. It's also nice to see the portable enervator taken out of the picture. And let's not forget the opening scene with the kid trying to emulate Spider-Man. That may be the best scene in the book.

Overall Rating...

Three webs.