Comics : Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #120

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Spectacular Beginnings

This review was first published on: 2009.

In Detail...

"A House Is Not A Home"
Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #120
Nov 1986 : SM Title
Summary: Human interest story - Gangs, greedy landlords
Editor:  Jim Owsley
Writer:  Bill Mantlo
Pencils:  Keith Giffen
Inker:  Vince Colletta
Cover Art:  Mark Beachum
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Articles: Glory Grant, Robertson, Joe "Robbie"

The opening page shows a spooky silhouette of Spider-man, alongside an interesting piece of prose written in nearly-inscrutable cursive in a sidebar, describing city sounds as "twentieth century symphonies, atonal and harsh", and "babble, as in Babel, from eight million tongues". They are the city's voices, "heard by the masked man who slides through steel skies on a slight strand of web-line", who listens and learns..

A spread of wordless panels shows Spidey on patrol, following the "WHREEEE" of a police siren to the outside of a tenement. With his hidden camera at the ready, he perches on a lamp post--an old man is threatening some punks with a meat cleaver, saying he won't let them drive him out of his home. With a web zip, Spidey takes away the cleaver and lowers it down to the officers. Spidey tells the punks to beat it--they say they live there. The cops vouch for the gang, saying they have to live somewhere, even if they do make the tenants lives hell. Spidey asks can't they do anything about it? The officer replies "It's a busy city pal". To which Spidey swings off, saying how the cops can't spend their careers defending one old man's home, to which the officer responds "can you?".

Spidey drops in through his apartment skylight, changes out of the red & blue duds. A note appears underneath his door. He opens it to find neighbor and Bugle co-worker Glory Grant, reminding him of the tenant's meeting going on that night. Pete demurs, saying he doesn't have a lot of time for meetings and takes a rain check.

Joe Robertson tells Peter the next day he's not interested of the pictures taken from the housing project. Joe tells him to find a fresh angle and maybe they'll run the story. Cue one Blaine Browne, reporter, who introduces herself to Peter and informs him that neighborhood tenants are organizing to fight the gangs. Joe admits there may be a story to be had there. That night, Pete accompanies Blaine to the same apartment building from the night before. They go to interview the tenant organizer, with whom Blaine set up an appointment, but he turns them away with a slam of his door. There are all kinds of creeps watching them from the shadows. One gang member accosts them saying there's no story there and leaves. The old man from the night before, who introduces himself as Dominic Castellano, opens his door and invites them in.

Dominic tells them how the landlord wanted to convert the building into luxury condos, and hired the gangs to drive out the poor tenants. He alludes that the gangs had a hand in killing Dominic's wife. Peter comes back in costume later that night, to keep an eye over Mr. Castellano. Hours pass uneventfully, until he soon hears a scream come from the nearby park. He goes to investigate and the gangs move in at his absence. Spidey dispenses with the purse snatcher (who was seemingly one of the apartment gang's members), but comes back to find Castellano dead on the pavement from an apparent fall. The tenants gathered outside claim he was pushed, but have no proof for the police. Enraged, Spidey says he failed Castelleno, but vows to make it up to the old man.

Having taken care of Castelleno, the gang moves in, saying he was the last of the tenants to offer real resistance and getting out the rest should be easy. They aim to firebomb the building. Spider-man takes out the gang one by one from the shadows. The last gang member throws his firebomb at Spidey, which blows him backward. Spidey gets a few people out of the building as the flames spread. He chases down the gang member, who's running loose in the building. Spidey punches him and disappears, mucking around with his head. The gang member is trying to find his way out through the inferno, but finds only Spider-man, who jumps at him through the shadows in a nice full-page spread. Spidey takes him down with a kick, telling him to get up. The gang member says he's afraid. Spidey says now he knows how everyone else in the building felt. The gang member busts out of the burning building, saying he wants to confess to the cops. Spidey thinks nothing he says will restore the tenants back to their homes. He thinks it'll take the determination of the people to stand and fight together for what they have.

Peter is at the tenant's rights meeting organized by Glory at the end. There's a speaker on stage saying how greed lies at the heart of driving people out of their homes, but he says greed can be fought. Peter glumly thinks "how?", when Glory hands him a petition to sign. The speaker goes on to say that the people possess the power to vote for better tenant's rights, and by banding together they don't have to live in fear. Pete signs his name.

In General...

Spidey stories of this era were sometimes socially-conscious, real-world-problems driven, and this is one of them. It's a common thing for Spider-man to pound on the latest costumed villain, and most often that's good enough for an entertaining yarn. But pit him against gang activity, social decay or fighting for citizen's rights and the writer can make a larger social comment. Some would argue it's not the place of kid's comics to do as such, but for some reason Spider-man as a character with his sense of social justice is well suited for this type of tale. The little prose-poem that opens this issue would come off as pretentious in service to a lesser story, but here it adds an urban-diary sort of feel to the nightmare that follows.

Keith Giffen's artwork, dark and atmospheric, stands out really dramatically this issue. It seems like a story that Spidey would wear the black costume in, but Giffen has him in the red and blues, and has a very idiosyncratic, tactile way of drawing the costume. Bill Mantlo wisely lets Giffen's art do the talking in certain wordless sequences: the panels of the gang leader being chased around the burning building pile suspense upon suspense, and the splash page of Spider-man bursting at him from the fiery shadows is unforgettable.

Overall Rating...

Manages to get its point across, and contains an admirable "power-to-the-people" message. Props to Bill Mantlo, Keith Giffen and the editors for this tale--along with Peter David's issues before and after this one, PP:TSSM seems like the go-to title of this time for darkly urban tales of the web-head. It'd be nice to see stories with this feel more often in today's Spidey books.