Comics : Web of Spider-Man #20
Part 1 / Part 2
This story is part of a Lookback Series: World Wide Web of Spidey
Web of Spider-Man #20
Nov 1986 : SM Title
Arc: Part 1 of "Roxxon, England/Ireland With Joy Mercado"
We start straight in with the action. Pete and Joy have landed at Heathrow Airport, London and a bomb has gone off. There are also terrorists with guns - although calling an Irish terrorist 'Paddy' is perhaps a stereotype too far.
As Joy tries to do an interview with a police guy in the middle of the shoot- out (not realistic), Pete dashes off and, not wanting to compromise his secret identity too much, uses his webbing from a hidden location to disarm the final terrorist.
Back with Joy, Pete is told that the terrorists were members of the Provos - the Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) - and that their leader escaped. The last shot from the airport is one of a six-year-old reaching out for her dead mother.
Outside and JJJ has laid a limo on for our intrepid reporters. Joy gives us a bit of a history lesson on the IRA and they make their way to the hotel. After some more stereotyping "Ere ya are, squire," says the bellboy, and some inaccurate problems for Pete with money (farthings and shillings weren't used in Britain in 1986), we shift to an evening scene and Joy looking stunning.
The pair of them go out for dinner (at Jonah's expense) before Joy cryptically says she has plans for the rest of the evening. While leaving her to her own thing, Pete slips out as Spidey and sneaks into a prison to get some information out of one of the IRA men arrested earlier. Meanwhile, Joy is in a park paying a mystery informant 'Alfie' for some top secret Roxxon documents.
Back with Spidey and he has followed the information to a secret IRA hideout. He sneaks in and listens to their plans. He hears something about an attack on the 'foundation' of the country tomorrow but the police arrive before he can hear the rest.
The next day, at a government press conference with Joy, Pete notices some provos from the night before outside in a van. He does a quick switcheroo to Spidey and down in the sewers next to the van sees lines of explosives being placed by the gang. Spidey foils the plan except for one grenade that goes off, causing little damage but attracting the police to pick the gang up.
Pete and Joy want to go to Ireland to follow the case up but know Jonah will have a fit. When they hear the six-year-old from the airport has died though, they decide to go anyway.
The biggest achievement here is using a fictional, comic-book character in a real-life situation and actually making a difference. Whereas Amazing is concerned with the Hobgoblin's ID and Flash at the moment and Spectacular is concentrating on Mary-Jane and the Black Cat, Web Of has gone the other way and moved towards more realism.
The offshoot of this is that the book has found a real identity for itself. It has become an alternative, as opposed to a mimic, of the other two books. The villains in this story aren't just wild-eyed madmen who are after Spider-Man. These are real people in a realistic (albeit fictionalised) situation. In 1985, the IRA were as much a part of British society as al-Qaeda are a part of the Western world's today.
Putting Spidey into its context, without coming down heavily on either side and explaining the basics of why one man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist, is a master-stroke.
Managing to use Spider-Man sparingly, so as not to make his identity too clear- cut, also works well. Pete can use his powers without blowing his cover. It works and it's different from what we've come to know.
The one problem is the stereotyping that I have already alluded too. Calling the Irish terrorists 'Paddy' and 'Sean' would be like calling all the American characters 'Hank'. It's unnecessary and spoils an otherwise decent effort. Some of the dialogue from the English characters is similarly poor and the error about English money is not just careless but incredibly outdated. Britain was decimalised in 1971 and most of the old money terms - farthing and shilling - went out then. Fifteen years on there's no reason at all for Pete to even know those terms, let alone use them.
Overall, a really fresh change of direction. The bigger stories have been advanced with Joy still targeting Roxxon and there are still enough unknown answers from previous issues to keep us reading. The real-life storylines are a bold but successful move so far and I hope the themes continue.