Comics : Web of Spider-Man #56
Part 1 / Part 2
Gerry Conway is a pretty reliable Spider-Man writer. He has a huge list of credits to his name - with some classic stories.
Back in 1989, he was working on Web of Spider-Man, where he produced the Lobo Brothers Gang War storyline, and the Spider-Man meets Tombstone story in Spectacular Spider-Man #139-#143. In fact he wrote some of the last good stuff of the 80's, before the 90's began their steady downward slide.
But it's the exception that proves the rule. The Skin-Head story proves that even Gerry can let his well-meaning intentions push over the line of good taste, into some pretty dubious territory. Let me give you the gory details.
Web of Spider-Man #56
Nov 1989 : SMURF 321.600 : SMURF 325.600 : SM Title
Summary: Rocket Racer, Skinhead
Arc: Part 1 of "Skin-Deep"
|Articles: Aunt May Parker, Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Jameson, J. Jonah, Nick Katzenberg, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Nathan Lubensky, Rocket Racer|
Peter is working late in his high-tech lab at E.S.U. Now, I've worked in a few University labs in my time, but this one has them all beat. It's full of high-tech computers, with what looks like a variable-spectrum laser, and another machine in the background that looks more like a particle accelerator. Wow. And Peter gets to play with that stuff for the last 30 or 40 years, while never managing to produce a research paper?
Peter has a problem. His new webbing is making a "SQUOIT" sound. He wonders if Michael Keaton from that (un-named) movie he saw list night ever has these problems. Well no, 'cos Batman was a psychotic rich guy. You're a poor schmuck. A poor schmuck whose latest batch of webbing is so corrosive it turns everything it touches into molecular soup.
Everything except the table, of course. It dissolves glass and steel, but stops short of eating through the varnish. Oh, and it dissolves the glass and steel target he uses for testing, but not the glass jar he grabs to hold it in while he's thinking what to do about it.
But let's not start counting plot holes, there's trouble outside in the school courtyard. A bunch of skinheads are burning crosses, and yelling "Blacks, Jews, Spanish, Chinese... you're nothing but mongrel scum! Get out of our schools. Get out of our country - or in the name of the supreme white race, we'll throw you out!"
Well, Gerry ain't pulling any punches. He obviously wanted to portray some pretty offensive guys, and he succeeded. Heck, I'm embarassed even to repeat what those guys said. That's enough of that sort of language, I'll spare you most of the detailed transcription as we move on.
So Gerry succeeds with his scripted smack-on-the-nose - there's plenty of impact there. Sadly, what is missing is any sort of credibility. These facist bully-boy types are so cookie-cutter stereo-typed extremist that they come across as totally unbelievable. I haven't met too many white supremacists in recent years - but I know enough to know that this sort of daytime cross-burning disorganised public abuse session is not the scary stuff.
What really frightens the bejesus out of most sane-thinking live-and-let-live types like myself is there far more insidious main-stream nasties, who manage to attract large numbers of people to ideas that actually sound reasonable, but which in fact lead to more systemic and pervasive sorts of dis-enfranchisement. I'm talking about the Jean LePen and British National Party stuff here.
But these guys are so in yer face agressive that rather than attracting any new recruits, they end up terrifying all the bystanders. Heck, by the time you add up all the Mexicans, Foreigners, Jews, Muslims, Australians, Train-Spotters, Comic-Collectors and all the other undesirables, those seven guys doing all the ranting and raving are pretty much the only people on campus who would qualify for their brave new world. C'mon guys. To be effective facists, you have to pick on the minorities, not the majority!
But Gerry isn't interested in really addressing the issue of divisions in society. He's just looking to drag out an afro-american super-hero, and there's only a handful of those around in Spidey's time. Cage and The Prowler were busy, so let's call up the Rocket Racer. Here he comes, looking to take out the white elitist trash.
RR comes screaming in, yelling absolutist statements like "These skin-heads are scum, and there's only one way to deal with them... wipe 'em out!" That makes him feel better, but it sure doesn't raise the level of rational debate. Spidey feels obliged to step in and keep the peace - which doens't endear him to either side. Spidey moves off to the side to chat with Bob Farrell (Rocket Racer, natch) while the police step in and move the Nazi-types along.
So what's Bob's beef? He's just angry about that sort of behaviour? He just wants to fight for the rights of all men and women? Or maybe he just came and enrolled at E.S.U. that morning, with his family, and got picked on by those self-same supremacists, and they ruined his special day.
Yeah, the latter. Gerry can pile on the inflametory rhetoric with a shovel... but he doesn't seem willing to believe that would be enough to drive somebody to action. He feels the need to make this personal. Sadly, I think that's a poor judgement call which destroys whatever balance and credibility the story might have built up, and reduces this to the level of a Schwarzenegger B-film. One of the early ones.
There's some sub-plot stuff going on, with Nathan and Aunt May. Plus, this is the issue where M-J get's the idea to go join the casting call for a TV Soap. Plus Puma wanting to buy the Daily Bugle to repay the favour he owe's Spidey. That's all good stuff. Shame about the main storyline.
Back in that self-same main plot, the Skins are out and about creating a public nuisance again the same day. Seems there's no such things as trespass orders at E.S.U. since all the police seem to do is move these guys on, and let them return the next day. But as they leave, the leader ("Eddie The Cross") is whispering to his boys about their secret plans for tonight. They're gonna blow up the Afro-American Studies building. Peter is standing 20 feet away, and he hears it. The cops standing 10 feet away don't. Rocket Racer is not even in the picture, and he hears it. None of it makes any sense, but so much for the secret plan!
So Peter tells the police, so they can protect the building. Err... actually no he doesn't, he keeps the secret to himself. That evening he turns up just in time to see the building explode. Moron. Rocker Racer is there too. There's a big fight, and Rocket Racer chases after Eddie who co-incidentally runs into the science research building, and up the stairs, and breaks into Peter's lab. Spidey and Racey turn up. Eddie picks up the jar of bad webbing (remember?) and holds it over his head in a threatening pose. RR fires a shell, and the jar smashes, and the chemical mix dribbles down and dissolves all over the head Nazi-dude.
Rocket Races off, and Spidey runs after him... he loses him, and when he returns, the nasty facist bully-boy is nowhere in sight. There's just a trail of dried up crud, leading to the local Facists Society HQ. Let's look inside... our loveless leader has turned into a pink skin-clad monstrosity. He looks like a cross between Red Skull, and Robbie Williams in that "Rock DJ" video. Euch! In spite of the fact that he doesn't actually look like he has any skin, he has clearly gone completely loco, and he wishes to be know as "SKINHEAD, The White Redeemer!"
This story is already way off the rails, but, let's just keep going with the details of the next issue. If I stop now and think too much, I'll never be able to face the second part of the story.
Only half a web. Hey, what did you expect? This is the Worst of the Worst after all. I'll spare you the acidic conclusion until after you've read all about part two, in Web of Spider-Man #57.