From the moment of his introduction in Amazing Spider-Man #50, the Kingpin is a persistent and elusive thorn in Spider-Man's side. In a trio of classic 3-issue story arcs (ASM #50-52, July-September 1967, ASM #59-61, April-June 1968, and ASM #68-70, January-March 1969), the web-slinger manages to thwart the Kingpin's plans but never manages to bring the crime boss to justice. What finally stops the Kingpin long enough so that Spidey doesn't see him again until ASM #163, December 1976? No, it's not all the goof-ups and continuity glitches in this trilogy. It's...The Coming of the Schemer!
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
In his last appearance, the Kingpin is thwarted in his plans to decipher the petrified tablet but breaks jail and escapes Spider-Man by the timely arrival of a sedan driven by his wife Vanessa. "You arrived just in time, my dear!" says the crime king as he gets into the car, "Now drive on!" That scene takes place in ASM #70. Now, thirteen issues later, the Schemer talks to a handful of his hired thugs. He tells them that the Kingpin went into hiding after that escape from Spidey and hasn't been seen since. Now is the time, the Schemer thinks, "to take over the Kingpin's domain!"
The Schemer appears to be a man of about fifty. His face wears a perpetual scowl even when he is smiling. He has a wide streak of white through the middle of his black hair from the forehead to the back of his head, like a white line on a black asphalt road. He wears a green jump suit with a red belt and a red emblem on his chest that looks like a blazing sun or a County Fair award ribbon. He has brown jackboots, yellow gloves and a flowing yellow cape with a nifty-looking oversized yellow collar that wraps around the back of his head up past his ears. He points to a big picture of the Kingpin's head, which is up on a monitor, just in case his thugs aren't sure of whom he's talking.
But the men know full well who the Kingpin is and they're not happy about facing him. "He won't take it lyin' down, man!" says the black thug with the pencil-thin mustache who is smoking a cigar. The Schemer shakes his fist and reveals that he plans to use "guerilla tactics", hitting the Kingpin "where he's weakest", striking quickly and then running. The men still aren't convinced. The thug wearing an orange turtleneck and shoulder holster wants to know what they'll do if the Kingpin returns. "We will face that problem when we come to it" says the Schemer. Besides, it is already too late to turn back. The first scheme is taking place at that very moment with "another unit" of thugs performing the honors.
On the streets of New York, one of the Kingpin's trucks (labeled "Acme") is struck in its right front wheel with an explosive. The two dazed truckers get out of the truck and face off against four trench-coated gunsels coming out of a car. One of the truckers wonders if the attackers are "nuts or something". They have just hit one of the Kingpin's trucks. "When he gits wind of this" says the trucker, "Yer lives won't be worth a plugged nickel." He receives a surprising reply. "We want 'im to hear about this," says one of the gunmen.
As luck would have it, Peter Parker is walking the streets only a couple of blocks away when he hears the explosion. He races into an alley, changes into his Spidey suit (webbing his civvies up under a ledge), arrives on the scene, sets up his camera and joins the action. Viewing the situation as "a daylight hijacking", Spidey attacks the guys with the guns. He grabs one by the shoulder of his trench coat and swings him around like a club, flattening two of the others. The fourth goon spills the name of his boss so that Spidey overhears ("The Schemer didn't figger on him showin' up.") and then takes a shot at the webspinner. Spidey uses his webbing to yank the gun out of the man's hands. As he does so, he realizes he recognizes the goon. "He's one of the Kingpin's hoods," he thinks. (Except isn't he the same guy who namedropped the Schemer and is clearly in the Schemer's employ? Well, whatever. Who can keep track of all this hired muscle?) Suffice it to say that Spidey punches out yet another guy even as he muses over the notion that with "Someone called the Schemer tangling with Kingpin's gunnies", he could have stumbled on something big.
Now, I have officially given up trying to figure out how many hoods are on the scene and which ones belong to the Kingpin and which ones belong to the Schemer. I'll just lay it out as it happens. One goon in a tan coat leaps and grabs Spidey by the legs while the web-slinger is woolgathering. He calls to another goon in a green jacket to "finish 'im" while he's holding him. The green jacket goon has been "itchin'" to punch out Spidey "for years". He takes a big left-handed swing at the webster's jaw and only succeeds in hurting his own hand. The guy holding Spidey's legs tells green jacket to "use yer blaster, dummy!" but it is too late. The wall-crawler leans down with his feet planted on some dangling webbing (God knows where this webbing is attached since the fight is in the middle of the street), grabs a goon in each hand and clonks their heads together. Then, apparently deciding that the situation is over (and that he has enough pictures), Spidey webslings high up on the side of a nearby building and watches the goons all escape. (First they shakes their fists at him, then the goons from the car climb in and drive off, while the guys from the truck... that has toppled over on its side, by the way... run off on foot.) With his camera in hand, Spidey deduces that "if his mob is still in action, it means the Kingpin hasn't quit". He also assumes that "anyone powerful enough to challenge the Kingpin" has to be pretty tough as well.
With the hoods having fled, Spidey retrieves his civvies, goes back to the alley, and comes out as Peter Parker. He is pleased with himself for playing it safe but he can't stop thinking about the Schemer. "I didn't think any mob leader would have the nerve to step on the Kingpin's toes," he says. This gets him thinking about the Kingpin and he remembers back to ASM #70 when the crime leader escaped in a car driven by a woman. "Boy! If old Fatso ever had a girl friend or a wife, I wonder what she'd be like?" Peter muses as he nonchalantly tosses his camera in the air. Which is Stan's cue to change the scene to a slim, attractive woman with black hair and graying temples, wearing a flowing rose-colored floor length gown. She stands with her back to the door of the room she is in but she calmly tells the big man who enters that she has "been waiting" for him.
The big man is the Kingpin, dressed in an orange smoking jacket, puffing on his cigarette in its holder. (As a matter of fact, a whole lot of articles of clothing are colored orange in the first five pages. Kingy's smoking jacket, the Schemer goon's turtleneck, Kingpin's vest in a flashback, and Peter's pullover all fit the description.) He addresses the woman as "Vanessa" and asks her why she's been waiting for him.
Vanessa tells him that she has found an article in the newspaper. Contrary to the Kingpin's avowal that their son, Richard, chose to remain in Europe after college to be on his own, she has stumbled on a story with the headline, "Wealthy Student Missing in Alps!" The article is accompanied by a picture of a smiling young man next to a photo of the Alps and it states that the youth is "believed to have met with fatal accident" since he was "said to have been despondent" and to have "left note addressed to his father". The Kingpin takes the paper out of his wife's hands and crumbles it up. He stares out the window at the Manhattan skyline and tells Vanessa that the story is "all lies!" He knows that his son was not despondent and did not have an accident. He is, after all, the Kingpin's son!
Vanessa's body sags and a tear drops from each eye. She tells her husband that she has known for months in her heart that their son was dead. "He must have read about you in the papers even over there" she says. "When he learned what his father really was, he couldn't bear to live with it." The Kingpin pounds his huge fist on a table, cracking it in two. He refuses to believe Vanessa's theory. "No son of mine could be so weak" he proclaims, "So spineless!" Vanessa tells her husband that his anger cannot bring Richard back. "No but it can drive me into action again" replies the Kingpin. Declaring that "anything is better than this hiding", he stalks out of the room, ready to seize control of his mobs again.
At the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson tells Peter he is not interested in pix of Spider-Man "fighting some penny-ante punks" until Peter threatens to sell them to the Daily Globe. At that, Jonah agrees to give the photographer "five bucks each... 'cause I'm an old softie". Peter knows he is being robbed but he agrees to the deal "since I'm broke". Distraught over the deal, he rushes out of Jonah's office, not even hearing Betty Brant when she tries to talk to him. Betty tells Joe Robertson "nobody ever leaves Mr. Jameson's office with a smile". Robbie sympathizes but thinks Pete "should be used to Jonah by now".
Peter leaves the Bugle building with his pay. He knows it is more than he had going in but it is still so much less than he needs. He also knows Gwen's birthday is coming up and he won't be able to afford a decent gift for her. And so, our down-in-the-mouth hero heads to the Medical Center to speak to Dr. Bromwell about Aunt May. He starts to apologize to the Doc about not paying the bill but Bromwell interrupts him to remind him that "Medicaid will take care of most of it". This temporarily cheers Peter up until the Doc adds that he is worried about May's condition. "She's still weak" he says, "needs lots of care". May's latest bout with the reaper began when she found a web-dummy in Peter's bed (placed there by Pete when he snuck off to fight the Kangaroo, in ASM #81 February 1970) and passed out from the shock. Downcast once again, Pete leaves the Center knowing he should have a nest egg put away "in case Aunt May needs special care" and wondering why he's "such a washout when it comes to dough".
Back at the Schemer's joint, a thug in a purple trench coat brings in "one of the Kingpin's gunnies" to see the boss. The Schemer is sitting behind his desk; a thick semi-circular hunk of furniture that surrounds the crime boss and looks something like Rick Wakeman's keyboard. (As a matter of fact, the Schemer looks like he's wearing one of Rick Wakeman's outfits.) It has about a dozen red panels on it that look like the up/down buttons to summon an elevator. Above him is a large circular lamp that is bigger than the desk below it. The Schemer asks if the Kingpin's man is prepared to cooperate. "Sure" says the defecting goon, "The Kingpin ain't shown himself for months. He don't care about us so I ain't takin' no rap for him." The Schemer points to somewhere across the room (from the angle it looks like he's pointing to the wall high up on the right) and warns the goon not to pull any tricks. Not if he wants to go on breathing.
So, purple coat leads the defector away to a spot where he can spill all the secrets about the Kingpin. Meanwhile a second goon asks the Schemer where Spider-Man fits into all this. The Schemer declares Spidey to be "no more than an accidental nuisance". He is sure that Spidey won't dare to attack after the Kingpin is toppled.
At the airport, Pete, Gwen, Harry Osborn, and Mary Jane are seeing Flash Thompson off. Flash, currently in the army, has been on leave but is now scheduled to return to his unit. Pete shakes his hand while Gwen gives him a pat on the cheek. But MJ is a bit more rambunctious. She raises the stakes by dissing Gwen's send-off cheek pat and then putting her arms around Flash and giving him a big kiss. Gwen, rising to the challenge, takes Flash's hat off, hands it to MJ, asks Pete to look the other way, grabs Flash's head, and plants such a lollapalooza of a kiss on him that blue and white concentric rings reverberate in the background of the panel. A dazed and happy Flash retrieves his hat and heads for the airplane. "Just let me wave my arms, and I'll glide all the way back to Nam" he says. Pete puts his arm around Gwen and tries to stay cool about the whole thing. Still, he wonders what the point of that scene was. "I was doing my darnedest to get you jealous, man!" Gwen says. She succeeds. The green-eyed monster also bites Harry, who is currently dating MJ. "You acted like you enjoyed that," he says to MJ. "Waddaya mean acted?" MJ replies.
Flash's plane takes off. Pete, Harry, Gwen, and MJ stand out on the platform and wave at it. Harry is still thinking about Flash's send-off ("Boy, if you two kids were recruiting sergeants, there wouldn't be a civilian left in town" he says to Gwen and MJ) but Peter is deep in thought about the war in Vietnam ("Which is worse?" he wonders, "Staying behind while other guys are doing the fighting? Or fighting in a war that nobody wants against an enemy you don't even hate?") With Pete still pre-occupied by these questions, the foursome pile into Harry's convertible and head back to the city. MJ asks if Pete and Gwen would like to go see "Easy Rider" with Harry and her but they turn her down. "I want the lad all to my greedy little self tonight" says Gwen.
So, Pete and Gwen are dropped off and they walk the New York streets snug in each other's arms. Peter tells Gwen he is glad she didn't want to go to the film because "there's something I've been wanting to talk to you about". Of course, anytime Peter begins a sentence like that, you just know that it's never going to be completed. Even as Gwen says, "I'm listening away", Pete's spider-sense starts to tingle. Suddenly a speeding truck comes around the corner, gets sideswiped by a car and topples over on its side right onto the sidewalk and right onto Peter and Gwen! The truck's weight snaps off a nearby parking meter. Pete knocks Gwen to the ground to protect her and falls to his hands and knees where he holds the entire weight of the toppled truck on his back. In this way, he hopes to hold it off of Gwen until she can crawl away. But Gwen isn't going anywhere. Peter realizes that he must have pushed Gwen harder than he thought. She is flat-out unconscious and in need of a doctor.
The strain of the truck starts to get to Peter. Sweat springs out on his forehead. He knows that this is probably the end of his secret identity but he cannot delay. He must lift the truck with his bare hands in order to save Gwendy. Then he notices the broken-off parking meter just within reach. He grabs it and sets it up with its head against the sidewalk and it's pole supporting the truck. He slowly lets the meter bear the weight of the truck, careful to see that it can do so without snapping. Then, from under the truck, Pete spies the car that caused the sideswipe. It is backing up, fleeing the scene of the accident. Pete realizes that the sideswipe was intentional and he plans to learn why. He pulls a spider-tracer out and flicks in onto the side of the car.
Soon after, the authorities arrive on the scene. The police keep the crowds back while the paramedics put Gwen on a stretcher and load her into an ambulance. (Everyone is impressed with the luck that allowed the parking meter to hold up the truck. "The two of them wouldn't have had a chance without it," says one medic.) Pete climbs into the ambulance with them and goes along for the ride to the hospital. One of the medics tells him "She'll be all right, fella, just a case of shock and some bruises" and Pete eventually leaves the hospital since "all she needs is some rest and medication". This gives the angry young man a chance to hide in the bushes and change into his Spidey duds. He takes to the webs, planning to "search the city all night if I have to" in order to find his spider-tracer and make those responsible for the near-tragedy pay.
As he swings through the city, Spidey speculates that the attack may have been the work of the Schemer "trying to hi-jack another of the Kingpin's trucks". This is why "no crime can ever be ignored" he decides. There is "always someone who'll be hurt by it sooner or later and you never know when that somebody might be a person you love".
Eventually, Spidey makes his way to the warehouse district. He spies the sedan parked below at the same time as his spider-sense picks up the tracer. It follows that the driver is somewhere within the building. Spidey climbs the outside wall, peering into windows. Up on a high floor, he sees a secret headquarters. He recognizes some of the hoods as those he encountered in the first hi-jacking of a Kingpin truck. He has no trouble figuring out that "that creep in the cape must be the Schemer himself". He quickly concocts a plan to take them all by surprise. He creates a bolo out of webbing. As he perches by one window, he swings and throws his bolo, sending it crashing through a different window. The hoods all take notice and the Schemer reasons that only Spider-Man could be outside a window this high up. He orders his men over to the decoy window, which leaves the way clear for Spidey to crash through the other window.
Still, it doesn't seem to be much of a plan. The Schemer yells at his men to come back. They do and jump all over the web-slinger. Spidey grabs an orange-haired guy in a hammerlock around the throat (again with the orange!), karate chops the purple trench coat guy in the solar plexus, and manages to repel a goon wearing an eye patch, just as the orange trench coat guy comes up with a gun. Two other goons grab Spidey from behind, pinning his arms back. The Schemer gloats that "Not even Spider-Man can beat impossible odds" just before Spidey flips the two men over his shoulder, using them as weapons with which to smack some other guys. A blue-jacketed thug actually fires his gun at the web-slinger. But Spidey evades the shot by jumping up and clinging to the ceiling with his hands. He kicks out from that position and knocks the thug's gun from his grip. The web-slinger knows that "these guys are playing for keeps" but, because of what happened to Gwen, he vows, "this time, so am I!"
At this point, the previously overconfident Schemer decides to take matters into his own hands. He pulls out a fancy-looking pistol and fires at the web-swinger. He misses, as Spidey leaps away, but his shot comes close enough that the webhead decides to not give him another chance. Landing on the ground and falling backwards, Spidey shoots his webbing, snags the Schemer's gun and yanks it right out of his hand. Green trench coat steps up with his gun drawn but Spidey uses the Schemer's gun on the end of his web as a weapon. (Well, it is a weapon, of course. It's a gun. But Spidey swings it like a weight on the end of a chain, whacks Green Trench Coat in the ankles and knocks him to the ground.)
With all the goons sprawled out around him, Spidey turns to face the Schemer, who is sitting behind his desk. The wall-crawler notices strange suspicious-looking "openings" in the front of the desk. So he is prepared, when the Schemer presses one of his red "elevator buttons" and two guns fire out of the desk openings onto the spot where Spidey previously stood. (This weapon was apparently installed on the off-chance that an enemy would be facing the desk and standing in just the appropriate spot.) The web-slinger has already shot webbing onto the huge lamp above the Schemer's desk and pulled himself away. The gunshots do nothing more than wipe out a chair that got into the midst of the action.
Using his momentum, Spidey does a midair flip and lands right on top of the Schemer's desk. But the high-collared villain isn't done yet. He pulls a switch that is hidden behind a curtain and the giant lamp lowers down to catch Spidey between it and the desk. As the wall-crawler notes, "It's a huge hydraulic press and it's pinning me like a vise!" (This weapon was apparently installed on the off-change that an enemy would jump up on top of the desk.) But do you think the Schemer takes advantage of the trap to get away or, better yet, to shoot Spider-Man while he's pinned? No. He stays around to gloat!
And while the Schemer gloats, Spidey manages to twist around in the vise so he is lying on his back. Then he gets his arms up "like levers for maximum support like that parking meter under the truck". Once he's ready, the wall-crawler starts to push back. He isn't able to push the vise back but his "counter-pressure" is strong enough to crack the entire lamp into shards, exposing "all the intricate wires" and "the explosive devices" which, of course, blows the whole desk up. Spidey is thrown clear by the blast. The Schemer's men lie unconscious all around him but the Schemer has made good his escape.
Soon after, Spidey sits outside on the edge of a rooftop, holding his head. He is upset that the Schemer managed to get away but pleased that he "paid them back for Gwen". Just this mention reminds him that Gwen is in the hospital and possibly wondering where he is. He webslings back just as snow starts to fall. ("Another few minutes and my clothes would be soaked where I left them!" he thinks.) Hurriedly, Pete gets back into that orange turtleneck and enters the hospital minutes before visiting hours are over. Inside he runs into Gwen's father, Captain George Stacy. "She was asking about you, Peter," says George.
Pete enters the room to find Gwen awake and in tears. He tries to cheer her up with some lame humor but Gwen is not in the mood to banter with "my ever-loving boy friend who cares so much about me that he stayed away till now". Crankily, she asks her father to usher "Mr. Parker" out.
In the hallway, Pete wonders aloud how Gwen could think he doesn't care about her. A "liberated" George Stacy replies, "Most females tend to think with their emotions, Peter, and you know how spirited Gwen is." Not thinking, Peter comes back with, "I should be used to people never knowing the truth about me" but he has said this to the wrong person. Captain Stacy jumps on it right away. "The truth about you? I... I don't understand, Peter" he says, and Pete must come up with a lame response about wishing he could make Gwen see how he really feels about her before he can slip away on his own.
Outside, the snow is already piling up as Pete shivers inside his yellow jacket. "Is it the weather" he wonders that is making him feel so cold "or the fact that I feel my life is reaching a turning point and I'm afraid to guess how it may all turn out."
How does it all turn out with George and Gwen, Pete? It all turns out BAD. But not for a little while yet. Meanwhile, there's next issue with more of the Schemer and the Kingpin.
In the letter column, Paul Boring of Lawrence, Kansas wonders why Spidey has troubles with every bad guy he meets even though they are not of equal power. "For example, in X-Men #35, Spidey fought Cyclops, Beast, Angel, and Iceman to a standstill. Surely you don't consider the Kingpin or Vulture equal to these four mutants. In Spider-Man #4, he beats Sandman, yet he has a hard time with a young Silvermane (#75). I can think of other examples such as when he beats the Rhino (#41) or fights the Torch to a standstill (#21 and King-Size Special #4) yet he has trouble against someone like Man Mountain Marko." Randy Schuppener of Boca Raton, Florida is worried about the high price of back issues: "Though I have been a Marvelite for only a year and a half, I have bought all issues of Spidey including his origin except for your first issues which I expect to get shortly. It will cost me (hold your breath) twelve dollars, 100 times the original cost! Trying to collect issues of your superheroes can cost a bundle. FF #1 ranges from $15 to $20. DD, Avengers, and X-Men first issues average $3 to $6 and they are not so awfully old." I agree, Randy, it's an outrage. If I were you, I'd wait for the demand to decrease and the prices to go down.
Spidey doesn't cheer up too much over the next year of issues. He gets the flu (#86), reveals his secret identity to his friends only to weasel out of it later (#87) and witnesses the death of Captain Stacy (#90). This last event sets Gwen against Spider-Man (#91) and eventually results in her flight to England to stay with her Uncle (#93). Then the Green Goblin returns (#96) and Harry Osborn suffers a drug overdose (#97). So, when is the next really happy moment in Peter Parker's life? When Gwen returns from England and runs into his arms in ASM #98 (July 1971), more than a year after these Schemer and Kingpin events. (Enjoy it while you can, Pete! Less than two years later, she's dead!)
The story of the Kingpin and his son picks up about a year and a half later in the pages of Captain America and the Falcon. In issue #s 145-146 of his mag (January-February 1972), Cap battles the hordes of Hydra led by the Supreme Hydra and a mysterious man sitting at a console. In #147 (March 1972), he unmasks the new Supreme Hydra and reveals him to be Richard Fisk, the Kingpin's son. The man at the console is the Kingpin himself. In this story, it is revealed that Vanessa has the Kingpin taken away to an institution. Richard decides that his ignorance and naivety are to blame for his father's condition. This inspires him to crime as a career choice. He uses underground contacts to join Hydra and quickly rises through the ranks. After "nearly a year" he is Supreme Hydra and he becomes determined to cure his father who is still in a state of total shock at the institution. Richard sends his Hydra agents to abduct the Kingpin and take him to Hydra headquarters. There a special "hyper-shock-treatment" is used on the Kingpin. The Hydra men then bring the Kingpin home where he soon recovers. Richard also arranges for the Kingpin to become the head of Hydra but makes Vanessa promise that his father never know it is his son who has arranged all of this. By the end of the issue, the true head of Hydra is revealed to be the Red Skull who has duped the father and son team into helping him animate the Fifth Sleeper. The Kingpin and Richard join Cap, the Falcon, and SHIELD to defeat this menace and then fade into the woodwork. When the Kingpin finally returns to face Spidey in ASM #163-164 (December 1976-January 1977), he reveals that Richard was left "dying in my arms" after participating in the battle against the Sleeper. The Kingpin puts his son in "cryogenic suspended animation" until he can capture Spidey and steal the web-slinger's vitality to resurrect his son. Richard is cured, of course. Otherwise he wouldn't be around to take on the identity of the Rose. Some other time with that, okay?
And, yes, Captain Stacy has pretty much figured out that Peter is Spider-Man but then he goes and gets himself killed five issues later.
Part one of the trilogy starts out with a bang. The Schemer looks interesting (even with the ridiculous gizmos in his desk and overhead lamp) and the scene when Pete and Gwen get caught underneath the truck is classic Spidey-angst stuff. Let's give it an above average three and a half webs.