We pick up with the second part of our classic Looking Back featuring the Rocket Racer. The first half was in Amazing Spider-Man #182.
|Cover Art:||Ross Andru|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #8|
Marv Wolfman and Ross Andru are back as writer and artist for part two but there is a distinctly different look to the book. Spidey and his world have a darker, grittier, moodier look. There is more texture to the artwork. Credit goes to inker Bob McLeod taking over from Mike Esposito and doing a heck of a job!
A splash page caption asks, "Can a brown-haired, brown-eyed career neurotic make it through his last days of college without having the whole world crash in on him?" (Is it now definitive that Peter has brown eyes? Has any character called him "blue eyes" lately?) And speaking of college, Spidey is perched outside an empty classroom at Empire State University, looking for a good place to change clothes. He climbs in the window and gets overwhelmed by his thoughts. He is expecting to graduate in "a few short months" and is waiting for an answer from "Madcap Mary Jane" about his marriage proposal. Pete is so entangled in these thoughts that class time arrives and he's still in his Spidey duds. But by the time Flash Thompson and others enter the class, the lightning-fast Peter Parker is sitting in his seat.
At the same time, in Brooklyn, Jackson Weele enters a Fix-It shop and tells the balding, visored, bespectacled man behind the counter that "I've got a radio that just can't carry a tune." A password to usher him into "the lair of the Terrible Tinkerer". The repairman (who is the Tinkerer, of course) leads him into the back of the shop and downstairs all the while sounding him out. Does he want to pay cash or a percentage of his profits? (Weele's answer of "cash" because he's only planning to use the device once, lets the Tinkerer know that the goal is vengeance not a crime spree.) Who is the intended victim? Weele tells him it is another of his clients...the Rocket Racer. "I'm sick of his taunting laugh", Weele says, "Calling me the Big Wheel". This last comment gives the Tinkerer an idea for a design. It is a modification of something he has been working on anyway so it can be ready that very same day. Weele passes him a passel of cash and departs. The Tinkerer opens a large wooden crate. Inside is his assistant Toy (is Toy a robot? Did I miss something somewhere?) ready to go to work on his boss' new project. (I sure hope Weele paid the Tinkerer more than he's getting from the percentage of the Rocket Racer's profits, otherwise he's cutting into his very own business.)
And at Newhope Memorial Hospital, Dr. Tompkins is impressed with the progress of May Parker. Meanwhile, May's roommate, Mrs. Emma Johnson has a visitor; her son Robert who is, in reality, the Rocket Racer. (So, at least in this story, the Racer's real name appears to be "Robert Johnson" but it is later established by Bill Mantlo in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #104, July 1985, to be "Robert Farrell". We'll call him "Robert".) Robert's mom tells her son to give up his criminal ways. "I don't want to see you in jail ever again", she says, but he won't comply as long as hospital bills have to be paid. An exiting Dr. Tompkins runs into Pete in the hallway. He decides to rag on "May Parker's semi-attentive nephew" for having shown up five minutes before visiting hours end. "Your Aunt's a very sick woman, Parker", he says, "and for some reason I can't fathom, she thinks of you as her knight in shining armor. The least you can do is show up here every so often." (Part of what makes Peter a hero is that he's willing to take guff from guys like this when he could be webbing them up on the ceiling by their ears.)
When Pete reaches May's door, his spider-sense does a four-alarm so he enters the room in his Spidey-suit instead. A panicked Aunt May cries out, "Oh my! It's that vicious Spider-Man! My chest! My chest!" (Does May know Pete is Spider-Man? Not yet, gang, not yet!), then Spidey panics because he has caused a commotion in what seems to be a perfectly normal room. But before he can excuse himself and exit, Robert picks up a chair and brains him with it.
Spidey tosses Robert out into the hall where he gets a chance to tell two cops that the room is being attacked by Spider-Man. The cops jump on Spidey and Robert takes advantage of the distraction by ducking into a utility room and changing into the Rocket Racer. ("Fortunately, I always wear my suit under my regular duds", he says. But where does he keep that skateboard?)
By the time the Racer has entered the room, Spidey has webbed the cops to the ceiling; rather a drastic solution considering May's panic attack and Pete's awareness that, "if she dies because of this, Spider-Man will have become a murderer".
The Racer attacks, with Spidey still not getting that his opponent and the guy in the room were the same person. (Does that visor and earmuff contraption really make him look so different?) So, while Pete decides to lure the Racer outside to spare May a further attack, Robert decides to lure Spidey outside to spare his mother a possible attack. In a flurry of webbing and action, the Racer plummets out the window, shattering glass. "Now, it's safe city," the Racer thinks but Spidey, thinking he has caused the plunge fears that he has sent Robert plunging to his death. (Spidey's a bit slow today, don't you think?)
As the Web-Slinger swings out to try to save his opponent, the Racer's skateboard zips out the window and down the wall past him. Spidey can't see how the board can save its owner but the radio-controlled device uses a cornice stone to leap out into space, allowing the Racer to stand on it in mid-air. He then angles his fall just right to skim off some cars and hit the road in full flight. Quickly, Spidey leaps down and knocks the Racer off his board. While both struggle to rise, Robert gets a bead on Peter with his "micro-rockets". Spidey has no time to move but can just pick up the green Volkswagen parked right next to him, (The Volkswagen's licence plate number is "XII 38". That has got to be the ultimate Spidey trivia of all time.) and holds it up as a shield. Even so, the power of the rockets crush him against the wall and the Rocket Racer moves in for the kill. Except that he is interrupted by Jackson Weele, "the Big Wheel" in (don't laugh) a Big Wheel! (It looks like a ferris wheel rolling on the ground with two robot arms and lots and lots of artillery. Weele himself is stabilized in the middle, wearing a green battle suit that makes him look like Speed Racer.)
The Big Wheel fires his guns at the Rocket Racer who abandons Spidey and hops on his skateboard. He dodges cars in a crowded parking lot to escape Weele but the Big Wheel follows by just rolling over and crushing the cars. The Racer hurries around a corner and ambushes Weele with his micro-rockets, but they explode ineffectually on the Wheel's outer shell. Again, Robert gets on his board ("Eat my dust, sweetums.") and jets away.
Meanwhile, Spidey has recovered and follows the path of crushed cars to the scene. He arrives in time to see the Racer riding up the side of a waterfront warehouse with the Big Wheel right behind. Spidey intercepts Robert on the roof, using his webbing to pull his opponent off his skateboard, and webs him thoroughly up. But what he doesn't count on is the Big Wheel's ability to ride up walls as well. By the time Spidey notices the Wheel barrelling down on the Racer and him, it looks like Robert is right when he yells, "You've doomed us both!" But Spidey uses his speed to pull the Rocket Racer out of the way and the Big Wheel cannot stop in time. (See Jonathan's entry on the Big Wheel in his List of Ten Worst Villains and his comment on brakes.) Weele goes flying off the roof into the river where his Big Wheel sinks like a rock. His (almost) last words are, "Why didn't I take the time to perfect my control over it?"
Spidey dives into the river to save him but can't see a thing in the muck and mire. He surfaces to discover the Racer has also escaped. Then he remembers he left Aunt May clutching her chest in her hospital room.
When Pete gets back to the hospital he finds May's bed empty. Dr. Tompkins intercepts him, tells Pete they moved his Aunt to the Critical Ward after this latest attack, and says, "So you're back, Parker. How nice of you to spare the time!" and "She can't have visitors, which should make such an attentive nephew like you very happy". (And Pete still doesn't deck this guy.)
Devastated that he has caused May's attack, Pete begins to leave, only to be buttonholed by Mary Jane. Parker says, "Please tell me something to cheer about." but instead MJ gives him back his engagement ring. "C'mon, Tiger," she says, "y'know good ol' MJ is too free a spirit to tie herself down to any one swinger, even to a brown-eyed hunk like you. There's a world of groovy guys out there and this doll's gotta be free to find 'em." She gives him a peck on the cheek and breezes away. Pete heads home, shaken and tired, but his day isn't over just yet. He opens the door to his apartment and a voice from inside says, "Peter Parker? I've been waiting for you!" Pete says, "You! I never suspected you of all people!" and that, friends and neighbors, is that!
In the letters page, Annie Gould of Etobicoke, Ontario postulates that, "the Green Goblin is a disembodied evil entity from another dimension who takes over individuals when their natural defenses have been lowered." (Kind of an interesting take on the character, don't you think?) and there is yet another letter from Commander Quotey (and His Lost Marvel Madmen)! Yoo hoo, Mrs. Quotey, can Commander come out and play?
(Oh, and at the start of ASM #184, the mystery visitor is revealed to be Betty Brant. This is a big surprise to Pete ("I never suspected you of all people!") because Betty is supposed to be in Paris with Ned at this time. She is back in New York because she has left her husband, beginning the "Betty wants to divorce Ned Leeds and get friendly with Pete" storyline that ran for about ten issues. There! You didn't think I was going to leave you hanging on that one, did you?)