Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #231

Background

After taking on Juggernaut the last two issues, here Spider-man finds himself facing another set of other people's villains: Cobra and Hyde.

Story 'Caught In The Act...'

In a police evidence holding room, a noise has attracted the attention of two police guards. They investigate, finding nothing in the room. One comments to the other that they don't want to end up like the 12th Precint evidence room, which recently had five million in a Brinks truck robbery stolen. Closing the room back up, one guard says to the other that the 12th Precint robbery had to be an inside job. After they're gone, the Cobra turns the lights on, and finds what he was looking for: the jewels confiscated from a jewel thief ring bust. Cobra thinks to himself that despite the evidence room being the most guarded room in the police headquarters, it is in the basement: and basements have drains--he shimmies out through one the way he came in. Through a network of tunnels, Cobra finds his way back to his plush Central Park West penthouse. Stashing his loot, he muses how it's better that he works alone now, and not with his unstable former partner, Mr. Hyde.

Over at Peter Parker's Chelsea apartment, he's busy making two new Spider-man outfits. Finishing, he suits up and goes for a web-swing. Over at the construction site where Spidey had just fought Juggernaut (in the classic ASM #229 and ASM #230), a shadowy figure emerges swearing "revenge..on that little nuisance", and we are meant to infer this is Juggernaut.

Later, Jonah is sitting in his office with Marla Madison, who is expressing reservations over a story JJJ is about to pursue. Ned Leeds comes in, and is introduced to Marla, who already knows her bonafides as "the nation's leading electro-biologist". Leeds says Jonah wants him to investigate the Brand Corp, but hasn't told him why. JJJ relates the events of Spectacular Spider-man #57, where Marla was abducted by the villain Killer Shrike, who Jonah thinks was hired by Brand. Ned says he's about to meet with a contact with info on Brand. Marla says she's coming with him. JJJ protests saying it's too dangerous, but Marla stays firm and Jonah caves. Ned thinks to himself that the rumors must be true, that Jonah must have quite the thing for Dr. Madison.

Ned stops to talk to his wife Betty Brant on his way out. They are going through marriage counseling. Ned leaves his notebook behind, with a note about meeting a certain Nose Norton at Maxie's Bar on 11th Ave. Being that it's in a rough part of town, Betty thinks Ned might be in danger and that she has to get help. She calls over to ESU, getting Deb Whitman on the phone, who transfers the call to the lab Peter is working in. Betty explains the situation, and Peter says Ned is a big boy who can take care of himself. Just the same, Peter finishes an experiment he's working on and changes into Spider-man to follow Leeds and Marla to the meeting.

At Maxie's, Ned and Marla find Nose Norton sitting at a booth by himself. After some cash is handed under the table, the trio go outside to talk in private. A patron comes in, thinking he has to wear a fake beard as the police know what "Cobra looks like without his mask", and he's also there to see Nose Norton. Seeing them go out the back, Cobra recognizes Leeds and thinks Norton is selling Cobra out.

The shadowy figure from earlier is rumbling through the alleys, thinking if he trashes a few bars in the area, "he" may turn up. Also, Spider-man is swinging overhead, trying to find the bar, when his spider-sense starts going off. In the alley, Cobra drops down on Norton from overhead, accusing Norton of talking to reporters about him. Spider-man then drops in, and pulls Cobra off of Norton. He tells Leeds to get out of there before something happens. Cobra loosens up enough to throw two gas pellets at Ned and Marla, and Spider-man jumps over and swipes them out of their way.

Cobra tries to slither away on the walls, but Spider-man webs both sides of the alley shut. Cobra says "a Cobra is deadliest when cornered". He fakes Spider-man out and fires two venom darts at Norton, which Ned jumps in front of. Spidey thinks Ned is a goner, but the darts hit Ned's tape recorder.

Cobra and Spider-man tangle in and outside of the bar for awhile. Spidey manages to subdue Cobra, knocking him cold with a punch. He's about to take him to police headquarters, while in midair, a corner of building is thrown at them, knocking Spidey off balance. They land on a rooftop, where Spider-man and Cobra meet the shadowy figure from earlier--Mr. Hyde, who says Spider-man should hand over Cobra to him, and he might let Spidey live.

General Comments

If there's one thing that Roger Stern did very well in his Spider-man stories (and there was a lot more than one thing), it's his way of getting all the characters in place in a manner that doesn't feel overly forced or contrived. Stern deftly utilizes the supporting cast, so that we get Jonah, Marla, Ned, Betty, Deb Whitman and Peter's lab partner Hochberg in a way where everyone just about gets a fair amount of face time. There is great attention to detail here in the story, and it seems like Stern thought it all through very nicely. I really like the idea of Cobra robbing police station evidence rooms because it's low-risk and he can squeeze in through their drains.

As for the villains here, they are more offbeat, non-standard choices that work very well--Cobra and Hyde. Cobra, with his serpentine power set, is a nice visual analogue to Spider-man.

John Romita Jr's artwork is fantastic here. There is a great atmosphere to this issue, and he brings alive the seediness of the dockside bar setting very well. The last splash page reveal of Hyde is very effective. I wonder if anyone was actually faked out by that reveal back then, with this story coming as it did right on the heels of the Juggernaut story.

Overall Rating

Does everything right as a setup issue for the next part, and still manages to be a very entertaining read, and is up to the very high standard that Stern / Romita Jr. set on this book for themselves.