The Titania in question is not even the first Marvel character to bear the name. The original was a member of the Grapplers, a group of female wrestlers first seen in Marvel Two-In-One #54 (August 1979). Also consisting of Letha, Poundcakes, and Screaming Mimi, the Grapplers were obviously inspired by Jack Kirby's Big Barda and the Female Furies, a fact made even more apparent when Thundra joined the group, assuming the Barda role. Titania was a big brunette in a one-piece black bathing suit with big red buttons and she must not have been much of a success because five years later her name was given to someone else.
Our Titania first appeared in Marvel Super-Heroes Secret Wars #3 (July 1984) in a vague and incomplete origin that is typical of that mini-series. The story (once pieced all together) is that Titania is Mary "Skeeter" MacPherran, a short and scrawny girl from a suburb of Denver. This suburb is one of the pieces of Earth that is spirited away to "Battleworld" along with most of the world's heroes and villains by the mysterious Beyonder. On Battleworld, Dr. Doom plucks Skeeter from the millions of people transplanted to the planet and uses her as a subject in an experiment with the alien technology that is lying around. By the time Doom is done, Skeeter has grown a foot and a half taller and becomes incredibly strong... and incredibly built. (Doom turns Marsha Rosenberg into Volcana at the same time but enough about that.) How Doom knew he was picking one of the nastiest little numbers that ever came out of Colorado, I don't know but the new Titania immediately gets into the swing of things. She starts wearing a costume that shows off lots of thigh and cleavage, then immediately starts picking fights and smashes anything she can get her hands on. With a little help, she beats the snot out of the She-Hulk (MSHSW #7, November 1984) but she can't cope with the speed of Spider- Man when they meet up one on one and, in spite of her vast strength, he defeats her (MSHSW #8, December 1984). This loss brings out all of her previous feelings of weakness and insecurity. Eventually she gets romantically involved with, of all people, the Absorbing Man (who has been around since Journey Into Mystery #114, May 1965 where he fought Thor after gaining his powers from Loki) but she still can't shake her fear of the web-slinger. Which brings us to this month's spotlighted issue.
Yes, it's the Absorbing Man and Titania taking on the web-slinger. A cover blurb entitled, "Truth in Advertising Dept." declares, "If we tried to show you the awesome spectacle that comes next, the comics code wouldn't approve this mag!" Why? I have no idea! Maybe it has something to do with the Absorbing Man lifting an airplane full of people. Let's get underway.
Our story begins with an unshaven Flash Thompson clutching at his trench coat as he hides behind a dumpster in a Manhattan alleyway. Flash is on the lam because he was set-up by the Hobgoblin (actually, the Ned Leeds version of the Hobgoblin) to be unmasked by Spider-Man in a Hobgoblin costume in ASM #276 (May 1986). He is sent to prison as the Hobgoblin and is nearly killed by the Scourge of the Underworld there (in ASM #278, July 1986). Freed by the original Jack O'Lantern in ASM #281 (October 1986), poor Flash doesn't know where to turn. None of this has anything to do with the story at hand but since it's in here, we may as well cover it.
Flash is hiding behind the dumpster because he is afraid someone will recognize him. He is certain that Spider-Man is the only person who can help him but he doesn't know how to contact the web-slinger. On top of this, he fears that even Spidey may believe that he is actually the Hobgoblin. He's got to go out looking for Spidey but he dare not show his face in public. Faced with this dilemma, Flash flashes back to his High School football days. He remembers his coach telling him, "You got to face your fears... Face 'em, and crush 'em before they crush you". Grimly, he decides that he has wasted enough time hiding in this alley. He recalls that "Spidey knows I've always been his biggest fan! He won't let me down!" Convincing himself that Spider-Man will make everything right for him, Flash starts to step out from behind the dumpster. But just then a siren-wailing police car drives by and all of Flash's resolve evaporates. He falls to the ground and cowers behind the dumpster, terrified that he will be found and put in prison once again.
Elsewhere in the city, Spider-Man (wearing his black costume) swings around looking for some sign of Flash. He is feeling particularly down these days. He has just failed to protect Alex Woolcot, a young boy with incineration powers from being killed by S.H.I.E.L.D. in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #118 (September 1986) and he is convinced that he can no longer cut it as Spider-Man. (It is later revealed in The Incredible Hulk #339, January 1988 that Alex is not dead after all but nobody bothers to tell Spidey.) As usual, these kinds of thoughts get Peter thinking that he should quit being Spider-Man but he can't bring himself to retire as long as Flash is in trouble. So, he keeps looking. At that moment, a police car speeds by with its siren going. (Maybe even the same car that scared Flash back into the alley again.) Spidey decides to hitch a ride on the roof to see if this emergency has anything to do with Flash. He checks his camera, in case any photo ops present themselves. Then the squad car arrives at its destination and Spidey sees that it has nothing to do with Flash after all.
Spidey's ride joins two other police cars that are parked across the street from Gino's Fine Jewelry store. Another squad car is half lifted off the ground and shoved into Gino's front plate glass window. This is all being done by Titania, "the world's strongest woman" (according to the Absorbing Man on the cover), who has a handbag full of gems strapped over her left shoulder while she holds the smashed car up in the air with her right hand. An unconscious cop hangs out of the front door on the driver's side. Another cop lies still in the street.
As soon as Spidey sees the cause of the disturbance, it shakes him up. "I never wanted to run into her again!" he thinks. He clearly remembers how Titania "almost pounded the She-Hulk to death with her bare hands" and he has also thought that he won his battle with her by "dumb luck". He wants no part of "a living powerhouse like her-not now-or ever again". All he wants to do is find Flash and hang up the webs. But he has that old "power and responsibility" thing and he can't just leave the cops in such a predicament. So, he leaps into action.
Little does Spidey know that Titania feels the same way about him. She has lifted the squad car completely off the ground as if to throw it but when she sees Spider-Man, she drops it and runs. She is completely unnerved by the sight of the web-slinger. "He's the only one who ever managed to flatten me," she thinks. She is sure that, if she fought him again, "I'd only lose".
Spidey swings after her. Titania is so full of doubts and self-recriminations right now that she is ripe for the beating ("What's wrong with me? Why didn't I listen to Crusher when he told me to keep out of trouble?"). But the wall- crawler makes the mistake of making fun of Crusher Creel, the Absorbing Man ("Say, whatever did happen to that big, ugly galoot you used to pal with?") and this infuriates Titania enough so that she stops, picks up a green mini-van in one hand and throws it at him! (Spidey happens to be right. Crusher Creel is a "big ugly galoot" but there's no accounting for love.) Spidey dodges out of the way but the van smashes, grill first, right through the wall of a nearby building, fifteen floors up! The wall-crawler is forced to stop and web the van into place so that it doesn't fall onto the street. He doesn't have a clue how the authorities will "get it back to ground level" (and we never find out) but they'd better hurry up because they only have one hour. In the meantime, Titania runs and hides in an alley. (Where she bumps into Flash Thompson! No, sorry, wrong alley.)
Not only does Spidey web the van into place, he also stops to take pictures of it for the Bugle. By the time he gets web-slinging again, Titania is lost to sight. Still, Spidey is certain he can follow. After all, she has left a trail of rubble and big holes through buildings.
In the alley, Titania pulls her civilian clothes out of her shoulder bag and puts them on over her skimpy costume. She exits the alley just as the police drive by but the cops don't give her a second look. They are in search of a six and a half foot tall blonde woman but with her blue pants and green jacket, with her hair tucked up into a purple hat, she can pass for a man. (If you don't look too closely, that is. Did I mention that incredible build?) She hails a cab and thinks she has gotten away scot-free but a disguise can't fool the ol' spider-sense of the web-slinger. Spidey is perched on the roof of the building across the street and he spots Titania. He decides to follow "and see where she's headed".
The cab eventually pulls up at a building with a red awning and a doorman and Spidey is impressed. It is the Saint Lauren Summit, "one of the fanciest hotels in the city". Titania has "really moved up in the world". Soon after, Titania arrives at the room she is sharing with the Absorbing Man (it's a very large space with couches and a coat rack and a big honkin' plant in the corner). Crusher is not pleased that Skeeter has snuck out. She jumps into his arms and gives him a big kiss but this does not distract him from the subject. He wants to know where she's been and he sticks his hand right into her handbag to see what she is hiding there. Since he has the power to "absorb the properties of any substance he comes in contact with", Crusher soon turns into a man-sized diamond. That how he knows that his ladylove has "knocked over another jewelry store". Titania lies, telling him that "it went off without a hitch" but Crusher doesn't care about that. The couple has recently joined Baron Zemo's Masters of Evil and he doesn't want anything messing that up.
While the conversation continues, Spider-Man uses his spider-sense to locate the room. He arrives outside just in time to hear Crusher tell Skeeter that "A two-bit heist like [she pulled] could'a really screwed up our big job at LaGuardia airport tonight". Once Spidey sees that the Absorbing Man is with Titania, he decides that this is more than he can handle. He web-swings away to notify the Avengers. But Creel sees Spidey leave and this forces a contrite Titania to admit that the heist didn't go as smoothly as she claimed.
Over at the 23rd Precinct, Captain Kris Keating (who I thought never made it any higher than Lieutenant) is pounding a map on the wall in frustration. He is briefing a roomful of cops and he tells them "I don't care if you have to search every building in this blasted city, I want Flash Thompson found!" The meeting breaks up and one cop tells another that he's "never seen Captain Keating get so worked up". The other cop replies, "Yeah, he really seems to have a thing for this Thompson kid. It's almost like he had a personal stake in this case." Once the cops are gone, Keating glowers and then puts on his coat. "Those stupid fools" he thinks, "They'll never understand how much this case means to me! Never!!" And I'm not sure what this case means to him either but I do know that this man is not Kris Keating. By this time, the real Keating is dead, murdered by the Foreigner. This Keating is an imposter, an agent in the Foreigner's employ.
Having changed into his civvies, Peter Parker tracks down a "functioning public phone" and calls the Avengers hotline. He leaves a message, relaying the news that Crusher and Skeeter are staying at the Saint Lauren. Then, figuring it is no longer his problem, he takes his film over to the Daily Bugle. City Editor Kate Cushing agrees to buy the pictures of the van stuck in the wall but she criticizes Pete's technique, telling him she wishes he'd "improve the way you compose a picture" and that a "real pro can tell a complete story with a single picture". Peter, who has no excuse this time since he had the camera in hand instead of hanging from a web somewhere, promises to "keep that in mind". As he walks away, he laments that he must deal with Cushing instead of directly with J. Jonah Jameson as he used to. Jonah "didn't care how a picture looked, as long as it had plenty of action" he thinks. Pete is so lost in thought that he almost walks right by Betty Brant who is glumly getting a drink from the water cooler. He is so struck by her obvious unhappiness that he puts a hand on her shoulder and asks her "what's got you down?" He is answered by a mocking voice behind him. It is Betty's husband Ned Leeds looking particularly nasty. Ned starts to taunt Betty with the knowledge that she was "secretly seeing Flash Thompson before he was arrested". Betty turns her head away as if slapped. Peter suddenly notices that his spider-sense is tingling. Ned doesn't ease up. He tells Betty "I hope the cops find her fugitive boyfriend and blow him away". This irks Pete who steps in between the married couple. He reminds Ned that "Flash is my friend too" but Ned only grits his teeth and tells Peter to "butt out". Now the two men are face to face. "I suppose you think it's all right for a wife to cheat on her husband" Ned says. "No" Peter replies, "but I won't let you hurt her, either". Just then, Robbie Robertson steps between the two men and tells them to "start acting like responsible adults or take it outside". Ned turns to leave, promising Pete that "You haven't heard the last of this, Parker." Off in a corner, Lance Bannon asks Robbie "Why'd you stop 'em? They were just getting interesting!" Robbie tells Lane to shut up. Pete can't figure out why Ned has become "such a hot-head" and his spider-sense starts tingling again. Which reminds me that there was an interesting discussion on the Spider-Girl message board recently involving Tom DeFalco. Tom claimed that he had no intention of making Ned Leeds the Hobgoblin but was just making it look that way. Peter David is the one who eventually outted Ned as Hobby. He has been quoted as saying that he was forced to finger Ned since Tom made the case against him airtight. I have no reason to doubt Tom's word but I would have loved to see how he was going to clear Ned's name because scenes like this sure make it seem increasingly difficult to do.
Meanwhile, the Wasp has arrived at the Saint Lauren Summit. An aging concierge named Mr. Hobson lets her into a room only to find it vacant. Mr. Hobson informs her "the couple that was here checked out rather unexpectedly without a forwarding address". Hobson wonders what the Wasp would have done all alone if Titania and the Absorbing were still there. (Apparently there was some trouble in the Avengers mag that prevented the whole team from following up Spidey's lead but I'm not going to bother with it here.) The Wasp shrinks down to insect-size, tells Hobson she is sorry to have bothered him and flies away.
Across town, Crusher and Skeeter have checked into a dump of a hotel. Skeeter feels that she's being "a big baby" but she didn't feel safe in the other hotel with Spider-Man in the area. When Crusher tells her that she shouldn't let Spidey "rattle ya" she tells him that he doesn't understand. She reminds Crusher that she wasn't always the world's strongest woman. Once she was so scrawny that she'd "have to gain weight to become a ninety-seven pound weakling" (and she's apparently so unnerved that she gets her own name wrong, referring to herself as "Skettar MacPherran"). She mentions that Dr. Doom gave her "more power than I ever believed possible" but that it still "wasn't enough to beat Spider-Man". It didn't matter that she was stronger than the wall- crawler. She "couldn't lay a hand on him".
In her despair, Skeeter has turned her back on Crusher. Now he puts a reassuring hand on her shoulder and tells her to forget it. "Everyone gets trashed on occasion!" he says, "Even me!" adding, "That's why we joined a big league gang like the Masters of Evil, to help push the odds in our favor!" Skeeter turns and falls into Creel's arms. As they nuzzle, she asks, "I'll bet you could beat Spider-Man all by yourself, Crusher! Couldn't you?" Crusher agrees that he probably could. This gets Skeeter thinking. Someone is going to have to kill Spider-Man for her. Maybe her boyfriend is just the guy to do it.
Over at the Kingsley Ltd. Building (another fancy Upper East Side establishment with a yellow awning and a doorman in a red uniform), Peter Parker is looking a little bit lost. A beautiful redhead wearing a pink bikini, unbuttoned red blouse, and heels asks if she can direct him somewhere. He tells her that he is looking for "one of the models-Mary Jane Watson". The redhead tells him that MJ is "still rehearsing for tomorrow's runway show" and she gives him directions to the rehearsal room. (As Pete leaves, she thinks, "He's cute though not as flashy as MJ's usual!") As Pete walks down the corridor, he is glad that Mary Jane has agreed to see him for dinner. (This is still before their marriage, of course.) But he gets momentarily distracted by his spider- sense which tingles as he walks past a closed door. Before he can do any investigating, MJ shows up and tells him they must hurry and eat because she is "due back at rehearsal in forty minutes". Pete is still curious about the closed door. He knows he could tell MJ he wants to investigate since she knows that he is Spider-Man but their relationship has been "awfully tense" lately and he's sure "she'd freak if I did anything now". So, he forgets about it and heads out to dinner with his date.
But inside that room, things are cooking. The Hobgoblin is in there with someone who Tom DeFalco probably intended to be Roderick Kingsley but who has probably been retconned into twin brother Daniel Kingsley since Roger Stern established that Roderick himself was the Hobgoblin. Except that in this case, the Hobgoblin is likely the mesmerized Ned Leeds so this "Kingsley" could actually be either Daniel or Roderick getting off on letting Ned get into the role. (Man, this Hobgoblin stuff is confusing!) Anyway, the Hobgoblin is demanding the new weapon that Kingsley has promised him. Kingsley tells him that he's "been working as fast as I can but it isn't finished". He has, however, "managed to assemble another batch of grenades" which he has in a cardboard box and which he holds out to the Hobgoblin. But Hobby yells out "Bah!" and knocks the box away with the back of his hand. As Kingsley gets on his knees and puts the pumpkin bombs back in the box, the Hobgoblin rants at him. "What good are mere grenades against a powerful foe like Spider-Man?" he asks, "He must be crushed! Totally humiliated! And for that I need a deadly, new weapon!" Shaken, Kingsley promises not to fail him. As the Hobgoblin leaves, Kingsley thinks about how the defeats Hobby has suffered at Spider- Man's hands are making him more violent and obsessed. "I'd better take some special precautions to make certain he never turns that anger against me." (I love the idea of this being Roderick Kingsley deciding to take care of Ned before he becomes too much of the Hobgoblin but I'm afraid, in the wake of Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives #1-3, January-March 1997, we have to say that this is Daniel Kingsley. But the Hobgoblin here is... who? Ned, though Daniel thinks it's Roderick? Or is it Roderick? And what "special precautions" did Daniel take, if any? You know, I'd really love to pursue all this but, instead, let's get back to Peter and MJ, okay?)
They are in a diner two blocks away, speaking in whispers about Peter's other life. MJ can't believe that Pete actually called the Avengers instead of jumping in himself. Pete tells MJ that this is further proof that he is giving up web slinging, "just as soon as I clear Flash Thompson and find the real Hobgoblin". Mary Jane thinks that is "wonderful" but Pete just feels like he's "copping out". MJ reminds him that "no one appointed you this city's guardian angel" and thinks, "it's high time you got around to living your own life". Pete, avoiding her gaze, his hands wrapped around a coffee cup, wishes "I could be sure I'm doing the right thing". MJ puts her hands over Pete's hands over the coffee cup and assures him that he is. The touch of her hands brings Pete's gaze up to MJ's eyes and they have a poignant moment. Then, Peter stands and tells MJ that he has to be getting back to work. (What work?) As they pay at the cashier, Pete overhears a radio report of "a major disturbance this afternoon at Avengers Mansion" (and I'm still not going to look that up, I don't care how many times Tom mentions it!) and wonders if the Avengers ever got his message about Crusher and Titania.
MJ goes back to her rehearsal as Peter dons his black costume and takes to his webs. While webslinging, he wonders why he feels "so awkward whenever I'm alone with Mary Jane". Then he wonders if Titania and the Absorbing Man are still on the loose. Then he remembers that he never told the Avengers that he "overheard them planning some big job at LaGuardia Airport tonight". ("What a jerk!" he thinks of himself.) He decides he'd better check it out for himself.
The job at LaGuardia is simple enough. Crusher and Skeeter are in chauffeurs' uniforms and are standing beside a black limousine waiting at the Arrivals area. They are to pick up a new recruit for the Masters of Evil just as soon as he clears customs. Spidey, meanwhile, has made his way to the airport. He travels by leaping from one car roof to another until he gets to the airport terminal. He still doesn't think any of this is his problem and he promises himself to call "the Avengers at the first sign of trouble". But Titania sees him arrive and decides to confront the issue head on. Calmly, she tells Crusher that she is going "to the little girl's room". Seconds later, the web- slinger's spider-sense starts tingling and he just barely has time to duck out of the way of a hurtling automobile. He looks down into the parking lot and sees Titania in her chauffeur's uniform (minus the jacket and cap) lifting a red car in preparation for throwing that one, too. Crusher Creel can't believe what he's seeing. By striking out at Spider-Man, Titania has "completely blown our mission". The police and airport security will be converging on them any minute. Their cover is gone. They don't dare pick up the new recruit now.
There's no longer a need for a disguise so Crusher strips down to the waist and pulls out his ball-and-chain weapon that he has brought along (I kid you not) in the trunk of the car. Somehow, in the meantime, Titania has switched from lifting the red car to lifting a lamppost but Spidey is still too fast for her. He dodges everything and gets in a sock on her jaw, which causes her to drop the post onto the red car. Titania starts to panic immediately. "Crusher, help me! Please!" she cries out, "He's killing me!"
The Absorbing Man answers the call. He has assumed the metallic qualities of his ball-and-chain and he brings down a shiny metal fist on the spot that Spider-Man occupied seconds before. The blow ends up smashing the car (which has changed color from red to purple) into two. Spidey is not ready to take on both the Absorbing Man and Titania. He decides to retreat so he can come up with a plan. And so, he runs into the terminal and perches on the ceiling, which turns out to be a bad move. Crusher Creel doesn't care if he has to kill innocent bystanders in order to get the web-slinger. He lifts up a big green trailer and throws it right through the plate glass of the terminal. There are at least nine people endangered by this move. Spidey knows that his webbing isn't strong enough to stop the trailer but he hopes he can use it to divert the trailer's momentum away from the crowd. He snags it with his webbing and, well, I guess his webbing is strong enough after all because it looks to me as if he just attaches it to the ceiling and leaves it there. Now Crusher enters the terminal and yells at Spidey to "Come back, you snivelin' coward!" He wants to "finish this right here". But the webster web-slings away. He, too, is ready to finish it but he intends to pick a spot "far away from any innocent bystanders".
Meanwhile, a 747 lands. One of the exiting passengers wears a green trench coat with the collar turned up and a brown hat with the brim turned down. All we can see are his eyes and his very sharp teeth. He notes that "this terminal looks like its been through a war" which reminds him of home. He only waits briefly for the two who are supposed to take him to the Masters of Evil. He doesn't really care if he joins the group. He only needed them to smuggle him into the country, anyway. Now that he's here, he needs "little save the thrill of combat and the glorious taste of fresh blood". "His teeth gleaming like sharpened daggers" Tom tells us, "this stranger will one day threaten the very life of Spider-Man." The only trouble is that Tom got himself fired off Amazing Spider-Man, which is a whole other story, and this is his last scripted issue. So, this mysterious villain is never mentioned again, right? Wrong. Tom reveals him to be the Mongoose in Thor #391, May 1988 and guest-stars Spider-Man in the process. He even has the Mongoose on the verge of tearing Spidey's throat out with his teeth (before the webhead is rescued by Thor) to assure that his comment about the stranger threatening "the very life of Spider-Man" comes true. Well done, Tom! (But he also has the Mongoose thinking, "The fool doesn't realize that our paths crossed once before!" when encountering the web-slinger in Thor. I suppose that could be true... if you consider being in the airport at the same time "crossed paths".)
In the meantime, Spider-Man has lured the Absorbing Man out to the runway. Crusher has taken on the "texture of the runway itself" but it doesn't do him much good. Out in the open, Spider-Man is free to leap and dodge and flip and punch and the Absorbing Man can't lay a finger on him. Spidey hurts his fists against Creel's tough hide but his persistent attacks start to have an effect. Crusher begins to falter, weaken, and finally falls to the ground in a heap, back in flesh-and-blood form. Spidey, however, is suspicious. This victory was almost too easy.
Titania has joined them on the runway and has seen the whole thing. She is shocked. "Nobody can beat Spider-Man!" she thinks, "Not even Crusher!" Her first thought is to run and hide before the web-slinger comes after her but she can't just leave Crusher there. She stands rooted to the spot as her fear tangles with her love. And the love wins out. Instead of running away, Titania picks up another big green trailer and throws it at the web- slinger. "Get away from my man!" she yells. Spidey must leap away to save himself.
There is mayhem in the airport with frightened passengers running every which way. Out on the runway, a dazed Absorbing Man starts to sit up. Though it isn't explicitly stated, it appears that Spidey is right, that the victory was too easy, and that Crusher was playing a little bit of possum so that Titania would work up her nerve and save him.
Now, she manages to grab Spidey by his hands. "You just made your first fatal mistake, webs!" she says with confidence, "You got close enough for me to grab you!" Things don't look good for the web-slinger. He is already bushed from his fight with Crusher. If he is going to save himself, he must "give it everything I've got". But he never gets the chance. Crusher Creel sticks his nose in by lifting an airplane over his head (while assuming the properties of the airplane's metal) and yelling out, "Enough! This battle ends right now!" (And it looks like a good thing he did because somehow Titania goes from fiercely gripping Spider-Man by the hands to sitting on the runway, helpless, with Spider-Man grabbing onto her hair... all in the space of one panel with no explanation for her sudden downfall.) It turns out that the airplane is full of passengers. Crusher tells Spidey that his intervention has already screwed up their plans. "Be content with that" he says, "and call this fight a draw or I trash this plane loada passengers." Spidey makes a feeble effort to call Crusher's bluff ("Get real, Creel! This airport's gotta be surrounded with cops by now!") but the Absorbing Man doesn't bite. "This plane ain't gettin' any lighter" he says. Spidey thinks about it for a moment, then decides to let Crusher have his way. He's already thinking about quitting his web-slinging identity and he never wanted a part of this fight to begin with. He swings away, saying, "You win, Creel! I quit!" A photographer on the ground snaps a picture of Spidey running off and a security guard thinks of Spidey, "Never figured him for a coward." (Yes, it's the "never figured him for a coward" bit again, first seen back in ASM #17, October 1964.)
So, Crusher puts the airplane down and Titania gives him a big hug. Then the two of them run off before the cops "get their act together".
Spider-Man makes his way back to Manhattan, convinced that "Crusher Creel played [him] for a patsy". This gets him thinking that "Maybe I just can't do this sort of thing anymore!" and "Maybe it really is time for me to quit!"
The next morning, a man in a blue jacket and tan hat waits at a bus stop and reads the latest Daily Bugle. The paper has a headline reading, "Spider-Man coward" and the reader thinks "J. Jonah Jameson was right about that wall- crawling clod all along! He's yellow!" The bus arrives so the man dumps his newspaper in the direction of a garbage can. The wind catches the paper, however, and sends it into an alley. That's right. It's that same alley where Flash Thompson is still hiding one day later. Flash reads the paper but can't believe that Spider-Man is a coward. "He'd face up to his problems no matter how bad they were!" he thinks. A look of resolve forms in his eye as he crushes the newspaper in a fist. "That's what he'd do!" Flash thinks. "Yeah, me too!!" He conquers his fear and walks out of the alley.
So, what happens with all these subplots? Does Spider-Man quit? Does Flash get exonerated? Who is the Hobgoblin? (No. Yes. Ned Leeds, for the time being.) Unfortunately, just when the book needs a little stability and resolution, editor Jim Owsley fires Tom DeFalco and scripts the ensuing Gang War multi-parter himself. He then kills off Ned Leeds in Spider-Man vs. Wolverine (February 1987) only to have Peter David finger Leeds as the Hobgoblin sometime after Ned's death. It took almost ten years before this stuff was retconned into a palatable resolution. Too bad because Tom had it going on all cylinders.
You know, this is Tom D. in his element, with subplots driving the story and characterization driving the main plotline. This is what he does so well in Spider-Girl nowadays and what he was not allowed to do in his post-Clone run of Amazing. What makes this issue great is not the Titania- Absorbing Man anchor but all the Hobgoblin-Flash-Mary Jane-Ned-Keating-Mongoose stuff swimming around it. (Of course the Titania-Absorbing Man stuff is a lot of fun, too.) As much as I enjoy JMS's current run, this is the way to write a top-notch Spider-Man story. And the fresh, clean pencils of Ron Frenz are better than the work of almost any artist on the character today. Too bad Tom wasn't allowed to tie all this stuff up by himself. I mean, just think! The Mongoose could have been a Spider-Man villain! Ah, the things we have missed.
I had this at four and a half webs but got tougher at the last minute. Call it four webs plus.