Bill Mantlo served as Spectacular Spider-Man’s writer from 1977 to 1984, taking a small break for one year at the onset of the ’80s to let Roger Stern groom his Spidey stories before taking over ASM. Upon his semi-permanent departure from the book in April of ’84, Mantlo gave the writing duties to his second run artist Al Milgrom. Milgrom didn’t last long as writer, and was let go after Spectacular Spider-Man #100. The book then featured a hand full of filler issues before Peter David took over the writing duties full time starting with Spectacular Spider-Man #105. This issue, which was released smack dab in the middle of David’s first two issues, features the return of Mantlo (the so-called king of deadline filler issues) coming back to his old book.
Possibly as an homage to the Rocket Racer’s first appearance back in ASM #172, this issue begins with a splash page featuring Spider-Man chasing down the rocket-powered thief. The Racer, who has just robbed an armored vehicle, speeds across the side of a building as he escapes Spider-Man - a bag of dough in tow. Before the speedy Racer can get far though, Spidey hooks onto the money bag with a strand of web and takes it back from the speedy thief. This puts the Racer in a furor. He cries out in a panic, “I ain’t goin’ back to jail! I can’t!”
The Rocket Racer then proceeds to attack the wall crawler with full force. During their melee, the Racer’s stolen money bag is some how torn open and dollar bills go floating down to the streets below. The Racer dashes for the cash, grabbing bills as they fall. In the midst of his money grab, the Racer is alerted to a high pitched sound and barely avoids an exploding grenade heading right for him. It doesn’t take long for the Racer to realize that a cheesy character, in a Lawrence of Arabia type turban, named the Bounty Hunter has found him. The Rocket Racer skates away for his life, screaming out that “I’m not gonna die for somethin’ that’s not my fault!” The green and gold clad Bounty Hunter immediately begins firing “electro darts” at the Racer and then chases him across the skyline. Spider-Man is perplexed and follows behind the two vigilantes.
The Bounty Hunter, who seems to have a never ending arsenal of weapons designed specifically to take down the Rocket Racer, is eventually able to capture the elusive Racer with an electrified net. Before the Hunter can execute the poor Racer though, Spider-Man comes dashing in with a right hook to the Bounty Hunter’s jaw. Spidey’s intervention allows the Racer to escape. The Hunter then tries to convince Spider-Man that his attempted killing of the Racer is court appointed. The ensuing confusion allows the Bounty Hunter to fire a phosphor-flare into Spider-Man’s face. The Hunter then runs off in pursuit of his wayward bounty.
Once Spider-Man regains his vision, both of his adversaries are long gone. This gives Peter a chance to change into his civies and visit the Daily Bugle’s computer data bank. On a green-tinted computer, Pete finds a Now Magazine article written by Ned Leeds that chronicles the Racer’s legal troubles. It turns out that his real name is Robert Farrell and he, much like Peter Parker himself, was a science whiz in high school. Farrell donned the Rocket Racer persona right out of high school as a way to help his ill mother pay for hospital bills (as depicted in Amazing Spider-Man #183). Twice Farrell was apprehended by Spider-Man, and both times he went to jail. Obviously unable to afford bail, a bail bondsman was called upon for help. After a brief conversation in which a very hoarse Ben Urich describes the roll of a bail bondsman to the college educated Peter Parker, Pete puts on his blue and reds and visits the family of Robert Farrell.
Spider-Man’s visit to Farrell’s home gives him enough information to find where the Racer is hiding. He also finds out that the bail bondsman has coerced Farrell to continue his criminal ways in order to pay off the bail bonds that he owes. Spider-Man swings off to a nearby junk yard where he believes Robert is hiding out. His goal now is to make sure that the Bounty Hunter doesn’t harm the Rocket Racer.
Once he arrives at the junk yard, Spidey finds that the Hunter has beaten him there. The Hunter has the Racer prone on the ground and is moments away from ending the teenager’s life. Spider-Man arrives just in time though and confronts the Hunter head on. After avoiding a number of the Bounty Hunter’s explosive attacks, Spider-Man is eventually subdued by a cartridge shot from a gun that evidently saps “an enemy’s super strength.”
With Spidey out for the count and the Bounty Hunter turning his gun on the wall crawler, the Rocket Racer confronts his fears and musters up enough strength to attack the Hunter from behind. The Racer’s brave attack frees up Spidey as the Hunter turns his attention back to Farrell. This allows Spider-Man to get behind the levers of a crane and use the machine’s magnet to lift the Bounty Hunter (and his metallic costume) into the air. Spidey then dumps the cheap hood into a pile of tires.
Now that the Hunter is down for the count, the Racer announces that he’s done with kid’s stuff and that it is time to give up his toys. “I’ll face whatever punishment’s comin’ my way” he says as he walks off into the distance, “…like a man.”
The Rocket Racer was never taken seriously as a villain or a character in his first two appearances. Mantlo’s treatment of the character changes all of that. The reader can now have a sympathetic look at Farrell and his situation. This new deeper portrait of the character has turned The Racer into more of an anti-hero who uses his technology to try and better his situation. Don’t get me wrong, being a thief is in no way honorable, but helping save Spider-Man’s life rather than running away (despite his trepidation) is. Other writers (most notably Gerry Conway) would pick up where Mantlo left off and turn the Racer into a hero of sorts. Farrell would even be given a scholarship at ESU to continue his science studies.
As for the Bounty Hunter, he would surprisingly never be seen again. Sure we’ve had our fair share of ho-hum Spider-Man villains like the Bounty Hunter before, but it just seems strange that no one would ever try to bring this character back into the Spidey-verse again. It’s now been over 25 years since the ol’ Hunter tangled with the wall crawler, so I guess any chance of seeing the return of this square jawed, green and gold clad villain is probably out of the question. Then again, I heard Dan Slott is planning on bringing back the Big Wheel in the near future. So you never know.
A great revival of a previously irrelevant character. Bill Mantlo crafts a wonderful one-off filler issue that actually has resonating character development. Bravo.