Alex Woolcot appeared in PP:TSS #112 as a boy abused by his temperamental scientist father. In issue #113, Alex gained strange energy powers from sticking his hand in one of his father's devices. In issue #116, Alex accidentally incinerated his father and is now on his own in the streets. What'll happen to the boy? In this issue, we find out.
Prologue: we see a shabbily dressed-bum entering the offices of Wilson Fisk, the Kingpin. The bum asks if Willie Fisk is in, that he came to pay his respects. The receptionist tells him Fisk isn't available. Kingpin's security come up to escort him out, offering him five bucks to get on his way. The receptionist steams to herself about how Mr. Fisk insists on being so nice to everyone, and out loud suggest the bum phone ahead next time. Kingpin buzzes his receptionist, ordering her to send him right in to everyone's surprise. It's Foreigner, and Kingpin says he would've had his men bring him in immediately if they'd known what to look for--but last time Foreigner dressed up as an electrician, and before that Ronald Reagan--and that his dressing up is a childish habit. Foreigner says Kingpin should loosen up, doesn't he know that having no sense of humor makes one bald and obese?
Foreigner removes his disguise as Kingpin directs him to a buffet laid out on a table. Kingpin says he tolerates Foreigner because his World Assassination Bureau has been useful in the past, and that Foreigner is one of the three men in the world he's ever respected, and that he's since had the other two killed. Foreigner asks after Spider-man, Kingpin says he's disappeared recently, but expects he'll turn up soon, wanting to know why Foreigner is asking after him. Suddenly Fisk hears an explosion downtown, and wonders what it is, since he scheduled no explosions. Foreigner says according to his watch, it was 'orchids' and asks to use Kingpin's phone. Kingpin realizes Foreigner is feuding with his ex-wife again, -how tiresome, he thinks. Foreigner asks his ex-wife if she liked the flowers he sent, but she hangs up on him. No sense of humor either, Foreigner says, and Kingpin observes "no doubt she'll become bald and fat", of which Foreigner concurs. Kingpin says enough foolishness and wants to be filled in on Foreigner's plans for Spider-man. Foreigner says when he's through Spider-man will be working for him.
Cut to Peter in the Bugle office, grousing over how none of his new shots of Spidey in action are usable since his new boss (the Now magazine editor?) said he was tired of such shots. Someone comes up behind Pete, saying how kind of him to be there for once. It is Steven Estevez, a teacher of Alex Woolcot who appeared in #112. Estevez reminds Peter of how Pete happened to be there when Alex's dad attacked Estevez, and then Spider-man showed up on the scene. Pete thinks to himself how Estevez is mis-remembering the situation, that he didn't arrive as Peter Parker until after the fact, but doesn't bother to correct him, to obviously protect his identity. Estevez fills in Peter of how Alex has disappeared, saying he's been kidnapped, and wants Spider-man to intervene. Pete asks him how would he even get in touch with Spider-man and tells him to get the FBI or the cops to handle it. Estevez says the authorities don't care since the parents are still married and Alex is probably still with his father. Estevez says he can tell Spider-man cares about the helpless. Peter thinks to himself that he's thinking of giving up Spider-man, but only keeps putting on the suit to help out Flash Thompson (accused of being the Hobgoblin around this time). Then Pete realizes that he can't ignore a scared little kid. Estevez says if somebody has the ability to make things better, it's their responsibility to do so. Peter says even if Spider-man could help, where would Peter tell him to look, because the kid could be anywhere?
Cut to Alex looking up at the Bugle from down below, thinking that if he just went to the newspapers and gave his side, people would understand what happened to his scientist father wasn't his fault. His hand starts glowing with the weird energy again and he realizes he's got to keep moving, that he's been spotted by a police cruiser in the street. The two cops inside spot Alex as truant from school, since it's mid-morning, and get out of the cruiser to approach him. Alex panics and his hands flare up and he destroys the cruiser with a blast of energy--the cops are thrown clear. Moments pass, Alex escapes. One of the cops says the kid had to be a mutant and to call X-Factor. We see police band monitoring equipment, gloved hands adjusting the dials, the police call coming in of the superpowered kid. One SHIELD agent says they are taking the initiative, the other agent says to lay off, it's a domestic situation. SHIELD agent 1 says Col. Fury is out of town, which puts him in charge, and he says move!
Pete's spider-sense alerts him that danger is near after the explosion, and he changes into the black duds and hops out the window to see what's going on. He swings down to the exploded patrol car, gets the lowdown from the cops, who calls the kid a mutant. Spidey says that from what he knows of young mutants, his powers may have just manifested and he was more scared of the cops than they are of him. The cops tell him he headed north on 2nd street and Spidey swings away to find him. He catches sight of Alex, swinging down and grabbing him by the jacket. Spidey recognizes him as Alexander and says people are worried about him, but Alex slips out of his jacket back to the ground, his hands lighting up. Spidey lands on what he thought was an abandoned tenement building scheduled for demolition, but people are gathering in the windows to see what's going on. Instead, Spidey leaps laterally away to draw Alex's blast. He manages to dodge the blast barely, but gets his back flayed by it. As he's dropping through the air, Spidey thinks he's starting to get a sick feeling about what happened to Alex's dad; he shoots a massive web-cushion to land on. Aleks runs and grabs a taxi, saying Spider-man's attacking him and to take him somewhere where everyone will leave him alone ("Hackensack" the cabbie says). Spidey manages to tag him with a spider-tracer. Spider-sense going off, he realizes armed SHIELD agents have come up behind him. A Sgt. Helms comes on the scene in a flying car, saying send in the heavy artillary after the target. Spider-man says they're at 24th and Broadway, and it's too dangerous and public. Helms says the target made short work of Spidey, and they can't take him out with a water pistol. An airlift battalion lands containing MANDROIDS! (basically agents in giant yellow metal robotic suits).
Spider-man tries to convince Helms that he doesn't need that firepower and he can talk him down. Helms says the kid could hurt civilians and has to be neutralized. Peter thinks if only he had headed off the situation with Alex and his father weeks ago when he had a chance, then asks "what's neutralized?". Helms tells him to look it up.
Alex fries one of the Mandroids with his powers, and the agent drops, the smell of melted metal and flesh filling the air. Alex didn't realize there was a person inside and thought it was just a robot. Helms, still flying around above in his flying car, orders deadly force. Spider-man asks isn't Helms getting a little carried away, and Helms says his agent, who's barely breathing, will be scarred for life and that Alex is a potential murderer.
Spider-man jumps down and webs the legs of one of the Mandroids from behind, bringing him down face-first. Alex says he doesn't want any of this, that he wants to play video games, go to the sock hop sunday with Jenny Meyers and be a normal boy, doesn't anyone understand? Spidey says he understands and swings in knocking around some of the Mandroids. Spidey realizes he has to protect Alex from SHIELD even though they may be right and Spidey can't handle Alex alone. Spidey grabs Alex and leaps away, firing a webline and eluding them. Later, as Spidey is crawling up the side of building with Alex slung over his shoulder, he thinks that he's lost the Mandroids and the flying car, but for how long? Alex says he's going to throw up, Spidey says "don't you dare". Alex asks why Spider-man's helping him. Spidey says because Alex needs it, and if he didn't help, Spidey wouldn't like himself.
Spidey swings to a rooftop and Alex tells him he incinerated his dad by mistake. Spidey says he won't lie to him, that he could be in big trouble, but that they should handle one fiasco at a time. The Mandroids are blasting both sides of the rooftop from below. Spidey reasons that there are agents on either side, but maybe one doesn't know the other is on the other side. He also notes that after avoiding one of their laser blasts, it chipped away some of one of the other Mandroid's armor, so they are vulnerable to their own blasts. Spidey drops straight down, hanging on a webline, asks if they're ready for round two--but swings out of the way as either Mandroid fires off a blast, destroying eachother in the process.
Spidey comes back up to the rooftop. Alex asks is it over? Pete thinks to himself he wishes he knew. Spider-sense still going off, Spidey thinks it's because Alex is still a threat and doesn't trust him and tries to reason with him, saying Alex has to trust someone. Alex says he doesn't want people shooting at him anymore. Spiderman thinks he doesn't seem so threatening anymore, wonders why his spider-sense is still going off, looks up, but is too slow to react. Alex is gunned down by a hail of bullets from above. Helms is in the flying SHIELD car with a rifle, telling Spider-man to back off, that it ended how it had to end. The other agent in the car is saying how Fury will have their heads for how things turned out. The last panel is Spider-man cradling the boy, asking "Alex?".
I always thought this was a pretty hard-hitting issue, as it doesn't end happily and it certainly doesn't end well for Alex. I like firstly how Peter David ties Peter/Spidey back to Alex and his father, how they might be his responsibility in that he could've intervened and prevented much of this from happening. Then I like how deftly David makes Spider-man identify with the boy, saying he understands how he feels when Alex says he want to be a normal boy. It ties back into the original Spider-man mythos nicely: power, responsibility and feeling like an outcast. It directly mirrors one young Peter Parker and it works perfectly here (but it's never bludgeoned over the reader's head as some writers tend to do on Spidey).
After several issues of Black Cat being the focus of the story, stories with the supporting cast, or Spidey not being in his book outright like last issue, it was cool to get a Spider-man story that really felt like a Spidey story for once. Mike Zeck's pencil breakdowns with Bob McLeod's finishes are crisp and dynamic--it makes the whole thing feel like a non-stop, slam-bang summer action movie (in a good way).
The opening with the Foreigner and Kingpin seems tailored to offset some of this issue's grimness, and being laugh-out loud funny, it succeeds on that front. These scenes conversely unfold like a tightly plotted TV drama--we just never find out what Foreigner has in store for Spidey---yet.
I would've liked to see what happened after Alex got gunned down. I realize it was more powerful to leave the story like it was but it also makes Alex's death seem kind of meaningless, as I'm sure this character, or this situation, is pretty much never referenced again (*see footnote). It ends up robbing the story of a bit of it's power. This was generally the state of comics and specifically the way of certain Marvel titles in the late 80's, where grim and gritty was the order of the day and a kid could be blown away in a hail of bullets at the end of a story and it was still all "comics code authority" approved.
I almost gave this 5 webs, but certain things mentioned above made it fall just short of perfection. Peter David hits another homerun with this tale however, and really settles in for his following run of consistently great issues.
In the letters column, there's a picture at the end, apropos of nothing, of the torn red and blue suit draped over a headstone that says RIP. As Kraven's Last Hunt was years away, this must've meant that the red and blues were supposed to be gone for good? Turned out to be too premature a prediction if you ask me.
After finishing this review, I did a search and found out from Al Sjoerdsma's review of ASM #283 that it is revealed Alex somehow survived the shooting here and turns up in Incredible Hulk #339 a few years later.