Spider-Woman #30

Background

Conniving publisher Rupert M. Dockery manipulated Spider-Woman into a conflict with the Enforcer. During the course of that conflict, Spider-Woman’s partner Scotty McDowell was poisoned by one of the Enforcer’s special darts. Consequently, he must now be kept in cryogenic suspension until a cure is found.

Story 'Come Into My Parlour -- Said the Fly!'

  Spider-Woman #30
Summary: Fly, Dr. Malus, Scotty Awakens
Editor: Denny O'Neil
Writer: Michael Fleisher
Pencils: Steve Leialoha
Inker: Jim Mooney

In our opening splash page, a frustrated Spider-Woman peers down at Scotty’s frozen form. “When, Dr. Pederson?” she asks. Pederson, who thanks to an unfortunate choice by the colourist looks as green as the Hulk, tells her that he and his staff are “doing everything in [their] power to find a means of restoring your friend Mr. McDowell to a normal life!”

You might expect that the story will take a few pages at this point to explore Spider-Woman’s feelings or to establish the situation at hand. But you’d be mistaken! In the very next panel - the second panel of the story - the Fly, our villain du jour, bursts into the laboratory and flies around Spider-Woman’s head, who proceeds to kick him in the side.

No, wait, actually he knocks her down. The panel composition doesn’t make that clear. But once she is down, she unleashes a venom blast that knocks the Fly out of the air. (No “zdak”, unfortunately; only a prosaic “zzzap”.) The Fly, staggered, rises to his feet and begins to vibrate his wings at such a rate that he sets up an “ultrasonic backlash”. Yes, he has fly-wings, and a fly’s facet eyes as well. As Spider-Woman is pushed backwards, the Fly makes his escape, bragging about how he’s “a guy with the awesome power of the fly” and as such Spider-Woman isn’t a real threat. Assuming we took the Fly seriously at all, the fact that he’s bragging about his power even as he’s running away from a fight should make it clear how trivial an opponent he is.

The Fly barely manages to crawl out of a window to fly away. Spider-Woman would like to pursue, but she can’t, because “the cryogenic unit’s connective cable was damaged in the fighting! The liquid hydrogen used to stabilize the sub-zero temperature is escaping!” And if the temperature rises above freezing, it’s curtains for Scotty.

Spider-Woman can solve this problem with a quick application of her spider-strength: she simply ties the dangling cable strands together in a knot. It seems to me that doing this would prevent the coolant from reaching the cryogenic unit, killing Scotty, but what do I know?

In all the fuss, the Fly gets away, but Spider-Woman doesn’t care about him: I guess she holds him in as much contempt as we readers. No, she’s worried about her own reputation, which went into the toilet when she became the Enforcer’s partner-in-crime over the past few issues. In a nod to verisimilitude, writer Michael Fleisher reveals in Jessica’s interior monologue that there are indeed criminal charges pending against Spider-Woman, but that Captain Walsh was able to get her released on her own recognizance.

Cut to Rupert Dockery’s “sumptuous Bel Air residence”, where the publisher getting dressed up in anticipation of a national press award he’s to receive later that night. Enter the Enforcer! “I’m here all right, Dockery, and I’m ticked off!” As the Enforcer roughs him up, Dockery admits his whole scheme: hiding a transmitter in his walking stick and manipulating the Enforcer into stealing it.

Whoops! This isn’t the Enforcer at all, but rather Jessica in disguise. Naturally she’s wearing her Spider-Woman costume, complete with hair extensions, under the Enforcer outfit. I’d kvetch, but Silver Age Batman did this sort of thing all the time. It’s practically a comics convention. Captain Walsh, who’s been listening in from the next room, barges into tell Dockery that while the evidence he’s got isn’t sufficient to put Dockery in jail, it is enough to launch a grand jury investigation that will gum up the works of Dockery’s publishing empire for months... to say nothing of the damage it will do to Dockery’s reputation. Walsh offers to destroy the evidence of Dockery’s crimes if Dockery agrees to forego his press award, testify in court to Spider-Woman’s innocence, and then get out of town.

This is an economical completion of the Dockery subplot that’s been playing out over the past few issues. That, I appreciate. What I don’t appreciate is the fact that it doesn’t make any sense - a hallmark of Michael Fleisher’s writing. The police didn’t think that Spider-Woman had become a criminal because Dockery asserted as much in the media. They thought that Spider-Woman had become a criminal because she committed crimes.

We readers saw her do it, too: she assisted in the Enforcer’s thefts of a golden statue, plus assorted rare stamps and gems. Whatever her motives for helping the Enforcer were, there’s no doubt she stole property, aided and abetted a criminal, and assaulted law-abiding citizens (the Maharishi’s security people, back in Spider-Woman #28). Dockery’s testimony isn’t germane to any of this.

But no time to worry about that, because we’re onto our next scene. So long, Spider-Woman’s criminal activities, Michael Fleisher isn’t interested in you any more.

Cut to a laboratory “several miles away”, where someone named Dr. Malus (subtle, that) is examining the Fly. It seems that the Fly’s powers are fading away. Apparently he got them from Dr. Harlan Stillwell, i.e., brother to Farley Stillwell, creator of the Scorpion, back in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10. Oddly, there’s no reference to that in this issue. I haven’t read the Annual, but apparently the Fly killed Stillwell after receiving his powers, so perhaps the treatment was incomplete. In any case, Deacon will soon be wholly human again. You’d think he’d be okay with that, but he seems to be really attached to his life-size fly wings and - ick - facet eyes. So he’s going along with Malus’ plan to “transfer the powers of some other supranormal individual” into his body.

Spider-Woman is the most prominent such individual in L.A. right now, which is why the Fly tried to kidnap Scotty: he wanted bait to lure Spider-Woman in. But since that didn’t work, it’s time for Plan B.

Cut to the following evening, when Spider-Woman happens to notice the Fly using his supersonic wing vibrations to destroy a highway overpass. Spider-Woman swoops in to rescue the trapped drivers just before everything falls apart. Buried under concrete rubble, she rises just in time for the Fly to hurl a huge piece of concrete at her. “Let’s see if you can catch this one on the fly!” he says. Ugh.

In a pleasant change of pace, Jessica isn’t fazed by this, and casually bats it out of the way, wondering “why is he doing this...? It seems as if he wants me to attack him!” So Jessica obliges, firing off a venom bolt. The narrator tells us that it “packs enough force to paralyze a mastodon”, but the Fly isn’t affected. “So long now!” he chortles, and flies away. Spider-Woman tries to stop him, but thanks to his facet eyes he sees her coming and evades her grasp; all she seizes is a “gizmo” strapped to his arm.

We readers know that the gizmo is a battery meant to absorb Spider-Woman’s bio-electric energy. Back at Malus’ lab, he uses the captured bio-electric energy to make a nifty gun, but unfortunately that won’t help the Fly. So much for Plan B, which strikes me as having been a pretty lousy plan. Back to Plan A, since it worked so well before. The Fly travels back to Pederson’s lab, seizes Scotty’s cryogenic capsule, and returns it to Malus. As before, the plan is extort Spider-Woman’s cooperation with a threat to Scotty’s life.

Too bad for the Fly and Malus, because Spider-Woman busts in and begins to wail on them. See, this is why successful criminals change their plans. It seems Jessica worked out that the Fly’s antics were all aimed at attracting her attention, so she staked out Scotty’s room in disguise, and then followed the Fly back to the hideout. After a bit of tangling, Spider-Woman brings the Fly down with a rabbit punch, even as he tries to use his ultrasonic vibration attack. Malus, desperate to avoid a beating, offers Spider-Woman an inducement to go easy on him: he’ll heal Scotty of his poisoning! It turns out that Malus was the Enforcer’s supplier of chemical darts, and what he created, he can neutralize. One injection later, and Scotty is sitting up and feeling better!

Later, Malus is in prison and Scotty is in the hospital, under observation. Not that he needs it, he says. “Honest, web lady! I feel fine! In fact, I’ve... never felt better!”

Only we readers can see his blood-red eyes. Clearly this one is to be continued!

General Comments

There’s not a lot to say about this one; more Michael Fleisher tedium, I’m afraid.

The Fly is a lousy villain. Just like the Grinder from Spider-Woman #27, he’s a slow-witted, tough-talking brute that can fly, and that’s as much thought as went into him. Malus is just a garden-variety Mad Scientist, and this one has a penchant for boring the reader to death with his long-winded and painfully pompous speeches.

As usual, the plot isn’t well thought-out: the second confrontation between Spider-Woman and the Fly - in which the villain permits himself to be shot with a venom blast - doesn’t go anywhere, as the captured energy is used to charge a prototype weapon that is harmlessly fired long before the hero shows up. As Chekhov might have observed, don’t introduce a bioelectric ray-gun in the second act if it isn’t to be fired in the third act.

Speaking of the third act, I have two questions to ask: how could the Fly carry Scotty’s capsule so easily, when pages earlier he admitted to himself that heaving a chunk of concrete at Spider-Woman had just exhausted his last reserve of super-strength? And why didn’t the Fly see Spider-Woman following him back to Malus’ lab, when it was established earlier he can see in all directions thanks to his facet eyes? The answer to both questions, of course, is "don't ask questions like that".

In another typical Fleisher offense against plot, elements he doesn’t care about anymore are swept under the rug, such as Jessica’s recent criminal activities. Fleisher doesn’t want to tell any more stories about Jessica in opposition to the law, so, as the judge said on The Simpsons, “I hereby decree that everything will go back to the way it used to be, and we will never speak of this again”. Sigh.

There’s not even any solace to be found in the art, as “B. Sharen”’s terrible colours ruin the ink. Check out Dr. Pederson on p. 1, for example: his green colour wrecks what otherwise might be a good splash page.

Overall Rating

A forgettable issue. Two webs, and it only goes that high because of the decent cliffhanger ending.

Footnote

This bit of dialogue is far too campy for the story, but what the hell, it’s an amusing stinger:

Jessica: “Get out of your cars! And run, all of you! Run for your lives!”

Driver: “What? Give up my car? My beautiful car? Who do you think you are, the Ayatollah?”