Welcome to the world of Spider-Man as teen-ager who exists in the world of today. Yes, this is Spider-Man, but re-imagined for the modern era with all of the exciting nuances, subtle chills, and top-of-the-park fun from the Silver Age of Marvel Comics. It is important to say that while it is certainly true that these stories are targeted for an audience that is (much) younger than normal. Needless to say, it should be noted that there are plenty those of us "old timers" who were around during those halcyon days who find this title as a welcome friend. In this version of the Marvel Universe, it is present-day America, and Peter Parker is still 15, attending Midtown High, and a part-time freelance photographer for The Daily Bugle.
This, my friends, is the Marvel (Adventure) Universe, and we are very happy that it is here, as we have come to be entertained.
As we open up this adventure, we find our pal Spidey ripping the (fake) beard off a (fake) Santa. Santa's back is towards us so we are unsure of his actual identity. Flashback to several hours earlier as Spidey is web-slinging through the steel canyons of Manhattan on Christmas Eve, shivering, and searching for a present for Aunt May. Peter alights on a rooftop, and recalls how on Christmases past, he would come downstairs to find Aunt May and Uncle Ben and a pile of toys under the tree. He remembers the special ceramic angel that Uncle Ben bought for May, and how, after his death, they would still put the angel out every year.
Problem is that last year, as they were putting away the ornaments; Aunt May accidently knocked the angel over and broke it. Peter saw how it nearly broke her heart that this remembrance of her husband was now gone, and Peter vowed to find something that could replace the item. So he searches online to find a similar item. Much to his surprise, he does locate a similar item, only it is selling for $100.00. As he is looking this up, May comes in his room and tells him that this Christmas is going to be a lean Christmas, to which, Peter responds that presents are not important as long as the two of them are together.
The next day at Midtown High, Peter worries all through the day about how they will be able to pay the bills and how he can afford to purchase the online angel for his beloved aunt. In fact, he is so preoccupied he doesn't notice that a student is about to toss a snowball at him until it nearly hits him. As the snowball swiftly approaches Peter's head, he instinctively ducks, and the frozen projectile strikes Flash Thompson, who immediately assumes that he was the intended target and returns fire. Meanwhile, Peter walks away, blissfully ignorant.
As Spider-Man, he swings through downtown Manhattan looking for a crime to stop so that he can take pictures of it in order to sell the photos to the Bugle, only everything is quite. Spidey even swings past both The Baxter Building where the Fantastic Four are enjoying a quiet evening at home and past the Avengers Tower where they are all gathered around the tree, as well. Eventually, Spidey winds up at the Bugle, just as the cold weather starts to freeze his webbing.
Inside (and once again in his street clothes), Peter tries to buttonhole J.J.J. for an assignment. Jameson, as can be expected, is grumbling that his staff is going to get Christmas off even as he informs Peter that he is allowing them a 15-minute break for a Holiday party. Much to his dismay, Pete learns that there is no assignment to be had, then, Betty Brant hands Peter a present, which only serves to make matters worse, as he isn't able to afford anything for her. Back in his Spidey suit, he happens across a skinny Santa carrying a bulging sack and bolting through a crowd and he remembers overhearing something of a Santa Clause ripping people off back w2hen he was at the Bugle. So Spidey heads off after the red-clad suspect. When the Santa hustles down a Subway platform, he is pursued by Spidey, who snags him with a well-place web line and prevents him from boarding a train. Only upon closer examination, he discovers that the reason that the Santa was running, is because he was running late for a retirement home appearance, and the things in the sack are a couple of pillows.
An embarrassed Spidey quickly exits the scene only to spot another Santa clambering through a window from the fire escape, and tackles the guy inside the apartment. When the lights come on (because the apartment's occupants — a mother and two children — come out to discover what all the noise is about), Spidey learns that "Santa" is actually the father who is helping to stage Christmas for the kids. So as not to give anything away, Spidey pretends to be helping Santa put out the gifts before he takes to the city's rooftops once again.
Hours later, as he is sitting on a rooftop above Macy's in midtown, Spidey spots a Santa running out the door of the department store and the unmistakable sound of a store alarm. Realizing that this is finally the fake Santa, Spidey takes off after the faux St. Nick. He spots the jolly fat man running down an ally. Setting up his camera to observe, he catches up with the fleeing suspect and corners the phony at the end of the ally. Once Spidey pulls off Santa's beard, he discovers that it is actually Doc. Ock under the whiskers. However, Spider-Man immediately realizes that his captive is not his old eight-armed adversary as not only would Ock have already used his mechanical arms on the young hero, but that Ock is still in jail where Spidey had tossed him last week.
So this Octopus could only be The Chameleon, which proves true once the masked foe has his phony face pulled off by Spidey's webbing. Unmasked, the multi-faced villain attempts to flee, only to run headlong into a wall as he can't see due to Spidey's gloppy webbing covering his face. Armed with his photos, Pete rushes back to the Bugle only to find Jonah gone for the holiday and Robbie in charge. Dejected, Peter heads home and into his basement, where he gets a flash of inspiration and uses his frozen, gloppy webbing to repair the broken Christmas angel.
Heading upstairs, he presents the now-repaired angel to his Aunt, who weeps with joy over the thoughtful gift. Then she informs Peter that an envelope was delivered to the house earlier that day. When peter opens it up, he discovers that it is a holiday bonus check from Jameson. Finally in high spirits, Peter informs his aunt that they can put off worrying about the electric bill for another month.
This is an aptly-themed holiday story that has Spidey trying to get into the holiday spirit even as the world around him conspires to keep him down. All-in-all, a fine story given that it is coming out (and being reviewed) during the holiday season. I think that it was a really nice touch that the fake Santa was hiding a fake Doc Ock and ultimately being played by the king of fakers himself, the Chameleon.
Another fine tale told in a most excellent way. We get Spidey, a mystery and a wonderful holiday story all in 22 pages. What more could you ask?
Completely apart from this story, this reviewer was also reading Sensational Spider-Man #24 (Feb, '97) for the very first time. This story is also a holiday story and seems to mirror the one I read in MASM #45. All-in-all a very cool serendipitous event this holiday season.