We conclude our three part Looking Back at the classic Kingpin/Schemer story arc, as started back in Amazing Spider-Man #83.
|Pencils:||John Buscema, John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
We pick up right where we left off, with the Kingpin escaping down his pneumatic tube into the cellars. (Wait. Didn't it look like he went UP last issue when he escaped in the tube? Certainly the stem of his word balloon was pointed upwards. Is this just another screw-up or did the Kingpin use ventriloquism to throw Spider-Man off?) Fists clenched, eyes blazing, the furious Kingpin strides through great brick corridors fearful of the fate of his wife. But then Vanessa appears right behind him... all alone and perfectly safe. When the Kingpin turns to look at her, Vanessa tells him she was never abducted at all. She "merely hid within the shadows" because she found "the scene distasteful". The Kingpin believes her completely. After all, "no one would dare to threaten the Kingpin's wife and least of all that scrawny Schemer".
Back on the snow-filled streets, the Schemer drives recklessly while he tries to recover from the shock of his meeting with Vanessa. "It was the sight of her that stopped me from carrying out my plan" he says, "The way she looked at me as if she knew!" He recalls the sadness he saw in her eyes, which made him remember the past, and he knew he had to "escape before the Kingpin could suspect!" And, lost in these musings, the Schemer doesn't notice a truck rounding the corner until it is too late. He swerves hard on the icy road, missing the truck but slamming his car into a streetlight. Dazed, he gets out of his car and examines the damage. It isn't severe but he needs "new parts from a supply warehouse" and he doesn't have the time for that. So, he leaves the scene of the accident on foot.
Back at his pad, Peter Parker tries to do some studying but he is, as usual, distracted. All he can think about is Gwen's approaching birthday and how he could have gotten money from the reward if he had captured the Schemer. The doorbell rings, putting a stop to this brooding. Pete opens the door to admit Gwen and her father, the retired police captain.
Captain Stacy casually tells Pete "we were just passing by" but Gwen admits that "dad has something to ask you". They all take seats in the living room. Pete nervously sits forward with his elbows on his knees, folding his hands together. He is sure the question is going to be something about Spider-Man but he doesn't know what. The Captain sits back and smokes his pipe. He begins by mentioning that he's always wondered how Pete has been able to be "so successful a news photographer". Pete tells him that he's just been lucky but the Captain doesn't buy it. "You've always seemed to be in the right place at the right time" he says, "can you honestly say that it's just coincidence?"
Not having a cup of cocoa in his hands, Peter cannot pull the old reliable "jump up and drop your full cup of cocoa on the rug" ploy that worked so effectively last time. So he settles for looking panicked, jumping up, looking at a non-existent watch, and declaring that he left "some pix developing in the darkroom!" Captain Stacy tells him to take care of his photos. He and Gwen are happy to wait.
So, Pete closes himself into his bedroom and leans up against the door. (Do Gwen and George notice that Pete did not head into a darkroom? Apparently not.) He knows he must do something drastic to throw Captain Stacy off the trail and so he decides, "since it was Spider-Man who got me into this jam" to use his alter-ego to get him out. He changes into the Spidey duds and climbs out the window.
Back in the living room, Gwen and her dad are discussing the situation (with Gwen saying she thinks George is "way off-base about Peter"... whatever that may refer to) when they notice that someone is at the window. Suddenly, Spider-Man climbs into the room demanding to see Peter Parker. The two Stacys stand and hold onto each other; startled and a bit afraid. George blurts out that he knew there was "some connection between you and Peter Parker" while Gwen worries that Spidey sounds angry as if he "has some sort of grudge" against Peter. The web-slinger decides to make use of this comment. He angrily informs the Stacys that he has a deal with Parker... "He takes the pictures, we split the dough"... then claims that Peter has neglected to pay him. Gwen bravely stands up to the web-spinner; pointing a finger in his face and telling him that "Peter Parker would never welch on a debt". She then lies to his face, stating that Peter "left hours ago". With that, Spidey figures he's pulled off the act, so he exits through the window again. Gwen and George put their coats on and leave, so that Spider-Man will be sure to believe that Peter is not in.
As he exits the building, Captain Stacy looks up and sees Spider-Man watching them from high up on the wall. He tells Gwen that they "dare not return to Parker" as long as they are being watched. Gwen, completely fooled, now understands why "poor Peter" is always so nervous.
Spidey watches them to make sure they are gone. Then, since he's already in the suit, he decides to continue his search for the Schemer.
Now, if you think that all Spidey has done lately is to web-sling around town and moon over Gwen Stacy's birthday, then you might be as surprised as the Kingpin to see Peter Parker's "Exclusive Pictures" of the battle at the mansion on the front page of the Daily Bugle. Kingy himself is very surprised, as he reads his paper in what appears to be a completely reconstructed and re-rugged office. (The rug is purple this time, by the way.) He can't understand how anyone could have gotten pictures of the fight. "If there was a photographer on the scene, I'd have known it" he tells Vanessa, who is standing at the window and looking outside. Then the crime king sees something that makes him crunch up the paper in one hand and angrily approach his wife. "So that's why the Schemer ran off without you!" he says, "There is something between the two of you." This challenge so unnerves Vanessa that she collapses into a chair and grabs herself by the throat. But she still doesn't admit to anything. So, the Kingpin holds the paper up for her to view. He points out the photograph on the top right of the page. In it, Vanessa is helping the Schemer into the transport tube to affect his escape.
The Kingpin drops the paper on the floor and grabs Vanessa by her wrist. He demands to know why she has betrayed him. Vanessa looks away and tells him she "cannot explain" but when the Kingpin replies that this proves her guilt against him, she swears that she loves him and hasn't betrayed him. "You must trust me!" she cries. But the Kingpin replies, "You are asking too much!"
Back out in the city, Spidey's patrol finally bears fruit. He comes upon the Schemer's abandoned car, climbs in, and, like a monkey in a space capsule, can't keep his grubby fingers off the buttons. "I wonder what this doohickey does?" he says, as he pushes one. (At least, I think he pushes something. It's not very clear.) Instantly, his spider-sense starts to tingle. He just manages to get outside of the car when the whole booby-trapped thing blows up! The wall-crawler lies on the ground buried in snow and auto parts. The blast wasn't "potent enough to knock me out" but he knows that anyone without spider-powers would have been badly injured. As he struggles to dig himself out of the snow, Spidey notices footprints leaving the scene of the crash. The wall-crawler assumes the prints belong to the Schemer and follows them. Observing that the prints "seem kind of shaky", ol' Sherlock Spidey deduces that the Schemer was "hurt in the crash". Eventually, the prints lead to a building. Spidey clings to the wall and peers into a window. There, he sees the Schemer working on parts "to repair his car". He apparently decides to give the Schemer a fighting chance so he telegraphs his arrival by shining his spider-signal through the window and all over the wall.
The Schemer turns at the sight of it and pulls out his pistol. By then, Spidey is already inside. (By teleportation, I assume.) He shoots his webbing at the Schemer's gun and plugs up the barrel. When the Schemer pulls the trigger, the whole thing blows up in his hand. Even though he is somewhat protected by "his special cloak and gloves", the Schemer seems stunned so Spidey grabs him by the back of the cape, anticipating an easy victory. But not so fast, Spidey! The Schemer lashes out, swinging his cape, which has "a sword-like rod" sewn into its lining. Spider-Man dodges it just in time. But that's not all. The other side of the cape has a "stun nozzle" built in. The Schemer fires a force-beam from it but still can't hit the swiftly moving web-slinger. From the floor, the wall-crawler wraps his legs around the Schemer's legs and knocks the villain to the ground. He leaps up and clings to the wall just in time to see the Schemer reaching for something in his pocket. It turns out to be a smoke grenade that goes off right in the web-spinner's face. The smoke obscures Spidey's vision and dulls his spider-sense. Now he has no idea where the Schemer is.
Meanwhile, Gwen and George Stacy have returned to Peter Parker's apartment. The Captain thinks they have come back too soon but Gwen is worried. She has been trying to call Peter from home and he hasn't been answering. The door is unlocked and they walk right in. (Because, you may recall, Pete never went back to his place after throwing the Stacys a curve by changing into his Spidey duds. He just went web-slinging instead.) George notes that the apartment is empty but shows "no sign of a struggle". This sets Gwen off. Just imagining Peter trying to put up a struggle against Spider-Man brings her to tears. She starts to convince herself that Peter is Spider-Man's prisoner. "He might have taken him anywhere!" she laments. Her father picks up the phone to call the police precinct so they "can check it out". But then he has a new thought. "Even if Peter did leave with Spider-Man, how do we know he didn't go willingly?"
Back at the battle, Spidey creates a bolo out of webbing and starts spinning it around. This creates enough of a draft to clear the air of the smoke. Through the thinning clouds, he sees the Schemer, all the way across the room, running away. He ties the villain's feet together with a shot of webbing. With his momentum suddenly stopped, the Schemer goes crashing right through a window and starts to fall to his death. Using his great speed, the webhead leaps out the window, swings down on some webbing, and catches the Schemer before he hits the ground. Then, with the Schemer slung over his shoulder like a sack of potatoes, he swings through the city on his way to "the address on the reward poster". (Except, of course, it wasn't a poster that he read but a copy of the Daily Bugle.) He lands on a snow-covered ledge and enters through a window. The Schemer, whose feet are no longer wrapped up with webbing, holds his head and protests being taken to this strange address rather than the police station. Spidey doesn't listen. No, the wall-crawler is too busy being a mercenary bum to stop and think about what's really going on around him.
Inside the building, Spidey encounters a guy in a police uniform who steers him to an office down the hall. "We've been waiting for you!" the cop says and Spidey wonders how they knew he was coming. In the office, a second cop tells him to stay "till the Chief comes". Spidey tries to ask a few questions ("What kind of precinct is this? Why the high floor... the apartment-type furnishings?") but only gets a snide remark in return. Only now does the spider-sense start to kick in. Only now does Spidey wonder what he has gotten into. And then steel panels slide down out of the ceiling all over the room, covering up all the doors and windows. That is, all the doors but one, since the Kingpin has to enter the room somehow.
Now the truth of the reward is revealed. "After all" says the crime king, "who would be more anxious to pay a reward for the Schemer than the Kingpin?" To add insult to injury, the Kingpin reveals that he planned to welch on the reward all along. He pushes a painting aside to reveal a button on the wall. A push of this button and a "steel-cable net" drops down on Spidey from the ceiling. The wall-crawler is still too busy figuring out that the cops were Kingy's men "in phony uniforms" to do anything about it. Then, he discovers that "the cables" of the net "are magnetized" which somehow means that they shrink so that the net around the wall-crawler gets tighter and tighter.
With the trapped Spidey out of the picture, the Kingpin charges and grabs the Schemer by the ends of his cape. He rears back a big left-handed fist and orders the Schemer to talk "before I silence you forever". (And where are the "sword-like rod" and "stun nozzle" in the cape when the Schemer really needs them? They seem to have completely disappeared.) Grabbing the Schemer's collar in both hands, he demands the answers to two questions: "Why did you challenge my leadership of the underworld?" and "What is there between you and my wife?"
With his eyes glaring hatred, the Schemer agrees to talk but, to the Kingpin's surprise, he begins his story "at a school in Switzerland high atop the alps". There a happy, carefree young man with orange hair goes skiing with his buddies, studies hard in front of a raging fire, does impressive one-handed gymnastic moves on the pommel horse, and hangs out with his friends after hours; all to try to make his parents proud of him, all for the love of his father who he thinks is the greatest man ever. Then one day a newspaper arrives at the school with a picture of the boy's father and a headline labeling him the "Kingpin Crime Czar". The young man is devastated by this news. "Despondent, dazed, and sick at heart" he dons his skis, takes the ski lift to the top of the mountain and is "never seen again". The authorities send out guys in sunglasses and carrying big torches to look for him but it is no use. It is believed that the young man has perished.
But not so fast! Sometime later, in New York, a mysterious figure creates a mask from a design of a cranky-looking middle-aged guy with a white streak in his hair. Using money given to him by his father, this mystery figure creates the identity of the Schemer, builds all sorts of nifty devices and hires a bunch of goons to help him "dethrone the abominable master of crime".
Elsewhere in the room, the net has shrunk up so severely that Spidey is crouched into a ball, but the two crimesters pay no attention. The Kingpin is too busy being dumber than a box of rocks. He calls the Schemer a "dog" and demands to know how he has learned all this inside info about his son. With beads of sweat standing out on his forehead (a pretty neat trick considering what comes next), the Schemer grabs his head by the hair and pulls. The whole thing is a mask and underneath (also sweating) is the young orange-haired man of the flashback. Yes, the Schemer is secretly Richard, the Kingpin's son. And why has he bothered with all this? Because "All those years while Richard lived on the money [the Kingpin] made from crime... those years had to be paid for! There had to be an accounting! And, what could be more fitting, what could be more just than that I, your own son, be the one to end the Kingpin's career?" Makes sense to me!
The Kingpin is pulverized by this turn of events. He backs off with a crazed look in his eye, his hand held up as if warding off his son. First he has the shock of learning that his son is alive, then the shock that his son is the Schemer, then the shock that he sees in his son's eyes and hears in his son's voice... the realization that "you hate me! Hate me! Hate me!" Richard protests this. He still loves his father even as he wishes that he were not his father's son. Then, Vanessa enters the room, unsurprised to see her son. She recognized Richard in the Schemer's eyes and knew the truth in her heart. Vanessa goes over to her husband and grabs his face in her hands. The Kingpin does not move. He simply stands and stares straight ahead, "in a state of shock". Mother and son sit the huge man down on a chair. The Kingpin gives no reaction. "It's as though his entire body has become an empty shell," says Vanessa. Richard is tortured with guilt. He wanted his father "to pay for my own hurt and disillusionment but not like this! Not like this!"
On the other side of the room, Spidey has managed to get his feet under him (mainly because the net has stretched and loosened considerably for no reason that I can see except that the plot requires it). He knows if he is going to get free he must do it now. So, he apparently just stands right up! Then he flexes and snaps the net so that it falls in pieces around him. The Kingpin never bats an eye as Spidey frees himself. This is all the proof Spider-Man needs to convince him that the Kingpin's paralysis is legit. The web-slinger takes in the scene... the staring and empty Kingpin and the grieving wife and son... and decides that everyone has been punished enough. Instead of approaching them, he heads for a window and slips out into the city. "Maybe our paths will cross again, maybe they won't" he ponders as he web-slings away and decides, "Somehow, it doesn't seem to matter anymore!"
In the letters page, Bill Maas and Bill Kurtz of Stanford, California speculate that "Someday it seems likely that somebody is going to patch together all the insignificant little hints, and discover that Spidey really is Peter Parker. Who knows, it might even be Gwen" (Nice try, fellas, but you picked the wrong Stacy.) and Eric Shratter of Huntsville, Alabama gets two of his letters published back-to-back! (I'm sure you're a great guy, Eric, and all, but... how the heck do you rate???!!)
Spidey doesn't cheer up too much over the next year of issues. He gets the flu (#86), reveals his secret identity to his friends only to weasel out of it later (#87) and witnesses the death of Captain Stacy (#90). This last event sets Gwen against Spider-Man (#91) and eventually results in her flight to England to stay with her Uncle (#93). Then the Green Goblin returns (#96) and Harry Osborn suffers a drug overdose (#97). So, when is the next really happy moment in Peter Parker's life? When Gwen returns from England and runs into his arms in ASM #98 (July 1971), more than a year after these Schemer and Kingpin events. (Enjoy it while you can, Pete! Less than two years later, she's dead!)
The story of the Kingpin and his son picks up about a year and a half later in the pages of Captain America and the Falcon. In issue #s 145-146 of his mag (January-February 1972), Cap battles the hordes of Hydra led by the Supreme Hydra and a mysterious man sitting at a console. In #147 (March 1972), he unmasks the new Supreme Hydra and reveals him to be Richard Fisk, the Kingpin's son. The man at the console is the Kingpin himself. In this story, it is revealed that Vanessa has the Kingpin taken away to an institution. Richard decides that his ignorance and naivety are to blame for his father's condition. This inspires him to crime as a career choice. He uses underground contacts to join Hydra and quickly rises through the ranks. After "nearly a year" he is Supreme Hydra and he becomes determined to cure his father who is still in a state of total shock at the institution. Richard sends his Hydra agents to abduct the Kingpin and take him to Hydra headquarters. There a special "hyper-shock-treatment" is used on the Kingpin. The Hydra men then bring the Kingpin home where he soon recovers. Richard also arranges for the Kingpin to become the head of Hydra but makes Vanessa promise that his father never know it is his son who has arranged all of this. By the end of the issue, the true head of Hydra is revealed to be the Red Skull who has duped the father and son team into helping him animate the Fifth Sleeper. The Kingpin and Richard join Cap, the Falcon, and SHIELD to defeat this menace and then fade into the woodwork. When the Kingpin finally returns to face Spidey in ASM #163-164 (December 1976-January 1977), he reveals that Richard was left "dying in my arms" after participating in the battle against the Sleeper. The Kingpin puts his son in "cryogenic suspended animation" until he can capture Spidey and steal the web-slinger's vitality to resurrect his son. Richard is cured, of course. Otherwise he wouldn't be around to take on the identity of the Rose. Some other time with that, okay?
And, yes, Captain Stacy has pretty much figured out that Peter is Spider-Man but then he goes and gets himself killed five issues later.
Unfortunately, the whole story really lags here in the conclusion. The cover promises that the Schemer's secret is "Possibly the greatest comic magazine surprise of the year!" but it isn't hard to figure out. I still can't buy that Spidey would take a prisoner to some anonymous building just to get a reward he can spend on Gwen's birthday and, after all the months of the constant threat of the Kingpin, the shock-turned-catatonia is a bit of a letdown. I can't offer more than two point five webs here, and that's not impressive for a classic tale like this one.