Now, where were we? Oh yeah... Spidey and JJJ have 24 hours to live. Of course, you already know that because your read our looking back review of Amazing Spider-Man #191. This issue concludes the two-part arc.
|Cover Art:||Keith Pollard|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #9|
Spidey grabs Smythe by the throat and lifts him in the air but this intimidation does not work. Smythe is already dying... no threats will get him to reveal the secret of the bomb. Jameson's promises of money and medical care won't work either. Smythe's condition is too advanced. Money will not help him now. Jonah wants to stick around and try to sway Smythe but Spidey is not interested. "I'm not gonna stand here and argue with that maniac", he says. He heads to the window, dragging the shackled Jameson with him.
Elsewhere, "far from Spencer Smythe's Westchester lab" (I could have sworn that Smythe's lab was either in Manhattan or Queens but... oh well), a garishly garbed figure flies through the air heading to Kennedy airport. Yes, it's the Fly and he has some sinister plan in mind involving an arriving Egyptian delegation.
At the Daily Bugle, Joe Robertson is trying to locate Peter Parker. He took a risk ignoring JJJ's firing of Pete. Now he's concerned that he can't contact him. Of course, the object of his search is webslinging while trying to tote J. Jonah Jameson. The crazed publisher is not giving Spidey any help. In fact, he grabs at our hero's mask and starts to pull it off. Spidey manages to keep his mask on, then dangles Jonah over the side of a building, threatening to drop him if he tugs on the mask again. He then tries to explain that he didn't kill Jameson's son. "Hah!", says Jonah, "You expect me to believe that after you almost dropped me?" "How could I, you moron", Spidey responds, "without dropping me as well?"
Peter takes JJJ to Curt Conners' New York lab (and a security guard notices the duo entering the window). Dr. Conners' is, fortunately, in town. Spidey explains about the bomb (the timer is now down to 19:45:08) and Curt, who apparently is an expert in EVERY type of scientific inquiry, uses some humongous machine to determine the bomb's components. He learns that the device works on a "pressure principle", meaning that an attempt to remove the shackle will change the pressure of the compressed plastique and detonate the bomb. And at that moment the door of Conners' lab is battered down. The security guard has reported to the police and a whole squad of armed cops are there to take on Spider-Man.
And elsewhere, the Fly has followed one particular man from the airport to his hotel room. He smashes through the window, knocks the man out and steals an invitation to the King Tut exhibit. "With this", he says, "I'll make a million!"
And back at Curt's lab, D.A. Tower and the bomb squad have joined the other policemen. In spite of Jonah's calls for Spidey's arrest for murder, the D.A. has no intention of obliging him. The bomb experts examine the device but have never seen anything like it before. They dare not remove the shackles. Tower tells the unlikely duo that they must stay isolated while his men keep trying to solve the bomb but Spidey will have none of that. In spite of Tower's protests, the webhead leaps out the window... JJJ again an unwilling passenger.
At the same time, Betty Brant has called Flash Thompson to tell him that this is the morning Peter is going to pick up his college diploma. Flash is hanging out with Harry Osborn, Liz Allan and Sha Shan (and it looks like he's on a pay phone in a diner so how Betty knew where to reach him is something of a mystery) and they all agree to go down to EMU to witness Pete's official graduation. Betty decides to call Mary Jane as well, in spite of their recent rivalry, but MJ leaves her apartment just moments before the phone rings. (And she makes a reference to her parents breaking up... perhaps the first mention of this subplot that was extensively developed in later years.)
Meanwhile, a leaping Spidey is getting his passenger sick. Jonah complains that he's hungry and wants to stop and eat. Spider-Man would love to stop and eat, too, but he doesn't dare risk the chance of JJJ recognizing his jawline. He is also tired of leaping around without webbing but he can't go home to get more with Jameson in tow. And, on top of all that, Pete's spider-sense goes off. That is because of a sudden attack by the Fly!
After the Fly's initial attack, Spidey knocks the villain away. He leaps several buildings over, telling Jonah, "Y'know something... between spider-slayers and Flys and all the other gimmicks you've cooked up to get rid of me (Oh yes, the Fly was another Jameson concoction that backfired on him, created by the brother of the doctor who was responsible for the Scorpion.) you've probably spent well over a million bucks! Why didn't you just give me the money? I'd've been on the first bus to Cleveland by morning."
The Fly strikes Spider-Man again. He is convinced that Spidey has tracked him down to prevent his latest caper and is deaf to our hero's protestations. Spidey is hampered in the fight by JJJ ("I can't fight back... not without dislocating every bone is his scrawny little bod.") but does his best. The trio crash onto the roof of a building. Spidey knocks the Fly back with a hard left smash. The Fly turns around and, beating his wings, sets up an "ultra-sonic backlash" that sends Pete and Jonah crashing against a chimney. Spider-Man leaps out of the Fly's reach but he can't keep it up. Jameson keeps trying to run away and this throws Peter's balance off. The villain (who has the "proportional strength of a fly"... are you impressed?) swings freely, powerful lefts and rights, until Spider-Man has been knocked to the ground, apparently unconscious. Jonah uses his old trick of trying to buy the Fly off, but it doesn't work. The Fly lifts his two adversaries above his head and throws them off the building.
Jonah is sure he is going to die but Spider-Man has feigned unconsciousness to get away from the Fly's punches. The webhead grabs a flagpole but it doesn't hold. Their combined weight is too much. He leaps about, trying to find a handhold or a spot on a wall on which to cling but the recent rain has made the concrete too slick. In the end, though their descent has been slowed, there is nothing to do but hit the ground. Peter manages to get underneath to take the brunt of the fall but both men slip into unconsciousness. The Fly buzzes overhead, decides that Spider-Man is dead without going down to check, and flies away. (This is the same thing the Vulture did a couple of months ago in a previous Looking Back segment. What is it with these villains that fly?)
Soon after, J. Jonah Jameson regains consciousness. He looks down to see that Spider-Man is still knocked out. It is the opportunity he has
lways been waiting for. Now he can finally remove the mask and see who Spider-Man really is. He reaches for the mask. Spidey, still out, makes no move to stop him.
At ESU, the plan to meet with Peter has been a flop. Three and a half hours have gone by. The Administration Building is closing. There will be no graduation celebration for Parker. His diploma will be mailed to him.
And, in a phone booth, across from the Dimestore Disco, Mary Jane calls a fellow named Cliff. Peter said he would meet her by six and Peter has not shown up. Now, MJ finds something else to do on a rainy evening. "Whatever last hope there was", MJ thinks, "it's gone... forever."
Some time later, Spider-Man awakes to find that he and Jonah are at Curt Conners' laboratory. "It's about time you awoke, creep", says JJJ, "I carried you all the way here myself." (Fortunately, they ended up close enough so that Jonah only had to carry Spidey four blocks... but even THAT seems hard to believe.) Jameson gives no indication that he knows who is under that mask (what exactly happened at that moment becomes a long-term subplot with a very anti-climactic conclusion). Conners wants Spidey to relax, fearing a concussion, but there isn't time. One hour remains until the bomb goes off. Spidey suddenly gets an idea. They must return to Smythe's lab in Westchester... fast!
It takes the duo a half hour to get there. Spidey breaks down the door, dragging Jonah with him. They approach the silent unmoving Smythe. Jonah thinks Smythe's silence denotes smugness but it's a little more serious than that. Spenser Smythe is dead and JJJ and Spidey's chances may have died with him.
A pre-recorded message pops up on the video screen. A dying Smythe laments that he will not last long enough to see his two enemies die. Jonah breaks after this message. He falls to his knees, in tears, fearing to die. In the end, he turns on Spider-Man, crying out, "I was a good man once, a strong proud man, then you wormed your slimy way into my life... you became my private devil... my single obsession... the comstant reminder of how weak I..." but Spidey stops him there. While Jonah has been emoting, Peter has been thinking. Smythe said he wanted to SEE his enemies die but Peter reasons that Smythe would know that the duo would not stay put. Therefore there must be a camera built into the shackle and a "hook-up" in the lab. "If there's a hook-up, there's gotta be a power source, something to electrically activate the camera and keep the shackle locked in place." Pete goes on to spill the beans to Jonah about his spider-sense (I hate it when writers have Spidey yak on to his foes about his spider-sense. This should be one of his great secrets.) and the spider-sense leads him to a wall.
Spidey rips open the metal wall and behind it is a power source. There are only four minutes left until detonation. Pete has no time to be careful. He tries to figure it out, going on about "an unwinding mainspring" and "plastique explosive under a constant five-pound pressure". Jonah gasps, "You understand these things? Who are you?" (So, we know right there that JJJ didn't remove Spidey's mask after all.) But there are too many variables and not enough time. Spidey can't figure it out. But then Pete gets another idea.
He notices the cryogenic chamber that Smythe had used to keep John Jameson frozen, before siccing him on Spidey as the Man-Wolf. Our hero pries loose the liquid oxygen feed and uses it like a fire hose to spray down the power source, hoping to shatter the machinery. At first, it doesn't appear to work. There are thirty seconds left. But in those final seconds, the locking mechanism shatters from the cold and the shackle falls off. The bomb, though, is still operational and only seconds remain. Spidey leaps to a window with the device and throws it outside. The explosion shakes all of Westchester but no one is harmed.
The two men try to recover from the shock and stress. They have faced death together but if Spidey thinks that will draw them together, he is mistaken. Jameson does not commiserate... he attacks! "You did this to me! You brought me to the edge. You could have saved us earlier, but you wanted me to grovel! You're everything bad I've ever said you were... everything and more!" A stunned Spidey takes his leave. Behind him, alone, a tearful Jonah reveals his thoughts. "You wanted to humiliate me, you wanted me to grovel, didn't you, Spider-Man? Admit it! Well, you succeeded. We were both on the razor's edge of death and while I've always prided myself on my strength, you kept on fighting, you risked everything to save us. And I... I fell apart! You've seen me make a fool of myself... you now know I'm not half the man you are. And for that reason, I've got to drag you down into the gutter. Because I can't live with anyone knowing that the lion of publishing, the great benefactor of the little people, that, Heaven help me, that J. Jonah Jameson is actually... just a weak and ordinary man."
A couple of loose ends to tie up.
What happened to the Fly? He shows up again in the very next issue (ASM #193: The Wings of the Fearsome Fly!; June 1979), a story that also re-introduces the Burglar who killed Uncle Ben as well as Mysterio masquerading again (as he did in ASM #24) as Dr. Ludwig Rinehart. In the issue, Peter is having a very bad day, wondering whether JJJ unmasked him, getting the brush off from MJ, and getting a punch in the kisser from a jealous Ned Leeds. Only a victory over the Fly will make him feel better... but he is even frustrated in that department, as the NYPD, using equipment borrowed from S.H.I.E.L.D., capture the Fly ahead of him.
And what's become of the Fly since then? Well, in the mid-eighties, Marvel introduced a character known as the Scourge of the Underworld. The Scourge was, essentially, serving as a clean-up crew for the Marvel Universe, by going around and killing dozens of second-rate villains. If you were killed by the Scourge, it was a cinch that you were a king-size loser that Marvel didn't want around anymore. Which brings us to Amazing Spider-Man #276 (Unmasked!; May 1986), the issue in which Spidey unmasks the Hobgoblin to reveal Flash Thompson. Nestled quietly in that story is a scene in which the Fly escapes from the Bwainstein Psychiatric Center, only to be murdered by the Scourge who is, appropriately, disguised as "a simple trashman". Quite a comedown for a villain who was billed as "the most sensational new villain of all" on the cover of his first appearance in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #10.
OK, then, what happened when Jonah had a chance to unmask Spider-Man? This subplot hung around for another nine issues (with Pete driving himself crazy trying to decide if JJJ knows he's Spidey or not), then gets resolved so quickly, it's easy to forget the answer all these years later. During the course of the post-#192 issues, Jameson gets crazier and crazier until he finally finds himself admitted to Bellville Hospital. There, in ASM #201 (February 1980), he tells his psychiatrist, "I was shackled to that creep Spider-Man... there was a bomb between our wrists, and he was unconscious! Well, I reached over to rip off his stupid mask to see who he is... but there was this big, ugly cop standing in the alleyway. He didn't see me... but I couldn't take any chances... the cops wanted to quarantine us both because of that bomb. I picked up the wall-crawler and carried him away." After a wait of close to a year, the whole explanation takes three panels to tell and doesn't explain why Jameson didn't just carry Spidey some place where no cops were around... and then unmask him there.
And what about Jameson's insanity? Well, he escapes the hospital in that very same ASM #201, only to run headlong into a wall and knock himself out in ASM #202. He comes to, two issues later, with amnesia, only to be taken in hand by Dr. Jonas Harrow, the madman behind Hammerhead, the Will O'The Wisp, and the augmented Kangaroo. The whole story is resolved in ASM #206 (A Method in His Madness; July 1980), a fill-in issue written by Roger Stern (his first ASM script), with art by John Byrne and the late Gene Day. In this tale, it is revealed that Jonas Harrow was behind Jameson's madness from the beginning. He accomplished this by training his "mental attitude-response variator ray" on JJJ's office for increasing periods of time. A rather abrupt and unsatisfying conclusion to the whole Jameson madness story and, coming as it does in a fill-in after Marv Wolfman left the book, it smacks of a quick clean-up so that new writer Denny O'Neill could go on his own merry way.
There was actually a rumor at the time that Marv eventually planned to have Jameson, in his madness, kill the Black Cat, and that the fate of Jonah was to be much more involved than what finally materialized... but only Marv knows the truth of this for sure. Word is out that PPP may be getting a Marv Wolfman interview. Wouldn't it be fun to ask him?