We conclude the two-part arc which showed the Black Cat's second showdown with Spider-Man. Unfortunately, Marv Wolfman's stint on Amazing ends smack bang in the middle of this storyline as David Michelinie fills in to finish up. Let's see what David can do with the tale.
|Cover Art:||Al Milgrom|
David starts by showing Spider-Man shivering as he sits in a web hammock up by the ceiling of the "Hendricks Museum of Musical History in Lover Manhattan". Spidey is shivering because he has broken a window in order to get inside and then discovered that "the best surveillance spot in the whole place" is right by that window that he has broken. A winter wind pours into the museum right onto our hero. There is a guard walking amidst the exhibits below but he doesn't seem to notice the cold air. It's also hard to believe that no one heard the crash of the broken glass, particularly when you look at the size of the hole. And doesn't this museum have some kind of alarm system? This kind of illogic is the least of our problems. Wait till you see what David must go through to take care of all the plot strands with which Marv has left him.
He starts by having Spidey inform us that he has figured out the Black Cat's game and knows she will strike at the Hendricks Museum next. Then David tries to pull a fast one. First, he flashes back to the first appearance of the Cat (in ASM #194-195, July-August 1979), reminding us that "she was busy freeing her cat burglar father from prison and shortly after he passed away, she apparently died in a fall". But that's just smoke to cover his next move. Now that he has us thinking he is merely recapping the Cat's previous adventures, he changes a detail that he hopes the reader will not notice. But we're not reading these issues a month apart. We're going through them all at once. And the change is unmistakable. In the flashback to ASM #204 (May 1980), Spidey tells us that the Cat has been "stealing artifacts associated with romance... First the Two Lovers statue, then the Eye of Eros Diamond". Does anyone out there remember anything at all about an Eye of Eros Diamond? Of course not. Because the gem that the Cat stole was, in fact, the Rajah Ruby, which has nothing to do with romance at all. So right off the bat, we're given a great big billboard and that billboard says, "David Michelinie is writing his own conclusion to Marv Wolfman's story... whatever the story was going to be under Marv, this is not it!"
Well, sadly, it's the only story we've got so let's get on with it. Spidey has deduced that the Black Cat's next prize will be the "priceless one-of-a-kind wax recording of Caruso singing a love aria" which happens to be right below him. But dawn is approaching and the Cat hasn't shown up so Spidey decides tonight is not the night for the theft. He jumps down from the roof to the floor so that he can stretch his cramped muscles. Is he dumber than a box of rocks? Does he think he's at home? Does the fact that no guard responded to a gaping hole in a window make Spidey so contemptuous of their abilities that he doesn't think a guard will spot him now? Well, whatever. As he is stretching, two guards, drawn to look like Abbott and Costello, come up behind him with guns drawn and tell him to "freeze". Spidey raises his hands, makes a joke about "freezing all night", shoots some webbing up to the roof, uses that webbing to backflip over the guards, and leaps around until he is back up by the ceiling and out the broken window. The Lou Costello guard actually takes several shots at Spidey before the Bud Abbott guard whacks him one. "If your bullets smash one of those displays, we'll be working for free for the next ten years," he says. And just to be sure we get it, David has Lou say, "I'm a baaaad boy!" (Yeah, it's going to be like that.)
So, Spidey webswings over Manhattan as the sun comes up. He knows he only has time for "a quick shower and a caffeine hit" before he is expected at Empire State University.
A half hour later, Peter Parker walks into the science offices at ESU where Steve Hopkins informs him that he has a visitor waiting in his office. (Last time I looked, Peter only had a cubicle. Now it looks like he's taken over the entire department!) Pete enters his office and finds Dawn Starr, clad in a pink pantsuit, sitting in a chair waiting for him. She tries to get him to call her "Dawn" but he insists on "Ms. Starr" since he has no intention of dating a student. But Dawn won't take "no" for an answer. "Surely there's no harm in a satisfying relationship between two consenting adults" she says, right before she gives Pete a very serious kiss on the lips. Pete caves in a hurry. He's still not sure about it but, he tells Dawn, "I don't suppose it could hurt to give things a try". The couple exits the office. Dawn takes Pete's chin in her hands. "How about if we start with a picnic on the green on Sunday day after tomorrow?" she suggests and Pete immediately agrees to the date. Steve watches all of this with admiration. Once Dawn leaves he tells Pete "that's some slick number you got there" and Pete concurs that "things are looking up for ol' Petey Parker". (Even though he's done about the sleaziest 180 in the history of the character.)
That night, Spider-Man webswings toward Lower Manhattan. He is still trying to figure out why the Cat is stealing "artifacts associated with love". He wonders if this is some Elektra complex relating to "the adoration she felt for her father", then he must stop all such thoughts as he arrives at the museum and learns that someone has boarded up the broken window. The web-slinger seems almost surprised by this, as if a museum would fail to notice broken glass and a stiff winter breeze. For a moment, he thinks he will have to find another way in (plenty of other windows to break, Spidey!) but then his spider-sense goes off and he figures the time for "subtlety" is past. He gets a good swinging start on the end of a web and kicks his way through the boards that block his favorite window. Pieces of board fall all around him as he lands on the floor. (Luckily the boards do not strike any exhibits but, really, Spidey's continued lack of respect for museum property is appalling.) The same two guards are sitting on the floor with their hands tied behind their backs. (And, just in case you still didn't get it, this time they call each other "Bud" and "Lou".) The Black Cat is also there. She has broken through the glass case and is in the process of stealing the Caruso aria.
Spidey confronts her but the Cat blows one of those kisses that has the little hearts rise up from it and the shadow of the cat appears and the next thing you know Spidey's web-shooters are jammed. So, the web-slinger leaps at the Cat and Felicia steps aside and kicks Spidey in the chest, which causes him to fall back into an exhibit, and, yes, just like last issue, here we are again in another one of those museum brawls. The Cat tries to follow up the kick in the chest with a kick in the head but Spider-Man ducks down, blocks her leg with his arm and uses leverage to flip her onto her back. The webster leaps on top of the Cat, pinning her arms but Felicia directs his attention to the two guards who are "about to have a run of rather rotten luck". And, sure enough, one of the displays... a huge steam organ... is inexplicably falling over. It will crush the guards if Spider-Man doesn't act. So, the web-spinner jumps away from the Cat and grabs the steam organ before it can fall. While he is trying to push the organ back up, the Black Cat grabs the Caruso cylinder and escapes.
(Wait a minute! Didn't this scene already take place in the last issue? No, that's right. In that museum fight, Spidey was forced to keep a ninth-century vase from falling over while the Black Cat escaped. That's completely different.)
The steam organ is extremely heavy and it is slipping on the tile floor. The wall-crawler knows he won't be able to push it back upright so he orders the guards to roll out of the way. Once Bud and Lou comply, the only person in danger is the web-slinger himself. He braces himself, kicks backward, and somersaults out of harm's way as the steam organ crashes to the floor and breaks apart. (Yet another museum piece protected by your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.)
The wall-crawler unties the two guards. They thank him and tell him they are sorry for what happened the night before. Spidey tells them to forget it. "You were just doing your job" he says, but he's actually thinking about how they prevented him from catching the Black Cat.
The next day, Peter makes his way to the Daily Globe building. He peeks into Barney Bushkin's office looking for a photo assignment but Barney is not alone. He introduces Pete to Pamela Dean, Society Editor. Then Pete takes a seat while Pamela and Barney conclude their business so he just happens to be in the room as Pam tells Barney that she would like to write a story about Lazlo Bellflower who "has the largest collection of romantic and erotic artifacts in the world". Barney gives her the okay. Pete steps right in and offers his services as a photographer for the feature. When Barney reminds him that he's "an action photographer", Pete replies, "I'm an ol' romantic at heart". Barney agrees to give him the assignment.
It has begun to snow outside as Pete tries to hail a taxi. He is convinced that the Bellflower collection is the Cat's next target. Felicia let slip during their last fight that she needed only one more treasure after the Caruso so Pete feels his chances of capturing her slipping away. "The shrine she's likely building to her father must be nearly complete" he thinks (still dumber than a box of rocks). Finally, a taxi pulls over to pick him up but a man in a brown hat and coat hustles by him and steals Pete's cab. So, Pete is forced to hail a passing bus. (And what's the point of all that? I don't have a clue.)
Somewhere along the line, Peter has made an appointment with Lazlo Bellflower to photograph his collection but that appointment is for the evening. This gives Pete time to grade some papers at ESU in the meantime. (It also gives David a chance to quickly wrap up a Marv Wolfman sub-plot.) He arrives at his office and finds the door unlocked. He enters the empty foyer and sees, through the glass in his door, a woman in his office. Fearing that it is the Black Cat, Pete changes to his Spider-Man duds and enters through the window. There he finds Dawn Starr rifling through his file cabinet. He is so shocked at this discovery that he blurts out her name and Dawn is naturally curious as to how Spider-Man knows it. But Spidey dodges the issue ("I know a lot of things, lady", he says) and instead jumps down from the wall, grabs Dawn by the arm and demands to know why she has picked the lock on the file cabinet. Dawn tries a story about having a date with Peter Parker which he changed to today and that Steve Hopkins let her in but Spidey, of course, knows that's a lie. He takes one look at what Dawn is holding in her hand and realizes that she is stealing the science exam forms. Looking very threatening, shaking his clenched fists in Dawn's face, Spidey forces her to admit that she only came on to Peter Parker so that she would have the opportunity to steal the exam. (But, of course, this is all nonsense, since she doesn't steal the forms on a date with Pete or while wrapping Pete around her finger. No, she breaks into the office, which she could have done without getting involved with Peter at all. It's just David getting rid of Dawn Starr as fast as possible. In the process, he actually sets up an interesting follow-up which is never pursued, because, after all, what with Spidey blurting out her name, Dawn has to know that the web-slinger is someone she knows and since they are in Peter's office, she may even infer that Parker is the webster. But, no. Dawn Starr runs out of the office and is never seen again.)
With Dawn gone, Spidey stands alone in the office, his shoulders sagging and his head bowed. "The Black Cat is a thief who claims to like me," he thinks as he removes his mask, "While Dawn claims to like me and turns out to be a thief." This gives Peter ample opportunity to tumble into a big vat of self-pity again.
While Pete is still moping about in his office, Felicia Hardy arrives at the "East Side Estate of Lazlo Bellflower", which is an immense mansion that seems to take up an entire city block. Lazlo, an overweight and graying man in a smoking jacket and ascot, lets Felicia in and admits to being intrigued by her offer of "three incredibly valuable romantic relics in trade for the Helen Epistle". He is particularly surprised since he believes "there aren't more than a half-dozen people in the world who even know of the epistle's existence". Felicia, it appears, is one of them. She opens up a suitcase and hauls out the Golden Lovers (which she holds in her right hand) and the Rajah Ruby... ahem, I mean the Eye of Eros (which she holds in her left). Lazlo responds by pointing to a transparent "hydrogen-sealed container" sitting on a pedestal. Felicia lifts the container and peers at the rolled-up parchment within. She is holding the "only known love-letter written to Paris by Helen of Troy" and she decides it is "the perfect touch". (So, here in the space of twelve pages, David Michelinie... only filling in on this one issue, remember... has changed Marv's plot around, had Spidey casually destroy museum property, introduced two overly-broad caricatures of Abbott and Costello, pretty much copied the museum fight scene from the previous issue, wiped out any possible sub-plot Marv had brewing with Dawn Starr, and casually presented Paris and Helen of Troy as real historical figures in the Marvel Universe. In a word... AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!!)
But back to it, anyway. Lazlo is happy to make the trade and offers to seal the deal with "a small libation". Felicia agrees and asks if she might "slip out of these stuffy clothes first". Lazlo, wide-eyed with lust, has no objection. So, as Lazlo steps behind his bar and pours a couple, Felicia takes off her trench coat and scarf to reveal her Black Cat costume underneath. She also pulls a gun on Lazlo that so startles him that he drops the tray of drinks. Felicia apologizes to Lazlo (but she calls him "Pudge" instead of "Love") but she has to renege on the deal. She needs all four artifacts "to fulfill my promise" so she just plans on stealing the epistle instead. Lazlo, shocked, stammers out, "B-but that... that's not nice!"
At the gate to the Bellflower mansion, Lazlo's personal guard tells Peter Parker that his appointment has been cancelled because "something unexpected came up". Peter tells the guard that he will come back tomorrow but he's, you know, lying because his spider-sense is already jingling like crazy and he knows that means the Black Cat is already inside. He runs off somewhere, gets into his Spidey suit and vaults over the iron fence. But Lazlo's security is not messing around. As soon as Spidey hits the grass inside the fence, two more guards arrive and each of these guys has a very vicious dog on a leash. One guard orders his dog (named Benji... hah, little Michelinie joke) to sic Spidey but the wall-crawler retaliates by webbing the guard's hand to his leash. (He apparently does the same to the second guard and second dog but we don't see that.) The two dogs try to attack but only succeed in dragging the two guards along with them. Having taken care of the dogs, Spidey scales the wall of the mansion. Two more guards (with a third one joining them in the next panel) shoot at him so Spidey takes to the web and swings up to the roof of the building. He finds a swimming pool (drained) up there as well as a private elevator into the mansion.
And so it isn't too much later that the Black Cat's packing of all the artifacts in her suitcase is interrupted by a cheerful cry of "Bonsoir, ma'amselle!" She turns around and sees Spider-Man perched up on the top of the door. More guards are webbed to the ceiling out in the hallway. The Cat, still protesting that she doesn't want to hurt him, turns her gun on Spider-Man but the wall-crawler plugs the barrel up with some webbing. Spidey then tries to web up the Cat herself but she evades the webbing by swinging on the room's large chandelier. From there, she jumps down and kicks Spidey in the chest, all the time asking that he "leave me alone! Just for awhile! I promise you'll understand everything soon!".
Spidey isn't too rattled by the Cat's attack, so he is right on her heels as she tries to run off with her suitcase. He leaps, she curls into a ball and ducks, he misses her and lands right under the chandelier. The Cat calls out for him to "look out" since the chandelier is going to fall. And sure enough, it does, though Spidey is able to somersault out of the way. It is just more bad luck from crossing the path of the Black Cat except this time, Spidey thinks, "the Cat's warning sounded sincere like she was worried about me".
In the meantime, however, the Cat has escaped out a window. Spidey promises Lazlo that he will "get your knick-knack back" but Lazlo's chandelier has been wrecked and he is no longer in a cheerful mood. He shakes his fist as Spidey races out the window. "J. Jonah Jameson was right about costumed ruffians!" he says and then threatens to sue. "You're welcome" says the departing web-slinger.
We're getting to the end of all this madness, people. Do you think you can handle that surprise ending we were promised?
Out in the night, Spidey congratulates himself on managing to attach a spider-tracer to the Cat while they were fighting. (And we just have to take Spidey's word for it since no evidence of a tracer appears in any of the panels.) Still dumber than a box of rocks, Spidey marvels at how close Felicia must have been to her father "to take such risks just to honor him". "I almost envy the guy", he adds. By then, he has arrived at the Cat's penthouse apartment. He looks through the skylight and sees Felicia down below with her four stolen treasures spread out around her. In his ongoing crusade against windows, Spidey smashes through the skylight, scattering glass all over the floor. He tells the Cat that he is taking the artifacts away from her. Felicia has no objection. After all, she tells him, "You're the one I stole them for!" Then she turns on the light and reveals that her room is filled with framed photos of the web-slinger. Ol' box-of-rocks Spidey finally figures out that the Cat has not created a shrine to her father but to him! (This is your big "surprise ending" by the way.)
Brace yourself. The last page gets wordy and pseudo-psychoanalytical and just plain putrid. The Cat tells Spidey (who she now calls "darling") that, after her father died, she promised her mother (who was worried that Felicia would follow in her dad's criminal footsteps) that she would seek professional help. Except that wacky little Felicia misinterprets this request and decides that the best person from which to seek help is Spider-Man since he's "almost as good as daddy and I've had a crush on you for years". She gives Spidey a big hug and keeps shoveling the you-know-what. "Of course I knew you wouldn't help me unless you loved me, too" she says, "so I set about stealing the most valuable romantic symbols in the country just to show what you mean to me and now we love each other, don't we? Just like daddy and me."
Spidey is just heart-broken by all this. He now understands that the Cat "loved her father so much... too much" and that "his death must have shattered her emotional balance". And just in case you still don't get it, Spidey beats you over the head with it, explaining that "what her mother obviously wanted her to get was psychiatric help but she couldn't accept that her mom didn't approve of her being like her father. So she latched onto me as a substitute father! In her own childlike way, she really does love me!" (Yikes! Thank you, Sigmund Webhead!)
Gently, Spidey takes Felicia's hand in both of his. He tells her he wants her to "do something for me". The Cat readily agrees. "I, uh, know some people" he says, "some doctors. I'd like you to talk with them. And I promise, love, I'll see that you get all the help you need." And Spidey puts his arm around a now-docile Cat and leads her away.
Marv Wolfman's plots and subplots have not been completely ripped to shreds yet, friends. That finishes up next issue when Roger Stern is called in to place a one-issue bandage over the whole "J. Jonah Jameson gone mad" multi-issue subplot. The next issue blurb here promises, "It's not what you expect!" That's right! I expected something good!
To be fair to Roger, however, he does return as the regular scripter in a year and a half (beginning with ASM #224, January 1982) becoming one of the most respected Spidey scribes before he is through. He also does us the favor of retconning the ridiculous ending to this story almost immediately when he reveals, in ASM #226, March 1982 that the Black Cat found the spider-tracer planted on her at Lazlo's home. She couldn't detach it from her costume and knew that Spidey would be on the scene in seconds so she made up the obsessive love angle because she knew it would be easier to escape from a hospital than a prison. To which I can only add... Thank God!
And to be fair to David, he also eventually becomes ASM's regular scripter, writing nearly every issue of the book over an almost seven year span (from ASM #290, July 1987 to ASM #388, April 1994) during which time he creates some classic Spider-Man tales (principally the early Venom stories) and, yes, some real stinkers as well (such as the Peter Parker's Parents storyline).
The Black Cat goes through a lot of changes over the years going from villain to sidekick to hero, from Spider-Man's love interest to Flash Thompson's love interest, from her own mini-series to a shared series with Spidey, written by Kevin Smith and currently in comic book limbo. Whether you like the direction of the character or loathe it, one thing is clear... We never did see the direction intended by Marv Wolfman, her creator. And that, I suspect, is our loss.
This conclusion issue is an out-and-out crime. It's not on the level of the desperate clone-retcons of Revelations and it doesn't destroy a great story like the resurrection of Aunt May destroys ASM #400 (April 1995) but it's still a botched rush-job that smacks of disappointment even all these years later. Even now, you can't read these two issues, and not wonder what Marv really had in mind for ASM #205. Maybe some day he'll let us know.
Half a web. Call the police!