With the Hobgoblin saga in full swing, the team of Tom DeFalco and company decided to step back for an issue. Instead, the story focusses more on the troubles existing between Matt Murdock and the Kingpin, and how Spiderman fits into Wilson Fisk's world of crime. The second half of the story is an entertaining little tale by Charles Vess, a little sappy, yes, but not so bad that it can't pull on the heartstrings a bit.
There's a bit of a misleading caption on the cover, citing #277 promises "The Mystery of the Hobgoblin deepens." But hey, Hobby doesn't speak a word, or even make an appearance in this issue! However, I'll let it pass, because one of the best aspects of the Hobgoblin saga was the excellent use of subplots. As much as readers back in the 80's wanted to desperately find out who the Hobgoblin was, it was the Flash Thompson/Sha Shan/Betty Brant/Ned Leeds/Lance Bannan smhorgsabord of romance and deception that helped make the stories absorbing.
This issue begins with Peter musing at his window, hardly believing that Flash Thompson is the Hobgoblin (for now). Peter realizes that as much as he and Flash were two very different people in high school, the past few years had led Pete and Flash to finally getting along and accepting each other. Yet, on the other hand, Flash as the Hobgoblin was a reckless criminal, who had tried to end Spiderman's life several times in battle. MJ and Pete argue over how he should approach the situation. Pete isn't sure he should help Thompson, but MJ retorts: "Flash is your friend! That's got to count for something!" The argument continues to escalate, until it is broken by the phone ringing. Matt Murdock is on the line, paranoid as ever, and he asks Peter to visit him at the rescue mission he is currently staying in. Upon reaching the mission, Peter makes a grim discovery: Murdock is a miserable, beaten man. There's a little bit of Marvel cross-promotion here, as Murdock explains how the Kingpin has tried to squeeze the life out of him by destroying all his property and assets. (Fisk had found out that Murdock was the secret identity of Daredevil, in ishes 227 and 228). Following this is a grim scene where Matt pleads with Peter to make a promise to him. Matt, more than anything else, desires to inflict revenge on the Kingpin for all the pain he has caused himself. Peter promises Matt that he will stay out of these affairs, as he realizes this is a grudge match between two men that doesn't need external interference.
Well, Pete breaks that promise pretty quick! First thing he does is climb the nearest drainpipe, whip out the red and blue, and swing a few weblines over to Fisk's office tower. As Fisk enters his dimly lit office, he hears that unnerving "thwip," signifying the presence of Spiderman. By sealing the door shut, Spiderman and Kingpin have a great little dialogue between them, that is superbly written. This segment is well written, because it does a good job showcasing the Kingpin's ability to manipulate others. Spiderman is only another person to fall under the Kingpin's influencing arguments. Upon first entering Fisk's office, Spiderman is angry, brash and looking for a fight. As the conversation progresses, Spiderman's anger begins to subside. It even gets to the point where he questions the decision to even have come, saying "You're right! It was real stupid of me to come here. I should have used my brain instead of acting on instinct." The real kicker of the issue starts up now, with the Kingpin telling Spiderman just how valuable he is to the criminal organization. Fisk claims that Spiderman helps weed out the minor, ineffective criminals, acting as an "evolutionary force." Furthermore, Kingpin also draws the conclusion that every time Spiderman defeats a notable villain, the time he spends concentrating on putting that villian behind bars (ie the Hobgoblin), helps free up room for the normal business of crime to continue unabated! The Kingpin makes excellent use of twisting Spiderman's duties against himself, and Spiderman leaves frustrated and empty-handed. Spidey swings off saying "The only way to bring down a big leaguer like you is slowly, subtly!...Someday, you'll make a mistake. I'll be waiting!" Wise words Spiderman!
And after that enjoyable confrontation, Charles Vess brings his own contribution to this issue with his short story "Cry of the Wendigo." Since this story has nothing to do with the current story arc, I'll keep this review short.
An ambassador and his family move to New York, and there young daughter is immediately kidnapped. (Those small-time crooks really do have impeccable timing, don't they?) It's a bitterly cold night, and New York is experiencing a blizzard. Spiderman chases after the thugs' van, who choose to take a detour through Central Park. By forcing the van to crash, the hooligans must abandon their vehicle, save for the driver who has broken his leg. The men take off into the park, carrying the poor girl as a hostage. The Wendigo does play a role in this, too. (Otherwise, it would be a pretty goofy title for a story if it didn't.) The Wendigo is a mythical ice creature that gobbles up people who are lost in a snowstorm. Vess' depiction is pretty good, showing a freakish green demonic creature shrieking at Spidey on the cover. Back to the story, Spiderman pursues the thugs through the park and catches up to them, and makes sure to dish out a good thumping to the baddies. As the storm continues to intensify to near whiteout conditions, Spiderman carries the girl back through the park. But the driver with that broken leg crawls out of the car and points his handgun at the girl and the arachknight. Spiderman quickly webs the barrel of the gun shut and carries on, believing the situation has been defused. But the crook pulls a second gun out of his coat. Before he can pull the trigger, the wind howls and he is engulfed in a sheet of white. The panel is an effective one with the man screaming, and two giant, spindly hands clawing out of the void at the man. (Assume the Wendigo is real, and the crook has met a grisly end.) Spiderman returns the little girl to her parents, who thank Spiderman, and everything's just peachy for Parker.
This was a solid issue. Although the Hobgoblin was placed on the back burner, those sturdy subplots have enough legs to stand up on their own and keep the book running. Ron Frenz does fine work with the pencils, I've always been a fan on his rendition of Pete (gotta love those superarched eyebrows.) Tom DeFalco may not be on his very best game here, but him on autopilot would be better than about 75% of most Spidey stories. As for the Wendigo story, it was a little sappy, but enjoyable nevertheless.
Solid stuff! By choosing to back off from the Hobgoblin story a bit, but still leaving enough of the plot dangling, DeFalco cleverly keeps me just as interested in this story arc. Heck, Hobby didn't even make an appearance in this issue, but I didn't even feel like this was a wasted month. Probably one of the greatest strengths DeFalco had as a writer back then was to drive the story not by the central theme, but by writing excellent subplots. A solid issue.