While Peter Parker was covering the Chinese New Year celebration for the Daily Globe, his camera inadvertently captured the murder of a gangster named Harry Dolenz. As it turns out, Dolenz was trying to steal the New Year jade monkey from a temple in Chinatown in order to prove his loyalty to his new boss when he was killed by a rival gang member.
As Spider-Man, Peter investigated Dolenz's murder which led him to the Taylor Building in Manhattan. The Taylor Building was the base of operations for Dolenz's new boss, a crimelord looking to fill the vacancy left behind by Wilson Fisk. After crashing in through the window, the web-slinger was greeted by Malachai Toomes, the nephew of the original Vulture, Adrian Toomes. Malachai was able to knock Spider-Man unconscious using a toxic gas, then turn him over to his uncle, Adrian.
Interestingly, it is Adrian Toomes with the aspirational goal of becoming the next kingpin of crime, and his first order of business...to send Spider-Man to his fiery death by burning him alive in the Taylor Buidling's incinerator!!
This story continues directly from the conclusion of Spectacular Spider-Man #44 in which the web-slinger is chained-up inside of a coffin, with Malachai, Adrian and the other gangsters cheering on Spider-Man's impending death. Spider-Man appears unconscious as the conveyer belt moves him toward the incinerator. Assuming that the web-head is done-for, Toomes and the others move to the room next door in order to celebrate with champagne.
Just inches from the flames of the incinerator, Spider-Man regains his strength and jumps to safety, freeing himself from the coffin. Spider-Man's leap, however, caused the coffin to turn sideways, blocking its clean entrance into the incinerator. The result is a massive fire in the incinerator room.
Meanwhile, as the Vulture enjoys his premature celebration with his loyal gang members, Black Alfred (the leader of the rival gang that killed Dolenz) arrives at the Taylor Building with his "loyalty gift" for Toomes. The Vulture, well aware of Alfred's double-crossing, takes the statue and smashes Alfred in the head with it. Toomes then confirms that he allowed Alfred to make those moves against his crew (ie, killing Dolenz and others) because it helped him to remove the "dead wood" from his organization. Just when it appears as though the Vulture is going to kill off Alfred, the incinerator explodes sending Spider-Man blasting through the wall!
Alfred is able to make an escape and once Adrian realizes that the fire will burn the entire building down, he grabs his nephew and escapes as well. This leaves Spider-Man, who is still in chains at the moment, behind with the other members of Toomes' gang. With his spider-strength now fully restored, the web-slinger is able to break free from the chains. He then jumps to the ceiling of the room and tears a hole in it. This provides him with an escape route. Despite the fact that Toomes had left his crew there to die and the fact that those same men were cheering for Spider-Man's untimely death a few moments earlier, the web-slinger saves every member of the Toomes organization. With their lives saved, Spider-Man ushers the criminals outside and directly into police custody.
Down on the streets below, Malachai and Adrian continue their escape but are soon confronted by Alfred. He pulls out a revolver and prepares to fire at Adrian, however his loyal and loving nephew Malachai jumps in front of the bullet. Malachai is critically wounded by the gunshot and dies almost instantly. An enraged Vulture attacks Alfred and begins pummeling him with blows. Just then, Spider-Man arrives on the scene and prevents the Vulture from doing more harm to Alfred.
The two long-time enemies then begin to battle it out in the alleyway, until the police arrive. This causes the Vulture to flee to the air, Spider-Man then shoots a web-line toward Toomes to hitch a ride (and to continue their battle). The police are left behind with Alfred who confesses to killing Malachai, and requests to be taken in by the police (for fear of retribution from the Vulture).
Above the New York City skyline the all-too-familiar battle of Spider-Man vs the Vulture continues as the two trade blows and insults in a near-even slugfest. Their fight takes them from rooftop to rooftop and ultimately leads to their collectively crashing in to Grand Central Station. The police arrive as the two combatants continue to destroy public property, but Spider-Man webs-up their guns saying, "I"ll handle baldy here!"
With Spider-Man distracted by the police, the Vulture makes one last dash for an escape as he flies through the air. Unfortunately for Toomes he suffers the same fate as many birds...his grogginess from the battle with Spider-Man causes him to not see the "ultra-hard glass barrier" at the exit. Toomes smashes into the wall (which does not break) putting a very abrupt stop to his escape attempt. Spider-Man then leaves Toomes with the police as he walks off. He suggests that Toomes will not only need to recover physically but also emotionally (from the loss of Malachai).
The story ends with Peter returning to the Daily Globe where Barney Bushkin tells him that he just missed a fight between Spider-Man and the Vulture. Peter tells Barney that he's sorry he missed it and adds, "Somedays it seems like nobody is lucky."
Wow...there's a lot to unpack here, so let's dig in.
Did the Vulture really walk out of the room just before Spider-Man's seemingly unconscious body was about to enter the incinerator?!? He didn't want to wait 20 more seconds to confirm Spider-Man was burnt to ash!?! Holy cow, even by comic book standards of this era, that was a silly thing to do! We know Bond villains do that all-too-often and it reminds me of that scene from Austin Powers when Scott Evil tells his father (Dr. Evil) to just shoot Austin on the spot. But no, Dr. Evil puts Mr. Powers in a complicated but easy-to-escape death trap!
The biggest disappointment of that sequence is that it provides a true disservice to the wonderfully creepy and brilliantly depicted cover art that shows the red-eyed Vulture gleefully ushering Spider-Man to his fiery death. That cover is part of the reason why I chose to review this book, I mean, look at that art...it is beautiful!! Alas, it was not to be...
Head-scratcher #2 for me was how Alfred, who left the Taylor Building on foot, was able to catch up with Adrian and Malachai who had flown out of the Taylor Building. It seems like a nit-pick, but it is an important part of the story because it leads to Malachai's death. Watching Toomes lose his nephew is the heartfelt moment at the center of this story and it leads to Spider-Man eventually defeating the Vulture. That portion of the story comes off extraordinarily convenient and while it doesn't necessarily rip a hole through it, it certainly contributes to the overall sloppiness of this plot.
I have to add there was a genuine bit of dark humor to have to the Vulture splatter into the glass wall of Grand Central Station, like many birds before him. I actually laughed out loud at that scene. Marie Severin's construction and execution of that sequence is brilliant and I would certainly recommend checking that out if you want to smile.
Of course this story was not without heart. The moments where Spider-Man saves the very gangsters who had just tried to kill him was well done. Now we've come to expect that type of behavior from our hero, but it is still worth pointing it out each time. Later in the story, we can also sense the pity Spider-Man feels for Toomes, who had just lost his nephew. Spidey still brings the Vulture to justice, but you can sense that Peter still feels there's a sense of humanity to Toomes. That is when Spidey is at his best, when his villains have a sense of emotional weight to them. That is certainly true for all super heroes and their villains, but, hey, this is a Spider-Man site!
While there was some heart to this one, it was just a little too goofy to allow full appreciation of the melodrama it was presenting. Just a shade under middle-of-the-road here for me. 2.5 webs.