When it comes to scripting stories that pit Spider-Man against Other People's Villains, Roger Stern is definitely the king; so proficient at it that this series could go the whole year doing Roger's stories alone. I have been so concerned about spreading the wealth that I have avoided Roger's work entirely so far. In fact, I find that I have done nothing but Bill Mantlo stories instead. And now I find that I'm going to do it again because, instead of spotlighting Roger's classic tale of Spidey versus the Cobra and Mr. Hyde from ASM #231-232 (August-September 1982), I'm presenting Bill's lesser-known story from Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #88 (March 1984). Don't worry, though. There will be plenty of Roger Stern stuff before the year is done.
Most people think of the Cobra and Mr. Hyde as Daredevil villains but they both began their careers battling Thor. The Cobra appeared in Journey Into Mystery #98, November 1963 (called "the Human Cobra" on the cover and in the story's title) when Klaus Voorhees allowed himself to be bitten by... that's right... a radioactive cobra! Mr. Hyde followed in the next two issues (JIM #99-100, December 1963-January 1964) in which discredited Doctor Calvin Zabo, inspired by "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" develops and uses a mysterious potion. By JIM #105-106 (June-July 1964), they had teamed up. In JIM #110-111 (November-December 1964) they even managed to kill Thor's love, Jane Foster, though Thor succeeds in stopping time to preserve her and then uses a vial of medicine sent from Asgard by Balder to resuscitate her.
From there, the two villains finally figure out that they would have a better chance against a weaker foe like Daredevil and make the jump to his mag. Okay, so it doesn't exactly work like that and Thor even guest-stars in the first DD issue that features them (Daredevil #30, July 1967) but the fact remains that the twosome sticks mostly with DD from that point until Roger Stern introduces them to Spider-Man first in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #46, September 1980 in which the Cobra breaks out of prison, leaving Hyde behind and beginning Hyde's feelings of betrayal and hatred for his ex-partner and then later in ASM #231-232 in which Spider-Man manages to defeat both villains whereupon they are shipped off to prison, bringing us to the events described in this issue.
Something very powerful is pounding away at a six-inch solid steel door at Ryker's Island Correctional Facility. On the other side, eight prison guards in riot gear and carrying heavy-duty weapons line up and wait for the pounder to break through. They have heard that the being on the other side won't stop coming until his demand is met; he wants Klaus Voorhees, known as the Cobra turned over to him. The guards seem to be setting up to resist this assault yet they also bring Voorhees from his cell and onto the scene as if they are preparing to comply. The Cobra is trussed up in a metal contraption that looks like closed window blinds. It runs from his shoulders to his knees, pinning his arms to his sides.
The Cobra is clearly terrified. He has known all along that this moment was coming. "I told you it was insane to keep us in the same institution!" he bellows to a white haired and mustached man in a brown suit who turns out to be the Warden, "I told you he'd find some way of killing me!" The Warden tells Voorhees that Ryker's is no longer fully equipped to handle super-villains but his guards still have "enough firepower to drive back an army". This doesn't comfort the Cobra. In fact, his eyes bulge, his mouth opens wide, and beads of sweat rush down his bald head. After all, he knows that it is not an army that the guards must fight. "We're talking about Mister Hyde!" he screams.
The pounding continues. ("Thoom... Throom... Kathroom.") It isn't long before the guards notice that the doors are shaking on their hinges, then they start to buckle and then the doors are scrap metal and Mister Hyde has smashed his way in. "Give me... the Cobra!!" he orders.
The Warden refuses. ("I won't be commanded in my own prison!") He tells the first line of guards to "fire the gas grenades". Sure enough, the guards have set grenade launchers up on the floor and donned gas masks. Three launchers shoot their grenades with a "Pwoom". They land with a "Fwoosh!" filling the whole steel door area with smoke. The Warden has put on a gas mask as well and he looks back at Cobra, gesturing at the wall of gas. (Nobody thought to give Cobra a gas mask but he seems to be doing just fine without it.) The Warden explains that they "underestimated the necessary dose of tranquilizer gas" needed to keep Hyde sedated but that they will rectify that once they have him under control again. But Hyde isn't under control. In fact, he doesn't even slow down as he bursts through the gas, announcing, "I'm coming for you, Cobra!"
The Cobra begs the two guards that hold onto him to "loosen this body-shackle" so he can save himself by "slithering away" but the guards don't listen to him. Instead, they follow the Warden's orders to "get the Cobra to the roof" for a planned airlift. Meanwhile, the second line of guards uses purple futuristic rifles that shoot electric charges. Hyde is pummeled by these shocks, his prison shirt is reduced to rags, but he laughs off the assault and keeps coming. He plows into the guards, knocking them all to the ground and only then looks around and notices that the Cobra is no longer around.
Up on the prison roof, Voorhees begs the Warden to let him go. "You've seen what Hyde is capable of" he says, "He'll kill me when he catches me and you won't be able to stop him!" The Warden refuses. He tells the Cobra that he is being sent to "a facility equipped to deal with your super-powered breed" and he points to an approaching helicopter as he assures Cobra that Hyde will not be able to follow "unless he sprouts wings".
The copter lands on the roof and the two guards hustle the Cobra over to it. The Warden orders them to get Voorhees on board and the copter airborne quickly before Mr. Hyde arrives. And then he is there, now shirtless, turning a wooden door into splinters and calling to the Cobra in a rage. The helicopter never has a chance. It doesn't even get off the ground before Hyde rips an entire stone guard turret off the roof, throws it, and destroys the chopper. No one is killed in the attack but everyone is scattered. Hyde tosses one of the guards out of his way, makes his way to the Cobra, picks him up, and starts to squeeze him around the waist in his deadly grip.
The Cobra grimaces from the pain. He begs Hyde to spare him, promising to "rob for you! Steal for you! Kill for you! And I swear I'll never betray you again." Hyde agrees that the Cobra will never betray him again "because you will never get the chance!" He squeezes extra hard; trying to "crush the life out of his former partner" but only succeeds in shredding Cobra's body-shackle instead. Free of his bonds, Voorhees swiftly crawls over Hyde's shoulder and races to the edge of the roof. (He also undergoes an attitude change. "You're an animal, Hyde. A bestial blundering brute!" he says when he was cowering moments before.) Cobra looks down at the East River crashing up against some nasty-looking rocks. It's not the best place to make an escape but Klaus really has no other options. Then, even that choice seems to disappear. Hyde rushes up with surprising speed and grabs Cobra by the thigh and shoulder before he can take the plunge. The Cobra twists enough to force his release from Hyde's grasp (though the move "tear[s] flesh from his arms") and the next thing he knows he is falling... straight toward the rocks! He hits hard and bounces into the river. "The impact would have broken any ordinary man" Bill tells us, "but the Cobra's malleable bone structure allows him to survive, bruised but intact." Hyde, watching from above, is well aware of this fact. So, he takes the long plunge into the river and follows.
In her Manhattan apartment, the Black Cat is comfortably asleep in bed dreaming of being with her lover Spider-Man. (She has left her costume on an armchair and we can see that the suit is all one piece with everything attached including the white gloves. Who knows how she manages to put it on. I'd like to see her do it... purely for research purposes, of course.) Only moments before, her dream was reality but Peter Parker has gotten out of bed and gone into another room to put his costume back on and slip away for the night. As he does so, he worries about two recent jolts from his spider-sense... "Stronger than any in my life"... that he is sure presages some dreadful event. (The jolts took place in ASM #249, February 1984 and ASM #250, March 1984 and will occur again in ASM #251, April 1984 when our hero finally discovers the source; an immense machine that "looks like some sort of futuristic version of Stonehenge" that has appeared in the middle of the Sheep Meadow in Central Park. This machine will transport the wall-crawler to Battleworld for the first Secret Wars.) Now, it's just like Peter Parker to get out of a bed where he has just made love with the Black Cat (presumably) and start worrying about things but his love for the Cat soon dispels those thoughts and he gets all doe-eyed as he contemplates this new experience. In the past he has always been afraid to get too serious lest "the women I loved would find out I was Spider-Man and afraid they'd come to harm because they knew" but now he is involved with a woman who is capable of fighting by his side and who loves him as Spidey, not as Peter Parker. (In fact, the Cat damn near recoiled in horror when Spidey took her to his apartment and removed his mask in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #87, February 1984.) This also worries him a bit but he tries to talk himself out of it. "These have been some of the best times I've ever known!" he thinks, "Every night, the Cat and I prowl the rooftops, searching out crime and every morning we find our way back here and to each other's arms. Not even Captain America and Bucky could claim that!" (At least, as far as we know.) So, deciding that "it feels good", Pete puts his Spidey mask on, jumps up and stands on the ceiling.
Now at the moment we see him leap to the ceiling, Spidey has his masked pulled completely over his face but in the very next panel, the mask is pulled up (or down, seeing as he is upside-down) revealing his chin, mouth, and nose. He smiles as he indulges in a domestic fantasy (which has just got to be one of the oddest panels in any Spidey comic anywhere). He imagines being married to the Cat, living in "a nice little home in the suburbs with 3.5 spider-kittens and assorted pets" (and I think he means "spider-kids" there). The panel shows us Spidey, in full costume sitting at the kitchen table eating something out of a bowl. The Black Cat, also in full costume, looks like she is pouring ice water from a pitcher into another bowl. She holds a toddler on her arm. The toddler is dressed in a version of Spidey's costume. He is the "point five" of the kids. The "three" consist of two boys and a girl. One boy in a Spidey suit chases the girl who is in a Black Cat suit. The other boy in a Spidey suit sits at the table slipping food to a dog that wears a Spider-Man mask. "Will our kids go to night school while the Cat and I fight crime?" Pete wonders. (This line gets odder and odder to me the more I think about it. Since when do kids go to night school? Have you heard of babysitters, Spidey?) "We'd better get a VCR! We'll be missing a lot of late-night TV!" he thinks. (Another odd line. Isn't he missing late-night TV now?)
Thankfully the Black Cat enters the room and ends this ridiculous reverie. She is dressed in a very skimpy nightgown and Spidey can't help but lower himself on his web, descend to the floor and give her a big kiss. (Now we know why his mask was pulled up above his nose again.) "Cat, my darling" he says, "Did I ever tell you how beautiful you look by moonlight?" There is a huge orange full moon shining right into the room but the Cat didn't notice it until Spidey mentions it. She initially thinks it is morning. Now that she sees it is still night, she gets back in her costume and she and the web-slinger take to the rooftops. "There's still time for us to prowl!" she says.
So, the lovely couple spends the next few hours scouring the city on "web-line and cat-cable". They look like they're having fun but Spidey can't help but wish, "If only the Cat had some sort of super-power to supplement her natural athletic abilities". The Cat notices and thinks, "Spidey's worried about me again, afraid I won't survive an attack by one of his many enemies. But I've got to prove myself to him! He's got to let me prove myself!"
Just then a piercing scream rises up from the street to the rooftops. Spidey swings down to investigate, ordering the Cat to follow. She is "grateful that he didn't order her to remain behind, out of danger" but "resentful that he had to order her at all". Spidey hopes she understands his concerns and then is "terrified when he sees the danger into which he has led her again". The scream has come from the Cobra, who is so scared that his skivvies have changed from purple to blue. He is screaming because Mr. Hyde is picking up a blue truck and... doing something with it. (The truck appears in this panel only. Did Hyde toss it aside? Did he throw it at the Cobra? We'll never know.) Once Spidey sees who the participants are he sticks his hand out and tries to warn the Black Cat back. "This pair is too dangerous" he tells her. But the Cat has no intention of staying back. "We share everything together," she says as she and Spidey descend to the sidewalk. Cobra immediately slithers over to the web-slinger, gets on his knees and begs, "You saved me from Hyde last time, wall crawler! Do it again!" (That was in ASM #232, as we all already know.)
Spidey isn't thrilled by this. "As I recall, you gave Hyde good reason to want your head on a platter, Cobra!" he says. Still, he can't stand aside and let Hyde murder his ex-partner. He tells the Cat to "guard the Cobra" and to "get him out of here if things go wrong". Then he takes a great leap into the air that lands him right in Hyde's path.
The Black Cat puts her hands on the Cobra's shoulders as if to protect him but inside she is seething. "After all we've said to each other, how dare he try to shield me from danger!" she thinks. Sticking a finger in Cobra's face, she orders him to stay put while she goes to help her "boyfriend". The Cobra thinks the Cat is "mad" if she thinks he's going to stand around with Hyde on the rampage. As soon as the Cat turns away, Cobra uses his contortionist powers to squeeze into a rainspout up which he slithers away.
In the meantime, the web-spinner has moved into Hyde's path, just out of the clutches of his immense hands. He is just devising his strategy when the Black Cat swings in on a cat-cable and kicks Mr. Hyde right in the teeth. Unfortunately, this doesn't do much more than get him to wipe his mouth. Then he retaliates with a punch from his right hand. The Cat dodges the blow, which shatters the brick of a nearby building "like cardboard". Felicia suddenly realizes that Mr. Hyde could inflict quite a bit of damage on her if she doesn't watch out.
Spidey is aware of that too and he has a bad flashback to the events of Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #76, March 1983 in which the Cat was badly wounded by Dr. Octopus and his men. Gallantly, he leaps into the fray. He orders the Cat away and then attacks Hyde by hitting him in the shoulder with both of his fists. The Cat knows that Spidey is acting in her best interests but she doesn't like it one bit. "This is the last time I'll be shunted off to safety, my Spider-Man!" she promises, "The last time!"
As Spidey dukes it out with Mr. Hyde, the Cobra makes it to the top of the rainspout. He dangles down from the roof and slips into an open window. Now we discover that the Cobra wasn't just running for his life. He had a specific location in mind... this warehouse "which houses one of [his] many criminal hideouts". (And I'm willing to believe that the Cobra planned all of this from the moment he found himself in the East River but who left the window wide open?)
On the street, Spidey uses Hyde as a vaulting horse and does a handstand on the massive villain's shoulders. He tells Hyde it is time to "call it quits". After all, the Cobra has escaped. "You won't get him back my beating on the Cat and me!" he says. But that's not how Mr. Hyde works. He is the epitome of evil, after all. He bulls his way through a plate-glass window to shake Spidey off and tells the web-slinger, "I shall obtain the satisfaction of crushing you into corpses to console myself." Spidey perches on the roof of a blue parked car and pushes his point. He argues that the longer Hyde takes trying to kill him, the further the Cobra gets away. "We could be waltzing around like this all night" says the web-slinger, "Frankly, I've got better things to do with the Cat." Again, he calls for a truce. Again, Hyde rebuffs him. In fact, Hyde picks the blue car up and lifts it over his head. Not smart. This only leaves him wide open to a spray of webbing in his face. Much of this webbing gets into Hyde's mouth as well. As a result, the monster struggles to regain his breath. Taking advantage, Spidey hits him in the jaw with "every ounce of the old spider-strength" but he soon learns that "it's back to Jack Lalane's for this little spider" because all he manages to accomplish, even with a kick to Hyde's chest, is to get the bad guy to drop the car on its side. Everyone knows who Jack Lalane is, right? (Though it's actually, Jack LaLanne.) He was the TV exercise guru for millions of American housewives in the fifties and sixties. Last I heard, he was in his eighties and still in great shape.
The Black Cat watches all of this and can hold back no longer. She leaps over Spidey's shoulder, ragging him about "not doing so hot... despite all those spider-powers of yours". Only trouble is Hyde has gotten the webbing off his face and the Cat leaps right into his arms. He grabs her right ankle with his left hand. He grabs a hank of hair in his right. Then he lifts her up over his head and starts to yank, promising to "break you in two!"
Spidey can't stand around idly and let Hyde break the Cat's back. He stands right in front of the villain and offers himself instead. ("If you need a corpse to claim your stupid victory, take me!") Grinning maniacally, Mr. Hyde can't refuse Spidey's offer. He lets go of the Black Cat's ankle and swings out with his left hand, catching the unmoving Spider-Man right in the chops. The force of the blow drives Spider-Man through the air and through the wall of a nearby building. The web-slinger lies in the rubble of brick, unmoving.
Hyde is so pleased by this sight that he lets the Cat go. She has time to run up to Spider-Man and cover her eyes in grief. As far as she can tell, Spider-Man is dead and it is all her fault. That's when Hyde tells her he is going to kill her too.
The Cat is afraid of Mr. Hyde and is not shy to admit it. Still, she stands her ground, vowing to "go down fighting, doing everything I can to hurt you because, by killing Spider-Man, you've destroyed my only reason for living". But the fight never takes place. Before the Cat does anything, Mr. Hyde recoils in pain. The cause of his pain is six red darts embedded in his back and the source of the darts is the Cobra, now in his costume, and hanging upside-down on the side of a building. He tells Hyde he is through running. "If I'm ever to be free of you," he says, "I have to take my stand here and now!" Hyde tells his ex that he'll "free [him] from [his] life". The Cobra responds by firing seven more darts that embed in Hyde's chest. That's when Cobra tells Hyde that each dart is packed with "pure unadulterated cobra venom, one of the deadliest poisons known to man". Mr. Hyde uses his great strength to rip the wall off the side of the building, taking the Cobra with it, but the venom is having an effect. Hyde is slowing down, getting dizzy, weakening. Cobra then releases a powerful knockout gas to try to finish the job. Unfortunately, amidst his gloating, he makes the mistake of descending to the sidewalk where the gas obscures his vision. Next thing he knows, a huge hand is latched onto his throat. In spite of the venom and the gas, Mr. Hyde has caught his prey and is ready for the kill. That's when the Black Cat goes into action.
Felicia sees it all set up before her. Hyde is "out on his feet" but still holds the wall in one hand and the Cobra in the other. She leaps and hamstrings him with a kick to the back of his knee. As she rolls out of the way, Hyde's knee buckles and he drops both the Cobra and the wall. The wall lands with a "kabloom!" on the both of them, ending the fight.
At first the Cat tries to take credit for it ("I did it! I beat the Cobra and Mister Hyde!!") but quickly puts things in perspective. "No, who am I kidding?" she thinks, "They beat each other. I just took advantage of that." She looks over at Spider-Man and sees him start to rise. Her relief over his survival is tempered by her realization that she almost caused his death. "As long as I possess no super-powers of my own, I'm a liability to him!" she thinks and then swings off on a cat-cable, leaving Spidey to rise out of the rubble by himself. She is off on a mission in search of super-powers.
Off on his own, Mr. Hyde takes on Daredevil (in DD #235, October 1986 with Steve Ditko artwork!) before appearing with the Masters of Evil in Avengers #273, November 1986. The Cobra joins the Serpent Society in Captain America #309, September 1985, eventually earning himself a three-part backup solo feature (Captain America #365-367, Mid-December 1989-February 1990, the first part of which is also entitled "Hyde... and Seek!") in which he confronts Mr. Hyde, tricks him into thinking he has poisoned him and gets him to promise to never attack him again in exchange for the antidote. Cobra is so pumped up by this victory that he returns to the Serpent Society with a new attitude and a new name... King Cobra!
Cobra has not come up against Spider-Man since but Hyde has, in ASM #433, April 1998. In his regular identity of Dr. Calvin Zabo, Hyde checks into a Manhattan Hotel only to be spotted by Peter Parker. Since Pete doesn't have his Spidey suit with him, he goes into action in a borrowed sweatshirt with the hood pulled up. Hyde never does figure out who he is fighting, deciding at one point in the battle, "You're my old partner, the deadly Cobra!" Spidey slows him down long enough for the NYPD to show up and take him down with knockout gas.
The Black Cat's power search is successful (in PPSSM #89, April 1984), which proves to be a disaster. She finds a mysterious benefactor who uses Dr. Farley Stillwell's latent gene technique to give her "bad luck" powers. The benefactor is revealed as the Kingpin who now has the Cat in his debt. (He also knows that the Cat's bad luck will begin to affect Spider-Man.) When the web-slinger learns the source of the Cat's new powers (in PPSSM #98, January 1985) he has real doubts about their compatibility. And though the Cat's bad luck abilities are inadvertently eliminated when Spidey has Dr. Strange remove the curse on him (in PPSSM #115, June 1986), it is far too late to save their relationship which falls apart in PPSSM #100, March 1985.
It's not necessarily fair to pull these continuity-rich issues out of context and judge them. This issue is more about Spider-Man's relationship with the Black Cat than it is about the Cobra and Mr. Hyde. All of the complications of that relationship, with Spidey worrying about the Cat and the Cat trying to prove she is reliable, stem from stories going back more than a year to the Owl-Octopus war and the Cat's hospitalization. Even this story's battle with Hyde is just an excuse for the Cat to feel vulnerable and sneak off to find super-powers before Spider-Man can talk sense into her. So, while it is a bit tricky to read the issue out of context and get the full flavor (not that Bill Mantlo doesn't make it as "first reader friendly" as possible) it is also that complexity that makes the story worth reading at all. Bill does a very nice job of providing depth to Spidey and the Cat. Their thoughts during the battle are the high point of the book. And isn't it nice to have a fight that serves a plot purpose above just the fight itself? The Al Milgrom and Jim Mooney artwork is rather pedestrian (they have a bad habit of making Mr. Hyde's face look like Quasimodo) but I love the panel of the Spider-Man/Black Cat family around the kitchen table at home.
Let's give it three webs.