Spectacular Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #243

Background

In issue #242, a new Kangaroo showed up in New York. Spidey punched him in the face and then forgot about him. At a meeting with MJ, Peter, Liz Osborn and Foggy Nelson, Flash Thompson was depressed over the way his life had shaped up. He told Spider-Man about how he had somehow ended up in a worse place than Peter. Spidey told him he needed to believe in himself and do something with himself.

At Ravencroft Asylum, Chameleon escaped from Doctor Kafka and impersonated her. He fooled John Jameson into helping him escape and then shot him. Later, Chameleon captured Spider-Man and took him to Ravencroft and began to manipulate his mind.

Story 'Who Am I?'

John was injured but alive after being shot by the Chameleon and was trying to get himself to move. He was going to help Ashley Kafka but was stopped by the appearance of a new costumed psycho: Jack O'Lantern, aka "Mad Jack." "Jack" was sorry to see that John had gotten himself into another sad situation and was going to teach him a painful lesson. John responded by shooting Jack's head off, which immediately grew back. Jack kicked the gun out of John's hand and then dripped candle wax over John's head, laughing as he did it.

Inside Ravencroft, Chameleon (disguised as Dr. Kafka) was telling an unmasked Spider-Man that he is actually a thirty nine year old fantasy writer named Herbert Fillmore Smith. Peter was shown a photo album of his life as Herbert with a wife named Karin, a daughter named Kiki and a son named Mitchell. Peter jumped at a wall to prove that he could climb it but failed to adhere to it. Chameleon told him that he was trying to hide from the truth and of the trauma that he built his delusion around. His memories were fuzzy but he knew he did have a wife, just not the one in the photo album. Chameleon had him keep looking through the photos and said it would be difficult for him to look at them, considering what happened to his daughter. His mind went to the death of his newborn daughter, but Chameleon said that "Herbert's" daughter was killed in a drunk driving accident. Peter knew he had lost a daughter and wondered if "Ashley" was right. Peter begged to be helped and Chameleon told him he'd done well and they could take a break. After leaving the cellroom, Chameleon changed back to his true appearance.

Outside of the asylum, John Jameson had come back to his senses and was met by the real Dr. Kafka. They kissed and then awkwardly went back to the asylum to look for Chameleon and as they drove back to the building, Mad Jack was proud of his work.

Flash was in his apartment, feeling better after his pep talk from Spider-Man. The feeling didn't last long and he went back to pitying himself. In the middle of grabbing a beer, he said he was turning into his father. In a rage, he threw the beer out his window. He called Betty Brant, even though it was after midnight and she agreed to talk with him.

In the asylum cell, Peter was still questioning the narrative that Chameleon had given him. He felt too comfortable with the Spider-Man mask for it to be nothing but a delusion. As he looked at the photos, he briefly saw pictures of his life as it was, not the Fillmore life. He threw the album across the room and "Dr. Kafka" came to give him a sedative and asked if he trusted her. He'd known her for years but he didn't trust the person ominously holding a syringe. He refused to take any more drugs and shoved Chameleon into the wall, denying that he was Herbert Smith. He didn't remember his real name but knew his wife's name was Mary Jane and not Karin.

His memory returned and punched Chameleon into a padded wall, telling him that too many people had been trying to steal his identity and tell him who he was. No one would tell him who he was ever again. Chameleon stopped his illusion and stammered that he hadn't known the Parkers were Spider-Man's parents and he had merely been hired by the Green Goblin. The difference is that now he knew that Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the same person. Chameleon told Peter to let him go or everyone would know that secret. Glaring at Chameleon, Peter told him he didn't care. Swatting him as he spoke, Peter told him to call the Daily Bugle, the networks and the president. He'd dealt with worse. Chameleon escaped, somehow becoming invisible and Peter's spider sense wasn't helping.

Outside, Chameleon fled down the street stunned at how Peter had beaten the mental manipulation. He'd hoped to reduce Peter to a self questioning coward but it was he that was still a nobody. He slipped on the snow and fell to the sidewalk. When he looked up he saw Kraven the Hunter looking down at him, telling him he'd botched it all again.

General Comments

Another good issue. It wisely moved the plot along and focused on Peter and Chameleon. Some attention was given to Flash's burgeoning alcoholism but only enough to move the plot point forward.

When I first read this story many years ago, I wasn't sure what to think of Chameleon's plan. He was going to make Peter think he was someone else by showing him pictures of someone else? Ok, the drugs were obviously a big part of the plan's success but it seemed awfully weak. Still, I love a plot where the bad guy screws with your head so I enjoyed it.

Recently, I learned about a kind of psychological abuse called "gaslighting" where a person gains control of someone else by making them question their memories. If you can control the way a person remembers something, then you can control the way that person behaves as they move forward. It sounds corny and easy to see through but it much more effective than would be expected. A person that "gaslights" uses various methods, and Chameleon used some of them here.

1. Chameleon kept Peter isolated, so no one could tell him the truth of what was happening.

2. He made Peter question his sanity by telling him he constantly needed help.

3. He gave Peter a false narrative of what "really" was going on.

The part where Chameleon suddenly disappears as a means of escape was kind of lazy writing.

Overall Rating

I enjoyed the basic story but have a deeper appreciation for it now for knowing what I know about Chameleon's methods. DeMatties does put a lot of research into his work.