In PP:SSM annual #5, Joy Mercado and Peter were investigating the shooting death of restaurant owner, Vincent DeFeo, who was caught between two city gangs, the Reapers and the Dragons. As there were no living witnesses to the shooting, Joy believed the former Reapers gang leader Ace Spencer had seen the whole thing and sought him out. The Reapers kidnapped Joy, and Pete intervened as Spidey, facing off against Ace, who could mysteriously dodge Pete with ease as well as short out his spider-sense. Pete has to come to terms with not only being unable to stop Ace, but his jealousy over Ace's street cred that Spider-man himself doesn't get.
Spidey, in the black costume, is pummeling Ace out in the street at night. Looking on is MJ, Aunt May, and Jonah Jameson. Spidey thinks Ace is nothing but a punk, but one that can dodge everything Spidey throws at him, a punk that gets all the street respect while Spidey gets the shaft. Ace spits on Spidey, which infuriates him. He knocks Ace to the ground, screaming at him to get up so he can finish him.
Pete wakes up in his apartment, it was all a dream. He thinks back to his first encounter with Ace. Aunt May calls to remind Peter she needs help in setting up the neighborhood garage sale. He swings over in the costume, runs into some store robbers, and seeing an opportunity to sell some pics of himself in action, webs up his camera and goes to work. Shortly after, he finds his camera's battery died, ruining a whole roll of film. He breaks a stone outcropping on top of a building in anger.
Down in the streets, Diane, Rosie and Wendy, three street chicks, are accosted by Tyrone, member of the Reaper gang. He recognizes Rosie as Ace's sister. He warns her to tell Ace not testify against the Reapers in court. Ace pulls up on his motorcycle (looking like a mixture of Michael Jackson, "Purple Rain"-era Prince and TV's Arthur "Fonzie" Fonzarelli--oh, the 1980's). He calls Tyrone out. Tyrone calls for his gang to help, but none of them come. He tries to take on Ace himself with a knife, but Ace makes short work of him, and pockets Tyrone's blade. Ace reminds Rosie that he intends to testify the next day, and he'll be doing it against their half-brother, Lorenzo Spencer.
Pete arrives at the garage sale in Forest Hills, thinking that he's a wimp for letting Ace get to him, even in his dreams. Pete sees his old teddy bear, and tucks him under the sale table for safe keeping. May is holding a mink coat that Uncle Ben had bought her. They admit they both still miss Ben and hug.
Ace meanwhile breaks up a robbery at a local Mom and Pop convenience store. A customer asks the store owner who Ace is as he flies off on his bike. The store owner says it's Ace, and that he pays him to keep an eye on the store. The customer says he's a reporter for the Daily Bugle, and it all would make a great story--"Ace: Mystery Vigilante for Hire". Elsewhere, someone from the child welfare bureau stops Ace on the street, telling him he has to take away Ace's juvenile sister Rosie. Ace bolts off on his bike. The man follows alongside in his car, telling Ace he's an ex-gang leader with a record, and that the man's been ordered to place Rosie in foster care. The bureau guy's not paying attention and almost wrecks his car, losing Ace.
Ace arrives at his old neighborhood, where he's never felt comfortable. He walks into his mother's place, she's in a dress, dancing. She entreats Ace to join her, the background takes on a ball room of sorts in a fantasy sequence. His mother tells him to keep the family together, then dies. He places her in her bed. Rosie comes to see their mother, and is shocked to learn she just died. She says her mother promised her she wouldn't die.
Over at the Bugle, Kate Kushing scolds Pete saying she wants no more cliched pictures of Spider-Man, and why doesn't he bring back shots of Ace Spencer? This chaffs Pete, but he suits up and goes looking for Ace anyway. Some street thugs wave him down, asking if he's looking for Ace, and if Spidey wants to settle up with Ace for how Ace "housed*" him last time (the handy editorial box translates this as *beat up). The street guy goes on to say that the word is Ace is in court right now testifying to "the man" (*cops) about gang business, and that if Spidey wants to kick in Ace's head, it's no problem.
Ace is keeping the judge and council waiting in court. The judge tells the prosecution counsel if Ace doesn't show up in 60 seconds, Lorenzo Spencer will go free. Ace walks in dramatically just in the nick of time. Pete is sitting in on the trial out of costume, his spider-sense going off at Ace's appearance. Ace tells the prosecutor he saw his brother Lorenzo shoot Vincent DiFeo during the incident in question. The defense takes it's turn, painting Ace as the person who'll take over for Lorenzo in leading the Reapers if Lorenzo goes away. The defense attorney asks if Ace always wears his sunglasses, Ace replies yes. The attorney asks rhetorically if the jury is supposed to believe he saw the shooting in question, from thirty feet away, while wearing sunglasses at night? Ace gets up and leaves the stand, saying he's had enough. The judge says he'll hold him in contempt. Peter approaches him out in the hall, asking if Ace remembers him, since he almost ran him down with his bike once. Ace says he knows exactly who Peter is, and that they'll talk later. Ace then spin kicks two officers posted at the door, knocking them both aside, and tears off on his bike. Back in the court, the judge declares a mistrial, saying Lorenzo is free to go.
Spidey goes to Ace's apartment, letting himself in through the window. He says he put a spider-tracer on Ace's pant leg on the way out of the court. He wonder what Ace meant when he said he "knew exactly" who Pete was. The cops crash in, along with the man from the child welfare bureau. They tell Spider-man that Ace has run off with a minor, not saying it's his sister. Spidey swings off furiously, thinking he was almost changing his mind about Ace, but now this.
He somehow locates Ace on the street, and tells him to stop running. Ace says running is all he has left. The Reaper gang surrounds them, saying Spidey's going to waste Ace for them. Spidey and Ace battle it out. Ace still dodges everything Spidey throws at him, as if he's anticipating his every move. Ace also shorts out his spider-sense, somehow. Ace says they can fight all night, but wants to know why Spidey is following him, asking if Spidey really wants to beat him that bad. Spidey says "Yes!" and rains down a series of blows on him. Ace is on the ground telling him to finish it--his sister Rosie comes up and tells him to stop. Spidey shoves her away. Ace takes the opportunity to stab Spidey in the chest, before he can react. Turns out it's a retractable blade. He says he knows he can't survive in Spidey's world, but that he just showed Spidey he can't survive in Ace's. Tyrone, the thug from before, tries to shoot Ace while his back is turned, but Spidey webs the gun.
Ace tells the Reapers that he's done, and he and Rosie are leaving town. He says his brother Lorenzo will be back on the streets soon, and they can have him. Spidey swings off thinking he and Ace aren't really that different. Ace and Rosie zip away on his bike. The following day, the son of Vincent Difeo, who was killed by Lorenzo, arms himself and goes out in the street to enact justice where the system failed to. A final narrative box says "and, the war continues..".
This is definitely a strange issue. Firstly, there are no credits to be seen anywhere in the book, so I had no idea all this time this was written by Peter David (though his trademark style of humor abounds and should've been a giveaway). Second, having not read annual #5, I had no idea who Ace was and was completely in the dark, but this issue does well enough in catching the reader up. We never learn how Ace is able to dodge Spidey's attacks so well and seemingly cloud his spider-sense. It's hinted the whole time that he's mildly super-powered but again no explanation is given. The final page shows the inevitable: the victim's son is heading out on the street to mete out justice of his own with a gun--the cycle of violence continues.
This is part of the street-smart, gritty and socially conscious streak of storylines that cropped up in Spidey books in the late 80's. I give the story credit for being something different. Rather then fighting the costumed villain of the week, Spidey has to deal with his own twisted anger at Ace, a former gang- leader who seems like he wants to turn a new leaf and do things right, though he does things his way and often gets on the wrong side of the law for it. The two are nicely contrasted throughout, from their fighting to their home lives. Why doesn't Spidey get the street credit Ace does? Is it because he's a neighborhood outsider (or because he doesn't ride a badass bike?)? With all the tension between Spidey, the gangs and the system, there are racial undercurrents felt throughout this whole story--this was raw new territory for a Spidey comic. Credit to Peter David for making the reader root for Ace--his character arc is never predictably clear-cut, and David mostly makes Ace's struggles and the street dialogue sound believable.
What did Ace mean when he told Peter Parker he knew exactly who he was? Maybe Ace was really just playing with Pete's head the whole time. Makes me want to track down part one, since reading this is like coming in on the middle of a movie. Beachum's murky artwork suits the story but it's nothing out of the ordinary for the time.
The lack of useful editorial boxes to clue us in to things (save for the trusty and hilarious slang definitions) make it seem like this issue went to press without much oversight. It kind of gives the ish a sloppy feel. I wonder who forgot to include the creator credits?
Dark and edgy, these were certainly comic tales befitting the black and white costume. Except the world in these stories is never as cut and dry, but have many shades of grey. PAD crafts an angsty, crime-ridden tale that wouldn't have been out of place on a gritty cop TV drama of the time. Is it Pete's feelings of inadequacy to Ace that clouds his powers? It's never revealed, Ace remains an enigma and that doesn't sit well on a fresh read. Not a perfect tale, but a taut one. Good stuff.