It's--in all likelihood--the last issue of Spider-Man: Tangled Web, and the final offering takes an in-depth look at what happens to a pair of criminals after Spider-Man has captured them. Could the web-slinger be doing more harm than good?
The call comes in over the police scanner: "robbery at Mann's Deli. Suspects are armed and said to be on foot." A patrol car arrives to find a sobbing woman holding her comatose husband. One officer stays with the wounded, the other drives off in hot pursuit. Suddenly, she swerves into a dark alley to find two men dangling in a spider's web.
Back at the precinct, the lieutenant calls two detectives into his office, asking for a report on the deli robbery. The owner is in a coma and his wife was no help. The lieutenant orders them to shake something loose, and one of the men hands him a piece of paper. It reads: "Courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man." The lieutenant is visibly displeased, but tells them to get to work.
The two detectives--Harrison and Donovan--begin to question the first suspect, letting the other man stew for a while. "I ain't talkin'," he says, "I know my rights." "Then shut the hell up," Donovan replies. Dunn, the suspect, eventually starts talking, telling the detectives that "Me and Bunk" were just walking down the street and Spider-Man nailed them by accident. Harrison and Donovan move into the other interrogation room to talk to "Bunk," the other suspect.
In the adjoining hallway, the lieutenant is talking with a man from the DA's office. The lawyer tells him that they need a confession or the two suspects will walk. They both blame Spider-Man.
"I guess the defense lawyers are finally catching up with him. The "Spider-Man Defense" is more popular than insanity these days." "The last three skells he brought us all walked. Ed Lawrence retired five years ago from the force, became a bank security guard, gets shot on the job. Spider-Man catches the punks, beats them and ties them up. Those three actually walked BECAUSE of him. The freak doesn't realize the mess we have to clean up after him."
Knowing they only have a limited amount of time to get a confession, Harrison and Donovan go to work on Bunk, who they believe will talk. At first, Bunk merely repeats the same story Dunn told. The detectives question his account of running into Spider-Man. They mention his baby girl. They tell him that Dunn told a completely different story, and that they have fingerprints. "I wore gloves," Bunk mutters. Sensing an opening, the two detectives hammer away at Bunk, telling him they believe Dunn swung the bat, that Bunk was only at the scene, that if it's tough to admit, that Bunk should just write it down. Trembling, Bunk reaches for the pen...
...and the door opens, admitting Bunk's public defender. He orders Bunk to keep his mouth shut, and then asks the detectives if he's charged with anything. They can't answer. Bunk and Dunn leave the police station.
By that time it's morning. Harrison and Donovan meet with their lieutenant, Donovan griping that "another one is walking thanks to your 'friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.'" The lieutenant tells them to go home. As they leave, his assistant comes in with the morning paper. He takes one look at the front page, then runs after his two detectives. On that front page is a picture, taken by Peter Parker, of Bunk (with the bat) and Dunn coming face to face with the web-slinger. Hard evidence, "courtesy of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man."
If this is Tangled Web's last hurrah, as most believe, it went out with one hell of a bang. After months of stories that ranged from subpar to ludicrous, "The System" is the best issue of Tangled Web since "Severance Package." Just when the book's getting cancelled, we finally get a great story. Talk about the Parker luck.
Somebody once said that the definition of a great story is something that makes you think about something in a new way. This one certainly did. I think most of us took for granted that the bad guys Spidey left webbed for the cops would get their just rewards. But when you think about it, it's perfectly logical that Spider-Man's involvement would make it difficult to convict these guys. What defense lawyer couldn't create reasonable doubt when the thugs are caught by a guy nobody knows, nobody can identify, and nobody can vouch for? In a city primed by guys like Jonah Jameson to believe the worst about Spider-Man, what jury could ignore the possibility that the web-slinger made a mistake, or worse, framed somebody?
Of course, Spider-Man makes good in the end of this story, catching the bad guys on film and giving the police some hard evidence to work with. (Interestingly, the man everyone thought was the weakling turned out to be the attacker.) But what if Peter couldn't have snapped that picture for whatever reason? The two men would've walked scot free. Peter became a crime fighter to atone for the death of his Uncle Ben. What if somebody he caught got off the hook because he was the one who caught him? It's a disturbing question, one that makes for a very good story.
This was the kind of story that Tangled Web was created for. It's just too bad we didn't see more issues like this one.
One of the most eclectic Spider books ever goes out on a very high note. Five webs and thanks for the memories, TW.