Conniving publisher Rupert M. Dockery has arranged for Spider-Woman’s rival, the Enforcer, to escape from prison. Dockery has done this because he thinks Spider-Woman is newsworthy, and her capture of the Enforcer will generate headlines for Dockery’s newspaper, the Courier. Dockery’s schemes have certainly made Spider-Woman’s life difficult: when she tried to foil one of the Enforcer’s robberies, she ended up being captured herself, and when her partner Scotty McDowell came to her rescue, the Enforcer shot him!
The opening splash page of the issue is no great shakes: it’s a poorly-composed scene of the Enforcer shooting Scotty as Spider-Woman watches in horror. Turn the page, though, and we find a real gem: a splash-page montage of Spider-Woman, snarling in rage, taking down the Enforcer’s gang in a flurry of blows, culminating in the Enforcer falling to a venom-blast. Sure, issue writer Michael Fleisher mars it with his overcooked caption boxes that redundantly describe all of the action, but it’s a great page nonetheless.
And it’s all downhill from here. The gang subdued, Spider-Woman tries to revive Scotty, but the Enforcer smugly tells her not to bother. “You might as well be talkin’ to an avocado for all the good it’ll do you...!” It seems Scotty’s been “zapped” with the Enforcer’s “brand-new psycho-chemical metabolic incendiary darts!” As a result, he’s entranced, and if anyone gets too close to him, he’ll burst into flame.
Let’s stipulate that in the Marvel Universe, such a dart could exist. I’m not sure why it’s better than a regular old bullet, though.
Oh, wait, I know: it’s a plot device! See, the Enforcer can keep Scotty alive, for the time being: the now-revived goons tuck the unconscious criminologist into a nearby freezer, which will keep his body temperature down and will keep people from getting too close to him. The Enforcer can also cure Scotty by providing an antidote. Of course, he refuses to give Spider-Woman that antidote, unless she becomes his partner in crime and helps him steal ten million dollars. Spider-Woman, seeing no alternative, agrees.
Now, me, I see plenty of alternatives. Like, now that Scotty is safe in the freezer, she can whip the crooks a second time, imprison them, and get Scotty some help. The Enforcer didn’t invent that chemical, he bought it, and admitted as much last issue. So she could search the Enforcer’s things and find it; she could find his supplier; she could get help from the police or a hospital; she could even call the Enforcer’s bluff (what evidence does she have that he’s telling the truth about Scotty’s condition, anyway?). But she doesn’t do any of these things. Instead, she agrees to the Enforcer’s demands. Not smart, but at least in keeping with Jessica’s nature. It’s already well-established that she’s impulsive and naive.
Elsewhere, Dockery is listening to Spider-Woman’s decision over the radio transmitter hidden in the Enforcer’s sword-stick. He muses that Spider-Woman turning criminal will be an even better publicity stunt: “Why, the little darling’s on the verge of becoming another Patty Hearst!”
(If you don’t get the reference, by all means Google it: I’ll wait.)
The 1980-era topical references keep coming, as the scene shifts to the Hollywood Bowl, where “12-year-old spiritually perfect master Maharishi Parata” is leading a meditation session for “a large throng of mostly youthful disciples and devotees”. Parata is just having the collection baskets passed around when the Enforcer and Spider-Woman, lurking in the rafters, make their move. The Enforcer shoots a curtain with his “pyro-granulate darts”, starting a fire. As the Maharishi flees, his entourage attempts to subdue the “evil costumed cultists” responsible. Of course, the mystics are no match for the Enforcer and Spider-Woman, who easily defeat them, permitting our heroine to steal the golden statue that dominated the stage.
Out in the audience, a camera crew films the whole thing for the eleven-o’clock news. (Ah, those were the days...) Spider-Woman sees them and recognizes them as employees of “the Courier’s local TV affiliate...! How do they always know where I’m going to be?” she wonders.
She’s not the only one. Captain Walsh, Spider-Woman’s ally on the LAPD (last seen in Spider-Woman #25) is asking himself the same question, as he reads about the theft in the following day’s issue of the Courier. He decides, just like Scotty did last issue, to go ask Dockery in person about it. Dockery, citing his journalistic principles, refuses to divulge his sources, but does throw Walsh a bone, telling him that he happens to know the Enforcer and his gang will try to steal a priceless collection of stamps (groan) when they arrive at Christie’s auction house the next night.
And so it comes to pass! As the collection’s owner walks them into the building, the Enforcer jumps down, blasts everyone with knockout gas from his dart gun, grabs the stamps, and runs. Walsh is ready for him, though, and orders a team he has nearby to trap the Enforcer in a giant steel mesh. The Enforcer is down!
Down, but not out, as Spider-Woman appears from nowhere to rip the mesh to shreds with her bare hands. What happens next isn’t clear, but it’s implied that she grabs her partner and glides off with him. Surely that can’t be right, because Spider-Woman’s powers don’t work that way; she glides through the air, and can’t do that with a passenger. At least, she can’t take off from ground level with a passenger. And If the pair tried to escape on foot, the Enforcer at least could easily be captured. He’s pretty conspicuous!
The reason I have to hypothesize about what’s going on rather than tell you is because we don’t get to see it. Instead, we look at Walsh and his team, one of whom is a sniper preparing to shoot Spider-Woman. Walsh interferes with the shot, saying that he’s not sure Spider-Woman is really a criminal; but if she is, he prefers her incarcerated, not dead.
In our first epilogue, Spider-Woman lingers in the Enforcer’s hideout, promising herself she’ll revive Scotty as soon as she can. More interestingly, in our second epilogue, Peter Parker reads of Spider-Woman’s crime spree in the Daily Bugle. “In a way, we share a bond, she and I! We’re both gifted with spider-powers! I think I was the one who inspired her to fight crime! If she’s been unjustly accused, I’ve got to help her! But, if she’s turned rotten, it’s up to me to bring her in!”
Let’s pretend, shall we? Let’s pretend there was a hypothetical reader who read Spider-Woman on and off, who dropped the title over the school year, but returned to it once summer vacation began and he had time to pull the book off of the spinner rack in his local drugstore. This reader’s last issue would have been Spider-Woman#18, available around Labour Day 1979. That issue, you’ll recall, featured Jessica’s confrontation with the Waxman, or as I prefer to call him, Eric of the Melting Face. That issue was a dark, suspenseful tale, full of body horror and sexual threat, and culminated in Spider-Woman killing her enemy. (Or so it seemed, at any rate.) If that was our reader’s last issue, I bet he’d be eager to pick it up again the following summer, to see where Jessica was at these days.
Boy, would he be in for a disappointment. Instead of a book with a dark, adult sensibility, he’d find a book with an embarrassingly cartoonish one. The Enforcer is a tough professional thief, but he doesn’t kill anybody; the worst his gun does is shoot tranquilizer darts. And he doesn’t steal cash, he grabs outlandish swag like giant golden statues or stamp collections. And Jessica... back in issue #17 and #18, she had an interior life, and worried about other people, her reactions to them, and the appropriate way to act in social situations. In this issue, she simply decides to steal stuff to save her partner, with no reflection, introspection, or, second-guessing.
And if our hypothetical reader checked the letters page, he’d find the book’s editor (Denny O’Neill, FWIW) admitting that these days Jessica Drew has no personal life, and only appears in single-panel scenes in which she’s coming out of the shower. A far cry from the Jessica struggling to find her place in an alien and hostile world, as she was ten issues ago.
I bet that reader would shrug; after all, he’d only paid 50 cents or so for the issue. But he wouldn’t buy another issue of Spider-Woman.
And who could blame him?
There’s nothing here that egregiously bad, it’s just more of same: Michael Fleisher stringing together a few scenes he thinks are neat and not paying any attention to overall structure, plot, or character. 1 web.
More importantly, we’ve only got four more issues by Fleisher to go. Keep the faith.
I was going to put some of the Maharishi’s dialogue here, because it’s the funniest stuff in the issue, but upon sober second thought, it’s not funny enough to preserve for posterity. Sorry.