Conniving publisher Rupert M. Dockery arranged for Spider-Woman’s rival, the Enforcer, to escape from prison. Dockery did this because he thought Spider-Woman’s capture of the Enforcer would generate headlines for Dockery’s newspaper, the Courier. But things turned out even better for Dockery than he predicted when Spider-Woman became the Enforcer’s partner in crime!
Why did she do this? Because the Enforcer poisoned her criminologist partner Scotty McDowell, who will die unless the Enforcer provides an antidote... which he’s promised to do, but only if Spider-Woman helps him steal ten million dollars. Reluctantly, Spider-Woman has gone along with this plan. News of her turn to crime has boosted the Courier's circulation, but its also caught the attention of that other spider-themed superhero: Peter “Spider-Man” Parker, who’s determined to find out whether the Spider-Woman has indeed become a criminal... and if she has, to bring her to justice.
At their warehouse hideout, the Enforcer and Spider-Woman plan their next heist, a theft of (wait for it) “a fortune in gems off a New York to Los Angeles jumbo jet. Don’t that sound like a swell idea?” asks the Enforcer.
“Oh sure! Just peachy!” smiles Spider-Woman. She’s speaking ironically, of course, but you’d never tell from the art; unfortunately, series regular Steve Leialoha is off this month, and the pencils are provided by fill-in artists Ernie Chan and Frank Springer. So we’ve got lukewarm art to go with our lukewarm script. Too bad.
Elsewhere, Rupert Dockery, listening in on the audio bug hidden in the swordstick he arranged for the Enforcer to steal from him. That’s a powerful bug, to pick up this conversation, even though it’s nowhere in sight. Dockery uses only the best, I guess. Anyway, in between chunks of self-congratulation, Dockery plans to place one of his mini-cam crews on the flight the pair intend to rob, so that he can get exclusive coverage of the theft.
The following day, as the flight prepares to leave JFK Airport in New York, we readers tumble to the fact that Peter Parker is on board. As the plan takes off, he thinks to himself that “Spider-Woman may be innocent of all these charges! After all, no one knows better than I do that you can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers-- especially when what you’re reading about happens to be one of us friendly neighbourhood spider-types!”
As the flight reaches its conclusion and the jet approaches L.A., the Enforcer and Spider-Woman approach in their own aircraft, an emergency-maintenance plane. The Enforcer takes time out from piloting (yes, he’s a pilot) to radio the other ship to prepare for boarding. Parking their ship on top of the jet, the Enforcer and Spider-Woman climb down the landing gear to the cockpit access door. It seems that the Enforcer is a stuntman too; in a nice bit of defensive exposition, he points out that he learned the tricks of the trade from his father.
Once on board the jet, the Enforcer leaves Spider-Woman to guard the pilots while he robs the jewel courier. Being a thug, he’s unable to do this without gunplay, albeit of the non-lethal variety. But the spectacle of violence permits Parker to steal away and change into his action uniform. While he’s doing so, he filches the stewardess’ clipboard that identifies the passengers who boarded the flight, “in order to prevent anyone from running down the list and identifying Peter Parker with Spider-Man by process of elimination!”
Is that really the only way they kept track of passengers on board domestic flights in 1980? Wow. What’s more, the jewel courier was armed with a pistol - it was his attempt to draw it that prompted the Enforcer to shoot him. I’ve no idea if Fleisher is accurately portraying the state of airplane security back then, but if so, it was certainly an innocent time by today’s standards.
Returning to the cabin, Spider-Man makes short work of the Enforcer, dispatching him in two panels with a few quick blows. As the criminal limps away, he calls Spider-Woman for assistance. She’s surprised to see the wall-crawler, but can’t explain herself, so she simply lays into Spider-Man with kicks and punches. Spider-Man thinks that something is “telling me to hold back and not do anything that might really hurt her! But our past friendship doesn’t seem to have inhibited her from using me as a punching bag!”
As the Enforcer and Spider-Woman retreat to their plan, Spidey is hot on their heels. Determined not to be caught by his webbing, Spider-Woman shoots him with a venom blast, and thanks to her anxiety, she overdoes the wattage, and he falls! She’s unconcerned about this, though, as she’s certain he can shoot a webline at the airliner... not that she’s sticking around to see it; the Enforcer is flying their aircraft away.
Hours later, back at the Enforcer’s hideout, Jessica sees a broadcast of the footage the Courier’s mini-cam crew made of her battle with Spider-Man, and learns that he didn’t shoot a webline after all - as we readers know, his web-fluid had congealed, thanks to the high altitude and cold temperatures. Distraught, Jessica cries “Spider-Man’s dead and... and I killed him!” (Hence the title of this issue.)
Spidey knows an entrance line when he hears one. He kicks down the door and beats up the Enforcer’s hoods, all the while monologuing about how he got here. Seems that, as he fell, he spun himself a web parachute, which slowed his descent enough to permit him to make an impromptu dive into the Pacific Ocean. There, he swam eleven miles to shore - thank you, Spider-strength - and all the while pondered the same question everyone else has been asking, namely, how does Dockery keep getting his journalists out in front of Spider-Woman? Determined to investigate, he wall-crawled up to the window outside Dockery’s office, and overheard the publisher dish to his subordinate about the Enforcer’s hideout “in that Mullin Street apartment”. And so here he is, to save the day!
Well, he won’t save the entire day. Let’s not forget whose book this is. As the Enforcer pulls his gun, determined to “blow you into spider-glop with a couple well-placed nitro darts”, Spider-Woman intervenes and shoots her partner with a venom blast, dropping him where he stands. Good for her!
Spider-Man explains that he’s already called the police, prompting Spider-Woman to lose her temper. “You meddling fool!... the only reason I’ve been playing ball with these clowns is so that I can get the Enforcer to hand over the antidote” for Scotty. As the police, who have just arrived, cuff the Enforcer, he chortles that “I don’t have antidotes for any of my darts...! Why should I bother? I mean, after all, I’m a master criminal, not the International Red Cross!”
This is a good point. Sadly, it’s one that Spider-Woman should have anticipated long before this.
With the Enforcer gone, Spider-Woman has no one left to take her anger out on except Spider-Man. “Get out of here, you... you wall-crawling fink! And leave me alone!”
So Spidey swings away, thinking that “Here she spends several weeks flying around L.A. committing crimes like John Dillinger, and she’ll probably come out of all this smelling like roses!” He’s right about that; the Enforcer was taken away in cuffs, but Spider-Woman is standing on the curb, talking with the medical personnel who are wheeling Scotty out of the apartment in a “cryogenic freeze-unit,” which will keep him alive until a cure is found. “...I put myself in hock,” Spidey continues, “so I can fly out to California to help out a friend, and I end up being called a ‘wall-crawling fink!’ And gee, I’m such a sweetheart, too!”
Given that this issue falls right in the middle of Fleisher’s lousy run on Spider-Woman, the issue surprisingly good.
Sure, it’s got problems: the Enforcer’s hideout, with the immovable Scotty stashed in a freezer, was previously established to be an abandoned meat-packing plant on Something Street. Now it’s an apartment on Mullin. I guess Fleisher forgot? Worse, he wheels out the “I overhead a criminal revealing secret information, and planned accordingly” gag for the third time in as many issues. At least Spider-Man was more effective with that information than Scotty was back in Spider-Woman #27.
Oh, and Fleisher again races through scenes without giving any thought as to how they link together. In this case, it’s that aircraft that the Enforcer had. How does he know how to fly it? Where did he get it? Where is he keeping it? Once the law knew that it was a pirate vessel, why didn’t they track it and arrest the occupants when it landed? And so on.
But there are good elements too. The defensive exposition Peter offers up regarding the stewardess’ clipboard is a nice touch, even if it seems like hand-waving. Peter was sitting next to people, after all, and they’ll remember - I hope - that he was there for the first part of the flight, but went missing after the superheroes showed up. So having Peter swipe the clipboard seems to me to be insufficient coverage of his secret identity, but the fact that Peter thinks about it at all in a Fleisher-penned issue feels like a triumph.
In the same vein, having Peter shoot a web-line that fails to perform as expected because of environmental conditions was a nice touch, as was his impromptu parachute. Unexpected problems that prompt creative solutions are one of the joys of Silver Age comic storytelling, and it’s nice to find an example of it smack in the middle of the Bronze Age.
It’s just too bad that all of the creativity this issue boasts is deployed in service of the guest star rather than the protagonist. Jessica comes off poorly this issue: she fights with her friends to help her foes. When the pretty-obvious ruse the Enforcer tricked her with is revealed, she lashes out at friend and foe alike. None of this is implausible, as people behave foolishly or impulsively in the real world all the time, and they don’t have Jessica’s excuse of a lost childhood and sheltered upbringing by manipulative terrorists. But however defensible Jessica’s actions are, they sure aren’t the actions of a hero. It’s hard to root for her in this issue: to the limited extent that she’s the one driving the story forward, she does so in a reckless and foolish manner. And she doesn’t even resolve her own difficulties: Spider-Man does that for her.
As a Spider-Man story, I’d give it three webs. As a Spider-Woman story, the bad certainly outweighs the good. Two webs.