The end of the mutant/ vampire confrontation!
Today, we check out X-Men #6, The Invincible Iron Man #33, and Blast to the Past for The Amazing Spider-Man #38. Enjoy and spread the word!
We are closing things down! Last time, we ended Shadowland and this time we not only finish up the Curse of the Mutants storyline but also have the final Stark Resilient issue of Iron Man. Hell, if we're counting (and I probably am), we've also got the last Steve Ditko issue of Amazing Spider-Man. Special thanks go out to sdsichero and bkthomson for their assistance getting my grubby mitts on some comics!
Looking to read up on everything from Secret Invasion to Siege and beyond? Check no further than this link right HERE.
And now... vampires and mutants.
Writers: Victor Gischler
Penciler: Paco Medina
In this issue:
• Dracula is back to retake his position as Lord of the Vampires over his son Xarus' dead body.
• The X-Men break into the vampire base and start busting heads.
• Xaus versus Dracula! All of us have NO IDEA who will win.
• The X-Men show up right as Drac tears off his kid's head.
• Blade attempts to kill the Lord of the Vampires but is blasted by Cyclops.
• Dracula talks about how he'll stick around and finish his son's plan. Cyclops stops him with a tale about everything the X-Club could have done to him before reassembling his body.
• The X-Men get Jubilee back. She's still a vampire. This causes considerable debate back on Utopia.
The previous comic in this series was covered HERE.
Oh, hey, look. It's Dracula. I'm glad he showed up just as this story was winding down.
Let's recap this thing since our Curse of the Mutants days are done after this issue. OK, Dracula was killed in a successful coup orchestrated by his younger son, Xarus. Xarus assumed the position of Lord of the Vampires and decided his first move to achieve vampire world domination (after Twilight, of course) was to turn the decimated mutant population living in the San Francisco area. This was initiated by a vampire bomb that struck the depowered mutant, Jubilation Lee. Jubilee was turned into a vampire, which eventually led to Wolverine being turned, but not before the X-Men resurrected Dracula.
Wearing light bending amulets, Wolverine and the vampire army attacked Utopia, the mutant-made island housing most of the world's remaining mutant population. Cyclops flipped a switch and Logan's healing factor turned back on, quickly fighting off his vampiric state. With Wolverine's help, Utopia annihilated the vampire invaders. Xarus' plan had failed.
That's when Dracula showed up, making X's day that much worse. While the big vamp offered amnesty to everyone else who betrayed him, Xarus didn't get the same deal. So, naturally, X orders Dracula's death. Again.
No one moves. There are lots of reasons for this. Probably the biggest is that this is frickin' Dracula, the biggest, baddest vampire in the room. Sure, he was assassinated recently but there's a difference between assassination and trying to kill a prepared opponent. Right behind that would be Xarus' total ineptitude leading the vampire sects. A whole lot of vampires have died today just because Xarus was impatient.
Drac's leadership is looking better and better.
IT's taken the X-Men strike force (comprised of Cyclops, Wolverine, Emma Frost, Storm, Gambit, Colossus, Rockslide, and Blade) a very short time to make their way to the vampire stronghold. Logan knew exactly where to bring the team.
As the X-Men tear vampire HQ wide open, Jubilee hands Xarus a sword so that leadership of the vampire nation can be settled. We can cut to the chase, here. Dracula isn't losing this fight. Xaurs ain't winning. When Drac's son is brought low, the victor tears Xarus' head off.
Jubilee, the only person in the room who was still loyal to Xarus, leaps in for revenge and is back handed unconscious by the Lord of the Vampires.
It looks like the X-Men arrived just in time to see Xarus lose his title (and head but who's counting?). Cyclops decides that's good enough. They came here to kill Xarus, not Dracula. Blade disagrees.
Before the vampire slayer can swing one of those swords down, Scott shoots him in the back. Well, I guess he TOLD Blade to stand down...
Dracula asks what that favor was about. Summers responds that they had an unspoken agreement with Dracula. He plans on honoring it.
Drac... not so much. You see, there's a lot that his son did wrong but what Xarus did right was identifying some ISSUES that the various sects had, united them, and maybe his plan to turn the mutants wasn't bad, either. The Lord of the Vampires sees no reason why he shouldn't just keep Xarus's plans and expedite them with his talented leadership skills.
Oh, I'm certain Cyclops can come up with a reason. The X-Men brough Dracula back to life but before they reunited Drac's head with his body, the X-Club (the X-Men's scientifically oriented branch) check over the body. Scott tells Drac there's not telling what's been implanted in the powerful vampire. Heck, look what Cyclops did with Wolverine last issue. Now just imagine what happens if the vampires don't back the hell off.
Is there any truth to what Cyclops is saying. Odds are pretty damn high that there is. I mean, how could there NOT? You don't bring back Dracula without having some failsafes. Still, the answer is left up in the air. The rest of the vampires in the room certainly believe it's possible but Drac wouldn't be the Lord of the Vampires if he just backed down from the leader of the X-Men.
So instead, he leaves as a "reward" for such a stylish bluff. This is called running scared while saving face. As an additional prize, Drac gives the X-Men Jubilee. That might be more curse than gift, however. Jubes is still a vampire and there's no healing factor that'll bring her back from that.
Back at Utopia, even Emma Frost wonders if her boyfriend just bluffed Dracula but she won't get a straight answer. Scott is too fixated on the new vampire resident to Utopia. Jubilee is kept in a cell for now because how can she be trusted? Blade, still smarting from getting shot in the back by Cyclops, is giving Logan his opinion on keeping Jubilee locked in a cage instead of just dusting her. Wolverine is probably conflicted right now because different writers would have him do different things in this situation. Gischler has him defend vampire Jubilee from Blade's half hearted attempt to kill her.
But it's just that. Half hearted. Blade says that this is the X-Men's decision and even though they've chosen poorly, he's not going to fix their mistake. Scott, watching this on a monitor, makes a mental note to apologize to the vampire slayer before Blade leaves Utopia.
Emma brings up these issues as well. Jubilee's a vampire. As we've said, you can't walk away from that. Wouldn't it be better to stake her now and give her some sense of peace? This is difficult to answer. I mean, if this was the Buffy-verse (and it's NOT), Jubilee would be soul-less and killing her would definitely be a mercy. Marvel's vampires are a little more vague when it comes to their souls or whether they're the same person that got bit on the neck or a demon wearing the body.
Either way, Scott Summers isn't giving up on Jubilee. He's got hope that they can get the old Jubilee back. Somehow.
In her cell, Jubilee reaches out and touches the invisible wall of her cell. Her red eyes look up, impassively.
And that's it. The Curse of the Mutants has concluded and the mutants of Utopia are still alive! Who would have thought it?
The Invincible Iron Man #33
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Salvador Larroca
In this story:
• Maria Hill gets a sit. rep. from Carson Wyche, which basically repeats what happened last issue. Tony fills in the rest of the blanks during his high speed chase around Seattle.
• It's a really awesome car chase. I totally admit that.
• Hill gets a cell phone killswitch and even though Tony doesn't want her help (he's afraid that she'll go down with him if he fails), she sees a terrorist threat in Seattle and pulls the plug on on cell phone service in the area. The Wingmen drop from the skies.
• With the Wingmen gone, Tony turns Pepper's repulsor battery back on with six minutes to spare.
• For her next trick, Maria Hill calls up General Babbage and tells him to get the Hammer Girls to cut it the hell out. She leans on him pretty heavy.
• Detroit Steel has Tony in his sights but Justine Hammer tells Johnson to back off after she gets a call from General Babbage.
• They fake that it was some sort of team-up between Detroit Steel and Iron Man.
• Lieutenant Colonel James Rhodes goes to work for General Babbage with Maria Hill's approval. War Machine will be keeping an eye on Babbage for any Hammer connection.
• Justine Hammer gets Babbage to transfer a prisoner from Guantanamo to another prison.
• This prisoner turns out to be Ezekiel Stane and the prison he's been grought to must be controlled by... the Mandarin! Mandy turns out to be Sasha Hammer's dad.
• Tony uses the chaos footage of the Stark Resilient car performing under crazy conditions in a comercial for the vehicle that begins production as soon as Stark Resilient cleans up the damage. It's looking good for Tony but he knows that there's still a saboteur in place at his company.
The previous comic in this series was covered HERE.
It's the final issue of the Stark Resilient story in Invincible Iron Man and it's been one hell of a ride! The Wingmen and Detroit Steel are on a chase, tracking down Tony Stark and his Repulsor Battery powered sports car as it races through the streets of Seattle. This is the future of Stark Resilient and it has to stay in one piece no matter what Justine Hammer and her daughter want.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. Before we get to that beautiful car race, we need to touch base with Maria Hill. She's frustrated with how Tony is handling this entire situation. She wasn't very happy when it was just happening on Stark's property but now that it's following his Repulsor Car around Seattle, it's even less awesome. She can't get a hold of Tony Stark so Hill calls up Stark Resilient and talks with Carson Wyche. Wyche basically tells her things she already knows. The Wingmen are being controlled by cell phones from anonymous gamers who thing they're playing a video game. The Wingmen are drawn to Repulsor tech. Stark Resilient is trying to shut down cell phone transmissions in the area. We're all caught up now.
Since Maria Hill isn't getting anything new from these guys she goes with her own set of geeks. Walsh, who made his first appearance during the World's Most Wanted storyline, is the leader of Hill's tech squad. She orders him to get a cell phone shut down ASAP.
OK, we're at the car chase. Detroit Steel and a hell of a lot of Wingmen are right on Tony Stark's tail as he drives the Repulsor Car through Seattle and puts a whole lot of civilians in danger. Sure, the Wingmen are attracted to the Repulsors, but video gamers would probably think it hilarious to see how many innocent people they could gun down. No one seems to realize just how big of dicks video game players are. Perhaps Matt Fraction should spend some time playing Call of Duty: Black Ops in online multiplayer. A few hours of that and this issue gets a whole lot messier.
Anyway, since it's way too hard to describe this great car chase, I'll move right on to Tony asking how Rhodey and Pepper Potts are doing. Mrs. Arbogast and Mr. Macken are working on getting the two out of their armored suits. The timer tells us that Pepper has twelve minutes and two seconds before she has a heart attack.
You know what? F continuity. F it in its A. That's right. I said it. If you remember last issue's back-up story, you might recall that it happened either four minutes and sixteen seconds before she'd go into cardiac arrest or four minutes and sixteen seconds after shutting down her Repulsor Battery. Either way, it doesn't fit into this story's continuity because the opening scene has Rhodey providing words of encouragement and no one else near them. Now in this issue, Rhodey's already almost out of his armor, Arbogast is holding Pepper close with Potts' helmet off and only two minutes have passed since she turned off her battery. It's extra ridiculous because Matt Fraction wrote both stories. Couldn't he have just changed the time? It would have been an easy fix. Instead, he made my brain explode. I hope you're happy, Mr. Fraction.
At the car chase, Tony is filling us in on the whys and wherefores. The Hammer Girls are trying to make him look terrible because they think he'll return to the arms game again just like he has in the past (and, let's face it, he HAS returned to making some type of weapons even if it's been non-lethal stuff). They've even tried building a better, if less pretty, Iron Man. Stark muses about how his Repulsor Car is a new type of war. It's one to build a better future.
Now, I don't know if I've ever mentioned this in past Super Reads but since I'm already griping I might as well get this off my chest: the Repulsor thing is a new retcon to the Iron Man continuity. It's not hard to look back on the first twenty years or so of Iron Man stories to see Tony struggling to keep his chest piece powered up. He actually had an extension cord in his chest armor so he could plug into a power outlet for a recharge. That looks a lot less like unlimited energy and more like very limited energy. Hell, even when his heart was replaced by a machine after Mask in the Iron Man, he required a daily recharge. When Grell took over the book these recharge session started looking a lot like drug addiction.
The Repulsor was Tony's weapon of choice for the Iron Man armor but even that didn't appear until further on in the story. Before that, Tony's biggest innovation was miniaturization. He could make everything smaller. The original armor was powered by miniaturized transistors. Those things powered everything, including the many gadgets Iron Man brought into battle.
Clearly, the whole Repulsor Battery thing is supposed to reflect the ARC Reactor technology that appears in the Iron Man movies. I don't really have a big problem with that. I just think it's something that they didn't have to retcon in. Tony CAN invent new things, after all. He could have just invented it during Stark Disassembled except Repulsor Nodes made their first appearance in the World's Most Wanted story-- I just didn't realize that they were a power source. Anyway, it's problematic to anyone reading comics before 2007 when Tony keeps saying that Repulsor Tech is something he kept to himself and has just now unleashed. Shoulda been a new thing. Ah well.
What will I gripe about next? :D
Detroit Steel is still keeping pretty close to Tony's trail and the Wingmen are also in hot pursuit. Right now, you've got to think that for a beta car, that thing is running like a frickin' dream. Tony actually answers my gripe from the last issue even though I'm not sure how successfully he does it. I mentioned that with all those cell phone cameras in the world today, making Detroit Steel come out of this smelling of roses would be a mean feat. Tony talks about how the battle is a lot more confusing than the page would tell it and someone just getting a small glimpse of the fight would be hard pressed to tell who was firing at who. I guess that makes sense. The car IS moving pretty fast.
To be even more incredible, Tony blasts out a wall of the parking ramp he's been racing through and then drives right out of the hole and into the sky. The car lands, bounces a bit, and then keeps on driving like it ain't no thing. My car would have broken its axles trying a stunt like that. Granted, my car is from the nineties and definitely isn't the car of the future unless we loop back around.
Finally, Maria Hill gets a hold of Stark and tells her that she's got that cell phone kill switch he's got his dudes working on and she's not afraid to use it. Tony FINALLY admits why he doesn't want Hill's help. He thinks he's protecting her. He is in a bad way right here and if he fails after she helps him... it might damn her as well as him. It's noble and completely stupid. Maria's the white knight this issue and Tony Stark is her damsel in distress. She's going to pick up all the pieces. She tells him that she sees a terrorist attack happening in the Seattle area and is shutting down cell coverage to cut off the terrorist's coordination.
The effect is immediate. The Wingmen drop from the sky like lead balloons... that explode when they hit the ground. Like... lead zeppelins? Let's go with that. Nice.
With the Wingmen off his back, Tony is free to turn Pepper Pott's battery back on. They've got six minutes left on the clock which means if last issues back story happened four minutes and sixteen seconds until cardiac arrest, it never happened. Let it go, Super. Let it... *brain explodes again*
Maria Hill isn't done saving the day. She calls up General Babbage and tells him to call off Justine Hammer. Babbage tries acting offended by Hill's accusations but Maria just tells him to look out his window. Outside is Maria's mobile headquarters looking just threatening enough to add weight to her words. She doesn't have any evidence that could convict General Babbage but she knows what she knows. She's not asking. Call off the Hammer Girls.
Tony's done driving around the city risking innocent people's lives. He stops his car, gets out and faces Detroit Steel down without armor on. We've seen how fast he can armor up, though. Faster than an explosion. Odds are pretty good that he could get things started pretty quickly if he needed to but he doesn't think he'll have to. Lieutenant Johnson stares down his opponent and threatens Stark just a bit for the feel of the thing. Then he asks Justine Hammer if he can pretty please kill the Avenger with all his guns.
The Hammers are talking to Babbage right now. The General tells them to back off before they all go up in flames. Justine tries to call him on that saying she'll go to the press with everything she has but Babbage calls the bluff, saying he'll admit to everything and they'll both go down. The battle's over. The war goes on. Knowing this will make Tony Stark look spectacular, Hammer calls Detroit Steel off but tells Babbage that he owes her.
Johnson and Stark get on camera together and tell the press that this was a team-up between Iron Man and Detroit Steel as they fought off terrorists. They smile nice for the camera but they throw challenges at each other through their gritted teeth.
War Machine is picked up by the War Department! Probably with some strings pulled by Maria Hill, General Babbage welcomes Lieutenant Colonel Rhodes back into the military. He reaches out to shake Rhodey's hand but Jim remembers just a couple issues ago when General Babbage chewed him out in this very room. Hill coaxes him into shaking Babbage's hand and saying a few scripted words back at the General. Babbage tells Rhodes how he will be serving in the US Military before his secretary tells him he has a phone call. Maria and Jim are shooed out of the room so he can talk to Justine Hammer without them knowing.
The reason Jim Rhodes is working for Babbage is so that Maria Hill can keep an eye on the General and maybe get some actual evidence against him. We'll see how it goes. Rhodey is just happy to be contributing even though he's in the den of wolves.
Let's head back into General Babbage's office where he's taking another call from the Hammer Girls. Justine is calling in that favor from earlier. It's all about moving a particular prisoner out of Guantanamo and to Black Box Facility "Michael Charlie One." The General doesn't like the fact that Justine just dropped a lot of classified information but Justine Hammer isn't revealing anything. She wants a villain moved from one terrible place to another terrible place. It shouldn't even raise any eyebrows. The General agrees.
The next couple pages detail the prison transfer without showing us the prisoner's face since it's covered. It's only when he gets to Michael Charlie One that his head covering is removed and we learn that it's Ezekiel Stane! This Black Box Facility is either no longer secure or under the Hammer's control. Either way, Sasha introduced Ezekiel to her parents: Justine Hammer and... the Mandarin!
Zeke says my piece on this situation. Do we really need a family of people combining the Mandarin, Justin Hammer, and Obadiah Stane? Really really?
Still, besides making them a family of villains, the future threat looks interesting. Ezekiel making something for Mandarin with the financial backing of Hammer Industries isn't a terrible idea. I just have no clue how Mandarin and Justin Hammer's daughter would have ever hooked up let alone still been on speaking terms. It boggles my tiny mind. It also strains credibility but, y'know, let things play out before getting too bitter, right?
So all the future threats are in place, let's look at some future wins. All that incredible driving done by the Repulsor Car has brought us some really good footage that would make a great commercial. Stark Resilient puts some of the best together with Tony talking over it, telling people that this is the car that saved his life during a terrorist attack and the whole thing is street legal and doesn't use gas. Hell, it makes me want two of them. What would I do with my '92 Tempo, though? :P
Production of the Repulsor Car (which they DID decide to call the Stark Resilient) will begin as soon as their facilities are fixed up. It'll take a bit of time but it's still future money that they have fully financially backed.
Tony looks out his window and sees the word he started writing there two issues ago. "SABOT" It reminds us all that there's still a spy (master) among them.
Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
In this story:
• Tony Stark wakes up, has a cappuccino, and gets a shower in.
• The only girl on the elevator checks him out.
• After a commute, Tony arrives at the ruins of Stark Resilient a split second ahead of Rhodey.
• Pepper gives him his itinerary for the day and Stark logs into his computer, checking out information at the speed of sound.
• Avengers emergency.
• The girl from the elevator texts him and he decides to spend the rest of the day with her.
• And the night. :)
• A little after 1AM, Tony gets one of many calls from Pepper and decides to take this one. He's got a thing for Potts. It's kind of annoying.
• Maybe he kicks out the blonde in his bed because he wakes up alone.
• And... repeat.
This is the back-up story by the same creative team that brought us Pepper's back-up last issue. This one doesn't seem as essential to the story... and doesn't violate its own continuity in any noticeable way. It's just a day in the life of our hero, Tony Stark, as he skirts normal dialogue for machine interaction. Throughout the story, we basically get bits of his diagnostic systems giving him information from the temperature of his drink to what his co-workers are using their computer time for.
Tony Stark wakes up and gives himself one good long stare in the mirror. It's 5AM and his day has begun. He gets himself a cappuccino from his own self modified coffee maker (that Stark, always making things) and then hops into the shower to drink his drink and splash some water around.
Tony gets in the elevator and rides it down to his car. He's the only one with full bars. The only girl in the elevator, a hot blonde, is checking him out. She'll appear later.
In his car, Tony starts his commute by listening to Regulate by Warren G (featuring Nate Dogg). It's stuff like that that probably shows Tony's age since the song is about fifteen years old. He's 35 according to next issue which means he's my age. That also means that, yes, I'd totally listen to Regulate on my commute.
Stark arrives at Stark Resilient a couple minutes before 8AM. Jim Rhodes shows up right after he does. Everyone else is already there. I don't know how much earlier Tony should have woken up to get to work on time but Pepper's stern look and his daily schedule shows that he should have been in the door at 7:30. A quick look around the room shows Tony (and us) what the rest of the Stark Resilient team is doing. Mr. Cababa is working on the Terminal. Wyche is checking out AutoCAD. Mr. Macken has his newspaper in front of him which is too low tech to get a reading out of (and those wondering who the spy at Stark Resilient is mark a check in front of his name on their master list). Pimacher plays Bejeweled.
Mrs. Arbogast hands Tony a list of emails he needs to check and Mr. Stark sits in front of his computer checking his mail at breakneck speed. It doesn't take long before he gets an Avengers priority alarm and races off to help Spider-Woman take down the Blood Brothers.
Stark is way off his schedule for the day but he does find the time to fit his lunch in. It's even at the right time on Pepper's itinerary! During his delicious meal, he gets a text message from that girl he didn't meet on the elevator. She asks him if he's really Tony Stark. With a smile on his face, Tony activates his bootjets and flies up to her office for a private meeting.
The next thing we know, the two are eating at a fancy schmancy Japanese restaurant. The lady dominates the conversation.
The word balloons are all empty because this isn't a comic about human interaction. It's about Tony's own diagnostics and how they see the world. Stark gets a couple calls from Pepper that he ignores for this stimulating, one-sided conversation. At one point, he tries to get a word in but she doesn't notice he'd like to contribute and just barrels ahead with whatever she'd talking about.
It doesn't prevent Tony from sleeping with her. It's what he does.
The girl falls asleep afterward, but Tony sits in bed wide awake. He reaches for the phone, probably to call Pepper, and is happy to see that she's giving him a call. It's about twenty minutes from 2AM but the two finally have their daily talk about things and stuff. Tony ends the call with a smile on his face, Pepper with a concerned look. At his apartment, Stark looks in on the girl he spent the night with. The next we see, the blonde is gone and Stark finishes his sleep alone.
Three hours later, Tony wakes up and repeats the day. He starts with a long hard stare at the mirror.
The Amazing Spider-Man #38
Writers: Steve Ditko & Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
In this story:
• We meet Joe Smith who is pretty much terrible at everything.
• His manager takes a liking to him though, and keeps trying to find something for the poor schlub to do. His latest gig is as an extra in a television movie. Joe is playing an alien monster.
• As fate would have it, Joe wrecks the set as the alien monster and causes an arc light to drop into a pool of chemicals left over from an earlier scene. Joe is stepping in the puddle and gets electrocuted.
• In another part of the comic, Peter is at the Bugle when he confronts Ned Leeds. The two have a spat over the missing Betty Brant.
• Back at the movie set, Joe is really cutting it up in a scene. That's because he's gotten super strength missed with a side order of crazy.
• Joe hits the streets and causes a ruckus wherever he goes. Peter Parker walks by and sees what's happening. Spider-Man to the rescue!
• After a titanic fight, Joe's manager leads him away from the fight while Spidey digs himself out of a garbage bin.
• Norman Osborn disguises himself and hires a group of unsavory characters to destroy Spider-Man.
• At ESU, Peter Parker turns down a bunch of protesters and gets into a fight with his usual crowd of haters. Gwen might be changing her mind about him, though.
• Spidey swings around town and runs into a crowd of criminals that is trying to collect Osborn's reward.
• Meanwhile, Joe Smith loses control again and heads to his local gym to attack everyone who's ever made fun of him.
• Guess who ends up at that very gym? Yeah, that's right. Spidey. Everyone attacks him and Joe and those two fight each other. It's a huge mess.
• A punch from Spidey causes Joe to regain his good senses. The police arrive to take Joe in but his manager has gotten the television studio to drop any charges and give Joe his very own television show.
• Spidey isn't so lucky. After tackling some more gangsters, Peter Parker returns home, watches the news, and sees Joe's success again. He goes to bed all emo.
July 1966! It's the same month that saw the first appearance of the Black Panther over in Fantastic Four #52. In Spider-Man, the legendary creative team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko was coming to an end with just this one last yarn to say good-bye. Stan, of course, would stay on the title for quite a few more years but Steve Ditko's time at Marvel was ending. He was already working on Charleton's Captain Atom series and would soon add more non-Marvel books to his schedule after quitting Amazing Spider-Man and Strange Tales (his final work on both titles saw print in the same month).
Much has been said about Steve Ditko's falling out with Stan Lee. Some postulate that it was the secret identity of the Green Goblin that drove a wedge between ASM's creative team but Steve Ditko has disputed that thought due to the fact that Stan hadn't been involved in the plotting of the comic for quite some time and it was pretty much left to the artist to do what he wanted with the book. Another theory is that Steve Ditko didn't like the pressure he felt to bring more romantic elements into Spider-Man. Regardless of what was the cause, the two weren't on speaking terms long before Ditko turned in his final pages. Steve Ditko had taken over plotting duties on the book and Stan did the scripting and editing. All communication between the two was handled by intermediaries. It produced many memorable stories but was hardly an ideal working relationship.
And so we come to Amazing Spider-Man #38.
One interesting this about this issue is that there are no splash pages. There's not big page to start things off and no widescreen panel in the whole thing. I should know because I looked. I like a nice widescreen shot for my reworked panel images. No luck in here! That means it's a little extra story, right?
The book opens with the introduction of Joe Smith. He's "Just a Guy Named Joe" who happens to dream big but accomplish little. He hangs out at the local gym and tells everyone how he's going to be the next big thing, eventually convincing one of the sports managers, Tommy Tomkins, to sign him on by constant nagging. Tomkins puts him in a boxing match and the poor dreamer gets the crap kicked out of him. Joe refuses to give up, though, and Mr. Tomkins tries the loveable shmuck as a pro-wrestler. Smith gets beat up in a scripted fight so that route doesn't work either. By this point, Tommy has taken a liking to the guy just when Joe has given up on himself. Tomkins finds Smith work as an extra in a television movie but this time, he's rooting for the loser.
The same can't be said of the other guys populating the gym. Joe has become something of a joke and they pick on him constantly. Tommy Tomkins tries to keep up the boy's spirit.
Joe Smith's confidence in himself is at an all time low when he gets to the movie set and into gear as an alien monster. His role in the film is pretty simple. All he has to do is walk out on set and start smashing everything in sight. An idiot could do it and Joe knows it. Things go pretty well until some of the stuff Joe is wrecking flies into the air and knocks over an arc light. The whole lighting fixture drops down and into some chemicals that weren't cleaned up after the last scene. As "luck" would have it, Joe is standing in that puddle when the light falls and gets shocked by a jolt of electricity before the movie team can get the power to the arc light turned off.
We can guess what just happened. Joe gets up, rattled but otherwise ok. He's seeing stars so they give him a few minutes to regain his composure. The good news is the scene they just filmed was solid gold.
Betty Brant has left for parts unknown and J Jonah Jameson can't find anyone who can properly replace her. This would be secretary number three walking out the door as Peter Parker enters the scene. Peter's trying to get some money that Jameson owes him for some earlier photo work but he sees JJJ is in a more foul mood than usual and tries ducking out before he gets in the publisher's sights. He's not quick enough but he runs out before Jonah can chew his ear off over Betty's disappearance.
Before Peter is all the way out of the Daily Bugle, he runs into Ned Leeds. Ned recently asked Betty to marry him but didn't get a positive response to that. Betty told him that she needed to talk to Peter before committing which is never what you want to here when you propose. "Um... can I talk to the other guy I've been seeing? He... he might have a better offer." That's probably not how it went down but it totally is when you fill in the blanks Super Reads style.
Leeds wants to know if it's Peter's fault that Betty has disappeared. Peter thought that she had eloped with Ned. While both those assumptions are cleared up, these guys have been trying to win the affections of the same girl for months now and that means they can't be best buds. Ned keeps on whittling away at Peter even though he tells Leeds that he's no longer interested in Betty Brant. Peter IS worried about where Betty's gone off to, though. He just doesn't have to let this guy in on his private pains.
Joe's next scene is ready to roll. This time, Smith has to beat up a bunch of stuntmen. He hits the set and REALLY wants to beat these guys up. There's an anger there that wasn't present before his little accident. This is film gold so the director is happy until Joe forgets all about his TV movie and moves his brawl outside the studio. Joe has super-strength now so he's lifting cars up and being a general nuisance.
Peter Parker walks by this little slice of mayhem lost in his own thoughts as usual. Parker is thinking about the missing Betty Brant and hoping that Ned will find her before trouble does. The people nearby are running for cover from Joe Smith's rampage but it takes a fool random rock throws to get Peter's attention. Hey! There's a super-powered guy on a one man riot! This looks like a job for everyone's favorite wall-crawler!
Spider-Man suits up quickly and the fight begins. Joe is not in his right head. You can tell by those little stars floating around his melon and the fact that normally Joe wouldn't be trying his best to kill everyone in sight. His alien monster costume does give his actions the look of premeditation, though, so Spidey attacks the guy like he was this month's villain. After exchanging a rant or two with the Web-Slinger, Joe skips talk and just goes for the fight. Spider-Man fills in the lull in conversation because that's how Peter does it. It's quip after quip but the super-hero is a little unnerved by Joe Smith's sudden silence. Spider-Man doesn't even know what this fight is about.
After tossing Spidey into a nearby garbage container, Joe's head starts clearing just a bit. This is good for Tommy Tomkins because he's approaching and doesn't want to get murdered by his client. Joe's manager leads the poor guy away to rest. Smith is in a lot of trouble right now and it'll take some fancy talking to get him out of it. Mr. Tomkins is a good guy, though. He promises to stick up for Joe.
When Spider-Man finally frees himself from the dreaded garbage bin, his opponent is out of sight. It was a strange fight but it looks like it's over. Peter swings off, probably to college.
Which isn't where we're going right now. It's time to check in with the loveable Norman Osborn. His son, Harry, and Flash Thompson have driven the elder Osborn to a particular part of town. Harry asks for the car for the night and Norman tells him that would be just fine. Flash thinks Harry's dad is the greatest.
Norman might not have been revealed to be the Green Goblin just yet but that doesn't mean he's a good guy. Ozzy has already been shown to be an unscrupulous businessman with lots of less than ethical practices under his belt. After his son has driven out of sight, Norman puts on a disguise. No, it's not a Green Goblin mask. It's a goatee and green sunglasses. For some reason, Norman has decided that he wants Spider-Man dead and has come to the seedy area of town to hire some underworld goons to do just that. The gangsters don't think they can take down the wall-crawler but Ozzy is offering a LOT of money. In fact, he offers them half right now. Half of every bill, that is. They'll get the other half after the job is done.
Peter has shown up at Empire State University and immediately runs into a protest. These are professional protesters so they don't even care what they're protesting. They just want to feel involved in the process. When Peter refuses to join them, they call him a square. This... this hurts him deeply. Actually, their heckling DOES get to him. He walks away before he loses his cool and belts one of them.
Waiting for him is his own personal hate group. Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn pretty much bonded in their hate of Peter Parker. This has created a stable friendship. Flash makes fun of Peter for...not protesting? I don't know, Flash is reaching today and he knows it. When Peter quickly fires back with a well worded insult, Flash just walks off. Harry nearly demands that Flash kick the crap out of Peter for talking back but Thompson knows to quit while he's ahead. Really, I think Flash is finally getting bored of picking on poor Peter. Gwen's started to get over this as well. She's hanging with the "Hate Peter Parker" crowd but she wishes they'd leave him alone and is even starting to... like Peter. It's sick and disgusting and she should know better.
The next page is mostly just filler. Joe takes a nap at Tommy Tomkins' place and his manager wonders how he'll get his poor client out of this bind. The mobsters get the word out on the bounty for Spider-Man's head. Peter gets heckled in some science class by Harry Osborn and Gwen starts getting even more sick of Osborn's crap.
To clear his head from the constant bullying he's getting in college, Spider-Man decides to swing around town looking for trouble. He doesn't find any crimes being committed but a group of mobsters DOES find him, looking for that sweet, sweet payout after killing the wall-crawling hero. Spidey takes out the gangsters with the skill of a seasoned crime-fighter. Which he is.
Joe Smith wakes up from his nap with more stars floating in front of his eyes than ever before. Tommy tells him to get out of the alien monster getup, take a shower, and put on some regular clothes so that they can figure a way out of the mess he's in. Joe laments about what a loser he is and then starts punching the walls. Tomkin tries to settle the guy down but Joe is no longer all connected to reality. He's off to prove to everyone who ever made fun of him how tough he is.
A while later, we catch up with Joe entering his local gym. Since he's still wearing most of his alien monster costume, the group at the gym makes fun of Smith for it. This is probably not something you want to do to a guy who's rocking new super-strength and temporary insanity. After briefly putting up with it, Joe finally starts laying into them.
As coincidences go, Spider-Man showing up outside this gym and noticing the commotion is probably unlikely, but that's what makes it a coincidence. Peter sees the super-villain he fought earlier tearing up a gym and steps in to intervene. This doesn't go like Spidey expected because the gym is kind of filled with wannabe criminals. They've heard about the bounty on Spider-Man's head and would like to collect themselves. Spider-Man is fighting Joe. Joe is fighting Spidey. The gym people are fighting both of them. It's a rumble.
After a couple pages of good old fashioned craziness, Spider-Man lands Joe a number of blows right to the head. This clears up Smith's star-covered vision and ends his bout with temporary insanity. The police arrive to arrest the hapless loser soon after the fight ends. Since Joe Smith is a pretty easy going guy, he's ready to go with the authorities to pay his debt to society. Lucky for him, his manager has already cleared his good name. Tommy Tomkins met with the television studio and got them to drop charges against Joe. He even got him a bigger part in the television movie with more work to follow. Joe Smith has finally found something he can do. The police let him go as long as he's making good on the damage he did to the city.
The gym guys change their tune about Joe on a dime. Suddenly, he was always a hero in their eyes. Heck, maybe they can get parts in Smith's next production. Oh, gym guys, you are fair weather friends if I ever saw them.
Spider-Man figures his work is done here and swings out of the building and into a nearby alley for more good times with the local crime scene.
This is quite a crowd of criminals all trying to collect on Spider-Man's head. The Wall-Crawler is pretty much awesome at what he does, though, and takes on all comers. When the dust settles, Spidey is the last man standing.
There's a mannequin torso hanging out in some pile of debris. Peter notices it and thinks it looks a lot like Ned Leeds. The Web-Slinger uses it as a punching bag, letting out all his anger for the guy who's actually allowed to marry a girl. That's not something Peter can do. He can't keep the secret of Spider-Man... or the lifestyle... and settle down. With that done, Spider-Man heads home in a foul mood.
Mary-Jane Watson is visiting Aunt May but she leaves before Peter gets home. Again, Parker JUST misses a chance to meet the girl he'll eventually make a deal with the devil to get out of marrying. Before heading to bed, Peter turns on the television to catch the late news broadcast. One of the stories is about Joe Smith and how a relative nobody is getting his own super-hero based television program. For some reason, this upsets Parker. He angrily turns off the television and heads up to bed, moping the whole way.
Joe Smith would go on to... to... well, Joe didn't go on to do a heck of a lot, actually. For a couple decades he was forgotten. Then he got one throwaway appearance in Captain America #246. Fourteen years later, Joe got another appearance in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #28. Five years after that, Smith appeared in a few issues of Webspinners: Tales of Spider-Man. Joe Smith's last appearance was in Spider-Man and Mysterio #'s 1-3 in 2001. That's pretty much it for a guy named Joe. Maybe he'll get another appearance in five years. That seems to be the track record.
Hey! I'm finished with another exciting Super Reads! Woo and hoo!
Until we meet again: Excelsior!
Written or Contributed by: SuperginraiX