Amazing Spider-Man #196-200
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man #196, Amazing Spider-Man #197, Amazing Spider-Man #198, Amazing Spider-Man #199, Amazing Spider-Man #200
Al Milgrom does layouts for #196 and Sal Buscema for #198-199; this is otherwise part of Keith Pollard's run. Frank Giacoia helps finish #196 only.
I don't want to talk about these issues. I will, because it's the sort of diligent self-torture you've all come to expect from me. But these issues feature a "death" of Aunt May...
...that lasts from #196 to #200, and the return of the burglar that killed Uncle Ben. And both of those things are just dumb. Damaging and stupid.
Aunt May because she is old and frail enough already, and that's been a source of drama so many times already. Pretending to have her die is just exploitative. And if she can handle facing the man that killed her husband, getting bound by him and dragged around and terrorized, she could certainly handle the information that Peter Parker is Spider-Man.
And the burglar... the whole point is that he was just some nameless common criminal. He represents the fact that Peter's new-found powers meant that he had responsibilities, because he would never know the consequences of not stopping a crime. In fact, in a story that takes pains (and it is painful) to create callbacks to Spider-Man's first appearance (like having Peter run into the same guard that was chasing the burglar the time that he let him get away in Amazing Fantasy #15, and having him chase a new criminal)...
...Wolfman seems to lose sight of that basic theme when he has Spider-Man ignore an ongoing crime when he rushes to respond to a telegram telling him Aunt May is dead. We're later told the victim was wounded before the police showed up. But it doesn't play at all into the larger story. Odd.
But back to the main point. The burglar served his purpose in the first story. And in the end, Spider-Man beat him. That's all we needed. He was just a random criminal. We didn't need to know that he had some special designs on the Parker house because it used to be the house of a Prohibition era gangster named Dutch Mallone, and Mallone hid his fortune in the house before getting arrested by Eliot Ness (!). We didn't need him to team-up with Mysterio to swindle Aunt May out of the home, and then terrorize her about the location of the treasure (which it turns out was long ago eaten by silverfish). And we didn't need just endless pages and pages of Peter Parker beating up the burglar.
Peter's powers were temporarily weakened by Mysterio at this point, but that doesn't justify the gratuitous fake catharsis. Peter ends up killing the guy. Technically a heart-attack, but still.
Compounding all of this is a superfluous appearance by the Kingpin in issue #197. Peter has just realized that the doctor that pronounced Aunt May dead was really Mysterio. So he's rushing to the nursing home to find him. But the Kingpin's wife Vanessa has declared that he can only be a criminal for another six hours. So he sends some goons to bring Spider-Man to him so that he can kill him.
And he tells this to Spider-Man. So if Spidey had just escaped and gone about his own business for another six hours, he could have been confident that that would have been the end of it. Instead he sticks around and fights, with the Kingpin demonstrating wild amounts of super-strength...
...and he eventually runs out the clock. It's a waste of an issue.
An inordinate amount of time is spent with Spider-Man fighting Mysterio, too.
It's like Marv Wolfman decided to fake-kill Aunt May too soon and then realized he really had to pad a few issues to make it to #200.
Mysterio actually bails after failing to find the money in the Parker house. It's actually not clear to me why Mysterio thinks Spider-Man shows up at the nursing home. Mysterio is completely prepared for him; he's got a number of illusions set up. But he shouldn't know that Spider-Man is Aunt May's nephew. So why does he think Spider-Man knows about his scheme?
It's really a shame that the main arc is so bad. Because there are a few nuggets here that could have been interesting if they had gotten a little more focus. The first is the handling of J. Jonah Jameson. I complained in issues #191-192 that JJ was just totally over the top insane and no one was recognizing it for what it was. In these issues we get some glimpses into that. Some real character work. If more time was spent on that, it might not have been necessary to go to the Jonas Harrow route and reveal that JJ was really under the control of an outside influence.
Unfortunately, Wolfman goes the "complete nervous breakdown" route instead of allowing JJ any self-awareness.
The other thing is Mysterio's little gig. He's been working at a nursing home because he's realized he can make more money bilking moderately well-to-do old people than he ever did as a super-criminal.
But he breaks with his own new philosophy to get in on the burglar's treasure hunt.
Just to be clear, it's not like this is a high quality run where i just don't like the plot. Despite those good moments i cited, this is still Wolfman in super-hero mode, not Tomb of Dracula mode, and sometimes you get really bad writing like this. Whaaa?
Also some hackneyed old scenes like this one.
First appearance of Debra Whitman, administrative assistant where Peter is TAing, and an eventual love interest (or complication, really) for Peter. Her appearance will evolve after this issue.
Here's a scene with Joe Robertson happening to show up at the docks where Peter is grieving over the death of Aunt May. Seems like he's deliberately stopping Peter from announcing his secret identity.
Robbie goes on to say that he had a son before Randy, who died.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: The telegram telling Peter that his Aunt died was sent in Amazing Spider-Man #195, so this arc should begin shortly after that issue. Peter is a TA at this point, confirming that this takes place after Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #32. Joe Robertson quits the Bugle this issue; he'll be returned to the Daily Bugle in Amazing Spider-Man #202 but that's to replace JJ, who has gone completely crazy by that point. Things aren't back to normal at the Bugle until Amazing Spider-Man #207. As Michael notes in the comments, this affects placement of generic JJ/Robbie appearances, including Marvel Premiere #49 and Captain America #250.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (8): show
Well the only bit of good news about this mess is this at least: after all that happened here, we're lucky Frank Miller decides to do major rehab for Kingpin in his landmark Daredevil run. After running around with "the burglar" and Mysterio, he needed to get back to being a crime lord and not "some muscular guy with influence".
Posted by: Ataru320 | June 27, 2013 7:38 PM
The burglar's daughter appears in the 90's and her last name is Carradine but it's not clear if this is the burglar's last name or if she's using her mother's name.
Posted by: Michael | June 27, 2013 7:43 PM
Thanks Michael. I've now dealt with Robbie's appearances in Marvel Premiere and Captain America #250. There may still be some fall-out (not specific to Robbie) for Marvel Team-Up now that i've filled in these Amazing issues.
Posted by: fnord12 | June 28, 2013 12:03 PM
I agree with you on the kingpin and burglar. Much like making the joker the one who killed batman's parents in the movie, rather than a faceless criminal representing crime, bringing back the burglar was a bad idea.
However, I liked Mysterio in these issues. His scheme of bilking the old folks was a good crimnal enterprise with low risk. And this is by far the most effective Mysterio we've ever seen, clearly beating Spider-man twice and not getting caught at all. In fact I liked the way there was no retribution fight with Mysterio. He kicked spidey's butt and left. Spidey never has the "payback" fight. He got away. the end.
Posted by: Kveto from Prague | June 28, 2013 1:58 PM
That's a 1.2 ton barbell the Kingpin is lifting with one hand. Uh uh.
Even with weakened strength, the burglar shouldn't last more than one punch with Spider-Man. I can understand the desire to revisit a primal story in a special issue, but...it's still a FREAKING COMMON BURGLAR for a double-sized issue! Talk about polishing a turd...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | June 28, 2013 4:31 PM
"A massive cardio-infarction"? Did Wolfman attempt medical research with a relative who had had a heart attack, and mishear "myocardial infarction" as "my cardio-infarction"?
There are a few period attitudes and details of mild interest in those screen shots. These issues would have been published in 1979, and the now-quaint portrayal of a "nervous breakdown" as well as Peter's economy-referencing "Don't you know you gotta WORK at it to make good these days!" are in line with that.
Wolfman is a puzzle. I wouldn't look at the captures above and think it's the same writer who would be excellent on NEW TEEN TITANS not long after this. The first few years of that, with Perez on art, were arguably his superhero apex.
Posted by: Todd | June 30, 2013 5:43 PM
I was never sold on Wolfman's "Dutch Malone" anniversary story. Or going back to the original story by Stan and Steve that an anonymous criminal who encounters Spider-Man in a TV Studio in Midtown Manhattan and then, a few hours later, comes completely by coincidence to the house in Queens where Spider-Man lives! You still can't draw a line from that TV Studio in Manhattan to that house in Queens without invoking the Mother of All Coincidences - which Stan and Steve did, of course, having only eleven pages to tell their tale. And, remember, it's not just the burglar. It's also the same cop (Captain Harrigan) in Manhattan and Queens. Heck of a precinct! Someone needs to come up with a simple, easy solution, a connection that makes it perfectly logical for all the necessary people to be in the right place(s) at the right time(s) without violating anything we already know. The fix needs to answer: "What gets the burglar and the cop from a random encounter with Spider-Man in Midtown Manhattan to the very house in Queens in which Spider-Man lives?" By saying "the burglar had stashed loot in the house" another layer of coincidence was merely added, rather than explained away.
Posted by: Nathan Adler | July 9, 2013 2:52 PM
I guess everyone has their own opinions, but not liking this great arc in Wolfman's run is just perplexing. It's an awesome story, with Mysterio in his Ludwig Rhinehart persona, Aunt May dying (back when that meant something), and it brought back the burglar, Spidey's original first villain. This had so much greatnexx in it.
Plus it explained a plot hole from the origin (which was ignored at the time because hey, it was the 60s) as to why the burglar went all the way from the city to Forest Hills.
Too bad John Byrne didn't read this issue when he did Chapter One and explained this plot hole when it had already been done years earlier and much better.
Anyway, this storyline was awesome. If you don't like it, well, I don't want to be snarky but I'd hate to hear what Spidey stories you do like.
Posted by: hornacek | May 2, 2014 8:04 AM
I kinda liked the Wolfman run, despite his often-stilted dialogue. I started collecting the title in the middle of the Conway run, and suffered through nearly three years of Len Wein after that, so despite Wolfman's shortcomings, he was something of a breath of fresh air for me as a reader. No one was Stan Lee's equal until Roger Stern, though.
Posted by: haydn | June 7, 2014 6:33 PM
Wolfman's ASM run is one of my favorite Spider-Man runs ever. After the stagnant Len Wein era, Wolfman comes out of the gate running, having Peter propose to Mary Jane, graduate college, and get cleared of his criminal record all in the span of 5 issues!
But issues 189-200 are the ones I love the most. Spider-Man goes through a gauntlet of personal trauma and professional failures in these issues. Pathos runs high due to all of his suffering, and things come to a beautiful head in ASM#200, with the catharsis of Spidey getting a level of closure on the failure that started it all.
The act of a powerless Spider-Man taking selfless action to save his Aunt when a fully-powered Spidey failed to save his Uncle due to selfishness helps to show just how far he's come in 200+ issues.
Posted by: TCP | September 11, 2014 5:06 PM
Kveto mentioned the 1989 Batman film and the decision to have the Joker be the one who killed Bruce Wayne's parents. That brings up two things:
1 - This reflect what DC did in the late 40's, when Bruce Wayne was able to track down Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents, and then Chill is killed, essentially closing the case.
2 - That one of the great things the first Spider-Man film did was change it so that Uncle Ben was killed in a mugging in the city, thus negating the need to explain why on earth the burglar went all the way out to Queens.
But, if only Aunt May had stayed dead. I think the reason I never regularly collected Spider-Man at any point was that I was so tired of the constant drama over Aunt May and her health and her financial state. I just wanted her gone and out of the story.
Posted by: Erik Beck | April 17, 2015 11:23 AM
I don't care for this storyline much now but when I first read #200, devoid of any continuity concerns or even real knowledge of the Spider-Man comics from before 'my time,' I didn't mind. Anecdote alert: I picked this up at a jewelry store, of all places, in the early '90s. The small town I grew up in had few places that sold new comics and absolutely none that sold back issues. It wasn't until I was able to drive that I was able to find an LCS in another town. So, prior to that, I had to rely upon yard sales or friends of friends for back issues. That is until I was with my older brother at a jewelry store one day (he was buying something his first girlfriend) and I discovered the owner of the store had a few boxes of comics in the back corner of the store for sale. I don't recall how much I paid for it but it couldn't have been much. Even though it started with a story already in progress, I didn't care. I loved Pollard's artwork and Wolfman managed to get me invested in the drama of it all, even if I didn't get every detail or reference. The scenes of Peter confronting the burglar were amazing to me then and now.
Posted by: Robert | January 28, 2016 3:07 PM
1 - This reflect what DC did in the late 40's, when Bruce Wayne was able to track down Joe Chill, the man who killed his parents, and then Chill is killed, essentially closing the case.
Even moreso was the later 1950s Batman story that revealed that Chill wasn't just some random mugger, but rather was hired to kill the Waynes by crime boss Lew Moxon, after Batman's father had a run-in with Moxon some years earlier. "Dutch Malone" is indirectly the same sort of character here.
Amazing Fantasy #15 is an effective little "morality-play-wioth-a-twist" story in the vein of the more grounded Twiight Zone episodes; it doesn't bear much examination nor require any special justification, which is a good argument against examining or justifying it after the fact.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | August 1, 2016 3:26 PM
I agree with Omar's approach to Amazing Fantasy #15: viewing it as a kind of morality play, which stands on its own terms. The story is built on a web (!) of coincidences, chance encounters, characters being in the wrong place at the wrong time, which cumulatively result in a terrible tragedy.
Happy coincidences are standard fare in most superhero origins; but in Spider-Man's case they seem indifferent, even hostile, to human concerns. There's an ominous suggestion that Peter (and any person) has no control over what happens to him. His decision--really a rationalization--about power and responsibility is his way of asserting that these chance developments have a greater meaning. Peter finds it's preferable to feel guilty rather than helpless.
To me, the fable-like quality is what makes this story so powerful and fresh down to this day, sustaining the Spider-Man strip through all its highs and lows.
Posted by: Chris Z | September 8, 2016 8:27 PM
I'm always surprised at how much a lot of people make a big deal over the Burglar being in Manhattan, then Queens. I don't live in New York City, and if these two locations are in the same city, what's all the hubbub? Is it too much to assume the Burglar has access to a car?
Posted by: mikrolik | March 18, 2017 7:14 PM
No, but Manhattan and Queens effectively qualify as cities on their own, and considering their size and population, it's rather unlikely that a common robber of box office receipts in Manhattan has any reason to commit a murder in Queens, and commits murder at the specific house of the guy he ran past while robbing the box office back in Manhattan.
Is anyone else bothered by the beating Spidey gives the burglar? Especially anyone who's read what he did to the Sin-Eater at the end of "Death of Jean DeWolfe"? Spidey should rarely-if-ever be that type of character, but it was much more believable that he'd be committing serious injury after being driven over the edge. And Daredevil was right there to correctly point out that Spidey was behaving like the worst kind of menace, the kind you read about in the Daily Bugle. [He didn't say that, but I couldn't resist.]
Here, I guess it's supposed to be uplifting or satisfying or... something?
Posted by: ChrisW | March 18, 2017 11:34 PM
ChrisW: Oh I'll definitely agree it's unlikely regardless, but that's kind of the point: If the burglar killed anyone other than Uncle Ben, Peter/Spider-Man wouldn't be a hero.
If I wanted to try to rationalize it, I guess I could say something like the burglar knew the heat was on for a guy robbing box offices iin Manhattan, so he decided to go to Queens and rob houses to change his MO.
But at the same time, I don't want to rationalize it because coincidence was the point of the original story. I tend to agree with fnord that after Amazing Fantasy 15, the burglar should have went away forever; no more appearances, no relatives, etc.
But I can see your point about Spidey beating on the burglar; in fact, a part of AF 15 was Spidey realizing he was going to far when he recognized Uncle Ben's killer.
Posted by: mikrolik | March 19, 2017 6:58 PM
Re: Peter's beating the burglar- even ignoring Peter hitting MJ during the Clone Saga, plenty of writers have portrayed Peter as having a temper. Kurt Busiek said that Peter could benefit from anger management classes. I mean, obviously Peter shouldn't be hitting someone for spilling a drink on him but when we're talking about actual murders and rapists...
Posted by: Michael | April 29, 2017 11:08 AM
But even Peter's temper is so rarely seen and inadequately-defined. One of my very first comics showed him casually smacking Biff Rankin just for getting in his face, and Deb Whitman's tearful thought balloons that she'd seen Peter tear apart a locker a few issues earlier. At the time, I basically had no idea who Peter, Biff or Deb were, and to this day I've never seen the locker-destroying issue.
Ok, Peter has slapped MJ, he's slapped Biff, he's gotten into a boxing ring with Flash, he's shoved Ned Leeds into a wall, he's enjoyed taking down a few rapists in a laundromat without having to put his costume on, he lost all self-control when fighting Vermin and got more than a few shots in at Kraven, he ripped apart hoodlum hangouts when looking for the Sin-Eater and the Master Planner. And the burglar here.
Considering the guy makes a living taking pictures of himself getting into fistfights, I'd say if Peter has a genuine angry streak, it's very inconsistent and badly done. Such a person would have told Aunt May to shut her yap ages ago. Clocked Flash in the face in front of his friends. JJJ too. And he wouldn't stop there.
Spider-Man does not work if we're treating superheroes like they have realistic human experiences.
Posted by: ChrisW | April 29, 2017 10:30 PM
Having reread this story as part of Marvel Masterworks Spider-Man 19, the story actually shows that Peter knows the Burglar's real name, even though it's not revealed to the readers (he gets the name of the guy renting Aunt May's house, and he knows right away it's him, even though he has trouble with Ludwig Rinehart's name earlier).
But I recently got the 2017 Fleer Spider-Man set of cards, and they include descriptions of the characters on the back. One of the cards is the Burglar, and the description includes the name Dennis Carradine. I haven't read new Spider-Man comics for a few years, so I was just curious if Dennis Carradine is now the official name of the Burglar, or if the writer of the cards saw Spider-Man 3 and just assumed that was canon?
Posted by: mikrolik | July 9, 2017 12:24 PM
I remember the burglar's daughter Jessica Carradine being introduced during the time Ben Riley replaced Peter Parker, but I'd have to reread to check if she mentioned her father's name was Dennis.
Posted by: Mortificator | July 9, 2017 1:56 PM
Judging by how fnord tags him, I don't think he thinks anything more was established in the comics beyond what Mortificator says.
Posted by: Morgan Wick | July 10, 2017 12:50 AM
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