The Transparent Fox:
Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #74-76
Issue(s): Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #74, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #75, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #76
#74's focus is Debra Whitman's mental problems...
...but also continues the build for the Doctor Octopus/Owl War, which becomes the main topic for #75-76.
I have to think that after writing that awful scene with the psychiatrist in issue #73, Bill Mantlo got a lot of pushback and that's why there's some rebuttals to the doctor in the script for this issue. If the idea all along was to show that the psychiatrist was a bad one, it was set up poorly and doesn't have a good resolution. But when your patient and a third party lay person are explaining your job to you, you're not a good doctor.
Debra is right. Telling someone with a chemical imbalance in their brain to stop believing their delusions is about as useful as telling a person with an open wound to stop bleeding.
And here's Peter. Forget client-patient privilege; Peter is right that the type of therapy the doctor is recommending is goofy bad fiction stuff (i keep looking for a good clip on YouTube of Taft dressing up in various costumes to fight the Tick in Captain Sanity's psychiatrist's office but can't find a good one; a bit of it is here at around 4:40).
Peter's thought that the last thing a mentally sick person needs is people they trust playing games with her is exactly right. It really does seem like Mantlo received some good feedback from people who knew better after the end of the last issue and he's responding to it, although it's at the expense of the doctor.
This doesn't answer my larger problem with this whole plot, though, which is that in order to get out of the revelation that Debra knows Peter's secret ID, we're suddenly dumping this big ugly backstory on her, declaring her mentally ill, and shipping her off into permanent limbo. Peter learns, mostly from Biff Rifkin, that Debbie has been married to an abusive guy and that she's had a history of mental illness along with a habit of becoming attracted to men that are bad for her.
Putting Peter in the same category as a wife-beater is unfair (although it may be of interest considering the scene where Peter strikes MJ after they are married) and, again, the information about Debbie comes out of nowhere and feels cheap.
Peter does try to do the right thing and confirm to Debbie that she's not crazy; he really is Spider-Man.
But instead, the revelation does exactly what the awful psychiatrist hoped it would. She assumes that Peter is just dressed up as Spider-Man to help her and that her (true!) belief that Peter was Spider-Man was just a delusion.
And Peter lets her continue to believe that. Presumably she spends the rest of her life on anti-pychotic meds because she is convinced that she's been having delusions (Whitman will resurface circa Civil War when Spider-Man reveals his identity to the world, and some of this will be touched on, to an extent).
With all of this, Debra leaves New York and the cast of the Spider-Man books to go home and divorce her abusive husband, saying that she'll keep in touch with Biff.
And Debra has an immediate replacement in the Black Cat, who turns up a page later.
The Black Cat has stolen a neutron bomb detonator from the Kingpin. During the Debra Whitman story, we saw the Owl and Doctor Octopus each attempting to collect components of the bomb. The Owl and his men went for the bomb itself, with Spider-Man and Doc Ock's goons failing to stop them.
And Doctor Octopus tried for the detonator, but the Kingpin let him get away with a fake replica instead.
But then the Black Cat stole the real thing.
Later, the Octopus and Owl had a confrontation, in which they learned that the detonator wasn't real.
Octavius had an opportunity to kill the Owl but for some reason decides not to take it.
Back to the Black Cat, after an initial happy greeting...
...Spider-Man angrily demands to know why, if she's been alive all this time, this is the first he's hearing about it. And the answer is that she's been a prisoner of Doctor Octopus, whose men grabbed her when she went underwater in her last appearance.
The fact that the Black Cat is a direct swap-out for Debra Whitman is made very clear in this panel -- and it's really weird to see Dagger included there.
Spidey decides to skip studying for his finals to go back to the Black Cat's apartment for some bouncy bouncy.
But Doctor Octopus is waiting there, and he manages to take off with the detonator and the Cat.
Spider-Man goes to the Kingpin for information.
The Owl just wants to blackmail the city with the neutron bomb, but Doctor Octopus intends to actually detonate it. So the Kingpin is happy to supply info to Spider-Man. That said, he's not happy with his guards' inability to stop Spider-Man from reaching him.
Maybe he should have hired Boomerang after all? How can he expect his ordinary troops to hold back a super-hero? It'll be a little while longer before he finds an... Answer to this problem.
Spider-Man soon joins the war already in progress at the Owl's old fortress in the New Jersey Palisades.
Doctor Octopus has dumbly (or i guess over-confidently) brought both the Black Cat and the detonator to the battle.
But it doesn't matter, because as we saw from their earlier encounter, the Owl is no match for Doc Ock.
And so Spider-Man encounters his badly injured body (and leaves him for the Owl's troops to find and help).
This clears things up for a final battle, with Doctor Octopus against Spider-Man and the Black Cat.
Note that Spider-Man calls himself Sensational in addition to Amazing and Spectacular.
The Black Cat is not a helpless victim during this fight. She's an active participant. But she does take a lot of abuse.
Spider-Man defeats Doctor Octopus by tearing off his arms.
Even after the arms are removed, though, Doc Ock is still able to move them. While Spider-Man is busy fighting goons, the Black Cat destroys the detonator, preventing him from activating the neutron bomb.
But in retaliation, what seems like a combination of the Owl and Doc Ock's troops riddle Black Cat with bullets and harpoons.
Spider-Man flips out, takes out the remaining goons, drowns Doctor Octopus' broken arms, and gets Black Cat to a hospital.
The way the arc is structured (which i think works well), all of the double-sized #75 and the beginning of #76 are devoted to the action, and then the rest of #76 has Peter worrying about Felicia. First at the hospital, and then when he's sent away to get some rest, he instead goes and takes his final.
He then returns to the hospital. He finds police captain Jean DeWolff, who still intends to pardon the Black Cat as she did prior to her previous near-death. DeWolff also reports that the police have picked up the Owl's goons and learned that Spider-Man and the Cat were responsible for taking down the Owl and Doctor Octopus. And it turns out the the Black Cat is going to be ok, too.
We end on a less happy note: Doctor Octopus has also survived and his henchmen are re-attaching his mechanical limbs.
This arc is the definition of a mixed bag. What was done to Debra Whitman was atrocious. I'm not, like, some huge Debra Whitman fan or anything but if you're going to have a character learn the hero's secret identity, you can't then introduce the fact that she's mentally ill and just shuffle her out of the series. And if you're going to tackle a topic like mental illness seriously, then you ought to actually take it seriously and know what the hell you're talking about (as opposed to, say, Mantlo's later weird satirical depiction of Rocket Raccoon's homeworld as a mental hospital gone to seed, where i'd have no expectation of realism). So that all sucked.
But the Owl/Doctor Octopus War was handled pretty nicely. A nice distinction is drawn between Owl as a typical villain, bewildered by the fact that Doc Ock won't just form an alliance with him, while Octavius comes across as a true psychopath. Add the Kingpin into the mix and it's a fun set of villains each with their own motivations. And it's nice to see the Black Cat return and help Spider-Man.
But that gets to the brutal injuries she sustains in this arc. This is in service of an uber-arc for Spider-Man and the Black Cat. And it's one that makes sense. Spider-Man has super powers. The Black Cat doesn't. So this injury she suffers while acting as Spider-Man's partner lays the groundwork for a long developing storyline where Spider-Man is unsure about taking her on as a partner because of the super-powered villains he faces, and his refusal eventually causes her to seek super-powers for herself. And that's a cool storyline. But at the same time i couldn't help think of Gail Simone's Women in Refrigerators site. I'll note that the Black Cat isn't listed there and what happens to her here probably isn't in that same category - it's something she recovers from pretty speedily and doesn't suffer much psychological trauma from (she's ready to partner up with Spider-Man again right away). But it's still a pretty graphic scene; i can't think of anything similar being shown to date. I'm not against depictions of violence and, again, i think there's a logical and in-story reason why it happened to the Cat. But it still nags at me a bit, especially in the same set of issues where Debra Whitman is forced to endure a sudden onset of mental illness because she learned Spidey's secret ID.
Throughout it all, Al Milgrom's art is serviceable but often awkward.
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP places the majority of #74 (the entire Debbie Whitman story) before Amazing Spider-Man #238, and the rest between #238-239 (there's a "Later" caption at the end of #74 that supports a gap). But i've placed ASM #238-239 in one entry and this entire story before it; i think it works better storywise and i don't see a need to break the stories up. The events of issue #76 are referenced in ASM #239, so that's a hard dependency. Thanks to Captain America's appearance in Marvel Team-Up #127 & 128, these issues need to take place before Captain America #281.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (11): show
Over the course of Doug Moench's Moon Knight(even going back to the Marvel Spotlights) his girlfriend Marlene Alraune also went through a rather large number of indignities at the hands of villains without being traumatized, so there was some precedent. I don't think she ever got shot multiple times though...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 3, 2013 1:59 PM
I'm not a Milgrom fan, but that panel of the Kingpin outlining the Owl/Ock detonator scenarios has a goofy charm. The Owl throwing bills and coins around while standing on big stacks of money is such an old-fashioned option for "rich villain fantasy." Then there's the sack of more loot and...gawd, is that supposed to be an expensive necklace in his left hand? Al pulled out all the stops. (There was some other comic -- don't ask me what -- in which a villain was talking about how rich he was going to be when his scheme worked out, and it was a big, bald, scary bad guy. The artist drew all the usual money and gold bricks around him, but also had him holding a pearl necklace, while looking deranged. It was pretty funny, probably unintentionally. "I'll have all the money I want, and I'll also be able to collect jewelry! Maybe even buy myself a mink stole!")
Posted by: Todd | August 3, 2013 6:53 PM
Yeah I can't stand the Deb Whitman conclusion but the Ock and Owl war was great. I love that closing set of panels of the rabid Ock vowing revenge.
Posted by: david banes | December 17, 2015 1:03 AM
And so ends the Deb Whitman saga, not with a bang but with the usual Mantlo bleh. It's a shame too, I always thought of Deb as maybe THE girlfriend. She's cute but nerdy, smart enuff to figure out Pete's secret but indecisive enuff to trust her judgement. She's essentially a female Peter Parker which Stern has admitted to.
I think she had a lot of longterm potential as she's smart and daring enuff that she would've been able to call Peter out on his shit if they had progressed into a LTR and she's pretty but not glamour model level that takes away from Peter's everyman status.
Pete's last longterm relationship in Slott's ASM is Carlie Cooper who's almost purrfectly cloned from the Deb Whitman mold, right down to her putting together his secret.
Posted by: JC | February 13, 2016 6:38 AM
Doc Ock's henchmen, reattaching his arms complete in surgical gear just made me think "it's a good thing henchman goons are such good surgeons!!!" lol
Posted by: BRIMSTONE | February 13, 2016 6:40 AM
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