Spectacular Spider-Man #164
Issue(s): Spectacular Spider-Man #164
If you're wondering what the Beetle is doing out of jail so soon after he was captured by the Fantastic Four during Acts of Vengeance (it's said he's been out for "six weeks"), i think we can assume that he was able to plausibly make the case that he was mind-controlled during that encounter, and therefore not responsible for his actions. Right now his more immediate concern is a nervous condition. Super-heroes, especially Spider-Man, make him nervous.
As much as i wanted Beetle to make it to the B-list when he got his armor upgrade, i like the idea that he's got a kind of psychological condition. For one thing, it starts to lay the groundwork for his eventually face turn after joining the Thunderbolts. But even if that never happened, i like that this issue is (partially) from his perspective and we get some insight into his character. It's the sort of thing that Kurt Busiek will later do. And as a secondary villain, the Beetle is a good character to give a kind of PTSD to. You could do it with a hero, too, but it would become the main plot, whereas here it's just a secondary characteristic that gives him a little more depth.
In this story, he's really just a patsy. The Beetle refuses to take the Arranger's job to kill Spider-Man...
...but he is duped into taking a "straight" job, robbing a diamond shipment. As soon as the Beetle leaves, the Arranger calls for Peter Parker at the Daily Bugle and makes sure that Peter and Kate Cushing know about the upcoming robbery.
Peter goes out to "try" to contact Spider-Man, while the Arranger arranges some refreshments for himself and Kate so that they can wait and see how things play out. The Arranger is playing this like it's a good faith demonstration that his employer, Wilson Fisk, is an honest businessman.
While getting ready for the diamond robbery, the Beetle considers getting a new career.
But he doesn't think that's feasible...
...so he next considers doing "one last job" and then buying a cabin in the woods and living off the interest. But he doesn't think much of that option, either.
Again, nice insights into a super-villain, with the idea that he feels stuck in a life of crime.
That's interrupted when Spider-Man turns out to be inside the armored car. The drivers let him ride along thanks to his new and improved reputation, thanks to the PR work that Puma is doing for him as owner of the Daily Bugle.
As we've seen, the Beetle has no interest in fighting Spider-Man, so he pretends like his armor has conked out and he falls into a ship's smokestack.
The Beetle next shows up at the Arranger's office, ruining the innocent businessman facade.
Spider-Man shows up before anyone is killed.
The Beetle tries to run, and even tries to use the smokestack routine again, but Spider-Man is onto him this time, and manages to capture him.
The issue ends with the Arranger nervously going in to see the Kingpin after Kate Cushing gleefully walks away with a story to write.
Actually, it really ends with Peter returning to Mary Jane. They both had a day off today and originally intended to spend it together, until Peter had to go in to work for the Arranger story and then spent the day fighting the Beetle.
Marvel has so many characters that are potentially interesting. But they're very rarely examined or developed. When a writer wants to go beyond the usual slugfest type of story, they usually reach for some literary theme or sociopolitical message, which can be fine in its own right. But there's so much that can be done just by thinking about the characters involved and actually giving them some characterization. Conway's second Spider-Man run has generally had solid super-heroics, if a bit of an old school flavor. But by focusing on the Beetle here, this issue goes beyond that even though there's no deep message to it.
The next step for Marvel as a whole is to be consistent in a character's characterization once it develops. One thing working in this story's favor is the development of the Beetle that will later happen in Thunderbolts. It's not a direct line; his nervous condition here is not the same thing as him wanting to reform. But the insight that once you go down the super-villain path it's hard to get out of it is a nice step in that direction.
Statement of Ownership Total Paid Circulation: Average of Past 12 months = 205,425. Single issue closest to filing date = 206,000.
Quality Rating: A-
Chronological Placement Considerations: N/A
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (1): showArranger, Beetle, Joy Mercado, Kate Cushing, Kingpin, Mary Jane Watson, Spider-Man
This issue is a personal favorite. It's amazing (spectacular?) that something as simple as Beetle's first-person perspective can make a story that much more interesting. I wonder if this issue had any influence on the Deadly Foes of Spider-Man series that would come a year later?
Posted by: TCP | May 12, 2015 3:59 PM
Fnord, I disagree. This issue was the end of Beetle's portrayal as a serious villain. The humiliation of Fantastic Four 334 started the trend, but this issue cemented it. Beetle used to be the guy that could defeat Daredevil and posed a major threat to Spider-Man in combat. Beetle's suit is supposed to be ARMOR. He used to be able to shrug off punches from Spider-Man. As late as the Sinister Syndicate story, Sable's bullets couldn't hurt him and Sable almost broke her legs kicking him. This issue his "armor" might just as well be made of paper mache. This story turns Abe into a cowardly loser who is completely incapable against Spider-Man.In most of Beetle's appearances after this before Thunderbolts, he's treated like a D-list villain. Sometimes he's merely one of several villains that Spider-Man defeats in the issue. Yes, Busiek is able to salvage him in Thunderbolts but that's over SEVEN YEARS from now. You're judging this from 25 years' hindsight. That Busiek was able to salvage the Beetle was a testament to his skills as a writer, not any redeeming qualities in this story.
Posted by: Michael | May 12, 2015 8:21 PM
I agree here, michael. While it's nice to get insight into any villains psyche, this issue destroyed the beetle's rep.
the way spider-man dismisses Beetle for not being a mutant (born with power). instead he's a guy who built himself a suit of armour (with help from tinkerer) capable of taking on superheroes. Andwithout the limitless funds of Tony Stark.
He'll make a shot at a comeback in deadly foes of spiderman before getting beaten by the wife of a loser supervillan.
Posted by: kveto | May 14, 2015 1:47 AM
I think it's a combination of fnord and Michael's reasonings. I think the story itself is quite good and well told. But, for the Beetle, well, yes, I think of him in Avengers #229, where the Avengers, including She-Hulk, scatter because his armor is out of control and it is that formidable. It's only Thor who holds his ground. So, it's too bad he's not very formidable here, from a power-level standpoint, but Conway does well with making the psychological standpoint work for the story.
Posted by: Erik Beck | October 21, 2015 7:28 AM
Was this a Conway story? Wow, always thought it was Busiek until nao. It certainly has his tics down pat.
I happen to like this story as it fleshes Beetle beyond pure bad guy and lays him out on a path toward an actual character arc. The problem is becuz comics are intended to recycle indefinitely, retirement or heroics are a goal the villian can never truly reach. (Just ask Claremont about Magneto). So instead we end up with a half assed comic relief Beetle later on. But that's the fault of the medium and in no way would I blame this story for that.
Posted by: JC | March 5, 2016 3:28 PM
Comments are now closed.
|SuperMegaMonkey home | Comics Chronology home|