Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #107-110
Issue(s): Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #107, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #108, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #109, Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #110
And this is a high profile arc. It's the "Death of Jean DeWolff".
DeWolff has been a mainstay minor character for years, introduced by Bill Mantlo in Marvel Team-Up. Spider-Man's sympathetic contact at the police department. A relatively strong female supporting character (especially if you overlook the hints and more-than-hints that she was actually in love with Spidey). She quickly evolved past "sister of the Wraith", never went crazy, never developed super-powers, wasn't a perpetual hostage, never actually became a romantic interest. She just showed up in various comics (not always Spidey titles) and played the gritty police chief role.
So why kill her? Well, maybe because at some point she would develop super-powers, or become the focal point of some other stupid story, so better to end the character unmarred. But more likely because it was a pretty painless way to add some gravitas and make an "event" of this story. In the afterward to the trade paperback, Peter David puts the blame on Owsley/Priest: "He wanted to see a story in which Jean DeWolff was killed and there were all sorts of cover ups in the police department." That's not quite the way it worked out, but i guess that was the initial impetus. We know that Priest wanted Spectacular to be the "dark" book, with grittier stories that happened mostly at night. It was an interesting book to have Peter David, who mostly had done exactly the opposite sort of Spidey story (the Misfits, "Spidey in the Suburbs", the Nightmare dream sequence).
In the same afterward, PAD writes:
As for me, there were two storylines I wanted to pursue. First, I wanted to do a story in which Spider-Man was confronted by a villain who committed crimes so heinous, so appalling, that Spidey was pushed to the edge and over. It always struck me as unrealistic how super-heroes could turn fights on and off. When you're in a fistfight, your heart is thumping. If you knock the guy down and he's not getting up, most time you kick him because you're so pumped and angry. You don't back off and say "Had enough?" Usually someone has to pull you off the guy. I wanted do to that to Spider-Man because I felt it would bring some hard-edged reality to him.
The story opens with a poignant scene of Jean's life flashing before her eyes...
...and we don't realize that's what's happening until we see the police breaking into her apartment to find her dead.
(Not to ruin the moment, but those flashback scenes appear to contradict what we learned in Jean's first appearance, which said that her mother died in childbirth.)
Then the scene shifts to Peter Parker bumping into one of Aunt May's boarding house mates, Ernie Popchik, who is assaulted by some thugs.
As Spidey, he hunts down the thugs, and you can already see that Peter David is pushing him down the path of being unable to hold back.
But he does hold back, and turns the thugs over to the cops. They tell him about Jean.
Spider-Man tracks down the detective in charge of the case, Stan Carter.
Peter David left clues that Stan Carter was DeWolff's killer. He says that no one wrote in guessing so, and i wouldn't have guessed it either. But we learn early on that Carter was a SHIELD agent; i guess it should be suspicious that he went from SHIELD to a New York detective. It also explains his better-than-average physique (it'll later be revealed that SHIELD R&D was experimenting with modified PCP in order to gain the drug's extraordinary strength safely).
We also learn that Carter's partner was killed six months ago, explaining how he would become unhinged. He also knows a lot about this Sin-Eater concept (Peter David got the idea from a made-for-TV called The Incredible Journey of Doctor Meg Laurel).
Later, Matt Murdock is able to detect Sin-Eater's heartbeat at DeWolff's burial but not able to pinpoint it (his reluctance to act while not in his Daredevil guise is a factor).
Peter is unimpressed. Also note that Murdock recognizes Peter's heartbeat as Spider-Man's.
After the arraignment, Murdock goes back to talk to the judge, an old friend. But the judge is then attacked by the killer, calling himself the Sin-Eater. Hesitation over jeopardizing his secret identity makes it possible for the Sin-Eater to kill the judge.
Sin-Eater escapes. Spider-Man encounters him outside, but is rattled when Carter fires his shotgun in the vicinity of bystanders, and Sin-Eater gets away.
Sin-Eater's next victim is a priest.
The priest is black, and Peter David had also introduced an angry Jesse Jackson/Al Sharpton character called Rev. Jackson Tolliver. He'd been shown to have a chip on his shoulder even prior to the death of the priest, but he goes into firebrand mode at this point.
He's also shown to be a phony.
There's already a lot of themes going on in this arc, so i'm not sure why this was added when there's not really a lot of room to address it properly, but it does add another layer to the plot.
Next, the Sin-Eater attacks the Daily Bugle, looking for J. Jonah Jameson. While still in his Peter Parker civvies, Spider-Man is able to take him down.
But the guy, Emil Gregg, turns out to be a fake (per Daredevil's reading of his heartbeat) and a mentally unstable man (In the Characters Appearing section, Stan Carter is Sin-Eater, and Emil Gregg is Sin-Eater II. Both will have additional appearances.). DD and Spider-Man go to his apartment to investigate, and learn that he lives next to Stan Carter.
The unbalanced Gregg would hear Carter speaking into his audio diary and thought he was hearing voices telling him what to do. The heroes realize that if Gregg was after JJ, the real Sin-Eater might be going to JJ's home. JJ himself is with Ned Leeds in Florida, but Betty Brant is staying over with JJ's wife Marla. Peter calls Betty, potentially risking his secret ID (a recurring theme) but it's too late.
Actually, Betty dodged the blast, and Sin-Eater isn't really after her (but he changes his mind when he finds out he works for the "cursed" Bugle).
But after killing Jean DeWolff who knew what to expect. The last issue of the series has Daredevil and Spidey rushing to the scene.
As Peter David described in the Afterword, Spidey keeps hitting Sin-Eater after he's defeated.
Daredevil tries to stop him...
...but Spidey just turns on him.
Because Spider-Man is fighting mad and wild, Daredevil is able to win.
Later, with word that Carter could get off an an insanity plea, a riot is brewing outside the police station as they're getting ready to transfer him to Riker's. As the crowd descends on Carter and Daredevil leaps in to help, Spider-Man closes his eyes. Daredevil is overwhelmed by the crowd.
It takes Daredevil calling Peter by his real name to get his attention.
While all of this was happening, Ernie Popchik leaves Aunt May's house with his old army revolver. He finds the trouble he was looking for.
May had asked Peter to look after Popchik, but he was simultaneously given an assignment by Robbie. I really don't understand how Aunt May expects Peter to keep track of all her boarders, but clearly he failed here. Luckily, now that he and Matt Murdock are on a real-name basis...
...Matt is willing to help with Ernie's defense.
And that's how it ends. A really nice four part story. Lots of threads, lots of themes (beyond the ones PAD mentioned, there's a major emphasis on the limitations of a secret identity, there's the vigilantism question that's raised in multiple ways: Sin-Eater's beliefs, Popchik's reaction to being assaulted, and the lynch mob, as well as Spidey and DD's conversations). We've come a long way from Al Milgrom's run on the title.
One thing that was a little disturbing, probably deliberately so, was when Spidey investigates Jean DeWolff's apartment, and discovers evidence of Jean's love (obsession?) of him.
It's a nicely handled scene from Parker's perspective but it sort of confirms an alternative impression of DeWolff, that she was not only in love with him but unhealthily so, to the point where she was cutting out pictures of the Black Cat in her pictures of Spider-Man. Instead of making me sad for what might have been, it kinda makes you think, "Man, what a crazy person."
When Spider-Man goes to the Kingpin on a fruitless attempt at getting info about Sin-Eater (Daredevil also went to him for info, but the Kingpin says he has no truck with priest killers), the Kingpin is in the middle of writing a letter to a C.B. Kalish, aka Madame Fate, rejecting her bid to become a "staff assassin". This is actually an in-joke. Carol B. Kalish was Marvel's head of sales; Peter David worked for Kalish prior to becoming a writer and was friends with her. There has never been a character called Madame Fate at Marvel.
Unlike Daredevil, who simply knocked on the Kingpin's door, Spidey fought his way in. Similarly, when Daredevil is next looking for information at Josie's Bar, he knocks over a few thugs but doesn't break the window ("for once!" says, presumably, Josie). Then Spidey shows up, crashing through the window.
At another point in the investigation, Spider-Man hits up drug dealer Gerry Jablonski for information on the Sin-Eater. He doesn't have any, but he was beating a drug rap. Spider-Man brings him to a local criminal hangout and loudly proclaims that he and Gerry are good friends.
This encourages Jablonski to turn himself in. Daredevil later takes Peter to task for this action; "roughing up" a criminal is one thing, but actually putting someone at risk is out of bounds for DD.
Also in this trade there's a sub-thread with a burglar dressed like Santa Claus. It's setting up a future story; i am pleased that Marvel handled this by having David explain that in the afterward rather than simply cutting those scenes, as they've done with other trades i've wound up with.
Here's the scene Michael mentions below with Betty writing a letter to her mother.
Rich Buckler is doing the best work of his career with these issues. I always considered him a bad John Buscema based on his 70s Fantastic Four work. It was nothing like this, even factoring in Breeding and Baker on inks.
I especially like the art on issue #107. When Kyle Baker is inking, the art looks like... Kyle Baker, not Rich Buckler.
Quality Rating: A
Chronological Placement Considerations: The MCP places this between Web of Spider-Man #11-12. The fire in Peter's apartment happens in Web of #11, and this story is referenced in Web of #12.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: The Death of Jean DeWolff trade paperback
Inbound References (21): show
The fire started in Web of Spider-Man 11.
Posted by: Michael | July 3, 2012 10:40 PM
The Ernie Popchik subway scene is most likely Peter David's take on Bernie Goetz.
There was a Madame Fatal in the 1940s published by Quality Comics, but Peter probably didn't know that.
According to a letter by Scott Edelman, Rich Buckler actually was encouraged to swipe Kirby on Fantastic Four and Thor in the 1970s as higher-ups thought the Kirby look sold the book. Buckler's Deathlok was supposedly agreed to in order to placate him.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 14, 2012 9:57 PM
I read that DeWolff was picked because she was a relatively obscure, but already existing supporting character, and no one had written in asking for her return, so the writer & editor thought she wouldn't be missed, but still have an emotional connection to Spidey. Then when they killed her, they were deluged with people who were aghast since she was their favorite supporting character.
I liked DeWolff too. She was a character who had a sense of style and should have appeared more.
Posted by: Chris | July 17, 2012 12:27 PM
I know it's months later but I hope Mark Drummond sees this: Mark, where is this letter of Scott Edelman's? Was it in a Marvel comic back then?
Posted by: Shar | November 5, 2012 12:28 PM
Never mind, I found the letter: it's from The Comics Journal #48, from 1979. Thanks anyway!
Posted by: Shar | November 7, 2012 11:47 AM
Shar, if there's any way for you to link to or quote from that letter, it would be appreciated. It's interesting in light of Marvel's more recent (seemingly) condoned swiping (Mike Perkins cribbing directly from Alan Davis, Greg Land generally).
Posted by: fnord12 | November 7, 2012 3:07 PM
fnord12, I'm so sorry--I didn't see your comment earlier! I actually found the issue--not a link. I'll quote from some of Scott E's letter. btw, his letter is a rebuttal to Peter Gillis's letter in CJ #45, in which Gillis writes that "the folks at Marvel were objecting quite strenuously to Rich's wholesale swiping."
Posted by: Shar | November 19, 2012 8:56 PM
So the letter basically says what Mark D. said in his post.
Posted by: Shar | November 19, 2012 9:03 PM
That should read "not [i]only[/i] the action shots..."
Posted by: Shar | November 19, 2012 9:05 PM
Any way to edit one's own posts here? :)
Posted by: Shar | November 19, 2012 9:05 PM
Shar, thanks for the quotes. Incredible stuff, and amazing how deep Kirby's legacy was at Marvel. To bring it back to this issue, it's clear that Rich Buckler was a good artist on his own when he was allowed to be...
No way to edit your comments in my primitive system. Sorry!
Posted by: fnord12 | November 19, 2012 11:10 PM
A good example of Buckler swiping Kirby in Thor can be found on the last page of the Ego Origin issue. It's really, REALLY blatant.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | November 21, 2012 7:40 PM
I like how the artists drew Betty's blouse with those crazy circles Ditko was always so fond of. It's a nice touch.
Posted by: James Nostack | November 21, 2012 11:00 PM
The first mention of Peter David at Marvel would seem to be reports of a November 1982 fan press conference, where Peter was described as being in Marvel's PR department. The conference was almost completely about editor Tom DeFalco castigating the press for not realizing that the "backwards Spider-Man issue" announcement was a hoax, as well as complaining about "yellow journalism" in general. Among other things, Peter added "Jim Shooter did not kill Gene Day". Jim Shooter was at the conference, but only long enough to ask for questions and then immediately leave when he didn't get any. The Comics Journal later questioned DeFalco about the claims of poor journalism, but DeFalco couldn't cite any and stated that the first issue of Marvel Age(to be supposedly edited by Peter David) would detail them. Actually, the Comics Journal did quickly catch on to the hoax and stated so in the same issue of its announcement; it was the Comics Reader's Mike Tiefenbacher and The Buyer's Guide's Cat Yronwode that got the most deceived(and irate) about it. Tiefenbacher actually sent back the title list with the joke issue on it for Marvel to confirm before the conference, and Marvel confirmed it as truth anyway. The Comics Journal wasn't bothered by the hoax, but it was extremely critical of DeFalco's "weaselly" performance at the conference and later questioning, and to a much lesser extent of Peter's "non sequiturs" there.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 27, 2013 6:16 PM
Carter was originally supposed to die at the end of this and have a wife that wanted revenge on spider-man. She would have evantully find the venom symbiote and become Venom. They rejected this idea because they thought the female Venom wouldn't sell
Posted by: doomsday | July 3, 2013 7:50 PM
This was great work by David, but I hated to see Jean DeWolff go. Characters of her type were important and good for comics. It was still significant to see a high-ranking female officer in fiction, and her gender was dealt with matter-of-factly. She was tough, efficient, and fair, and her Spidey crush was really all that made the relationship different from what he would have had with a male police contact. (A male supporting character could have a Spidey crush too, but we weren't quite there yet.)
Fortunately, John Byrne created the temperamentally similar Captain Maggie Sawyer not long after, for the other company. Minus the crush angle, of course.
I think the clippings in the apartment stop short of creepy obsessive shrine territory, even with her cutting the Black Cat out (although I know that that would be the classic way of portraying a crazy person who was all "He must be mine, and I'm going to kill the girlfriend!"). To me, her collection suggests she was lonely and socially awkward, and there were all these feelings she could not express because of her position and her personality, and it is poignant. It makes me wish David had been writing the character all along.
Posted by: Todd | July 31, 2013 9:08 PM
Rich Buckler takes a lot of understandable abuse from fans and pros because of all his Kirby swipes, but the above scans prove he had the chops when he needed them.
Posted by: Jay Patrick | July 31, 2013 10:10 PM
Great arc, I'd say Pete was just run ragged with stress but this article SO needs the panel of Peter and Matt clenching hands in new close friendship.
Posted by: David Banes | January 2, 2014 10:02 PM
Added what i think is the scene you are referring to, David.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 3, 2014 2:24 AM
Thanks, I love that panel.
Posted by: David Banes | January 3, 2014 12:43 PM
Peter David stated in Comics Interview #30(his first interview) that he was going to bring Sin-Eater back and show the effects of Spider-man's beating, but evidently he didn't get to.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | January 10, 2014 6:38 PM
PAD brought the Sin-Eater back in Spectacular Spider-Man 134-136.
Posted by: Michael | January 10, 2014 6:42 PM
Robbie gets a good scene in this arc when the fake Sin-Eater comes crashing the Bugle looking for JJJ, and Robbie keeps his attention (and shotgun) on himself, calmly claiming that HE is JJJ, enabling the other Bugle staffworkers a chance to hide or duck for cover. Nice little scene which touches on the stoic and noble quality of Robbie.
Posted by: George Gordon | March 1, 2014 8:28 PM
Spidey tearing up the city looking for information was indeed reminiscent of what he did when searching for the Master Planner. Luckily for us newbies, that story had just been reprinted in "Marvel Tales," so we knew what Unnamed Goon was referring to, and faithful readers had learned about his relationship with Betty as well.
Had Peter David left sales yet, because these references were exactly the sort of thing Marvel would care about in terms of reprints and new books?
Posted by: ChrisW | September 29, 2014 9:48 PM
Axis: Carnage 3 suggests that not everything was what it seemed to be in this arc.
Posted by: Michael | December 15, 2014 8:11 PM
I think this is the best Spider-Man story since the Death of Gwen Stacy. Masterfully handled on every level - great art, great writing, one of the best all-time Spider-Man scenes (his crazed beating of Sin-Eater - please let a scene like that end up in a comic movie - David is right when he talks about comic characters never going over the edge) - nice to have Peter finally reveal his identity to someone he's known for a long time, even if it wasn't deliberate. Glad that Matt reciprocated.
One thing that was very confusing for me the time - I first read this in the trade, after Born Again and was stunned at the notion that Daredevil would so calmly interact with Kingpin (though that Kingpin scene is one of the best in a story full of great moments).
Posted by: Erik Beck | June 6, 2015 3:26 PM
"So, remember way back when, when you sent a letter to my office telling me you already knew my secret? Funny story..."
Posted by: Morgan Wick | June 6, 2015 4:11 PM
Axis: Carnage 3 suggests that not everything was what it seemed to be in this arc.
Though what it suggests is pretty directly contradicted by this comic, and even int hats tory the only character who seems to think Gregg really was the original Sin-Eater killer is a hack journalist.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 14, 2015 3:00 PM
Daredevil later takes Peter to task for this action; "roughing up" a criminal is one thing, but actually putting someone at risk is out of bounds for DD.
Hey, DD, don't be so critical of Spider-Man. I mean, it's not like he manipulated Hydra into blowing up all of the Kingpin's properties, or anything like that :)
Posted by: Ben Herman | January 9, 2017 3:40 PM
I'm kinda surprised I hadn't commented on this famous story before. I read pieces of this one as a kid and eventually read the whole thing in an essential. While it could never live up to the hype, I find this story less impressive than most and I'm sure im in a tiny minority here.
Peter David is a great writer, I've just never felt he's a "Spider-man" writer. So many of his stories feel like they happen to have been written for Spidey because that was the book he was writing.
While the tone of the story is really good and dark and Sin-eater manages to feel more "real world" than other villains, I just feel like some of the characters act wildly out of character here for the sake of the story. Peter Parker, the ultimate in guilt trip heroes, is forced to compromise almost all of principles throughout the story. I understand he was pushed over the "ëdge" but for him to lose his sense of responsibility like that and have DD have to show him the moral high ground like that.
Explaining Catrer's powers after he was captured felt very golden age (they always explained the villains after they were caught) but also anti-climatic.
So many of the fight results feel like they happen more because of story considerations than because thats what should happen. DD beating up a crazed Spidey (WTF? I'd think craziness would make spdey more dangerous) but then losing to an average mob because the story demands it.
I can't explore if the Sin-eaters identity mystery would have compleled me
Posted by: kveto | January 9, 2017 4:08 PM
because I've always known it. It felt interesting, at least. But I can't judge.
It felt to me a bit like when I first saw Pulp Fiction. I'd heard so much about it that when I saw it I was "That was good but is that it? It feels like style over substance."
But I recognise the fact that I went into this story knowing too much about it, so its kinda my fault for not being objective. My mileage clearly varies.
Posted by: kveto | January 9, 2017 4:12 PM
Dan Slott and Mark Bagley have a nice little short in Venom Super Special #1 from 1995 that clarifies - via a continuity insert (set during ASM 256 but with a contemporary - i.e. 1995 - coda so its not missing from the project yet Fnord) - that DeWolff loved Spider-Man "like a brother".
I'm not sure it really explains the freaky photos and cutouts in her apartment, but at least it was attempt to fix the damage done to DeWolff in that scene.
Posted by: Hugh Sheridan | March 1, 2018 11:57 AM
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