Spider-Man: Fear Itself
Issue(s): Spider-Man: Fear Itself
In this story, we learn that Harry Osborn has been storing some crystals that cause intense fear. They were actually meant to cure schizophrenia, but in fact have the reverse effect.
It's said that the doctor that created the crystals was a friend of Norman Osborn, but it's not said exactly how the crystals came into Harry's possession. Was Dr. Victor Cassidy an employee of OsCorp? Or did Norman contract him to find a cure for schizophrenia for himself, or for Harry? Some interesting possibilities there, but it's not the point of the story.
I also think it's interesting that Harry wanted to destroy the crystals but essentially let the government bully him into keeping them.
Silver Sable is thought to have stolen the crystals, but in fact she and her Wild Pack were trying to stop an agent of a mysterious Baroness from stealing them. The agent is the White Ninja, who can become invisible and therefore wasn't recorded by Harry's security cameras.
Spider-Man investigates Silver Sable and winds up getting recruited to help recover the Cassidy Crystals. Silver Sable also tells Spider-Man about the cloning process created by Arnim Zola that allowed Hitler to appear in the modern era (as Hate Monger). She says that Hitler also rewarded some of his top agents with that ability, and that includes Baron Zemo. In flashbacks, Hitler says that Zemo and the Red Skull are his only followers that aren't traitors; we know that the Red Skull survived into the modern era by other means, but he has availed himself of Zola's cloning technique since then.
So Sable believes that Zemo is back, and she's made a connection to the mysterious Baroness, but she (understandably) hasn't quite closed the loop. She only thinks that the Baroness is funding Zemo.
Sable tells Spider-Man that a plane is leaving for Bavaria in Germany, where the Baroness is headquartered, in two hours. But that is apparently enough time for Peter to visit Aunt May and warm up Mary Jane's muffins.
I know Spider-Man doesn't have to worry about traffic or getting through security, but if i only had two hours to get to the airport i wouldn't be cooking my family a big breakfast.
When Spidey and Sable get to Bavaria, they have to fight their way past the Baroness' defenses, which include mute rottweilers.
And the White Ninja.
Spider-Man's spider-sense helps him fight the Ninja, but the Ninja hits Spidey with some Cassidy Crystal dust, causing him to live through some of his fears, which understandably include the possibility that some comics writer might bring back the Mindworm from Amazing Spider-Man #138.
He also fights a vision of himself in his black costume.
Eventually Spider-Man experiences "raw anger" which is apparently the one thing that overcomes the effect of the crystals.
Meanwhile, all of Sable's Wild Pack are disabled by the crystals, and Silver Sable is captured by the Baroness.
And now, what you've all been waiting for.
God, this is great. My first thought on reading this was wondering if Baron Zemo junior ever found out about it. But it is better than that. Mark Gruenwald will try to walk this back in a Captain America story, having the Baroness claim that she was just lying here. There's no evidence that the Baroness is lying in this story, and it really wouldn't even make any sense. It's not like she was pretending to be Baron Zemo to increase her rep or something. She was hiding the fact that she is really Baron Zemo, and only reveals it when she thinks she's got Silver Sable captured and helpless. But anyway, she later claims that she was lying, and she marries Baron Helmut Zemo, the son of the original. That is some serious Freudian shit right there.
The White Ninja winds up exposing himself to the fear crystals, briefly transforming him into an adorable cartoon character before he falls off a high wire...
...and then Spidey joins up with Silver Sable (who managed to free herself) and they go after Baroness Zemo.
But because she's a lady, only Silver Sable can fight the Baroness. Spider-Man is relegated to fighting thugs.
The Baroness is exposed to the fear crystals. They really turn out to be a crappy weapon.
Zemo seems to be really invested in being a beautiful woman, because his/her greatest fear is becoming an ugly monster.
With her eyes covered in blood from attacking a mirror with her face, the Baroness stumbles over to her control panel and accidentally hits the giant self-destruct button instead of the button that would have launched a rocket to spread the fear crystals all over the world.
Sable and the Wild Pack flee the castle. Spider-Man tries to stick around to bring the Baroness out, but he eventually gives up.
The breakdown between Gerry Conway and Stan Lee's scripting is not given, but some pages have the tell-tale sign of women referring to themselves as "females". Conway may have not been able to complete this when he left Marvel to work on television, and getting Stan Lee to finish it up makes sense, not just because it's Stan Lee but because both Lee and Conway worked with Ross Andru in the 70s. I also love that Stan Lee is involved because it adds credibility to the idea that the Baroness' story is true. If this was like Bill Manto or Fabian Nicieza writing this, i'd be like, no it's ok. You can retcon this. The editor just wasn't paying close enough attention and this slipped through without anyone realizing the implications of bringing back the villain that killed Bucky and froze Cap and then had a significant death scene (let alone bringing the character back as a woman). But Stan Fricking Lee co-wrote it. So it happened; i don't care what Mark Gruenwald says.
(That said, i have listed Baroness Zemo as a separate character.)
Quality Rating: C-
Chronological Placement Considerations: I'm following the MCP in pushing this back in publication time a little bit. The idea may be to push this before Spider-Man #13-14, when Spidey breaks out the black costume for the first time since he promised Mary Jane to stop wearing it in Amazing Spider-Man #300, since its appearance in Peter's fear sequence suggests that it's not something he's worn in a while.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: N/A
Inbound References (3): showAunt May, Baroness Zemo, Ben Urich, Harry Osborn, J. Jonah Jameson, Kate Cushing, Silver Sable, Spider-Man
Tony Isabella had already been kind enough to bring back the Mindworm for Spectacular #35.
The cover for this one-shot looks amazingly ridiculous, with the White Ninja awkwardly posed in front of the exploding castle while Sable and the Baroness brandish their big guns at point-blank range in the background. Ah, the 90s!
Posted by: TCP | October 26, 2015 10:34 AM
You sure read my mind with that opening paragraph, fnord.
I'm getting a major (unintentional?) gang rape vibe from Spider-Man's nightmare about Mary Jane.
And who could have foreseen that having your base's self-destruct triggered by a single button on the main console would be a problem?
Posted by: Mortificator | October 26, 2015 12:03 PM
I understand all of the words used in this review. I just don't understand what they are all doing together. Original Baron Zemo? A woman? White Ninja? Spider-man fighting black costume Spider-man? (Venom?)
And the original Zemo comes back in a Spider-man book because....what connection do they have? ouch, I need an ibuprofen.
Posted by: kveto | October 26, 2015 5:03 PM
Why does this exist? I'm not commenting on the quality, just...what was the point of releasing this story in this format? It's not a tie-in, it's not a special story; it's a filler issue with an odd choice of villain. Is it some kind of half-assed 30th anniversary celebration?
Posted by: Omar Karindu | October 26, 2015 5:14 PM
Interesting in hindsight to find that there was a Red Skull clone created during WWII that would be activated somewhere around the Marvel Now! era.
And lest we forget Strucker's twins to remind us that Nazi affilated supervillain incest does not limit itself to Zemo's family.
Posted by: Max_Spider | October 26, 2015 6:37 PM
@Omar - i don't know if this answers the question, but it was actually a graphic novel. It would have been Marvel Graphic Novel #72 if they were still counting. I should have put that in the entry.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 26, 2015 7:13 PM
The major reason the MCP pushed this story back was so that it took place before Harry went crazy and became the Green Goblin again in the "Child Within" arc.
Posted by: Michael | October 26, 2015 8:21 PM
To the question of why this exists, i'm also sure that Marvel thought the Gerry Conway/Ross Andru pairing would have been a draw to fans of their 70s run on Spider-Man, and the fear sequence allowed Andru to draw some villains from that time period. I still agree with the general befuddlement but it does seem to have as much merit as most graphic novels.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 26, 2015 8:39 PM
I was completely unaware this existed. And I stopped reading Gruenwald Cap sometime in the 390s. But I don't know how I never knew before that Baron Zemo II married his father in a woman's body? That's just incredible, even for comics. The next Zemo II appearance I remember is the DeMatteis Spidey vs Zemo vs Vermin thing, if it got mentioned there I guess it went over my head.
Posted by: Jonathan | October 30, 2015 9:22 AM
No, what fnord's talking about is a later Captain America story after the Spidey vs. Zemo thing- it was revealed that Baroness Zemo wasn't really Zemo's father and then he married her.
Posted by: Michael | October 31, 2015 2:10 PM
I remember this and wishing that Frank Giacoia had been inking Andru.
And why didn't a writer think to return Victor Cassidy as the new Mr. Fear?
Posted by: Nathan Adler | April 23, 2016 10:34 PM
How on Earth have I never heard of this? This should be the stuff of comic book legend! While I was reading this I was listening to random music and Stocking Clad Nazi Death Squad Bitches by The Bleach Boys came on. I know that Baron Zemo doesn't actually wear stockings here, but it just fitted with this story in a way that I never thought it would ever fit with any Spider-man story ever. I'm lost for words.
It should definately never have been retconned (which doesn't count because Stan Lee) though Zemo II marrying his own dad who is now a young woman may make up for that.
But so much wasted potential with this being ignored! Zemo would be older by now and we could have Baron Zemo lounging around the house in a pink leather dressing gown and fluffy slippers watching 'Heil Honey, I'm Home!' or congratulating herself on her foresight in mask colours and then resenting her inner sexism.
Did we ever get a first name for reborn Zemo? Helga Zemo? Eileen Zemo?
Posted by: Benway | May 7, 2016 6:23 PM
Close. Heike. She died off-panel of cancer.
Posted by: AF | May 7, 2016 7:01 PM
It was revealed in Thunderbolts Annual 1997 that Heike died in prison. I don't recall cancer being named as the specific cause, although maybe that was a detail added in a later story.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 8, 2016 12:15 PM
The plot may be a homage to an early Superman story in which his foe Ultra-Humanite was revealed to have had his brain transplanted into a young woman's body.
Posted by: Luke Blanchard | December 13, 2016 8:30 AM
Comments are now closed.
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