Peter Parker: Spider-Man #79-80

Synopsis: Doctor Andrea Jansen has Morbius imprisoned and is conducting painful experiments upon him before Crown confronts her and she is revealed as his lover and an agent of H.Y.D.R.A.; she hopes to use Morbius to serve their purposes. At the Bugle, Betty Brant is doing late night research on Dr. Fields’ murder (and trying to persuade herself against getting back together with Flash Thompson) when Jonah offers her  very special overseas assignment, saying he thinks she’s ready for it (but also saying she should be careful). The next day Peter swings across town when he gets another dizzy spell and falls; thankfully Shoc is there to save him before flying off. At his mansion, Don Fortunato and his H.Y.D.R.A. goons greet Crown, Jansen and the imprisoned Morbius. Fortunato is mildly displeased with Morbius’ presence there but allows Jansen to continue experimenting upon him, whilst also ordering Crown to retrieve the son of Dr. Fields as they’ve uncovered his identity. Fortunato informs his master that Crown will not fail them and his master says he hopes not, for the sake of Fortunato’s family.

At ESU Peter meets MJ and Betty, apologising to Betty for running out on her the other night and Betty (prompted by MJ) forgives Peter, saying MJ explained they’d had a fight which had distracted him. NEAL (not Neil this issue) Aiken comes over and tells Peter Dr. Lanning has cancelled their meeting. Betty shows an interest in Neal/Neil upon hearing he’s involved with Dr. Lanning. Paul Stacy then comes over to show off his goatee and chastise Peter if he doesn’t show up to their tutoring session. As an aside Peter and MJ met Paul in ASM #421 but here Peter introduces him to MJ because Howard Mackie was bad with continuity but hey, maybe Peter just forgot or was otherwise being sarcastic. Later Betty uses her feminine charms to get Neail to promise to take her on a tour of the science building; with that Betty departs for Latveria, the home of Doctor Doom.

Walking home Peter gets another dizzy spell and then he and Neial part ways before the sky goes black and black blobs drop from it, becoming H.Y.D.R.A. shock troopers. The troopers attack Peter (who’s not at peak condition what with his dizziness) because he was with ‘him’ (oh, I wonder who they’re talking about?) when Neil/Neal/Neail/Neial attacks them with his super powers (my, what a SHOCking development!) to subdue them, revealing himself to be Shoc (truly this is a revelation up there with the end of the Sixth Sense). 

Crown shows up and Shoc accuses him of killing his dad and Crown says it wasn’t as simple as all that (and we shall never know what THAT means). Crown captures Peter and threatens to kill him unless Shoc powers down, which he does because as he tells Peter, he has met his wife now (which is a scene I actually liked). Crown tells a depowered Shoc that they’re even more powerful than he realises, that they were both born from a H.Y.D.R.A. experiment. He goes on to say that once Shoc is examined and leads H.Y.D.R.A. to his dad’s journals, they’re power will belong to H.Y.D.R.A. After being teleported away, Peter wakes up in a cell to find himself trapped and at the mercy of Morbius!

Meanwhile Dr. Jansen experiments upon Shoc, causing him a lot of pain whilst Fortunato and his boss (Baron Von Strucker) watch (but not for long, the Baron soon departs). Crown implores Jansen to hurry as her examinations of Shoc are necessary to save his life (which is why she joined H.Y.D.R.A. in the first place). Meanwhile several armed goons infiltrate the H.Y.D.R.A. base (which is actually Fortunato’s mansion in Staten Island) and begin taking out the guards, saving Peter from Morbius and knocking them both out. This same group infiltrate Jansen’s lab and kill her before releasing Shoc. Fortunato asks Crown to make them pay for invading his home and taking Shoc, which Crown promises to do as retribution for killing Andrea Jansen.

Peter awakes to find Hammerhead holding him, Morbius and Shoc hostage. Hammerhead threatens Peter in order to learn why he’s there but Shoc frees himself only to stop when he sees how many guns are trained on him. Hammerhead tells them he wants to bring down Fortunato for poisoning the city and muscling in on his action and that he wants Shoc to help him; to which Shoc agrees. Later, Hammerhead tells Shoc anyone who uses the powers that he and Crown possess eventually dies. He elaborates that H.Y.D.R.A. hired Dr. Fields to unwittingly create the black energy which gave birth to Crown. He tried to run when he discovered the truth but Crown killed him, now H.Y.D.R.A. want to understand the energy and use it to take over the world. When Shoc signs on with Hammerhead, Peter is outraged but Hammerhead says if he’s a family man then he’ll understand why Hammerhead and his gang (who have their families in the building they’re all in right now) want to stop H.Y.D.R.A. Peter is escorted out and tossed off a roof, but of course he survives and changes into Spider-Man.

Crown and his goons invade the building, allowing Morbius to free himself. As a fire fight breaks out on the roof, Spidey swings into action to save an ungrateful kid, whilst Shoc goes for Crown and Morbius attacks the H.Y.D.R.A. goons. Spider-Man fights off some goons himself before going at Crown. Crown rants about how with his life forfeit, he will destroy the entire city block they’re on. Hammerhead starts to also attack Crown (saying he’s no hero but won’t let innocent people randomly die, which was one of his best moments here). Morbius also attacks Crown for similar reasons.

Shoc tells Spider-Man that for reasons he (nor the writer apparently) can’t explain he just knows that Morbius is somehow making Crown overload and now he’s gonna destroy everything in a TEN block radius instead. Shoc uses his powers to make Spider-Man’s webbing “something far more than it’s ever been” (okay, why not) and this covers the city block (or maybe the ten blocks, I have no idea) and then a lot of energy is released from somewhere (Crown?) and somehow this feeds back into the H.Y.D.R.A. ship and causes a big explosion.

Spider-Man is alive, Shoc is alive (for the moment), Hammerhead is alive and content that he sent a message to Fortunato (sparing Spidey’s life due to the help he provided) and Morbius is who knows where. The story ends with Shoc saying he will make the most of the time he has left (we never see Shoc ever again by the way outside of being killed by Wolverine and resurrected by the Hand).

Jesus Christ this story.

So let’s start with the very first page shall we. The male chauvinist in me appreciated the sexy scientist doing sexy science in her underwear, glasses and lab coat (wow). The more rational part of me said this was fucking stupid and unnecessary cheesecake. And on the topic of the ladies of this story, Betty Brant kisses Peter on the cheek and lightly flirts with him in front of Mary Jane, because Betty’s a horrible person like that (check her history, she really is).

Now let us move onto the main meat of this story. The new villain, Crown, doesn’t look as good in this issue as he did in his last outing, although Morbius is as bad ass as ever. This story isn’t bad but the big problem is that part 1 isn’t a Spider-Man story it’s Peter Parker’s daily life with Betty Brant being bitchy and the new hero Shoc (whose identity is revealed to be Neil to the surprise of no one) as the actual hero of the book; oh and Paul continues to be a d***.

Looking at the art of part 1, Romita’s Spider-Man continues to look gorgeous, especially with the red and black costume as opposed to the regular red and blue look. Additionally Fortunato still looks evil (I’ve realised Romita Jr. really likes drawing people with wrinkles).

Overall this first part was another okay set up issue but I was looking for more. The most egregious thing about part 1 though was that Jansen was introduced in earlier issues out of the blue with little characterisation but she seemed like a good person, and then suddenly she is a bad guy, who by the way is in love with Crown.

‘Out of the blue’ pretty much sums up part 2 as well. It had promise (Spider-Man, Morbius, Hammerhead and Shoc vs. Crown and H.Y.D.R.A., that’s a decent premise on its own) but really under delivered. Mackie writes a decent Hammerhead, he is a villain, but you get the same vibe off him as you do off of Marlon Brando’s fellow gangsters in the Godfather. Criminal he might be, but he isn’t an evil monster and he has a code. Romita’s simple addition of a beard for Hammerhead somehow humanises him and makes him more realistic and threatening (that and he doesn’t use his trademark stupid power of an adamantium flat top).

Whilst Hammerhead’s overall presentation here is good, so much of the rest of the issue is fail. Not Romita’s art though, that is always great but…God where to start.

Don’t get me wrong, neither of these issues are in the same league of bad as the worst of the Clone Saga but they’re still poor. You don’t even have an overly gratuitous 1990s fight sequence; it’s just lackluster I am afraid to say. Morbius is presented as heroic, which is cool but the fundamental problem with this storyline is the lack of development of it. This whole Crown ‘Saga’ lasted 5 issues, which might see a decent amount of time but when you consider that there was no development for Crown, Shoc, Crown’s girlfriend, Crown’s out of the blue short life span or what the Hell Shoc and Crown’s powers actually ARE, or how they work (literally there is a line from Shoc which goes “I don’t know how I know this but Morbius is somehow making Crown blow up more than this one city block he planned on blowing up”) this is a big pile of wasted time.

Worst of all, it isn’t really a Spider-Man story. I’m not saying that in the context of “this is magic/cosmic stuff and that isn’t Spider-Man” I mean this is about the new super hero Shoc more than it is about Spider-Man himself. Morbius is at least a Spider-Man villain, but Shoc is the new hero, H.Y.D.R.A. and Crown are HIS bad guys, Hammerhead is HIS ally and Spider-Man is along for the ride. Were Romita and/or Mackie trying to spin off a new character?

There was however, a cool moment where Spider-Man uses his webbing to encase a whole city block but it’s spoiled by the fact that you (a) don’t really see this, the narration tells us (b) this is used in a convoluted, almost dues ex machina to solve the plot and (c) this only happens with Shoc’s help but again, HOW he is doing this is dumb because we’ve never been given an explanation on how his powers work beyond “it’s SHOC technology”. What does that mean Mackie?

There was also an annoying little brat thrown in with little development or follow up; he was just there so Spidey could save him.

Similarly, Mackie artificially raised the stakes of this story by having the battle take place in a building where all of Hammerhead’s goons had their families living. Why in God’s name would you even HAVE all of your families living in one place, let alone why you’d use that place as the HQ of your gang. Especially when your gang is challenging the WORLD’S BIGGEST TERRORIST ORGANISATION!

I like this run by Howard Mackie before the reboot overall, but I am sorry, this two parter is a D+ and the only reason it isn’t a D- is because (a) it isn’t Clone Saga bad (which is the low bar for giving out Fs), (b) Romita’s art still rocks (that’s one letter grade unto itself) and (c) there are tiny pieces of good characterisation and moments which all add up to one letter grade.

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