Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Return of the Burglar!

The two-hundredth issue of Amazing Spider-Man gave us some closure to an event that it seemed really didn't need closure--Spider-Man's confrontation with the burglar who killed his Uncle Ben. Now, since this is almost a 50-page issue, you have to figure that something's up--but what's left to be rehashed here? Spider-Man already put this guy away for the murder, and it was no contest:

One punch, and the guy was out like a light. Peter discovers that this is the same man he allowed to escape from an earlier crime scene... off to prison the perp goes... Peter resolves to live up to a higher ideal in his identity as Spider-Man... Peter and his Aunt May move on with their lives... case closed. A return of the burglar doesn't seem like it would have anything new to offer.

But let's give writer Marv Wolfman the benefit of the doubt. He's already put a few things in play in leading up to this issue--most notably, the apparent death of Aunt May at the Restwell Nursing Home, where she had been recuperating. The home had been run by Ludwig Rinehart (the civilian identity of Mysterio), as a scam in order to conduct a life of crime under the radar of law enforcement. Rinehart had also acquired ownership of the old Parker home, while crossing paths with the burglar, who had returned and was apparently seeking something of value hidden somewhere in the house.

Peter, of course, is devastated at the news of his aunt's death--but eventually, as Spider-Man, he uncovers Mysterio's identity and meets him in pitched battle, which ends with Mysterio seemingly triumphant. Mysterio then decides the rest home scam has run its course, and departs to pursue new schemes--while Spider-Man escapes the death trap the villain had set for him. That opens the door to the burglar's involvement, who is now free to pursue his goal without Mysterio's involvement.

So all of this sets up Spider-Man's second meeting with this man who inadvertently set the course for his life as a costumed adventurer. But, as dramatic as that meeting might seem, how does it merit cover treatment, even at a 200-issue milestone? Judging by his expression, this two-bit burglar doesn't look like he's any more confident at escaping Spidey than he was before. What kind of confrontation can this be, other than a real short one? It would seem that Wolfman is going to have to level the playing field in some way. And since the cover is giving no indication of "super-Burglar," Wolfman takes the only other option he's got left, lowering the boom right on page one:

And doesn't that take the wind out of this story's sails, before it even starts.

But don't give up on it yet, because a lot can happen in 47 pages.

It turns out that, in order to be able to capture Spider-Man and put him into that death trap, Mysterio first shot him with a drugged dart to put him out. But the drug also had the side-effect of rendering him powerless--for how long, we don't know. But gee whiz, let's take a good guess. Why don't we sayyyyy... for as long as it takes Spidey to finish his fight with the burglar and wrap up this 200th issue. Everybody who's made the same guess gets a free pair of web shooters.

So, Spidey's powerless. But he's still Peter Parker, and he can still investigate. And something smells fishy about Aunt May's death, so he starts at the source--the Parker house, where someone has recently torn through it obviously looking for something. Peter had first assumed that Mysterio was behind May's death, but he knows there's another person involved; and when he discovers the name of the last tenant of the house, he comes to understand that the burglar's involvement with both Mysterio and his aunt bears more investigation. Specifically, he discovers more details about his uncle's murder, and why the burglar had come to the house in the first place.

And in the course of tracking down clues, Peter has an encounter in a building that starts the ball rolling on some of the closure we were talking about:

Man, this guard is still trying to get bystanders to catch criminals. Doesn't that open up his employer to liability if they're injured or killed in the process? Nevertheless, it's a thoughtful scene from Wolfman, and a nice touch for this particular issue. But it may have served to put Peter a bit off guard. Because as successfully as Peter is assembling the pieces of this puzzle, he's still not prepared for what's waiting for him back at his apartment:

We probably don't need Moondragon to predict Peter's next reaction:

Thanks to Wolfman, of course, the burglar isn't "out of his league," since Peter is just at ordinary strength level now--and you have to figure that his opponent has been around the block a few times in terms of street fighting and ruthlessness. He also has a gun, which Wolfman uses to frustrate Peter's thirst for vengeance and bring this skirmish to a dead stop:

Given the oversized length of this issue, it makes perfect sense for our burglar to receive more depth to his character than he might otherwise deserve. Other than Wolfman, I think Gerry Conway would be well suited to flesh him out and make him a credible threat--but Wolfman (in tandem with artist Keith Pollard's work here, which is top notch) does a nice job of finally bringing him to life, and the interplay between Peter and his old nemesis is compelling reading. Now in a position to grill Peter, the burglar (jeez, I wish Wolfman had given the guy a name!) recounts his connection to Dutch Mallone, an old prohibition bootlegger who was busted at the Parker home but presumably stashed away a fortune there. And when Peter gets flippant and demands to know the point of all this, the response is brutal:

At least Peter finds out that the burglar didn't murder his Aunt May, which punts the ball back to Mysterio. As for the burglar, he's getting no cooperation from Peter (who, for what it's worth, doesn't know the location of Mallone's "treasure"), so he heads back to the nursing home to retrieve something that will motivate Peter to respond to his questions. But when he leaves, Peter breaks free of his restraints, and suits up as Spider-Man to follow the burglar to his destination. It's the one thing that really doesn't make sense here:  why bother changing to Spider-Man? Without his powers, he can't make use of any of the abilities he'd normally use to follow someone. Why not just tail the guy as Peter Parker?

But let's skip ahead to the nursing home, where, with memories of his uncle's death and now his aunt's going through his head, Spider-Man finally takes action.  For all the good it does him:

Another abrupt end by Wolfman to the confrontation, only this time it's Spider-Man who's put down for the count, sent to the floor and presumed shot dead by his foe. The burglar then retrieves what he came for, and heads back to the warehouse where he'd left Peter--the same warehouse, by the way, where he was first captured by Spider-Man. And he's brought a final addition to begin closing the circle on this drama:

With Peter presumably having escaped, May finally comes face to face with this killer of her husband, and learns why he's returned to their lives after all this time:

But then we see why Wolfman likely changed Peter back to his Spider-Man costume, as the former web-slinger finally begins to battle the burglar in earnest. And even bereft of his powers, a little seasoned battle know-how seems to go a long way:

Obviously this burglar is adept at puahing Peter's buttons, even if he doesn't know he's doing so. And that roundhouse right gave every indication of ending this story, didn't it? Aunt May is alive--Peter has faced up to a burden he's been carrying on his shoulders for a long time--and the burglar looks ready to cart off to the cops. But Peter isn't through with dealing with this man who's caused so much pain to his family, and there's only one last step to take to make this situation fully sink in for this hoodlum. Though the revelation that Peter provides has the burglar assuming the worst:

Peter, so caught up in his rage, steadily pursues this man while taking steps to prevent his crazed escape--and his need for (say it with me) closure brings him back to the most important lesson he learned with his uncle's death, a lesson that even the burglar will now benefit from:

But Peter's words fall on deaf ears--as the burglar, filled with fear and seeing the situation in only his limited perspective, can't bring himself to believe that his advancing enemy wants anything short of his death. (A perception likely driven home by Peter's multiple uses of his gruesome spider-signal cutting off his terrified foe at every turn.) And when Peter finally has him cornered, the burglar takes one final turn--for the worse.

The issue ends with Peter watching over May in the hospital, reaffirming their bond with each other after finally closing this chapter in their lives. May also reveals that she and Ben long ago discovered the box that the burglar must had been referring to--yet its contents had been eaten away by silverfish. It looks like both Mysterio and the burglar ended up as losers in this story. Though it's not hard to guess which two people came out winners:

Now that's great power.

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