Monday, July 20, 2015

The Night Of The Prowler!

OR: "Two Wrongs Don't Make A Right"

There were many times when writer Stan Lee took the fast track to creating a super-villain to challenge an issue's hero, particularly in comics such as Strange Tales or Journey Into Mystery where there wasn't a lot of panel space available to spend on anything but the basic motivations of the antagonist; but in other cases, there were characters whom Lee would spend a generous amount of time nurturing as they turned toward a darker path, at times even making them sympathetic in the process. For example, they might find the world they lived in to be unfair or otherwise unduly belligerent--where they'd try to do the right thing and work within the system but often would see their efforts scorned, in a frustrating one-step-forward/two-steps-back cycle that would eventually take its toll. Or maybe, as was the case with Martin Blank, "the Gibbon," they would lash out as a result of the world being a place where they struggled to fit in but which nevertheless rejected them. (Even Martin's last name appeared to conspire against his self-respect.)

And in some instances, Lee fashioned a villain's backstory out of circumstances where a person's life might just be a series of bad breaks, and one day they were pushed over the edge or gave in to their frustration. One character who fit that description and was introduced in a late-1969 story in Amazing Spider-Man was Hobie Brown, an aspiring inventor whose profession was washing windows on skyscrapers but who felt like his life was going nowhere. Eventually, he began sounding like a broken record in that respect, causing his girlfriend, Mindy, to walk out on him; and when Hobie tried to bring some of his ideas to his uncaring boss, as she'd suggested, they were flatly rejected, and he soon quit out of anger.

Hobie, in essence, is a good kid who's finding it difficult to get ahead, a basic profile that fit so many of us at his age. But instead of exploring other avenues, Hobie uses his gifts to take a shortcut to success, and turn his talents to what seems a sure thing.

At first it would appear that there really isn't all that much unique in "the Prowler" (a character suggested by John Romita Jr., just 13 at the time), and that Lee hasn't invested anything in Hobie beyond the desire for fame and recognition; and as a villain, those things aren't really going to do Hobie much good once the law is on his tail. (Also, calling yourself "the Prowler" limits your options as far as the reputation you're likely to have.) But as he tests his equipment, we'll discover that Hobie has a use for the Prowler beyond the obvious.

So it would seem that the Prowler is basically a stepping stone that Hobie plans to make use of in order to open doors for him that he would otherwise have to wedge his foot into in order to broach his ideas to prospective employers--again, a shortcut to success. Hobie obviously hasn't thought this decision through, since, in the process of gaining recognition for himself, he'll be committing crimes that he'll struggle later to justify as "no harm done." It's a misguided choice that many might make in his place--but, considering whose name is on this comic, the possibility that things might spiral out of his control is almost a certainty, and Hobie will find himself justifying many things as a result.

To start with, breaking into and entering the offices of the Daily Bugle, to say nothing of the choice you have to make when confronted by a security guard. Even in this one-time heist, Hobie is in over his head here as the Prowler--but when Peter Parker encounters him, in a scene which takes us into the next issue, Hobie will suddenly find his list of transgressions suddenly including murder.

Between Parts 1 and 2, it's clear that Lee and artist John Buscema have backtracked a bit in regard to Peter's dilemma of Jameson being in the room as Peter faced off with the Prowler. As Part 1 concluded, Jameson came in to discover the Prowler and Peter in the middle of a struggle--and Peter, fearing Jameson becoming suspicious of Peter holding back an apparent super-villain, was desperately trying to figure a way out of the situation. But as Part 2 begins, we're left to fill in a few blanks as far as what's occurred between Parts 1 and 2. Presumably, Jameson immediately left the scene in order to find Joe Robertson and return, only to find the window smashed and Peter missing. As for Peter, with Jameson having bolted, the need to fabricate a story for Jameson no longer exists, and his conclusion to hurl himself through the window presents a way for him to preserve his secret identity by giving him a quick exit in order to return to face the Prowler as Spider-Man.

Regardless, for Hobie, it's a horrifying end to this night which was supposed to lead to a new beginning for him. In the span of just a few minutes, the Prowler has committed actions that not only renders his plan regarding the stolen money moot, but guarantees him news coverage by one of the most tempestuous and axe-grinding newspaper writers in New York, as well as a manhunt due to his status as a murder suspect.

Though, speaking of which, it helps that his intended victim has turned out to be Spider-Man. On the other hand, it also means that Hobie's problems tonight are just getting started.

With Spidey's wry gas/boots barb, Lee nicely deflects the improbability of someone rigging gas pellets in dispensers attached to their ankles--though we can assume that, just as Spider-Man packs spare web cartridges in his belt, the Prowler has done the same with replacement gas and pellet cartridges above his boots. (Though how he fired them from there is a head-scratcher.) In any event, it's a stroke of luck that Hobie barely evades capture by an opponent who's out of his league in both power and experience.

Yet the night's events understandably weigh on him--and in his desperation to pull himself out of a bad situation, he makes another rash choice that, like many such choices, solves his problem only in his own mind.

As for Spider-Man, he's beginning to pick up news reports of the Prowler's increased activities (set in motion, of course, to lure Spider-Man), and he now searches the likely places such a criminal would target. Off-panel, Hobie has discovered that Peter Parker is still alive (saved by Spidey, a fact which Jameson likely omitted in the news report)--yet, curiously, Hobie still appears to be going through with his plan to go after Spider-Man and turn him in to the police. It seems an irrational course to follow. Given the Prowler's actions, the police would have no reason to let the Prowler off the hook--nor does this plan do anything for Hobie Brown, which was the original goal here in creating the Prowler. Of course, Hobie could have abandoned his plans for Spider-Man and, just as before, simply returned to pulling heists in order to later recover the loot and return it, in accordance with his original plan. The way that Lee has structured the story, there's no way to clearly tell.

Whatever Hobie's plan turned out to be, he soon finds himself up against Spider-Man again, and with false confidence that a rematch will once more turn out in his favor.

As we see, Hobie is only now coming to realize the mistakes he's made--except, that is, for the whopper of jumping out of that window. Testing your insulated boots by vaulting over a fire escape is one thing; but it's fair to say that insulation in your boots isn't likely to mean squat as far as cushioning your impact when plummeting out of a multi-story building to the street. But even though his legs haven't been shattered into confetti, the Prowler will still find that fleeing Spider-Man isn't an option.

That security guard at the Bugle might beg to differ with Spidey about no one being hurt by the Prowler; but be that as it may, Lee seems to be making use of Peter's difficulties with his own girlfriend, Gwen, to cut Hobie some slack and give him every chance to make things right with not only Mindy, but with himself. Perhaps the ending short-changes the character of Hobie; but throughout this story, Lee has given a great deal of focus to Peter and Gwen, so much so that the situation with Hobie and the Prowler has virtually orbited around it. In a way, it makes sense for that focus to return to Peter, who sees a hopeful resolution for Hobie but not for himself.

COMING UP: It would take awhile, but Lee finally returns to the character of Hobie to give him more satisfying closure than he received here. But why is the Prowler gunning for Spider-Man again?? That's gratitude for you...

Amazing Spider-Man #s 78-79

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: John Buscema
Inks: Jim Mooney
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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