Monday, October 26, 2015

The New, Improved Spider-Slayer!

With the dismal failure of the previous two Spider-Slayers, as well as the highly suspect motives of their inventor and developer, Spencer Smythe, we have to believe that even the irrational J. Jonah Jameson would think twice about getting in bed with this guy again to go after Spider-Man with yet another robot operated by remote control. Yet writer Stan Lee shuffles several unlikely plot developments into place in order to make it happen--to say nothing of having the Spider-Slayer move up from a single-story novelty to now act as the foundation for a three-part story.

Still, Lee keeps all the plates spinning on their poles throughout this tale, while also having Smythe strike out significantly on his own rather than being needlessly dependent on Jameson (though it may not seem that way initially); but it's the way that Lee puts the story's elements in play that doesn't invite scrutiny. For instance, the story's opening segment--Randy Robertson leading a protest against Jameson's newspaper, the "Daily Bugle"--comes across as a fairly well-handled scene which highlights not only Randy, but also the solid relationship between Randy and his father, Joe, who, as City Editor of the newspaper in question, is an indirect target of the protest crowd.

However, looking deeper at the scene, you can't help but linger on Joe Robertson's earlier point. The goal of Randy's group is to compel the Bugle to shift its focus to more serious and socially-conscious issues; yet here you have a member of your protest group with direct access to the Bugle's editor, a virtual open door that leads right to the desk of where your grievances can be addressed, and you don't make use of that connection? It's clear that Joe is willing to meet with the group--why not try that approach first thing? It would be easy to accept the protest at face value if that meeting had already taken place and Joe's response was unsatisfactory, but that obviously isn't the case here. Instead, Randy has organized this protest without even giving his father a heads-up about it, and that doesn't mesh with the relationship between them that Lee is wanting to shine a favorable spotlight on.

Then there's Jameson himself, who arrives shortly after Robertson but has a much different reaction to the group's stance.

And you know something? Jameson is right--he has fought for civil rights, as well as taken on corruption and bringing public attention to drug abuse--so why is he taking a hardball approach here? If nothing else, he's canny enough to know that meeting the protesters on the street face-to-face with civility is going to send his paper's circulation soaring; but regardless, given his past, it makes no sense for Lee to have him reject the grievances of the protesters out of hand without giving them at least a couple of minutes of his time (not that Josh couldn't have used a less confrontational approach himself). Corporation executives might have given the protesters this kind of brush-off--but a seasoned newspaper man?

At any rate, Lee's structuring of this scene is likely meant to open the door for Spider-Man's involvement, which would subsequently lead to Jameson putting the main focus of this story in motion.

(Wait--with Jameson's humiliation, the protesters have "made their point"? Really?)

As Lee's story with the Spider-Slayer takes shape, he has plenty of story filler to work with in Peter Parker's life in the course of three issues, in order to supplement the material with the Slayer; for instance, Harry Osborn, who is beginning to take the road back to recovery after his experience with using drugs. Lee also features the return of Flash Thompson from military service, while indicating that something isn't quite right with him (a plot which would lead to a later story of its own).

As for Jameson, he takes a surreptitious meeting with Smythe, in order to preview the new Spider-Slayer. The way that artist Gil Kane has laid out the opening scenes with Jameson and the protesters, you might conclude that it's Spider-Man's intervention and subsequent public humiliation of Jameson that motivates Jameson to contact and renew his ties with Smythe; instead, Lee makes it apparent that Jameson had already decided to make arrangements to meet with Smythe, well before his encounter with Spider-Man. The former would have made more sense for the flow of the story; as it is, we can only wonder at Jameson's reason for contacting Smythe once more, given that he wanted nothing more to do with the man after their last debacle.

And so the new and improved Spider-Slayer begins its hunt for Spider-Man, with Jameson once more at its controls. But Jameson may find himself less in control of this undertaking than he yet realizes--though for Smythe, all is going according to plan.

An old hand by now at locating and confronting Spider-Man with a remotely operated construct, Jameson once again relishes the opportunity to stalk his prey. But when it comes time to strike, he notices some kind of glitch in the control unit which prevents him from launching his attack at the moment he wishes. It's only when the Slayer is finally successful in making its move that we learn of another operator off-panel who appears to be directing the Slayer's movements independent of Jameson.

During the hunt, we've also noticed (as has Spider-Man) the presence of a number of rooftop devices that seem to be new to the vicinity. There's little opportunity to go into detail about them at this point; but we can assume by their being pointed out that they'll figure into the story at the proper time. Suffice to say that Spider-Man has his hands full with just keeping the Slayer at bay.

Finally, as Spidey suspects, the Slayer has indeed reached the "destination" which it's been directing Spider-Man to during the course of the battle. And with that in mind, we'll see that Jameson's plans for the web-slinger have become secondary to those of the real mastermind behind the Spider-Slayer.

With Jameson out of the picture at least temporarily, the story now pivots to Smythe--who isn't nearly as frustrated with the Slayer's performance as Jameson, since it's followed his plan to the letter. And in the closing segment of this issue, we learn a few things about all of the pieces which Lee has put in place.

And so Smythe has become the true "man behind the curtain" as far as the city's law enforcement is concerned. In short: Smythe designs a network of surveillance cameras to be installed on rooftops city-wide, to aid in crime prevention--and to gain behind-the-scenes control of the units, he partners with Jameson to launch a new Spider-Slayer into action and then manipulates it to maneuver Spider-Man to the computer complex which houses the master control for them, where he has the Slayer seize it with Jameson none the wiser. Afterward, Spider-Man is blamed for the theft, leaving Smythe an extensive network of cost-free cameras which he'll use to outwit the law in conducting future crimes.

It's a sweet deal for Smythe--but it's another facet to the issue which Lee hasn't given much thought to. With the master control of the devices now known to be in the wrong hands, the city's next move would likely be to literally pull the plug on them to prevent their unauthorized use (or until they could re-engineer the devices to respond to a new control unit). Instead, Lee has Smythe proceed to use the devices exclusively for himself, while the city apparently takes no action whatsoever. It shouldn't really add up as smoothly in Smythe's favor as Lee would have us believe.

As for Smythe's plans for Spider-Man, the surveillance devices now under his control strike gold, as the hero prepares to switch to his civilian identity while Smythe eagerly awaits the moment.

Yikes! It looks like Smythe's scheme for the Spider-Slayer has led to putting the web-spinner out of action for good, by capturing Peter Parker in one heck of a candid camera moment. Let's hope Smythe isn't broadcasting this to Times Square!

Would you believe--more than one mask comes off? PLUS: The Spider-Slayer 3.5!

Amazing Spider-Man #105

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils: Gil Kane
Inks: Frank Giacoia
Letterer: Artie Simek

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