Friday, November 20, 2015

The Return Of The Big Man

The introduction of the Kingpin in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man, while a significant chapter in the web-slinger's history, is really more of a story of one man's redemption--that of Frederick Foswell, star reporter of the "Daily Bugle," and the former crime boss known as "the Big Man." Back in the day, the Big Man had the distinction of being the mag's first "Kingpin," the first crime lord that Spidey would tackle and one who didn't have any physical assets beyond a savvy mind and a crime network that made a city tremble.

Thanks in part to the persuasive talents of his personal ruffians, the aptly-named Enforcers, the Big Man carved out a feared criminal organization as well as a reputation for himself that made him a power in New York. And while the Big Man called the shots, it fell to the Enforcers to bring in line anyone who needed to be brought in line--which you think would be a tall order for men who weren't packing weapons like the seasoned hoods who were refusing to follow the Big Man's orders. The Enforcers consisted of the Ox, Montana, and Fancy Dan, whose talents were (respectively) brute strength, a skill with a lasso, and fancy footwork combined with judo. Call me crazy by pointing out that there's nothing about these men that makes them any less vulnerable to a spray of bullets from the mobsters they're trying to intimidate; but the Enforcers nevertheless made for effective "enforcement" of the Big Man's edicts.

Eventually, the abilities of the Enforcers were needed to fend off Spider-Man, who naturally sought to stem the crime wave. But Spider-Man was also intent on uncovering the identity of the Big Man, whom he first mistakenly thought was J. Jonah Jameson. Imagine his (and our) surprise when the Big Man turned out to be someone who might have remained beyond suspicion, if not for some good old-fashioned police work.

The character of Foswell is brought back a little over a year later (our time), in a surprising capacity: rehired by Jameson as one of his top reporters, perhaps with ulterior motives on Jameson's part but nonetheless a notable gesture from a newspaper publisher who knows a good thing when he sees it. Indeed, Foswell is instrumental in nabbing the city's current top underworld figure, the Crime-Master (and providing quite a scoop for the Bugle in the process), in part due to maintaining ties to the criminal community through use of a clever disguise.

Foswell goes on to stay on the straight and narrow, cementing his position at the Bugle while keeping tabs on the criminal underworld through his identity as "Patch, the stool pigeon." But nature abhors a vacuum--and New York eventually sees the arrival of another who would ascend to be the next crime lord and unite the underworld under one leader.

Watching the successful rise of the Kingpin has tugged at Foswell's memories of his own days as the Big Man--and no longer content to stay on the sidelines, he arranges a meeting with his successor, in order to reclaim his position while offering the Kingpin a key position as one of his subordinates. Foswell, though audacious, is obviously deluding himself if he believes a man like the Kingpin will build and rise to the top of a criminal organization only to hand it over to someone else--and, in case he hadn't noticed, this time he's without the services of the Enforcers at his side. And so Foswell's offer is unceremoniously rejected, and the man himself is put on ice.

But the Kingpin is savvy enough to make use of his resources, particularly a man of Foswell's experience and know-how--and soon, a second meeting is held, this time with Foswell being made the offer of a position. Judging by how smoothly Foswell slips back into a position of authority (however diminished), it's not difficult to see why the Kingpin finds him so valuable an asset.

Later, the Kingpin faces a revolt, when an operation goes awry due to the interference of Spider-Man and one of the mob bosses lays the blame directly at the Kingpin's door. Whatever hopes Foswell had of supplanting the Kingpin and stepping in, the Kingpin's demonstration of his power puts Foswell's plans on hold indefinitely.

Things become further complicated for Foswell when the Kingpin decides to silence newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson's reporting of his activities and, in the process, tighten his grip on Foswell's loyalties.

And so the Kingpin has ensured that Foswell has committed himself, while driving a wedge between him and Jameson. Jameson is clearly shocked at Foswell's apparent embrace of his former life--but if Jameson had the use of his sight, he might see that Foswell might now be having misgivings about his recent choices.

But the moment is interrupted, as Spider-Man bursts in and attacks, soon engaging the Kingpin one-on-one and finding his opponent able to put up more of a fight than he was expecting. Finally, the Kingpin gets the upper hand by use of a hidden weapon (apparently spider-sense doesn't tingle from rigged tie pins), and Spidey is captured--with Foswell's silent reaction giving a possible indication of how torn he is as an associate of the Kingpin.

Ripples of unease which come to a head when the Kingpin believes he has successfully disposed of both Spider-Man and Jameson, and Foswell doesn't seem at all comfortable with the situation. Foswell is probably no slouch at bluffing his way out of a tight situation--but his grace period with the Kingpin has run out.

With Foswell's exit from the room, the story maintains a level of tension, since Foswell may not be taking the time to lay his hands on a gun in order to simply locate Jameson. Does he mean to execute Jameson himself, in order to prove his worth?

The answer comes in a dark corridor elsewhere in the building--where Jameson is frantically trying to find his way out, only to run into a few of the Kingpin's hoods. Jameson, as you might imagine, comes up short in the bravery department and makes for an easy target--but fortunately, Foswell has made his decision on which side to choose, and how he wishes to repay the man who believed in him.

In the meantime, the Kingpin has made his escape--and Spider-Man, in searching the building, arrives on the scene in time to at least remove the immediate threat against Jameson. But Foswell slips away in those few moments, and Jameson is left to mourn the man who returned to a life of crime but came through for him in the end.

As we can see, Jameson continues to be a complicated character in terms of his feelings towards Spider-Man. Jameson could just as easily have applied his closing words about Spider-Man to Foswell--though clearly he's willing to cut Foswell a great deal more slack, even though Spidey has also saved Jameson's life on occasion.

For those of us who have followed Foswell's "beat" on the Bugle, the character offered an interesting look at what Spider-Man himself points out--an ex-con being given a job and a second chance, and both by a man who had every reason not to trust him again. In hindsight, I tend to discount Jameson's self-serving reasons for rehiring Foswell, and regard his words as cover for Parker's benefit; instead, the scene gave me the impression that Jameson's priority really was in giving an ex-con a second chance, helped by the fact that he was well aware of Foswell's value as a reporter. From that point on, the scenes of Foswell, the former "Big Man," racing to the scene of a story as Jameson's star reporter, enhanced not only the "man on the street" aspect that writer Stan Lee often injected into the Spider-Man book and which helped to make it stand out from the pack, but also reflected well on Jameson--a man who was often misguided but, in the case of Frederick Foswell, showed that he could make a leap of faith when it came to a man's character.

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