Thursday, October 24, 2013

Meet The Fists of--Captain Spider!

It's never a good sign when a comic book cover has to use way too many words to sell you on its content:

What a mess! Now how can we put that more concisely? How about something like:

And despite the flakiness of the premise, the stories of the three Spider-Man stand-ins are pretty entertaining. Come on, haven't you ever wanted to see Betty Brant shooting webs and nabbing bad guys? YOU KNOW YOU HAVE.

But let's take Flash first, since he'd probably elbow his way to the front of the pack anyway. There's really not much guesswork involved in figuring out how swell-headed high school jock Flash Thompson would deal with getting super powers--i.e., letting them go to his head and thereby getting in over his head. After discovering what he can do with his new abilities, Flash ends up making the same misstep Peter made by getting in the wrestling ring as a quick road to fame, though Flash's reasons were driven by ego as much as money. As a result, he ends up breaking the wrestler's neck and killing him, and finds himself a fugitive for manslaughter. So he decides to go undercover, and become a super-hero in an attempt to redeem himself:

As Captain Spider, Flash makes a decent start with his super-hero career, putting away lower-rung villains like the Chameleon and the Tinkerer, though of course relying mostly on his enhanced strength since he lacks the inventiveness to develop web-shooters. Unfortunately, that will cost him dearly when he moves up to the big leagues in a fatal encounter with the Vulture:

Flash plunges to his death--where he's found and unmasked by Peter, closing the circle on the what-might-have-been aspect of this story. And that brings us to our next recipient of that radioactive bite:

Spider-Girl is an interesting case--because, despite her moonlighting as a crime-fighter, she stays very much in character as Betty Brant, even refusing to use her super-strength for fear of harming someone. Fortunately, her dual identity is known to Peter, who helps her compensate by supplying her with web-shooters (and who also snaps pictures of her in action to sell to the Daily Bugle). I don't know how far Betty expects to get as a super-hero, since refraining from using her strength against her foes quickly becomes common knowledge; I suppose she'll have to find creative ways to use it indirectly, though some clever villain is bound to eventually take advantage of her scruples.

And it doesn't take long before one unknowingly does: the same burglar that will end up killing Peter's Uncle Ben, only this time Betty initially fails to stop him not because she can't be bothered, but because she's out of web fluid (and of course she's reluctant to simply restrain him physically). And the eventual confrontation happens, as it did with Peter:

(Cool how the artist has the eyes showing through the mask, just as it was done in the original story, eh?)

But, rather than playing out as it first did by spurring Peter into a greater sense of purpose and responsibility, the scene only enhances Betty's timidity and self-doubt.

As you can see, the story provides some nice parallels with scenes from other Spider-Man stories. And just as in Flash's case, it's also clearly using events from early in Peter's career as Spider-Man to serve as turning points for these three other people. That will also happen in John Jameson's case, in a scene which is surely appropriate for former astronaut "Spider-Jameson," who, in another twist, has the full backing of his father in his role as a costumed hero:

Just as in an original Spider-Man story, Spider-Jameson acts to save a descending space capsule from crashing (where, in the original tale, Jameson himself was the astronaut inside the capsule). But, as with Captain Spider, this hero's lack of web-shooters results in another tragic plunge:

To wrap up the issue, we're shown that in all three divergences, Peter Parker experiments further with the dead spider that was irradiated, and manages to extract enough venom to prepare a serum which gives him the same powers--after which, the Watcher makes the point that Spider-Man is made up of more than powers or gimmicks, and that it was "destiny's plan" that Peter assumed this role.  Though it's certainly evident that destiny isn't above rolling the dice a few times, hmm?