Monday, December 9, 2013

I Must Have A Guardian Watcher

For the most part, both Marvel Team-Up and Marvel Two-In-One, headlined by Spider-Man and the Thing, respectively, featured one-shot stories that plugged in whatever guest star was going to be paired with them--with a new guest-star and story ready to be inserted in the following issue, and so on--rinse, repeat. For the stories, this meant very abridged adventures--and while many of these were so scarce on plot that they did a disservice to the characters (and, at times, to their readers), some of them were impressive in terms of the depth they were able to give stories which had to be resolved so quickly.

Writer J.M. DeMatteis, who wrote this particular Marvel Team-Up story, always stood out for me in that respect, in this and other titles he scripted (most notably The Defenders). And when a story centers on Christmas Eve (as this one does), where many of the dramatic elements such as despair, or loneliness, or even tragedy have only to be called forth, just about any characters in Spider-Man's world can be adapted to those elements, with Spider-Man (as Peter Parker) within arm's reach to become involved.

The trick, of course, is finding a way to deal in the issue's guest star--and here, where that guest star is the Watcher, the writer has the luxury of inserting him at practically any point, depending on his motivation for becoming involved with Spider-Man's affairs. To say nothing of the hook of the Watcher himself, in a team-up story of all places--a being who normally only appears at pivotal moments in a world's history. What could possibly merit his attention in a situation involving one of Peter Parker's acquaintances?

Peter's Christmas Eve begins innocently enough--at his Aunt May's, where she has a full house of boarders/friends celebrating the holidays:

Yet, one of May's housemates, Arthur Chekov, a usually upbeat and engaged amateur poet, is preoccupied with concern for his granddaughter:

We're given little information on Bette's circumstances at this early point in the story; in fact, we really haven't enough to be curious about her one way or the other, in spite of Nathan's obvious concern. And while Peter offers his sympathy, it's barely a blip on his radar, if that. But DeMatteis doesn't take long to get this story moving, setting off Peter's spider-sense which brings him outside into the snow and inexplicably finding him changed into costume, just before coming across a figure who is definitely not Santa Claus:

Obviously, it's Peter's first meeting with the Watcher, who remains silent despite Spider-Man's urgings to speak and divulge what's going on. Instead, the Watcher reveals to us that the seemingly uneventful introduction of Bette Chekov is going to have far greater meaning to this story than we may have first thought:

Nor is the Watcher (through DeMatteis) going to be more forthcoming with us just yet. We only know that, for whatever reason, he's keeping a close eye on Bette, who we learn isn't having the Christmas Eve her grandfather might wish for her:

In the meantime, Spider-Man is tracking down Bette in Brooklyn through the telephone directory--but the mystery deepens when he arrives at her apartment to find the police conducting an investigation into the murder of her roommate, Sheila, over an apparent drug deal. Which brings us back to Bette, who meets with her dealer and discovers that he's stolen the cocaine he'd sold to her and Sheila from the mob:

Fortunately, the Watcher has--enigmatically, how else?--led Spider-Man to Buck's place, and Spidey arrives in time to intervene and make short work of him. But Bette has fled during the melee, though right into the path of the mob who can't help but spot the huge bag of cocaine she's carrying.  Their cocaine:

And again, Spider-Man arrives in time to come between Bette and harm. Yet Bette flees again, and this time it seems her luck has run out:

Throughout this entire night, Spider-Man has been following confusing leads to resolve a more confusing mystery, the night's events put in motion by a being who seemingly refuses to give him more than bread crumbs to go on. So it's no wonder that he's finally had it at this point:

Again, the Watcher is silent, and Spider-Man hurls his jewel back at him in frustration. But the jewel veers off-course and brightly dissipates, with most unexpected results:

Spider-Man reaches the hospital in time. And when Peter makes a call, Arthur's reunion with his granddaughter finally occurs, with Peter willing to let things go at that:

But what of the Watcher, who set these events in motion? Surely the fate of a world didn't hinge on his involvement here, and we've generally been under the impression that it would take nothing less to make him violate his oath (though even that would earn him scorn from his fellow Watchers). Well, this is a Christmas issue, after all--and in the story's epilogue, DeMatteis gives the Watcher what amounts to a pass:

DeMatteis had about a 20-issue run on Marvel Team-Up--and while you might enjoy his stories there, I'd probably recommend his Defenders stories more since he wasn't restricted by Team-Up's limited format and was able to bring a greater sense of depth to the other book with its more steady grouping of characters. Team-Up's main appeal was arguably in its marquee rather than its assembly-line stories, which writers like DeMatteis perhaps helped to at least alleviate.

Marvel Team-Up #127

Script: J.M. DeMatteis
Pencils: Kerry Gammill
Inks: Mike Esposito
Letterer: Rick Parker

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