Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Wheels Of Fortune


Name This Marvel Villain??

It's not hard to believe that this guy's identity might get past you--not when you're talking about someone as swift as the Rocket Racer, who steps aboard his souped-up board to pull his heists and evade the law. Which is what he was doing when Spider-Man crossed paths with him, pursuing the Racer after he'd raced down Wall Street and grabbed a courier's briefcase full of bonds and securities. Spidey finds that the Racer is full of surprises--and the confrontation demonstrates that it's not just the Racer's mode of transport that the wall-crawler has to worry about.

Holding off Spider-Man no doubt gives the Racer cause for confidence in his debut here--but his time in the spotlight is fated to be brief, when Spidey sees an opening to polish off the Racer embarrassingly easy.

(No, I don't know why writer Len Wein, who touts this character's "magnetic clamps" that hold him to his board, conveniently forgets his own script when it's time for the Rocket Racer to fold. Suffice to say, Spider-Man isn't going to complain.)

In the Racer's next appearance, new series writer Marv Wolfman takes a crack at the character--moving the Racer up to blackmail, when he's hired by embezzler Jackson Weele to steal evidence against him but then decides to renegotiate and score a hefty sum before agreeing to hand over all the documents that Weele needs. Again, Spider-Man accidentally intercepts the Racer en route--only this time, the Racer has paid a visit to the Tinkerer in order to enhance his board's technology, and Spidey finds the Racer's moves are as swift as ever.

The Racer indeed manages to shake off Spider-Man from his trail, and he proceeds to deliver his new terms to Weele. In time, he'll discover that dropping the Tinkerer's name in front of Weele was a slip-up he may live to regret.

Wolfman also gives us a glimpse of why the Racer has chosen the life he leads--to finance his ailing mother's care, as well as to bring the two of them out of debt. It doesn't necessarily evoke sympathy for the Racer, who appears to enjoy his lifestyle--but props to his mother for trying to turn him from his life of crime.

With the paths of the Racer and Spider-Man tending to intersect so often, it figures that the Racer is visiting his mother in the same hospital where May Parker is currently laid up--the two ladies even sharing the same room. As a result, when Peter Parker approaches the room and his spider-sense tingles, all heck breaks loose, as both the Racer and the police appear to take on Spider-Man.

In the fight that follows, the Racer manages to get Spidey on the ropes--but a spray of bullets disengages the two, and the Racer turns to see that his former "client" has come seeking revenge, in another villainous debut that has to be seen to be believed.

We'll never know how the fight might turn out between the Wheel and the Racer (and does that combination sound strange when said in the same breath), because Spider-Man rejoins the fray to take the Racer down once and for all. Unfortunately, Weele isn't nearly as skilled with his transportation as the Racer--and some quick thinking by Spidey has the Big Wheel taking a big plunge.

The Racer slips away while Spidey dives underwater to try and save Weele (yes, slips away despite being tightly webbed up--I don't know how that happened, either), but he reappears both in ASM and elsewhere through the years, often making a genuine effort to reform while working with such groups as the Outlaws (an offshoot of Silver Sable's Wild Pack) and SHIELD, as well as registering with the Initiative. Over twenty years later, there was even a new Rocket Racer, who stole the original's equipment and went hunting for Spider-Man--though it seems anyone riding that board becomes an accident waiting to happen.


Doug said...

You have the same nerve to tackle the Rocket Racer that I had last night when finishing a review of Thor vs. the Stilt-Man.

Also scripted by Len Wein, by the way. Wein leaves a bit to be desired, generally. Good thing he has Giant-Size X-Men #1 to hang his hat on.


Comicsfan said...

Doug, in a way, I've found that Wein reminds me a little of Bill Mantlo, in terms of the ratio of passable vs. excellent stories he turns in. Both men have written their share of each--but the stories that hit above the mark are usually gems, featuring well-thought-out scenarios as well as memorable characters. The Rocket Racer probably walks the line in that regard; his mother's illness wasn't quite the hook to engage me with the character's motivations for committing theft and extortion, since the Racer seems to be perfectly content with a life of crime and by all indications would likely have pursued it regardless. He and the Sandman strike me as two of a kind, though for the time being the latter would have the edge on ruthlessness.