Friday, June 30, 2017

...And One Shall Fall!

In Spider-Man's first meeting with Cain Marko, better known as the unstoppable Juggernaut, we saw the mysterious woman known as Madame Web fall victim to Marko's rampage, despite the wall-crawler's best efforts to halt his foe's approach. Marko, with no regard whatsoever for Madame Web's fate, departed the scene with disdain, considering the whole affair to be a waste of his time. But with the life of the one he swore to protect now hanging by a thread, the battle is not over for Spider-Man--and he sets out to stop one who cannot be stopped, or die in the attempt.

This two-part tale by Roger Stern and John Romita Jr. is a fair profile of the why the Juggernaut is well-named, a character who over time has been so augmented with power and defenses that he's become ridiculously invincible. I imagine one reason why his appearances are somewhat limited is probably because considerable thought must be given as to how he's finally dealt with by the hero(es)--i.e., what vulnerability can be found or what clever ingenuity can be used to offset his threat. Given the virtual laundry list of powers he's equipped with, that's no small task. Created from the energies of the mystical ruby of Cytorrak, he's extraordinarily strong and possesses incalculable might and resistance... he wears formidable armor... he doesn't need to breathe or consume food or water... he's protected from mental assault by a helmet* (in addition to a skull cap) that is welded on and can't be removed**... he's been known to have telepathic abilities and even mystic powers... and, just for good measure, he has a personal force field. There's probably not much more that a writer could do for the character that this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach hasn't covered.

*I have no idea why a mere helmet would offer protection against a mental attack. By that logic, being in a sealed room would offer someone the same protection. By the way--are the mental waves bombarding him incapable of simply slipping in through the helmet's eye- and mouth-holes?

**That is, until it can.

And so, even emboldened by a desire to have the Juggernaut face the consequences of his actions, Spider-Man has his work cut out for him with this foe. Given the recurring theme of Spider-Man's sense of responsibility in protecting the innocent, we know he's likely to prevail in this uphill battle, despite the odds. The question is: what angle will Stern come up with to pull it off?

To narrow down the possibilities, it might help if we take a look at what Spider-Man has already tried with the Juggernaut in Part 1, since it would take the wind out of the sails of Part 2 if those same methods were attempted again.

The first thing that would make sense for Spidey to try against an unknown foe would be the direct approach:

I'm still scratching my head as to why this attack failed, since the goal was to topple the Juggernaut from behind. If Marko was unaware of Spider-Man's approach, and he's already moving in a forward direction, he's not putting up any resistance to a strike from behind--so why wouldn't that hit have caused him to topple and put him face-down on the pavement? Granted, he wouldn't have been harmed in the least--but we're talking about a combination of gravity and Marko's own forward momentum in play. Would Cytorrak have really given any thought to something that's the equivalent of a stumble?

Next to be tried is Spidey's weapon of choice:

Followed by its use in a Muhammad-coming-to-the-mountain gambit:

Next is an improvised trap that, on reflection, only adds to New York's pot hole problem:

You'd think that the Juggernaut's casual treatment of Spidey's webbing would have given the wall-crawler an idea of this foe's strength and allowed him to make a simple deduction here; for instance, if Spidey can enlarge a pot hole, why would a hole made of concrete hold the Juggernaut?

Finally, an almost embarrassing series of maneuvers that, to the Juggernaut, probably serve to annoy more than hinder:

Which brings us to Part 2 of their conflict, though, unknown to the Juggernaut, the stakes have been raised for Spider-Man. Inconvenienced and perturbed, Marko prepares to depart the city and rejoin his partner, Black Tom Cassidy; But Spider-Man is resolved to prevent this man from getting away scot-free, at all costs.

Throughout this story, it's odd to see Spider-Man continue to apply measures of force in his efforts to stop the Juggernaut, despite the fact that such measures are ineffective. Brute strength. Electricity. Powerful methods of restraint. In Part 2, you'll see those tactics repeated to an extent, though they'll amount to variations on what's already been tried. Yet there is little to nothing of Peter Parker, the scientist, seen here--no analysis of the situation, no process of elimination or deduction in play; rather, his attacks are recycled in "if X technique didn't work, I'll have to hit him with something harder" conclusions.  How about, instead of electricity, using a sudden, unexpected burst of blinding light to disorient him? Maybe discharge your web fluid in liquid form into his helmet's apertures? Or use the webbing to rip the pavement beneath his feet and yank him into the air, thereby nullifying his advantage of movement?

Instead, despite the evidence of his own eyes, Spider-Man remains astonished by the Juggernaut's level of resistance. Even after acknowledging that his foe is in the Hulk's class, he continues to react with surprise when Marko pulls stunts like this:

So after ample such demonstrations of Marko's strength, what's Spider-Man's strategy?

Gee, take a wild guess:

And so Spider-Man trudges on. At this point, however, instead of feeling that he might turn the corner in this fight and make use of his reasoning to adjust his tactics, the reader is forced to wonder what tools Spidey will find at hand that he'll next use to try to overwhelm the Juggernaut. A cement mixer? The third rail of a subway track? A high-pressure fire hose?

To complicate matters, one tool that he won't have at his disposal could prove to be an inconvenience, to say the least:

Finally, though, Spider-Man's attempts at using force against the Juggernaut will come to an end, following an all-or-nothing attack that will leave no doubt as to the apparent victor in this conflict. As it plays out, you might find yourself shaking your head in disbelief at one of two things: Spider-Man's persistence in constantly upping the ante against the Juggernaut... or his temerity in actually honking his approach.

With the failure of the man-made holocaust, and Spider-Man effectively out of options, the battle comes down to one last one-on-one clash between the two. There seems to be no hope for Spidey in that respect--but with just a few pages before the issue's end, it's time for Stern to resolve the story one way or another. Given the Juggernaut's uncontested might, for Spider-Man the resolution amounts to sheer luck--in this case, ending up in the right place at the right time.

No doubt the Juggernaut's force field is due for an upgrade, if it can shrug off a conflagration and yet be ineffective against wet cement. The details of exactly how the Juggernaut escaped his fate here will have to wait a moment; but he reappears two years to the month later in an issue of Uncanny X-Men, trying to keep a low profile while enjoying a little R & R. He didn't have much luck with either.

Amazing Spider-Man #230

Script: Roger Stern
Pencils: John Romita Jr.
Inks: Jim Mooney
Letterer: Joe Rosen

Just how do you escape through forty feet of wet cement,
followed by slogging through miles of solid rock?



George Chambers said...

I really don't know why Doctor Strange was never called in to neutralise Juggy, since his power comes from a mystical artifact, the Ruby of Cyttorak. You'd think that would make Strange the go-to guy against Juggy, rather than all the mismatches he comes up against.

Comicsfan said...

George, as you'll see in the Madame Web story, Spidey indeed makes a stop at the sanctum sanctorum to get some info from Strange on Cytorrak; unfortunately, the good doctor, like everyone else, was unavailable. If these super-heroes aren't careful, they're going to have the same reputation that New York cabs have been given by those who can never seem to find one when they need one.

Warren JB said...

It looks like Spider-Man took stupid pills for the purposes of this tale, and it ended with a kind of deus ex machina, but there's still something compelling about this story. Spidey's legendary never-give-up-itude, if nothing else; but also the mounting horror and desperation when it gradually gets through to Spidey just how unstoppable the Juggernaut is. (This is something how the last american Godzilla film should've gone, IMO)

Anonymous said...

Great review! And thanks for the bonus. I always did wonder how Juggy got outta that cement.
You'd think he'd just go mentally nuts being buried like that for an extended period of time. He does seem pretty frazzled there.


Anonymous said...

P.S. Shortly after the Spiderman/Juggernaut clash, Spidey faced another big bruiser, Mr. Hyde. Any plans for a review of that? That one was a classic.


Comicsfan said...

Things definitely turned out better for Spidey in that tussle, didn't they, M.P.? It certainly helps matters when your web shooters aren't empty and your foe isn't unstoppable, mystically invulnerable, and doesn't have a force field.

Jared said...

This is probably my favorite Spider-Man story not drawn by Ditko. This story seems to retroactively be considered overrated mostly because Wizard Magazine took every opportunity to hype it up. This is one of the few times Juggernaut was properly used instead of being written so stupid. Spider-Man is best when fighting battles it seems he can't win.