Wednesday, June 28, 2017

When Calls... Madame Web!

It all started when a friend of Peter Parker's, Debra Whitman, disclosed while taking a stroll through Chinatown that she had an appointment to see a psychic--a word that, in 1980, hadn't yet worked its way into the vernacular as a term applied to scam artists and held up to ridicule as late-late-night television fare where operators were standing by. In the late '70s and into the '80s, that sort of scoffing was usually reserved for "fortune tellers," whose gaudy signs you might see driving down the highway or in areas of town where tourists frequented. Yet Deb was about to break new ground with this particular clairvoyant, since Madame Web would turn out to be someone very different than anyone expected.

We'll never know why Deb made her appointment or what was on her mind that day--but when a group of armed men break into the offices of the Daily Globe (where Peter was currently employed) and kidnap someone they believe is the paper's publisher, K.J. Clayton, the amazing Spider-Man finds one of Madame Web's cards dropped at the scene. And that makes her a clue to be followed up on.

Of course, Madame Web is the sort of clue that can raise even more questions.

So join us, as we glimpse into the past and pose yet another

Marvel Trivia Question

What was the story with the woman known as--Madame Web?

Simply put, Madame Web's gift of clairvoyance is the real deal, an ability that she also nurtures in those who may have similar nascent talents. Her vocation also seems suited to her unfortunate immobile status, her home itself serving as her literal support mechanism.

Using the card that Spider-Man brought, Madame Web is able to provide vague information that eventually leads him to where the kidnappers are holed up--but in rescuing the victim, an actress who agreed to pose as Clayton, he learns of an elaborate scheme set in motion by the Globe's circulation manager, Rupert Dockery, to seize control of the paper and murder the real Clayton, circumstances which Madame Web also alluded to. Spider-Man arrives in the nick of time, saving Clayton and putting the bag on Dockery; but the entire affair results in the Globe suspending publication, and by extension putting Peter out of a job.

Yet Madame Web's gift isn't limited to predicting only dire news.

(*gulp* Or maybe it is!)

The paths of Peter and Madame Web cross again when Peter overhears an assassination plot that will go down during a running marathon--and without knowing who the target is, or precisely when and where the hit will take place, he's helpless to prevent it. (So much for that spider-sense--so a mass of runners prevents Spider-Man from pinpointing an armed assassin?) But he does have a phone number handy for someone who might be able to help--someone who adds new meaning to the phrase, "I was expecting your call..."

Without anything to go on for the time being, Spider-Man is forced to make the scene and look for any signs of trouble, though he spends a great deal of his time helping with accidents, foiling pickpockets, and assisting with injuries of the participants. But thanks to one ringing pay-phone (remember those?) after another, Madame Web comes through.

(No, I don't know why gunmen who are already at this event to kill someone would suddenly experience uncertainty about killing the one who might apprehend them; suffice to say that Spider-Man doesn't waste time trying to figure it out.)

Things turn darker for Madame Web when she begins having visions of an unknown attacker who, this time, is targeting her--and given the quid pro quo relationship they seem to have established, you can probably guess who she has on speed-dial that she can turn to for help.

For the source of that danger, we turn to the unscrupulous pair known as Black Tom Cassidy and the Juggernaut, partners in crime who are looking for an edge in their operations. Thanks to Madame Web's remarkably effective circulation of her promotional cards, it occurs to them that a clairvoyant is just what they need.

And when Peter receives another call from Madame Web, alerting him that her assailant will arrive out of the sea at Battery Park, Spider-Man arrives to find the Juggernaut thundering through town, on his way to Madame Web's address. Never having encountered the Juggernaut before, Spider-Man is astonished to find that the many tactics he uses to stop this foe meet with failure. And he learns the hard way that grappling is a waste of effort, as well.

Madame Web unfortunately discovers that neither the Fantastic Four, the Avengers, nor the X-Men can be reached. (Which comes as no surprise in these stories--though from what we've seen, if there's anyone who can reach someone by telephone, it's Madame Web.) Meanwhile, the lead on Cytorrak doesn't pan out, since Dr. Strange is also unreachable; but fortunately, Strange pays his telephone bill, and Madame Web's call this time relays a sense of urgency that sends Spider-Man racing to face the Juggernaut alone.

Smashing through heavily-armed police resistance as though it didn't exist (regrettably, Code: Blue is still a few years away), the Juggernaut makes his way into his target's building. Madame Web's dependency on her support equipment unfortunately makes her a sitting duck and doesn't allow for Spider-Man to simply take her out of harm's way--and so he's forced to improvise a defense as best he can. From what we've seen of the Juggernaut's approach so far, it stands to reason that Spider-Man's failure to stop him at this point will be a foregone conclusion.

In such close quarters, there's not much that Spider-Man can do, as the Juggernaut brings down the ceiling on him and moves toward his goal. But neither Black Tom nor the Juggernaut know of the importance of Madame Web's constant connection to her support system--and the successful completion of his assignment results in defeat for the Juggernaut, at perhaps a fatal cost to the one he'd planned to abduct.

Indeed, following Spidey's final battle with the Juggernaut, the fate of Madame Web remains uncertain....

However, a return visit gives Peter hope for her recovery, as Madame Web appears to be on the mend--and in more ways than one, it seems.

Much later, the lady is up and about--really up and and about, with no further reliance on her support equipment. And we find her inexplicably taking part in a ritual spearheaded by Norman Osborn, which takes five ancient stone shards and joins them to grant specific gifts to five separate people. Yet, with apologies to Forrest Gump, it's their own "box of chocolates," since none of them knows what gift--or curse--they'll receive once the ritual has begun.

But as luck would have it--bad luck, that is--Madame Web is the recipient of the one gift no one in this group was looking forward to receiving.

But the joke is on Osborn, when it becomes clear that the "gift" each receives is not the true gift they end up with. In Madame Web's case, she's granted immortality, and not death--while Osborn received insanity, though in his case he probably concluded he simply got nothing.

The ongoing story of Madame Web becomes more convoluted as time passes. Gathering a group of women that includes Jessica Drew and Julia Carpenter (each known as Spider-Woman) to help her subdue her granddaughter (a third Spider-Woman, thanks to Dr. Octopus)... reverting to old age... working with Spider-Man to stop Stegron... being killed by one of the Kravinoff family, with Julia receiving her psychic abilities... alive again (after a fashion) after being cloned by the Jackal... and eventually suffering from degradation of her cloned body, leading to her death. O what a tangled web, indeed.

But we have a little unfinished business with Spider-Man, don't we?


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