Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Better Luck Next Time, Mister Fisk

By the 21st century, what started out as a casual get-together of super-heroes for a friendly if competitive game of poker was now in full swing and a fairly regular occurrence, with word of mouth (and different writers) bringing in a rotation of new heroes who kept the game lively for readers. And while it was often Ben Grimm who organized these gatherings, from time to time (depending on whose book you were reading) there might be other characters whose chips would be getting a bigger share of the action.

In a 2005 story, the game itself has a new twist to it, with our players anteing up for an annual charity game with the proceeds going to the winning player's favorite charitable organization. And at this year's game, the table has some flush players in attendance--with the exception of your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man, which might explain the $20 limit.

The fact that Dr. Strange is clueless (if enthusiastic) when it comes to poker is a true delight to watch in this game, with our Sorcerer Supreme having no familiarity at all with the phrase "know when to fold 'em" and thus staying in until the showdown--at which time he triumphantly lays down his cards only to be told he has basically nothing. Of all the things for the Ancient One to have neglected in his instruction.

Inevitably, however, it will be Spider-Man whom our attention will focus on. We don't know when Peter Parker became so adept at poker, as strapped for funds as he usually is; things don't generally end well for people living from paycheck to paycheck (if that) who turn to gambling. Regardless, his perspective in sizing up tonight's players is welcome, though he tips his own hand in an admission of just how he manages to stay in the game.

With a $20 limit, these players might have a long way to go tonight if they want to end up making a sizable donation to charity. But a surprise guest will change the stakes of this game considerably--win, or lose.

Oh, now it's a party.

The reaction to the arrival of the Kingpin of Crime is as you'd expect:

As for why the Kingpin would go to the trouble of crashing this game, well...

I'm not sure what profit the Kingpin is referring to, should he win--after all, everyone is betting with the man's own money, so should he be the evening's winner he simply comes out even (unless my math is off here), though he'll walk away with considerable bragging rights.

Nor does it occur to Spidey and the others that, should they win, they'll be accepting and subsequently donating dirty money. Instead, another chair is added to the table with little discussion--and one of the most unusual poker games to date commences.

*sigh* Mr. Fisk, nobody's dictating any restrictions on what can be done with your body--just where you're allowed to light up. If you're going to keep getting your facts wrong, you'll be out over $350K in no time. On the other hand, with a man like Strange at the table, you just might be making a profit tonight, at that. But the night is young.

Fortunately, what could have been a tense game with the Kingpin in attendance is instead quickly becoming one of comic relief.

But just after midnight, the game comes down to the two players well suited to be the ones facing off against each other in a high stakes game. (Too bad it wasn't Ben and Fisk, eh? How cool would that exchange of dialog have been?) Not surprisingly, the Kingpin twists the verbal knife as deftly as possible, in a way he always came to regret in physical conflicts with Spider-Man--making it clear in so many words that he has the greater strength of will here, the strength of character, the power that Spider-Man could battle but never aspire to.

Fisk's display is almost pitiable--this is a card game, after all, with the others in the room probably wondering what is up with this man and all the feelings bottled up behind this mask of power and control that he wears. For Spider-Man's part, all eyes now shift to his own status--a make or break moment where this game literally pays off for either the confident Fisk or the man who, behind his mask, is either crestfallen or cool as a cucumber. Before Fisk departs this evening--or, rather, this morning--his own mood will reflect one of the two.

Oh, Strange. Such insight, however charming. And you guard our dimension.

Like the X-Men game in Soho, this one has gone the distance, though this time with the reader likely breathing as much a sigh of relief as our departing players. (And by the vapors of Valtorr, what a tax write-off this will be for Strange.)

You may have noticed that Spidey doesn't need to get around by cab; instead, that "Jackson" went toward a fresh bouquet for Mary Jane, who is in for quiet a story.


Anonymous said...

Are we really to believe that Dr Strange wasn't at least a decent poker player before the car crash that ended his surgical career? Poor characterisation.

And whats with Spidey's neck?


Comicsfan said...

At least the Black Cat brought up Strange's issue, Sean. If I were bucking for a no-prize, I'd probably say that Strange probably felt no need to spend his time gambling, since he was already quite flush charging top dollar for his surgical services. He also at the time didn't strike me as the type who would casually socialize with the poker crowd.

George Chambers said...

Leaving aside any ethical considerations concerning spider-sense and how useful it might be in a poker game... doesn't Black Cat have luck manipulation powers? Or had she lost those by the time this story came out?

B Smith said...

I was half expecting them to bring in that New Mutant youngster, who would then clean out the Kingpin for the lot, and then some.

And I agree with the previous comment - what is that thing sitting on Spider-Man's shoulders - not a neck and a head as we understand them, surely?

Big Murr said...

Your bemusement at how Spidey et al can know poker without having much money in their pocket is missing an angle, CF. As much as obsessive gamblers demand a "real stake", poker can be played for pennies and nickels, for matchsticks or just the chips. (Clothing is also popular within certain social circles I'm told).

I lean towards Sean's camp in that making Dr. Strange that clueless is really cheap comedy. Poker (and most games of chance) is relatively simple to learn. The "skill" comes from weighing the odds and assessing your opponents' psychology. A newbie might make poor bets, but they wouldn't be so bewildered and Strange is a shrewd scholar of the human psyche.

Tiboldt said...

I'm with George - Black Cat is definitely on the 'powers not allowed at the table' list.

I'd also like to point out that Spider-Man once used his spider-sense to open an electronic combination lock. I'm sure that any writer who wanted to stretch the point would have it come into play during a poker match if they really wanted it.

My Spidey-sense is tingling! - "I fold."

Big Murr said...

Tiboldt - Amazing Spider-Man #666 featured a one-page poker game at Avengers Mansion. Spidey wondered how often the games occurred and why he wasn't invited very often. The others explained because a) he rarely has any money and b) his spider-sense is too much like telepathy.

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