Thursday, June 24, 2021

Panic In The Prisons!


While writer Stan Lee certainly kept the amazing Spider-Man busy in sending super-criminals to prison, he also found reason to send the web-spinner himself to the big house on two separate occasions during his nine years of chronicling his adventures--once in 1968, and again in 1971, both instances involving Spider-Man attempting to rein in convicts who seized an opportunity to become unruly and threaten innocents. But given the three-year difference in time between the two, each story will differ in the circumstances of how Spider-Man finds himself in the midst of such potentially volatile situations.

In the earlier story, the circumstances are more dramatic for Spider-Man on a personal level, as he lies injured and unconscious on the street following a life-or-death battle with the Vulture. And with the crowd clamoring for the authorities to seize the chance to remove his mask, he appears helpless to prevent whatever action is taken with him from this point.

(Lee may make a great show of the perceived danger to Spider-Man, not only with the cover caption "Escape Impossible!" but the story's title, "The Impossible Escape!"--but you may as well know going in that both end up applying more to our convicts than our hero, whose departure from the barred facility in the end was never hindered in the slightest.)

It's hardly a surprise that J. Jonah Jameson's bias against Spider-Man would have him siding with those in the crowd who are in favor of unmasking him, but his flippant retort to retired police Capt. George Stacy raises a fair point (if not in the way Jameson meant). To the city and state of New York, Spider-Man arguably has no legal standing per se, since to both the government and to the public he is a total question mark except for what is known of his activities in costume. Identity, unknown; nationality, unknown; citizenship, unknown; age, unknown; marital status, unknown. In essence: Legal status, nonexistent. He is, however, wanted by the police as a vigilante who operates outside the law--yet the case is already being made that this man is entitled, at least for now, to prevent the removal of his mask by proper authorities, which seems preposterous on its face (so to speak). Are the police in such a quandary over other masked individuals wanted for questioning? "Sure, pal, no need to lawyer up--keep that stocking on your face, we really don't have the right to yank it off."

Nevertheless, Spider-Man is transported to a prison infirmary as a precaution, his capture being met with heavy guard and steps being taken with a future court trial in mind. (Let's hope the judge isn't a stickler for looking the defendant in the eye.)

As for that heavy guard presence--well, we can't very well have a breakout if the prison guard has been beefed up, can we? In fact, to the cons' delight (and no doubt Capt. Stacy's dismay), there are no guards present at all when they make their move--nor will you find Spider-Man complaining that he's not under guard, except for the fact that he has a whole new problem to deal with.

The scene is a nice shout back by Lee and artist John Romita Sr. to Spider-Man's sense of responsibility, which has become more ingrained as time has passed in the 60+ issues since his debut. The character has had, and will have, a number of such moments during his growth, something that Lee has handled to a certain degree with Marvel's other heroes but has obviously managed to have resonate with Spider-Man on a deeper level with readers.

Spider-Man of course has a personal stake in seeing that Capt. Stacy comes to no harm, since Peter Parker is in love with Stacy's daughter--and so he conceives a plan which might better ensure Stacy's safety, while allowing him time to find an opportunity to deal with his captors. Fortunately, Stacy himself is inadvertently helpful in that regard, though it's nevertheless a gamble on the web-spinner's part.

With the cons now an organized group with super-powered muscle on their side, look who turns up: the prison guards, who have somehow gotten word that there's been a breakout near the infirmary! (Cut them some slack--with Spider-Man's "heavy guard" having cleared out for, who knows, a poker game in the prison basement, it probably took awhile for word of trouble to trickle down to the warden.)

Making an excuse to clear their path for them, Spider-Man sends the cons ahead with Stacy to confront the guards with their demands, while he makes tracks to ostensibly prepare an escape route outside for them but in actuality short out the facility's fuse box to provide him with the darkness he'll need to cut through their numbers without Stacy being endangered. Finally, only one last convict remains--and while you and I might consider it lousy timing for the generators to kick on and illuminate everything for this guy while he's still got a grip on his hostage, for Spider-Man it fits right into his plan for some reason. Maybe his pain medication is clouding his judgment. Assuming he was administered medication--those docs didn't seem too sympathetic to Spider-Man's condition.

Gosh, Captain--with that kind of logic, you're probably wondering the same about Iron Man, or Daredevil. Anyway, don't you have some negligent guards to track down? (You might try the basement.)

From there we pivot to 1971, where Gwen Stacy and Peter are tighter than ever, and Peter is giving serious thought toward a future with her. To that end, he's looking to shift his photography position at the Daily Bugle from freelance to part-time staffer--and a developing situation at the city penitentiary offers him the perfect leverage he needs to handle a tightwad like Jameson.

Arriving at the facility and needing information before plunging into a riot situation, Spider-Man isolates one of the inmates for questioning, but discovers there's more going on here than what seemed like a prelude to a breakout. Unfortunately, that goes double for Turpo, the ringleader of these cons, who unknown to the others has an agenda of his own.

Accordingly, you-know-who busts up Turpo's little scheme in short order--making way for the Warden to regain control of the situation and work with the cons to resolve the problems the system has thrust upon them.

The issue also stands out because of what Spider-Man does afterward (following the Warden's lead in an appearance with the press), which is to combine his scheduled stint on a network television talk show with making a case for criminal justice reform in light of what he saw firsthand at the riot. Forty-seven years later, the U.S. saw its first meaningful reform legislation signed into law at the Federal level, with most states also having enacted their own CJR laws in the years prior to that point.



Big Murr said...

In the first tale, your comment is dead on, CF; does "right to be masked" apply to some goons with panty hose over their head knocking over a bank? I think not. The whole story was pretty weak sauce in portraying how the authorities handled Spider-Man and...well, what you said. The second story had a much better flow of plausibility and interest.

Peter bargaining hard with JJJ over his payment was nifty, but the follow-up with JJJ and Robbie being amazed at how (once again) Peter scooped over two dozen professional news photographers...yeesh. People have a chuckleheaded laugh at a pair of glasses keeping Clark Kent's secret safe, but nobody at the Daily Bugle can connect the two dots on how an 18 or 19 year old kid can get literally into the mix of a violent confrontation and take some photos. I'll swallow the pretext of a pair of glasses over that any day.

Comicsfan said...

I'm afraid I'm one of those chuckleheads where Clark Kent and his "disguise" are concerned, Murray. :D Peter, I think, has the advantage in that, unlike Kent, his secret to getting photos isn't obvious to anyone with a pair of eyes; and while seasoned pro photogs often depend on their credentials to get and be where the action is, Peter isn't so encumbered. In addition, Jameson and Robbie have seen for themselves how motivated Peter is to cement this new job with results, while they also know how resourceful he is from his past work--and seeing as how that work often lets them scoop every other paper in the city (with today's assignment being no exception), they're not likely to spend time giving serious thought to how he got them their shots. Heck, young people have a habit of surprising those who doubt their abilities. In such instances, as was the case here, they're likely to get a slap on the back for their good work--and as we've seen with Jameson and Robbie, questions are going to be the last thing on the minds of those doing the slapping.

Big Murr said...

Of course, I mean "chucklehead" in the best possible way...

During this time period of comics, the use of robots, the help of allies, and general lucky shenanigans had many instances of Superman and Clark Kent standing side by side in public and private view. While secret identity speculation must come up all the time, there had to be an dense cloud of "reasonable doubt" in any such discussion.

I think Stan Lee's, and your, interpretation of the newspaper biz a little too "Newsboy Legion" mixed with His Girl a bit too 1940's brought into the late 1960's. Certainly JJJ's attitudes would have been forged in that era of newspapers, but Robbie seems like a reasonable adult. They're encouraging a HIGH SCHOOL KID to, judging by the angle of his shots, hang off 30 storey buildings to get close-up snaps of a raging war between Spidey and the Goblin.

That aspect is definitely too foggy for a clear answer, only merry opinions and jolly speculation.

My point for today is much sharper, I think. In this particular instance, Peter Parker somehow got into a locked down prison (known for their security) in the middle of a riot! Past police barricades and desperate convicts watching for police assaults, a teen-ager snuck in for some exclusive photos. Even if Robbie and JJJ chortled at their scoop, once these photos hit the front page, I'm sure the authorities would be very interested in what kind of security hole they had in their protocols that let a newsie slip thru undetected. "Our photographer, Peter Parker took them. A crackerjack with a camera!" "Some sort of veteran combat photographer back from Vietnam? Someone used to tight action and danger?" " He's just graduated from Midtown High School"

I'm just saying that Peter would have some serious 'splaining to do!