Waiting for the Trade – Spider-man

Waiting for the Trade

by Bill Miller

 
Peter Parker
Spider-man vol. 5: Senseless Violence

by Zeb Wells
collects Peter Parker:
Spider-man 51 – 57.

 

Why I Bought This: It’s
a collection of off-beat stories featuring Spider-man’s B-list villains and I
always enjoy a foray into funny Spidey territory. Plus it stars Shocker and
he’s always been my favorite second stringer.
The Plot: It’s
not so much a plot as a collection of consecutive issues. We basically have a
story from the villains’ perspective featuring Shocker and Hydroman, followed
by a gambling ring trying to make a reality show out of superhero fights, and
then a psychological piece on the Sandman.

(spoilers below)

Chapter 1 – We get a contrast of how Peter, Shocker and
Hydroman wake up on a weekday and prepare for their day. Spidey takes down
Stiltman on his morning commute. The two villains meet up punching a clock for
Justin Hammer, who has hired them to run some experiments on super powers and
weaponry. We get a nice contrast where Shocker is happy for the money, whereas
Hydroman misses the action of a superhero grudge match. The two villains get
laid off because Hammer is worried about accounting investigations so he can’t
fund illegal operations for the time-being. That night Peter has dinner with
Aunt May and frets whether he is doing any good as Spidey or if his life has
just devolved into a series of grudge matches. Across town Shocker and Hydroman
are also having dinner and they debate the value of whether to do small under
the radar jobs for money or making a splash and getting respect in the
underworld by killing Spider-man. They compromise by coming up with a plan that
will let them do both.

Chapter 2 – Shocker has Hydroman absorb extra water from the
city pipes. They enter a bank but flirting with a teller causes Hydroman to
dump some of his water, which alerts Spidey to their presence. In the bank
Shocker has Hydroman flood the safe deposit boxes so his vibro-gauntlet can pop
them all open at once. Shocker is gathering the loot when Spidey arrives. The
villains fight him but Shocker’s powers have a habit of deconstructing Hydroman
so the villains are kind of in each other’s way. Ultimately Spidey annoys
Shocker so much he overloads his suit which both evaporates his partner and
leaves him powerless and with broken ribs. As the police come Shocker asks
Spidey why he can’t let him escape just once as he claims he’d retire if he
could get away with just one big score. Spidey responds by explaining that is
the difference between being a good person and being selfish.

Chapter 3 – At school Pete is disciplining his students for
fighting but they have a hard time taking him seriously since Pete is still
bruised from last issue. Meanwhile we meet some rich dudes who feel there ought
to be a way to profit on all the superhero/super villain fights in NYC. They
hire Boomerang to pick a fight with Spidey while secret cameras film the whole
thing and let people bet on the winner. Spidey wins the fight relatively easily
and discovers the cameras via his Spider Sense.

Chapter 4 – Peter’s bruises continue to cause problems for
him at school. Meanwhile among the rich people running the video gambling ring:
one of them has a built a robot to fight Spidey, while another has hired
Scorpion to do it. The rich dudes decide to team the two up. That leads to a
humorous scene of Scorpion making small talk with the robot while they search
for Spidey. The fight scene continues the funny as the robot announces each
weapon before it uses it giving Spidey plenty of time to counter usually at
Scorpion’s expense. Then when Spidey talks to the robot it actually responds
and starts revealing who built it and the entire rich guys’ plan. Scorpion
smashes the robot but of course loses the solo fight to Spidey. Spidey talks
into what’s left of the robot’s camera and vows to take down those responsible,
leading the rich folks to call in their secret weapon.

Chapter 5 – Spidey and Reed Richards hack into the robot’s
memory while the gambling ring helplessly listens on in an absurdly funny bit.
We learn the ring has hired Rocket Racer to be Spidey’s next foe which doesn’t
even fill them with confidence. The robot’s memory does not reveal what is
actually happening just the broadcast locations. This leads to an even funnier
scene of Spidey donning a disguise of a cheap hood as Peter and trying to tough
some info out at an underground club. He gets the answer he wants (and a few
bruises) then changes back into Spidey just in time for Rocket Racer to arrive.
Rocket, who has been reformed for two decades real time, reveals that since
graduating college he has student loans to repay hence working for the gambling
ring. Spidey then throws the fight and since he was a 1,000 to 1 favorite to
win all the betters assume the game is rigged and riot. With that done Rocket
turns off the cameras letting Spidey know that while he agreed to fight Spidey,
Rocket had no intention of killing anyone and gives Spidey the address of the
paymasters. Spidey gets a few hits in and thanks to the robot’s memory tapes is
able to get them arrested on FCC violations.

Chapter 6 – Peter is spending a rainy night at home sewing
his costume. Meanwhile on the beach Sandman is reborn: literally as an infant.
At first it seems he quickly evolves into his traditional form but then we see
his traditional form and the infant coexisting as separate beings. Spidey ends
up at the beach and they fight as Spidey thinks Sandman is just kidnapping some
random kid. Meanwhile the police have set up a barricade around the beach only
to be confronted by a zombie-Sandman. Cut to Spidey, Sandman and Baby Sandman
eating a together at diner as this devolves into bad psychobabble. They see a
news report of zombie-Sandman’s rampage and head back to the beach where only
carnage remains. And then the tide comes in bringing female-Sandman.

Chapter 7 – Zombie Sandman is in an alley where makes sand
dogs and they eat some dude. Female Sandman talks about being feminine side and
how Baby-Sandman never got enough love. Spidey and the three good Sandmen track
down Evil (Zombie) Sandman. Good Sandman tries to fight Evil Sandman but loses.
A sand-dog collides into Baby Sandman causes him to be reborn into
stereotypical Teen Sandman. Female Sandman forcibly merges with Evil Sandman to
make him feel emotions and then he/they absorb the children for innocence. Good
Sandman doesn’t want to merge with Evil Sandman so Spidey gives a speech on
responsibility. Evil Sandman leaves and Good Sandman disintegrates into an
empty husk. Spidey concludes there was never really a good Sandman just the
real Sandman’s idealized version of himself this is why his reformation didn’t
stick.

 

Critical Thoughts:
The first two stories are good while the last one is terrible. Let’s take them
in turn.

I enjoyed the Shocker story. This is the version of the
character when he is written at his best: a formidable foe motivated strictly
by profit and with a knack for safecracking schemes. I think the parallel
between the villains daily lives and Peter’s daily life works quite well.

The gambling ring story is mostly played for laughs and
succeeds in bringing the laughs. I like that the laughs are mostly at the
expense of the robot rather than the recurring villains. I like the mix of
villains, all of whom are perfectly by agreeing to fight for profit for this
gambling ring. The gambling ring/illegal reality show concept is itself a
fairly novel idea that certainly hasn’t been used in Spider-man before. I would
say the story that succeeds in exactly what it sets out to do. I’ll add that
I’ve always liked Rocket Racer as a hero so I was glad to see that his return
to villainy was actually a fake out.

I hated the Sandman story. I’m never been a fan of Sam
Keith’s art but that is the least of the problems with it. The writing is
absolute dreck: it is every psychobabble cliché there is being shoe-horned into
a lackluster story. This is made all the worse that this story basically stuck
as the reason for Sandman being a villain again, a decision I never
particularly liked to begin with.

All in all I would recommend this trade as worth reading.
Actually if you are enjoying Superior
Foes
this serves as something of a precursor to that series by showing
working class villains in stories that are both sympathetic to their plight and
funny. (And of course they both feature Boomerang and Shocker). This is not as
good as Superior Foes—which is one of
my favorite current titles, but it is an entertaining read in that vein.

 

Grade: I’d give
both the Shocker and gambling ring stories a B+, the Sandman story gets an F.
I’ll average that down to a C-.