Waiting for the Trade
by Bill Miller
Peter Parker Spider-man vol. 5: Senseless Violenceby 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.
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-.