Welcome to Spider-Man Roulette! Shelfdust’s Patreon backers were asked to pick a number at random – and now I’m going to write about whichever corresponding issue of “Amazing Spider-Man” they chose! This issue was picked by Patreon backer Tiffany Babb, who chose number 27 for the roulette!
By Steve Morris
Is it weird for Spider-Man to be working with the police? Back in the ol’ days, Stan Lee would often take the opportunity to lend some praise to authority and law enforcement in America, even if it seemed that the artwork behind his ‘Marvel Method’ script suggested the exact opposite of Stan’s smilin’ thumbs-up to the law. Seems strange, and it’s something which comes up early on in Spider-Man and lasts for a long time. Amazing Spider-Man #27 sees him working alongside the police directly as the enact some violence on a group of criminals, clearing out a warehouse in a scene directly from a video game.
At the time you can see the thinking here: this was years before the black-and-white lines established across Marvel’s comics started to blur together into an indistinct grey, and – despite what his cameos in Captain Marvel might have suggested – Stan himself was only a part of counter-culture so much as it made his company seem hip and cool. His comics would usually lean left to an extent, sure, but even if Marvel when sometimes question the Government and the systems which were in place… they by-and-large stood by them and let readers draw the conclusions. There are stories of Stan approving comic plots which questioned authority only to then, at the scripting stage, back down and write out the critical elements in favour of something duller and vaguer. In stories where the artist was clearly depicting, say, a peaceful protest, Stan would panic and make sure Spider-Man didn’t take any sides in the scene. There was money to be had in sounding like you were edgy and cool, but there was money to be lost if you ever dared to definitely take one side in an argument. And so Spider-Man would frequently err between liberalism and conservatism, unable to ever pick one over the other for fear in losing readership.
In Spider-Man #27, with Stan and Steve, there’s an extensive fight scene where Spider-Man busts up a warehouse full of criminals with the police by his side, cracking skulls and throwing out almost as many one-liners as Web-Head himself. It actually reminds me of the dynamic in the recent Spider-Man games, which themselves left a lot of commentators wondering why Spidey was acting out in such a black and white, state-endorsed sort of a way. Spider-Man starts out the issue in chains and the captive of Green Goblin, and essentially being used as evidence for Goblin’s claim to power in New York. Spidey had been thought killed by Crime-Master, which had helped Crime-Master claim the power for himself – so the chained and captured hero proves capital in Goblin’s attempt to seize that throne. And, sure enough, the mobsters in the building decide to shift allegiance and join up with Goblin.
That’s when Spider-Man wakes up and escapes – in one nice touch he leaps away from both Goblin and Crime-Master as they shoot at him, causing the villains to almost hit each other, which acts as a subtle way of showing how similar both villains are, despite the ramped-up camp of Goblin’s outfit – and breaks out the chains. He sets up a camera (which is an aspect of the character I’m going to get to in a later edition of the Roulette) and proceeds to slog his way through fighting every single person in the building. The police burst through the doors, having apparently been stood outside the whole time, and the three officers and Spider-Man four pages quipping and fighting, ultimately coming out on top even as the two criminal leaders escape.
It’s interesting how there’s an element of privilege in that. During the Napoleonic Wars across Europe (specific reference, but I read a bunch of books about it for my GCSE), snipers would perch on hills and exclusively aim at the enemy combatants in fancy outfits: the thinking was that the cleaner and nicer you looked, the more power you had in the fight and so the more damage would be caused by killing you. In Spider-Man’s New York, where the police obviously have guns the whole time, it’s very rare for the overdressed flashy villain to get shot. There’s a power system in place here where the minions routinely get beaten up and captured whilst the main villains escape to fight another day. That presumably leads to the minions getting sent to jail, meeting a new flashy criminal whilst there, who then orchestrates a breakout and takes his new minions off with him to go challenge the city again. Round and round it goes forever.
That cycle ends for Crime-Master this issue, however, who is shot and killed by the same police who fist-fought their way through a warehouse full of mobsters earlier on. Without Spider-Man around, this time they find the villain perched on a rooftop and simply shoot him.
Note how differently things turn out when Spider-Man isn’t around? Crime-Master’s death also comes with a last speech from the villain, his identity obscured, as he prepares to tell everyone who Green Goblin actually is – he dies before the name comes out though. The police’s choice to shoot Crime-Master directly leads to Green Goblin ascending to the power he was after at the start of the issue, and the issue glosses entirely over this shooting in favour of congratulating everyone on a job well done. It’s unnerving, even for the time.
Amazing Spider-Man #27: Bring Back My Goblin To Me!
“Writer”: Stan Lee
Plotter and Artist: Steve Ditko
Letterer: Artie Simek
Steve Morris runs this site! Having previously written for sites including The Beat, ComicsAlliance, CBR and The MNT, he can be found on Twitter here. He’s a bunny.
This post was made possible thanks to the Shelfdust Patreon! To find out more, head to our Patreon page here!