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 Tom Shapira, who chose number 167 for the roulette!
J. Jonah Jameson isn’t the world’s biggest fan of Spider-Man, it’s fair to say. But does he actually hate the wall-crawler? That’s a line which writers often try not to cross, because there’s a difference between Jameson gleefully causing trouble against somebody he dislikes and sees as a perfect patsy… and Jameson actively trying to kill someone. In one scenario you have the editor in chief of an organisation who sees money in a hate campaign – huh, how interesting, I wonder what it’d be like it the entire internet adopted that model – and in the other you have someone who is actually an attempted murderer and probably shouldn’t be allowed to run a newspaper. So, y’know, thin line there.
In Amazing Spider-Man #167 Len Wein approaches that line and starts daintily rubbing it out with his foot, as this is the first appearance of the “classic” Spider-Slayer machine, apparently developed by a scientist who’ll become known better as… Marla Jameson. Yeah, this is how Jonah Jameson meets his wife! She builds a machine to take out Spider-Man which is financed by Jonah and also, uh, piloted by Jonah. If this never gets redeveloped as a feel-good romantic comedy, we’ll know that the concept of Marvel Comics was ultimately a failure. The issue sees Jonah connecting himself up to a robot designed to “slay” Spider-Man, complete with web-snippers and the ability to bend steel bars. Jonah has funded the entire enterprise, which marks a distinct step up for him and pulls him away from side-character and into the realm of super-villain.
This is a super uncomfortable position for Jonah to sit in, because it changes two things about how I perceived the character. The first is that I thought his constant war with Spider-Man was designed to boost the ratings of his newspaper. Whether by ignorance or done deliberately, Jameson’s decision to make Spider-Man into the centre of every story is one which in-story has consistently helped his paper stay in business. By using his tabloid nature to attack Spider-Man on every front page, he stokes outrage into outrage purchasing, which makes him enough money to continue making a newspaper which he genuinely loves. Jonah is not pretending to love media: journalism is something which is immensely important to him, and he fundamentally wants to keep his media empire alive for altruistic reasons. He’s not running a paper just to make money for himself – he does it because it’s his passion.
The other aspect of the character which gets lost with his decision to create a Spider-Man slaying robot is that it suggests he’s far thinner-skinned than I’d ever given him credit for. The impression that I’ve always had is that Jonah secretly relishes being Spider-Man’s nemesis, and enjoys the banter and back-and-forth they have. In this issue, those traded insults are specifically named as the reason he’s stepping over the line in order to fight Spider-Man physically, and I just don’t buy that Jonah would choose violence over the written word.
This is what we’re offered here, however, and so we’ll just have to deal with this robot which inexplicably has Jonah’s face plastered across the monitor, making it obvious that this private businessman is now trying to murder New York’s most classic superhero. When they square off, Peter immediately notices the face and hangs back. He lets Jonah make the first move, then turns it against him – using Jonah’s hyper-exaggeration against him. Jonah charges and Spider-Man dodges, allowing Spidey to swing away. It’s a neat demonstration that Peter genuinely understands Jonah and his impulses, taking out the publisher without throwing a single punch or doing anything to hurt him. Jonah damages himself.
It’s a neat idea, thrown in quickly by Wein. The benefit of having the “fight” be a quickly-concluded nonsense is that it helps ensure that Jameson doesn’t actually come off as a villain here. If there’d been a fight that required Spider-Man to fight back, it would come with the implication that Jameson is actually someone to be wary of. As it is, he’s a bit of a joke, which helps ward the reader away from the idea that he’s gone too far and become a permanent fixture in the rogue’s gallery. He’s just Jonah, going way too far, but not an actual threat or danger to people. Spider-Man swings away happily, leaving the man with his outrage. When Jameson shows up at the end it represents another worrying step across that line I’ve mentioned far too often, but that’s a worry for another issue.
Peter’s problems often tend to pile up on him in that fashion, so Jameson appearing at the very worst moment benefits the character and gives him more to deal with without overfilling the comic with dangerous villains. That space created by Jameson’s silliness allows the comic to bring in a new character, the hypnotic “Will-o’-the-Wisp”, who comes across as a bit of an idiot and is drawn by Ross Andru to be proper third-tier Jack Kirby. The character looks like one of the New Gods who only appears in crowd scenes, stood at the back. Will has intangibility as his power, and that’s essentially what his personality is as well – you can step right through it. He’s clearly being blackmailed into stealing some sensitive files, which brings him into orbit with Spider-Man.
This time, Peter doesn’t pause in leaping at the villain and engaging in a fight – in stark contrast to his treatment of Jameson. It helps emphasise a difference between the two antagonists: Peter is perfectly willing to fight this guy he’s only just met and who doesn’t have an active power, but he won’t raise a fist against the guy in a highly destructive robot construct. It’s useful to see Spider-Man making mistakes here, which is a theme that runs through the rest of the comic. He tries to get some information out of Joe Robertson by hiding in his car, only for Robertson to tell Spidey off. It’s a breach of privacy for the hero to stalk Joe in that way, and again we see how Peter himself is crossing a line which he almost certainly shouldn’t. It helps tone down Jameson’s escapades that we see how easy it is for someone else to go too far in the pursuit of their cause.
Len Wein is a really good writer, and he manages to hold back his characters just enough. Still, it’s weird to see JJJ acting up as a villain: especially when he’s such an ineffective one. He’d be far better off using his editorials to take out Spider-Man, if that’s actually what he truly wants. As we’ve seen far too often in the last five years, a pointedly biased editorial can do far more damage than robot lasers could.
Amazing Spider-Man #167: …Stalked by the Spider-Slayer!
Written by Len Wein
Drawn by Ross Andru
“Embellished” by Mike Esposito
Coloured by Glynis Wein
Lettered by Joe Rosen
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