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 Kayleigh Hearn, who chose number 59 for the roulette!
By Steve Morris
What a coincidence – another character with a prominent role in the 2012 Amazing Spider-Man movie! Captain Stacy is the father of Gwen, and as a result has a prominent early role in Spider-Man’s life as a hero. We get to meet him properly in Amazing Spider-Man #59, which is a completely bonkers story, and to be honest he comes across as a total legend. At this point in time Aunt May is recovering from a Doc Ock attack in hospital, and a missing person’s report has been filed for Peter for whatever reason. When he goes to visit May at the hospital, he realises he’ll need to check in with the police so that report can be closed.
That leads to a really interesting dynamic which can only be seen during this point in his chronology. Peter has to sit down with the police, who are not sure whether they should be treating Spider-Man as a threat or a hero. The paper obviously has taken one side, but the police don’t know where they should stand on him, which makes for really curious reading: they question Peter about Spider-Man (who Peter claims “accidentally” kidnapped him) and in doing so reveal all their innermost fears or concerns. Is Spider-Man a menace? Does he have an evil lair? Is he working for or against the other more obvious villains in New York?
All of it serves to create a more paranoid and tense environment for the character, and it’s honestly really enjoyable to read. We know that nowadays Spider-Man has an overly friendly deal with the cops, but here’s there’s a paranoia which comes across from them as they frantically try and work out what they’re meant to do about him. And with their muddled questions comes one stronger voice amidst the pack: that of George Stacy. “Spider-Man can’t be all bad“, says the Captain, “”or he wouldn’t have set the boy free!” That’s not really proper logic, but still, it’s a voice defending Spider-Man whilst everyone else is trying to set him up as a villain. And that makes him stand out immediately.
Peter walks and talks with him, and it’s made clear that Captain Stacy has been working through this case – and determined that Spider-Man is more a hero than anyone else on the force seems to accept. He’s noticed how Spider-Man only goes after criminals, and is determined to prove that he’s innocent and a hero. During their chat Gwen walks in, sees her boyfriend, and immediately goes in for the kiss – which Captain Stacy laughs off because he’s a total legend. “Even an old war-horse like me was young once myself!” he laughs, which is again an unexpected way for someone to react. His perspective might be strange, but at least he’s a reassuring voice.
In one of Stan’s more energetic and connected scripts, this is all set up for the twist which comes right at the end: a villain called “The Brainwasher” has taken over a dance club, and is using it to hypnotise punters. Wouldn’t you know, Mary Jane is hired as a dancer and ol’ Captain Stacy is invited to attend. Never mind that this place is called “The Gloom Room A-Go-Go” which is INCREDIBLE: what an amazing plot point that all the important members of the city are invited to attend and they accept?! It does make you wonder a little what those Marvel editorial lunches might have been like. Captain Stacy is in the middle of complimenting Mary Jane’s dancing when she takes a photo of him, unaware that there’s some hypnotic equipment stored in the device: he find the immediate urge to head backstage and let the villains plug him into some kind of brainwashing machine.
This is all incredible of course. Firstly that something so clearly insane is presented as completely normal and fitting for the series – it’s a good thing Steve Ditko isn’t here, I guess – but also that it’s thematically relevant. Peter has just met an authority figure who is sympathetic to Spider-Man, and guess what happens? He’s brainwashed by the villains. That Parker luck! It’s incredible stuff: you absolutely would never get something like this in a contemporary comic, but because it’s Stan Lee writing it you kind of let the whole thing slide. If you think about it properly, this is massively creepy, but the energy of a Lee script means you just go along with it for the most part because it feels so… innocently creepy? Because you know Lee isn’t going to write something impossibly dark, even though this issue repeatedly steps near that line throughout its twenty pages.
There’s so much going on here that only Lee could get away with it: he’s so cheerily surface-level that he doesn’t need to dip into the psychology of anything that’s going on. Peter Parker is sat at a club with his girlfriend Gwen Stacy whilst Mary-Jane Watson dances onstage for the ogling eyes of Gwen’s father, who is nothing but respectful of the whole situation even as the club is a complex brainwashing operation aimed at the most powerful people in New York. It’s incredible that all of this is organised into such a tight space and it still feels completely throwaway, but that’s the magic of Stan Lee, I guess. There’s such potential for storytelling within this set-up, and absolutely none of it is grasped. Instead it’s a chance for John Romita Sr to draw some more of that Mary Jane Watson he likes so much (and he does so well) and for Stan to make New York nightclubs seem like they’re suitable for all ages.
There’s no seediness in this thoroughly seedy situation. In fact, it works as a great way of giving personality to both the women in Peter’s life. Mary Jane of course has all the bluster and charm that made the character stand out from her first appearance, but Gwen gets to be fun here as well. From making out with Peter right in front of her cop father to her “hip” talk which includes her yelling “begorra!” when she sees her dad at a dance club, she’s good fun here. She may not be presented as a star in the same way Mary Jane is, but she’s still got a sense of personality and her own perspective on things. I think sometimes there’s a consensus that Gwen is perceived as not being much of anything, but here she’s perceptive and vibrant.
Much like her father who – as I’ve said before – is the star of this issue. It’s great to have somebody in power be on Spider-Man’s side not because it feels authentic but because it gives him some breathing room, and he comes across as a complete lad who is twice the man of anybody else in his department. Just like Gwen, I always heard that he was kinda boring and his only function way to die: but again, he’s somebody with a lot of charisma in his own right, and somebody I think has been underestimated. If anybody is going to be your girlfriend’s dad, you want it to be good old George.
Amazing Spider-Man #59: The Brand of the Brainwasher!
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: John Romita Sr
Inker: Don Heck
Colourist: Mickey DeMeo
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.
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