Monday, March 10, 2003

Looking To The Stars: To Fight The Unbeatable Foe!

We’re going to have a change of pace this week, kids. Now, I know how much you all love reading the Starman’s rantings ravings and ramblings about various things that concern him or outright annoy him. And as some of you have said in your e-mails, you really enjoyed watching him pick apart the Green Lantern series.

Sadly, that little bout of reviewing has left Uncle Stars tired and sick of moaning about “what’s wrong with comics today” for a while. Indeed, one of the comics that ol’ Unca Stars read this week has infuriated him so much that he was going to discuss the incompetence of the artist/writer involved and his work in general.

And he is still going to. Next week.

But right now, I want to share a happy story. Indeed, my very favorite comic story of all time. The one that I can point to and say “this is what it is all about.” With that in mind, let me recant the two-part story told in Amazing Spider-Man #229 and #230.

Part One: Nothing Stops The Juggernaut!

We open in a nightmare: a unseen giant destroys all in its’ path and all that stands in its’ path is a certain wise-cracking, red-and-blue-wearing hero. A certain hero who promptly gets his butt kicked nine ways to Sunday and fails to protect the dreamer. The hero is our friendly neighborhood Spider-Man and the dreamer is the psychic (and sometime Spider-friend) Madame Web.

One phone-call later made through Madame Web’s unique life-support chair, and Peter Parker has been told about the vision and how he is the only one who can help save her. Of course she leaves out the little detail that she saw Peter failing miserably but as Peter notes, “She certainly doesn’t believe in wasting words!”

Meanwhile, on a yacht just coming into New York, perennial X-Men baddie Black Tom Cassidy is busily plotting. Seems he’s heard word of a powerful psychic in New York and thinks she’d be a fine edition to his partnership of villainy. A partnership consisting thus far of himself (the finest Irish stereotype that 1981 had to offer) and the slightly more menacing (in the same way that Iceland is slightly colder than Jamaica) Juggernaut.

Now, just in case you’re not familiar with old Juggie, he too is an X-Men villain. But unlike Black Tom, who has the somewhat limited ability to fire energy blasts out of any walking-stick-sized piece of wood, Juggernaut is a walking tank. A literal giant, wider across the shoulders than most men are tall and wearing a magical helmet that protects him from being psychicly manipulated. Throw in a protective force field that can take pretty much any kind of abuse and a bad attitude that doesn’t take abuse very well and you’ve got yourself a chap who isn’t the sort you’d want to have over for tea with Aunt Carol.

Anyway, Juggie doesn’t have the patience to wait 15 minutes for the boat to dock… so he just jumps over the side and starts WALKING ALONG THE OCEAN FLOOR to New York City!

Oh, did I mention that protective force field also keeps from suffocating? No? Well, it does.

Cut to The Daily Bugle where Peter is begging for any freelance photography jobs that might be available. Too bad all the jobs have been snatched up by Peter’s workplace rival, Lance Bannon. Throw in an awkward chance meeting with ex-girlfriend Betty Brant and the day is looking even more stressful than when Peter was woken up and informed he was one old lady’s only chance at safety. That would be the cue for the phone to ring with a call for Peter informing him that whoever is coming for Madame Web is coming ashore at Battery Park.

One quick change of clothing later and Peter is web-swinging his way downtown. Spidey has a pretty easy time finding Juggernaut all things considered. Ignoring the ever-helpful Spider-Sense, there’s a heavy trail of debris, stunned passersby shocked into disbelief and a building or two with holes in them that were apparently made by someone just WALKING THROUGH THE BUILDING!

It may have become apparent to the more perceptive of you out that Spidey is a little bit out-gunned here. On the one hand, we have a guy who is stronger, faster and more intelligent than your average man on the street who can stick to walls, spin webs and is pretty much impossible to sneak up on. On the other, we have a living tank who can WALK THROUGH A FREAKING BUILDING!

Still, brains over brawn, right? The bigger they are, the harder they fall? Right?

Well, that’s what Peter figures… up until his first attempt to make Juggie fall; A boot to the head launched in 50 mph free fall. This results in our favorite wall-crawler bouncing off of Juggernaut's force field, rebounding off a skyscraper window and nearly getting squashed like a bug on a windshield.

He tries a stand of webbing to stop the walking Behemoth. The force field doesn’t even let it come within five feet of Juggernaut! He spins a gigantic web, thin enough to see through in front of Juggernaut, hoping he’ll get stuck in the sticky mess and be unable to move. The text says it all here…

“A single strand is stronger than piano wire. A small mat of webbing can keep a high-speed car rooted in place! Yet the Juggernaut rumbles on, stretching Spider-Man’s webbing to the limit of its’ elasticity! And the webbing does not fail! It holds! It’s moorings, unfortunately, do not.”

One collapse of crumbling roof-ledge later and Peter is trying the more direct approach. Taking a cue from the spiders that build pits to trap their prey, Peter digs away at a pot hole and makes a good size pit. One distraction later and Juggie is falling into the pit. This does slow him down for a few seconds… until he finds a manhole and punches his way out of the sewer.

Left with no other options, Peter tries the good ol’ fashioned technique of “hit him til he’s down and then keep hitting until he’s crying for his mother”. And try he does… to no avail. Five minutes later he’s all worn out from dodging Juggernaut’s attempts to punch him and his own attempts to trip, pummel, subdue and just plain get the walking mountain into a hold. He doesn’t feel much better after Juggie, getting tired of playing around, runs through another building with Peter still firmly attached to his massive back!

One pile of rubble later, Peter is just dusting himself off in time to hear a phone ring. It is Madame Web with a clue: she has somehow picked up on the word “Cyttorak” and wonders if it might mean something. Spidey says he thinks it might and swings off after telling Madam Web to call in any reinforcements she can get a hold of. Sadly, it turns out that as she cannot locate either the Fantastic Four OR The Avengers, who are all apparently off planet or in another dimension. (Which happens a lot more often than you’d think!)

Peter swings his way off to Greenwich Village and the home of master magician and snappy dresser, Dr. Strange, having remembered the Doc once mentioning Cyttorak, a magician who made the magical armbands that created Juggernaut. It turns out the good Doctor is out dealing with many mystical matters but his assistant Wong helpfully tells Spidey everything he knows about the Juggernaut. In short order, that is a) he’s supposedly unstoppable and b) the X-Men have fought him. The phone rings and it turns out that Madme Web already sensed the connection but that The X-Men are also not available.

So just to recap… Spider-Man did everything he could to stop Juggernaut and couldn’t even phase the big lug. The most powerful magician on the planet and the three most powerful groups of super heroes on the planet are unavailable, including the one group with the most experience dealing with the guy and in fact, the only ones who have ever beaten him. You’d think most people would give up at this point. And indeed most people would. Even Madam Web says, “There is no hope.”

The heck there isn’t!

Peter rushes like mad to get to Madame Web’s hideaway, telling her to call out the cops. Thirty six of New York’s Finest SWAT officers armed with the finest assault rifles available try to pick Juggie off. All they do is tick him off.

Now on Madame Web’s front doorstep, Juggie starts picking his way through various webs Peter has spun in the doorways. And when he gets to the final doorway, he gets hit. An electrical attack conducted through the webbing, thanks to an emergency generator Peter hooked up to the steel doorframe. And finally, after one million volts jump through his body, the Juggernaut is… still standing.

Well, Peter wisely stays out of the way of the bigger man’s fists, but doesn’t quite manage to jump away when the wall Juggernaut punches collapses and the ceiling falls in on ol’ Spidey. Juggie pulls Madam Web out of her special chair before being informed by a pinned Spider-Man that she can’t be moved from the chair without dying. Saying that the trip was a total waste, Juggernaut drops Madam Web and leaves. Peter frantically pulls himself free and manages to perform CPR until the paramedics arrive.

With his pride wounded along with his skin, Madame Web at death’s door, no hope of back-up and no leads other than a police report that Juggernaut is heading toward the Hudson River, Peter says…

A) “I’m going to find a way to stop that “unstoppable” human tank--- or die trying!”

B) “I’m going to call Madame Web’s landlord and find out if that place is rent controlled!”

C) “I’m going to go home, take a hot bath, eat a bucket of Rocky Road and have myself a good cry!”

D) “I’m going to call the West Coast Avengers and the Defenders! Nah, that would never work….”

(Well, you didn’t expect me to not let a little sarcasm get into the writing, now did you? )

Part Two: To Fight The Unbeatable Foe!

Spidey tracks down Juggernaut and in short order tries to use everything he can find that isn’t nailed down to take down the powerhouse. This includes…

· the creation of a giant bow and arrow, using girders as arrows and webbing as the bowstring.

· Hitting ol’ Jughead right between the eyes with a wrecking ball.

· Accidentally collapsing a building onto himself and Juggernaut

And as if the pounding to his pride weren’t enough, Peter also get harassed by the local gentry in the form of one angry trucker who is a big fan of The Bugle and is quite intent on doing Spider-Man in. He’s no match for Peter though, who is really in no mood to tolerate any more trouble today and scares the trucker off after a) taking away his Tire Iron of Smiting +3 and b) returning it to him as a pretzel.

It is then that Peter has his most inspired idea ever: take the 18-wheeler full of gasoline the trucker had abandoned and drive it RIGHT into Juggernaut. He jumps out of the way just before the impact, which creates a fiery explosion big enough to clear a city block.

Of course Peter immediately panics as he sees the size of the fire and wonders what he was thinking. Juggernaut must have been vaporized instantly, right? No way even HIS force field could survive that, right?

The answer comes in the form of one massive Spider-Sense headache as Juggernaut strides out of the flames… a bit singed, but unharmed… and for the first time TRULY angry and out for blood. He closes in on Peter, who presses the two advantages he has: speed and maneuverability.

Spidey dodges the Juggernaut lunges and punches, eventually landing on the Juggernauts shoulders. He finds that the armor on his back is still steaming hot and is nearly too much for him to hold on to. He tries to yank off the Juggernaut’s helmet, trying to find a weak spot. For all the good it does him since (as Juggernaut boasts) he permanently welded his helmet on with a laser torch so that it could never be removed again, thus making him effectively immune to psychic attacks.

It is then that Peter, having been unable to attack Juggernaut directly or indirectly, unable to get any kind of help… unable to get one stinking thing right all day despite all his plans, has an idea. A cunning and brilliant plan?

Well, no. Actually, it’s nigh-suicidal. Spidey grabs hold of Juggernaut’s helmet and… covers the tiny eye-holes with his hands so the big giant can’t see where he is going! Naturally, Jughead isn’t too happy about this and he begins to pound the ever-loving tar out of Peter, who can do nothing but hold on for dear life and try to take the punches. The punches which can level buildings. The punches that can cold-cock Colossus. The punches that could give even The Hulk pause…

And this… this is when the good karma shifts into gear, and whatever gods make a habit of playing with Peter on a daily basis for their own amusement allow Peter a blessing for all his typical bad luck. Somehow, Juggy finds himself unable to move his legs. And as Peter looks up, he realizes that he has somehow steered the Juggernaut into the recently poured foundations of a new building and that not-so-gentle-giant is now stuck in a giant pool of wet cement, which he is rapidly sinking into like quicksand. Peter jumps clear of the sticky mess and notes that while it may not be able to hold Juggernaut forever, it will probably hold him long enough for the authorities to find some other way to hold him.

And the good luck continues. As he leaves, Peter is surprised to find the camera in his Spidey belt has been on the whole time during the fight, photographing through the thin red cloth of his costume. He rushes to develop the photos and take them to Robbie Robertson, who notes that the pictures are a bit grainy “like they were shot through gauze” but most are clear enough to print. Less promising is the news Peter finds when he gets to the hospital to check on Madame Web. She finds that she is suffering from shock and does not seem to remember him and may have lost her psychic abilities as well. Meanwhile, at the docks, Black Tom Cassidy (who was watching the fight between Spider-Man and Juggernaut earlier) is still watching the concrete pit through his binoculars from his boat and wonders if even the Juggernaut can dig his way through THAT much solid cement.

Why This Story Is Great

1. The Titles: “Nothing Stops the Juggernaut” is an okay title, merely a reference to one of the phrases that Juggie tends to shout at the heroes who do try to stop him. The more musically inclined of you might recognize the title “To Fight the Unbeatable Foe” as a line from the song “To Dream The Impossible Dream” from the famous (not to mention my favorite) musical, “Man of LaMacha”. I don’t know if this was intentional, but the spirit of the song matches the spirit of this story.

2. The Plot: For once, a little guy vs. the big guy story that actually DOES have a real fight. Most stories like this are massive cop outs with a bigger character (like the Hulk) being prodded into fighting a smaller character over some misunderstanding, with the little guy outsmarting or dodging most of the attacks until he can talk reason to the big guy.

3. Everything A Spider-Man Story Should Be: You see Peter worrying about paying the bills, dealing with problems at work and his social life. But more than that, you truly see the great responsibility he has and how sometimes great power isn’t enough to live up to that. That and a healthy dose of humor… the wisecracks AND the Wile E. Coyote-esque scenes in the second half where Spidey does everything and THEN some to try and stop the Roadrunner… make this a classic.

4. What Heroes Are About: Ultimately, this story is more than just a Spider-Man story. This is about what heroes and heroism are all about. Peter Parker faces an enemy who he has no chance of defeating. He is overpowered, outclassed and he knows it. There is no help… no cavalry riding to save him at the last possible second. He gets beaten several times and is left bruised and bleeding and not at all well.

And yet he comes back for more.

That is what a hero does, ladies and gentlemen. Even when they know they have no chance of winning outright. Even when all they can do is save one more life or delay the villain one more moment. Even when all they can do is take a stand despite a lack of power, just because it is right that someone stand up. That is heroism.

Tune in next week! Same Matt Time! Same Matt Website!

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