Welcome back to Tangled Web Week. I, like many people from the Blok this week, had never read Spider-Man’s Tangled Web before being given this assignment. So reviewing issue #16 & #17 of the series was a fun diversion from my normal reading pool (DC Comics). Let’s get on with it, shall we?
First the details: Spider-Man’s Tangled Web 16-17 was originally published on September 1 & October 10, 2002, respectively. They were written by Daniel Way (Violent Lifestyles, Dark Avengers, Deadpool, and more) and drawn by Leandro Fernandez (The Incredible Hulk and Wolverine). Fun fact: These issues were Daniel Way’s first work with Marvel. Comprising both parts of the of the story arc Heartbreaker, you could also call this story “Tombstone Goes to Jail.” Much like the Streets of Gotham series, Spider-Man’s Tangled Web doesn’t typically involve Spider-Man. Issues 16 & 17 are a perfect example of that theme in action, for Spider-Man’s presence is only by way of references made by the issues’ characters.
Issue #16 begins with an emergency at Harlem General Hospital. Someone has had a heart attack in the middle of a bank robbery. Who is that someone, now being raced to the hospital? Well, none other than Lonnie Lincoln, a.k.a. the villain Tombstone, of course! Truth be told, I only vaguely remembered this rogue, so I had to look him up. It’s a tale as old time, really: An albino, black man born in Harlem has a weird mutagenic reaction when exposed to a preservative gas, which gives him not only greater strength and stamina but also completely impenetrable skin. (I think Disney made a movie of this.) Well, that’s Lonnie Lincoln for you, first appearing in March 1988’s Web of Spider-Man #36. Oh yeah, for some reason he filed his teeth to points (certainly makes flossing easier).
Tombstone’s heart attack is a key element to this story arc (I’m pretty sure that is what “Heartbreaker” might be referencing). Not only does it lead to his capture and imprisonment, but it causes him trouble on the inside as well. Tombstone is taken to an ultra maximum security prison for supervillains known as The Cage. Through unexplained science (my favorite kind of science), a machine analyzes each prisoner as they are admitted determining their super abilities. Then, and I’m only speculating here, the prison attunes itself to the powers, which negates said powers while the villains are on the inside (or maybe just prevents them from using it to escape). It’s probably some really complicated stuff.
One of the weird aspects of this comic, and there are a couple, involves an odd moment concerning Tombstone’s race. The instance, shown below, shows the doctors of the prison making reference to soul food and some joke about being gray. I am guessing it was a joke, but I didn’t quite get it. Maybe 2002 was a simpler time, and 10 years later I just can’t understand. All the same, it was strange moment that I wasn’t really sure how to process.
Continuing with the story, Tombstone finds himself struggling with (what we’ve come to associate as) the typical prison hierarchy: The strong rule the weak. The aforementioned heart condition keeps him being able to go toe to toe with the current prison head honcho, a baddie named Kangaroo. Since it’s likely you have no idea who Kangaroo is (I sure didn’t), here’s a brief bio. This Kangaroo is actually the second villain from the Spider-Man universe to use the Kangaroo name. Brian Hibbs so greatly idolized the original Kangaroo, known for his incredible leaping abilities and unintelligible accent, that he decided to style himself after the villain. When kangaroo styled armor failed him, Hibbs pursued the development of actual superpowers. Successful in this endeavor, he gained strength and height, but not without a cost. As his physical abilities grew his mental capacity shrank, and eventually he even began to think he was the original scoundrel from down under (complete with unintelligible accent). So, when Tombstone’s heart condition leads to a beating by Kangaroo, which subsequently throws him to the bottom of the food chain, Tombstone begins plotting just how to extract his revenge and take his (rightful?) place at the top…
Weird racial moments aside, Daniel Way’s writing is pretty good. Way intends to give you a story that will keep you guessing, and he does it successfully all the way to the end of issue #17. There are also some funny running jokes throughout the issues. We know from the beginning that Tombstone’s heart condition is what landed him in jail, however the other rogues assume it was Spider-Man. Whenever another inmate makes mention of Tombstone getting caught (“Spider-Man finally got ya, huh?”), Tombstone responds with awkward looks as he tries to hide how he really got caught. Also, Kangaroo becomes increasingly difficult to understand as the comics go on (… mate?), and, of course, there are plenty of prison jokes involving bottoms (yep).
Leandro Fernandez’s art is very stylized and certainly feels like 2002 to me. It also has a certain cartoon-ish quality to it, which is seen most clearly in the way faces distort when someone is yelling. The artist put his own mark on the character designs and interprets them a bit differently than you normally see them (which is half the reason I didn’t recognize Tombstone at first). I’m sure part of Fernandez’s fun while illustrating this story line was getting to interpret so many villains, even if they were all pretty minor villains.
Issues 16 & 17 are a good moment in the Spider-Man’s Tangled Web series (sorry, Hal). If you’re only wanting to hit the bright spots, I’d recommend adding these issues to the list. Way and Fernandez do a great job telling a story in the Spider-Man universe without relying on the web-slinger. Standing solidly on their own, you’ll enjoy where these issues take you.
~ Tim Jenkins ~