Friday, January 3, 2014



Shadow of the Cat
Credits:  Howard Mackie (writer), John Romita, Jr. (penciler), Scott Hanna (inks), Gregory Wright (colors), Comicraft (letters)

The Plot:  Betty Brant pressures Peter Parker into following the trail of the Cat, who’s going on a rampage throughout the city.  From the Cat’s ex-wife, Peter and Betty learn that their son has been kidnapped by an opposing crimelord.  As Spider-Man, Peter tracks down the Cat and helps him defeat his son’s kidnappers, Razorfist and Shockwave.  Spider-Man allows the Cat to be reunited with his son, even though he’s sure he’ll have to face the Cat as an enemy one day.

The Subplots:  MJ wants Peter to stay in with her, claiming that this is the only night they’ve had alone since losing the baby.  (This ignores the fact Aunt Anna has been out of the house more than she’s been inside it since moving in.)

Web of Continuity:  The Cat has apparently gone from mercenary to aspiring crimelord for the purposes of this story.  His ex-wife explains that he set his sights on “farther and darker horizons,” presumably since his last appearance.  The rival mobster that’s hired Razorfist and Shockwave isn’t revealed.

How Did This Get Published?:  Razorfist to the Cat: “I have always believed that the word of your martial arts prowess was an exaggeration.”  The Cat replies, “And yet I see you are still among the living?  And sporting new hands?  Many things are exaggerated in the retelling.  And you, Razorfist?  I understand you recently suffered a defeat from the assassin called Elektra.”  To be fair to Howard Mackie, most of the scripting in this issue is fine.  This exchange should’ve had a red pen taken to it, though.

Review:  Every time I glance at this cover, I think Spider-Man is about to meet the original X-Men.  The Cat’s logo looks like the original X-Men logo, Shockwave is colored like Iceman (his energy signature even looks like ice), and Razorfist’s costume has the same color scheme as the original X-Men’s uniforms.  Am I nuts?  

Anyway, the Cat joins Shang Chi, Devil Dinosaur, Howard the Duck, and Hero(es) for Hire as the latest Bronze Age revival during this era of Marvel.  I’m not certain why so many characters from the ‘70s were pulled out of storage over the course of this year, but I seem to recall reading that new editor-in-chief Bob Harras had something to do with it.  I can understand his reasoning; there’s nothing inherently wrong with these characters, and it couldn’t hurt to at least give them another shot in front of a younger audience.  I don’t think anything came of the revivals, and I vividly recall my sixteen-year-old self being bewildered by Shang Chi’s sudden appearance in X-Men, but I tend to respect Spider-Man stories that don’t rely on the same villains we’ve seen a thousand times.  

The Cat, as great a martial artist as he is, wouldn’t be much of a threat for Spider-Man, so Mackie has instead constructed a story that has him chasing the Cat around the city, stumbling across the broken bodies of the city’s underworld.  When Spider-Man and the Cat finally locate his son, two supervillains emerge and we get a more traditional fight scene.  Thankfully, Mackie doesn’t go for the obvious choice and have Scorpion or Shocker appear, but instead it’s Razorfist and Shockwave.  I have no idea who these characters are, but Romita, Jr. makes them look presentable, and their obscurity absolutely fits the story.  In terms of making this a Spider-Man story, Mackie continually makes a connection between the Cat “losing” his son and Peter and MJ’s recent miscarriage, and while he isn’t great with emotion, he’s still able to get the point across.  I also appreciate that this is a one-issue story that isn’t bogged down by pointless mysteries and vague hints about future stories that will probably never materialize.  Mackie doesn’t seem to care about who the rival crimelord is supposed to be (I assume it’s meant to be the Kingpin), but that’s not important to the story.  As a simple done-in-one issue, this is pretty entertaining.


M!ke said...

i had read that it was editorial edict at the time to take more characters off the shelf and dust them off while the avengers/ff were shunted over to the heroes reborn universe.

Matt said...

I see what you're saying with regards to the cover bringing the X-Men to mind. In any case, however, I love this cover. John Romita, Jr. did some amazing work during this period.

And I think you're right about Bob Harras being at least part of the reason for the seventies revival around this time. I'm sure I've read elsewhere that he was a huge fan of Bronze Age Marvel. Certainly the Heroes For Hire revival was a big deal for him. I seem to recall that he's given special thanks on the letters page of the final issue for not cancelling them sooner because he liked the book so much and really wanted it to succeed.

...Now that I think about it, do you have any thoughts on reviewing that series here? I really enjoyed it at the time, though I've never looked at it since.

bigfatheart said...

Razorfist and Shockwave are both old Shang-Chi villains. I can't remember the exact specifics, since I'm not hugely familiar with that series, but I think that Shockwave's characterisation as a generic thug is a little off in this issue and that he was usually written as more of a complex mercenary. I could be wrong though. I do know that both villains get costume redesigns in this issue - Razorfist usually has one of those kinky, vaguely bondage-ish costumes that were all the rage in the 70s, while Shockwave apprently suffers from Electro syndrome, in as much as his 'classic' costume is a bit silly but at least distinctive, but here gets lumbered with a generic and ugly new look. Oh, and this is apparently the third Razorfist.

Incidentally, I was reading British reprints of these Spider-Man comics in my early teens, and I generally learned that if I saw Howard Mackie's name I should just skip over the words and enjoy John Romita Jr's art.

G. Kendall said...

I've never read Heroes for Hire, so I don't have an opinion on it. I might review some short-lived Marvel books of this era, like I've done with DC, one of these days.

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