Credits: J. M. DeMatteis (writer), Luke Ross (penciler), Dan Green & Al Milgrom (inks), John Kalisz (colors), Comicraft (letters)
The Plot: Spider-Man checks on Jonah in the hospital and discovers Mad Jack is in the area. He tries to pursue Mad Jack but is immobilized by his vertigo. Later, Mad Jack’s cat Maguire brushes up against John Jameson’s leg. John begins to act strangely. Spider-Man, meanwhile, has a rematch with Mad Jack outside of the hospital. Mad Jack has an opportunity to let Spider-Man fall to his death, but instead saves his life. Spider-Man realizes their fight has been a distraction, so he bursts into Jonah’s hospital room to check on him. He discovers John smothering Jonah with a pillow.
The Subplots: MJ is distracted in her Psychology course following her encounter with the Chameleon. Flash tries to grow close to Betty, but ends up annoying her at work. Following her rejection, he flirts with a young blonde.
Web of Continuity: Mad Jack refers to himself by that name, as opposed to “Jack O’Lantern,” for the first time this issue. He drops numerous vague hints about his origins, none of which I believe were ever paid off. Mad Jack claims that his problem is with the Jamesons and not Spider-Man, that he “knows hell” more than Spider-Man understands, that Spider-Man doesn’t know the “forces” he’s dealing with, and that he’s “more alike” Spider-Man than he realizes. Mad Jack’s cat, Maguire, also fails to set off Spider-Man’s spider-sense. This little tidbit might’ve been Tom DeFalco’s inspiration to eventually tie Mad Jack with Mysterio, since Mysterio’s mist is also supposed to disrupt Spider-Man’s spider-sense.
Review: Even if we know that J. M. DeMatteis was just making this Mad Jack stuff up as he went along, and that the ultimate resolution turned out a mess, I still find myself enjoying the Mad Jack issues. Luke Ross’ interpretation of the character has always grabbed my attention, perhaps evoking some nostalgia I have for the McFarlane era, which is odd because I thought his efforts to replicate McFarlane’s Spidey were hit or miss. His Mad Jack just looks cool, though. Cartoony and excessively detailed with that unusual McFarlane-esque texture…and his head is on fire. That just speaks to my inner nine-year-old, I guess.
DeMatteis still hasn’t decided what exactly Mad Jack is supposed be, which means we get an entire issue of him dropping vague hints as he tries to convince Spider-Man he’s not a villain, while exhibiting powers that are either magical or based on illusion. The idea that Mad Jack only cares about the Jamesons is already contradicted by his previous appearance, menacingly staring at MJ at night, so it’s not a good sign that anyone’s paying close attention to the continuity. Even if the Mad Jack mystery is already starting to fall apart, there is some solid material relating to Jonah and the rest of the cast. DeMatteis has a great handle on the Spider-Man/Jonah relationship, capturing the nuance that the two of them actually like having one another as a foil. Jonah’s never more alive than when he has Spider-Man to kick around, so Spidey knows that the best thing he can do to cheer him up is to break into his hospital room and viciously insult him. It’s a great callback to the Stan Lee days. John Jameson and his stepmother Marla also have a nice moment together, the kind of human moment between minor supporting cast members that seems too rare during this era of the titles. I do find the Flash/Betty material kind of tedious at this point, and it seems as if no one can give MJ a decent subplot in these days, but overall this is a strong issue.