The rogues gallery of Batman and Spider-Man share some interesting features. Among them is the sheer number of insane members of a rogues gallery. Batman has the Joker, Riddler, Penguin, Mad Hatter, Two-Face, and others. Spider-Man has the various Goblins, the Lizard, the Iguana, the Jackal, and others.
Both have had classic villains. Spider-Man has the Green Goblin, Batman has the Joker. These are villains capable of nuance and variation.
They both have a common criminal who killed their parents or substitute parents and put them on the path of being a superhero.
In the same way they had some epic fails of villains. Batman has the Penny Plunderer, a nobody villain who was defeated more by inflation than Batman. And Spider-Man has had rather more than his fare share of epic fail villains.
The Big Wheel
He first appears in 1978, part of an era of bad Spider-Man villains. Jackson Weele embezzles from his company and is about to be caught. So with a logic that’s going to happen a lot, he hires a supervillain to steal the evidence for him. What kind of supervillain has their phone number in the book? These are the seventies, there’s no internet. Do the yellow pages have a section ‘supervillain’ or did Weele have to look up ‘Rocket Racer’ in the white pages? Is this what obscure supervillains have to do to get noticed?
Did Weele stop to think how many pages of accounts and receipts Racer would have to steal or (updating the concept) how many computer records and their off-site back-ups he’d have to destroy? Does he have any idea haw many copies of those accounts there would be under either system? Whatever the case, Rocket Racer got some evidence and used it to blackmail Weele.
So in dumb move number three, Weele goes to the Tinkerer and gets a themed up weapon. It’s – wait for it – a giant wheel. Yes, somehow he had enough money to pay for this monstrosity and then uses it to go attack, well, anybody. The thing must have cost millions which he could have used to lay low for the rest of his life. Instead he seems to weaponize a Ferris wheel.
I think his alternative plan was to open a chain of restaurants where well-trained housecats would cook you pasta. It makes about as much sense.
The Big Wheel (meaning the device) is a vehicle made of two spoked wheels in rims set parallel to each other and joined by spars. The spokes clearly have windows in them and I assume the spars also have windows. And let’s assume he’s smart (and rich) enough to use the same material they were using to make windows on the shuttles.
On either side is an articulated extension arm ending in a claw, and twin guns. Jackson Weele sits in the middle of this in a control chair wearing a helmet and goggles.
There is no machinery, like an engine, in this wheel. There is no way in physics it should move. There is no traction and no reaction mass. Even if it could move, the studs on the rims should tear up the roads it travels on like tanks tend to do with their treads. And if it could move forward, it could not physically turn. Again, it’s a unicycle which turns because of the mass of the rider by either using their arms as a counterweight or leaning. None of that is available to Weele, who’s pretty well glued to the axle.
So the idea makes no sense. If we get past that it’s still such a limited idea. Once the Big Wheel trundles out of whatever garage it’s kept in, Weele is stuck in combat mode until he wins or loses and loses is the only logical result because he’s in a gauntlet match. If he beats Spider-Man, they’ll call in another superhero, and another, and as many as needed to beat him up. There’s no getting away for next time and, let’s face it, he’s going to get creamed this time because it’s a lousy weapon.
This thing has two guns if you face its rim. Turn it to the side and the firepower of the Wheel is cut in half. And, look at the top of the Wheel. By definition that’s it’s least stable point. Hulk comes along, pushes it over, and the Wheel can’t right itself. Hulk goes on the show Weele the road-rage-from-hell.
Why wouldn’t Spider-Man the science student just use his webbing and some leverage to pull the whole thing over?
Why doesn’t he notice through all those windows that there are no air tanks in the Big Wheel, so there’s got to be an air intake. That means all you need is tear gas. Ordinary cops can do that.
So, a lame motivation to the villain who comes up with two stupid plans one of which uses impossible technology that, even if it were possible, would still be lame. How did anybody think that idea was going to have legs?
Robert Farrell is a lazy man’s African-American character, being a two-dimensional set of cliches gleaned off TV. He grows up in (poor place) Brooklyn. Not sympathetic enough? He has six siblings who he has to take care of because his parents are dead except his mother will later get better but still be very sick and might lose the house that they own because suddenly retrospectively they weren’t all that poor. Not sympathetic enough? He was very, very bright but had to drop out of high school because nobody recognized smart he was. (You do know with really bright students the IQ test is automatic, don’t you?) Not sympathetic enough? How about this, they named him Rocket Racer which sounds like her is just a touch above Marvin and Wendy in the Superfriends.
This is not a character. It’s not anybody we are asked to get involved with except inasmuch as they stand as a lecture at (not to) the reader. Can you name any of the siblings? What’s his mother’s name? How did his parents die such that one of them came back? Why did no one in the entire school system of the State of New York recognize someone so smart he could invent the weapons that would make him Rocket Racer? Did anybody think what this story would do if it came out during an election campaign?
He eventually gets a high school equivalency on which he gets 100% (since it had an essay component at that time, this would have been impossible). With that and a scholarship he goes to university where he meets – get this – white power racists. Not sympathetic enough? White power racists, at the comic book version of the State University of New York. Are you kidding me? Are you kidding anybody else? Yourselves, for example?
You’re fighting last generation’s enemies, because white racists were not tolerated in New York universities. In the 1958 the University of Buffalo (later SUNY at Buffalo) football team The Buffalo Bills) were invited to play Florida State in the Tangerine bowl if they left their two black players behind. The whole team said no. I guess New York City is just more racist than Buffalo.
But in this story one racist holds a beaker of the new iteration of Spider-Man’s web formula which was left there at the university unguarded, not under lock and key, and not even put away (how did Peter Parker pass science?). Rocket Racer hits it with a rocket and it pours over the head of the guy who would soon be called “Skinhead.” I’d call that a literary reference to Baron Zemo, but really it just seems to be more scabbing off what somebody wrote. Again, sympathetic enough, yet?
Rocket Racer rides a rocket-powered skateboard. Well, any fad will work its way into comic books: disco (Dazzler), bikers (Ghost Rider), blacksploitation (Power Man), martial arts (Shang Chi and Iron Fist), and cowboys (heaps). And in skateboards think of ollies, aerials, flips, slides and grinds: none of which the Rocket Racer does.
Compare this to Headlocked, a comic book about wrestling. They know their stuff. Not only do I say so, so does Jerry Lawler. And let’s not forget Lawler’s comic about a wrestler called the Patriot. Rocket Racer has none of the nuances or technical basics that either of those very different wrestling comics has.
His rocket-powered skateboard is used only for speed and to ride up the sides of buildings (which seems to be less of an engineering feat than you’d think). To this he adds small missiles fired up to four at a time. He also has rockets in his gloves and they allow him to give someone a rocket powered punch that somehow doesn’t shatter every bone in his arm. If you don’t believe me, go to a steel wall and punch it as hard as you can. I deny all legal liability but I will point out your punch wasn’t ‘rocket powered.’
I get it. Skateboards, poor African-Americans with standard African-American problems (as defined by white people), and what you can do with model rocket engines. That’s all this character is: a stack of cliches piled on top of each other when it could have been so much more.
I think the name came first when Marvel realized it might snatch a trademarked name from DC. DC has a 1940’s hero by that name, civilian name John Law, a mystery writer. Marvel’s propensity for grabbing formerly trademarked names (Ghost Rider, Captain Marvel, Daredevil) is well known.
The original Tarantula in Marvel comics (1967) is a Zorro-like white guy who wears a mask, uses a whip, and has a fake Mexican accent. He is a villain and an awful lot like the whip-using white guy hero who pretends to be Latino when he puts on a mask of the DC cannon of 1940, the Whip (el Castigo). It kind of suggests there was a marketing plan all along. Since then there have been four other characters in Marvel called the Tarantula. They have all been Latino (or Latina) and as bad as the apparent original motive for creating them.
The Spider-Man villain is Anton Miguel Rodriguez, a revolutionary terrorist who is thrown out of his revolutionary cell for killing a guard for no reason during a robbery (I can find no historical case where that happened). But maybe things are different in in his country, Delvadia, which doesn’t exist. So he joins the right-wing fascist government. Because that’s how it always goes.
So Rodriguez takes on the identity of the Tarantula to be his country’s Captain America. But instead of a shield he has razors in his gloves and pointy shoes. No, wait, wait, the points of the shoes have poison and anesthetic in them. Yes, he can put you to sleep or kill you with his pointy shoes. As Indiana Jones would say, “See this gun?”
There are martial arts that involve a lot of use of the feet. Savate and Capoeira immediately come to mind. Various oriental martial arts uses kicks, tae kwon do in particular being known for strong, leaping kicks. But they don’t use kicks with the toe, they use a solid part of the foot that won’t break when you kick somebody.
Oh, wait, he has pointy shoes, maybe that makes a difference because if there’s one thing that’s cool is sticking your pointed shoe into something with a flying kick and then having to work how how to get the damn pointy bit out before you wind up hanging upside down from a broken ankle.
You might say at least his shoes are more believable than Green Lantern’s ring – but no it isn’t. Green Lantern’s ring is some kind of magic. I don’t have to look at it logically. But if you’re going to say this is close to reality you’re going to have to put a bit of thought into it.
Put it another way. Kids will buy imitation Captain America shields. How many kids would ever buy imitation Tarantula pointy shoes? They can tell the difference, why can’t you?
Every cliche you’d expect is here. And that speaks volumes about this being a play for the name and one of the worst Spider-Man villains ever.
The evil window washer. That is what the Prowler is. The highly intelligent but socially disadvantaged African-American from 1969, Hobie Brown gets fired from his job as a window washer.
With less training than Peter Parker had when he invented his webbing (and apparently the spider bite helped him in that invention), Brown creates an armory. He builds gauntlets and boots that let him hang onto the sides of buildings. He has foam padding in his boots that let him leap from great heights. He has bands around his wrists and ankles that shoot darts, gas pellets, explosives, and flares. His cape is designed to stiffen to left him glide for short distances without falling on his head.
All this on the wages of a window washer, these days that’s $16,240 and $24,360. All of it was invented simply to wash windows. It was all ready to go when he lost his job. The plan he comes up with is to steal some stuff, hide it, find it later and turn it in to become a hero. This does not net him any money. If he collects the fee or reward for the return of the stolen goods, then he’s stealing as much as if he just sold the loot and spent the cash.
Hobie, here’s an alternate plan. Get into your window washing gear. Climb a building where some firm rival to the one that fired you happens to be washing the windows. Let them watch you climb the building. Talk to the guys while you clean a couple windows (I assume in this case you’ll have a squeegee). Tell them you have this equipment and are looking for a deal. Jump off the building and glide to a nearby rooftop. Go home and wait for the window washers of the world to go on strike until all the window washing businesses except the one that fired you buy your equipment and you rake in the money.
Lots of money.
Another plan, call the military. You will be a billionaire before you can hang up the phone.
It’s possible he wants to keep the technology to himself, now, but his original idea was to use it publicly washing windows. It’s never established he’s changed his mind.
Seriously, what’s wrong with him? Basically, he has very valuable stuff that he grossly misuses because he has no understanding of how to cash in. He therefore comes up with an insane plan that, if successful, will net him nothing or next to nothing. This is the structure of a racist joke. It’s not funny.
When the Prowler faces Spider-Man, he’s beaten fairly easily. But because he’s ‘a kid, about my age’ as no one Peter Parker’s age says ever, Parker destroys the Prowler suit and cuts the kid a break. You can say Hobie’s had it tough and deserves a second chance, but Parker doesn’t know that. He doesn’t know who Hobie is and knows none of his backstory. All he knows is the guy is young and on nothing more than his age decides to destroy evidence and commit a felony.
No, seriously, destroying the costume and devices is destroying evidence and destroying evidence is a felony.
Whoever corruptly –
alters, destroys, mutilates, or conceals a record, document, or other object, or attempts to do so, with the intent to impair the object’s integrity or availability for use in an official proceeding; or
otherwise obstructs, influences, or impedes any official proceeding, or attempts to do so,
shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than 20 years, or both.
Federal obstruction of justice statute, so you know. With great power comes great responsibility, unless we don’t feel like it. Of all these epic fails, this is the only case where if you dump the origin you might get something worthwhile.
Takes two seconds to point out this disaster. It’s a tele-operated robot which has the face of the operator on a screen where the face would be expected. J Jonah Jameson paid for it, so he with at best minimal training is the operator, so it’s his face and his voice the police might see and hear as the Spider-Slayer and Spider-Man tear through New York.
Why would anyone put their well-known face into the middle of a crime like that? Like the Big Wheel, there’s no percentage of win in it and, let’s face it, surely the guy who hands-on runs a newspaper with a circulation of 5 million (the New York Times has a circulation of 1 million) could have come up with a better plan.
I know many of these characters have been killed and replaced by namesakes, several of them have come back with story added. But they are still villains with bad motivations, lame gimmicks, and impossible technology that pretends it’s possible and winds up just not making sense. Worse, they show no understanding of what they’re doing.
The epic fails of Spider-Man are not simply ideas which time kicked into a ditch as it walked along. They are devices with which the reader is talked down to.
The best thing we can take out of this is Spider-Man has no Penguin or Riddler; villains who almost work so they keep getting reimagined to try and make them work. Spider-Man has no almosts, they either work very well indeed or they simply don’t. Get rid of those who don’t.