Here’s another book that I pulled out of the drugstore’s Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics. I honestly couldn’t tell you what possessed me to purchase it–i wasn’t really following either Spider-Man or Iron Man at the time. Perhaps I was inspired by having earlier read issue #57. But either way, pick it up I did. That cover is really cluttered and awkward, a good example of what was wrong with the cover approach in this period, I think. Not only do logos take up a solid third of the image area, but there are also two separate blurbs. On top of which, the composition itself is awkward and doesn’t silhouette well. From any sort of a distance, you could read the logos on this cover but really nothing else.
This issue was the end of a four-part storyline, an absolute epic in these days–and one which introduced the well-remembered Spider-Man supporting character Jean DeWolff (whom Peter David would years later kill off in a memorable storyline.) We open in a courtroom, where Iron Man and, surprisingly, Doctor Strange (who was the TEAM-UP guest star in the previous issue) are preparing to give testimony concerning the Wraith, the super-criminal who’d been running through this entire story. He’d been caught and unmasked as the mindless Brian DeWolff under the mental dominance of his father, Phillip DeWolff. Now, the heroes are trying to get Brian off for the crimes committed while under his father’s control.
Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson are also in attendance for this hearing in order to gather news for the Daily Bugle. There’s a whole lot of stage-setting that goes on here–not so much in the way of bringing new readers up to speed as it is to dramatize the unorthodox manner in which this hearing is being put together–but eventually, we start to get down to the nitty-gritty. Iron Man’s dampening helmet prevents Phillip DeWolff from making contact with his son’s dormant mind, but it apparently can’t prevent him from taking over the psyche of the nearby SHIELD Agent tasked with overseeing it. And so, in moments, the helmet is unplugged from its power source, allowing Phillip to activate the Wraith once again.
The Wraith lets out with a mindblast that flattens just about everybody in the courtroom. But then, he and his father get zapped when he comes into contact with a live electrical cable, the end result of which is that Phillip’s mind winds up inhabiting the Wraith’s body. Spidey gets involved in the fight that breaks out, but he’s not much use against the Wraith’s mind-tricks, and Dr Strange and Iron Man appear similarly stymied. It’s not a great showing from these guys especially. The Wraith is able to plant illusions in the minds of his targets, and he soon has the trio of super heroes fighting a giant stone monster that only exists in their imaginations.
Nick Fury is remotely plugged into events as well, and he can see through the video that the good guys are battling it out with empty air. But he’s got no way to let them know tat’s what’s going on from his remote location. While Spider-Man and Doctor Strange attempt to corral the unreal monster, Iron Man takes the fight to the Wraith himself–but as tended to happen a lot in Shell-Head’s stories in this period, the Wraith’s psychic assault takes its toll on Tony Stark’s injured heart, and down he goes. Jean DeWolff pleads with her brother to stop his attack, but it’s the voice of her father that answers her through his body, telling her no way.
But the tide of battle turns as the three super heroes get their acts together, and it isn’t long before the Wraith is knocked out by a blow from Iron Man. With that done, the hearing reconvenes–and Doctor Strange attempts to mystically and surgically repair the damage done to Brian DeWolff’s body when he was shot years before. Despite his injured hands, Strange is able to remove the bullet fragment lodged in Brian’s spine, and DeWolff makes a sudden recovery as a result, his mind no longer dormant nor under his father’s control. But still they need to answer for the Wraith’s crimes.
After a bit of testimony from momentary guest-stars Professor X and Moondragon, the judges reach their verdict, finding Brian innocent of all charges against him, but his father Phillip guilty. As he’s led away, Phillip rails against the unjustness of this conviction. And so this four-part saga comes to a close, not with a bang but with a trial. And as the heroes separate, it’s suggested that Brian DeWolff might continue to use the powers of the Wraith (which he still possesses) as a force for good. Nothing much ever came of this idea, but as I mentioned earlier, Jean DeWolff did go on to become a recurring figure in the Spider-Man titles whenever an NYPD officer was needed in a story. There’s also a weird coda in which one of the judges displays telekinetic powers, revealing that they had no choice but to accept the account of Phillip DeWolff’s own similar abilities as a result. It’s an odd beat–I don’t know if these were established characters or something new, but it’s a strange note to go out on.