Steve Goble

Choose life. (Deuteronomy 30:19)

Writer: Len Wein
Artist: Sal Buscema

Stories from the 1970s involving computers are almost always unintentionally funny.

And yet, this self-contained Spidey tale from 1976 seems so sure of itself that I think they were actually aiming for silly...

Peter Parker is covering the unveiling of a new police supercomputer that will catalogue the world's criminals, revolutionising the fight against crime.

This database of crime has been given the catchy name of "Worldwide Habitual Offenders" and... hang on a second, that's actually happened in real life! I got another statement of innocence from that very machine a few weeks ago for my current visa application! Wow!

But if that makes this story sound a bit too realistic for you, page 2 sees Spidey's trademark melodrama kick-in with no apologies...

The man who programmed the crime-computer is dead. It's a perfect crime, or so it seems...

Well, our boy Parker has a few ideas. As Spidey, he returns to the Worldwide Habitual Offenders computer that Dr Smith had been working on, and just asks it who most likely killed the deceased. Brilliant.

And here we take a quick break for some commercials, most notably for a few words from one Charles Atlas.

Now I'm at a bit of a loss here. If I ran a high-profile publishing business that had a contract with a man as threateningly muscled as Charles Atlas, then the last thing that I would do would be to risk ticking him off. And yet, a mere three pages after that ad that he entrusted them with his money for, someone at Marvel decided to risk discrediting his image:

Let's hope that the 'Charles Atlas rejects' in question aren't made to look too stupid then.

And they'd better appear strong.

And I really hope that Spidey doesn't make a lot of fun of them.

Author Len Wein must be a brave man, for after publicly ridiculing the real-life incredible hulk's rejects, his script then sets about camping-up New York's hoodlum community:

Suffice to say that another big fight ensues, in which Spidey once again whoops everyone's asses and, yeah, yeah I'll stop that now.

Anyway, with two suspects ruled-out, (really a given as soon as he'd narrowed it down to three) Spidey begins surely his final search, for suspect #3. Unfortunately, after a bit of comic relief (if that's possible), it turns out that the computer's third suspect has an even better alibi than the first two. He'd actually died three days before Smith's murder. Stoopid computer.

Or perhaps I should say, stoopid Spider-Man, for his rather quaint trust in the computer's infallibility.

But once Spidey's world-view is shattered by the notion that a computer's intelligence might actually not be 100% reliable after all, it's just a matter of time before he figures out who really dunit.

Clearly, this IBM-becile (great line!) ain't no two-bit Charles Atlas reject. Those names it had given him earlier were just a load of Honeywell-Bull. As the computer throws Googleys at him, Spider-Man leaps around the Compaqt room as he tries to send the machine Hewlett-Pack(ard)ing. (I'm trying to riff) Fighting for his very life, Spidey's mind furiously races for an answer. Then suddenly it comes to him.

He quickly nips outside and goes off on a date with Mary Jane for a page.

Spidey then presumably rushes back to the IM-becile, (still having a go) where the true scale of his opponent's evil becomes clear.

*gasp!* Stuff you, Mary Jane! I sure hope she never marries him now, but still not enough to call in Mephisto.

Suffice to say, Spidey defeats the computer using his ingenuity rather than his strength, and here in the 21st century it's truly refreshing to read a tale about an evil computer that, just for once, isn't defeated by a computer virus.

Even better, the amazing punchline that closes the tale is the sort of denouement that no-one who reads this story can ever forget afterwards. Have YOU read this comic? Do you remember the last line? Of course you do.

But for those of you who haven't, I won't spoil it if you don't want me to. Seek out a copy of this issue (or buy the reprint here) and bask in the warm glow of Spidey at his most investigatively entertaining.

Or if you can't wait that long for such a groaner, in the meantime you could compare the title of this story with the villain's name...


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