DrunkWooky Retro Comic Review: Spectacular Spider-Man Death of Jean DeWolff (Spectacular Spider-Man 107-110) (Peter David, Rich Buckler, 1985)

Beware, minor spoilers ahead! I won’t spoil everything, though!

Nick Spencer’s Amazing Spider-Man event, Sins Rising is set to begin in earnest this week with the release of Amazing Spider-Man 45 (2020). The event focuses on the return of one of Spider-Man’s most intriguing villains, Sin-Eater.

To prepare, I re-read Sin-Eater’s prior storylines and I’ve been adding reviews to our master Sins Rising Reading Order.

It makes sense that we start at the beginning. The Death of Jean DeWolff is a story line that spans Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man (1976) ## 107-110. You can pick it up through physical copies in both trade paperback and single issues (107, 108, 109, 110) depending on your preference. It’s also, of course, available digitally through services like Comixology. Sin-Eater’s first appearance is in Spectacular Spider-Man #107.

The Death of Jean DeWolff starts with, well the Death of Jean DeWolff. Jean is a contact of Spider-Man’s within the NYPD and has helped him out with his vigilante efforts in the past. Hearing the news, Peter is understandably shaken and takes a personal interest in the case. He connect with the NYPD’s lead detective on the case, Stan Carter, in a seldom seen team-up with official law enforcement. The NYPD are on the hunt for a masked man calling himself the “Sin-Eater”, a highly religious man who has taken it upon himself to cleanse the world of sinners with his shotgun.

Meanwhile, Aunt May’s live in boyfriend is mugged in the street, leading to some heated differences of opinion with Matt Murdock when the plain clothes Daredevil takes up the muggers’ defense in court. This small side story sets up Spider-Man and Daredevil’s opposing views on justice. Daredevil is a true believer in the criminal justice system, fighting for the accused to have their day in court. Peter, on the other hand finds it hard to separate his personal interest in the wrongs committed.

There are many twists and turns throughout this original story arc and I don’t want to give them all away. The surprise twists really flesh out the feel of this story as a street-level crime noire mystery, rather than Spider-Man’s other more fantastical adventures. Sometimes a twist can come off as cheesy, subverting the expectations of the reader just for the sake of the gimmick. The twists within these pages, have real meat to the bones, though.

What’s striking about this story line is not only the graphic gun violence that Sin-Eater is depicted using, but also the borderline lengths to which Spider-Man goes to solve this case. Therein lies Daredevil’s problem with Spider-Man’s methods. Spider-Man has never been strictly above board with the law, but he’s always been fair with his villains, and he’s not a killer. In the Death of Jean DeWolff, Spider-Man barges in on Kingpin without the slightest suspicion leading him to do so, endangers a low level thug in a diner by implying they’re working together in front of other low level criminal elements, and finally, in the end, beats Sin-Eater to a pulp. This beating will come back to haunt him when he next revisits Sin-Eater.

The Death of Jean DeWolff examines the limits to which Spider-Man is willing to take himself in pursuit of justice. Where are his lines, will he cross them, is he really unbiased, impartial? This story line asks these types of questions and that, I believe, is what makes it a classic.

Sin-Eater as a villain is not particularly spectacular in his own right at this moment. He has no real super powers beyond heightened strength gifted to him during a stint in S.H.I.E.L.D. and his motivation (religion) is somewhat unidimensional and lacks depth at this point in Spider-Man publication history (Nick Spencer will take care of that in the Sins Rising Prelude). Spider-Man’s inner conflict, as reflected by Daredevil, is what really makes this story stick, however. Other players like J. Jonah Jameson, May’s tenant/boyfriend, and a couple “men on the street” nail the differing view points home and in the end, Spider-Man learns something about his limits.

This story has a lot of lesser elements going for it as well. It’s a great Daredevil story in addition to a Spider-Man story. It has Matt and Peter revealing their secret identities to each other. The story of Jean DeWolff’s murder was also the impetus for Eddie Brock’s firing from the Daily Bugle and descent into his villainous Venom identity. It just works on a lot of different levels and represents some of Peter David’s best work. If I were in Nick Spencer’s shoes, I don’t know if I would have been smart enough to revisit this lesser famous Spider-Man storyline, but I’m sure glad he is. As we’ll see when we get to Spectacular Spider-Man 134-136, the Sin-Eater only gets more complex as a character and there’s a lot of interesting aspect to explore.

Is the Death of Jean DeWolff an absolute must-read for Nick Spencer’s Sins Rising event? I’d say so. If you want, you can skip it and just read Nick Spencer’s Sins Rising Prelude, but I don’t know why you’d deprive yourself. The Sins Rising Prelude really adds to the Death of Jean DeWolff story line more than replaces it.

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