Or – “Although, It May Possibly Be #35, In Actuality…Â We’re Not Sure.”
For a couple of years now, even before the “Brand New Day” event gave us what is essentially rebooted 70’s Spider-Man, there has been a question in the Spider titles as to the identity of the red-haired young lady in the hip green and gold bell-bottoms.Â There is at least one obvious suspect, of course, but that only illustrates the problem with a mystery of this type: either it’s somebody we know, or it’s somebody we don’t know.Â If it’s somebody we know, readers will complain that the mystery was too obvious.Â If it’s somebody we don’t know, readers will complain that they don’t care.Â Prepare your various whining states now, ladies and gentlemen, for answers lie within…
Is he strong? Listen, bud, he’s got radioactive blood!
Can he swing from a thread? Take a look overhead!
Hey there! There goes the Spider-Man!
In the chill of night, at the scene of the crime
Like a streak of light, he arrives just in time!
Spider-Man, Spider-Man, friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!
Wealth and fame he’s ignored, action is his reward!
To him, life is a great big bang-up!
Wherever there’s a hang-up, you’ll find the Spider-Maaaaaaan!
We start the book with a flashback, actually, giving us pretty much all we need to know about the mysterious woman called Jackpot, showing her history with Spider-Man, with the villainous Walter DeClun, and the moment where she and Spidey shared their secret identities with one another.Â She gives him the name “Sara Ehret” (which feels like an anagram for something) and he gives her “Flash Thompson.”Â Cut to the (relative) present, as Spider-Man arrives at Sara’s window in an attempt to make amends with her (for something I don’t know about, that doesn’t really matter, because it’s just the MacGuffin) but gets nothing but confusion in return.Â As soon as he leaves, Sara funs for the phone and calls someone called “Alana…”Â “We have to talk, Tiger.Â The usual place.Â Ten tonight.”Â Immediately we cut to Spider-Man fighting a villain called Blindside, during which fight he is blinded by the villain.Â Luckily, Jackpot arrives and saves his spider-bacon and the twosome cuts out.Â Spider-Man reveals that he knows she’s not Sara, and she responds that he’s not Flash, either.Â Jackpot blames millionaire Walter DeClun for Blindside, the villain called Menace, as well as convincing the media to slander her like they do Spidey.Â He asks who she really is, and she leaps off a building, saying “Why don’t you register and find out?”Â Pete instead takes the coffee cup she was drinking and decides to take another route.
Spider-Man consults with a couple of experts on his recent events, the first being Reed “Mr. Fantastic” Richards, who explains that Blindside’s powers are actually a side-effect of a special neurotoxin, developed by (wait for it) DeClun International.Â The other is Betty Brant, intrepid reporter for the DB, who lets Peter callin a favor, and agrees to run the fingerprints on the cup to find out who Jackpot really is.Â She also takes Peter along as she interviews DeClun himself (who was apparently stabbed in the eyes by Wolverine some issues ago.)Â Mike McKone’s art is gorgeous in this sequence, showing body language, and expressiveness that most artists can only dream of…Â Peter uses the interview to grill Walter about whether he owns any businesses that might make neurotoxins, and he lies through his teeth that he doesn’t know for sure.Â Some time later, Betty chastises Parker for his lack of discretion with Walter, but then gives him a name for the prints:Â Alana Jobson.Â Spider-Man shows up at Alana’s apartment, and starts rifling through her things, only to find the lady herself returning home unexpectedly (but not until AFTER he finds her stash of drugs.)Â As she starts undressing, Spidey is horrified to see her terrible case of “backne,” a sure sign that she’s on steroids.Â Jackpot punches him out for spying, but is eventually coerced to admit the truth.Â She’s on a cocktail of MGH, hormones, steroids and speed, and bought the Jackpot identity from Sara.Â Spider-Man convinces her to stop before she gets killed, and convinces her to give him her research on DeClun…
The files tell him all he needs to know about Blindside, and Spider-Man shows up at the villain’s home.Â “Hi, Blindside.Â This a bad time?”Â B.S. tries to use his power, but chemistry genius Parker has concocted an antidote to the toxin, and takes him down quickly…Â only to be downed by the villain’s girlfriend (Commanda, one of the characters from the massively underrated “Untold Tales of Spider-Man” book that Kurt Busiek wrote a couple of years ago…)Â Jackpot arrives just in time to even the odds, and we embark on the fighty-fighty.Â Spidey takes down Commanda, and Jackpot getsÂ poisoned by Blindside, only to have Spider-Man give her the antidote.Â The take the villains down easily, when Jackpot suddenly doubles over and convulses.Â As a horrified Spider-Man watches, Jackpot literally dies in his arms.
Later, Parker talks to Reed, who explains that her body just gave out from an overload of all the drugs in her system, and that it was Blindside’s toxin and NOT Spidey’s antitoxin that killed her.Â Peter then visits Sara Ehret, dropping off her dead friend’s costume in a show of unusual morbidity for him, reminding her about the bit regarding power and responsiblahblahblah fishcakes.Â “You say you don’t want the responsibility?Â Guess what?Â People like us…Â we don’t get a choice.”Â Sara considers her spandex for a moment as we fade to black.
So, who is Jackpot?Â Apparently, she’s a Nancy Reagan PSA lost in time for a couple of decades.Â Like I said up top, either she was Mary Jane or she wasn’t, and either way there’s negatives to her identity.Â Jackpot’s costume, her demeanor, and her overall sauciness led me to really like her, even given the few interactions that I’ve had with her, and I’m saddened to think that she’s probably going to be nothing more than a footnote in Spider-Man’s history, a living example that drugs’re bad, mmmkay?Â Still, it’s not a terrible issue, with a nice turn by Marc Guggenheim in terms of Betty’s characterization, Spider-Man is suitably irreverant and fun, Reed’s cameo is well-handled and the art is absolutely amazing throughout the issue.Â Walter DeClun falls absolutely flat for me, though, a poor man’s Kingpin, and Alana’s death was weirdly anticlimactic.Â Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 earns a better than average 3 out of 5 stars, giving me a new appreciation for Guggenheim’s work (I found his Wolverine run to be simplistic and insipid, and will remind the court that he was the one who wrote the “every cell of his body boiled away by Nitro and regenerated in about sixty seconds flat” scene) and reminding me why I love McKone so much.Â I just hope that Sara takes up the Jackpot identity again, because that costume is just plain too excellent to leave unused…