BACK ISSUE TO THE FUTURE: “THE DEATH OF JEAN DeWOLFF”

Commentary by Sean H.

Peter David has had a storied career in comics. A lifelong fan of comics and a staple of the industry, he has written seminal storylines for both Marvel and DC, and he generally can be relied upon to this day for a quality read. However, back in 1985, he was still very much an undiscovered talent. He had written approximately one professional story of no particular note, and was still looking to get his big break. That break came in Spectacular Spider-Man #107, the beginnings of an arc entitled “The Death of Jean DeWolff”, which would run from #107 – #110. Now, Spider-Man is no stranger to losing loved ones, as Gwen Stacy will testify. However, whereas Gwen Stacy looms large over Spider-Man decades after her death, Jean DeWolff is a somewhat forgotten piece of the Spider-Man mythos. She was a dedicated member of NYPD who was to Spider-Man like Jim Gordon is to Batman. He considered her a trusted associate and personal friend who would provide him support in his battles with the criminal underworld. Her reward? She’s murdered in her own apartment by a deranged man with a shotgun, her life flashing before her eyes, all her hopes and dreams shattering, as she collapses on the floor in a pool of her own blood.

And that’s just the first couple pages.

Yeah, in case that didn’t tip you off, this story is dark. Very dark. There’s not a lot of humor to be had when Sin-Eater is involved. We see an increasingly unhinged Spider-Man embarking on a quest for personal revenge, with Daredevil acting as his conscience after one of his colleagues ends up as Sin-Eater’s second victim. Sin-Eater is an interesting anomaly in Spider-Man’s rogue’s gallery. Where most of Spidey’s enemies are evil geniuses with a penchant for causing chaos, Sin-Eater is little more than a man with a shotgun and a messiah complex, and it is this simplicity that makes him so uniquely disgusting. Peter David does what Jim Starlin did in the Death of Captain Marvel, only in reverse. Where Mar-Vell’s death still brings readers to tears, Sin-Eater inspires genuine hatred, and Peter David manipulates this masterfully. Spider-Man’s emotional state reflects the feelings of the reader. They are horrified by what is done to Jean, angered by Sin-Eater’s remorseless delusions of righteousness, and eager to see him brought to justice by any means necessary right up until the climax where the book slaps you in the face and asks “What’s wrong with you?!”. All illustrated by classic Marvel artist Rich Buckler, whose Silver Age style is filtered through a layer of grit and grime which elevates the tone of the book tremendously, similar to what Dave Gibbons would do in Watchmen a year later.

It’s a shame to me that this story seems to have slipped from the public consciousness. Unless you’re a super hardcore Spider-Man fan you probably don’t know much about Jean DeWolff or the original Sin-Eater. Or you’re Nick Spencer, who in just these past few months has resurrected Sin-Eater, and brought him back to the forefront against Spider-Man. So, if you’re interested to know who the guy in green and purple is or just want to read an excellent Spider-Man story, I would recommend giving it a look.

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