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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Tales from The Vault: Marvel Team-Up #127 (1983)


There's a strong suggestion in Marvel Team-Up #127 that this is the first time Spider-Man has encountered the enigmatic Watcher. Not only does Peter Parker not recognise Uatu, but he doesn't know his name or understand The Watcher's enigmatic modus operandi.

To be honest, Small Miracles isn't a great story, scripted by JM DeMatteis and drawn by Kerry Sammill, but it's odd enough to merit inspection.

While a Christmas-themed tale, it's certainly no Christmas Carol or It's A Wonderful Life.

That said, although it might not tie-up all its loose-ends, it stands as a festive reminder of when comic book stories were 'one-and-done', a single story in a single issue, with none of this 'writing for the trades' padding plots that could be wrapped in 20 or so pages out to four or six issues.

Throughout this story, Spider-Man essentially acts as The Watcher's sock puppet, being led - almost by the nose - from point A to point B, with only the semblance of free will.

It's Christmas eve and Peter has dropped in on Aunt May and her wheelchair-bound fiancé Nathan Lubensky, and their friends, for some seasonal celebrations.

Unfortunately, the usually jovial Mr Chekov is rather down as his granddaughter, Bette, hasn't put in an appearance. Her parents were killed in a plane-crash, as were Peter's (although, sadly, nothing is made of this, or a subsequent 'fllashback'-potential moment towards the end of the story), and she has become distant with her grandfather.

Peter tries to be positive, but then his spider-senses go off and he races outside into a snowstorm. Suddenly he is wearing his costume and standing before him  is the taciturn, bald giant, Uatu The Watcher, offering him a spherical jewel... in which is an image of Bette Chekov.

Spider-Man has the sudden feeling that he is supposed to find her, but no idea of how. Eventually he resorts to "directory assistance" (remember that, kiddies?), which sends him to an address in Brooklyn Heights.

Arriving there, Spidey discovers the police and ambulance service removing the dead body of Bette's flatmate. A very Sgt Bullock-like detective tells Spider-Man that there was "a few thousand bucks worth of cocaine" in the apartment.

Spider-Man still has no clue where to find Bette, or any idea of what she is tangled up in, and just as he's losing his usual confidence, he bumps into Captain America on a rooftop:


Cap gives him a good, morale-boosting, talking-to and once Spidey's bucked his ideas up, Uatu beams him another clue through the magical ball, sending him to a dive bar called Jimmy's Corner.

After rousting the patrons of the bar uncovers no leads, Spidey overhears a couple arguing in an apartment above Jimmy's Corner, and realises it's Bette and a thug called Buck Todd.

Buck had stolen the cocaine from The Mob, and the gangsters had come looking for it, killing Bette's flatmate and trailing Bette to Buck's place.

There's a big showdown, during which Bette appears to be fatally shot while fleeing. Spidey is heart-broken - no doubt having Gwen Stacy/Uncle Ben-level flashbacks - until The Watcher appears... and "tricks" Spidey into putting things right:


It turns out that every Christmas Eve, Uatu allows himself to help humanity ("One night to be... as a brother to them") in ways his fellow Watchers might deem insignificant and beneath their notice.

In this case, he was steering Spider-Man to help Bette Chekov escape the life she had stumbled into and return to the loving bosom of her family.

Small Miracles leaves us with plenty of unanswered questions. For instance, the pivotal cocaine theft, and Bette's involvement with it, isn't clearly spelled out (What's her connection to Buck? Were they planning to sell it on or snort it? Was this lack of judgement on Bette's behalf a result of the death of her parents?).

And while Uatu's involvement in the plot takes enigmatic to a whole new level, it makes me miss the character's iconic role in the Marvel Universe.

Hopefully the most recent post-Secret Wars reboot - or the inevitable next one down the line - will restore him to his rightful place... in the 'Blue Area', on the dark side of The Moon, looking out for us all down here on planet Earth.

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