The empress of hate, Nekra, is stirring up trouble in Cape Cod, Massachusetts! Spider-Man's in town, but even with the help of everyone's favorite scientific adventurer, Hank Pym, can Spidey save the people of Cape Cod from themselves?
Peter Parker, all dressed up in a coat and tie (but with the sleeves of his jacket and shirt pushed up to his elbows so he looks, you know, really cool) is on a promotional tour for his book of Spidey photos called "Webs". (This was quite a big deal at the time and gave the Spidey writers an excuse to send Peter all over the country, turning him into quite a celebrity. However, like many other past storylines, it seems to have been completely forgotten and Peter is back to just being a regular anonymous working-stiff again.) The tour has made its way to Shriver Cove, Massachusetts on Cape Cod, just in time for some blonde-haired guy in a white tank top, green shorts and white tennies to run out of a church, yelling "Hate outsiders! Kill them! Hate!" just as Peter is being let out of his car. There is a guy with curly red hair named Jeff Wainwright who is holding the car door open for Pete and the attack happens so fast that he can do nothing about it. Did I say attack? Well, yes. The blonde guy leaps at Peter, grabs him by the neck and tries to twist his head off. Still for all his manic cries of "Hate!" and "Kill!" the guy only has normal strength while Peter has the proportional strength of a spider. He braces himself against the attack, and then uses a little leverage to flip the guy over his head in such a way so that it looks like he's only a karate expert or something, just as the local police arrive on the scene. The cops seem to know the attacker (after all, they call me by name... "Dan") and they cuff him and take him away. Jeff takes Peter's suitcase and leads him to the Inn in which he is staying, which is all the way across town, as far as I can tell from all the walking they do, so why they didn't just drive over there instead of parking next to the church is way beyond me.
Anyway, Peter asks Jeff about the attack. Jeff is one of those guys who speaks "movie", comparing everything to his favorite films, and after he invokes "the Stepford Wives", "High Noon", "Deliverance", and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" in about three sentences, he comes to his point which is that Dan is "just a therapy patient" and that there's nothing particularly unusual about this old creepy-looking seaside town.
Pete comments on the quaintness of the town and wonders why such a small place was included on his tour. "Size isn't everything, Pete," says Jeff and he goes on to explain that "up on the bluffs is the most powerful TV transmitter in this part of the state" that will reach "people through here that Boston stations can't touch". (This is a sterling example of "defensive exposition"; the writer hitting you with an explanation for a loophole in his plot before you even get around to wondering about it. A pretty successful job of it, too, Richard, if I do say so myself.)
As the two men arrive at the Inn, which is a nineteenth century wooden behemoth with a large shaded porch and a balcony up on the second floor, Jeff tells Pete that there have been "several instances of those irrational flare-ups since the beginning of the year". Those other instances have been "mainly unexplained vandalism at night" but he does add that, "last week Elwood got paranoid and flipped out in his own hardware store". (Ah, I see. It's such a small town, everybody just knows everybody else by their first names!) Elwood managed to "pretty near" wreck his place while he was at it.
Jeff takes Pete into the Inn where Evie is working the check-in counter. Jeff introduces her to Pete as he further explains that the whole town is under a lot of stress because of some expansion going on. "Most everyone's been up to the clinic at one time or another," he says. Then as Pete signs the register, Jeff goes over to the water fountain and helps himself to a big drink. (But it's not like I want to make a big point out of that and spoil what's coming or anything.) He tells Pete to relax and get a good night's sleep. "I'll be back to pick you up tomorrow morning at seven" he says.
But Pete is too restless to sleep. Here he is in yet another town in yet another motel room facing yet another interview, so he lies in bed in the nude with his hands behind his head and thinks about Mary Jane. (At least, I think he's in the nude. The bedspread conveniently covers his midsection.) He misses her when he's on the road like this and he ends up talking to her answering service when he calls more often than he gets to actually talk to her. He wishes the tour would end so that he can get back home to her. And it's then that an explosion erupts right outside his window; an explosion powerful enough to knock over a lamp and break the top of the windowpane. Pete peeks out the window and sees a crazed mob, yelling, "Kill the outsider" and "Hate outsiders" and "Kill him!" And not only that but this bunch of yahoos has blown up Peter's car! (Not that it is actually Peter's car. Isn't it actually Jeff's car? And didn't they leave it parked on the other side of town?) The heck with Jeff's theory that the town is stressed! "If stress can cause that" Pete thinks, "then this town must be run by Juan Valdez!" (You know, the coffee guy. Don't worry; it's not one of Pete's best.) He decides the next step is to add a heaping teaspoon of Spider-Man.
In seconds, Pete climbs into his Spidey suit, web-swings outside, and perches on a tree next to the rioters. He quips to the mob, "Is that any way to treat a poor rent-a-car? They say firebombing really Hertz". (So, that answers the question of the car's ownership... but does Pete even have a driver's license?) The mob never misses a beat. The guy in the white sleeveless t-shirt yells out, "Another outsider! Spider-Man!" the guy with the rake exclaims, "Let's get him! Kill him!" and the guy with the hat cries, "Hate Spider-Man!" Not that it does them any good. Spidey jumps from the tree and does a few flips through the crowd, punching people out as he goes. Then he shoots out some webbing and the whole mob is subdued. He grabs the guy in the white t-shirt (which has now miraculously become a green t-shirt) and demands an explanation but all he gets is a whole bunch of "Hate hate hate" before the guy passes right out. Spidey looks around and realizes that every member of the mob has passed out. He doesn't know what else to do so he just web-swings back up to his bedroom.
But when he gets there, peeking in from outside, he sees that his whole room has been demolished. Just then, his phone rings. Pete rushes inside, removes his mask and answers it. It is Jeff on the line giving him the bad news that his "car's been destroyed". Pete plays dumb about it. Jeff, perched on his kitchen counter wearing a white sleeveless t-shirt and his skivvies (the outfit of choice in this town), tells Pete "some partyers got out of hand". He assures him that he'll arrange for a new car but tells him that he may have to stay in town an extra day. This is the last thing Peter wants to hear. He crouches on the floor of his ruined room and thinks, "I'd rather sell USA Today in Latveria."
The next day, however, Pete puts the best face he can on it and goes out to be interviewed on the TV program, "Cape Cod Today!" He again wears that jacket with the sleeves pushed up but he has forsaken the tie for a v-neck t-shirt and a neck choker or some kind, all of which makes him look like some European gigolo. (I'm ashamed at the sight of it.) Pete is just finishing up a story about Flash Thompson forming "one of the first Spider-Man fan clubs" as an explanation for why "Spidey was a natural subject for my photographic studies". The interviewer (whose name is Jeanette Latour, for all you trivia buffs) tells all her viewers to be back tomorrow for "our special investigative report on the perils of having a smoker in the family" and the guy in the funny hat and dinosaur sleeveless t-shirt tells the control booth to "cue the Pillsbury spot" and wrap the show. Afterward, Jeff comes up to Pete, thumps him on the back and tells him that he "handled that promo like a pro". Then Richard remembers that Jeff is supposed to talk in moviespeak so he has Jeff makes some references to "Broadcast News" and "Network". But Pete can't get over the strangeness of all this. "Last night it was mob violence and today everyone's sunshiny," he thinks. Not only that but "the hotel took the room damages in stride" as if they expected it.
The two men leave the studio. Behind them Jeannette Latour lights up a cigarette (Hah! "Perils of having a smoker in the family." Get it?) and asks her assistant Carolyn for her day's itinerary. She is particularly concerned that Carolyn managed to schedule her a "session with Ms Hatros". Carolyn assures her that the session is scheduled, and then asks if she can leave early this evening. She has a clinic appointment herself. Just outside, Jeff tells Peter that he must fend for himself this afternoon. Jeff has a therapy session at the Hatros Clinic as well! Peter asks him about the clinic and Jeff points it out. It's the spooky looking old house on the top of the hill (Of course it is.) though Jeff assures Peter that it is "full of concerned sympathetic professionals". Jeff tells Pete that he has never met Ms Hatros "but her staff is very capable and helpful".
And that seems to be the case when Jeff shows up for his appointment. He is early but Katie, the receptionist, is all smiles. "Ms Hatros's staff is ready for you. Just go right in." She says. Things are completely different, however, when Peter flashes his press card and tries to get in to see Ms Hatros. Katie sits back in her chair, crosses her arms, and frowns. "I have standing orders to discourage all publicity and all outsiders", she tells Mr. Parker. (All of this could have made a nifty little mystery except that they plastered a big picture of Nekra on the cover with the caption, "Nekra in New England!" Gee, I wonder who this Ms Hatros could be, anyway?)
Peter takes his cue and leaves but he's not ready to give up. Katie's use of the word "outsiders" reminds him too much of the angry mob for him to stop now. He stands on the grass outside and looks up at the wall of the building. It has a large air vent that is perfectly suited for a little wall-crawler spying. So, Pete dons the Spidey duds again and wanders through the twists and turns of the air vent. He stops when he hears music and chanting coming from one of the rooms and he peers out through the grate to see what the deal is. Jeff is in the room, sitting in an armchair. A strobe on a coffee table sends out disorienting light flashes. Music pounds out of two speakers. ("Dom dom da dom"... I think that's "Come Go With Me" by the Del-Vikings.) Four scantily clad people (two women and two men) dance around Jeff. They chant "You are in our power now" and "Your suppressed hatred longs to break through" and "Hate is power" and other nifty things like that. And it works. Jeff goes from looking blank to looking really cheesed off. Then he starts yelling, "Hate outsiders!" and we all know the name of that tune. But it's not enough for the chanters to convert Jeff, of course. They also have to blurt out some important exposition so we can learn it and Spidey can overhear it. "Once the drug in the water weakens their resistance, they make perfect converts to our cult!" says one. (Remember Jeff at the water fountain?)
So, Spidey busts in, busts heads, saves Jeff, and saves the day, right? Uh, no. He doesn't do a thing about it! Worried that this kind of programming is happening to the whole town, the fearless web-slinger immediately decides this is more than he can cope with. After all, what does he know about newfangled things like chants and lights and drugs in the water? I mean, he's only done unimpressive things like create a serum to change the Lizard back to Dr. Connors. "This is out of my field" he determines as he backs away from the room and exits the air vent into some storage area, "What I need is a genius bio-chemist who is willing to travel." And speaking of Dr. Connors, Spidey first thinks to go to see him but he worries that Curt could turn into the Lizard at some delicate moment and ruin everything. "Luckily" he thinks, "there is someone else." And so, dispensing with all reason and intelligence, Spidey saunters over to a phone built into the wall of the storage room (and don't ask me why that's there) rather than sneak out the way he came in and use the phone in his hotel room. On his way there, with no warning from his spider-sense, he walks through an electric eye-beam, which seems to be doing nothing but protecting the telephone, and it sets off a bunch of sirens. Good old doofus Spidey still has the phone in his hand when the doors to the room burst open. In the lead is a red-haired guy carrying a gun. He is flanked by two characters in turbans and loincloths who are carrying scimitars. (Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse.) The red-haired guy orders Spidey to "hold it you... or I'll shoot" but the webhead isn't going to fall for that old saw. He leaps up to the wall and goes back into the air duct. "See you later, agitator!" he calls out as he exits. (And if that pun caused you pain, you're going to love the next panel when Spidey tells himself, "This is fast becoming an episode of Duct Tales.")
So, the wall-crawler has learned his lesson, exits the building and goes to his hotel room to put in his call, right? Uh, no. With sirens going and thugs looking for him, Spidey just crawls through the duct to an empty office that he decides, "should be safe" for no reason whatsoever. But our hero's no fool. Instead of exiting the duct this time, he hangs down from the ceiling, grabs the phone and calls upside-down. Not that that's going to make him vulnerable or anything. And, on top of all that, he makes a long-distance call to Rancho Palos Verdes, California where the West Coast Avengers have their headquarters.
The Scarlet Witch who is lounging around the pool in her bikini answers the phone. When Spidey identifies himself, Wanda doesn't believe it's really him. She tests him by asking, "what was it that drove the terrible toad-king away" in their last team-up (which was in Vision and the Scarlet Witch, Volume 2 #11, August 1986 and penciled by Richard Howell). Spidey replies that it was the sight of Wanda's pregnant stomach that did the trick. (Don't ask! And don't ask about the twin boys Wanda gave birth to either. They were later revealed to be illusions in one of the cruelest retcons of all time. Thanks John Byrne!)
Now that Wanda is ready to believe she is talking to Spidey, she asks him what's what. He tells her he has come upon "a whole town of people here who're being mind-altered via some drug in the water supply and I'm not qualified to neutralize it". He asks her to send Dr. Hank Pym right away! Some guy on the diving board (who is apparently supposed to be the Vision but who has been accidentally colored in Caucasian flesh-tones) asks Wanda if anything's wrong and Wanda asks Spidey if the Scarlet Witch and Vision can help out but the wall-crawler tells her that Dr. Pym is the one he needs. Wanda promises to contact Hank. Just then the red-haired guy and the scimitar-types arrive at the door of the office and Spidey must make his escape before the bad guys can see him. (Only instead of showing him in the air duct, Richard shows him jumping up to some network of pipes up near a ceiling that is suddenly twice as high as it was before. Oh, and all the furniture in the office disappears. God knows what that is all about.)
We can now see that the red-haired guy is wearing a green shirt and red suspenders. (Bad fashion must be a requirement in this town.) He tells his turban-wearing buddies that the room is empty. (Yeah, like I said. All the furniture disappeared.) Still, he decides "Spider-Man's presence in town must be reported immediately to the master". ("The master"? Good Lord, this whole thing could turn into "Manos: The Hands of Fate"!) "We three must descend to the underworld," he says. "Yes, Brother Noone" says one of the loincloth guys. ("Brother Noone". That explains his look. He must be Peter Noone, formerly of the Herman's Hermits.)
Down in a cavern beneath the clinic, Brother Noone reports Spidey's presence to a figure under an arch, standing in shadow. The figure tells him that "these costumed interlopers travel in packs" and tells Brother Noone to "increase the patrols and bring any new outsiders to me".
And the timing of this conversation couldn't be better for the bad guys because, mere "hours later", Dr. Pym arrives on the scene.
Dr. Henry Pym is the biochemist that developed the shrink and growth gas that has allowed him to be Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Goliath, and Yellowjacket over the years. At this point in time, Hank has forsaken all super-hero identities and just goes around in a dorky-looking red jump suit; flying in a "robotic bug-ship" he calls Rover. His gimmick is that he uses his shrinking and enlarging gases on objects rather than on himself, allowing him to carry miniature versions of all sort of weapons and tools that he can then instantly enlarge and use in a tight fix.
As he steers Rover in for a landing "outside the town reservoir", Hank can't stop thinking about the amazing re-appearance of his first wife Maria who he has thought was dead. (This all happened in the West Coast Avengers issues at the time. I can't remember what finally happened to Maria, though I think the whole thing was wrapped up in an issue of Solo Avengers. If anybody can recall this, how about dropping me a line and letting me know?) He exits his cybernetic ship and walks right into the glow of a big setting sun. He goes over the information Rover has provided about Shriver Cove. It had been a perfectly ordinary community until a few months ago when it "started discouraging vacationers". Then evidence surfaced of "a selective news blackout... as if the town is isolating itself". Armed with the information from Spider-Man that there is a drug in the water, Dr. Pym settles in at the reservoir, uses his gas to expand a microscopic lab set to full size and takes a water sample. It doesn't take Hank look to isolate the drug. It is "a crude native substance... developed by tribal chieftains in Africa". He knows the cure, which is "easy" to concoct. The only thing that surprises him is that such a "sophisticated effect" has been produced with such an unsophisticated drug. And that's when two guys in turbans and loin clothes jump Hank from behind and punch his lights out!
When Hank comes to, he is underground with two very white feet in blue high-heels standing by his head. This is the mysterious "master" who turns out to be a woman, which may have completely faked me out except that Nekra, as mentioned, is clearly shown on the cover. So, right, it's Nekra. "The high priestess of the cult of hatred" as Hank calls her. Nekra is a mutant; an albino (although she is the child of African-American parents and was inadvertently colored black on the cover of her very first appearance, her skin is milky, chalky white) with vampire-like canine teeth. Although originally quite attractive, Nekra seems to have continued to mutant, becoming more vampiric and evil-looking. (Actually she gets attractive again in a later appearance in Alpha Flight.) She has long black hair that is funneled through something that looks like a gold vase. (She has these vase things on her wrists and ankles, too.) She has some sort of brown low-cut vest/black overly-slitted dress combo on and she has topped this off with a blue Dracula cape with a very high collar. In other words, her fashion sense is as bad as everyone else in this town.
As soon as he sees her, Hank realizes that the source of the drug makes perfect sense. After all, Nekra first appeared publicly in Africa and she "probably used it in [her] cult ceremonies" back there. Nekra rightly chides Hank with, "How smart you can be once the situation explains itself to you!"
After delivering her little dig of "how smart you can be", Nekra goes on to marvel at "how unbalanced it should be" that louts like Hank Pym cost her "soul-mate" the Grim Reaper his life. She points out a casket behind her. It is propped up against the wall and the top half is glass so that we can see the Grim Reaper inside. Nekra tells Hank of her "pledge to restore [the Reaper] to full life... a life at my side". After that, she plans to join her man on a spree "to terrorize our enemies with hatred and death".
Nekra laughs at the notion of "the uniting of the two most powerful forces on earth" ("Only because there's no high priestess of taxes" replies the witty Dr. Pym) even as a couple of her turban guys get Hank on his feet and pin his arms behind his back. She tells him he is "about to die at the hands of hatred's many believers". Then a voice is heard from the top of the cavern. Nekra looks up to see the Amazing Spider-Man clinging to a stalactite and mocking her with "I'd stop being a believer once I saw your face, Fangs!" but she isn't intimidated by this. Instead, she spews out a whole bunch of her personal "hate dogma" and finishes by promising that she will soon control everyone in town. Once she takes care of Spidey and Dr. Pym, that is.
Spidey's response is to shoot webbing all over her but Nekra just channels her hatred "into unmatchable strength" and tears the webbing to shreds. This is Spidey's first exposure to Nekra and he is suitably impressed. "Wow!" he thinks, "She's a powerhouse, all right!" Nekra then goes on the offensive. She rips a big hunk of rock off of the cavern floor and wings it at the web-slinger. Spidey leaps away from the attack ("For all your strength, you throw like a girl!" he taunts), shoots out a web-line and swings above the entire turban-wearing group. He has enough time to recognize Jeff among the thugs (mainly because Jeff is such a new convert that he hasn't been given the loincloth and turban yet... but was Jeff "Brother Noone"? He had red hair, didn't wear the turban either, and he seems to have disappeared.), then he lets go of his web and lands on a handful of the cultists, yelling, "Heads up, you thugees, 'cause ol' Spidey's opened the Bombay doors!" (If there were a list of Spidey's worst puns, I would have to vote for that one to be in the top five.) The pedantic Hank Pym can't stop himself from pointing out that the cult "is based in Africa" rather than India "though I admit" he adds, "the distinction gets blunted this far north". (Which means what? People in Cape Cod don't know the difference between Africa and Asia?) All of which is besides the point anyway... the point being that Spidey's attack has set Hank Pym free.
Spider-Man finishes his leaping and ends up on the ground on all fours. Two cultists approach from opposite sides, both carrying scimitars with one yelling, "We outnumber them, and we embrace the true way!" Spidey, still not with the program, wonders aloud how Nekra imported all these cultists from overseas. Hank wises him up by explaining that these characters with turbans, loincloths and scimitars are actually the local townspeople. "Nekra's cult must have a strict dress code then, eh?" Spidey says as he leaps away, leaving the two thugs to run into each other. He then wonders how they will ever snap the townspeople out of it. But Dr. Pym has the answer to that, too. He tells the web-slinger that he has already developed the antidote and that he just has to go "reach my chemicals". Nekra, however, has no intention of letting him do that. She comes up behind him, ranting and raving about "the unyielding hatred you deserve due to your creation of the accursed Vision" which is a little bit like blaming the grandfather for the grandson since Hank created Ultron and it was Ultron who created the Vision. Hank turns and chides her for her "half-witted" scheme. "Reports of Shriver Cove's isolation are already on file" he says and Spidey's call to the coast has informed the West Coast Avengers all about it. But Hank is really just trying to stall Nekra off, giving him time to throw two tiny objects into the air. The objects expand and become weapons that hover and start firing at Nekra. Unfortunately, the Priestess of Hate is practically indestructible. She doesn't even feel the blasts that hit her. The attack does distract Nekra enough so that Spidey can swing down, put a leg lock on her neck and swing back up in the air, towing her behind him.
Still, the wall-crawler doesn't have a set plan of what to do so when Dr. Pym yells out to "let her go" because "I know how to handle her", the wall-crawler immediately obeys. Nekra boasts that "a fall like this means nothing" but Spidey drops her anyway. Hank reveals that the whole idea is to keep Nekra off-balance so she "can't maintain [her] hate-state". As soon as Nekra reaches the ground, Hank blinds her with a bright flash of light, then expands this sort of motorized giant-tuning-fork-looking kind of thing which flies through the air and pins Nekra securely to the cave wall.
With Nekra temporarily occupied, Hank has time to get to his mini-lab which the cultists were nice enough to bring with them when they brought him from the reservoir. And here's enough stroke of good luck. The antidote doesn't have to be ingested. It just has to be sprayed on the victim. Even so, the ordeal is not over yet. The hypnotized cultists are still putting up a fight. Spidey is reluctant to keep punching out brainwashed innocents so he defers to Dr. Pym who just happens to have a "metal-sensitive grabber" in his pocket. He expands this miniature device to full size and it sucks all the guns and scimitars out of the hands of the attackers. But even though Pym seems to have every tiny device imaginable in his pockets, he somehow doesn't have a device that will spray the antidote. That's where Spidey comes in. He takes the vials of antidote, which just happen to be the exact same size as his web-cartridges, and plugs them into his web-shooters. He sets the shooters to fire the liquid in a wide spray. Dr. Pym explains that the "trances are dependent on Nekra's personality altering potion" which is immediately undermined by the chemical. In other words, the townspeople come out of it the instant they are hit by the spray. Jeff calls out, "Where am I?" A very practical townsman looks down at his loincloth and asks, "Where are my clothes?" Spidey explains, "Your whole town's been through a group nightmare... in which you'd all joined a cult of hatred". (I hate when that happens.) "Hate cult?" says one recovering turban wearer, "But I'm a pacifist!" And let's not ignore the one final film allusion from Jeff. "This sounds like Tim Matheson in Impulse" he says. (Actually I think he has one more allusion but we are ignoring that.)
But all of this explaining and film alluding has allowed Nekra to work up her hate again and she tears free of the tuning fork. (Off-panel, I might add. It's almost as if Richard just got tired of drawing her.) Spidey and Hank see (but we don't) that she has "shut herself in behind that steel door". What steel door? Well, that one that we're only seeing for the first time now. Dr. Pym tells Spidey that he has a gadget that will get through the door (I'd be disappointed if he didn't) but Spidey just pulls the door off of its hinges. Smoke enters the cave from the opening.
Unfortunately for our heroes, the cave leads outside and the smoke is exhaust from Nekra's departing airship. Hank explains that the ship belonged to the Grim Reaper (but he doesn't explain how Nekra had time to grab the Reaper's body and cart it away with her... and Richard doesn't bother to show it) and that his ship Rover is not fast enough to catch up with her now that Nekra has already taken to the air. So, that's it. "I'm afraid" says Hank, "this is the end of this particular trail".
Hank tells Spidey that he will dump some of his antidote in the reservoir, which should cure everyone "within hours". He offers Spidey a ride somewhere but the web-slinger refuses. "They're sending a car for me" he explains. Plus, he's still stinging too much from Nekra's escape... "after all the trouble she caused, the lives she disrupted"... to worry about such details. Hank knows how Spidey feels but, somehow, he also feels sorry for Nekra. "With her plan to restore her one love... thwarted, she's back to an existence of nothing but hopelessness and hate" he says. "I understand, Doc and I agree," says the wall-crawler, "No one should be condemned to a life without love."