As all hell breaks loose in Central Park thanks to Kraven's "Hunted" scheme, no one is safe. Least of all D-list Spider-Man villain the Gibbon, who just last issue was betrayed by the Vulture and left to the tender mercies of Kraven's weekend warrior kill-squad.
As Gibbon flees, his whole sad life flashes before his eyes. From his bullied childhood...
...to his humiliating first job as an adult...
...to his initial attempt at being Spider-Man's partner-in-crimefighting...
...and his not-so-stellar career as a villain...
...and, finally, to his failure as a husband.
As he manically runs for his life from Kraven's goon squad, he can't help but think: What chance does a loser like me have? Faced with a lifetime of failure and regret, he isn't sure if there's much of a chance at all.
The interstitial issues of “Hunted” allow writer Nick Spencer the chance to do some singularly-focused character work amidst the story’s greater chaos (and it’s worth noting that these .HU-numbered issues have thus far been stronger than the main story, which says something about Spencer’s strengths as a writer). And although on the surface of it, dedicating an entire issue to the Gibbon may seem like a strange choice – and for any other writer, it surely would be – but Spencer has a soft spot for D-list villains. Heck, he even wrote a whole series about them in the criminally-underrated Superior Foes of Spider-Man. More than anything, he seems to grasp that these small men and their small plans have a certain dignity to them, even when they’re getting bonked on the head by a billy club or webbed to a wall for the billionth time.
But, still – the Gibbon?
Spider-Man has a surplus of animal-themed villains floating around, so in a lot of ways this story could have been about Frogman or Kangaroo or the Grizzly just as easily as it’s about Gibbon. And in that regard – sad-sack outsider-turned-supercriminal now looks back on his life’s failures with regret as he fears he’s near the end – the story’s concept isn’t wholly original, especially given its relative interchangeability. (I mean, heck, it doesn’t even have to be about an animal-themed villain at all to have the same effect. What’s the Trapster up to these days?)
But, perhaps it’s relevant that the Gibbon was never given his due. A joke almost from the start – an afterthought from the tail end of Stan Lee’s original Amazing run before ceding the reins to Gerry Conway (who himself would conjure up plenty more animal-themed archnemeses to pester Spidey) – Gibbon was always just “that monkey guy.” He doesn’t even have the inherent goofiness of the Grizzly (who’s literally just a guy in a bear suit with his face sticking out!) or the weirdness of being the monkey guy with mind-control powers like Mandrill. He’s just… there, a punching bag that somehow didn’t get murderized by Scourge in the ’80s and then faded into the obscurity of dated villains past.
Honestly, there shouldn’t be much to say about a guy like Gibbon. And like I said, from an originality standpoint, there isn’t – his failed life story could be cut-and-pasted to any number of D-listers. But it’s noble that Spencer at least tried to give him his moment in the spotlight with a healthy dose of pathos and sadness. Gibbon’s backstory is cut between modern sequences of him running scared, getting more and more desperate as he realizes that he may not make it out of Kraven’s trap. And in the telling of it, as he potentially streaks toward the end of his story with a lifetime full of emptiness and regret, the monkey guy becomes the most human person in the story. And that’s Spencer’s trick: take the biggest punchline of a character and create a set of circumstances that forces readers to care about him.
Ken Lashley’s art doesn’t fare quite as well, though, in my opinion. It’s too heavily inked and has a smudgy look to it, and in general looks like it’s about twenty years outdated stylistically. But that aside, he does a great job of conveying Gibbon in a manner that shows the weight of the world on his shoulders, especially in his saggy posture and genuinely sad and fearful face as he fears for his life.
As I said before, it might have seemed like a bizarre choice to dedicate an entire issue – interlude or not – of a major storyline like “Hunted” to a half-remembered villain like Gibbon. But in doing so, Nick Spencer reminds us that in the correct writer’s hands, any character, no matter how silly or dated they may seem on the surface, is capable of having a real and compelling internal life – and therefore has value, even if only for a single issue.
Though not the most original story, Nick Spencer does a great job of selling the idea that the Gibbon is a character worth caring about. And in doing so, rewrites "Hunted" as a tragedy before the story is even half-done.
Amazing Spider-Man #18.HU: The Passion of the Gibbon
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 7/107/10
Art - 6/106/10
Color - 6.5/106.5/10
Cover Art - 5/105/10
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