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Comic Book / The Death of Jean DeWolff

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The Death of Jean DeWolff is a four-part Spider-Man story arc. Written by Peter David in 1985-86, the story ran from #107 to #110 of Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man. The story was the second professional comic book writing assignment for David and the beginning of his "break" into comic book writing.

A call to police concerning a powerful stench in an apartment leads to a frightening discovery: Captain Jean DeWolff, a respected NYPD officer and Spider-Man's Friend on the Force, is dead, shot in the chest. When Spider-Man learns of this, he begins his search for the deadly "Sin-Eater", though will Spidey's Thou Shalt Not Kill rule survive as he grows more and more desperate and angry and can Daredevil help Spidey?

Peter David would revisit this saga two years later on the same title, rechristened "The Spectacular Spider-Man", running through issues #134-136 detailing the aftermath of the Sin-Eater attacks and titled Sin-Eater Released. Nick Spencer would create a Spiritual Sequel during his run on The Amazing Spider-Man entitled Sins Rising


Provides examples of:

  • Action Survivor: Betty Brant has no powers or fighting skills but is able to briefly fight off the Sin-Eater with a penknife. This keeps her alive just long enough for Spider-Man to save her and deal with the killer himself.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Judge Horace Rosenthal falls on his knees and begs the Sin-Eater to spare his life. Sadly, it doesn't work.
  • "Angry Black Man" Stereotype: Jackson Tolliver is an African-American priest who is depicted as having an understandable chip on his shoulder about systematic racism. When Reverend Bernard Finn, another black priest, is murdered by the Sin-Eater, Tolliver publicly calls out the police's apathy towards the deaths of black people.
  • Beware the Nice Ones: This story is one of the best examples of how terrifying Spider-Man can be when he is pushed too far. The first part of the story has him being especially ruthless to a group of thugs whom he witnessed assaulting and robbing a friend of his Aunt May. His quest to stop the Sin-Eater also brings out more of his dark side to the point that Daredevil accuses him of being not so different from the villain.
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  • Collateral Damage: During a fight with the Sin-Eater, Spider-Man dodges a blast from the villain's shotgun. Unfortunately, their fight is in a crowded area and the shot fatally hits a civilian. The Sin-Eater takes advantage of Spider-Man's shock and escapes.
  • Daddy's Girl: Jean greatly admired her stepfather Carl Weatherby, who was a patrolman. She became a cop because of him, much to the sorrow of her mother. He never cracked a smile at any of Jean's accomplishments but Jean always knew deep down that he was proud of her.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: The Sin-Eater targets people he views as "sinners". However, their sins basically amount to having different opinions from him:
    • Judge Horace Rosenthal was killed because he passed light sentences on criminals.
    • Reverend Bernard Finn was killed because he publicly spoke out against the death penalty.
    • J. Jonah Jameson was targeted because of his anti-vigilantism stance.
    • Subverted with Jean DeWolff. The Sin-Eater killed her because he enjoyed it. "Sin-Eater Released" has Carter's doctor opining that the Sin-Eater killed her because she represented a justice system that failed to save Carter's partner, whose death was the catalyst for his initial killing spree.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Jameson expresses sorrow and disgust over Jean's death. When Robbie points out that Jameson didn't even like Jean, Jameson responds, "I didn't like JFK either. That doesn't mean someone I don't like deserves to get killed".
  • Foreshadowing: In part one, Stan Carter says, "Costumed folks like [Spider-Man] don't concern me all that much. Obvious nuts I don't worry about. It's the quiet, unobvious nuts you have to watch". Spider-Man himself realizes in hindsight that this was the first clue that Carter is the Sin-Eater.
  • For the Evulz: The reason Carter killed Jean DeWolff.
    Carter: I wanted Jameson because he opposed masked vigilantes. I killed the priest because he opposed capital punishment. I killed the judge because he coddled criminals. And I killed Jean DeWolff because I felt like it.
  • Heroic BSoD: As Jean was one of his few defenders, Spider-Man takes her death hard. Finding out that she might have had a crush on him makes it even worse. When the captured Sin-Eater is attacked by the mob, Spider-Man does nothing and instead reflects on all the people he's lost since getting his powers. It takes Daredevil shouting his real name to snap him out of it.
  • I Let Gwen Stacy Die: Ironically, this doesn't apply to Spider-Man in this story (he wasn't there when the Sin-Eater killed Jean) but to Daredevil. When the Sin-Eater comes into Judge Rosenthal's chambers to kill him, Matt confronts him first and briefly fights him off. However, the judge then arrives and Matt's brief moment of hesitation to protect his secret identity allows the Sin-Eater to kill Rosenthal and escape. Matt vows to stop the killer and atone for failing to save his friend.
  • It's Personal: Both Spider-Man and Daredevil have a personal stake in taking down the Sin-Eater. Spider-Man because the Sin-Eater killed Jean DeWolff. Daredevil because he, as Matt Murdock, witnessed the Sin-Eater kill his friend and mentor Judge Horace Rosenthal.
  • Living Lie-Detector: Daredevil's enhanced hearing allows him to hear people's heart beats. This is how he recognizes Peter is Spider-Man and discovers that Emil Gregg is not the real Sin-Eater.
  • Mugging the Monster: In part one, Matt is confronted in a judge's chambers by the Sin Eater. Being a mutate with enhanced senses and martial arts training, Matt is able to defend himself from the killer but fails to save the judge's life.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: In issue #134, Spider-Man confronts Stan Carter after he's released, intending on scaring him stupid, only to find out he's partially deaf, walks using a cane and has a stutter. Spidey's so guilt-ridden he's off his game when Electro attacks.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: In part four, Spider-Man rescues Betty Brant from the Sin-Eater whom he has now learned is actually Stan Carter. Throughout the story, Spidey has been acting more ruthless and aggressive, and Betty being threatened proves to be the final straw. Spidey beats Carter so viciously that Daredevil has to intervene out of fear that the Wall-Crawler will kill the villain.
  • "Not So Different" Remark: Sin-Eater claims that he and Spider-Man are very much the same which Spider-Man furiously denies. When Spider-Man nearly kills the Sin-Eater, Daredevil claims that he and the killer are indeed alike.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: Spider-Man drops the quips and goes after the Sin-Eater with a vengeance. Daredevil has to stop him from beating the guy to death.
  • Personal Effects Reveal: Spider-Man goes to Jean's place to look for clues and finds a collection of photos of himself, suggesting she had hidden feelings for him. This only adds to his turmoil over her death.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Kingpin isn't bothered by the deaths of Detective Jean DeWolff and Judge Horace Rosenthal because "honest people bore him". However, he does express concern that the death of Bernard Finn, a priest, will make things too chaotic for him to control.
  • Psycho Serum: This is what turned Stan Carter into the Sin-Eater. Before he became a cop, Carter worked in S.H.I.E.L.D.'s research and development department which was studying the effects of PCP on human strength. Carter and several other test subjects were injected with a modified version of the drug which enhanced their strength and endurance, but also caused them to become violently unstable. When Carter left S.H.I.E.L.D. and joined the NYPD, it was assumed the effects had worn off but the recent death of his partner in a shoot out caused him to become unhinged and he became the Sin-Eater.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Spider-Man is the red oni while Daredevil is the blue oni. Spider-Man's approach to the case revolves around knocking as many heads as possible until he gets a lead while Daredevil uses more subtle and diplomatic methods. This is best symbolized by their respective meetings with the Kingpin; while Spider-Man fights his way to the Kingpin's office, Daredevil simply knocked on the door and asked to come in. Ironically, Spider-Man is wearing a black costume while Daredevil is wearing red.
  • Say My Name: "PETER!"
  • Secondary Color Nemesis: The Sin-Eater's costume consists of a green mask, green gloves and purple bodysuit.
  • Secret Secret-Keeper: While getting yelled at by Peter, Matt Murdock recognizes the heartbeat and realizes he's talking to Spider-Man's civilian identity. May ends up using Peter's full name during this scene, so Matt spends much of the storyline being this. He only reveals that he knows when he needs help protecting the Sin-Eater from a bloodthirsty mob.
  • Suicide by Cop: How Stan Carter goes out. While Spidey is dealing with Electro, Stan decides to exorcise his demons by holding a kid hostage and getting the cops to shoot him. He knew full well what he was doing - his gun wasn't even loaded.
  • Superpowered Evil Side: The Sin-Eater is characterized as a Split Personality in Sin-Eater Released.
  • Tranquil Fury: Spider-Man spends pretty much the entire arc steadily getting angrier and quieter.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: Emill Gregg had been sending messages to reporter Eddie Brock admitting to being the Sin-Eater which Brock published. After Gregg was arrested, Brock wrote his masterpiece story exposing him. When Spider-Man caught Carter, Brock realized too late he'd fallen for a troubled man's delusions. Fired and disgraced, Brock blamed it all on Spider-Man which led to him about to kill himself when he was found by the alien symboite Spider-Man had discarded. In short, thanks to one man's pathetic need for attention, the world got Venom and a few years later, Carnage.
  • Wham Episode: A prominent supporting character dies, and Spider-Man and Daredevil learn each other's secret identities.
  • What the Hell, Hero?:
    • Matt Murdock serves as a public defender to a group of thugs who assaulted and robbed an old man who was friends with Aunt May. Peter Parker angrily confronts Matt and asks him how he can look at himself in the mirror. Matt, who is blind, jokingly responds, "It's a challenge". This leads to Peter getting a "What the hell" response from his Aunt May for his rudeness. A later scene with Matt and a judge does suggest that Matt thinks Peter had a point.
    • When Spider-Man is about to kill the Sin-Eater, Daredevil gives a WTHH speech to him.
  • Worf Had the Flu: In trying to save Sin-Eater from being beaten to death, Daredevil has to fend off an enraged Spider-Man. Daredevil wins by playing on Spidey's anger, thus keeping him off balance and ensuring sloppy mistakes. When it's over, Daredevil acknowledges how he wouldn't have stood a chance otherwise and still had his work cut out for him.