Villain Spotlight is a twice-monthly column that seeks to highlight and explore many of Spider-Man’s villains as they have been portrayed over the years.
If you’re a relatively newcomer to the scene this might be the guy you know as being under the mask of the Crime-Master.
This is Bennett Brant, brother of Betty Brant, who served as the mastermind behind a psychotic Jack-O-Lantern in the pages of the recently discontinued Venom series.
But, if you’re like me you know better. This isn’t the real Crime Master. The real Crime-Master first appeared in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man #26 and he looked like this:
A little less debonair than the Bennett Brant version. If you looked at that picture closely you might notice something else. Someone flying away in the background on a glider perhaps? Yes…you’re right. The Green Goblin. The original Green Goblin, Norman Osborn. You see, when the original Crime-Master decided to take over the crime syndicates of New York he had to first strike a deal with the Goblin, who also wanted a piece of the pie (as he still does). Furthermore, to ensure that neither would double cross one another they exchanged secret identities. At this time nobody knew who the Green Goblin was (not even the readers) so the Crime-Master had one up on virtually everyone else. Little did anyone know at the time but Norman wasn’t about to give his identity away that easily. We don’t find this out until years later (in the pages of Untold Tales of Spider-Man #25 ), but Norman passed himself off as J. Jonah Jameson to the Crime-Master. Even back then Norman was no slouch…
One other thing about the original Crime-Master. He was a terrible shot. Seriously. I should know. I counted. In his first (and last) appearance as the man beneath the fedora, the original Crime-Master fired no less than fifteen shots (see Amazing Spider-Man #26 & 27). Not once did he hit his target. You may want to count the man he supposedly winged in Amazing Spider-Man #26 but I beg to differ.
In the very next panel he is throwing punches. I would wager that he knew better than to spoil his crack-shot image.
Unfortunately his reign on top ended almost as soon as it began. In issue #27 he is unceremoniously shot and killed by the police off panel. We never get to see him shoot and miss the police, nor do we ever get to see his face (except in photograph held up by Frederick Foswell – the original Big Man….more on that in a few). All we are told is that his true identity is that of Nick “Lucky” Lewis, an unlucky crime boss.
That was in 1965. We don’t hear from the Crime-Master again until the pages of Marvel Team-Up in 1975. I should know, since this is when I “discovered” him. I had just bought the issue before going to the beach with my family and not only did issue #39 bring us the Big Man, supposedly back from the dead, but also the Enforcers, the Sandman, and of course the Crime-Master. Brushing the beach sand from the pages, I studied the final splash panel of that issue when the Crime-Master reveals himself to Spider-Man, the Human Torch, and the rest of them. Spider-Man’s shock at seeing an old villain returned from the dead was all I needed to know in order to be hooked. The guy even looked cool. At the time, I knew nothing of his propensity for bad aim or his short-lived attempt to take over the city’s underworld years before. For me, he looked the part and that was all that mattered. Plus… well, he did come back from the dead.
Or so I thought.
By the end of issue #40 it was revealed that not only was he not the original Crime-Master, but the Big Man wasn’t the original Big Man either. He… was a she! To be more exact, the Big Man was Janice Foswell, Frederick Foswell’s daughter. And the Crime-Master? Well he was the love sick son of Nick Lewis, Nick Lewis Jr. You see, in a tragic turn of events, while struggling to one up one another, the Crime Master shoots and kills the Big Man (apparently Nick Jr. is a much better shot than his father), only to find out that it’s the love of his life. Poor Nick had only wanted to avenge his father’s death as well as that of his girlfriend’s father. He had no idea that she had the same plan.
I felt bad for Nick Jr. Enough so that the Crime-Master, and that issue, remained one of my favorites for years to come. I often wondered when he would return to once again take shots at my favorite hero and you can imagine my surprise when he finally turned up again, not in the pages of Spider-Man, but in Venom in 2011. That’s a full 36 year hiatus! I had to read the issue with reading glasses. Thanks Marvel…
Like I mentioned earlier – this version of the Crime-Master is much different than both the Lewis family members. Where Nick Sr. was a thug, Nick Jr. a lovesick revenge seeker, this guy is cunning, devious, and well… psychotic.
Why psychotic? Well let’s take a look at the pages of Venom #11. Check out this image…
That’s the new Crime-Master carrying a child. A child he just kidnapped on Halloween night. If you thought Michael Myers was bad, the Crime-Master raised this kid to be ten times worse. He turned him into the murderous serial killer Jack-O-Lantern. Jack-O-Lantern chews up the scenery in every issue of Venom he appeared in but the mastermind behind it all was the Crime-Master. And in issue #20 he reveals himself to be none other than Bennett Brant, the “dead” brother of Betty Brant. Bennett’s had one of the longest runs of being dead in Marvel history. He first met his fate in Amazing Spider-Man #11 in 1964! I think only Uncle Ben has managed to maintain a longer death.
So how did Bennett come back? Apparently the stray bullet that seemingly ended his life… well it didn’t (comics!). Bennett was nursed back to health and chosen to carry on the name of the Crime-Master. He revealed all of this to his sister Betty in Venom #21. So what did Betty do to welcome her long dead brother back from the dead.
She shot him.
So ends the career (at least for now) of the Crime-Master. He had a good run while it lasted and I have no doubt that we’ll see him return someday.
Oh wait… we have. Just recently in the pages of Superior Spider-Man #22 an ex-Maggia operative with a pension for cosplay purchased the identity of the Crime-Master from Roderick Kingsley (of the Hobgoblin fame). Venom was there too to stop him so…
…we are left waiting.