"Ace", by Peter David and Mark Beachum, was the fifth annual of Spectacular Spider-Man, at the time referred to as "Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man". It was published in 1985. It is a street-level story, bordering on noir, featuring "Ace", a non-super powered character with uncanny abilities and a strange personality. Ace also looks a lot like Prince, with his purple jacket and motor cycle pose on the cover seeming to take direct inspiration from the cover of the album 1999.

Spider-Man, as Peter Parker, is photographing a scene of a gang shootout. Police Captain Jean DeWolff shows up and tries to explain to him, and to the audience what is going on, although it is a murky story, in the noir tradition, full of Dutch angles and oblique conflicts. And Spider-Man spots a figure, the Ace of our title, waiting on a motor cycle. We, although not Spider-Man, follow Ace home where he finds his little sister reading The Wizard of Oz. And we see him with his mother, who he promises that he wasn't involved. Later, Peter Parker and reporter Joy Mercado follow up on the case, and eventually it brings Spider-Man and Ace into conflict. Ace is preternaturally calm and neutral, something he learned from a mentor who fought in Vietnam. He remains aloof from the conflicts, until, in the great Marvel tradition, him and Spider-Man fight. He is so calm and collected, in fact, that he can dodge Spider-Man's blows. At the end, it is the words of Joy Mercado that move him: what if the innocent person who was killed in the gang shootout was someone he loved? Remembering his little sister, he finally decides to put down his neutrality and testify against one of the gang leaders, who is his own younger brother.

At least that is what I gathered from this. Like I said, it is murky and oblique and a little bit cramped with its Dutch angles, and our usually free-wheeling and witty Spider-Man is reduced to being a confused observer to the grim events around him. And he also loses a fight to Ace. This seems a bit unusual, as a super-hero who has fought battles in space against gods and aliens, it would seem a neighborhood tough guy would not pose a threat to Spider-Man, but that is the charm of Marvel, and Spider-Man: we are dealing with cosmic conflicts one moment and on the other we are on a street corner swinging lead pipes. Also, while it is often the case that comic book characters dealing with the real life problems of gang warfare can be somewhere between corny and problematic, this manages to be done tastefully. Also, the "Ace" character, who appears African-American, was drawn by African-American artist Mark Beachum (and is apparently, according to some sources, a self-portrait), and this issue was edited by African-American creator Christopher Priest, so it does have some authenticity that others do not.

I liked it. They can't do it every issue, but every time we are reminded that Spider-Man can be knocked down (quite literally), and is a little guy in a complicated world, I like it. And I like that they introduced a character with an opposite motiff as Spider-Man: because one of the points of Ace is that while he faces the same issues of power and responsibility, he has developed a different approach to them.