Synopsis for “Shoot Out Over Center Ring!”
TWA flight 101 from Moscow to New York arrives on schedule at Kennedy international Airport at 7:30 p.m. As Amanda Sefton, a senior flight attendant on the plane, hauls her baggage through the airport door, she is suddenly greeted with a kiss from Kurt Wagner, also known as Nightcrawler of the X-Men. Hanging upside-down by his tail, he asks whether she missed him, but she chides him for startling her. Then, unable to stay angry, she returns his kiss with a longer one. As he escorts her to the X-Men’s Rolls-Royce, she says she has a few days off before her next trip, and he replies that Cyclops, the X-Men’s leader, has given him time off as well.
Just as Nightcrawler suggests that they spend this free time together, he notices a large, privately owned 747 Jumbo Jet. The stylized capital A on the aircraft’s tail fin is the symbol of Arcade, a demented criminal who recently menaced Nightcrawler and his friends. He tells Amanda to stay by the Rolls and dashes off to investigate. When he scampers up the ladder into the plane, he finds no one inside. He sees an elaborate pinball-machine parlor, and he recalls how, months ago, Arcade captured him, Amanda, Colossus, and Betsy Wilford at the Lincoln Center and victimized them with his bizarre and deadly Murderworld amusement park. Nightcrawler’s thoughts are interrupted by the approach of a large limousine, and he hears Arcade outside having an argument with a man named Jardine over an assassination assignment. Evidently Jardine hired Arcade to kill Spider-Man but then found someone else who would do the job for less money. so he reneged on the deal. Arcade is furious and tells Jardine they are through. As Arcade and his assistant, Miss Locke, enter the airliner, Nightcrawler teleports away to avoid discovery. Meanwhile, Arcade walks through his airplane, outraged that Jardine would demand his deposit back after replacing him with a “cut-rate costumed punk,” and notices the smell of brimstone. He realizes that Nightcrawler must have just paid him a visit. Suddenly, he says, the night is beginning to look up. Miss Locke escorts Jardine from the plane, and as he lights his cigar, he rails at her employer. She reminds him that Arcade is someone to be feared—as is she—but this just makes him angrier. When he tries to manhandle her, she deftly flips him onto the hood of his limousine. She pointedly advises him not to make Arcade any more angry, or he may be trapped in Murderworld himself, facing the fate he intended for Spider-Man.
Unseen by both Jardine and Miss Locke, Nightcrawler and Amanda sneak up to the rear of the limousine, open the trunk, and climb inside. Getting involved this way is against Night-crawler’s better judgment, but leaving Amanda alone at the airport would expose her to the danger of being found by Arcade. Jardine orders his chauffeur to return to Manhattan. As he sits in the back seat, intimidated and humiliated, he promises himself that Spider-Man will die tonight in the center ring of his circus. Then he will get his deposit refunded and break Arcade and his “dragon lady” assistant. In the trunk, Kurt explains to Amanda that in Germany, before he joined the X-Men, he was an acrobat in a small provincial circus. He was very good and very happy, until Jardine bought the circus, took him off the high wire, and put him in the freak show. It was a hideous experience, he says, and that very night he ran away from the only home he had ever known. Two days later he joined the X-Men. The limousine pulls into an underground parking lot, and as Jardine leaves, Nightcrawler and Amanda cautiously follow him. Amanda asks whether they should call the police, but Nightcrawler says there is no point. Jardine has hired an assassin to murder Spider-Man tonight, and like it or not, it is up to them to stop him.
Nightcrawler materializes next to Amanda and cautions her to follow him through a door, they suddenly find themselves on the floor of a huge circus in full swing. Nlghtcrawler briefly stands enchanted, for he loves circuses, and he is amazed that a man as corrupt as Amos Jardine can still bring joy to so many people. Then he tells Amanda that somewhere among the onlookers are Spider-Man and Jardine’s hired killer. Because he and Spider-Man share similar powers and costumes, he decides to try to flush the assassin out by impersonating Spider-Man. After giving her a kiss, he climbs the rope to the high wire. “There’s Spider-Man!” shouts Amanda, pointing toward the roof at the red-and-blue figure. Jardine, in the audience, is delighted. He knew that Spider-Man would not be able to resist his challenge in the newspapers to prove his web-swinging is more exciting than the circus high-wire acts. But also in the audience is Peter Parker, who knows that the figure cannot possibly be Spider-Man. Nlghtcrawler swings through the air, enjoying the roar of the crowd and the exhilaration of doing acrobatics. He must keep moving fast and loose, he muses, to make himself a nearly impossible target. But the assassin, a man named Cutthroat, has other ideas. This is his first professional kill, one that will establish his reputation, and he intends to make no mistakes. With Nightcrawler in his gunsight, he fires a rocket-propelled dart at the elfin X-Man. Fortunately, by this time Peter has changed into his Spider-Man costume, and he web-swings aloft just in time to knock Nightcrawler out of the missile’s path. This sends them both plunging toward the floor a hundred feet below, but Spider-Man saves himself with a web-strand and Nightcrawler snags a trapeze with his prehensile tail. The crowd, meanwhile, thinks it is all an act and roars its approval. Cutthroat fires again, and this time the missile emits a powerful sonic wave that stuns Spider-Man and sends him plummeting. Nightcrawler quickly teleports himself off the trapeze bar to the floor, where he catches Spider-Man. Aside from being deafened by the sonic screamer, Spider-Man is all right. Then his spider-sense tingles, and he shoves Nightcrawler out of the way as a third missile explodes nearby. By this time the crowd realizes that this is not an act, and panicked people head for the doors. Jardine is furious, because Cutthroat promised a quick, clean kill that would have been the public-relations coup of the century. Instead, it has turned into a fiasco.
Amanda runs up to Nightcrawler and Spider Man to tell them where she saw the assassin shooting from. They tell her to take cover, and Spider Man web-swings up to the arena roof while Nightcrawler teleports. Arriving first, Nightcrawler smashes through a window and attacks the costumed killer but when he punches him in the chest, he learns painfully that Cutthroat is wearing body armor. Then Cutthroat lands a powerful punch to the jaw. By the time Spider-Man arrives, Cutthroat is gone and Nightcrawler is trying to clear his head. They follow the assassin down a passageway but are hampered by the crowd, and by the time they find him, he is near the animal cages. Before they can stop him, he turns the animals loose, including the deadly tigers, and they all stampede. Spider Man tells Nightcrawler to pursue Cutthroat as he begins webbing up the animals to keep them from harming the people and each other. Although Nightcrawler is tired and slightly injured, he manages to keep out of reach of the killer’s weapon, until Cutthroat fires a missile with a brilliant magnesium flare that temporarily blinds him. Cutthroat asserts that he was about to go down in history as the man who killed Spider Man, but now Nightcrawler has ruined all that. As Nightcrawler desperately tries to visualize a place to teleport to, Cutthroat raises his weapon, but before he can shoot, Spider-Man webs it up. But Cutthroat pulls the trigger, and the dart, jammed inside the gun, blows the weapon apart. Cutthroat’s body armor saves his life, but the backfire from the explosion ignites the other darts in Cutthroat’s magazine. The resulting explosions knock him cold.
As Amanda awaits the police, Jardine finds her and escorts her to his limousine at gunpoint. When Jardine opens the door, Cutthroat, webbed up and unconscious, falls out of the seat. Surprised, Jardine turns to face Spider-Man and Nightcrawler, saying that as long as he has the girl and the gun, they cannot touch him. But Nightcrawler teleports behind him, startles him, and wrests the gun from his hand. A fast web-ball and Spider-Man’s powerful punch knock Jardine onto the roof of his limousine, unconscious. Then, as Spider-Man examines the criminal circus owner’s body, he finds a narco-dart with Arcade’s monogram on it. Apparently Spider-Man and Nightcrawler are not the only ones after Jardine this evening. But Nightcrawler is not interested in checking up on it. He has had enough excitement for one day, he says, as he and Amanda depart.