Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #2

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning

This review was first published on: 2000.

Background...

For those of you expecting the saga of Facade, sorry about that. The dreaded deadline doom took me by surprise and scuttled that for the time being. Instead you get one lousy ten-page story. Not even an entire issue! But with Spidey duking it out with the Z'Nox in the latest issues, it seemed like a good time to go back to the first aliens the web-slinger fought. Well... sort of. From Amazing Spider-Man #2, May 1963, here comes the Terrible Tinkerer.

In Detail...

"The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #2 (Story 2)
SMURF 002.600
Summary: First Tinkerer
Writer:  Stan Lee
Pencils:  Steve Ditko
Lettering:  Art Simek
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 Reprinted In: Marvel Dollar Reprints (AF#15, ASM #1-2 Dollar General)
 Reprinted In: Marvel Dollar Reprints (AF#15, ASM #1-2 Family Dollar)
 Reprinted In: Marvel Dollar Reprints (AF#15, ASM #1-2 Unmarked)
 Reprinted In: Pow! #4
 Reprinted In: POW! Annual 1969
 Reprinted In: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #2 (Story 3)
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Collectible Series (Newspaper) #5
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Pocket Book #6

It all begins with an in medias res splash page. Spidey is being shot by a ray gun being held by the Terrible Tinkerer (a sixtyish bald man with an extremely large chin, rectangular-framed glasses propped up on his forehead, green slacks, a white shirt, and a brown tweed jacket), and thinking, "He looks so harmless, and yet the Tinkerer is one of the greatest menaces I've ever faced!" (Which can only be remotely true in the context of the times, since Spidey had only faced the Burglar, the Chameleon, and the Vulture up to this point.) In the splash page blurb, Stan warns that, although "Everybody loves a bargain... Sometimes it can be dangerous to accept a bargain which is too good to be true." Words to live by. And now, on with our story.

It begins in the science lab of Midtown High School. Class has just ended, to the relief of a number of students, but Peter Parker is still working away with the test tubes and the bunsen burners. Mr. Warren, the Science Teacher, enters the lab with a pleasant-looking gray-haired man and introduces him to his top science student. The man is Professor Cobbwell and he is looking for a bright student to help him "with some research over the weekend". Mr. Warren wonders if Peter would like to be that student. Peter has heard of the Professor ("A chance to work with the famous electronics expert in town?") and is delighted to accept. The Prof offers Peter two cards. One has his address on it. The other is a chit to pick up a radio at a repair shop. The Prof asks if Peter would be willing to pick up the radio on his way over to the lab the next day. Peter is happy to do so.

As soon as Mr. Warren and the Prof leave, Flash Thompson berates Pete for working over the weekend "while us other dumbheads waste time having dates and livin' it up." Pete tells Flash that being a dumbhead is "nothing to be ashamed of! You were just born that way!" (Hah! Take that, Flash, you dumbhead!)

The next day, Pete prepares for his visit to the Prof's lab and decides to wear his Spidey suit, because "I feel almost undressed without it!" (And, since he wears it under all his other clothes, in a sense he is undressed without it. But I digress...)

Soon, Pete arrives at "The Tinkerer Repair Shop". It is a strange little place with orange walls and a small turret that makes it look like a squat Medieval castle. Pete wonders, "What kind of kookie character runs it?" and he enters to find out. Inside, the shop has cracked yellow walls and shelves covered with clocks and radios. A gnarled man enters the room and introduces himself as the Tinkerer. Pete hands over the chit, and then stands back, hands in pockets, sizing up the strange repairman. He decides that the Tinkerer is "straight out of Grimm's fairy tales" but that he is "about as dangerous as a second-hand creampuff". As the Tinkerer leaves the room to retrieve the Prof's radio, Pete's spider-sense bleats at him but, after judging the Tinkerer as harmless, our hero ignores it. It must be the electric impulses from all the equipment that is causing the signal, he decides. It can't possibly be any real danger.

But the Tinkerer is more than what he seems. The door from his shop leads to a large stone stairway which ends at a large metal door deep in some vast cellar twice as large as the repair shop up above. (Where do these guys get these places in New York with huge stone cellars? What agency do you call?) The little man opens the door and tells the others inside that Dr. Cobbwell's radio is being picked up. He adds, for the benefit of the reader, that it is one of the "special" jobs. It is further added, for the benefit of the reader, that this means that a "special device" has been put into it making it "much more than a simple radio". A number of these special radios have already been distributed to "special" customers, all unsuspecting. Stranger still, the cellar is filled with banks of immense machinery, covered with strange dials and TV screens. And stranger still, the other men in the room are green and scaly, with antennae on their heads, and faces that lo! ok like a Halloween pumpkin a mont h past its prime. They wear large purple girdles and tiny black muscle shirts that look like they've been washed too many times in hot water. The greenie who has been working on the Prof's radio declares the "special" adaptation finished. He reminds the Tinkerer that "our plan must be completely secret until we are ready to strike!"... presumably because they don't want people laughing at them too soon.

The Tinkerer goes back upstairs and presents the radio to Peter. He informs the High Schooler that the cost of the repair is only a dime because "I like to give bargains! They bring me in lots of customers!" (And, you can't possibly draw attention to your secret operation if you charge people a dime for radio repairs, can you?)

Finally at Cobbwell's lab, Pete presents the radio. The Prof confesses to being a cheapee who took his radio to the Tinkerer because his prices are ridiculously low. The Prof thinks no more about the subject and begins work, but Peter cannot get it out of his mind. Even as he occupies himself with a collection of wacky Ditko beakers and tubes, he thinks about the eccentric repairman. And then, suddenly, he realizes that the electrical impulses he sensed in the Tinkerer's shop are also now here in the Professor's laboratory.

Pete looks around the lab. There are no "electrical gadgets" in operation and the Prof's radio is turned off. Pete is anxious to investigate further and he gets the chance when Cobbwell puts on his coat and announces that he must give a lecture at the institute. He will be gone for a few hours. As soon as the Prof leaves, Pete opens the back of the radio and peeks inside. He discovers that the tubes are different than anything he has seen before. He also discovers that the impulses he is sensing are coming from the radio. That's all he needs to know. Quickly, he dons his Spidey suit and swings over to the Tinkerer's shop.

The shop is already closed for the day (What hours does the Tinkerer keep anyway?) so Spidey lets himself in by the skylight. (Which must be newly built! There's no sign of that skylight when Pete picked up the radio.) He senses the same impulses and follows them down the stone stairs into the "concrete-reinforced dungeon". Fortunately, the metal door has been left open, allowing Spidey to stop at the threshhold and eavesdrop. Inside the secret workroom, the Tinkerer stands with three of his alien buddies, reviewing the results of their scheme. They have put "electronic spy devices" in the radios of some of the most important people on Earth, with the idea of eventually attacking "this unsuspecting planet". In fact, at this moment, one of the aliens is "processing the latest pictures relayed back to us by our pin-point TV spy device which you planted in the radio of a military leader." And, sure enough, up on one of the screens is a scene from an office which the lea! der and a colonel are discussing " the defense of our eastern seaboard in case of a surprise attack by any hostile force". The Tinkerer and his green friend listen intently.

They're not the only ones. Spidey has heard enough to realize that he is dealing with aliens who intend to conquer the Earth. One of those very same aliens spots him and sneaks up behind him but the ol' "spider instinct" kicks in and warns the web-slinger to leap away from a ray gun blast. His cover blown, he has no choice but to tumble through the door into the workshop. "A costumed Earth creature!", yells one alien, "Seize him!" But it isn't that easy. Spidey does a hand spring and vaults away from the greenies. Then he scales the wall to take a perch on the ceiling. (The greenies don't seem to recognize him but the Tinkerer does. "He is no ordinary Earthling!", he says, "He is Spider-Man!") Someone throws an "inverter mechanism" at Spidey to dislodge him from the ceiling. (Of course. There's nothing like an inverter mechanism when you want to dislodge Spider-Man from the ceiling.) With our hero now on the ground, three greenies pile on top of him, figuring th! ey can win by sheer weight of numb ers. But the wall-crawler shakes them off easily. Unfortunately, this attack has left him open to a ray gun blast from behind, administered by the Terrible Tinkerer! (Hey, what do you know? It's our splash page, finally!) With the wall-crawler now unconscious ("It would have killed any normal human..."), the greenies place him in a nearby "resisto-glass specimen cage" that looks like a giant snow globe. Since Spidey is "the only mortal on Earth who even suspects our presence here", they decide, "he must be destroyed!" The plan is to release all the air from the specimen cage through numerous tiny holes that circle the base of the globe.

Spidey returns to consciousness, recognizes his danger, and knows he must escape from "this crazy little mousetrap". He notices that the control panel that can open the cage is positioned right in front of him. Setting his webshooter right in line with one of the tiny holes (Steve gives us a great diagram panel detailing Spidey's web cartridges, spray nozzle, palm release button, and safety catch), Spidey fires his webbing and hits the button on the control panel that opens the cage. The bottom springs open (even as the webline seems to completely disappear) and the webster is free. He knocks one of the greenies backward with a powerful punch and, like a Rube Goldberg cartoon, the punch sends the alien back where he bumps another alien where the impact sets off a ray gun where the jostling of the guns causes it to shoot right at the control panel where the ray causes the panel to catch on fire. Announcing that it will take months to repair the control panel, all the gre! enies take off like scared rabbits , leaving the Tinkerer to take the rap.

The fire spreads throughout the room. Spidey, incensed, leaps at the old repairman. As far as Spidey is concerned, the aliens "were just doing their duty to whatever planet they were from!" But the Tinkerer is a traitor to the human race.

Soon, the whole lab goes up in flames and Spidey becomes more concerned with saving the Tinkerer than with capturing him. He grabs the little man, but the Tinkerer puts up a struggle. The smoke becomes overwhelming, blinding and choking the webspinner. He cannot endure it much longer. So, giving up on the Tinkerer, Spidey heads for the skylight. Fire trucks will soon arrive on the scene "but the building is a total wreck! It'll be reduced to ashes in minutes." With nothing more to be done, Spidey leaves the scene. A bystander sees him go and wonders if Spider-Man is the one who set the fire.

Somewhere on the outskirts of the city, a spacecraft lifts off and flies away. The inhabitants press a self-destruct button that will wipe out all the spy devices in all the radios so that they can not be traced. Then they vow never to return to Earth, since the people "will be on guard from this day on!"

And back at Professor Cobbwell's lab, Pete examines the radio and finds it to now be completely normal. (But does it still work? After all, the Prof paid to get the thing fixed and he isn't likely to get his dime back.) The Prof returns from his lecture and excitedly tells Peter that he saw "a space ship of some sort fading into the atmosphere". When Pete asks for details on what it looked like, the Prof reconsiders his story and decides he must have imagined it. Peter knows how he feels. If he hadn't pulled the mask off the Tinkerer at the last minute... the mask that made the Tinkerer look human... he wouldn't have believed it either. He, like the Prof, decides not to mention it to anyone. "It would be too hard to explain how Peter Parker knows so much about the Spider-Man's adventures!"

All right, as I'm sure you all know, in issues ranging from Amazing Spider-Man #160 (September 1976) to Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #50-51 (January-February 1981), to John Byrne's Spider-Man: Chapter One #3 (January 1999), the Tinkerer story has been retconned to wipe it clean of any real aliens. It turns out that the Tinkerer planted a mask of his face in Spidey's hands to confuse him. The aliens were all humans in disguise (including the man who eventually became Mysterio) and all the "Earthling" talk and "mortal" gab has been carefully sifted, remade to show that regular joes playing roles could have said these things in these situations. In terms of continuity, heck, I buy it. Why not? In terms of the original story, though, it's humbug. So, sure, when I read later stories that refer to it, Spidey fought fake aliens. But when I read the story from ASM #2, as far as I'm concerned, Spidey fought the real thing. In fact, I'd love to have a story that would retcon it all back! Any chance of that? Naw, I didn't think so.

In General...

Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)

  1. First appearance of the Terrible Tinkerer.
  2. First appearance of Professor Cobbwell.
  3. First appearance of the goofy-looking green "aliens".
  4. First time Spidey shoots his webbing through an air hole in a resisto-glass enclosure to hit the control panel and free himself.
  5. First time a bystander blames Spider-Man for starting a fire.

The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:

Ditko/Lee/Artie Simek/10 pages

  • "The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer" - Spidey fights a tinkerer who is really an alien using special spy radios.

    Overall Rating...

    I have to admit it. I'm crazy about this story. It's just so lovably silly with its green scaly aliens and its huge dungeon hidden underneath a repair shop and its "special" radios with electronic spy devices that the Tinkerer pretends to fix, charging only a dime. Yes, maybe having dopey aliens like this in the continuity is a thing to be ashamed of, but I'm still sorry they were all retconned into two-bit crooks in disguise. Spidey's battle with the greenies is great fun, his escape from the glass enclosure is vintage web-slinger, and the final scene of Peter Parker holding the Tinkerer's mask is a hoot... BUT... looking at the story in the cold hard light of the 21st century, I can't, in all conscience, give it any more than...

    Two and a half Webs.