Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #22

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

This review was first published on: 2003.

Background...

Stan and Steve remind us of how great Spidey is when he is pitted against a whole slew of villains in this fun battle issue. And, the web-slinger has his first encounter with a female super-villain, not knowing quite what to do with her.

In Detail...

"Preeeeeesenting... the Clown, and his Masters of Menace!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #22
Mar 1965 : SMURF 022.500 : SM Title
Summary: The Clown, and The Masters of Menace
Editor:  Stan Lee
Writer:  Stan Lee
Pencils:  Steve Ditko
Inker:  Steve Ditko
Cover Art:  Steve Ditko
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 Reprinted In: Marvel Masterworks #10
 Reprinted In: Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #160
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #17
 Partially Reprinted In: Pow! #55
 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #2
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man Pocket Book #15
Articles: Aunt May Parker, Betty Brant, Cannonball, The Clown, Flash Thompson, The Great Gambonnos, Jameson, J. Jonah, Elizabeth (Allan) Osborn, Princess Python, Ringmaster

We begin with an interesting cover. The villains of the piece recoil from the spider-signal shining down at their feet. A looming menacing shadow is cast on the wall making it look like it is ready to pounce from behind them. It is the first cover in the series on which Spider-Man himself does not appear and it is one of the very few covers that shows the web-slinger (without showing him) in a position of power.

Inside the situation is reversed. While the villains look frightened and small on the cover, they are in a position of strength on the splash page. The title tells us that this group is known as the Clown and his Masters of Menace and yellow arrows above the heads of each member introduces them by name. From left to right, they are The Crafty Clown, The Great Gambonnos, The Man Called Cannonball, and Princess Python. Each stands facing us, their postures denoting confidence, their faces denoting determination. (Actually, the Clown doesn't stand at all... he's sitting on his unicycle. And one Gambonno stands on the shoulders of the other. But you get what I mean.) The Masters of Menace occupy the upper half of the splash page. Spidey is down below, facing them, his back to us, which makes him look small and vulnerable. And then there is the Ringmaster. He is far to the right, lower down than the Masters. His back is half-turned and his arms are crossed denoting indifference to the whole scene. And just to emphasize the point, the yellow arrow above him says, "And take a good look at the Ringmaster... He won't be around very long!" In other words, it's another masterful Steve Ditko splash page.

(By the way, Stan's gag with the credits this issue is to have letterer Artie Simek's name printed twice the size of Lee and Ditko. Underneath the credits, Stan tells us that, "We let Artie do this occasionally! It's cheaper than giving him a raise!" And don't you get the feeling that there's a certain amount of truth in that?)

The Ringmaster and some prime members of his Circus of Crime are hanging out together in a "sleazy hotel room, in a shabby hotel" when they are interrupted by the spider-signal shining into their window. (We know that the room is sleazy because the wall plaster and the mirror over the bureau are cracked. The C. of C. members are the Clown, the acrobatic brothers known as the Great Gambonnos, and the bullet-headed Cannonball and every one of them is hanging around in this hotel room in his costume. And note, by the way, that this first panel appearance of the spider-signal, which echoes the image from the cover, is the only time the device is used in the entire story.) Next thing the bad guys know, Spider-Man himself swings in. The Ringmaster recoils in fear. He tells Spidey that he's got nothing on them. "We served our prison terms" he says, "We're free now!" (Yet another example demonstrating that Marvel Time is Real Time back in the day. It has been six months since Ringo's last appearance in ASM #16, September 1964.) Spidey is aware that the circus members have served their time but he is suspicious of this meeting. So, he has crashed the party to warn the Ringmaster to never "again try to make a patsy out of me, like you did the last time". "You're not scaring me!" replies Ringo except that his profuse sweating and trembling seem to belie that statement. Spidey presses his advantage. He grabs the Ringmaster's hypnotic hat off his head and yells, "You fumbling phony! I oughta make you eat your hat to show I'm not kidding!" But there is method behind the wall-crawler's madness. He has snagged the hat so that he can slip a spider-tracer inside the hatband. Now he can track the Ringmaster anytime he wants to. But first he has to make it look good. Pretending to take the hat along with him, Spidey leaps up to the windowsill and declares that he's said his piece. The Ringmaster yells at him to return his hat. Just what the web-slinger wanted. He tosses the hat at Ringo, barks out one last parting shot ("And don't call me, I'll call you!") and takes to his webs.

With Spider-Man gone, the Ringmaster gets back to his pitch. He tells his crew that he is ready to "go to another state, open our circus again, and I'll hypnotize the crowds as usual while you make a fortune robbing them". But the others are not biting. Cannonball, arms folded, tells the Ringmaster that he's "had it". The Clown reminds the group that this gig has "struck out twice". (The other times being Incredible Hulk #3, September 1962 and ASM #16.) He's "not waiting for the third strike". The Gambonno sitting in the armchair concurs. The Gambonno smoking the cigarette tells Ringo that "We need a new kind of caper!" Just then, a woman in a red dress, big pearl earrings, necklace and bracelet, half-shelled pearl-fringed pink hat, and smoking a cigarette in a holder enters the room and declares, "If we stay with the Ringmaster, we'll just wind up in jail again!" This is Princess Python and she tells the others that she is "cutting out" since she has her "snake act to fall back on". (Note that all of the members of the group act as if they were around in both the Hulk and earlier Spidey story, even though the Clown and Princess Python are appearing here for the first time. We are forced to assume that they've been with the Circus from the beginning but were working behind the scenes.)

The Ringmaster promises the Princess that he will work her into his next scheme but she just blows smoke in his face. "Just because you're a cool hypnotist, that doesn't mean we have to make you our head man!" she says. The rest of the group jumps on the bandwagon. "You're washed up, Ringmaster" says the Clown. "You're a has-been, chum!" says Cannonball. The Ringmaster protests that the group needs a leader. Princess Python agrees. She nominates the Clown for the top spot. (The Clown is juggling three blue balls as she promotes him. He looks at her sidelong with a slight smile on his face. A nice sinister drawing by Ditko.) The Ringmaster tries to fight against this but the whole group seems to be against him. "You've got your hat," says one Gambonno, "take it and blow!" But still Ringo sticks around to tell the group that they will regret this decision. Clearly, he has overstayed his welcome. The Clown takes the three blue juggling balls and drops them on Ringmaster's head before Ringo can use his hat to hypnotize them. Then Cannonball head- butts Ringmaster in the stomach. One Gambonno grabs Ringo and tosses him over to the other Gambonno who is lying on his back with his feet in the air. That Gambonno catches Ringo with his feet and kicks him across the room. While Ringo tries to pick himself up, an off-panel member of the group flings the hypnotic hat at him. The Ringmaster has had enough. He agrees to leave. "But" he thinks, "you haven't heard the last of me, you smirking fools!"

With the Ringmaster gone, Princess Python asks the others if they agree to the Clown as their new leader. They all decide to give it a try. The Clown, juggling his balls, promises them, "You've made a wiser choice than you think!"

A few days later, the bell rings at Midtown High School, signaling the end of class. While one student can't wait to run off and "grab a soda", Peter Parker still has his nose in a book. He is reading about the "new bio-chemical discoveries of Dr. Henry Pym" (otherwise known as Giant-Man and previously met by Spidey in Tales to Astonish #57, July 1964). Pete is wondering whether he should "specialize in bio-chemistry or physics" when his book is pushed down by Liz Allan, who tells him that the bell rang and the class is over. Flash Thompson is there, ready with a wisecrack. "Aw, leave 'im alone, Liz!" he says, "A kisser like his looks better with a book covering it any time!" Liz ignores Flash. Instead, she helps Pete with his jacket while she tells him that "You can't study all the time! You need some relaxation, Petey!" And what's Liz's idea of relaxation? "Why don't you walk me home?"

Pete would love to but he doesn't dare. Betty Brant is already plenty mad at him as it is. "If she ever saw me walking Liz home, I'd be finished in her league!" he thinks. And it's probably a good thing that Peter turns down Liz's offer because he runs into Betty Brant right away. This gives him a chance to explain the incident with Johnny Storm accusing him of trying to steal away Dorrie Evans in ASM #21, February 1965. Pete tells Betty that he hardly knows Dorrie and that "she was just trying to make Johnny jealous". This shames Betty enough to make her hang her head. (Because, you'll recall that Betty slunk off last issue without giving Peter a chance for an explanation.) "You must think I'm just a jealous, foolish female," she says. Peter is far too nice to her when he replies, "Maybe you are, Bet! But you're also the prettiest, nicest most wonderful gal I know!" With things patched up, Peter asks Betty to go out to dinner with him. But Betty has to turn him down. J. Jonah Jameson is sponsoring an art exhibit this evening and Betty must be there to take notes. "But" Betty adds, "I insist that you come with me!"

And so, that night at a Madison Avenue art gallery, J. Jonah Jameson talks up the collection with the wealthy Mrs. Van Der Twilliger. "I selected all the paintings myself! They're virtually priceless!" he says. Mrs. Van Der Twilliger can't help but admire JJJ for his success in business and his good taste in art. Jonah can't help but soak up that admiration. (Meanwhile, Steve Ditko is at the show, standing barely seen behind a pillar, publicity-shy as usual. Steve has often been criticized for the way he draws feet. Now, looking at a painting of an arched foot, clad in a blue sock with a hole allowing the big toe to show through, Steve thinks, "Boy! I wish I could draw feet like that!" If you also consider the fact that Steve really did draw that foot since he drew the panel, then you soon find yourself in an almost Zen-like hall of mirrors. And note, too, that the other art lovers in this panel seems absorbed in a painting that is nothing more than a stick figure of a man. That Jonah sure can pick the paintings!)

His hands grabbing his lapels, JJJ continues to brag to Mrs. Van Der Twilliger about his "civic duty to bring art appreciation to the masses" even as he thinks, "And, if I can make a nice healthy profit as well, it doesn't exactly break my heart, either!" Peter and Betty arrive at the show. Pete takes one look at a painting of a thumb with a band-aid on it and declares, "If this stuff is art, I'm glad I'm a science major".

Wouldn't you know it? This exhibit just happens to be the place chosen by the Clown to begin his Masters of Menace crime wave. The group goes up to the gallery's back door. There is so much crowd noise inside the gallery that the Clown figures the group can break the door down without anyone noticing. The Gambonnos pick up Cannonball and use his head as a battering ram, snapping the lock and knocking the door in. Then the Clown rides in on his unicycle, juggling his blue balls, all as a distraction so that the gang can loot the paintings. As he enters the gallery, the Clown announces that his act is "thru the courtesy of J. Jonah Jameson". Ol' skinflint Jonah knows he didn't hire the Clown but is perfectly willing to take the credit for it. The whole crowd moves to the front room to watch the show. The Gambonnos, Cannonball, and Princess Python walk into the back room and start to take all the paintings off the wall. There are two problems with this plan. First of all, Peter Parker is in the audience and he recognizes the Clown as one of the Ringmaster's gang. Second, J. Jonah Jameson hears a noise in the back room and goes in to investigate. The Clown sees his plan start to crumble. He maneuvers his unicycle right up by the crowd and then pretends it is their fault for getting too close. The crowd is forced to back away from the entrance to the other room. Peter doesn't dare run away from Betty to change into Spider-Man.

In the back room, however, J. Jonah Jameson has discovered the theft. He grabs Cannonball by the shoulder and wrist and tells him to "let go of those paintings". Cannonball just uses his metal hat to head-butt Jonah right in the forehead. Jameson slumps to the floor as the Masters make their escape. It isn't long before Peter and Betty run in and find Jonah unconscious but they are too late to stop the Clown from cycling through and joining up with his teammates. Betty kneels down and examines Jonah. She is alarmed to see that he is "hurt very badly". Not only is he unconscious but he is "just barely breathing". The police arrive, load Jonah in an ambulance, and then retain Peter and Betty for questioning. The young couple is cleared but Betty can't help but worry about Mr. Jameson. With a tear in her eye she prays, "that he'll be all right". Peter takes Betty home and "exactly ten seconds after Betty Brant's door closes behind her" he is in his Spidey duds and running straight up a wall.

The trail leading to the crooks is stone cold by now but that doesn't worry the web-slinger. He knows the Ringmaster is responsible and he knows that he put a spider-tracer in the Ringmaster's hat. (Stan, with no respect for the reader's intelligence, is compelled to offer a note stating, "For those of you who haven't been paying strict attention, we wanna remind you that Spidey still doesn't know that the Ringmaster and his little gang have split up!" Thanks for nothing, Stan!) Spidey pulls out the little metal box that he uses to track his spider-signal. (For those of you who haven't been paying strict attention, I wanna remind you that Spidey still hasn't invented a spider-tracer that he can pick up with his spider-sense.) The gizmo starts to throb and the little antenna on it starts to spark. As Spidey gets closer to his quarry, the throbbing gets louder. But the web-slinger is puzzled. The neighborhood doesn't look at all like the kind of place Ringo usually hangs out. Still, he can't deny the reaction of his gizmo. It is "throbbing and buzzing and shaking to beat the band", so he lets go of his web and clings to a wall to case the situation. That's when Spidey realizes that the signal is coming from the police station across the street. He assumes that the cops already captured the whole gang. But, just in case, he sticks around, high up on the wall and watches the entrance to the police station.

Inside the station, the Ringmaster is getting set to leave. The cops have indeed dragged him in but his alibi checks out and he is free to go. The sergeant tells him that he "still thinks you're mixed up in that art gallery robbery" but Ringo tells him "If I were, I wouldn't have waited for you to pick me up!" adding "I told you, I'm thru with crime!" (Yeah, everyone wears purple pants, a green coat with black stars and tails, and a big purple hat that can hypnotize people around town when they're through with crime.) Peeking around the corner, Spidey sees Ringo leave the station. He knows that there hasn't been time to set bail so the Ringmaster can only have been released because he's innocent. Even so, Ringo is the only lead he's got so Spider-Man shoots out some web and prepares to follow him.

A little later, Ringmaster is back at his hotel room as Spider-Man spies on him through the window. Ringo has placed his hat on a table next to that window while he paces the room with his hands behind his back. He is determined to get revenge on his turncoat crew. At first he thinks of telling the cops where to find them but opts for a different plan. He is going to steal the paintings from them and then turn them in. Spidey has heard it all. The Masters break-up with the Ringmaster complicates things a bit. The first thing he must do is find out where the others are hiding. So, he carefully slides the window open, slips into the room, and lifts the Ringmaster's hat off the table with the tips of his sticky fingers. He hangs the hat from the ceiling with a strand of webbing and then, somehow, gets the hypnotic spiral turning. "Say, Ringmaster" he calls out, "do your friends ever call you Ringo for short?" (Sure they do. We've been doing it for this whole Lookback.) "Who said that?" says Ringo, as he turns to look at the hat. "One thing's sure, I'm not Tuesday Weld" Spidey says. (And I don't have to tell anyone who Tuesday Weld is, do I?) The Ringmaster does not react to Spidey's witticism. He is standing still, eyes unblinking, getting hypnotized by his own hat. Spidey can see immediately that his plan has worked. (I love this panel. Spidey dangles from the ceiling upside down. The hat hangs down on a web-strand. Hypnotic spirals emanate out, right below Spidey's head, engulfing the Ringmaster from head to torso. All with a plain yellow background. Great stuff.) The web-slinger asks the hypnotized criminal where he can find the Clown. Ringo tells him that "he's probably using my old hideout, the warehouse where we store all our circus equipment on West 22nd Street". Having gotten this information, Spider- Man leaps across the room to the telephone. He calls Municipal Hospital to check on J. Jonah Jameson's condition. His call is transferred up to the correct floor where Betty Brant answers it. (What's Betty doing there? Didn't Peter take her home?) She tells the caller that "Mr. Jameson is still unconscious" and that "they're taking him to x-ray now". And she doesn't ask who's calling even though the voice sounds like "someone speaking thru a mask". Spidey knows there is nothing he can do for Jameson and he assumes that the Ringmaster will stay mesmerized if he keeps him staring at the spirals from the hat. So, he shoots a web out the window and takes to the rooftops. It's time to take on the Clown and his Masters of Menace at the West 22nd Street warehouse.

At the warehouse, the Clown tells the others that it is time they came up with a name for themselves. (I'm sorry if I've jumped the gun a little bit already calling them the Masters but, hey, it's in the title of the story!) Princess Python doesn't understand what he means. After all, "we all have names". But one Gambonno (casually standing there holding onto some gymnastic rings) gets it. "Like the Avengers or somethin'", he says. His brother, hanging down from another set of gymnastic rings thinks they can come up with a better name than the Avengers. "That's a real cornball moniker," he says. The Clown strokes his chin as he tells the others that the name should have drama and "strike fear into the hearts of those who hear it". One Gambonno suggests "the Carnival Champs", the other suggests "the Big Toppers" but Princess Python has the answer. "The Masters of Menace!" And just as she announces it, the spider-signal shines down on the Gambonno on the rings. Then Spider-Man lowers himself to the floor with his web. The Masters of Menace, flush with success and their new scary name, are eager to attack. "Stop him! Destroy him!" yells out Princess Python and a Gambonno declares, "He hasn't a chance against all of us!" (Princess Python also says, "This time we mustn't let him off so easy!" and I'm not sure what she's talking about. She wasn't even in the room when Spidey picked on the Ringmaster at the beginning of this issue and Spidey didn't make an appearance at the Art Gallery.)

Here comes one of those great Ditko fight scenes in which Spidey must dodge, leap, and flip through various opponents and weapons. It begins with Cannonball trying to head-butt him by running straight at him with his head down. Spidey avoids this attack (and the outstretched arms of a Gambonno) easily. "Masters of Menace, eh?" he says as he leaps, "You oughtta call yourselves the Union of the Useless!" But while Spidey is in the air, someone off-panel picks up a big orange circus ball and throws it at him. It smacks him in the back, knocking him down. He never reaches the ground, though. Instead, he balances on top of a lunging Cannonball and simultaneously socks a Gambonno in the nose. Now, back near the ground, Spider-Man is upended by the Clown who, while riding his unicycle, uses a big hook to yank Spidey's feet in the air. With Spidey off-balance, a Gambonno swings over upside-down, hanging by his knees from the rings, and clobbers the web-slinger in the snoot with a good hard right. Then, he picks Spidey up and throws him to the other Gambonno who is now also hanging by his knees from some rings. This Gambonno grabs Spidey by the ankles but the webster straightens himself right up ("N-nobody can twist himself in the air like that!" says the Gambonno. "Correction, Gambonno. Spider-Man can!" says Spidey.) and grabs Gambonno by the ankle and the head.

This temporary advantage is disrupted by the Clown who again uses his big hook to grab Spidey, this time by the waist. He drags the web-slinger down to earth, putting him in position for Cannonball to use his head as a battering ram right into Spider-Man's solar plexus. But the wall-crawler shrugs this attack right off and starts his acrobatic tumbles again. (The Clown complains that he can't hang onto Spidey with his hook but I don't know how he got that hook back on him to begin with since he had let go in the previous panel.) Spider-Man jumps over Cannonball, gets out of the hook and then somersaults below a Gambonno on the rings and away from a punch from Cannonball. (Are you following all this?)

But in the midst of this fight, Spider-Man has forgotten all about Princess Python. In a moment, he is going to face off against his first female super- villain and he doesn't fare particularly well. Princess Python waits in the background for Spider-Man to land on the floor again and when he does she grabs him around the arms. She offers him "the biggest favor of your life! I'll give you a chance to surrender before they destroy you!" Spidey could, of course, easily break free of the Princess' grasp but he can't bring himself to "use force against her" because he "can't fight a female". So, he just stands there and lets the Princess hang onto him while the rest of the group prepares to surround him.

The Clown tells the Princess to step away. Princess Python tells the Clown to "be gentle with him! He's rather cute in an offbeat way!" and Spider-Man can only think, "Why do the women in my life always cause nothing but trouble??"

Back at the Ringmaster's room, the webbing holding his hat finally dissolves and the hat falls to the floor with a "Thunk!" With the spirals no longer holding him spellbound, "the gleam of intelligence begins to return to the cold malevolent eyes of the Ringmaster".

In the hospital, Betty Brant stands looking down at the still-unconscious J. Jonah Jameson who is now tucked securely in a hospital bed. The doctor enters and tells Betty that the x-rays are negative. Jonah has no internal injuries and should regain consciousness soon. Betty is glad to hear it and knows Peter will be glad too. This thought reminds her that she hasn't seen Peter all day and she wonders what happened to him.

Back at the battle, Princess Python lets go of Spidey a split-second before the four men jump on him at once. They hem him in and try to punch him into submission. But Spidey tells them that, "You've all got me exactly where I want you!" When Cannonball announces that the web-slinger is bluffing, Spidey feels compelled to prove that he's telling the truth. First he knocks a Gambonno out of the pile into unconsciousness with a right-handed punch. Then he knocks the Clown out of the pile with a left-handed punch. Then he ducks Cannonball's punch as he socks the other Gambonno into unconsciousness. Princess Python has seen enough. She can't understand how "anyone so normal- sized [can] be so powerful and so dangerous" but she doesn't stay around to find out. She makes a run for it.

Spidey has saved Cannonball for last. "You're the big, brave hero who knocked out middle-aged Jonah Jameson," he says as he approaches a terrified Cannonball who has backed up against the wall. Cannonball tries one last desperate gambit, but it's really the same old shtick. He runs at Spidey with his head down. Spider-Man puts his left hand on the top of Cannonball's head, stopping him cold. He holds Cannonball's chin with his right hand and pounds on the top of Cannonball's head with his left. The metal bullet hat caves in with a "Wonk!" pushing down over Cannonball's eyes. Spidey follows this up with a hard left hand that knocks Cannonball across the room.

That seems to be the end of the fight, except that Spider-Man becomes aware of the fact that Princess Python has taken a powder. There is only one door through which she could have gone so Spider-Man follows. Behind him, the crafty Clown regains unconsciousness and starts to pick himself up off the floor.

Princess Python is just standing around in the next room and Spidey is a perfect gentleman when he finds her. "All right, ma'am!" he says, "You'd better come with me now!" The Princess realizes that "My only chance is to take advantage of being a female" so she barks at him for entering this storage room as if he has just walked in on her in her boudoir. Spidey decides he "can't punch her in the jaw and drag her out" so he tries to reason with her. He tells her that he is taking her partners to jail and that he wants her to come along. She turns her back on him and declares, "You're no officer! You can't arrest me!" Spidey walks up behind her, his arms outstretched as he speaks. The Princess leans right into his chest and tells him "You're not too hard to take! Why don't you and I team up?? We could make beautiful music together!" When that doesn't work ("Sorry, ma'am, I happen to be tone deaf" says the ever-polite web-slinger.), she leans in real close and strokes his cheek with her hand. "Don't be a fool!" she purrs, "This could be the chance of a lifetime for you! We'll turn the others in, and we'll keep the loot!"

Peeking around the doorjamb, the Clown hears this entire proposal and he chafes at the words of "that double-crossing, two-timing no good female". ("Two- timing"? Does that mean the Clown and the Princess had something going together?) He runs off vowing to do a little betraying of his own.

Elsewhere, the Ringmaster finally comes out of his trance. He can't remember what just happened and he wonders why his hat is lying on the floor. All he can recall is that he was going to snatch the loot from the Clown and turn the whole group in to the police. He puts his hat on and runs out into the street. He never notices the plainclothes policeman stationed outside his door. His instructions are to follow the Ringmaster wherever he may go and he proceeds to do just that.

Back at the warehouse, Princess Python is really turning up the heat. She now has her arms around the web-slinger as she calls him "you masked dreamboat" and asks, "Don't you find me even a little bit attractive?" "Lady, if you were Sophia Loren, which you're definitely not, I still wouldn't trust you from here to there!" Spidey says. Suddenly, the Princess grabs at the top of his head and starts to pull off his mask. "Hah!" she crows, "If I can unmask you, you'll have to do as I say to keep your identity secret!" and she manages to tug the mask high enough so that Peter's chin is exposed. Desperately, the web- slinger grabs at his mask and pulls it down again. But while he is occupied, Princess Python grabs the electric cattle prod that she uses in her act on her "all-powerful pet". She turns it on and forces Spidey back against the wall with it. This is the first Spidey has heard of the Princess having any sort of pet. (And the first time we have heard of it too since this is her first appearance.) He wants to know what she's talking about. "Why do you think I'm called Princess Python, you fool??" she says. She has a giant trained snake as a partner.

Slowly, she uses the prod to push Spidey back. The web-slinger still doesn't "want to have to get rough with a female" so he allows himself to be maneuvered. Finally, he decides to use his webbing to stop her but his web- shooters don't work. The electricity from the prod has fused them, making then useless. He takes another step backwards and falls through a door "into a murky, windowless room". The Princess announces that she has won. "My pet will finish you now!" she says, "Farewell, Spider-Man!" The Princess closes the door of the room and Spidey turns to face, "the biggest full-grown python I've ever seen!" It's the biggest python I've ever seen too. In fact, it may be the biggest snake of all time. It fills up the entire room and its head is about as big as Spidey's torso.

The python rises up and looks Spidey right in the eye. Then, lethargically, "hardly even trying", it strikes. But if the snake thinks, as Spidey puts it, that the webster will be "duck soup for him", he's in for a surprise. The wall-crawler leaps in the air, grabs the python behind its head, and pushes it down to the floor. With one hand on the snake's head and the other elsewhere on its huge body, Spidey slips between the coils, making sure that "he doesn't wrap himself around me while I'm working on my own battle plan". He works his way around the serpent until he's got the head in one hand and the tail in the other. The python starts to struggle but it is no match for spider-strength. By the time it is all done, the web-spinner has managed to tie the python into a knot. ("What a dandy paper-weight he'd make!" he says.) Princess Python has been hanging around out in the hallway but when she sees Spidey come out of the room, she takes off running. "I've got to get away!" she thinks, "There's nothing that can stop him!"

Just around the corner, the Clown has collected an armful of paintings in his bid to double-cross Princess Python. He is on his way out of the warehouse when he is clonked on the head from behind by the Ringmaster who is exercising a little revenge of his own. With dreams of cashing in the artwork and hiring a whole new Circus of Crime, Ringo heads out of the warehouse with the paintings under his arm... and walks right into the arms of the police, led by the plainclothesman who followed him from his hotel room. Ringo is caught red- handed with the paintings and the cops haul him away.

Meanwhile, Princess Python runs through the warehouse with Spider-Man jogging right along with her on her right. As she exits, she finds herself with Spidey behind and the waiting police just in front. "You're lucky!" says the web- slinger. "Other girls are sitting home tonight with nothing to do!" The Princess opts for the police and is led off to the paddy wagon with the rest of the Masters of Evil. Spidey peeks out from the warehouse and snaps a picture of the bad guys as they are marched single-file to the police van. He figures a shot like this is "the best medicine anyone can give to ol' J.J.J!"

With all the villains accounted for, Peter heads to the hospital. There he finds Jonah Jameson conscious and getting dressed, a piece of gauze taped to the bruise on his head. JJ tells Betty, "I understand you were here at the hospital while I was ill, Miss Brant!" adding, "Too lazy to go to work, eh?" Betty can't help but smile. "He's as nasty as ever," she thinks, "so I know he's all right now!" When Peter enters, Jonah gives him the business for not being there "when I was practically at death's door". Betty also wants to know where he's been. But Pete plays it cool. "Aw, I knew you'd be okay, JJ!" he says, "After all, you were only hit on the head!" Betty puts her hands on her hips and gets indignant. "I think that remark was in very poor taste, Mr. Parker!" she says. Jonah actually fires Peter. "Yeah! We're going to miss you around the paper, Junior" he says. But Pete just leans up against the wall and pulls a handful of photos out of his inside coat pocket. "Of course I could always sell these exclusive pix of the Masters of Menace to another newspaper!" he says. Jonah stops in his tracks and demands to see the "pictures of the Clown and his gang". (Even though, Jonah should have no idea who the "Masters of Menace" are since they came up with the name long after the robbery at the Art Gallery.) When Jameson sees the photos, he can't believe his eyes. "Parker, you're a wizard!" he says, "These shots are front page stuff!!" And everything is well with the world again except that Peter suddenly realizes "the paintings were recovered! Now we'll have to look at them again!" He slaps his hand onto his forehead at the thought of viewing the dreadful works again. Betty, meanwhile, is so thrilled by this turn of events that she doesn't even speak, just claps her hands to her ears with a big smile on her face.

Jonah grabs each teen-ager around the arm and starts rushing them out of the hospital. "What are we standing around for!" he bellows, "We've got an extra to put out! Then, we've got to plan a new art exhibit right away to cash in on the publicity!"

Much later that night, Peter Parker tries to avoid his greatest challenge of the day. He forgot to call his Aunt May to tell her that he wouldn't be home for dinner. Now, he tries to sneak into his house, hoping that his Aunt is already asleep. But May is not asleep. She is standing there with her arms crossed and a stern look on her face, waiting for Peter. "This is the first time you ever stayed out so late without calling," she tells him. Peter tries to explain but he fumbles over his words. It is just so darn complicated. May is hurt by all of this. "You've never kept secrets from me before" she tells her nephew. Peter doesn't know what to do. "Poor Aunt May thinks I'm keeping something bad from her!" he thinks, "But, think how much worse she'd feel if she knew that her pampered Peter Parker is really Spider- Man!" And that's where we leave things. Stan finishes up with some chat about, "Have you ever seen any other costumed super-hero whose Aunt had him on the carpet because he stayed out too late fighting sinister arch-villains?" but meanwhile he leaves Pete in the lurch... faced down by an Aunt with hurt feelings without being able to tell her anything at all.

In the Spider's Web, Robert Ball of Hugo, Oklahoma has a lot of questions-"Why does Aunt May have to have such a pointed chin? Why don't you have Spider-Man, Torch, Daredevil, and the X-men team up to form a "Super-Teens" group? (Uh, because Daredevil's not a teen?) ... Why does that flaming fathead, Torch, have to mess up things every time Spidey's about to capture his foes? When will you give Captain America his own comic?... Where can I get comics from the Golden Age of Comics? Does the Library of Congress have copies?"- and one guess on a mystery villain- "I say the Green Goblin is Mysterio. Am I right?" Stan doesn't give him much help with any of this. "We'd need a fifty-hour day to answer them!" he says of Robert's questions. Timothy Scott of Kenosha, Wisconsin, tells Stan "I think you've worn the idea of people hating Spider- Man, and Aunt May's sickness, a little thin." This is less than two years into the series and he's already sick of it! Timothy, old buddy, I hate to break it to you, but...

Say good-bye to the Masters of Menace. They serve their prison sentences, kiss and make up with the Ringmaster (becoming the Circus of Crime once again), and next appear in Avengers #22, November 1965. They go on to face Thor, Daredevil, the Hulk, Power Man, and even Howard the Duck before they ever meet up with Spider-Man again in Spider-Man Team-Up #5, December 1996. I very much doubt we'll be dealing with them again in the pages of From the Beginning. But that's okay. We've got someone a lot more interesting next issue. You all know who it is but I'll wait for the next issue blurb to say it anyway.

In General...

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

  1. First appearance of the Clown and Princess Python. (And her python.)
  2. Second appearance of the Great Gambonnos (After ASM #16, September 1964)
  3. Third Appearance of the Ringmaster and Cannonball. (After The Incredible Hulk #3, September 1962 and ASM #16.)
  4. First time J. Jonah Jameson is knocked unconscious.
  5. First time the Ringmaster is hypnotized by his own hat.
  6. First time Spider-Man encounters a woman opponent. He doesn't do very well.

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

Ditko/Lee/Simek

  • "Preeeeeesenting the Clown and His Masters of Menace" - Ringmaster and his group return with a new leader - the Clown.

    Overall Rating...

    In this issue's Special Announcements section, Stan says, "You're probably wondering where we go from here with Spidey? Well, if it'll make you feel better, we're wondering too!" He's not entirely serious, since he goes on to give a "next issue" plug at the end of the announcements, but it's a revealing comment all the same. We do know that Stan and Steve start to quarrel over the direction of the series somewhere around this time. Hindsight is easy, of course, but this issue, as entertaining as it is, does seem to be wondering where to go and just feels like it's stalling for time. I love Jonah Jameson (and Steve Ditko!) at the Art Gallery, Cannonball head-butting JJJ, Spidey hypnotizing Ringo with his own hat, the fight scene, and the way Princess Python twists the web-slinger around her little finger, but it still looks like we're in a holding pattern to me. Stan and Steve break out big time next issue but, in the meantime, I'm going to drop this one down to Three Webs.