Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #54
This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning
This review was first published on: Feb 2014.
The story continues from Amazing Spider-Man #53…sort of. It’s not like there was a cliffhanger to wrap up. If it wasn’t for the final prescient panel showing Doc Ock taking a room at May Parker’s house, you’d almost think this was a one issue story. Sure, Ock escaped at the end of #53 but the Green Goblin used to do that and not come back for several issues. But Stan is building a larger tapestry here. He’s not through with Ock, he’s not through with the nullifier. He’s playing with the comic book story format in ways not really seen before.
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #54
Nov 1967 : SMURF 054.500 : SM Title
Summary: Battle at Aunt May's House
Arc: Part 2 of "Doc Ock Wins"
Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #39
Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #3
Reprinted In: Spider-Man vs. Doctor Octopus (TPB)
|Articles: Watson, Anna (BTS), Aunt May Parker, Aunt May Parker, Betty Brant, Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius), Gwen Stacy, Jameson, J. Jonah, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Robertson, Joe "Robbie"|
Johnny’s cover this time is pretty straightforward but it does carry quite a punch. Spidey dominates the center of the illustration, leaning forward, one foot up on tiptoe, glaring at the fleeing Dr. Octopus. His left hand is clenched in a fist. His right hand holds an unconscious (or dead?) Aunt May. Doc Ock, smaller and more distant in the image, smashes through a wall with two tentacles, looking back at Spidey. The two tentacles nearly meet as they hover over Spidey’s head. The remnants of furniture around the page’s edges show this to be someone’s home…probably May’s home. I defy anyone to look at this cover and not want to open up the issue to see what takes place. Johnny’s just warming up for next issue’s classic cover. Stan wisely refrains from cluttering up this cover with copy. The only text here is the issue’s title and it is positioned out of the way on the lower right, discarded with the trashed furniture.
The splash page takes us right to the scene telegraphed in our last issue. Doc Ock arrives on Aunt May’s doorstep. (He has a cool symbolic shadow behind him, complete with tentacles that Stan uses as a panel for his recap of last issue. Very clever. And the “camera angle” of the page is as if someone is “filming” from an upstairs window…distant and foreboding.) "Of course I remember you!", Aunt May says to the prospective boarder on her doorstep, "You're that kindly Dr. Octopus whom I visited in 1964 with Miss Betty Brant!" (In Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, don'tcha know.) There are two interesting things about May’s comment. First, she calls her visitor “Dr. Octopus” rather than “Dr. Octavius.” A quick glance at ASM Annual #1 seems to confirm that she called him “Dr. Octopus” back then, too. Also, note that May actually says that she visited back in 1964. This implies that, at this time, Stan was still thinking of the series as taking place in real time. At what point does that all change?
"Now that I realize you are to be the landlady, dear Mrs. Parker", rejoins the suave Otto, "I will accept the room sight unseen!" Aunt May, acting addled as usual, stops suddenly. She's just remembered that Doc Ock is wanted by the police. "That was just a mistake," Ock tells his patsy, "Spider-Man was the culprit. I was trying to stop him from stealing the nullifier." May buys this hook, line, and sinker (with one of those great Romita-drawn Aunt May smiles that crinkle up her eyes and make her look so cute). "To think you'd risk your own life trying to save us all from that dreadful Spider-Man," she says. Anna Watson is away on a trip but May is sure she would welcome Ock as a boarder "as much as I do." “I’m deeply touched by your kindness, dear lady,” says Ock but he’s thinking, “This is perfect! They’ll never find me here!”
Back in Manhattan, Spidey has scoured the whole city unsuccessfully searching for Octopus. “Wherever he is, I guess he’s safe for now,” he says. (Heh. Yes, but is May safe?) He returns to his apartment (where "Harry must be out on a date!") and decides to call Aunt May. The phone rings, just as Ock is paying May the "first month's rent in advance." ("That should keep her out of my hair until my plans are complete," he thinks.) As May talks to Peter, Otto climbs the stairs, finds his room, puts his suitcase on his bed and opens it. His metal arms come writhing out, holding his communicating equipment. (Not sure how the arms and their harness and the communicating equipment all fit in that little suitcase, though.) "Now that Spider-Man is dead (Did I mention that Ock thinks his bomb killed Spidey last issue?) and I’ve found a far better hideout than I expected, I can again make plans to steal the priceless nullifier," he states, "Luckily all of my men were not captured when my career as the Master Planner was cut short by the accursed Spider-Man!" He uses his equipment to contact his flunky (who has apparently been waiting at his station for a call for the last twenty issues) and declares, "Your wait is over! Soon we shall strike again!" Meanwhile, Ock's equipment is wreaking havoc on Aunt May's TV reception. "I wonder if Dr. Octopus could fix it for me?" she says, "He seems so very capable!"
The following morning, in the Manhattan "pad," Harry Osborn (tying his bow tie) calls into Pete's room to see if he wants any breakfast. Pete has left his door open and has been busy mixing up web-fluid with his Spidey suit hanging in plain sight on his closet door. Calling out, "Just a second, Harry! Be right with you!" PP closes his door and loads the web fluid into his extra cartridges on his belt. When he opens up again, Harry has turned sullen. "I can't wait for you to lock everything up tight as a drum before you'll talk to me," he says, "If you're afraid I'll steal something, just move out!" And he goes off to visit his father. (Actually, Harry has a good point here. How would you like it if your roommate locked his bedroom door and wouldn’t let you even look at his stuff?)
Still brooding that "my Spider-Man identity is fouling up the best friendship I ever had," Pete rides his motorcycle to the Daily Bugle. (“And I don’t know how to make Harry understand,” Peter thinks. Yeah, explaining to Harry could be a bit of a problem.) Once Peter gets to the Bugle, Betty Brant introduces him to "our new City Editor"... Joe "Robbie" Robertson. Joe tells Pete “You’re the best spot news photog I’ve run into” and he’s interested in learning how Peter manages to get "those action-shots of yours." Peter tells him it's "beginner's luck." (What else is he going to tell him? Because, like with Harry, explaining could be a bit of a problem.) The agitated arrival of J. Jonah Jameson saves Peter from elaborating further. (But, wait, before we move on…Robbie has the latest edition of the Bugle in his hand and the big blurred headline is something about “Murder.” “Fmobiel murder?”) JJJ wants to know why Peter hasn't brought in any photos lately and our hero responds by asking if anyone has a line on where Dr. Octopus is hiding. "Sure! Sure!", says Jonah, "I've got 'im on my key chain, for a lucky charm!" (I do love JJJ’s sarcastic lines from the Stan era.)
Deciding he won't get any decent information at the newspaper, Pete cycles over to the Coffee Bean to see what's "shakin'." (Sure hope it's a Saturday. Otherwise he's skipping school.) Sure enough, Gwen and Mary Jane are hanging around outside. The two women get out their claws and scratch at each other for three panels before Pete tells them he is going to visit Aunt May. When he gets to the Forest Hills home, his spider-sense starts buzzing "like mad." He rushes in and is shocked to discover Dr. Octopus sitting at the table having tea with Aunt May. May introduces her new boarder. (Ock says, “Your Aunt was just telling me what a brilliant science student you are! I dabble a bit in science myself!” Classic humblebragging by the Doctor.) Peter, angrily pointing a finger at Ock, tells May, "He's a criminal! A deadly menace!" "You mustn't say such things, dear," says May, "After all, he is our guest!" A bowing, smiling Ock says, "He's just over-emotional... like so many of today's teenagers."
Peter's protests are interrupted by his Aunt who tells him that Ock is entirely innocent... a victim of "that horrible Spider-Man." (In the background, Ock lights a cigarette that disappears two panels later.) Octopus volunteers to speak to the lad in private... "man-to-man." When May leaves the room, Otto grabs Peter by his jacket lapel and says "Now listen, you punk kid... and listen good! One more peep out of you... to your Aunt... the papers... or the cops...and it'll be curtains for both of you!" Peter would like to tackle Octavius right away but he is afraid of what it would do to May's weak heart. He can't act and he daren't leave his Aunt alone with a madman. All he can do is put his left hand up to his forehead and look anguished and wide-eyed.
Following a strange sketchy panel that doesn’t look like Johnny drew it, Peter tells May "I've some studying to do" and leaves the house. He hangs out, watching from across the street until dark. (In a nice moody panel showing Peter from behind as he lurks under a tree; his head and shoulders covered in shadow.) He changes to Spider-Man but still hesitates to attack "because of Aunt May." Still, when a delivery is made to the house for Ock ("Must be equipment for some new crime!"), Pete knows he must act. (This is another nice panel with Spidey’s head in profile in the foreground and the entrance to the house in the distance, with light spilling out of the house, throwing the deliveryman and Ock into shadow.)
Octopus plays with his beakers and test tubes in his upstairs room. (He apparently changed into his green jumpsuit to do this. And…wait. The lab equipment was all in that little suitcase, too? Must have been heavy.) Just then, Spidey shines the spider-signal into the room. The startled Doctor cries out, "No! No!! It isn't possible! I killed him! He's dead!" Ock rushes to the window but Spidey has climbed around the building. He hopes to entice Ock to come out and fight away from Aunt May. But Octopus doesn't fall for that. Instead, he contacts his Master Planner henchmen (six of them still sitting around together wearing their crimson outfits with purple boots, gloves, and masks... don't these guys have a home life?) and tells them it is time to attack Spider-Man. As the web-slinger waits on Ock to leave the house, he is kicked in the head by one of the henchmen, hanging from a rope that is dangling from a helicopter. (A helicopter! Hanging over the neighborhood! And getting there so fast you'd think their hideout was just down the block!)
Now, it appears that Spidey has moved away from his Aunt's house and taken up a position on the side of an apartment building since Ock is shown watching from a window a block away as the other henchmen climb down the rope and tackle the wall-crawler. All six of Ock's men jump onto Spidey but he is able to knock all of them away. A crowd of Forest Hills residents forms to watch the battle. Realizing that they cannot prevail in a straight fight, the henchmen resort to gas. (One guy, again hanging from that rope, uses a gas gun on Spidey. So, the helicopter hovered there with the rope hanging down just in case one of the henchmen wanted to dangle from it again?) Spidey, not able to hold his breath in time, is quickly weakened. The masked men pull our hero off the wall on which he's standing and use him as a punching bag as he lies on the ground. But there are so many men that they get in each other's way and Spidey takes advantage of the confusion to clear his head. The wall-crawler punches back, gets to his feet and starts mopping up the place with his opponents. Someone in the crowd announces that the police have been called. “Hear that, boys?” asks Spidey, “Someone called the law! That means you won’t have to worry about lodgings for tonight.” One thug replies, “They can’t arrest us! We haven’t done anything yet!” (They haven’t done anything yet? Then what have they been doing all these months while working for Dr. Octopus?) In minutes, Spidey defeats the men and webs them together. (It looks like the helicopter deserts the men and flies away.) One wide-eyed guy in the crowd says, “Anyone who can fight like Spider-Man should be locked up! He’s a menace!” Sound reasoning, pal! It is then that the police show up and the webhead notices that Aunt May is among the crowd, having "slipped out to see what all the excitement was about." Spidey realizes that this means that "Ock will be home alone" (I have this mental picture of Ock holding his hands up to his face and yelling "Aaaaaaarrrggghhh!"). He takes advantage of the situation.
Inside, Ock, too, realizes that "the old lady's gone." He straps on his arms, ready for a fight. It is lucky for him that he does, for, seconds later, Spider-Man eschews all subtlety and crashes right through Otto's window. (Which is sort of a thoughtless thing to do to May’s house. Or is it Anna Watson’s house? I can never remember.) Octopus quickly wraps him up in his tentacles. He pins Spidey's arms back and wraps a tentacle around our hero's neck as he punches him in the mug with another. Spidey realizes that he'd only be wasting his strength trying to break free so he plays possum instead. “You were even easier than I expected!” Otto crows. “I’m almost sorry you couldn’t put up more of a fight! I’d have enjoyed watching you squirm, hearing you beg for mercy!” Planning to quickly escape, Ock starts to “simply place [Spidey] on the floor.” But when Ock releases his foe, Spidey leaps into action, socking Otto on the jaw with a “Zok!”
Unfortunately, Aunt May chooses this time to re-enter the house. She hears all the noise upstairs and goes to investigate. When she sees the battle, the shock is too great for her and she passes out. Ock uses the distraction to knock out the entire outside wall and make his escape but Spidey stays behind, cradling his unconscious Aunt in his arm. Ock carries a box with him as he goes. Is this the delivery he received? It’s not the suitcase he was carrying before.
A frightened, heartsick Peter knows that it wasn't Octopus who scared May but Spider-Man. With tears in his eyes, he rips off his mask, exclaiming, "It's all right, Aunt May! You're safe! You've nothing to fear from Spider-Man!" but May does not revive. Frantically, Peter calls Dr. Bromwell (Who promises to come at once! Those were the days!) and it is only after the call that he realizes that he is still in his Spidey costume. He changes to his civvies and agonizes. "If... if she doesn't recover, it'll be my fault."
Twenty minutes later, the doctor shows and pronounces May fortunate... this time. "Do you know what caused the shock?" he asks. (Could it have something to do with that demolished wall on the side of the house, Doc?) "I'm not quite sure," Peter replies.
In the aftermath, Peter decides he was foolish to remove his mask in May's presence. "It might have made things worse than ever." He looks over the damage, decides he must call a plasterer (I think a bricklayer would serve him better) and hopes he can afford the repairs. And the more he thinks about Ock flaunting his power by breaking through the wall, the angrier he gets. (But he seems to have forgotten that he started it by smashing through the window.) "I'll show him what strength really is!" he vows. "He won't get another chance to return and jeopardize the life of Aunt May! No matter where he is, I'll find him! And this time, nothing will stop me from ridding the world forever of the menace of Dr. Octopus!" Stan puts the lie to Peter’s vow right away with the “Next Issue” blurb, “Be here when: Disaster Strikes Spider-Man!” Next issue’s cover proclaiming “Doc Ock Wins!” further mocks Peter’s vow. And it really seems preposterous these days with all the Superior Spider-Man stuff going on.
You may recall that the Bullpen Bulletins page in Amazing Spider-Man #50, July 1967 featured Mark Evanier’s letter to Stan in which he proposed the “Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom.” In this issue’s Bulletins (“Welcome to the Wonderful World of Marvel Madness!”), Stan prints two responses to Mark’s proposal; one con (from Robert Lax of Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts) and one pro (from Wayne Nehwadowich of Brooklyn, New York). Stan follows up by saying, “we’re going to boil down the seemingly endless list of titles which we’ve had suggested to us, and try to limit them to just a few, easy-to-remember ones. Then, when we get the details worked out, we’ll clue you in on this page in the very near future.” So, it looks like we’re going to get the Hallowed Ranks. But you already knew that, didn’t you?
Here are the 26 M.M.M.S members for this issue: Davy Moreland of Grand Saline, Texas; Ellen Miyasato of Wahlawa, Hawaii; Frank Ortiz of Gary, Indiana; Ricky Ross of Vineland, New Jersey; Robert Mate of Phoenix, Arizona; Robert Licher of Buffalo, New York; Bruce Lawrence of Marinesville, Virginia; Stuart McLay of Almeda, California; Bubba Rober of Jasper, Georgia; David Makarchuk of Verona, New Hampshire; Michal Lazor of Cleveland, Ohio; Charles Lercara of Bronx, New York; David Olson of Seattle, Washington; Donald Majesky of Queens, New York; D. Montgomery of Richland, Washington; Paul Michael of Baton Rouge, Louisiana; John Meehan of Gloversville, New York; Betty Montgomery of Dallas, Texas; Michael Rivera of New York, New York; Keith Morgan of Baltimore, Maryland; Michael McElroy of Lexington, Kentucky; Larry Redding of New York, New York; Henry Ricci of Woppinger, New York; John Miller of Brooklyn, New York; Steve Micheff of Chicago, Illinois; and Rich Nolan of Indianapolis, Indiana. When will these M.M.M.S. lists end?
The “More Marvel Masterpieces…” are reduced to half a page in this issue, promoting Fantastic Four Special #5 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 (which is actually Amazing Spider-Man Special but which I have to call "Amazing Spider-Man Annual" in order for the link to work). The other half page plugged the Marvel Super-Hero T-Shirts (“only $1.60 each”), which were, at this point, the Fantastic Four, Thor, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, the Avengers, and Spidey. The two Marvel sweatshirts ($3.15 each)…the Thing yelling “It’s Clobberin’ Time!” and “Here Comes the Incredible Hulk”…were also for sale on this page. Sign me up for one of each!
In the Spider’s Web, Lenny Ackerman of Chicago, Illinois begins his letter with, “There I was standing in my favorite drug store waiting for the latest Spidey to come in.” I remember those days! No comic shops! No online shops! Just a spin rack in a drug store, taking your chances on getting the latest Spidey and missing out half the time so you had to go all over town looking for it. Ah, memories! Mike Potter of Louisville, Kentucky suggests, “One plot development I would like to see is Patch’s becoming Spidey’s undercover man.” Oops! Sorry, Mike! As Stan puts it, “Obviously your letter was written before our now-famous ‘Death of a Hero’ ish went on sale.” But, now that I think of it, since no one knew Patch was Frederick Foswell, did anyone ever wonder what became of Patch? In the matter of Peter’s increasing hipness, Randy Hudson of Grand Haven, Michigan said, “I believe that fans are absolutely correct in saying that he isn’t the Peter Parker we all once knew. I think his true character is lost in all the modern fads that you put in your mags.” However, Richard Haendel of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma declared, “I was just sitting here, contemplating suicide if you pacify all the squares who have been writing in to have you go back to the old corny Peter Parker. Ol’ Petey has risen from the depths of squaredom to the heights of hipsville.” Stan sides with Richard. “Guess that clinches it, Dick!” he replies, “We don’t have so many frantic followers that we can afford to lose a live one like you.” Finally, Dwight Decker of Mt. Vernon, Ohio (who has gone on to be big in comics fandom, as a writer for Amazing Heroes and as a translator of foreign language comics into English) writes, “Spider-Man #51 was the fulfillment of the promise you made when you first conceived the idea of a spider-powered youth. I can barely express my sheer joy of reading that masterpiece. This was a super-hero as he was meant to be – the superman in the finest Nietzsche tradition…This is how a super-hero should be – no mermaids, no space elves, no silly girl companion unworthy of the hero’s affection, but what’s real and what’s good and great…This is what Nietzsche intended in his superman – the mystery, the power, the force, the greatness. I am opposed to Spider-Man’s talking like a hippie. A little slang is fine and effective, but the quantity you have used is not only unnatural, but in a few years…for example, read one of the original Tom Swift stories, paying close attention to the slang. Dated, n’est-ce pas? I close my humble letter with a shy wave to Mary Jane whom I devoutly hope is the lucky girl to get Spider-Man. However, if Gwen has such unparalled luck, could I have a date with Mary Jane, or will Mrs. Watson only let her date local boys?” Stan is overwhelmed. “You brought up so many earth-shattering points that we don’t know which to comment on first…so we’ll forget the whole thing.” But before we forget the whole thing, here’s my two cents. Dwight was right that MJ became “the lucky girl to get Spider-Man” but I don’t agree that Peter’s “hip lingo” reads as dated these days because I don’t think it read as authentic back in 1967. It was just quirky Stan-speak hipness and, as such, retains that quirky charm. At least, so it seems to me. Anyone feel otherwise? Also, excuse me if I’m stating the obvious but the “mermaid,” “space elf,” and “silly girl companion unworthy of the hero’s affection” refer to Lori Lemaris, Mr. Mxyzptlk, and Lois Lane respectively from the apparently non-Nietzschean Superman series. Those of you who think Lois Lane is worthy of the hero’s affection have not read the stories from the 1950s and 1960s.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
- Doc Ock’s ninth appearance. Unless you count it as part of last issue’s eighth appearance. His next appearance is next issue!
- Second cover appearance of Aunt May (After ASM #32. Her next cover appearance is Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #5.
- Stan stretches the comic book multi-issue story format with a second issue that is, in many ways, unrelated to the previous issue. This will happen again next time.
- Aunt May meets Doc Ock for the second time (the first being ASM Annual #1). There will be ensuing meetings.
- Peter locks up his room “tight as a drum” but leaves a steaming beaker on a table. Can you blame Harry for being testy? Imagine being this guy’s roommate.
- Doc Ock carries a briefcase that contains his metal arms, his lab equipment, his video communication set-up and who know what else?
- Peter meets Joe Robertson for the first time.
- The first clash between Otto Octavius and Peter Parker. There will be others.
- Ock’s henchmen show up so fast, they must have been in the house next door.
- Ock takes a mysterious box with him instead of all his other stuff. What can be so important? And if it’s that important, why did he leave it to an ordinary service to deliver it? Or…was it an ordinary service?
- Peter unmasks in Aunt May’s presence. Fortunately, Aunt May is unconscious at the time.
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"The Tentacles and the Trap" - Continues from #53. - Aunt May takes in Doc. Ock as a boarder. - Aunt May has an attack when she sees the "evil" Spider-Man by the "nice" Dr. Octopus.
It’s a cool idea, having Dr. Octopus rent a room at Aunt May’s house, and it plays fair with continuity since May has met Otto before and was favorably taken by him. It puts Peter in a novel reversal - the Forest Hills home is usually a refuge rather than the scene of battle – and forces him to be cautious lest his Aunt suffer the consequences. (This happened before in Amazing Spider-Man #39, August 1966 with the Green Goblin and will happen again in Amazing Spider-Man #317, July 1989 with Venom; both very suspenseful issues because of the villain's intrusion into Peter's safety zone. That suspense can be felt in this issue, too.) In spite of his previous caution, Spidey overextends when the time comes (just like a teen-ager), smashing through a window and causing May’s collapse. (Peter always blames himself for May’s health scares but, in this case, yeah, he’s sort of responsible.) There is some good stuff in this issue (the moment on page 7 panel 4 when Peter first sees Otto in May’s house is one of the all-time greats) with a lot of appearances by the regulars…including Peter meeting Joe Robertson…but it still feels like we’re treading water, waiting for the main event. I love Stan experimenting with the process of a continued story but it’s time to get on with it. Last time I said I sensed some five-web issues coming up in this storyline but this isn’t one of them. Again, it’s three webs. Still sensing those “five-webbers” though.
And one last thing. I get the business about the tentacles but what the heck was the trap? Wasn’t the trap last issue?
Next: I know, I know. I’d also like to go right on to ASM #55 but first we have to look again at one of my least favorite Ditko stories. It’s tempting to skip it but, you know, rules are rules. Marvel Tales #11 is next.