Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #113

Staff Only
Edit Review
Edit Title

This story is part of an Arc: "Who the Heck is Hammerhead?"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: Sep 2014.

Background...

The villain known as Hammerhead resurfaced recently in the pages of Spider-Man: Lifeline (April-June 2001). In that mini-series, he sought the secret of the petrified tablet in order to save the life of his sister and, temporarily, gained the powers of a god. So, who is Hammerhead, anyway? Here are the beginnings of the flathead mob boss in his first three big story-arcs. See why Hammerhead shouldn't be aware of a sister even if he has one and note that it probably wasn't a big deal for Hammy to briefly be a god since he had briefly been a ghost before. It's Amazing Spider-Man #113-115 (October-December 1972), #130-131 (March-April 1974), and #157-159 (June-August 1976).

The story really began last issue, in Amazing Spider-Man #112 (September 1972) Spidey drops off the unconscious Gibbon (who he battled in the previous previous issue - Amazing Spider-Man #111) at a local hospital, but can't be bothered to stick around to give the nurse any information. His haste is a result of his concern for Aunt May. Back in ASM #109 (June 1972) a distraught Gwen Stacy tells May that she is clinging too tightly to her nephew. This prompts May to rethink her relationship with Peter. In ASM #110 (July 1972), she leaves a note, which Peter finally reads in ASM #111 (August 1972). It says, "Dear Peter, I am going away for awhile. I know it is best for all of us. Please do not worry about me. I will write as soon as possible. Your loving Aunt, May." But of course Peter does worry. He decides that finding his Aunt must take top priority. As a result, he avoids confrontations and ignores the surge of crime in the city. Eventually, however, the violence becomes too prevalent to tune out. He grabs a hood in the midst of a shakedown and learns there is a Gang War "tween my boss an' some other dude". The trail leads to a waterfront warehouse. There, Spider-Man encounters three hoods with super-human strength. They knock the wall-crawler dizzy but he manages to yank a harness off one of them. It is some sort of strength-enhancer "complete with an amplifying power-pack". Clinging to the side of a building, still holding the harness, the web-slinger's spider-sense tingles like never before. And no wonder. It is trying to warn him that he is about to be attacked by Doc Ock!

In Detail...

"They Call the Doctor... Octopus"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #113
Oct 1972 : SMURF 113.500 : SM Title
Summary: Doctor Octopus
Arc: Part 1 of "Who the Heck is Hammerhead?"
Editor:  Roy Thomas
Writer:  Gerry Conway
Pencils:  John Romita, Sr.
Inker:  John Romita, Sr.
Cover Art:  John Romita, Sr.
Add. Art:  Jim Starlin, Tony Mortellaro
Staff Only
Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Amazing Spider-Man Family #2 (Story 4)
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #92
 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #5
Articles: Betty Brant, Doctor Octopus (Otto Octavius), Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Gwen Stacy, Hammerhead, Jameson, J. Jonah, Leeds, Ned, Robertson, Joe "Robbie"

Doctor Octopus is not pleased that Spider-Man has again interfered with his plans. Using one of his metal tentacles, he pops the web-slinger right in the jaw. Spidey tries to swing around the side of the building and ambush the Doctor but Ock doesn't fall for it. He finds Spidey and attacks him again with his tentacles. The wall-crawler is still woozy from his battle with Ock's strength-enhanced hoods and he can't properly defend himself. He falls to a nearby roof, struggling to gain his balance and land on his feet. He fails, landing hard on his arms, which he has flung up to cover his head. The harness falls from his hands. It gets caught up in a TV antenna on yet another rooftop and dangles there, unnoticed by both combatants.

The web-slinger struggles to rise as Doc Ock closes in on him. The Doctor is furious over Spidey's involvement. "Unmerciful, uncompromising... unrelenting" like never before, he vows to kill the unsteady webster and attacks with all four metal arms. But Spider-Man has recovered enough to dance away. As he brags about creating the strength-enhancing harnesses, Ock attaches one tentacle to Spider-Man's mask. He has decided to learn his foe's identity before killing him and succeeds in removing the mask, just as Spidey retaliates by shooting a glob of web fluid at the good Doctor's glasses. Ock gloats that he now treats his glasses "with a chemical enzyme, a solvent of my own invention" (Really proud of all his little inventions, isn't he? Too bad they are mostly forgotten later on.) that allows him to remove the webbing within seconds. But it is still not fast enough. Even though he holds the wall-crawler's mask in one tentacle, he does not learn Spider-Man's identity because Spider-Man has used that brief moment to fly the coop.

Maskless, with a cut across the bridge of his nose caused by Ock's tentacle, Spider-Man spies on his opponent from the wall of a nearby building. He hasn't slept for days and he has been very worried about Aunt May, but his stamina has always been strong enough to counter such things before. Now, however, he feels woozy and has trouble concentrating. Then, suddenly, he is hit with severe stomach cramps that cause him to fall right off the side of the building. Instinctively, he reaches out and grabs a ledge by his fingertips. Gently, carefully, he lowers himself to the next rooftop with his webbing. He sits on the roof edge, gritting against the pain wrenching "around inside like a twisting fist", wondering why he feels "like something run over by a truck".

Meanwhile, Doc Ock, furious at being "virtually mocked by a costumed imbecile" is distracted from his revenge by a radio message from a flunky of his named Karl. It is relayed to Ock that Bernie, another flunky, has "found the secret HQ". In his rush to join his men, Octopus contemptuously tosses Spider-Man's mask away. Only minutes later, Randy Robertson, of all people, walks by and finds the mask hanging on the spike of a wrought-iron fence. He grabs it, heads home, says hello to his mother, then shows the mask to his dad (Daily Bugle City Editor Joe Robertson) and asks, "am I crazy or is this for real?"

Hours pass, night falls, and Spider-Man has not moved from his spot on the rooftop. Every time he thinks the spasms have ended, he tries to move and they return again. In spite of the pain, he knows he must drag himself home and get some sleep. Maybe he'll feel better after that because, if he doesn't, "this could mean the end of Spider-Man!"

At that same time, on the Lower East Side, "in the former headquarters of the currently incarcerated Kingpin", Doc Ock sits at his control center, communicating with Bernie. Hiding in the shadows of an alleyway, Bernie reports that he has traced Ock's enemy "with that gadget you gave me" to a nightclub on 60th. Ock promises a bonus to Bernie and signs off. But Bernie is destined for a different reward. A man dressed like a stereotypical 1930s movie gangster (brown striped jacket, black shirt, red tie, brown fedora, pencil-thin mustache with a cigarette dangling out of his mouth) is standing right next to him. Bernie has, in fact, been caught and compromised by the men of the mob boss known as "Mister H." The information he has passed along to Ock is just what the rival gang boss wants the Doctor to have. The mustache (whose name is Tony, if you're interested) rewards Bernie for his services by shooting him down in cold blood. Then he casually saunters over to "Club Four" where he informs a fellow named Ruffio "the pigeon spilled just what we wanted him to spill". Ruffio telephones to a boardroom in a penthouse where a figure in the shadows (a closer look reveals a strange looking man with a flat head and a snub nose, a carnation in his jacket lapel and a very large ring on his pinky finger) is very pleased to hear the news. This is Mister H. and he is plenty ticked off at "the way that Octopus creep shot up our numbers people on Eighth Street". Now he's set up a little surprise of his own.

Shortly after, Mister H's men wait in ambush for Octopus' arrival. Even though they are armed with machine guns, they still worry. They've heard that Doc Ock is "not just your average mug" and will probably suspect that this is a trap. And, sure enough, when Ock arrives, he lands on the awning of the club and smashes in the door with two tentacles, knocking out Tony and his compatriot in the process. Ruffio blasts away with his machine gun but there is nothing to shoot, just metal arms snaking into the building. Two of those arms lift the carpet on which Ruffio stands, knocking him off-balance. A third arm snaps the machine gun in two as a fourth arm knocks Ruffio unconscious. Then Octopus enters. With three of his arms, he lifts the three unconscious men up in the air. With the fourth, he lights a cigar as he announces the start of gang war.

As dawn arrives, Spider-Man, now back in his identity of Peter Parker, stumbles into his apartment. He is so sick that he is unaware of the voices in the living room and doesn't notice that his Spidey costume peeks out from above the "v" of his shirt. He collapses on his bed where the pain finally causes him to pass out. He has fevered nightmares about Aunt May caught in Dr. Octopus' arms with his stolen Spidey mask draped over one tentacle. Gentle hands touch his face and urge him awake. It is his girl friend Gwen Stacy who has been waiting for hours with his roommate Harry Osborn for Pete to come home. When they find him in this feverish condition, they call his doctor. Now Peter looks up to see that Dr. Bromwell is here, too.

The Doctor remarks on the nasty cut on Pete's nose then gets down to the business at hand. He asks Pete to remove his shirt and Pete knows he must act swiftly to prevent Bromwell from seeing his Spidey costume. Moving quickly, he pulls his shirts off and tosses them on the floor, on the other side of the bed from the doctor, in the period of seconds that Bromwell has his back turned. (And apparently, in their concern, Gwen and Harry never saw the Spidey outfit peaking out from his shirt, either.) The doc tells Pete to sit back and relax ("You seem much too tense for a boy your age.") while he listens to his chest with a stethoscope. When he finishes his examination, Bromwell asks Gwen to step into the room. He tells Pete that he is "exhibiting all the signs of nervous exhaustion". He tells Gwen that she must watch Pete to make sure he takes it easy and doesn't eat spicy food. He has to run further tests but he is pretty sure that Peter has "one dandy little duodenal ulcer!" The doctor steps out in the hall and gives Harry a prescription to fill for Pete. Gwen comforts Peter and promises to take care of him. And all our stunned hero can do is repeat, "What??... what?...what?"

After everyone has gone, Peter comes to grips with his condition. He knows his body can only take so much pressure before "something snaps" and he knows he should take it easy from here on, but he also knows he can't. Re-donning his shirts, he goes to his darkroom to develop his Ock photos, and then heads to the Bugle to sell them. At first, publisher J. Jonah Jameson is unimpressed with Peter's selection until he comes upon the shots of Spidey battling Dr. Octopus. "With any luck maybe we've seen the last of that costumed menace", JJJ says of Spidey. When Peter asks why JJJ would think that, the publisher gestures over his shoulder to a bulletin board. There is Spidey's mask, brought in by Joe Robertson, pinned up with two thumbtacks. It is marked with blood (thus Jonah's hope that Spidey is finished) right at the nose. Fortunately, no one makes the connection between the blood on the mask and the cut on Pete's nose.

Peter is disappointed to see his mask on display at the Bugle. He was hoping to return to the scene of the battle and retrieve it. He doesn't have a spare he can wear. He briefly considers swiping it while no one is looking but this idea is interrupted by the arrival of Betty Brant and Ned Leeds. They both know about the disappearance of Peter's Aunt. Ned thinks he may have a lead... a domestic employment agency on the Lower East Side where Aunt May was apparently seen. Pete thanks Ned for the address and races off. He changes into his Spidey outfit and carefully webslings through the Manhattan night without a mask. He lands on the roof of a closed costume shop, opens the skylight, and snags a Spider-Man mask with his webbing. It looks quite a bit like his original except that it has open eyeholes instead of his opaque lenses. It is also made out of cellophane, which makes it a little bit difficult to breathe. "With my luck" says the web-slinger, "I'll probably break out in a rash. Rash, heck. I'll get hives."

As he heads to the employment agency, Spidey realizes that it is only a block away from his previous encounter with Ock. Briefly, he wonders if there is a connection between Aunt May and Dr. Octopus but all speculation must cease as the ulcer cramps come upon him again. He rests for a moment, perched on a chimney, hoping his muscles will loosen up. Instead, his head just starts spinning again. Through his faintness, Spidey realizes that his spider-sense is tingling as well. At the last instant, he leaps and evades the tentacles of Doc Ock who, sneaking up behind, smashes to rubble the chimney on which Spidey was perched.

Ock vows that he will not be merciful this time, which gives Spidey the opportunity to respond with one of those nifty timely quotes that now are so thoroughly dated. "You, merciful?" he says to Ock, "Isn't that a bit like Humphrey being quiet?" (This comment refers to the loquacious Hubert Horatio Humphrey who was Vice-President of the United States from 1965-1969 under Lyndon B. Johnson, Democratic Party nominee for President in 1968 narrowly losing to Richard Nixon, and a candidate in the primaries again in 1972. But it still seems a strangely dated comment for Spidey even at the time it was written.)

The web-slinger grabs two of Ock's arms for balance but the Doctor swings them and smashes Spidey against a wall. The wall-crawler is so weak from his ulcer that he drops right down to the ground. This confuses Ock at first who suspects that the webhead has beat a "timely retreat". But then Doc looks down and sees Spidey struggling to rise. "Our previous battle must have injured him in some way" he decides. Now "it only remains to finish him off!" Spidey knows that Ock is fully capable of doing just that. But he has an idea that might help him win out... if he just has the strength to wall-crawl to a certain remembered spot without losing his grip.

Ock is annoyed at Spider-Man's weak attempts at hide and seek. He pursues his opponent around the side of the building but when he gets there he is greeted with a punch that knocks him nearly dizzy. With a jolt, he suddenly realizes where they are. This is the same building at which he and Spidey fought before. The same building where Spider-Man dropped the strength-enhancing exo-skeleton. Now that harness is being worn by the web-slinger. Revitalized by the device, the webster leaps at his enemy. Ock stays defiant. "Very well, fool", he proclaims, "we'll see how well you perform using my equipment against me!"

The wall-crawler's leap takes him past the metal arms and right to Octopus' body. He starts swinging wildly at Ock. He knows he can't last, that his dizziness is getting the best of him, that the mask is making it harder to breathe. So, he decides he must end the battle with one punch. Gathering up all his strength and courage, Spider-Man punches Doc's lights out. He stands over the fallen Octopus in triumph, impressed that he can still defeat someone as powerful as Ock even when sick. Especially since, he reveals, "This harness ran outta power five minutes ago!"

But his triumph is short-lived. His spider-sense warns him to look behind. Three guns are pointed at him. In between two well-dressed thugs is a man in a pinstriped suit and vest, with a cigar in his mouth and a very flat head. He thanks Spider-Man for "getting ridda my worst competition". Now, with Ock out of the picture, the man figures the gangs of the whole city are ripe for the taking and he's just the one to take over and organize them. His name, he tells Spidey, is Hammerhead!

Writer J. Michael Reaves has a letter published in this issue but I much prefer this short one, responding to John Romita resuming the penciling from Gil Kane: "Dear Stan and John, To all ye Romita nay-sayers, I say thee FOOEY!!!" Signed, "Odin, Asgard, New York."

In General...

Gee, how am I supposed to follow up Al’s fantastic “In Detail” section of this issue? Well, I’ll try:

While the last issue by Conway was pretty terrible, this begins what I would call a classic story arc (I know some people say the last issue began this story arc, but I don't so deal with it). First of all, it’s always nice to find Spider-Man’s back to normal, leaving behind his inconsistent characterization from last issue. Peter rushes off like he should when Ned Leeds mentions his “lead.” Also, Conway writes Peter’s “Parker luck” well when he must borrow a mask from a costume shop because he lost his original. It was also a nice touch for Peter to hide his costume from the doctor.

Conway, as is apparent in his Spider-Man runs, enjoys a good ol’ fashion gang war. Nothing reflects this better than the introduction of Hammerhead, a character who seems to have been plucked from the 20's and thrown into a Spider-Man comic. All the tommy guns and pinstripe suits are absolutely fantastic! I know some people find this whole plotline with Hammerhead corny, but I dare to say that that’s what makes it so endearing! Anyways, this arc must have worked pretty well, because Hammerhead is still a go-to character when it comes to gang war stories.

Additionally, Doctor Octopus’ character is well-written and interesting. Conway writes his melodramatic and egotistical dialogue masterfully. Conway sets a lasting direction for Ock’s character with this arc, as his rivalry with Hammerhead will occupy him for a good part of the 70’s, and his later war with Owl is very similar to that with Hammerhead. In my opinion, Ock’s character is best in gang storylines, because they work well with his control-driven personality.

As should be expected, John Romita Sr.’s artwork is as solid and bombastic as it always is. Nobody draws a Spidey/Ock battle quite like Romita, and he luckily gets two separate conflicts to draw here. Romita’s design for Hammerhead is distinct and fantastic; subtle touches like his square-shaped face set him apart from the many other would-be kingpins in comics. Romita, in my opinion, is always best drawing street-level stories, so this one is particularly to his advantage.

Overall Rating...

This is the beginning of a classic. Conway and Romita are in their elements, and it only gets better.