Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #172

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Absolutely Amazing

This review was first published on: Apr 2013.

Background...

After recently reviewing what I consider to be the best Rocket Racer centric story ever written (Spectacular Spider-Man #104), I noticed that no one had ever taken the time to review the monumental first appearance of the Racer. Once I found a wee bit of free time, I decided to right this grievous wrong. Without further ado, I present the whopping four page debut of Robert Farrell (aka the Rocket Racer).

In Detail...

"The Fiend From The Fire!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #172
Sep 1977 : SMURF 172.500 : SM Title
Summary: First Rocket Racer
Editor:  Len Wein
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Frank Giacoia
Cover Art:  Ross Andru
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 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #8
Articles: Glory Grant, Jameson, J. Jonah, Elizabeth (Allan) Osborn, Molten Man, Rocket Racer, Robertson, Joe "Robbie"

The book opens right in the midst of a chase scene. An interesting character sporting an afro and a gaudy red and yellow suit is flying down the sidewalk on a rocket powered skate board with Spider-Man not far behind. The Rocket Racer has just robbed a courier and he certainly doesn't plan on just giving up his new found fortune to the wall crawler. The chase between the two colorfully dressed characters eventually goes from the streets of New York to the walls of the city’s buildings. Dodging the Racer’s mini rockets, Spidey eventually shoots a perfectly aimed strand of web to the bottom of the Racer’s board. The sudden jolt sends the criminal flying off his board and into the arms of the police. With that, the Rocket Racer’s burglary plot is foiled and we don’t see him appear again for another 10 issues.

Meanwhile, Liz Allen and Harry Osborn are sharing an intimate moment in Harry's car after their date. Once Liz says goodbye to her new beau, she walks into her dark house and is surprised by a shadowy figure. She screams, but the mystery man says that he only needs Liz’s help. Elsewhere, Pete has met up with Harry at a local diner to talk. Harry, who has recently proposed to Liz, asks his long time best friend if he would be his best man. Before Peter can answer though, Harry sees a distrait Liz storm past the diner. Harry calls out to his fiancé but she ignores him and gets into a cab.

The action then shifts to the Daily Bugle where Peter is attempting to sell photos of his brief scat with the Rocket Racer. Surprisingly, J. Jonah Jameson is happy to buy the photos from Pete and even breaks out into an impromptu dance when Glory Grant relays the news that his new flame Marla Madison is there to see him. Is this a new, truly “Jolly” Jameson?

While still at the Bugle, Peter receives a phone call from the police and is stunned to find out that Liz Allen has some how ended up in jail. Once confronted by Pete, Liz confesses to her charge of attempting to steal drugs from the hospital. “I had to do what I did. I didn’t have any other choice!” she exclaims.

Peter arranges Liz’s bail and, after changing into his blue and reds, jumps out into the night to get to the bottom of this puzzling mystery. After swinging over to Liz’s house, Spider-Man quickly finds his first and only piece of key evidence. The sight of smoldered footprints traced across the floor is all a college educated fellow like Peter Parker needs to put two and two together.

At the hospital, the mystery man has snuck into the chemical storage room. Before he can even begin to concoct the formula that he is internally raving about though, Spider-Man lets his presence be known. As the two begin to tussle, the clothes begin to burn off the mystery man until everyone can see that Spidey is battling Mark Raxton, the Molten Man!

Raxton shouts that his very life is on the line if he is not able to make a formula with the chemicals and drugs stolen from the hospital. This doesn’t keep Spidey from attempting to clobber his long time enemy though. In the midst of a close back and forth battle, the Molten Man is finally able to gain the upper hand by pushing a large shelf on top of Spidey. Once Spider-Man is able to free himself he finds that Raxton has escaped. In his place though are two security guards, their guns drawn on our hero.

In General...

Why introduce a new character, stick him on the cover of the comic and then only have him featured on the first few pages of the book? A diversion, that's why. Despite the clues that were plastered on the front cover and throughout the story itself, it may very well have been a surprise to some to see the return of the Molten Man at the end of the story. Len Wein always loved a good mystery. Whether it be Doc Ock as the mysterious hobo or Bart Hamilton as the third Green Goblin, keeping the Molten Man’s identity a secret (even for only one issue) was right up Wein’s alley.

As for Wein’s new creation, the enigmatic Rocket Racer, we wouldn’t see him again until Marv Wolfman’s first arc as the primary Spider-Man writer starting with ASM #182. Wolfman actually attempted to give the Racer a back story, a story that Bill Mantlo would eventually flesh out in the pages of Spectacular.

Overall Rating...

As far as Len Wein mysteries go, this one ranks just below hobo Doc Ock and just above the WHOdunnit machine. At least we have the promise of more Molten Man action in the coming issue.