|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #5|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1|
|Reprinted In:||Pocket Book: Spider-Man Classics (Vol. 3)|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #13|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #156|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #1|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Megazine #3|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #13|
Last issue, Spider-Man appeared to run away from the Green Goblin and Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson has taken immediate advantage of that. He has written a story with the headline, "Spider-Man a Coward! Flees in Terror!" and put out an extra edition with his article on the front page. The whole thing is encapsulated in another great Ditko splash page. This one shows Spider-Man running right through a hole in the aforementioned newspaper with the Green Goblin in pursuit. In the foreground, bottom right, J. Jonah Jameson points at the reader. His eyes are closed into cheerful slits and he has the biggest "cat-who-ate-the-canary" grin on his face that you are ever likely to see. "No one will ever laugh at J. Jonah Jameson again!" he says, "I told them Spider-Man was a heel... a cowardly quitter... and now, since he ran away from the Green Goblin, the world knows I'm right!"
Others have their own thoughts about Spider-Man's supposed cowardice. Back at his hideout, the Green Goblin throws his arms in the air and exults. "I'm the first one to make Spider-Man run away like a whipped dog!" he says, "Now, at last, the Green Goblin will be world famous!" In prison, Doctor Octopus hugs the bars on his window and laments, "If only I could have been the one to defeat him! The victory should have belonged to Doctor Octopus!" Kraven the Hunter should be in prison with Doc Ock after the events of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964) but he's in his jungle-themed pad instead. He holds the newspaper in his hand as he reasons, "Even though he lost, Spider-Man is still at large! That means Kraven the Hunter might still be able to track him down!" The Vulture also holds the paper in hand (and should also be in prison with Doc Ock) as he perches on a flagpole on the side of a building. "How could the Green Goblin beat him when I, the Vulture, couldn't?" he wonders, "I still can't believe it!"
But it's not just villains who are thinking about the web-spinner. Over at the Baxter Building, the Invisible Girl reads the paper as Mr. Fantastic and the Thing stare at the disheartened Human Torch. (Torchy's twelfth appearance in the same mag as Spider-Man, by the way.) "What're you lookin' so gloomy about, hothead?" asks the Thing, "I thought that webhead was number one on your hate parade!" "Sure, Ben, we were always feudin'," replies the Torch, "But I still had a lot of respect for Spidey! If I hadn't seen him run away with my own eyes...!" The Avengers are also discussing the story. Iron Man reads the paper as Thor, Giant-Man, Captain America, and the Wasp stand around. Iron Man thinks Spidey's actions put "all costumed crime-fighters in a bad light". Thor speculates that "his courage did not match his power". The Wasp admits that "wasps and spiders are natural enemies... so I can't honestly say I'm sorry for him". Even Daredevil, who just met the web-slinger back in ASM #16 (September 1964) puzzles over it. His "super-sharp senses" had told him that Spider-Man "was a valiant fighter". Now he wonders how his senses could have been so wrong.
Even the regular folks on the streets are discussing the story. One man in a brown jacket and green hat must have been at the Fan Club party in ASM #17 (October 1964). He tells three others that, "I still don't see why he ran away! It looked to me like Spidey was winning!" A blonde-haired woman in a red hat holds the newspaper and replies that it just proves that JJJ was "right all the time" since "Spider-Man was just a coward like all bullies". A man in a blue hat and spectacles decides, "Apparently Jameson was smarter than we thought!" And a guy in a green jacket with his back to us doesn't say anything at all.
The grinning face of J. Jonah Jameson is even showing up on television (in glorious black and white) reporting that Spidey "hasn't been seen for weeks", concluding that "At last we're rid of that masked menace" and reminding us that "the Daily Bugle was the first to expose him as a dangerous fraud".
And what of Spider-Man? Why did he run away from the Green Goblin? Well, as you all recall from last issue, the web-slinger overheard a phone message for Peter Parker reporting that his Aunt May was in the hospital following a heart attack. Spidey immediately ran off to be by her side. Now, weeks later, he is too busy taking care of May at home to be concerned about Spider-Man. Aunt May is now in a wheelchair and Peter pushes her from the hallway into the kitchen, chiding her for being out of bed at all since the Doctor insisted she get "lots of rest after your operation". But May can't just lie around. She wants to make sure Peter eats a good breakfast before he goes to school. Soon after, May enjoys a cup of tea (Mummmm... caffeine. Just the thing for a weak heart.) while Peter does his dishes. He informs May that "Mrs. Watkins" will be over soon to help out while he is at school. (Of course, he means "Mrs. Watson" and I'm not surprised that he messes up her name considering the lengths to which he is going to avoid going out on a blind date with Mrs. Watson's niece!) And just then Anna Watson shows up and tells Peter to get to school. "I'll do the dishes," she says. (It's Anna's first actual appearance in the series and she's looking sharp with bright red hair and wearing a nice green ensemble.) Peter reminds May to "take your medicine every four hours, have a nap at noon... and don't tire yourself out". Then, he leaves his Aunt in Anna's care and heads off to Midtown High School.
At school, Peter stares at an open book on his desk but his thoughts are elsewhere. He hasn't dared to tell May but they are almost out of money and the medicine is expensive. Above everything else, though, "the doctor doesn't want her to know how ill she really is" so Peter must keep all these concerns to himself.
After school, Peter takes off running for home. One kid sees him and comments, "I never saw Puny Parker run so fast!" The girl he is with replies, "He probably heard of a big sale on textbooks somewhere!" When he gets home, Pete is surprised to find Mrs. Watson still there. (And he is still calling her, "Mrs. Watkins". Do you think he just does it to annoy her?) Anna and May are sitting around having tea together and Anna explains that "Your Aunt felt a bit dizzy, so I thought I'd stay a while longer". (A heart patient feels dizzy? Solution: more caffeine!) "Later, after Mrs. Watkins has gone home" Stan tells us in a caption (Poor Anna! Even Stan is on her case!), Peter discovers that he is almost out of his Aunt's medicine. (What the heck is it, cough syrup? It's just a bottle with a red label!) He knows he must earn some money somehow in order to afford to get more.
The next day, just outside of school, Peter spots a Daily Bugle truck. The side of the truck is plastered with a big picture of JJJ's grinning mug along with the come-on to "Read J. Jonah Jameson's Expose of The Spider-Man Myth!" Pete notes that "old J. Jonah really is flying these days!" Inside the school, Pete eavesdrops on Flash Thompson, who is still defending Spider-Man against charges from the other kids that the webhead is "a professional coward". Flash offers to fight in defense of the web-slinger's reputation, then warns everyone to "just watch what you say about [Spidey] from now on". Behind Flash, Liz Allan approaches Peter and asks how his Aunt is doing. Peter answers, "A little better, I guess" then notes that "Flash sure is loyal to Spider-Man, isn't he?" Liz remarks that Flash seems to like Spidey about as much as he dislikes Pete and then asks Peter if he'd like to join her at the drive-in this evening to see a new Peter Sellers movie. (Smooth transition there, Liz. "Gee, Flash sure hates you, Pete, and by the way, how about taking me to the movies?") Peter says he'd like to see the movie but he has "something to do later on". Later, at his desk in school, Pete thinks, "Liz really isn't a bad kid, although I prefer Betty Brant". Still, he has no time to think about girls right now. He's got to find some fast way to earn some money.
And so, after school, Spider-Man webswings through midtown Manhattan until he arrives at the Ace Picture Company. Hanging upside-down, he peers in an office window and chats with a fellow who is holding up pictures of prizefighters and who looks like a combination of Norman Osborn and Frederick Foswell. He is wearing a purple vest and a green bow tie and is smoking a pipe. Spidey asks him if this is the company that "makes the kids' trading cards with pictures of sports stars and actors on them" because he has a great offer for them. He enters through the window, explaining that he is prepared to "give you an exclusive contract" so Ace can "make trading cards with my picture on them". That is, assuming the price is right. But the man turns his back on Spidey and tells him they are not interested. "Don't slam the window on your way out!" he says. Clinging to the office wall now, Spidey doesn't take "no" for an answer. He presses his case but the man responds, "Leave your name and address with the girl out front! Don't call us, we'll call you!" Now, the web-slinger stands on the ceiling, does a handstand on the wall, somersaults to the floor and does a one-handed balancing act, all the time describing how kids would buy "a million cards easy" of him doing these various tricks. But the Ace man doesn't even look at him. So, Spidey dangles from the ceiling so that his head is on the same level as the man's head. But the man casually exhales his pipe smoke so that it blows right into the wall-crawler's face. "Look, young fella" he says, "You're washed up, a has-been! I couldn't give any pictures of you away! Now, blow, huh? I'm busy!"
Outside once again, the disappointed web-slinger sees five tough guys hanging around on the roof of a jewelry store. He figures they must be up to no good and is just about to attack them... when he remembers Aunt May. Worried about his Aunt's fate should something happen to him, he decides he "just can't afford to take the chance". And so, instead of attacking the prospective jewel thieves, Spidey runs away. He returns to the alley where he has left his street clothes, fishes in a pocket for some change, finds a pay phone, calls the police, and reports that "some men are trying to break into a jewelry store at the corner of Forty-Seventh Street". When asked for his name, the web-spinner says he is "just a private citizen, trying to do his duty" and then hangs up. He goes back to the alley and puts on his clothes. He knows it isn't "the way the Human Torch would have handled it" but it allows him to go home and look after Aunt May.
When he gets home, he finds Dr. Bromwell there, just packing up his little black bag. At first Pete panics, wondering why the doctor is there. But Bromwell tells him he was just passing by and thought he'd look in. (Now, those were the days, weren't they?) The Doc tells Pete that May "seems to be holding her own" but he adds that "you'd better try to take it easy, son!" Then he gives Pete a prescription for more medicine and promises to "come by again tomorrow". Pete doesn't dare tell the Doctor that his jitters are a result of the cost of the medicine and that "our savings bank account is almost empty". Just then Anna wheels May into the room. May asks Pete how school went and Pete turns the TV on for his Aunt. She tells him he should go do his homework. Pete, however, knows that he is "miles ahead of the class already". This gives him time to try to come up with more ideas to make money.
The first thing he does when he gets by himself is to call Betty at the Daily Bugle. (Stan's caption says that Pete has reached "the privacy of his room" but I don't think he has his own phone. This looks more like a hallway or a room set up as an office.) Pete wants to know if Betty is still mad at him for going to the Spider-Man Fan Club meeting without her. (As you may recall from last issue, Peter blew off Betty because he was planning to attend the meeting as Spider-Man. But he was forced to appear as Peter Parker in front of Liz Allan because he overheard Liz wondering why Pete and Spidey don't ever appear at the same time. Of course, Betty happened to look over just when Liz was running her fingers through Peter's hair.) Pete gets his answer when Betty immediately hangs up on him. "The nerve of him calling me as though nothing had happened!" she says as she hangs up. The wide-smiling J. Jonah Jameson overhears this exchange and asks Betty where Parker is keeping himself these days. Betty explains that Pete is looking after his Aunt after her "serious operation". Jonah is feeling so good these days that he figures he should do something "generous" for Peter and his Aunt. With his left hand on his hip and his right hand holding his cigar aloft, Jonah declares, "We'll send her a get-well card!" but adds, "don't seal the envelope! You can send it for a penny cheaper that way!" Betty, meanwhile, has begun filing papers in a filing cabinet but can't keep the tears from falling. She covers her face in her hand so that even Jonah catches on that things are not going well with the teenage couple. "Say!" he yells out, "You're not still mad at Parker, are you? You should learn to forgive and forget, like I do!" Behind him, an employee with an orange shirt and a bow tie whispers that "Old Jameson has been the happiest guy in town" since Spidey ran from the Goblin. An employee with blonde hair and a blue shirt replies, "The old hypocrite! I liked him better the way he was!" But the blonde-haired guy isn't getting off that easily. Jonah grabs him by the shoulders and grins into his face, asking after the state of his "loyal employees" and proclaiming, "Remember, if you need any advice, or any help, you're always welcome to ask your tender-hearted employer". This is too much for a guy in a green visor who whispers to a guy with a pencil behind his ear. "I wish he'd become his grouchy old self again!" he says, "At least we understood him that way!" "First time I ever saw him smile" says the pencil guy, "It's a sickening sight!" And it is, too! Ditko gives us a nice close-up of JJ's obnoxiously happy face. Four employees behind him can hardly stand it. One runs his hand over his face; another sits at her desk with her head in her hands. A third whispers, "I almost wish Spider-Man would redeem himself, or something! Otherwise, Jameson's liable to crack his face wide open with that phony smile of his!" And the fourth thinks, "He reminds me of a tiger who's just made a kill!"
Back at the Parker home, Aunt May has finally gone to bed. Peter watches her sleeping peacefully, then he heads back to the phone in the hallway/office/wherever and tries to call Betty again. But no one answers at Betty's home. Peter wonders if she is "out with another fella" or perhaps "not answering because she suspects it's me". Unfortunately for our hero, it turns out to be the latter. Betty is at home and she covers her ears with her hands whenever the phone rings. She knows it is Peter calling and she doesn't dare talk to him. "I might listen to my heart and make up with him, as I'm longing to" she says, "But I mustn't! I simply couldn't bear to be hurt again!"
Peter hangs up and quits trying. He sits in a chair in what Stan again describes as "his lonely room" (but it has an armoire or something and a big vase with a plant so it probably isn't Pete's room, unless Aunt May has just gone completely overboard with her house decorating) and holds his Spider-Man mask in his hands. He wonders "how Betty would feel if she knew I was Spider-Man" and then thinks back to some of the events of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964) in which he faced six of his deadliest foes all "in order to rescue Betty and Aunt May". He remembers how he beat the Sandman because he could hold his breath longer than his enemy could. (Which probably shouldn't have worked since I don't think the Sandman really has to breathe. You'd think Stan would keep quiet about this after messing this up in the Annual but, no, here he is, bringing it up again.) He thinks back to the battle with Kraven the Hunter, recalling "If I hadn't been able to out-run [Kraven], there's no telling what might have happened!" (Just like Pete to remember this fight in such a way that makes him look bad. In reality, it was Kraven who ran like a scared rabbit, not Spider-Man.) Sweating now, Pete remembers his battle with the Vulture and how close he came to losing. "If he hadn't made the careless mistake of flying too close to me when I was trapped, it would have been bye-bye Spidey!" he thinks. (Again, Peter doesn't give himself much credit. The Vulture's real mistake was using a lasso after depriving Spidey of his web-shooters but it was the wall-crawler's incredible agility that really allowed him to win that fight.) Finally, he thinks back to the fight with Doc Ock in the giant fishbowl and he downgrades himself on this one, too. "All [Ock] had to do was leave me to drown" he thinks, "but he made the mistake of being overeager and coming in after me!" (Whatever else was going to happen in that fight, Spider-Man was not going to drown on his own. The threat of drowning was only there because Ock came in after him. And Spidey was resourceful in defeating the arch-criminal regardless of the danger.)
(By the way, Stan follows these flashbacks up with a note that "All the scenes you've witnessed above are excerpts from the first Spidey Annual" but he doesn't mention that the moments are slightly skewed to conform to Peter's own low opinion of himself. Surely, Stan must have done this on purpose, but he never lets on that the scenes are anything except portrayed exactly right. That's a nice example of subtlety particularly in a comic that came out back in 1964. Or is Stan's memory really that bad?)
Pete stretches his mask out in front of him and peers down at it. He knows that all of these foes ("as well as Electro and Mysterio") will have learned from these battles and will be all the harder to defeat the next time around. (By the way, where are Electro and Mysterio? We see Ock, Kraven, and Vulture in cameos and flashbacks, we see Sandman in flashback and a larger appearance but no sign of the other two members of the Sinister Six. Did Steve just get fed up with drawing them?) Already his career has been more dangerous than he ever could have imagined. Trying to shake these thoughts from his mind, Pete reaches over and turns on the television. (This "lonely room" of his is getting more and more crowded.) That turns out to be a mistake. The set warms up just in time for Pete to hear that "J. Jonah Jameson, famous newspaper publisher has been awarded the good citizenship medal for his continuing editorials against the discredited Spider-Man". Pete snaps the TV off in frustration. Betty is mad at him, the whole world thinks he is a coward, all because of what happened at the Avenue Dinner Club in the previous issue and there is no way that he can ever explain!
The next day, Peter heads over to the Daily Bugle. He sees Betty Brant just entering the building and he calls to her to "Wait!" But Betty tells him "we've nothing more to discuss". "You knew I wanted to go to that club meeting with you" she says, "and you told me you weren't going! Then I found you there with Liz Allan! Nothing you can say can change that!" Pete's protests are in vain. Betty ignores him and runs inside the building. Pete stands outside, his hands in his pockets, trying to figure out how he can explain. Just then a chauffeured car drives up and J. Jonah Jameson gets out. He is still riding high, still all smiles. "Well, well! Hello there, Parker!" he says as he steps out. He asks if Pete has any "good news photos". Peter explains that he's been too busy looking after his aunt. Jonah blows a big puff of smoke from his cigar and tells Peter not to bother to bring any more Spider-Man pictures. "He's finished with the public now! Heh, heh!" he says. Frowning, Peter thinks, "Yeah, heh, heh. You old goat!" Peter thanks JJJ for the get-well card ("I guess I'm just all heart" says Jonah) and walks away. Betty, handkerchief in hand, watches all this from an office window. She wonders why she had to fall for Peter Parker and why she still cares for him so.
Back at school, Peter can't concentrate on his studies. All he can think about is finding a way to make some money to afford the medicine.
After school, Spider-Man heads for the laboratories of the Peerless Paste Company. He doesn't know why he hasn't thought of this before. He can sell his "special quick-stick webbing for a fortune". He swings into the lab and confronts two men in lab coats. (One has a mustache and wears a red bow tie; the other is bald with eyeglasses and wears a black tie.) The web-spinner tells them he has a business deal and offers to give a demonstration of his "exclusive webbing". (The bald guy objects that, "This is most irregular! But we seem to be a captive audience!" Which makes no sense to me. It's not like Spidey kidnapped these guys or anything. They could leave if they wanted to, right?) Anyway, Spidey shoots a thin web strand up to the ceiling. It adheres there. Then he takes an "unbelievably heavy... cast iron block" and attaches it to the end of the webbing. The webbing holds the block in the air and Spidey even adds to the demonstration by climbing up on top of the block, increasing the weight. Then he asks the lab men to "imagine if you could sell paste that was this strong". The two men are impressed. The mustache guy rubs his chin in wonder. The bald guy agrees that "such a paste would make us a fortune on the open market". But only a few minutes later, the web snaps and the block and Spidey come tumbling to the floor. Mustache asks what happened and Spidey explains that the webbing is designed to be temporary because, "I didn't want my enemies to stay tied up forever". (Of course, the webbing is supposed to last an hour rather than a few minutes but Stan uses a little poetic license to get his point across.) Bald tells him that the formula is no good to them as a paste if it's not permanent. Spidey explains that, given time, he can probably change the formula to make it permanent but the two men don't want to hear it. "When you do, come back to see us!" says Bald, "Until then, your paste is worthless." "We can't sell an adhesive that gets weak after a while" says Mustache, "You just wasted our time!" So, Spidey is forced to take his leave. He knows that he could eventually work out the bugs, "but it might take months of lab work and I haven't the time!"
And then he lands in an alley right in the path of the Sandman! Now the last time we saw the Sandman, he was sitting around with the rest of the Sinister Six in jail but I suppose he escaped just as soon as it occurred to him that he could change to sand and slip out of the cell. Anyway, he just happens to be walking along when he encounters the web-slinger. Sandy thinks this is his "lucky day" since he's been "waitin' for a chance to polish [Spidey] off". But our hero hasn't been looking for a fight with the Sandman. On the contrary, he is worried about losing and leaving Aunt May alone in the world. So, he puts his hands up in a defensive posture and tells the Sandman "this isn't the time or the place".
That kind of line isn't going to work against the Sandman. Deciding that "it's true what they're sayin' about you! You have turned yellow!" the Sandman turns his hands into sandy pile drivers and tries to punch Spidey's lights out. The webhead dodges, even as he feels obligated to explain that "I've just got my reasons for not wanting to mix it up with you now!" This just further convinces Sandy that the web-slinger is a coward. Spidey tries to get away by scaling the wall of a building but the Sandman just slithers up the wall after him. (Not sure how he does this.) The duo goes up one wall and down another, with the Sandman still trying to thump Spidey with those pile driver appendages. Spidey always stays just a little bit ahead and he would "love to turn and face him" but he doesn't dare since "nothing is ever certain... he might beat me". Unfortunately for Spidey, he is spotted by people on the street, including a film crew. They can all see that he is "running from Sandman just the way he ran from the Green Goblin". The crowd gets uglier and uglier as the webster takes to the streets. One guy in a purple suit sees now that "Jameson was right... You're afraid of your shadow!" A blonde-haired kid shakes his fist and boos at Spidey. "I'll bet my kid sister could beat you up!" he says. A woman in an orange hat thinks that "all of Spider-Man's victories in the past must have just been publicity stunts" and a man in a bowtie feels that "he was probably a phony from the start". The Sandman is still right behind, still trying to tag the web-slinger with his clubs. "Go ahead, run!" he calls out, "Show the whole world what a coward you are!" And Spidey realizes that "right now, Khrushchev could probably beat me in a popularity contest!" (And, believe me, in 1964 USA, that is saying something!)
With a great leap, Spider-Man lands on a building and starts scaling walls once again. The Sandman stands on top of a car and calls him a "chicken".
And, wouldn't you know it, J. Jonah Jameson shows up in the crowd, holding his ever-present cigar and grinning like nobody's business. He revels in the "lovely sight", the "heart-warming episode" of Spidey revealing all "his delicious cowardice". Everyone around JJJ is all smiles, too. One fellow in an orange hat congratulates Jonah on his perceptive editorials. A guy in a green jacket says of Spider-Man, "That crumb bum's had it!"
Meanwhile, Spidey has been reduced to hiding in an alleyway. He is crouched behind a garbage can and underneath some discarded wooden planking. The Sandman passes right by but doesn't see him. Sandy decides he'd better be on his way before the police show up and he seems to do just that, allowing Spidey time to quickly change into his Peter Parker duds. But the instant Peter gets his jacket on over his white shirt (he doesn't get around to putting his tie back on and he holds his yellow sweater in his hands) the Sandman pokes his head around the corner and buttonholes him. "Hey, punk" says the Sandman, "did you see that spineless Spider-Man run past here?" Peter, sweating profusely, tells Sandy, "He must have gone in the other direction!"
And so, a "sad-faced" Peter Parker, still clutching his sweater in his hand, comes home to find Aunt May all alone. This troubles him since the doctor gave instructions that his aunt always have someone with her. But May explains that "Mrs. Watkins" had to leave because "her niece is away and she had to cook dinner for her husband". (Now, I suppose you could argue that the Anna Watkins with a niece in this story is not the Anna Watson with a niece that becomes a major character later but it's pretty clear that she is intended to be the same character. In which case, I only have one question... what in the world ever happened to her husband?) The fact that Aunt May is alone only makes Peter more determined to forget about ever again being Spider-Man. Then he notices that the cough syrup... er, I mean May's medicine is almost empty. May tells Peter it is "a shame that Mrs. Watkins' niece is out of town" since "it must be so boring for you, spending so much time with me". Peter wishes that boredom "was the only problem I had".
While Peter tries to bear up under his difficulties, J. Jonah Jameson is having a field day. He appears on television again, with that jackal smile, showing "a video-tape re-run" of Spidey's flight from the Sandman. (Remember that film crew that was there?) Steve shows us head-shots of four regular citizens, who have apparently watched the video, expressing surprise, concern, anxiety, and shock, as well as shots of the Green Goblin and Sandman laughing over Spidey's cowardice and Daredevil, Captain America and Iron Man looking decidedly more serious. (Not that you'd be able to tell with Iron Man since his mask never changes expression.) Peter has also watched and he pounds on a table in frustration. "As long as Aunt May remains seriously ill", he says, "There's nothing I can do about it!"
Meanwhile, Jonah milks it for all it is worth. His big grin fills the television screen as he tells the viewers that the video will be shown again in slow motion, all "sponsored by the Daily Bugle, the paper that tells the truth!" At the Baxter Building, the Human Torch is so fed up with "that grinning ape" that he creates a fist out of flame and uses it to pull the plug on his set. "I'd rather watch Dr. Doom reading nursery rhymes to the kiddies", he declares, as he stands in front of the TV, his right hand clenched in a fist and engulfed in his flame. He tells the Thing, who is sitting on the couch with his legs crossed, that "there's more to this than meets the eye" since he knows that "Spidey isn't a coward". The Thing, with the Invisible Girl standing right behind him, is unimpressed. "And you still hang up your wooly little stockin' for Santa Claus, too!" he says. Johnny insists he is serious. He has seen Spidey in action and knows "he's one of the best". "Why would a fella who's risked his life a dozen times against the toughest odds suddenly turn yellow?" he asks. Mr. Fantastic, standing behind Johnny, is inclined to agree, though he has never been able to get a sense of Spider-Man. On a sudden impulse, Johnny yells "Flame on!" and flies out the Baxter Building window, leaving his teammates behind. (Or as the Thing puts it, "Teenagers, who can figger 'em out?") As he flies, Johnny uses his flame to do a little skywriting. The message he writes is, "Spider-Man: Meet me at our last meeting place." (That "last meeting place" was the Statue of Liberty, as you all will recall from Strange Tales Annual #2, 1963.) The message must fill up a good chunk of the sky because Peter Parker sees it from a window of his home in Forest Hills. Aunt May sits by him in her wheelchair and Pete knows that he dare not go and leave May all alone.
And so, the Human Torch lands on the top of Lady Liberty's head and waits for the wall-crawler. Day passes into night and night passes into day. With the sun coming up, having spent all night waiting, the Torch must admit that Spidey is not showing up. He hangs his head, looking beaten. He can't understand it. "Why didn't he come? Has something really changed him?" he wonders.
And, at Midtown High, only one person still believes in the Amazing Spider-Man; his biggest fan Flash Thompson. Liz can't convince Flash to change his mind. Nor can all the other kids that laugh at him and smirk at him and hold the sides of their heads as if they have a toothache. Peter Parker passes by as Flash vows that Spidey will eventually prove "what a great guy he is". Liz asks Pete if, as the smartest boy in school, he thinks Flash could be right. "You never can tell, Liz" says Pete, "he might be".
That evening, Liz Allan shows up at Peter's house, all in a panic. She has been unable to stop Flash from pulling a ridiculous stunt. "In order to prove Spider-Man is still a hero," she explains, "he plans to dress in a Spider-Man costume and walk though the streets! He feels Spider-Man will rescue him if he gets into trouble." (Hey, there's a reason Flash got an athletic scholarship!) Liz breaks down crying, convinced that it is her fault for teasing Flash. Peter promises to go out looking for Flash but he doesn't dare leave Aunt May alone. Liz promises to stay and look after May while Peter is gone.
So, Peter runs out into the neighborhood, hoping that his spider-sense will find Flash before one of his "arch-foes sees him and thinks he's me". (But where exactly is Flash performing this masquerade? In Forest Hills? Is crime rampant there? Are super-villains roaming the streets at will?) Anyway, somewhere behind a wooden fence, Flash is finishing up his donning of a Spider-Man costume by putting on the mask. He stands on a crate and climbs over the fence with dreams of preventing a crime and letting Spider-Man get the credit. Sometime later, he climbs over a stone wall and encounters three hoods in the process of stealing a car. The crooks think Flash is Spider-Man and momentarily freeze. Hoping to carry off the bluff, Flash puts up his dukes and tells the men to "turn around and march to the police station if you don't want me to drag you there". One of the hoods (in a blue cap) turns to another named Rocky Roberts and asks what they should do. (In other words, he's actually considering this!) Rocky decides they are three against one and have nothing to lose. "Let's rush 'im!" he orders.
Flash never expected he would have to fight three hoods but he puts up a good front. After all, he decides, "They've no super powers! Maybe I can still outfight them!" But Blue Hat is immediately encouraged when "Spidey" punches him in the jaw and he's still conscious! This spurs Rocky on to punch "Spidey" in the solar plexus. He discovers that "one ordinary punch knocked the wind out of him." The third hood (in a green cap) conjectures that Spider-Man has turned chicken because he "lost all his power somehow". And so, all three attack at once. Rocky believes that they'll become famous "as the guys who beat Spider-Man". Green Cap thinks they "oughtta tackle Daredevil next!" All Flash can do is put his arms up to try to protect his face and say things like, "Three against one. Big deal. I'll bet I could lick any of you single-handed." Rocky notices that Flash doesn't "even sound like Spider-Man". He starts to suspect the truth. But one of the other hoods can't believe anyone would be "nutty enough" to impersonate the web-slinger. He thinks "he must be the real McCoy".
Just then, Peter Parker senses that Flash is right around the corner losing a fight. But even though he leaps from one roof to another, he still can't get there in time.
But, fortunately for Flash, two police officers (one black, one white) see the fight and run up to protect him. The white one (named Irv) puts the three hoods up against a wall. He recognizes them as "Rocky Roberts and his two little car-stealing partners". The cops have been looking for these guys. The black one approaches "Spider-Man" who is on his knees and elbows with his hands behind his head. At first, the cop thinks it really is Spider-Man except that "he looks kinda pooped out". "Spidey", stars circling his head, removes his mask and asks the officer if the real Spider-Man came to save him. The cop recognizes him as football star Flash Thompson. He helps Flash up and tells him to "leave crime fighting to the law". Flash explains that he was trying to prop up Spider-Man's reputation. The officer leads Flash to his patrol car, offering him a ride home. "You're a brave kid, Flash" he says, "but you're way out of your league".
Peter finally shows up as Flash is led to the car. He hides around a corner and mops his brow with a handkerchief. He is glad he didn't have to intervene and he only now realizes the chance he took by "running up that wall as Peter Parker". It would only take one bystander to see him and his secret identity would be exposed.
The next day, at Midtown High, Peter decides to talk to Flash, hoping to convince him "how dangerous it is to impersonate Spider-Man". But when Pete buttonholes him, Flash turns around and reveals a big shiny black eye. Angrily, he tells "Puny Parker" to go ahead and gloat. "Tell me you think Spider-Man is a big zero, too!" he says. Pete tries to tell him what he really wants to say but Flash doesn't give him the chance. He walks off, pointing at Pete as he goes, ordering Pete to stay out of his way, telling him "I don't need any sympathy from a nobody like you" and claiming that he "almost beat those three crooks single-handed" and may have if the police hadn't shown up. "That's not the way I heard it, chum," says Pete but he lets Flash go. He can't believe that Flash "won't let me be nice to him even if I try."
Liz steps up as soon as Flash leaves and tells Pete to stay out of Flash's way for a while. She explains that Flash is very sensitive about what happened and is even mad at her for telling Peter about it. Pete assures Liz that he has no problems with staying away from Flash. "I've had a lot of practice", he says.
So, Peter heads for home from school, with his mind still occupied with all his troubles. (Remember them all? Aunt May needs medicine, Peter is broke, only Flash is on Spidey's side these days, and Betty Brant won't have anything to do with Pete. Any others?) Behind him, Flash pokes a teen in the chest and asks if he's "the wise-guy who said that even Puny Parker could lick Spider-Man?" Flash still has clout in the schoolyard, it seems. The kid nervously swears that he never said any such thing.
As Peter walks along, he rounds a corner and sees Betty Brant down the block. She is with "another boy" and she looks very happy. They are talking about a movie that they have just seen together and the young man asks Betty if she'd like to get a soda before he takes her home. "That's the best offer I've had in weeks, kind sir!" says Betty. (The "boy" remains nameless in this issue but we soon find out, in ASM #19, December 1964 that he is new young Daily Bugle reporter Ned Leeds. But is he young enough to be dating a teen-ager like Betty Brant?)
Pete overhears this whole conversation, sees the smile on Betty's face and realizes that he has "lost her". He holds the side of a building and looks down at the ground; devastated by this realization. Then he puts his hands in his pockets and slowly walks home, believing that all of his problems are due to being Spider-Man. "If I were just an ordinary Joe, Betty would still be my girl" he thinks, "and all the other worries I've got would just melt away!"
Pete gets back home and is halfway up the stairs before he stops and notices Aunt May in her wheelchair. He thinks she is looking better and May confirms that she feels better, too. Up in his room, Peter takes his Spider-Man costume off and throws it in a paper bag. He has come to a decision. "When Aunt May recovers" he thinks, "I'll be the kind of guy she wants me to be! I'll forget about this Spider-Man jazz!" He decides to "concentrate on my school work, get a good job perhaps in a lab somewhere and settle down like everyone else". He seals up the bag and scrunches it down to half its regular size. "I should have done this long ago" he thinks, "but I was too conceited!" He feels that he enjoyed being Spidey because it made him feel special. "What a laugh that turned out to be!" he thinks. And so, he takes the bag and tosses it into his wastebasket. "Goodbye, Spidey!!" he thinks, "I've a hunch nobody's gonna miss you!"
And having gotten rid of the web-slinger, Peter comes back downstairs only to find Aunt May's empty wheelchair. Aunt May herself is across the room, walking. She has decided to test her legs. Peter runs over to help her (After all, the doctor has told her to "take it easy all month.) but Aunt May sloughs him off. She knows when she is feeling better, more than the doctor does. "You don't want to make an invalid of me, do you??" she asks Peter.
With Peter still hovering, May gets back in her wheelchair. But she is feeling especially spunky and she gives her nephew a lecture. "Even though I'm an old woman, I'm not a quitter!" she says. "A person needs gumption, the will to live, to fight. You mustn't worry about me so much, Peter dear! We Parkers are tougher than people think!" Now, the doctor has apparently just let himself in the house because he appears right behind May and tells her that he couldn't agree more. ("I feel like a spry young sixty year old!" May tells him.) He also has good news. May won't have to take the medicine anymore, which is a relief to Peter since they've "used up the last of it" and he never did find a way to make money.
After the doctor examines May, Peter asks him if his Aunt really is getting better. The doctor tells him that she is and adds, "Your Aunt has a lot of spirit" and that he should be proud of her. That evening, Peter enters May's bedroom with a book. But his Aunt, comfortably in bed, tells him he needn't stay with her. "I want to get used to looking after myself again" she says.
And so Peter returns to his own room (that one with the lamp and the plant again) and picks up the newspaper. (The Daily Bugle is still not a tabloid yet, by the way.) He reads Jameson's latest Spider-Man editorial that calls the webhead "the biggest phony since the Cardiff Giant". (Which is a pretty sophisticated reference to present to a comic book-reading kid back in 1964, I would think. You guys all know about the Cardiff Giant, right? The 19th century hoax? If not, look it up. It's a great story.) Peter gets mad and crumbles the paper in his hands. But this time, thanks to Aunt May's spunk, his anger has a positive purpose. Maybe Jameson is right, he decides. Maybe he is a phony since "only a weakling quits when the going gets tough". With his tough old bird of an Aunt as a model, Pete realizes he's "been wasting too much time in self-pity". Since "Aunt May has enough gumption for both of us", Pete knows he doesn't have to worry about her any more which means there is nothing to stop him from going back to being Spider-Man. He retrieves the scrunched up bag from the wastebasket and rips it apart so that his costume falls to the floor. Vowing to have J. Jonah Jameson soon "eating his words about me", Pete starts to put on his costume. Still holding the Daily Bugle in one fist, but now in full Spidey costume, our hero vows to use his powers "without doubt, without hesitation" and to "fight as I've never fought before". "Nothing will stop me now!" he declares, "For I know at last that a man can't change his destiny and I was born to be Spider-Man!!" (At least until the next time he decides to give up being Spider-Man.)
In the Spider's Web, Benny Daily of Manhattan, Kansas has "wracked my brains for hours trying to find the answer to the Spider-Man question of the year-why are certain Spider-Man foes rated higher than others by the magazine readers?" and has come with up with the hypothesis "that the more you are exposed to a particular criminal the more you begin to admire him and this is especially true in the case of the newer (and more impressionable) readers." (Uh, okay, Benny. Wracked your brains for hours, huh?) Edward Willard of Troy, New York doesn't know a five-web story when he sees one as he declares that, "Spider-Man has dropped to an all time low. Issue #12 was great with Dr. Octopus, #13 was good, #14 would have been crummy without the Hulk, and #15 was a flop!" Stan replies, "Hey, write to us again some time, Eddie-when you wake up on the right side of the bed! Cheee!" And future comic artist Frank Brunner of Brooklyn, New York asks, "Why did the Chameleon have to come back to Spidey's turf? He could have set up a crime wave somewhere else and eluded Spidey." (Good point, Frank but then, what do you do? Give the Chameleon his own comic book?) And, finally, in the "Special Announcements Section" Stan asks us all to "see if you can figure out what M.M.M.S stand for". It will "be one of the biggest new developments to hit the merry Marvel bullpen in years" he promises but we're going to have to wait to find out what it is.
The Human Torch and the Sandman return in our very next issue (ASM #19, December 1964.)
Spidey and the Avengers meet up in Avengers #11 (December 1964).
Peter Parker runs into the Thing (and the Torch) in Fantastic Four #35 (February 1965) and Spidey swipes cake from the engagement party of Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl in Fantastic Four #36 (March 1965).
The Green Goblin is back in ASM #23 (April 1965).
Daredevil and Spider-Man meet again in Daredevil #16 (May 1966).
The next appearances of Dr. Octopus, Kraven the Hunter, and the Vulture are listed in the Lookback of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (1964). I'm not going through all of that again!
Although it isn't until ASM #26 (July 1965), that Steve Ditko actually gets credited with plotting the adventures, the story I've always heard is that Steve was doing pretty much everything except writing dialogue for a number of issues before Stan acknowledged it in print. It is just a guess on my part, but I suspect that Steve plotted this issue. It just sort of has that Ditko feel. If anyone out there has any information about when Ditko took over the plotting and which issues he plotted, I would very much like to hear from you.
Milestones (landmark events that take place in this story)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"The End of Spider-Man" - Spidey nearly gives up super-heroing - vs Sandman - Fantastic Four guest.
Is it even possible to say anything bad about this issue? Everything in it... from Spidey's visit to the trading card company to Betty's romantic traumas that lead her to a date with Ned Leeds to Spidey's attempt at selling his web formula as glue to the flight from the Sandman to the Human Torch waiting fruitlessly on the top of the Statue of Liberty to Flash Thompson's hopeless battle with three car thieves to Pete throwing his Spidey suit in the trash to Aunt May's lecture about spunk... seems as fresh today as it did forty years ago. The only thing that's dated is the doctor making house calls! Even though the basic idea of this story has been recycled over and over through the years, this issue is still different, still groundbreaking, still exciting. It is still excruciating to watch Spidey flee from the Sandman and it is still exhilarating to see him don the costume and re-commit himself to his responsibilities at the end. Five webs.