This is Steve Ditko's penultimate issue but you'd never get a hint of that from anything in the book itself. In fact, there are so many subplots and supporting character appearances (including what is essentially the introduction of a certain Norman Osborn) that it looks like Steve is setting things up for years to come. Maybe he was, before suddenly deciding to quit. I, for one, am sorry he never continued what he started.
This is Steve Ditko's last original cover for the series and it's a gem. (The cover of ASM #38, July 1966 is actually just four reproductions from the interior art but we'll get to that when we discuss that issue next time.) Done in a split-screen format, the left side of the cover shows Spidey trying to run through a raging fire while a green blob rides on his back extending tentacles that pin back his arms and try to wrap up his legs. The right side shows Spidey balancing on one hand and kicking up at a Lego-like robot that fires a destructive bolt from its face, reminiscent of Ditko's Mindless Ones in the Dr. Strange series. A disembodied head floats above these dual attacks. (Which is rather amusing considering the current fate of the character.) The head is that of an older bald man with a sinister grin. His left eye is blue but his right eye and the right side of his face is covered by a device which looks like a chunk of a camera with the lens cap still on. It attaches to a metal band that hooks over the top of his head and has a nozzle at forehead level that looks like one of those air jets above your seat in an airplane. It even looks like it's spraying air just like those nozzles. To our left of the head is the text "Once Upon a Time..." and to the right, "...There was a Robot!" I'm ready to give it five webs for the cover alone. But let's wait and see what the story is all about.
|Cover Art:||Steve Ditko|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #16|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #176|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #31|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #2|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #21|
We haven't had a symbolic splash page since ASM #30, November 1965 and I, for one, have missed them. Here we have an unmasked Spidey looming over and looking down on a spider's web. To our left is Spidey's mask draped down as if hanging from the jagged border of the title above it. To our right is a spider hanging down on its web from a panel borderline separating the title area from the illustration. Peter looks down on the web with grim bemusement. His right hand is up against the side of his head with his forefinger tapping his temple. His left hand has two fingers and thumb touching the spider's web. The other two fingers are extended up creating one of those weird Ditko hand positions. The webbing of Spidey's costume seems to blend right into the web. Ten tiny figures in both the foreground and the background stand on the web and the blank light blue part that looks more like a big hole than anything else. From left to right are Patch, Gwen Stacy, Flash Thompson, Stromm's assistant Max Young, Professor Mendel Stromm, the metal robot, the amoeboid robot, J. Jonah Jameson, Norman Osborn, and possibly Frederick Foswell. (The last one looks like he could be anyone but he does have Foswell's light brown suit and hat. It would be typical of Ditko's design sense for him to bookend the other characters with Foswell both as himself and in his Patch identity.) Again, the title, "Once Upon a Time, There Was a Robot...!"; which gives a fairy tale feel to the whole proceeding. Below that, only a nine word intro: "We hate to brag, but... this one's a doozy!"
At State Prison, a guard tells Professor Stromm that he has served his sentence. "You've been a model prisoner for ten years!" the guard says, "Good luck on the outside, Professor!" The Prof thanks the guard as he puts on his brown suit jacket but he is actually thinking that the reason he's been a model prisoner is that "I've done nothing but plan my revenge all that time!" As Stromm exits the prison, a car driven by a thug smoking a cigarette and wearing a brown suit, blue tie, black shirt and blue hat meets him. The man says, "Glad to see ya, Stromm!" but Stromm quickly puts him in his place. "You will always address me as Professor!"
As Stromm gets in the car (I can call the Professor anything I want), Frederick Foswell watches from behind some nearby trees. We now learn that Foswell was Stromm's cellmate when he was in prison, which is why he knew the Prof's release date. He recognizes the driver as "another ex-inmate named Max Young" and assumes that the two men "made some plans while in prison". Foswell knows how hot for revenge Stromm was and he figures "there may be a story in it for me". But another man watches as Foswell starts to get into his light- orange sedan and this man has a gun in his hand. He is looking out for Stromm's welfare and assumes that Foswell "must be a stoolie". "The Prof'll be real grateful to me if I wing 'im!" he thinks. Before a shot is fired, though, a red and blue webbed arm pops down out of the leaves of the tree and punches the gunman right in the snoot. The gunman (dressed in a purple jacket, yellow shirt, and purple hat) appears to fall over a light-orange rock (a lot of things are light orange in this story) and sprawls at the foot of a tree. Spider-Man emerges, standing upside down in the treetop and demands to know why the gunman wanted to "ventilate Foswell".
The rattled gunman holds his hands up defensively in front of his face and swears, "I didn't mean any harm, honest!" (No, he just wanted to "wing" Foswell, that's all.) He turns out to be a free agent who "hoped the Professor would lemme join 'im if I proved I could be useful". Spidey decides the gunman will be useful to him instead. He puts on the gunman's purple hat (looking very stylish in it) and sits in the back seat of the car. The gunman gets behind the wheel and Spidey webs him to the seat. Then, the web-slinger orders the gunman to "tail the Professor and see what he's up to". But thirty seconds after they get on the road, the cops get wise to them. Spidey isn't sure why since "they couldn't have seen me and you're not speeding". Instead, the police have checked the license plate and confirmed that it belongs to a stolen car. The gunman, sweating profusely, yells out, "Use your spider power! Get rid of 'em! You gotta!" but the web-slinger has no intention of fighting the law. He bails out of the still-moving car and takes to his webs. (And we never do learn if the gunman stops for the cops or what the cops thought about seeing Spider-Man leaving the moving vehicle.)
Spidey is sorry that he lost Foswell since he is "sure there was trouble brewing". He decides (in a web-swinging panel that looks so similar to the cover of ASM #19, December 1964 you almost have to figure that Steve... or someone... pasted it in and did a little retouching to it) to head to the Daily Bugle to see if he can pick up any clues. At the Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson (who has been MIA since ASM #34, March 1966) is asking his staff if they have seen Foswell. Of the six nameless employees depicted, five of them respond. ("No, Chief!" "Not me, J.J.!" "Not a sign of 'im, boss!" "Uh uh!" and "No, sir!") So, Jonah turns to his blonde-haired secretary who is wearing a green outfit and horn-rimmed glasses. She is so new that he can't even remember her name, calling her "Miss - eh - whatever-your-name-is". When she also tells him she hasn't seen Foswell, Jonah barks, "Then get back to work! What do you think I'm paying you for?" As JJJ turns away, the secretary thinks, "No wonder old hatchet face can't keep a secretary! If he ever smiled I'll bet his frozen face would crack in two!" Sounds like my kind of gal but she only ever appears again in one more panel... and it's the very next one. Peter Parker enters, noticing that "Gosh, every time I come up here, Jolly Jonah has a new secretary!" and figuring "I guess Betty is gone for good!" The secretary looks up and gives Pete a big smile... and that's it for her career. A new redheaded secretary shows up next issue. Jonah tells Peter to leave him alone unless he has new photos. Pete replies that JJJ never paid him for the last batch he sold him. Jonah, holding a big cigar that is either a Tiparello or has a baby bottle nipple on the end of it, tells Pete, "It's your fault! If not for you, Betty Brant might not have quit! My records are all mixed up since she left!" This conversation gets sidetracked when Foswell shows up. Talking with a cigarette between his teeth, Foswell tells Jonah about Stromm and the revenge he's been threatening "on the one who sent him up". Taking off his hat, Foswell tells JJ that he tried to follow the Prof but "he gave me the slip". Jonah says, "Let's go into my office and talk!" but Fred leaves his hat behind on a counter top before he joins his boss. Lucky for Pete, since this gives him the opportunity to slip a spider-tracer in Foswell's hatband. (Not that it does him any good, though.) With that he takes his leave, content in the knowledge that, "sooner or later, that little hat will lead Spider-Man into some new action!"
The Marvel Masterpieces page is a little bit different this time. Split in two, the top half shows the covers of Fantastic Four #51, June 1966 one of the top issues in the history of the series and Fantasy Masterpieces #2, April 1966 featuring "Jack Kirby's Fin Fang Foom!, Steve Ditko's Those Who Lurk Below, Don Heck's Orogo!" The bottom half advertises Daredevil #16, May 1966, guest-starring the web-slinger, but doesn't show the cover. Instead it features a posed Spider-Man on the left and a posed Daredevil on the right with the text, "And don't miss this spectacular!!! Spidey faces Daredevil in one of the most exciting issues of D.D. ever to hit the stands! It's that old-time Marvel magic... bolder, bouncier and better than ever!" I'm sure none of you missed this spectacular since there is a Lookback of it within easy arm's reach.
Meanwhile, Stromm and Max have arrived at their "well-equipped hideout". (We can tell it's well-equipped since it has big gray machines with lots of doodads on them up against the wall.) Max, holding a big white envelope in his hand for some reason, tells Stromm that he "bought all the gadgets you wanted with the dough you had stashed away". The Prof is very pleased and takes his jacket off in preparation for building a robot. "Go home and wait for my call, Max!" he tells his flunkey and then he gets his shirt sleeves rolled up and dives into a bunch of funny-looking metal parts on a table top. "For ten years I dreamed of this moment!" he says, "I dreamed of getting my revenge on the man who cheated me out of my inventions! As he has ruined my life, so shall I ruin him!"
At ESU, Peter walks up behind Gwen Stacy, wondering if she is still mad at him (for appearing to be a coward when the Looter crashed the space exhibit last issue). He decides, "there's only one way to find out", walks up next to her and says, "Hi Gwen! We're both heading for the same class, mind if I join you?" Gwen immediately gets surly, barking "What are you doing, Mr. Parker... slumming? Usually you're too stuck up to say hello to anyone!" This gets under Pete's skin and he blurts out a wise-ass reply. "Well, at least I'm not a temperamental female who drools over a fella one day and then acts like an icicle to him the next!" he says. Gwen is so shocked by this that she looks at him with rage and little black spikes shoot off the top of her head. She wheels on Pete and draws her hand back to slap his face. Peter puts a defensive hand up and asks her to "simmer down". He wants to "bury the hatchet" but Gwen is in no mood. She swings her hand to slap him but Peter puts his hand in the way and she smacks it with a "Thwak!" All she ends up doing is hurting herself, yelling out "owww!" Pete seems oblivious to her pain. He's got other things on his mind. "Anyone ever tell you you're gorrrrgeous when you're angry?" he says. Just then, Flash Thompson arrives on the scene ready to defend Gwen. When Peter mouths off ("Those beady, little, pig-like eyes of yours never miss a trick, Flash!"), Flash clenches his fist and announces, "I'll make you eat those words, you puny punk!" He order Pete to "Put up your hands!" and Pete muses over what would happen "if I only dared". He puts his hand up to his chin and smiles bemusedly before deciding he doesn't dare get in a scrap for fear of hurting Flash. Instead, he takes off, quipping, "If you damaged my profile, half the girls at ESU would be heartbroken. We can't let that happen!" Flash shakes his fist at Pete and pronounces him a "yellow fink" but Gwen isn't so sure. "I'd bet my bottom dollar that Peter Parker wasn't the least bit scared of Flash!" she thinks.
In Chem class, Harry Osborn approaches Gwen and tells her, "I saw what happened, Gwen! Parker gives me a swift pain, too!" Gwen, looking over her shoulder at Pete (who has taken to wearing a black shirt with a yellow vest but takes the vest off when he's doing his lab experiments) and responds, "Oh, you haven't any use for anyone who's smarter than you are, Harry! Peter's never bothered you!" Gwen furrows her brow as she realizes that she is "actually starting to defend" Peter. Pete looks over at the frowning Gwen and thinks, "Boy! If unpopularity ever became popular, I'd be top man around here!" As the students head outside after class (Peter is carrying his vest over his shoulder), Flash Thompson stands with his hand on his hip and tells Pete to stay out of his way. "You bet I will!" Pete replies, "For all I know, your stupidity might be catching!"
In the meantime, Professor Stromm has apparently given Max the call since Max is back at the lab. Stromm introduces him to "my little beauty". He stands beside a green ball with light green spots (for effect, I assume) and five pseudopods. It reaches out and wraps one of its tentacles around Max's left arm. Stromm is now wearing that head device with the lens cap and air jet that is shown on the cover and he tells Max that his robot grabbed him because "I willed it to". Apparently the headgear not only controls the robot's actions but also can "electronically follow its every move". To prove this, he sends the robot out to initiate "the first step of my magnificent master plan of total revenge". (Whew!) The pseudopods create little feet and the ball walks along, out the door, and even up the wall. ("See how effortlessly it can scale high walls" Stromm says to Max as if Max can see it. Hey, Prof! You're the guy wearing the headgear, not Max!) It arrives at its goal, which is some sort of electronics plant. It enters the building where a security guard comes upon it. Immediately panicked, the guard runs for it, shooting at the robot as he goes. The bullets have no effect on the green ball and the guard wonders how he can "describe it so they won't think I was seeing things??" In fact, he wonders, "how do I know I'm not seeing things??" With the guard gone, "the place is now deserted" except for the robot. (Okay, let's see. This happens just as Peter is getting out of class so it's not the weekend and it's not the middle of the night and the only guy in the whole building is a security guard?) Stromm is thrilled by the circumstances. He decides to "wreck part of his laboratory now" and to "hit him where it hurts the most, in his wallet". To that end, he orders the green ball to use its tentacles to knock out a wall leading to an office that has a desk and chair and telephone. Then the ball goes on the rampage, lifting machinery high over its head (if it had a head) with two pseudopods and causing enough damage to start a fire. And who is this "him" to which Stromm refers? Well, we'll find out soon enough. In the meantime, enough smoke has billowed out of the building to attract a crowd. The police are already there and one of them tells the gawkers to "step back" and "make room for the fire trucks". The smoke has attracted someone else as well because he "smelled smoke from around the corner". Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man.
Spidey swings in on a web, his whole body parallel to the ground. He heads for a window with the idea of saving anyone who may be trapped inside. (See? Spidey knows it's a weekday and there should be people inside.) Entering through the window, he quickly discovers the place to be empty. But then he notices something green "crawling along the floor... coming towards [him]". A green tentacle reaches out and wraps around his left wrist, yanking on him. "Shades of Doc Ock!" Spidey thinks, "What have I run into??" In the next panel, Spidey has already doped out that the green blob is a robot. Don't ask me how. Anyway, the robot yanks and Spidey tries to stop it by adhering to the wall with his left hand. (Hmm. Well. Looks like the tentacle that was around Spidey's left wrist is now around his right wrist.) But the robot is stronger than expected. Spidey is pulled off the wall and, though he tugs back, he can't get the green blob to budge. Unexpectedly, the blob lets go and rockets at Spider-Man ("It can move like a streak when it wants to", says the webhead.), colliding with him and knocking him down. It climbs on top of Spidey's back and holds him down, wrapping its tentacles around the wall- crawler's arms and legs. Spidey tries to stand but can only get to one knee. The robot pulls his arms behind his back and wraps a couple of tentacles around his ankles. Spidey realizes that the robot's "strength is too evenly distributed" and is "so skillfully made that it hasn't any weak points". He comes to the realization that he is "actually helpless!" Then he looks over at the flames and decides that the fire is his only chance. Reasoning that, "any mechanism as delicately constructed as this robot might go all to pieces in the midst of hungry flames", Spidey springs into the fire. He is completely entangled and can only hope that the fire affects the blob before they do him in. "Not a minute too soon", the robot relaxes its hold and succumbs to the flames. As soon as he is free, Spidey leaps out of the fire to a nearby wall and then jumps out a window before the building collapses. ("I've got a hunch this isn't the last I've seen of it", Spidey thinks of the robot. But it is the last time he sees it. Didn't Stan check out all the pages before writing that line?) As he exits, the gawkers see him. They wonder if Spider- Man started the fire.
Back at Stromm "sinister sanctum", the Prof announces that his green blob "served its purpose admirably" and is "now useless". In the meantime, he has started building a second robot, more in the mode of the mechanical man stereotype. But he has added a "remote control destruction beam" to the robot's head (it opens like a big eye that takes up the whole face) and he demonstrates its power to Max. The rest of the very skinny body should be "assembled and ready for operation within the hour".
And back at the partially burned down electronics plant, (now under control thanks to the police and the fire department), ESU student Harry Osborn stands amidst the debris with his father Norman Osborn who is the owner of the plant. Harry wonders why Spider-Man would try to burn down the plant but Norman is pretty certain that Spidey isn't responsible. When Harry wonders who else could be responsible, his dad slaps him down with "None of your blasted business!" Norman is sweating it out because he realizes it must be Professor Stromm who is after him since he cheated Stromm "out of his inventions and then railroaded him into jail when he began to threaten me!" (This has been retconned into Stromm actually being an embezzler, by the way. I suppose he is too much of a tragic figure otherwise to be used as a recurring villain.) When Harry speculates that Spider-Man may be "trying to work a protection racket", Norman says, "Harry, don't you ever shut up?!!"
A word here about Norman Osborn. While it is true that he initially appears in ASM #23, April 1965 and shows up briefly in ASM #25-27, June-August 1965, he isn't given a name and is little more than wallpaper for the most part. (He appears in the background of two panels at the Midtown Business Executives Club along with five other nameless guys while J. Jonah Jameson chats with a fellow named Merriweather in ASM #23. He shows up in one panel in ASM #25 at the Daily Bugle with JJJ wrapping his arm around him and saying, "Don't worry about a thing! I'll take care of your ad personally and I'll see you at the club tonight!" In ASM #26, he finally speaks, questioning JJJ at the club on the wisdom of rehiring ex-con Frederick Foswell. In ASM #27, he speaks again, ragging on Jonah over the exclusive photos the Daily Globe got of the Goblin/Crime Master gang war... which were taken and sold by Peter Parker.) Needless to say, making this guy the Green Goblin after keeping fans guessing since ASM #14, July 1964 is somewhat of a cheat, but we'll get into that when the time comes. It also seems a bit much to retcon him into this all-powerful industrialist when we've seen him coming in person to Jonah Jameson to beg for ad space but that's neither here nor there. The point is, although he has appeared in four previous issues, there nothing really to distinguish Norman from Merriweather, for example, until this issue when he finally gets a name, a personality, and some background. So, yes, Norman's first appearance is ASM #23, but, for all intents and purposes, this is his first appearance here; only two issues before he's revealed as the Green Goblin.
Okay, back to it. Jonah Jameson shows up at the electronics plant, announcing that he heard the news "at our club". "Don't worry, Norman" he says, using Osborn's name for the first time, "Spider-Man won't get away with this!" When Norman tells Jonah that he's not sure Spider-Man is responsible, Jonah replies, "I'm sure and J. Jonah Jameson is never wrong about such things!" (A great line, knowing Jonah's history.) Norman is concerned about his insurance. He's covered this time but probably won't be if the attacks continue. "We've got to do something!" says Harry, blandly and Jonah sucks right up. "That's a smart boy you've got, Norman!" he says, "I like the way he sums up a situation! He'll go far!" Jonah then offers his help "for a fellow club member". "I'll call you if I need you, Jonah!" says Norman.
While swinging around the city, Spidey recalls that Foswell mentioned "a mechanical genius" who is out for revenge. (But shouldn't he already know all about that? I mean, he tried to tail the Prof from prison and everything.) He deduces that the genius and the creator of the robot may be one and the same and decides, "I'd better keep tabs on ol' Fossy!" But Foswell is on his way out of his apartment dressed in his disguise as Patch, the underworld stoolie. He's hoping to pick up information on Professor Stromm himself. Right after Patch leaves the apartment, Spidey shows up. He enters through the window and finds Foswell's clothing there, including the hat in which he previously put the spider-tracer. With no way to track Foswell, Spidey hits the webs with hoping of somehow spotting him.
Patch makes his way to "one of the seedier sections of town". He goes to a bar and asks a thug named Charlie if he's "heard anything new lately". Charlie is not cooperative. "No!" he says, "and even if I did, I wouldn't spill it to a punk like you!" Spidey just happens to hang out, perched up on a wall "just outside the smoky saloon" on his search. "All I'm getting is heartburn from hanging upside-down so long!" he thinks and then he sees Patch come out of the bar, smoking a cigarette, looking quite proud of himself. It appears that in that short time that we left him, Patch came up with a lead. He decides to "check it out before I call the cops". Spidey decides to tail Patch "till I can get a lead on Foswell!" (Little does he know. And I don't think he ever knows. I think Patch just disappears after Foswell's death in ASM #52, September 1967 and nobody ever makes the connection.)
Back at the lab, Stromm and Max have the new robot assembled and ready for business. Stromm puts the headgear on and tests the robot's destruction beam. He deems it, "Perfect!" as it fires with a "zapt!". "Its response is swift and deadly!" he says.
Now it turns out that Patch's information is the location of Stromm's hideout for which he paid plenty, apparently. He walks into a white tiled area that looks more like a courtyard than an alleyway. Spidey is up above and behind, tailing him. As Patch walks past a plain brick wall, a hidden door opens up in it behind him. Max comes out and trains a gun on Patch who puts up his hands and obeys Max's orders to "Stay where you are! Don't turn around! Don't even move!" Max communicates with Stromm over a fancy (but bulky) walkie-talkie and informs him that he's grabbed "some bum snooping around". He receives orders from Stromm to bring his captive in. Spidey watches all this from a low rooftop. "This is like watching The Man From U.N.C.L.E. on a life-size TV screen!" he thinks. (The Man From U.N.C.L.E.! One of my favorite shows as a kid. Robert Vaughn as Napoleon Solo. David McCallum as Ilya Kuriakin. Leo G. Carroll as Mr. Waverly. "Open Channel D." Battling the forces of T.H.R.U.S.H. Entering their secret headquarters through Del Floria's tailor shop in Midtown Manhattan. Using all sorts of bizarre high-tech gadgets. All of which was ripped off by Stan and Jack when they created Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. And all of which JMS remembers today. He uses "Open Channel D" as the call-in sign for the beautiful doomed S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in ASM #519, June 2005.) But before Spidey can make a move, the new robot "klanks" out the door. Max then ushers Patch through the door. The web-slinger puts a hand to his head in aggravation. "Aww, no!" he thinks, "Am I gonna have to tangle with another robot?" Calling the robot a "walking stove-pipe" (which is perfect and just the sort of thing I've been trying to come up with to describe it... thanks, Stan!), Spidey knows he has to follow it "and see what it's up to". But he also knows he can't leave Patch to his fate. So, he pulls out another of his sticky spider-tracers and tosses it at the robot. It adheres to the robot's rear end. (Or where it would be if it had one.) "Have a nice trip, skinny!" thinks Spidey, "And be careful not to shake your little passenger loose!" Then he follows Max and Patch (since Max didn't even bother to close the door) clinging to the ceiling of a featureless hallway.
As he leads Patch down the hallway at gunpoint, Max asks him what he's doing snooping around. Patch replies that he's looking for a job with Professor Stromm. This is the exact wrong thing to say. Just admitting that he knows about the Professor is enough to get Patch killed. But before Max can pull the trigger, Spider-Man hangs down from the ceiling, fires some webbing and covers up the gun. Max immediately runs for an exit and gets through before getting caught by another blast of webbing. Even as Max escapes, the doors all close, leaving Spidey and Patch trapped in what is essentially a large prison cell. There is one possibly exit... an airshaft high up on the wall and covered by a light-orange metal grid. Presumably Spidey rips the grid off the wall but he does that between panels because, the next we see, he is climbing into the shaft. He looks up and sees that it opens up on the roof. With that, he decides to leave Patch alone (telling him, "you'll be okay for a while") so that he can follow the robot. Fortunately, Max dropped his gun before exiting and Spidey tells Patch to pick it up to protect himself... but since Spidey covered that gun with webbing it probably won't do Patch any good. And who's to say that Max won't come back with another gun to shoot Patch while Spider- Man is gone. He doesn't, of course, but Spidey doesn't know that. As he scales the air shaft, Spidey is confident that he can stop the skinny robot before it does any damage since he tossed his spider-tracer on it and "it can't take more than a few minutes" to track it down. This is the first time, by the way, that Spider-Man seems to track his spider-tracer with his spider-sense alone instead of using that little transistor radio thing he had to use before.
Meanwhile, in their criminal lair, Stromm tells Max to "forget about Spider-Man and that unimportant snooper". He is much too involved in his moment of revenge that is at hand. Clenching his fists (and wearing the gizmo on his face), he concentrates in order to keep his robot "under perfect control". This time he can actually talk through the robot too and, as the walking stovepipe smashes right through the door of Norman Osborn's office, Stromm announces, "I have returned again, Osborn! Surely you remember my threat!" Norman puts his hands up in a defensive posture and tells the robot he wants to talk things over. Calling him, "my scheming ex-partner", Stromm declines the offer. When Norman tells him that the police will just capture him again, Stromm replies, "Let them! Who cares what happens to a robot?" Then the robot unleashes its destruction beam, which shatters Osborn's desk. "First, I'll ruin you financially, by destroying everything which is of value to you!" says the stovepipe. Norman backs off but is so rattled by the experience that he can't even think without a typo. "I can't let him do it!" says his thought balloon, "I out-smarted him once, I've go [sic] to do it again!" The robot then obligingly tells Norman to get out of the way so he can blast a big hole in the wall. "I want to save you for the last" it says, "You may occupy your time by pleading for mercy if you'd like!" This tactic is just fine with Osborn because he knows he is safe for the moment. And even as he evades the blasts, he figures out what to do.
Just then, Spider-Man leaps headfirst into the office through an open window. He does a one-handed handstand and kicks the robot right in the faceplate. (This is the scene depicted on the right side of the cover, by the way.) But Norman isn't happy to see him. "If he defeats the robot, it could ruin my plan to get rid of Stromm forever!" he thinks. Realizing that his kick "couldn't even budge" the stovepipe, Spidey backs off, evading the destruction beam all along. As the web-slinger springs through a doorway with the robot following, Norman hopes that the robot will polish Spidey off. "He's becoming too dangerous to my plans!" he thinks.
Out in an empty factory (since, apparently, Norman keeps his office right in the factory and yet employs no one), Spidey does a handstand on a stairway banister as he shoots webbing back at the robot; webbing that is obliterated by the destruction beam. He hops onto a pillar and then leaps away as the robot shoots its beam at him again. Hoping to knock the metal man off its feet, he picks up a big green something and throws it but the robot holds out its handless arms and the thrown object just attaches to them. The fight continues with Spidey apparently doubling back because he ends up jumping past Norman Osborn. He never notices "the man he was trying to save" at all as Norman leaps out and knocks Spidey over the head either with his fist or with a big chunk of rock... it's not entirely clear. Norman runs off, leaving Spidey unconscious on the floor. "If that blow didn't finish him off, I'll let the robot do the job!" he thinks, "As for me, I've got a lot to do, now!"
Only seconds later, the robot approaches Spidey. Stromm, through the robot, notices some "vapor" released into the room as a result of all the destruction and assumes, for some reason, that it is poisonous. So the robot never bothers to check on Spider-Man to see if he's alive or dead. Instead, it wanders around and destroys the rest of Osborn's plant with its destruction beam; though in this case the phrase "destroy his plant" seems to mean just wiping out a few of the machines. After the robot has done its work, Spider-Man recovers. He holds the back of his head before getting to his feet. "I must have been hit by a king-sized piece of flying debris!" he says.
Not seeing the robot around, Spidey assumes it has returned to the hideout. (I assume that the spider-tracer is still attached to the walking stovepipe too but Spidey makes no mention of it.) He webswings back to that location and arrives just in time to see the robot entering through the hidden door. He times it just right so that he swings through just before the door closes up. And, actually, this must be a different door than the one Max used with Patch because this one leads right to a short flight of stairs going down to Stromm's lab. As Spidey swings in, he kicks the robot from behind and knocks him right down those stairs. With Stromm looking on, Spidey tangles with the robot. The walking stovepipe starts to get to its feet and tries to hit Spider-Man with its beam but the wall-crawler evades it at close quarters even as he grabs a hold of the robot's right arm. He then maneuvers around so that he also grabs the robot's left ankle and then lifts the metal man over his head. Letting go of the arm, Spidey takes the ankle with both hands and slams the robot onto the floor. This "upset[s] his delicate mechanical circuitry" and causes the destruction beam to strike one of Stromm's machines. Spidey follows up by picking up the robot and tossing him into another machine, which the wall- crawler somehow recognizes as "the power control units". The Prof clears out of the way but has nowhere to go. "Stay where you are, Professor!" yells Spidey, "It's wrap-up time!"
Elsewhere in the hideout, Patch notices that "the steel window is opening", which I think refers to one of the doorways. He is anxious over the fact that Spider-Man never got back to him but he does have the gun. (And I'm assuming that more than an hour has passed since the gun no longer has any webbing on it.) Just then Max comes running into the room but Patch notices, "He looks scared about something. He doesn't even remember I'm here!" Max isn't even looking into the room. He's looking over his shoulder, afraid that he will get jumped by Spider-Man.
Spidey, however, is still busy with Stromm. The Prof, somehow, manages to get the robot's head disconnected from its body. (How he can do this before being nabbed by Spidey is beyond me.) He holds the head and fires the destruction beam at the web-slinger. Spidey has had enough. "Trying to get rid of Spidey seems to be the national underworld pastime! And I'm getting tired of it!" he proclaims as he fires a web strand that attaches to the robot's headpiece. Yanking on the webbing, he jerks the head right out of Stromm's hands. Stromm, now defenseless, holds up his hands even as Patch enters the room, leading Max in at gunpoint. Stromm knows he's caught but he still has a way to have his revenge. "There's something I must tell you!" he says to Spider- Man, "Something nobody knows about." But even as Stromm speaks, a rifle pokes in from a window placed high in the wall. (What is the deal with this window anyway? It has no glass in it and it's up at the second story level of the building with no windows down below.) The unseen wielder of the gun thinks, "I can't take the chance of him spilling the beans about me! There's too much at stake! I've too much to lose!" which makes it pretty certain that he is Norman Osborn. Just then, the webster's spider-sense kicks in. He looks up and sees the rifle. Yelling, "Look out!" he shoves Stromm out of the way and scares the gunman off without a shot being fired. As Stromm crumples on the floor, Spidey leaps up to the window and looks outside. It only takes him "two seconds to get up here" and yet there is no one there. There also isn't anything to support a person at that height. "How could he have vanished so soon?" wonders the wall-crawler, "And, how did he get up there in the first place? There was no rope, no ladder, no sound of a helicopter!"
Spidey leaps back down to the floor only to have Patch tell him that Stromm is dead. "Looks like a heart attack to me!" he says. Having received this news, the web-slinger just decides to cut out. "You can look after things now!" he tells Patch as he starts wall-crawling.
Later, Harry Osborn fetches his father, who is busy tying his tie, as if he is just now getting dressed. Harry tells his dad that Jameson is there with some good news. But Norman already knows what that news is. "I heard it on the radio!" he says, "They caught Professor Stromm! He was found dead!" (Can you still "catch" someone when they're found dead?) Jonah enters, stogie in hand, and tells Norman that he's safe. "That crooked ex-partner of yours was to blame for those attacks but he can't bother you any more!" he says. Norman lays it on thick. "The poor devil!" he says, "I had forgotten all about him!" Jonah tells Norman that Stromm didn't forget about him. "He must have planned to get revenge on you all the years he was in prison!" he says, "Some people can never be reformed like that blasted Spider-Man!" Norman, a hand in his pants pocket, agrees with Jonah's assessment and then tells his friend he appreciates that he came by. "You know me!" says the departing Jonah, putting his hat on, "I'm all heart! See you at the club, Norman!" But once JJJ is gone, Norman picks up his rifle just for our benefit (since I'm pretty sure it wasn't lying around in the room while Jonah was there) and scowls. "Spider-Man almost ruined everything for me!" he thinks, "But it won't happen again! Now that his suspicions have been aroused, he must be disposed of!"
Elsewhere in the city, Peter Parker walks along lost in thought. A group of five teens who must know him from school ask if he'd like to go bowling with them but Pete is so preoccupied he never even notices them. "He's ignoring us!" says the girl in the green dress. "Boy, how stuck-up can you get?" says another. "He's as big a snob as everyone says he is," says a third. Unaware of this, Peter reflects back on the gun at the high window. "I couldn't have imagined it! There was someone at that window with a gun!" he thinks, "But there could be another answer. What if I'm losing my spider-sense?" (Which makes no sense to me. After all, the gun triggered his spider-sense! No pun intended. So, he definitely hasn't lost it. What he should really be worrying about is if his spider-sense has become unreliable... but he ignores it so often anyway, it hardly makes any difference.) "It could mean the beginning of the end for Spider-Man! I-I'd better not even think about it!" he worries as he walks away from the teens. Two of the boys put their hands on their hips and watch him go. "So, he's too good for us, huh?" says one. "Guys like him don't wanna know anybody," says another, "They'd rather go around without a care in the world!"
"Next Ish", promises Stan, "While waiting to see more of the mysterious Mr. Osborn, we'll toss a new villain at you! 'Nuff said!" Well, okay. But Mr. Osborn doesn't seem all that mysterious at this point and the "new villain" isn't really a villain at all.
The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page ("Greater, Groovier, Goofier Goodies Than Ever, Gathered From The Four Corners Of Marveldom!") is chock-full of items worth mentioning. First, Stan announces that, due to the "clamoring" from fans, Marvel Tales will convert from an annual to a bi-monthly. (And we'll give you Lookbacks when the time comes.) Then, Stan gives us a short list of radio disc jockeys who have proclaimed their allegiance to Marvel... including "Dick Purtan, WKNR Detroit" who is still in the business (though now at WOMC) almost forty years later. In the next item, Stan tells us that "world famous movie writer/director Federico Fellini dropped in to visit the gang at the bullpen last Nov. 3rd (1965)!" (As a huge Fellini fan, I still think this is a very cool item.) After that, Stan reveals that Adam Austin is actually a pen name for Gene Colan. Then, he plugs Daredevil #16, May 1966 with John Romita's first rendition of "everybody's favorite web- spinner". And finally, Stan gives us a treatise on why he has gone from being tolerant of the competition to being "openly critical". "As you know, Marvel has spent years trying to upgrade the art of comic magazines" he writes, "for an art it truly is, every bit as much as the cinema, the legitimate stage, or any other form of creative expression. We don't resent competition - indeed, we welcome it. But we DO resent shabby, carelessly-produced, badly-written and -drawn, conscienceless IMITATIONS of our Marvel mags - imitations which are callously lacking in quality, and which are produced for the sole purpose of making a fast profit in the very field which they themselves are helping to keep at the bottom of the artistic totem pole!" Whew! He goes on to indict one publisher in particular who "has gone so far as to change its name and trademark so that the reader might think it truly IS a Marvel publication!" which just has to be a reference to Archie Comic's "Mighty Comics Group" featuring their super-hero books, "The Mighty Crusaders" and "Flyman".
I know you've all been waiting for it so here is the list of 26 M.M.M.S. members for this issue. Frederick D. Coward, Jr. of Washington D.C. Carlos Reyes of New York, New York. Danny St. John of Fairmont, Minnesota. Stephen Dunn of Freeport, New York. Ronny Rittenhouse of Statesboro, Georgia. William Grisaitis of Orlando, Florida. Larry Blazina of Los Angeles, California. John Irwin of Marysville, California. Danny Bluestein of Hallandales, Florida. John Mayer of Chicago, Illinois. John McLean of London, Canada. (That's London, Ontario, by the way.) Charles Bolden, Jr. of Detroit, Michigan. Eddie Boxer of Denver, Colorado. Klaus Rothe of Villa Ridge, Missouri. Marshall Anderson of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Greg Garrett of North Highland, California. Albert Finelli of Waterbury, Connecticut. Joseph Ball of Apple Valley, California. Michael Joseph Maher of Laurel, Maryland. Victor Gallis of New York, New York. George Wooden of Richmond, California. Eugene Fisch of New York, New York. Kenneth D. Tarn of Renovo, Pennsylvania. James Maybikos of Cambridge, Massachusetts. (And here I thought I was going to get through a list without having to type "Pennsylvania" or "Massachusetts".) Mark Arambula of Hollywood, California. And Ted Van Duyn, Jr. of Rockford, Illinois.
On the opposing page, Spidey plugs the Incredible Hulk sweatshirt. "You've gotta help us!" he says, "We're in big trouble! We forgot the magic words that'll shut off our Hulk sweat-shirt-making machine! It's been turning these poor-man's tuxedos out like crazy! So, until we can find a way to pull out the plug, we've gotta keep selling these gizmos! And we promise that we'll have a brand new ad for you next ish... even if we have to draw it while buried under a mountain of sweat shirts!" (And we do get a new ad next ish but it's still plugging the same old things.)
In the Spider's Web, Larry Rizzutti of Mt. Kisco, New York thinks Spidey's villains seem less powerful in their subsequent appearances. "Doctor Octopus is an example. When he first appeared, he clobbered Spidey without trying... But in Spider-Man #32, it took Spidey a short 10 panels to finish the doctor. So... please don't let the bad guys degenerate into creampuffs." Stan replies, "[O]ur villains aren't turning into creampuffs - it's just that Spidey gets more battle-wise and more skillful with each passing day!" Both Chris Gorley of New York, New York and Philip Palmer of Highland Park, New Jersey caught the Soupy Sales show in which Soupy used a pin-up of Spider-Man. "It shows how widespread your fame is. After all, how many magazines get plugged by one of the country's biggest teenage idols?" says Chris. "Is Soupy a member of the M.M.M.S.? If so, what's his number? Are his wife and kids members, too? How about the stagehands? Soupy's dog?" asks Philip. Stan replies to Chris with, "That's only the beginning, Chris! Wouldn't you be surprised to see L.B.J. standing in front of a Marvel pin-up at his next press conference? Well, just between us, tiger - so would we!" (Does everyone know who Soupy Sales is? He was a big deal with a kid's show back in the sixties... first in Cincinnati, then in Detroit, then LA, then New York, and finally nationally... and he always had a streak of mischief in him. The most-frequently told story about Soupy is that he was annoyed that he had to work on New Year's Day 1965 so he told the kids to get into their parents wallets and send to him all the little green pieces of paper with the Presidents' pictures on them. He was suspended for two weeks for that one. I actually saw Soupy Sales perform at a comedy club once and he had as X-rated an act as you could imagine. I probably don't have to tell anyone who LBJ is but I had a conversation with a work colleague (and this was over ten years ago) in which I mentioned LBJ and she looked at me like I was speaking gibberish and said, L...? B...? J...? So just in case: LBJ was Lyndon Baines Johnson, the 36th President of the United States who was President at the time that this comic came out.) Meanwhile, The Page House Mob at California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California are appalled that Peter Parker ended up going to Empire State University and not Cal Tech. "Look - Spidey wants to go to the best engineering and science school in the country, right? If he leaves town and goes far, far away, maybe absence will make Betty's heart grow fonder, right?... So, please, please, please PLEASE reconsider! Transfer him, flunk him, kidnap him, transplant all of New York City, do anything but please get him out here. WE WANT SPIDEY!" Great letter, guys, but... sorry. Finally, we have to take a look at a bit of the letter from Bill Dargan of Manhattan Beach, California that has a little saga of its own. Bill is disgusted with Spidey's direction of late. He writes, "Spidey used to be number one on my hit list, but now I'll take the FF any day over Mr. Web-spinner. I have enough worries of my own without seeing Spidey get so psyched-out each month. First, it's Betty, then Aunt May - next, it'll be mid-term exams. Why don't you just turn Juggernaut loose on Spidey and get it over with? That'll calm him down." Note how the reference to Juggernaut is satirical and only used to emphasize Spidey's hardships. Fast-forward now to the Spider's Web from ASM #234, November 1982 after Spidey battled the Juggernaut in ASM #229-230, June- July 1982. Todd Wilson of Lenoir, North Carolina writes, "Nothing Can Stop the Juggernaut was superb. Still, the thought kept coming back to me: "Hasn't Spider-Man fought the Juggernaut before?" I checked through my old back issues... no! But, as I was looking through Amazing Spider-Man #37, something on the letter page caught my eye. Yes, there it was... a suggestion from one Bill Dargan of Manhattan Beach, California, to set the Juggernaut against Spider-Man! So, after one hundred and ninety-two issues, Bill finally got his wish!" So, Todd takes Bill's sarcasm literally and thinks Bill was actually requesting this match-up. Which leads us to the Spider's Web from ASM #242, July 1983 in which Bill Dargan now of Tacoma, Washington responds to Todd's letter. All these years later, even Bill doesn't remember that he was sarcastic about the Spidey-Juggie battle. Now he's just thrilled to see his younger self coming back to haunt him and he writes a terrific letter about becoming a "clinical laboratory scientist specializing in immunology" partly because of his interest in Marvel. Check out the Lookback of ASM #242 for more of that. For now, just soak in the odyssey of this discussion as it takes place over years, issues, and misinterpreted intentions of Bill Dargan's original letter.
The boffo finish:
So, Norman Osborn finally comes out of the obscurity of the Midtown Business Executives Club and turns out to be a mean guy who yells at his son, cheats and railroads Stromm, decides that Spider-Man is "becoming too dangerous to my plans", attacks Spidey from behind with enough strength to knock him out temporarily, appears to have used some sort of flying device (like a Goblin Glider, perhaps?) to get to a high window to try to shoot at Stromm with a rifle and is tying his tie in the middle of the day as if just now dressing... after getting out of a Goblin costume? Oh, and Stromm, before "dying" is ready to reveal a secret about his enemy... like, perhaps, that he's the Green Goblin? Is it any surprise that, two issues later, he is revealed as the Green Goblin? Actually, after the events in this story, it would be a surprise if the Goblin were anyone else. On the other hand, Steve Ditko plotted this tale and was not in favor of Norman Osborn being the Green Goblin so he probably was using Norman as a red herring. But what did Steve actually have in mind for Mr. Osborn? Yet another thing that we'll never know. More on the "Norman Osborn is the Green Goblin thing" when we get to ASM #39, August 1966.
So, Professor Stromm is dead, right? I mean he had a heart attack. We've got a corpse and everything. Well, no. He first reappeared in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man #68, July 1982 as the Robot-Master; a robot duplicate into which Stromm's memories were placed. But later, after Norman Osborn discovered that the Goblin formula had given him incredible regenerative powers, he exhumed Stromm to see if his exposure to the formula when they were partners had brought about similar results. He found Stromm alive but in an extremely emaciated state. In this form, Stromm took the name of Gaunt, first appearing in Spectacular Spider-Man #233, April 1996. It gets worse for poor Mendel. He ends up as a severed head hooked up to the New York City computer infrastructure where he is forced into suspended animation (in Peter Parker: Spider-Man Vol. 2 #28, April 2001) by Spider-Man. Stromm begins as a wronged tragic figure. By the time he becomes Gaunt, he is just another crazed villain. But this latest story has restored some of his tragic status once again, which is just fine by me.
I had thought that this was Max Young's only appearance but two astute readers (Mike Cheyne and a fellow who calls himself "Acter45") have pointed out to me that Max returns in the "Invasion of the Spider-Slayers" storyline in ASM #368-373, Early November 1992-Late January 1993. Sometime between this story and that one, Max ends up with multiple personality disorder: "The Stromm influence, his own independence, and a sliver of sanity trying to reconcile the other two!" He is kept in the same asylum holding Alistair Smythe. When Alistair escapes, he takes about a dozen of the "most gifted and deadly patients to escape with him", including Max. Using the Stromm side of his personality, Max creates a new amoeba robot and a big silver robot which Spidey stops by getting Max's personalities to fight with each other. Disgusted by Max's failure, Alistair fries him to a crisp in ASM #272, Early January 1993.
JJJ, Gwen, Harry, Flash, and Sally Green are all back next issue. Aunt May and Mary Jane will join them.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"Once upon a Time there was a robot" - Professor Stromm and his weird robots plague Spidey. - Professor Stromm dies.
I have this feeling that your opinion of this issue depends greatly on what you think of the work of Steve Ditko. If you're a Ditko fan like me, you can't help but love this one. First of all, the robots are great; totally different from each other and distinctive. Second, you've got some great Foswell/Patch action, something that won't be around too much longer. Then you have more love/hate sparring between Peter and Gwen, yet another new JJJ secretary, Spidey frantically trying to keep up with the action, and, for all intents and purposes, the introduction of Norman Osborn. Ditko's art is inspired with everything from the green robot's journey to the electronics plant to the stovepipe robot's destruction of Osborn's office to Spider-Man leaping, springing, jumping, dodging, and battling in his unique spider-like manner. Stan says at the beginning, "We hate to brag, but this one's a doozy!" I agree. Five webs.
Next: The end of Steve Ditko!