So, Spidey’s got his memory back “thanks” to Ka-Zar and Zabu and he cleverly defeated the Spider-Slayer, fracturing the Jameson/Smythe relationship in the process. So, everything’s good, right? Well, there’s this little matter of where Peter Parker has been all this time. Plus, there seems to be someone called the Brainwasher.
|Pencils:||Don Heck, John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
Admit it. It’s one of your favorite covers. Who can resist Mary Jane go-go dancing on stage while Spidey manhandles two goons behind the curtain? But it’s more than that. It’s the background contrast from the glare of the stage lights to the blue of the curtain. It’s the way the curtain curls up on the bottom like a depiction of a page being turned. It’s MJ’s smile and the wiggle lines around her whole body that show that she is dancing up a storm and enjoying every minute. It is the way Spidey’s body almost mirrors MJ’s body, their heads almost on the same level, their arms and legs in motion. It is the way MJ looks up as she entrances the shadowy audience below her but Spidey looks down as he dominates the two thugs below him. It is the way all four major figures are off the ground…Spidey held up by his web, MJ dancing so hard she has risen above the stage and the two hoods up in the air on their way to being knocked to the ground. It is the way the two blows that Spidey gives the hoods are represented by jagged white stars while MJ dances under oval white lights. It is the way no one in the disco audience dances but all melt into each other as they watch MJ, with one guy standing out because his arm is raised and he stands below an op art painting that looks like a tangled-up Slinky. And you thought you just liked it because Romita draws MJ so well.
This is MJ’s first cover appearance, not too surprising considering we didn’t see her face until ASM #42, November 1966. She’ll be getting plenty more appearances in the years ahead.
Now then. Spidey is hurrying to the hospital to see Aunt May when the police try to arrest him. Let’s stop a moment right off the bat. When we last looked in on Spidey, he was concerned that Aunt May wasn’t answering her phone but he didn’t know she was in the hospital. How did he find out? Are we going to find out? Let’s find out.
Three policemen emerge from two police cars. One fires a warning shot at the web-slinger who retaliates by using his webbing to snatch the gun away, cover the spotlight they are shining on him, and entrap all three policemen. Good thing they were standing close enough together so that he could snag them. Minutes later, he arrives at the hospital. Since he doesn’t know which room May is in, he grabs the directory of patients off the counter while the duty nurse is occupied flipping through her Rolodex. Did hospitals in the 1960s put their patients in a book that looks like a hotel register? Did nurses in the 1960s get so preoccupied with their Rolodex that they wouldn’t notice someone swiping their directory?
The nurse is still checking her Rolodex as Spidey reads the directory and finds that Aunt May is on the top floor. It is 10 PM according to the clock as Spidey crawls on ceilings, up an airshaft, and into a janitor’s closet where he starts to change his clothes. His spider-sense warns him that someone is coming and, still clad in his costume but without his mask, he clings to the ceiling as a janitor gets a mop.
Now dressed in his civvies, Peter finds Aunt May’s room. She sheds a tear and hugs him, saying, “I’m feeling better already – just seeing you - just knowing you’re safe!” But then May asks where Peter was and why he didn’t call and Peter has no answer. “I was so anxious to see Aunt May, I forgot to make up a story,” he thinks. Before Peter can respond, a doctor (or nurse or orderly) enters the room and demands to know who he is. The doctor (or nurse or orderly) must be telepathic because Aunt May thinks an answer to him. “He’s my dear nephew, Peter! He’s back at last!” she thinks. The doctor hears her thoughts (or maybe the letterer drew a thought balloon instead of a word balloon) and tells Peter he’s glad he’s back, but he also kicks him out so that May can get some rest. As they leave the room, the doctor tells Peter “She took it pretty hard when you were listed as a missing person.” Hearing this, Peter realizes he must report to the police. “And I’d better have a good story for them,” he thinks.
Soon after, Peter shows up at a police station. The desk sergeant tells him “’Cording to the Daily Bugle, you were captured by Spider-Man.” “Great! That’s my story!” thinks Peter, little suspecting that he will soon be in a room full of cops, including Captain George Stacy, all grilling him as to why the web-slinger abducted him. “Bro-there!” he thinks, “What do I say now?”
A short break as we look at the “More Triumphs for Marvel…!” page. It is a bit squeezed down this time to make room for the Statement of Ownership (“Average no. copies each issue during preceding 12 months: 587,213.”) The page touts Not Brand Echh #7 which we will get to soon and Daredevil #38 at which we will look as a lead-up to our review of Fantastic Four #73.
Back at the grilling, Captain Stacy introduces himself and Peter realizes he is Gwen’s dad. (A fine way to meet his potential future father-in-law.) “When last seen,” says George, “Spider-Man claimed to have lost his memory!” (True! He told George and John Jameson that in ASM #57.) Peter runs with this information. “Yes, sir! He did have amnesia,” he says, “That’s how Doc Ock convinced him they were partners!” (That is all true, by the way.) “When his memory returned to him, he set me free again!” (But that part is a lie.) A man whom we discover four panels from now is the Police Commissioner asks, “But why did he capture you in the first place?” “I was on a picture-taking assignment for the Daily Bugle!” says Peter, “He saw me following him and thought I was an enemy. But, when his memory returned, he realized I was harmless and released me!” “Are you saying he’s not as dangerous as we thought?” asks the Commissioner. “If you ask me, he’s sort of lovable!” says Peter. No one is amused. (Except me. I love that little moment, taking place as it does in the very middle panel of the page.) At that point, an officer comes in with a report for the Commissioner and Peter is free to go. He exits with Captain Stacy but overhears the details of the report: “Another batch of the most dangerous mobsters in town have been released on bail! But who’s behind it? What’s the explanation?”
While still in the police station, George asks Peter “Can you spare a few minutes?” In the very next panel, they are outside the Stacy home. George seems to be just starting to ask Peter about Spider-Man, as if no time has passed. Is George’s house right next to the police station? Or did they pass through a wormhole to get there?
George asks Peter in to discuss Spidey. “Is there something he knows that he’s not telling?” Peter wonders. Now we all know that, in the great ASM #90 the dying George Stacy reveals that he knows Peter is Spider-Man. The question is…when did he learn this? This little series of panels implies that he may have known from the start. George tells Peter that he has “obtained prints of every film ever taken of the masked mystery man.” He sets up a projector and screen to show the film and tells Peter he has determined that Spidey is “quite youthful and highly intelligent” as well as “driven by an inner compulsion.” He believes that “Spider-Man is not the usual criminal type.” Peter agrees. “If only I could find him and prove his innocence,” says George.
Gwen then enters and, finding Peter there, gives him a big hug. This embarrasses Peter, with Gwen’s father there. “Even an old police war-horse like me was young once myself!” says George. Gwen steals Peter away from her father and takes him to the Coffee Bean where Harry Osborn is waiting. “The ol’ pumpkin eater himself!” says Harry. (As in, “Peter, Peter…”) The guy sitting with Harry says, “I thought you were mad at him” and Harry replies, “Yeah but it wasn’t a lifetime project.” (I love Stan’s snappy little lines like this.) Peter asks after Mary Jane and Harry tells him that she got a job. “She’s knocking them dead at the Gloom Room A-Go-Go,” says Gwen.
And at the Gloom Room A-Go-Go, a thug holds up a picture of MJ, showing it to his boss who is hidden from our view by his chair. All we can see is a white sleeve. He is also apparently smoking. We see the smoke. The thug confirms that MJ has been instructed to snap pictures of the customers during her dance breaks. In the next panel, a door hides the boss as he looks in on a scientist. The boss reveals that the flash bulb of the camera “has a certain hypnotic quality which will make them feel an urge to return to our little club a second time! And that will be when our brainwashing equipment is put to use.” The scientist refers to his boss as “Brainwasher” and assures him that ‘Nothing will ever be able to stop you now.” The scientist confirms that “The assistant DA released our three boys today an hour after we used the brainwashing machine on him.” The Brainwasher tells them “Our next step is to invite the city’s top officials here as our guests of honor! By brainwashing them, one at a time I’ll soon have the entire government under my control!” Yeah, because every top official will be happy to hang out at a place called the Gloom Room A-Go-Go. This plan sounds as unlikely as Spidey knowing that Aunt May is in the hospital.
The next morning, Spidey stops a robbery at a pawnshop. The shopkeeper thanks him but says, “It’s a shame they’ll all soon be free again.” Spidey wonders if this has something to do with the memo the Commissioner received.
Now, earlier at the Coffee Bean, Harry said of MJ, “We’ve gotta catch her act one night!” as if it was already an ongoing thing. But it turns out that tomorrow night is her grand opening. MJ is at the club now, shaking it like nobody’s business, rehearsing her dancing. Her boss, Mr. Slade (who is the thug who was reporting to the Brainwasher) reminds her to take photos between shifts but tells her to only take photos of people at the tables with stars on them.
The next day, Harry, Peter, and Gwen show up at the Gloom Room. Harry has reserved a front row table for them. Peter and Gwen notice Captain Stacy arriving. He stops to chat with a Councilman and they confirm that they both received special invitations but that they have no idea who the owner is…which seems pretty reckless to me to show up under such circumstances. The floorshow begins and MJ dances her heart out. “Now we know what go-go means. She never stops,” says Gwen. While Gwen is talking about MJ, MJ is thinking about Gwen. “Eat your heart out, Gwendolyn! This time, little Mary Jane’s in the spotlight!”
(How old is MJ at this point? Still a teenager? Is it a bit creepy that older men are ogling her as she dances? The broader question is, “At what point do Peter and the gang stop aging?” Peter is 15 in Amazing Fantasy #15 in 1962 and he graduates from High School in ASM #28 in 1965 when he is presumably 18. So, up to that point, he is aging in real time. If we assume that real time aging is still going on, then everyone in the gang is around 21. Since Peter doesn’t graduate college until ASM #185 in 1978, the aging must decelerate pretty soon. So, let’s call them all 20, which is slightly less creepy than if MJ was shaking it at the age of 18. But only slightly.)
After her set, MJ goes out with the camera. Harry asks her to take their picture but MJ tells him she can only snap celebrities. “That’s strange! I wonder why?” wonders Peter. MJ takes the Councilman’s picture. (“Snap your map?” she asks.) Afterward, the Councilman feels dizzy and decides he needs some air. MJ moves on to Captain Stacy. She takes his picture and a startled Stacy also gets an urge to get some air. (And just why is it that Captain Stacy is considered important enough to get an invitation and be brainwashed? Isn’t he just a retired police captain?) Instead of getting some air, however, George ends up in the scientist’s lab, led there by one of the Brainwasher’s men. (Except, didn’t the Brainwasher say that the flash bulb “will make them feel an urge to return to our little club a second time! And that will be when our brainwashing equipment is put to use?” Yes, he did.) George tries to clear his head and the scientist realizes that George is “trying to fight the effects of the flash.” He orders one thug to grab Stacy while another goes to notify the Brainwasher.
After a time, Gwen wonders what has become of her father. Peter promises to go look for him. Being suspicious of the whole enterprise, he decides to investigate as Spider-Man. His suspicions are justified when he climbs in a window, after having gone outside, and is shot at by the thug inside. He kicks the gun out of the thug’s hand but is attacked from behind by another thug. He dispatches that man and proceeds on his way but the first thug gets up and triggers an alarm. Five armed men are sent out to deal with him. Spidey takes care of all of them while another magical location change takes place. In one panel, they are fighting down a flight of stairs. Two panels later, they are onstage behind a curtain. (Are there steps that lead right down to the stage?) This is sort of the front cover moment except that, instead of dancing, MJ stumbles on the scene, still holding her camera. As Spidey threatens one hood, trying to find out “what’s up,” another (named Louie) grabs MJ and threatens her with his gun. Spidey webs the gun shut, swings down and kicks Louie, then grabs MJ and swings her to safety. “Ohhhhh, Spidey-O!” says MJ, “What do you do for an encore, man!” “I’ve got a groovy soft shoe routine! I wowed ‘em at the Bijou!” says Spidey.
Spidey crawls on the ceiling until he finds a carefully guarded room. He breaks in and finds the scientist putting a big contraption that looks like an old-time hair dryer on Captain Stacy’s head. “Who’s behind all this? Talk!” orders Spidey. “It’s no secret,” says the scientist, “He’s called the Brainwasher!” Then the Brainwasher emerges from the shadows (without triggering the spider-sense) and grabs Spidey’s wrist in a powerful grip because the Brainwasher turns out to be…the Kingpin!
The scientist, whose name is Dr. Winkler as we learn in ASM #60 is clearly the man doing the brainwashing but is not the Brainwasher. That distinction has blurred over the years so that some people believe that “The Brand of the Brainwasher” refers to Winkler. But don’t be fooled! As you can tell from this issue’s end, the Brainwasher is the Kingpin.
It’s Marvel Bullpen Bulletins time. “Come ‘n get it, Tiger – Here’s Our New Year’s Gift to You!” Even though the cover date is April, this issue, apparently, came out very early in 1968. This also explains the guy who looked at MJ dancing and said, “Wow-eee! Why didn’t Santa bring me one of those?”
The big news in the Bulletins is that Captain America and the Incredible Hulk are getting their own titles. Both are listed as “Premiere Issue” in the Checklist but Cap will take over the Tales of Suspense numbering with #100 and the Hulk will take over the Tales to Astonish numbering with #102. The Bulletins also announce the one and only issue of Iron Man and Sub-Mariner. They then each go on to their own titles beginning with #1.
The other big announcement is the final title in the Marvel Ranks. PMM stands for Permanent Marvelite Maximus “to be cherished and guarded with pulsating pride by those fortunate few who have won all four of the preceding titles!” It won’t be long before fans send in letters using the titles before or after their names and there will be some PMMs among them.
In his Soapbox, Stan promises to stop referring to the competition as Brand Echh. “We coined that expression a few years ago as a gag figuring it would be fun for us to needle some of the outfits who were older and bigger than we. However, thanks to the loyalty of you fabulous fans, and to the hard work, talent, and dedication of our beloved Bullpeners, we’ve managed to make ourselves the undisputed leaders of the comics industry…Anyway, when you’re on top of the heap, it doesn’t seem right to rib the other guy who hasn’t quite made it – and that’s why the only time we’ll use the phrase Brand Echh from now on is in the title of our own goofy gag mag! So, to the artists, writers, and editors of the other companies in this batty business in which we toil, many of whom are close personal friends of ours – we hereby end the fatuous little feud we’ve been flaunting before the public. Let’s just call it a draw and get on with the business at hand – the business of making today’s comic mags the greatest entertainment value on earth – and tomorrow’s even greater! ‘Nuff said!”
The 26 M.M.M.S. members in this issue are David Knoles of Lomits, California; Barbara Johnson of Seaford, New York; Mike Jennings of Gary, Indiana; David Ryerson of Philipsburg, New Jersey; Juana Romero of Miami, Florida; Bruce Hewlett of North West Bay, Newfoundland; Nick Ummarino of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Kirk Hastings of Wildwood, New Jersey; Gayla Owens of Denton, Texas; Randy Knudson of Portales, New Mexico; Charles Hill of Montgomery, Alabama; Elliott Koppel of Brooklyn, New York Michael Tutson of Northwest Washington DC, Art Romeo of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Carlos Ortega of Dallas, Texas; Rick Hull of Decatur, Georgia; Charles Julian of Kennerer, Wyoming; Chris Rubin of San Francisco, California; Joe Habet of Beliz, British Honduras; Robert Klein of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Victor Kelmelis of Hawinton, Connecticut; Ed Rice of Chicago, Illinois; Ron Heft of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Dan Kinser of Knoxville, Tennessee; and David Hansberry of Nashua, New Hampshire. I’m pretty sure nobody from Washington DC uses “Northwest” in their address anymore and British Honduras is now Belize. And I’m not 100% sure that North West Bay is a town in Newfoundland rather than a Bay. As usual, if you are any of these people and you see your name listed here, please drop me a line!
In The Spider’s Web, Martin Stern of Detroit, Michigan says “Everyone praises you for using Negroes, but it seems to me that your Negroes are merely white people drawn by the artist with their skins darkened by the colorers. I don’t think Negroes who read Marvels and see token Negroes who live in luxury, popularity and good health are going to feel any better when they themselves may live in poverty and have vast racial pressure on them. What do you think?” So, what does Stan think? “”First, if our Negro characters seem like white people with dark skin, it’s because that’s how we see them! Or, for that matter, we might just as easily see Caucasians as Negros with white skin! We honestly don’t favor people because they belong to a particular race! We depict them because they are people - people whom we hope are interesting! To us, there is no such thing as a ‘token’ Negro! Every person is an individual – and we don’t feel any particular race can be lumped into a group and have it said that they are all the same!” Now, in 2018, this may seem, to some, to be the equivalent of the “All Lives Matter” response to “Black Lives Matter” but in 1968, in the midst of the Civil Rights struggles, just months before the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., I think that Stan’s heart is in the right place and is doing his best. But Martin’s points are valid and I hope Stan took them to heart.
Matt Mitas of St. Louis, Missouri wonders about John Jameson’s mother. He assumes that J. Jonah Jameson was married to someone. “But, to date, you have never shown us his wife or when or how he got married. So, how about in your next annual showing us Jonah’s life story?” Stan did not take him up on this and JJJ’s wife Joan is not shown until a flashback in ASM #190, March 1979.
John Eder of Chelsea, Michigan writes “In ish #54, four panels show Doc Ock’s mechanical arms sitting around all by themselves with the good doctor half way across the room. Anybody worth his webs knows Doc once used his arms from behind a lead shield for experiments that were too dangerous to be done up close. One such experiment went wrong and intense radiation fused his arms to his body…How come he can take them off now??” Stan replies, “Why, the Doc’s been able to remove his arms since way back in ish #...uh, well, we can’t remember everything!” He then offers a no-prize to anyone who can tell him what issue that was. It’s 50 years later but I have the answer. In Amazing Spider-Man Annual (Vol. 1) #1 on page 2 panel 1, Stan tells us “In State Prison, a team of specialists have finally found a way to remove the four extra mechanical arms which had become attached to Dr. Octopus after a freak accident.” Do I still get the no-prize?
John C. Irwin of Lock Haven, Pennsylvania says, “I enjoyed issue #55 very much. I will admit the cover was different. In all my two years of collecting Marvels, this is the first time you’ve had a cover quite like this one. Please don’t do it again.” Stan says “[A]ll we wanna know is, why don’t ya wanna see another one along the same line? Didn’t you like it – or was it just such a mind-sapper that you don’t think you could take the jolt again?” Yeah, John, what is your problem? It’s a great cover!
Lee (Red) Vercoe of Indiana State University in Terre Haute, Indiana writes to Mary Jane. “Face it, gal, [Peter’s] too much of a good head to dig a swinger like you. That’s why I’m scraping up money from my Teaching Fellowship funds to get you a plane ticket out to ISU….We redheads will have to stick together.” MJ responds, “You know it, daddy – and your invite sounds like a gas! Tell you what, Red – if things don’t shape up with Petey-O, like soon – and if Rock Hudson stands me up many more times, I just might take you up on it!” Sorry, MJ, but I have a feeling you’ll never get Rock Hudson interested in you.
Finally, Greg Crow notes that Iron Man was “lying wounded within the walls of the factory” when Doc Ock used the nullifier on the factory. “Tony Stark is kept alive only by Iron Man’s chest-plate device as every true Marvelite knows, right? You have thusly knocked off Iron Man because the Nullifier can disable any mechanical device including Iron Man’s chest-plate device. Now why’d you want to do a thing like that??!” Stan answers, “[W]hen Doc Ock turned the nullifier on Stark Industries, Iron Man was in a lead-shielded test lab – the walls of which couldn’t be penetrated by the nullifier’s rays! Besides, you know he was still alive if you hadn’t been shirking your responsibilities – and missed a couple of issues of Tales of Suspense! For Shame!” Which, I think, Stan just made up on the spot because, after a look at Tales of Suspense #97, January 1968, I can tell you that Morgan Stark, Tony black sheep cousin, does the Maggia’s bidding and carts Iron Man away in his car. Iron Man manages to pull out his “universal recharging wire” and plugs it into the car’s cigarette lighter, recharging himself well enough to defend himself.
Up to this point, there has been a yellow “Next Issue” box at the end of “The Spider’s Web” that I have usually not mentioned. With this issue, that box disappears; replaced by a large print blurb that echoes the “Next Issue” blurb at the end of the story. The story’s blurb was “Oh, Bitter Victory!” and this blurb reads “Oh, Bitter Victory! …in which Spidey vindicates himself…but loses the girl he loves!!!” What? Loses the girl he loves? Say it ain’t so! I need to read that story right away!
This is the Kingpin’s fourth appearance after ASM #50-52 and his first as the Brainwasher. His next appearance is, of course, next issue.
This is the first appearance of Dr. Winkler, who at this point is unnamed. His next appearance is, of course, next issue where he still doesn't get his name.
And that’s all I’ve got.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this issue. Such as it is:
“The Brand of the Brainwasher” – Capt. Stacy, Gwen’s father falls under Brainwasher’s control – Aunt May recovers. – Return of the Kingpin.
The problem with this issue is that, after it wraps up the “mystery” of Peter’s disappearance, it is all set-up. I like that the reveal of the Kingpin occurs in the story’s final panel (though you can figure it out with the white sleeve and the smoke earlier on) but holding off that reveal condemns the issue to a lot of MJ with a camera and Spidey beating up thugs. Then there are the lapses: Spidey somehow knowing that Aunt May is in the hospital, the walk from the police station to Captain Stacy’s home that seems to only take seconds, the Kingpin considering a retired police captain important enough to brainwash at the Gloom Room A-Go-Go, the middle-aged Captain Stacy deciding to go, alone, to a place where his daughter might hang out just because he got a free invite (is the cover to get in otherwise so steep that a free invite is irresistible?), the fact that anyone from the city government would bother to go. The artwork here is disappointing. John Romita only did the layouts, leaving the penciling to Don Heck. Mike Esposito usually manages to cover this up with his inking but there are some very sketchy un-Romita-like faces this time; primarily Peter’s on page 4 panel 5. It’s nice to see Aunt May recovering, it’s nice to see Captain Stacy possibly suspecting Peter from the start and I respect that an issue like this is sometimes necessary to lead into a bigger story but it doesn’t make me like this issue better. And MJ’s cover dance is not enough to save it.
Next: We look at the Lee/Kirby FF for the last time with Fantastic Four #73.