The Kingpin appears in four stories between ASM #50 and ASM #85. All are trilogies and all have a striking Kingpin cover on the second of the three issues. With the exception of ASM #85, the other covers don’t show the Kingpin at all. There’s no larger point to this observation but take a look at the cover to this issue with the Kingpin swinging Spidey around and the cover to ASM #51 with the Kingpin and his men standing over a fallen Spidey and the cover to ASM #69 with the Kingpin grabbing Spidey’s arm and the cover to ASM #84 with the Kingpin literally pulling the rug out from Spider-Man and tell me those aren’t four of the best Romita covers in his whole run.
|Pencils:||Don Heck, John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
There’s not much more that needs to be said about the cover. It is the Kingpin and Spider-Man in front of a black background. No other people, no other objects. There’s nowhere else to look except for the blurb; and the motion lines make you feel the full swing of Spidey’s trip around the Kingpin. The coloring is a bit off, though, as the Kingpin’s outfit is not the white jacket and purple pants he wears throughout the issue. The blurb is nothing but the title. “O, Bitter Victory!” So, it appears that Spidey is going to win but it won’t feel like a victory. Let’s find out what the deal is.
Last issue, Spidey broke in on Captain Stacy’s brainwashing and discovered the Brainwasher is the Kingpin! Now, the Kingpin attacks. Spidey fights back, managing to sit atop Kingy’s shoulders, using his legs to put the squeeze on Kingpin’s neck. But he can’t bring Kingpin down. “It’s like trying to topple a mountain,” he thinks. The Kingpin reaches up and grabs Spidey by the legs and, on page 3, we already have our cover image. “He’s swinging me around like a rag doll!” thinks Spidey, “Nothing I can do…except try to land with the least possible impact…when he lets go!” Spidey curls up in a ball as the Kingpin releases him. He collides with the “electrical power source” (as opposed to some other power source) causing a “short-circuit.”
It looks like far more than a “short-circuit” to me. Smoke billows out all over the room, allowing Spidey, who is weakened by the electric shock, to escape out the window. (Did this room have a window before? And smoke is coming out of a third floor window in the outside scene on page 4 panel 5. Is that right? Let’s see. In ASM #59, Spidey climbs into a second story window but the window is high up on the inside so it looks like the inside room is two stories high. He then fights goons down a very long stairway until he gets to the Gloom Room stage. But then he swings back up the stairway so he could be on the third floor, I suppose. And the brainwashing room was full of machinery last issue but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a window there somewhere. Actually, the real problem is that the outside of the building on page 4 panel 5 doesn’t look at all like the building as seen in ASM #59 page 15 panel 3.)
Back in the room, the Kingpin turns the power off. Then, I guess, he turns it back on again because the brainwashing of Captain Stacy under the big dome continues. When done, the Kingpin orders Stacy to repeat, “The Kingpin is my master. I will obey…his orders” and George does just that.
Back in the Gloom Room, Gwen and Harry are worried that George and Peter have both disappeared. MJ runs up and tells them that she was used as a human shield backstage by a thug who was fighting Spider-Man. (That happened last issue and the thug’s name was Louie.) MJ wants to report it to Captain Stacy (who is retired, you may recall, but that doesn’t seem to stop people from wanting to report crimes to him). Just then, Stacy shows up. He speaks haltingly. “I’m sure that…there’s nothing…to worry about…young lady!” This should be a tip-off but nobody seems to notice. George continues, “You may rest assured…there is nothing…to be concerned about! And now…let’s finish enjoying our dinner…and the delightful show! I hope…you will dance for us again, young lady!” “You know it, man!” says MJ, completely mollified. Harry is sucked in as well. “Maybe they were rehearsing an act!” he says; the sap. But Gwen is not reassured. “If MJ saw a fight backstage…involving Spider-Man…it must be something serious! And Peter went back there! Why hasn’t he returned?” she says.
Well, because he is currently sitting on a building in his Spidey suit, trying to clear his head. The “electric blast” shook him up so much that he is seeing double. He decides he must return to rescue Captain Stacy but when he jumps down to swing on a flagpole attached to the building, he misses it, because “I saw…two flagpoles! And reached for…the wrong one!” He somersaults his way back to the wall but then tries to shoot webbing at a building. “I missed that tower by a mile,” he says, “on account of seeing two of them!” He gives up and carefully makes his way to the street where he changes to Peter Parker. (But where were his clothes? I suppose he left them in the alley in ASM #59 page 15 panel 3.) He then heads home. “Can’t even trust myself to cross any streets!” he says, “I’d better take a bus home! If I can climb aboard thru the right door!” (Still, you’d think he’d get in touch with his friends and let them know he’s all right. Granted, none of them have cell phones. Maybe he could have gone back into the disco and let them know that he wasn’t feeling well. Harry would have given him a ride home!)
“Seconds later,” Harry drives Gwen and George home in the other direction. They are all crowded into the front seat of the car. This is back in the days when the car seats were one long “couch” that went all the way across and you could wedge someone in the middle…with no seat belts, of course. Gwen is stuck with this seat and she worries that they should have waited longer for Peter. Harry is unconcerned. “He could be gone for days! When that shutterbug is after some news pix…forget it!” Gwen notices that her dad doesn’t seem to be himself but he tells her, haltingly that “I’m just…tired.”
Back at home, Peter has gotten into his pajamas and into bed. His mind is awhirl with worries about George and the Kingpin and Gwen. He conjures up this imaginary scene that fills up half a page where George is now a criminal allied with the Kingpin and Spider-Man has to face the both of them. “How do I treat Gwen’s dad as an enemy? How can I battle the father of the girl I…I…love?” He sits up with the shock of the realization that he loves Gwen. “It’s the first time I ever admitted it to myself!”
He heads to the bathroom, admitting to himself that he can’t sleep. He has to do something about George and Gwen. He steels himself to look in the mirror; still afraid he’ll have double vision. Instead, “Everything is still blurred…but it’s better than it was!” His vision is improving. He steps out into the night and gets on his motorcycle. “No sense disturbing Harry!’ he says, “I’ll just let him sleep!” So, did Harry come home and go right to bed without checking to see if Peter was also home? He probably figures that Pete’s door is locked, as usual.
Peter rides his bike to Gwen’s house. Gwen answers the door and asks Peter what became of him. He doesn’t answer (“It’s a long story,” he says) and instead asks to see her father. (Gwen is wearing a different dress than the one she wore to the Gloom Room. How much time has passed, anyway?) “Tis the unkindest cut of all!” says Gwen, “Time was when the groovy young gents came to see Gwendolyne! To think that I’d become an eighteen-year-old has-been, - alas!” So, Gwen is eighteen here. Peter must be eighteen too. And MJ. Which answers my question from last issue. Yes, it is a bit creepy that older men are ogling her as she dances.
In spite of her dramatic complaints, Gwen happily goes to make coffee so Peter can talk to her dad. Peter tells George that he witnessed a fight at the Gloom Room that involved Spider-Man. George angrily points a finger at him and says, “I never did like young snoops who couldn’t mind their own business!” Peter tells him “maybe the police will be interested.” He turns to leave and George tries to whack him on the back of the head with his cane. But he doesn’t reckon with Peter’s spider-sense. (Is this evidence that George does not yet know Peter is Spidey or that, in his hypnotized condition, he doesn’t take the spider-sense into account?) Peter turns and defends himself but he doesn’t know his own strength and he knocks George to the floor just as Gwen walks in with the coffee. She drops the tray, of course, and races over to her father. “He’s mad! He attacked me…for no reason at all!” says George, “Call the police, do you hear? The boy is dangerous!” Peter tries to tell Gwen not to listen to her dad but he can offer no explanation. Tearfully, Gwen tells him to “get out! And never come back! I never want to see you again…ever!”
After Peter leaves, George convinces Gwen to leave him alone. He then calls the Kingpin to tell him “a teenager” is “suspicious of us.” (Okay, is this evidence that George doesn’t yet know that Peter is Spidey? Wouldn’t he tell the Kingpin about that if he knew?) The Kingpin orders two goons to go to Peter’s address and dispose of him. The goons resist. (“You said…he was just a kid!” “Suppose we just lean on ‘im a little and scare ‘im off?”) The Kingpin will have none of it. He smashes some nearby machinery and tells them to do the job…or else.
But Peter is not at home. He has been “aimlessly walking the streets” which is odd because he was riding his motorcycle. “At daybreak,” he stops at Anna Watson’s to visit Aunt May. The last time we saw May, she was still in the hospital. It’s hard to imagine that she came home without Peter being there. But maybe he was there and Stan decided to not show it to us. May is still bed-ridden…or maybe she hasn’t gotten up yet since Peter has arrived “at daybreak.” When May asks if anything is wrong, Peter tells her he is keyed up over upcoming exams.
Back at Harry and Peter’s apartment, the two goons show up at the door. (Is it still daybreak?) They demand to see Peter. Harry tells them Pete isn’t there. “Shuddup!” says one thug, “If we wanted conversation, we’d listen to Susskind!” A reference to David Susskind who was the host of The David Susskind Show, a program that was on for almost 30 seasons but is mostly forgotten today. They smash down a door and look around, then they leave, telling Harry to “keep your trap shut…or we’ll close it for ya…for good!”
Five minutes later, Peter arrives to find Harry sitting amidst a ransacked apartment. Harry tells him that there “were two gunmen who wanted you real bad!” Peter tells Harry he should stay with his dad until this all blows over but Harry will have none of it. “I’m not chickening out when you may need me!” he says, “But I wish I knew what was going on!” “So do I, pal! So do I!” replies Pete.
With Harry threatened, Peter decides he can delay no longer. He suits up as Spidey and web-slings to the Gloom Room, even though his vision is still a little blurry. He arrives to find Captain Stacy getting into a car along with the same two goons who came to the apartment. (Does the Kingpin only have two guys now? He had plenty last issue.) He follows the car as it heads to police headquarters. There, Stacy and the goons walk right into “the sound-proof, steel-walled vault chamber where their vital records are stored.” Spidey looks in a window to see them going through the records.
Let’s pause here a moment. First of all, even though Spidey tells us that “Because of his position, no one would question [Captain Stacy],” remember that George is a retired police captain. What sort of position does he even have? And even if he weren’t retired, would all the cops really let him enter a “sound-proof steel-walled vault chamber” with two goons who are such obvious hoods? No ID needed? No weapons check? Actually, we only see one cop the whole time. Where are they all? And, finally, the police built a “sound-proof steel-walled vault chamber” with a window? What in the world for?
Well, it’s fortunate for Spidey that they did. First, he sets up his camera hanging on a webline. Then, he crashes through the window. He tangles with the two goons but then he senses Captain Stacy coming up behind him, swinging his cane again. Not wanting to hurt Stacy, Spidey hesitates, allowing George to brain him with the cane. While Spidey recovers, they flee without any police records. George tells the goons “We’ll say we saw Spider-Man breaking into the file room…and tried to stop him! No one will have reason to doubt us!” (Except that you entered the file room with two obvious goons.) But Spidey hopes that his photographs will prove otherwise.
Back home, Peter develops the photos. “These pix show Stacy going thru the files before I broke in,” he says, “They completely rip his alibi to shreds!” Still, he isn’t sure what to do. He knows that Captain Stacy “is under the Kingpin’s influence” and he doesn’t know “how many other city officials may be in the same boat.” He knows he will break Gwen’s heart but he only sees “one out.” He brings the photos to J. Jonah Jameson who is so thrilled by the scoop that he puts out a special edition. (How does JJJ know what the picture shows? Does everyone know what the “sound-proof steel-walled vault chamber” looks like? By the way, Betty Brant is sitting at her desk as Peter shows up bringing the count of supporting character appearances in this issue to eight.)
Back at the Stacy house, Gwen, in her robe, picks up the morning paper from her doorstep. (I’ve lost track of what time it is. Is it still “daybreak?”) She notices that it is a special edition. (Did the paperboys go around, pick up the regular editions from people’s doorsteps, and replace them with special editions?) She sees the headline “Ex-Police Official Robs P.D. Files!” With a tear running down her cheek, Gwen realizes that the picture shows her father “committing a crime and to make it worse, it was Peter who took the picture!”
In the Bullpen Bulletins (“Here It Is! Proof Positive That The Biggest Brains At Marvel…Don’t Know What They’re Doing!), Stan introduces four new titles: Iron Man #1, Sub-Mariner #1, Captain Marvel #1 and…Groovy #1! (Never heard of Groovy? It only lasted for 3 issues and it wasn’t very good but I remember how thrilled a friend of mine was back in 1968 when he found a copy on the spinning comic rack!) And then there’s this item: “We had to do something with Marvel Superheroes since we kicked C.M. upstairs, and do something we did! We’ve decided to use this giant-sized 25-cent bi-monthly mag as a vehicle for experimentation, and for presenting the most offbeat strips of all, both old and new. So, just for starters, we’re featuring a brand-new never-before-presented, full-length adventure of Spider-Man in the issue of Marvel Superheroes which is now on sale! However - it’s a different type of Spider-Man - drawn by a different artist - just as an experiment. We couldn’t decide what to do with it - so, instead of keeping it hidden on a shelf, we thought we’d present it to you and see what you think. The story line is somewhat offbeat and not the usual Spidey adventure, and it’s - ahh why bother! You’ll see for yourself in M.S.H. #14!” We looked at this issue over 20 years ago but we’re going to stretch that review out and give it a thorough re-look very soon.
In the Soapbox, Stan says, “[W]e’re presently working on a totally new magazine, one which may completely change the whole complexion of the comic book format. We expect it to be the most sensational success since Marvel itself first burst upon the public awareness with the impact of an H-bomb! Watch for clues in the months to come, and till we meet again – let’s be good to each other.” My guess is that this refers to Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 which we have also looked at before…but will look at again when the time comes!
Now it’s time for the seemingly endless list of M.M.M.S. members. Here are 26 more. Marvin Nelsen of San Diego, California; John Tinney of Leonard Wood, Missouri; Walter Rittenhouse of North Levittown, Pennsylvania; Paul Roland of Detroit, Michigan; Richard Reardon of Worcester, Massachusetts; Joe Ruben of Monticello, New York; Gary Richanick of West Allis, Wisconsin; Ross Tyre of Sierra Madre, California; Horsie Nitzchke (great name!) of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Ed Ruskowitz of Burbank, California; Jack Rades of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Steve Northam of Bellmore, New York; Harry Novak of St. Joseph, Missouri; Bob Northam of Bellmore, New York (Steve’s brother, presumably); Kermit Rhodes of Portland, Oregon; Ken Ricketson of Stowe, Vermont; Yolanda Retes of San Diego, California; John Nussey of Auburn, New York; Charles Reid of Greensboro, North Carolina; Roderick Northern of Norfolk, Virginia; Dan Tarbuck of Calumet, Minnesota; Joe Vazquez of Chicago, Illinois; Joe Richard of Galveston, Texas; Steve Tallon of Pontiac, Michigan; Robert Thomson of Syracuse, New York; and Brain Robson of New Foundland, Canada (which probably should be “Brian”). As usual, if you happen to see this, I would love to hear from you! Especially you, “Brain,” to see how you felt about your name being spelled wrong and the way your province was written as two words with not a mention of the city in which you lived.
In the Spider’s Web, Tommy Rickman of Tulia, Texas writes, “”Boy, is that Stan a lousy writer! He has no imagination at all. None of the ways he described of how to get super-powers works. I tried them all. Why, I’ve been on top of telephones poles trying to get struck by lightning on cold rainy nights. I caught a cold and broke my neck and the shock of the thing almost killed me! I let myself get bitten by a radio-active spider. That thing itched for a month. I explored one hundred caves only one of which had a secret room with a stick lying on a rock in it. I pounded it on the ground. All it did was split!” Stan replies, “You’ve been doing it the hard way, Tommy! Why not try going up in a space ship and getting pelted with some cosmic rays? They tell us it’s sure fire!”
Tommy’s letter was pretty good but this one is better. It is from Peter Parker of Braddock, Pennsylvania. “”Every day around my neighborhood seems like a day out of your Spidey comics, except that there are no super-villains like Doc Ock or the Vulture around. Believe it or not, my name is Peter Parker, and, of course, my favorite hero is the one and only Spider-Man. Now all I need is a friend named Harry, a girl named Gwen, an enemy named Electro and I’m all set. But I really wrote to tell you that I love Spidey and I hope you will keep on writing his exploits forever. What do you think my nickname is and what I’m called by all the kids? You guessed it! Spidey!” Stan says, “Wowee, Petey-O – are we ever relieved! Until we read the last word – we were afraid your buddies might have tagged you Irving! Phew! Some guys have all the luck!” Well, Stan isn’t writing them but it does look like Peter is getting his wish that Spidey’s exploits will go on forever. How old do you suppose Peter is now? Is he still a fan? Is he sick to death, after 50 years, of people calling him Spidey?
Finally, Evan Crawley of Chicago, Illinois is much harder on the cover of ASM #56 than I was. I did note in my review that “Since the article was written by J. Jonah Jameson, it shouldn’t acknowledge that Spidey “turns bad” since that implies that he was once good, but it’s all for cover dramatic effect” and that “the date on the paper is ‘Saturday, October 18, 1967’ which probably gives us a good idea as to the actual release date of this issue. Unfortunately, October 18, 1967 was a Wednesday” but Evan goes all out. He writes, “I would say, from reading the visible type in Jonah Jameson’s newspaper’s front page – reproduced in part as a background for the cover of issue #56 – that the Daily Bugle is badly in need of proof-readers and madeup men. Not only does a story on the Pan-American games appear without a headline, but some type on a story about the effects of automation seems to have slipped into the body of the Spider-Man expose story, rendering the whole story gibberish. The Bugle also needs new headline writers, and a new copy desk chief. Obviously, no deskman familiar with the bias of the publisher would have written, nor any copy chief approved, the headline: ‘Super-Hero Turns Bad.’ That Spider-Man is a menace has long been the Bugle’s editorial stand. To Jameson, Spider-Man has not ‘turned’ bad – he has always been bad. Additionally, to refer to Spider-Man as a super-hero without surrounding the hyphenated word with quotation marks to denote irony also appears to be against the paper’s policy. A better headline would have been ‘Super-Hero Proved Bad.’ To top the list of errors, the date of the newspaper is given as Saturday, Oct. 18, 1967. But Oct. 18 fell, of course, on a Wednesday. It is to be assumed that Mr. Jameson, despite his unlovely personality, is a professional enough newspaperman to rectify the bad situations in his editorial, mechanical, and production departments – as even his most hypnotized subscribers will not put up with a paper that is simply unreadable.” Stan replies by throwing Gary Friedrich under the bus. “We won’t argue that point, Evan – but, fortunately, there is an explanation! Since Groovy Gary Friedrich is a former newspaper editor, we put him in charge of getting the extra-edition ready for our cover! Unfortunately, of his many journalistic talents, we now know proof-reading is not one! Hooo-boy!” Thanks a lot, Stan!
The “Next” panel at the end of the story says, “The Web Tightens!” but the one at the end of the letters page says, “Spidey Wins at Last!...or Does He?” Which may be another way of saying, “O Bitter Victory!”
So, what happened to “More Marvel Masterpieces?” It’s on the very last page, only this time it’s called “Because you Demanded It! In Their Own Mags At Last!” and it features Sub-Mariner #1 and Iron Man #1. Did you buy them while you had the chance? Or were you born too late to have a chance?
This is the Kingpin’s fifth appearance and, theoretically, his second as the Brainwasher. The problem is that nobody calls him the Brainwasher in this issue. It seems to have been a one-issue blind to create last issue’s shock ending. Now that we all know the Kingpin is the Brainwasher, Stan doesn’t bother to call him the Brainwasher anymore. His next appearance is, not surprisingly, next issue.
This is the second appearance for Dr. Winkler, who is still not named. He will finally get his name next issue.
This is only Captain Stacy’s fifth appearance. Note how Stan incorporates Stacy into the story so quickly that it feels like he’s been around since the beginning. And then he uses him as the fulcrum of all the events in this story. That’s pretty nifty writing by Stan.
Isn’t someone going to wonder how Peter got pictures through a window on an upper floor; a window through which Spidey crashes just moments later?
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this issue. One of the more accurate ones:
“O Bitter Victory” – Under Brainwasher’s control Capt. Stacy comes between Peter and Gwen.
You know you’re in for an odd ride when the cover depicts an event from page 3. That’s because the battle with the Kingpin is only in the first 4 pages. After that, the only action is Peter knocking Captain Stacy to the ground, the Kingpin smashing some of his own equipment, the goons knocking Harry Osborn around, and Spidey fighting the goons in the police vault with Stacy clobbering Spidey with his cane. That doesn’t mean there isn’t suspense, both external (will Spidey recover from his double vision) and internal (what should Peter do about Captain Stacy?). In the process, Peter’s actions, from visiting the Stacys late at night to bringing his photos to Jameson, seem destined to lose him the girl he has finally admitted to himself that he loves.
This is entertaining drama but there’s something dissatisfying about it. Perhaps it’s because the whole Kingpin scheme still doesn’t seem to work. Place an elaborate brainwashing machine in a teen hangout discotheque and expect major city figures to show up. Brainwash a retired police captain who somehow has total access to police headquarters. Send that captain along with two suspicious-looking goons to ransack a steel-walled vault chamber that has a window. Have the hero with spider-strength hit so hard by Captain Stacy and his cane that he doesn’t recover until the perpetrators are gone. I’m sorry. I’m not feeling it.
As for the art, Mike Esposito is still doing a commendable job making Don Heck’s pencils look like John Romita’s, although, on page 6 panel 1, Harry, in profile, looks like a cadaver. I love the cover art and the art of the first four pages with the Spidey-Kingpin battle. (Especially all those motion lines!) Most of the rest of the artwork becomes routine but that’s what you get when the action turns internal. At least, that’s what you get when you’ve got Don Heck penciling instead of John Romita.
After writing the above critique, I took another look at the issue and decided I was too hard on it. Yes, it has its problems but the George-Gwen-Peter dynamic is strong and the internal conflict and heartache is, in many ways, more powerful than any physical battle. So, I’m upping my rating and giving it three webs.
Next: Here’s one that should have been done with the March 1968 issues. It’s TV Guide!