It’s not looking too good for Gwen and George Stacy, on the cover at least, as we begin the final part of the Brainwasher trilogy. Good thing Spidey is also on the cover to save them. But it’s not looking too good for Peter Parker on the splash page as five supporting characters do the Watusi around him. The cover calls it “O, What a Tangled Web We Weave!” but the splash page leaves off the “O.” What are you waiting for?
|Pencils:||Don Heck, John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||Creepy Worlds (UK) #111|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #44|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #3|
First, that cover. Gwen and George Stacy are tied up and sitting on a chair downstage center. George has his head down and his back to us. He looks defeated and dehumanized. Gwen faces us but is gagged. She looks up at Spider-Man but her expressive eyes display no hope. Instead, they seem to project despair; a feeling that Spidey will not be able to save her. Although George and Gwen are down and center, they are a very small part of the cover. There is an expanse of yellow around them, serving as the floor but seeming to extend to the wall and into infinity, diminishing them. They are the quietest part of the cover as all the action and motion lines are heading towards them. The biggest thing on the cover is a crucible which was suspended from a ceiling that is somewhere above the cover logo. The ropes holding the crucible pass in front of the logo, calling attention to them as we instinctively look at the logo. Those ropes have snapped and the motion lines bring our eyes down to the hurtling crucible. Other motion lines come in from the side, swooping down from the “Marvel Comics Group” box. These lines lead us to Spider-Man who is swinging down to rescue the Stacys. All motion lines meet at the Stacys. Which will get there first? Spidey’s or the crucible’s? We assume that Spidey will win but that crucible is looking so very close.
Okay, the supporting characters aren’t really doing the Watusi on the splash page. Instead, they are fighting to free themselves from a giant web that covers the whole page. Harry, Gwen, George, Aunt May, and MJ are all there. Peter walks by with his head down, not affected by the web (because, after all, he is causing the web), wondering if Gwen and George will ever forgive him. For what? Well, he sold a photo to J. Jonah Jameson showing George Stacy robbing the police files. Jonah put it on his front page with the headline “Ex-Police Official Robs P.D. Files!” And Gwen saw it first thing in the morning. (This all happened at the end of ASM #60.)
As we turn to page two, the symbolic spider-web disappears as do the five characters entangled in it. But Peter is still walking with his head down, wandering the streets of Manhattan, agonizing over his decision. “The Kingpin somehow managed to put [George] under his influence! And the only way to smash the whole scheme…is to expose it…no matter what!” he thinks. But he knows what it will do to Gwen and his relationship.
Meanwhile, Gwen is where she was at the end of last issue; looking at the newspaper and the photo Peter took of her dad breaking into the police files. George comes up behind and asks her what she is looking at. She tells him and asks if it is true. Taking the paper, George says, “I had to do it! It had to be done!” He puts his hand to his head. “If only I could remember…why it was…so important! Things in my brain…they’re all so blurred…so hazy! But I must follow orders! I cannot…disobey!” Realizing that her father is “ill,” Gwen holds him in her arms. But then George tells her he must hide “because he wants it that way!” (Except, later, the Kingpin sends goons to capture George at his home so it appears that he doesn’t want it that way.) Refusing to leave her father’s side, Gwen goes along. They head to the front door (I assume) after getting dressed. It is a strange hallway with nothing in it but an umbrella stand next to an unassuming door. The floor consists of big yellow squares looking like the yellow brick road and, like the yellow brick road, turns a corner into infinity…or the front door, I suppose, whichever comes first. This floor is the exact color and design of the sideway on which Peter walked in the opening panels of page 2. Peter also has a yellow jacket on. Hey! Whoever is the colorist! Enough with the yellow already!
As soon as Gwen and George leave, their phone rings. It is Peter, back in his apartment, trying to call. It only now occurs to him that the Kingpin might try “to silence Stacy…for good!” He kicks himself for leaving, as if he was just there, further muddying the time frame of all this. Peter seems to have forgotten that Gwen kicked him out, then he went to visit Aunt May, then went home to find Harry in their ransacked apartment, then went to the Gloom Room as Spidey where he followed George to police headquarters, then back home to develop his photos, then to the Daily Bugle to sell them to Jameson. So I don’t think he should tell himself, “ I never should have left them.”
Getting into his Spidey suit, he heads back to the Stacy house but he seems much more worried about Gwen then he does about George. As he webswings, he tells himself he shouldn’t be cutting classes. (It won’t be the last time, Spidey!) This puts the time as morning on a weekday. That’s about the best we can do. He arrives at the Stacy house to find three of the Kingpin’s men forcing the door open. (There is a large apartment building across the street with the partial name of “NOR APTS,” which is probably “Manor Apts.” Let’s keep an eye out for future Stacy home visits to see if this is building is ever there again.) Spidey swings in through a window and attacks the three men. (Did the Stacys leave a window wide open? If so, why did the hoods bother to force the front door open? And there’s that umbrella stand again, only now there’s a picture on the wall and that window Spidey uses. Or does George have more than one umbrella stand?)
Spidey takes to the ceiling to tackle these guys. One shoots at him, hitting the ceiling. As Spidey leaps down, another shoots at him, hitting the wall. Spidey knocks two men down, then takes the feet out from under the third. One goon gets up and tells the third guy, “Leave ‘im to me, Blackie…I’ll make mincemeat outta the bum!” Now, for those of you who do not read every “From the Beginning” review, I should tell you that I discussed Blackie Barker in my Marvel Tales #14 review. He is almost certainly a one-shot villain in a Human Torch story but the guy who wrote a Marvel wiki article on him has taken other guys named Blackie and claimed they are all Blackie Barker. He listed Blackie as appearing in X-Men #19, Avengers #19, ASM #27, ASM #39, and ASM #75. But he missed the “Blackie” in this issue. None of those guys in those other issues are Blackie Barker. This guy isn’t either. But he does seem to have the power to make his grey suit turn blue for only one panel.
The guy who’s going to make mincemeat is joined by the other guy who isn’t Blackie. Spidey slams their heads, simultaneously, into the wall while perched on the wall himself. The wall caves in at the spots where their heads connect. (The Stacys are going to need a lot of drywall work done.) Blackie gets up and shoots at Spidey but misses. Spidey yanks the gun out of his hand with webbing, then webs up his feet as Blackie runs for the front door. He grabs Blackie, hoping to get some answers out of him. But, “It’s no use! The Kingpin didn’t take any chances! You’ve been brainwashed too! You’re no good to me!”
The scene shifts to Mary Jane Watson who is meeting Harry Osborn. MJ is wearing a yellow mini-skirt with a yellow hat (more yellow), knee-high boots and purple fishnet stockings. There is a bystander behind her who is eyeing her with pleasure. MJ gets into Harry’s car and he drives her to her job at the Gloom Room A-Go-Go. They have a conversation, filled with MJ-isms. When Harry asks her why she’s so cheerful, MJ replies, “Why not, Dad? There are more than two billion people alive today! …and half of them are …mmmmales!” When they arrive at the disco, they find it closed. “I’m not crying a river over them, man,” says MJ, “but how do I latch onto the money they owe me for dancing my little toesies off in there? And if you say, ‘that’s show biz,’ I’ll soak you with a soggy noodle. Like, this is tragedyville!” When Harry asks if he can drop her somewhere, she says, “Let’s try the wailing wall for starters!”
(Eagle-eyed reader Steve, who is possibly also the first reader to the review, points out the pack of cigarettes and book of matches sitting on Harry's dashboard and wonders, "Is M.J. a smoker? Or is this Romita or Heck planting something for the future about M.J. being a "bad girl?" Could be, Steve. Though if they are MJ's smokes, I don't know where she was carrying them. Actually, the coat she was carrying disappears in that panel so maybe it folded up to cigarette pack size? Or maybe Harry borrowed his father's car? Except Norman doesn't smoke, does he? So, maybe he borrowed the Kingpin's car? I don't have the answer, Steve. I'm more interested in how that pack and book stay up on the dashboard while Harry is driving.)
At Osborn Laboratories, Norman Osborn gets a call that he’s needed in the research lab. He is distracted by an ad in the newspaper, promoting a documentary on channel 23 at 9PM: “The Legend of the Green Goblin.” “The Green Goblin! Why does his picture disturb me so?” he thinks, which doesn’t bode well for Peter. The reason why Norman is needed in the lab is because “some new equipment arrived…without [his] authorization.” Norman goes to the lab where he confronts Dr. Winkler, who turns out to be the guy doing the brainwashing for the Kingpin (but not the Brainwasher since, remember, the Brainwasher is the Kingpin). Winkler admits that he ordered a bunch of equipment without Norman’s say-so but he assures him that “we needed the material” and “you were out of town.” Norman tells him he’ll let it go this time “but in the future I want my rules obeyed.” He adds, “I know what a brilliant research man you are…but there’s only room her for one boss…understand?” Winkler assures him it won’t happen again and Norman leaves. Winkler goes to a door to tell the Kingpin (who is just hanging out on the other side, smoking a cigarette…wouldn’t you think Norman could smell that?) that Norman has left. The Kingpin turns to two of his goons to tell them “We have found a new hiding place for our brainwashing machine! Since it was designed for us by Dr. Winkler, it is quite fitting that it should be housed in Winker’s own laboratory!” And it turns out that Winkler’s lab is HUGE. It wasn’t just that part where Winkler talked to Norman. It is this whole other room with high ceilings, filled with the equipment and, we find out later, the crucible from the cover. Who brought all this equipment in? Who set it up? How did the Kingpin sneak in unnoticed? Is security at Osborn Labs that lax?
The Kingpin tells his men that Captain Stacy must be eliminated (which I think they already knew since three of them went to the Stacy house). He adds that Peter Parker must also be eliminated because he ruined George’s usefulness by taking the incriminating photo. But his main target is Spider-Man. To prove he means business, the Kingpin picks up a steel chair and crushes it.
Winkler enters and shows Kingpin his electronic tracer that will “home in on anyone who’s been brainwashed by registering their encephalic vibrations.” Kingpin quickly shuts him up, telling him, “Spare me your technical gibberish!” This prevents Stan from having to further explain how this device is really supposed to work. Winkler gives the tracer to the two goons who leave the building just as Harry is entering.
Harry goes to Norman’s office and finds him unwell. “It started when I saw the name Green Goblin in the paper!” he says, “I don’t seem able to get him out of my mind now!” (This is really not good…unless you’re looking forward to another Goblin appearance…like I am.) Harry tells his dad he never understood how Norman helped destroy the Goblin and Norman tells Harry that he doesn’t remember. Amidst flashbacks of the Goblin, of Spidey’s hand holding the Goblin mask, and of Norman in the hospital with Harry looking over him, Norman says, “I know there was a fire which started during Spider-Man’s battle with the Goblin!...The battle in which the Green Goblin lost his life! When I awoke in the hospital I was told that the masked webslinger credited me with helping him to beat the Goblin…But I can’t remember! I can’t remember any of it!” Stan is painfully aware that this story, in ASM #40, September 1966 came out almost two years ago and that many readers may not be familiar with it. He lets us know in a footnote that Norman Osborn actually is the Goblin.
Back at his pad, Peter Parker creates a webmask to wear under his regular mask in case the Kingpin doses him with gas again from his jeweled tiepin as he did in ASM #51, August 1967. (Remember, it was an electric shock that got Spidey last issue, not the Kingpin’s gas.) As Spider-Man, he heads out to look for Gwen and her father. He peeks in the window of JJJ’s Daily Bugle office to ask if he had any news of Captain Stacy. This panel (page 13, panel 2) is used on JJJ’s Marvel Value Stamp (Series A) which appeared in Marvel Team-Up #25, September 1974, Marvel Team-Up #39, November 1975, Thor #224, June 1974, and Tomb of Dracula #34, July 1975. A great JJJ-Spidey banter ensues. “Don’t get cute with me, you wall-crawling creep!” says Jonah, “I know you and Stacy are in cahoots!” “Is that anywhere near Hokoben?” replies Spidey. As the wall-crawler leaves, JJJ yells at him, “Break your, neck, you bum!” “I like you too, Charlie!” says Spidey and he decides to see if he can find any clues at the Gloom Room.
But Gwen and George aren’t at the Gloom Room. They are at the airport where the Kingpin’s goons have located them with the help of Winkler’s tracer. (The range on that thing must be unlimited!) They nab the Stacys to take them back to the Kingpin. “You…don’t sound…like policemen,” says Gwen. “Policemen? What other jokes do ya know, lady?” says one hood.
Spidey arrives at the Gloom Room to find it closed. He breaks in and finds it completely empty. (The Kingpin’s men work fast.) But he notices some sort of panel built into the ceiling. “It’s not a lighting fixture,” he realizes and climbs up to check it out, discovering, “But it was some sort of electronic device.” He peels the metal casing off of it. On the other side of the metal is a big plaque that reads, “Osborn Laboratories.”
Okay, let’s acknowledge right away that this is completely ridiculous. First of all, Winkler apparently ordered all of his equipment elsewhere and then had it shipped to Osborn Labs. Osborn Labs didn’t make the stuff. I mean, why would they? They are, as Spidey says, “a chemical factory.” They’re not creating complex electronic equipment. But, even if they did make this, why would the Kingpin’s group take literally everything out of the Gloom Room except this panel covering electronic equipment? Couldn’t they rip this whole thing out of the ceiling, too? I mean, it’s got “Osborn Laboratories” on a big plaque on the other side of it! The very place to which they are taking all the equipment! Did they all forget it was written there? Ah well, let’s let it go. Stan has to get Spidey to Osborn somehow. This is as good a way as any.
As he heads to Osborn Labs, Spidey wonders what Norman’s connection is with the Kingpin. “If he were still the Green Goblin,” he says, “but no! That’s impossible! I hope!” (Okay, Stan, we get it. The Green Goblin is coming. That’s enough now.)
The goons arrive at Winkler’s lab with Gwen and George. The lab is now bigger than ever with stairs heading down to an area filled with machines. (Is Winkler’s lab at Osborn really this big? Does Norman know Winkler has grabbed all this space?) Winkler ties up Gwen and George back to back (just like on the cover). He gags Gwen but not George. The Kingpin sends his goons away. Why? “I merely want to be certain that the sight of too many foes doesn’t scare my intended victim away!” That victim is Spider-Man whom the Kingpin expects to lure with the Stacys. The Kingpin did say, a few pages back, that “Once Stacy is our prisoner again, it won’t be long before Spider-Man appears attempting to rescue him!” But why does he think Spidey will know that they have re-captured Stacy and why does he think Spidey will know that they are at Osborn Labs? Well, never mind. Spidey does show up after all. But first Norman Osborn, leaving work for the day, sees a light on in Winkler’s lab and wonders what he’s up to.
Now, we see that Gwen and George are positioned under a big crucible filled with a pink liquid, presumably something molten. Why Winkler would have something like that in his lab is beyond me. Spidey smashes in through the window. (How does he know which window? I don’t know. Maybe his spider-sense?) He leaps down on Kingpin and knocks his cane away. Then, he knocks him to the ground. Kingy retaliates by releasing the gas in his tiepin but it doesn’t work because of the webmask. “Why don’t you gasp…choke…cough?” asks Kingpin. (Or is he gasping, choking, coughing himself?) “The gas stopped you last time!” says Kingy. “That’s right! It did!” replies Spidey, “And that reminds me…I still owe you for that little session!” (They could be referring to the fight in ASM #51 but it sure seems like they are talking about last issue. Do you think Stan forgot that it was an electric shock, and not the gas, that got Spidey last time?) Spidey knows that “a single blow can’t stop you” so he keeps pounding away until the Kingpin is beaten. But Kingy tells him to “look at Winkler!” (You would think that Spidey would ask, “Who’s Winkler?”)
Spidey turns to see Winkler pointing a gun at the Stacys, just as Norman Osborn enters to see what’s what. Norman tackles Winkler but the force of the tackle makes Winkler fire the gun. The wild shot hits the brainwashing machine making it explode. Winkler and Norman are caught in the blast. Norman starts to get up but Winkler doesn’t. He’s dead. Spidey notices that “the leaden vat” over the Stacys’ heads has been “jarred loose.” Then the cable holding it snaps. “Gwen! Gwen!” he yells, blowing his secret identity if anyone bothered to listen. He swings down and grabs the Stacys. They appear to be tied together back-to-back but I guess they aren’t because Spidey grabs one in each arm as he swings away. (If they weren’t tied together, why didn’t they just stand up and run?) The crucible is still filled with that dangerous looking pink liquid on page 19 panel 1 but in panel 2, it is suddenly empty. No lethal splashes of molten liquid occur.
Spidey puts the Stacys down and tries to locate the Kingpin in all the smoke that resulted from the explosion. Norman calls up to him, “My private helicopter…on the roof! Kingpin slipped out…headed up there…!” (Should Norman know who the Kingpin is? Isn’t Kingy a behind-the-scenes kind of guy at this point in his career?) Spidey hurries to the roof but he’s too late. The Kingpin apparently knows how to fly a helicopter and he has flown away. (But where is he going to land? Couldn’t they trace him? Don’t give up so easily, Spidey!)
The police arrive at Osborn Labs. (Why? Who called them?) Gwen says that Norman’s testimony will prove George’s innocence. Again why? All Norman saw was that Winkler had a gun on the Stacys. That doesn’t mean George is innocent of anything. But it seems to work. One cop tells Norman, “Winkler is dead but I’m glad that your story completely exonerates Captain Stacy.” George finds that his head is clear. “As soon as the brainwashing machine exploded, dad became himself again,” says Gwen, “Mr. Osborn and Spider-Man helped to save us!” In the next panel, she adds, “If only I could thank Spider-Man. We owe him our lives!” Spidey peeks in and hears this. He’s happy about that but he believes that “She thinks Spidey’s a hero…but Peter Parker is all washed up with her! And that I’ve gotta live with!”
The last panel is a “Next” panel and it tells us, “The Name of the Dame is…Medusa,” which is certainly not what anyone expected in a Spidey comic.
Okay, remember the “seemingly endless list of MMMS members” (as I called them last time)? I guess they weren’t so endless after all. There is no list of MMMS members in this issue. And none in any future issues. But there is a Bullpen Bulletins page entitled “The Senses-Shattering Surprises Go On and On-!” The first of those surprises has to be that there’s no list of MMMS members. The next surprise is that “Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD, and the ever-mystifying Dr. Strange have been awarded their own individual mags.” Neither series lasts all that long, unfortunately. The next surprise is that “a whole new array of Marvel stars – power-packed sensations soon to be headlined in their own strips - all time greats such as Dr. Doom – Ka-Zar - Silver Surfer- and others too startling to mention! They’ll all be yours in ’68, just as we promised!” Well, sort of. Silver Surfer #1, August 1968 will indeed debut in ’68 but Ka-Zar and Dr. Doom don’t really get their own regular strips until they share Astonishing Tales #1, August 1970. They do each get an issue of Marvel Super-Heroes though. Ka-Zar is in MSH #19, March 1969 and Doom is in MSH #20, May 1969. The Ka-Zar appearance may have hit the comic racks at the end of 1968. I doubt that the Doom story did. The next surprise is the “final rank of Marveldom.” It turns out to be “FFF (Fearless Front Facer), a purely honorary degree, approved and awarded by Smilin’ Stan and a carefully chosen committee, for devotion to Marveldom above and beyond the call of duty!” The next surprise is that the “Mighty Marvel Checklist” has grown so big that there is only room for three Items on the page. Well, that’s also because of the final surprise, “The Most Sensational Scoop of the Year!” presented in a double-size version of Stan’s Soapbox. Stan writes, “Starting next month, mighty Marvel will present an entirely new concept in illustrated adventure tales – a magazine as different from the ordinary comic as a guided missile is different from a spitball! It’ll be bigger than the mag you’re now reading – and will be printed on far more expensive high-quality paper. The cover will be a full-color painting. And the price will be 35 cents! Also, since it’s a new, larger size, some dealers may not display it with their comics, but rather among other magazines – so be sure to look for it carefully…But now you’re wondering about the title! Which character will be featured? You’re hoping we selected the right one for so vital a test! Well, face front, flame-keeper! We think we’ve chosen the very same hero you yourself would have picked – possibly the most popular single fantasy character in the world today –none other than – your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man!” Sign me up, Stan! I can’t wait!
On to the Spider’s Web, although it’s a bit short of good letters this month. J.F. Kusske of Hastings, Minnesota advocates killing Aunt May. “For several years I’ve been a devoted Aunt May hater, not that I’m a member of an Anti-Little-Old–Lady-Society or anything, and I’ve yearned to see Spider-Man really get free. I mean, nobody lives forever, do they?” Well, maybe Aunt May does, J.F. They tried to get rid of her once in ASM #400, April 1995 or twice if you want to count ASM #196, September 1979 but it just didn’t stick. Now it’s been 50 years since this issue and not only is May still around but she’s being played in the movies by someone who was only 3 years old when you wrote your letter! York Battery of St. Albans, New York says, “Movies have their Oscars and TV has their Emmys and comic magazines should get Irvings.” He proposes six categories and awards them all to Spidey issues. Stan loves the idea. “We think it’s just about the most scintillating suggestion we’ve heard this year!” Did Stan ever do anything about this? I have a vague recollection that he did. Can anybody tell me?
At the end of the page, another reminder of “Next: Would’ja Believe…Medusa!” and on the last page “The Marvel Beat Goes On!” A full-page ad plugging Dr. Strange and Nick Fury “in their own mags for the very first time.” But no actual covers, not even the issue numbers (we later find out that Fury starts with #1 but Doc continues the Strange Tales numbering with #169). Oh, and look! Norman Rockwell is still looking for people who like to draw!
Let’s settle up:
First, let’s talk about the title. It is a line from the poem “Marmion” by Sir Walter Scott that has a rather convoluted plot. Suffice it to say that Marmion falsely implicates a rival in order to try to win a woman and ends up dying at the end for his troubles. The full line is “Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave When First We Practice To Deceive!” That first part seems like a natural for a Spidey title but I can’t find any evidence that it was ever used again, although “Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave…” is the “Next” Caption for the October 16, 2011 newspaper strip. (No, I didn’t remember that. I stumbled upon it going through my old strips while I was working on this.)
Dr. Winkler finally gets a name just in time to die. He next appears in Untold Tales of Spider-Man #7, March 1996 a story that takes place before this issue, which makes sense seeing as he’s dead.
This is the Kingpin’s sixth appearance. He returns in ASM #68, January 1969 already. Stan must have liked him.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this issue. Not its finest hour:
“What a Tangled Web we Weave” – Continues from #59-60. – Spidey frees Capt. Stacy and Gwen. Capt. Stacy comes to himself & Kingpin is captured.
Need I point out that the Kingpin is not captured?
At the end of the last Kingpin trilogy, the Kingpin got away but we had the drama of Spidey ingeniously thwarting the death trap that he and JJJ faced and the dramatic death of Frederick Foswell. This time, the Kingpin again got away and Spidey thwarted a death trap that Gwen and George faced but it didn’t really have much drama to it and seemed almost thrown in at the end. As opposed to Foswell, Dr. Winkler’s death was not particularly dramatic and also seemed to be almost tacked on. In the ASM #50 to ASM #52 trilogy, the Kingpin’s crime takeover helps to force Peter out of his “Spider-Man No More” retirement. Here, the Kingpin’s crimes don’t even make all that much sense, what with bothering to open a disco, make it popular, use it to brainwash officials, and close it right down before anyone other than Spidey is wise to it. Spidey thwarts the Kingpin’s Brainwasher career but it always seemed like a silly sideline anyway.
I like the glimpses of the Goblin and the beginning of the slow build to his return. I like that Norman is a hero in this story even as we see him reverting to the Goblin. His heroic actions get him caught in an explosion that, I assume, helps to hasten the transformation. I appreciate all of that.
But the rest of it? Winkler dies far too easily, the Kingpin gets away again, Captain Stacy becomes his old self just because the brainwashing machine blows up, somehow Norman Osborn can exonerate him even though he only showed up at the end, and there’s entirely too much yellow.
As for the artwork, I have no complaints (except the bad floor plan of the Stacy house) but I’m waiting for the day when Romita returns to do more than just layouts.
Next: Not Brand Echh #8. Back to Brechh already? The reviewer is on fire!