This looking back is prompted by the recent release of a new Spider-Man limited series, Spider-Man: Lifeline. That new story has its roots in the classic tale which introduced a tablet on which was inscribed the secrets of the formula of eternal life. If you're reading Lifeline, you may appreciate this timely summary of what came before...
The story of the Petrified Tablet spanned over half a year of 1969 Amazing Spider-Man comics. It began in ASM #68 (January) when the Kingpin learned that a mysterious ancient tablet had been discovered and was on display at Empire State University. Under cover of a student protest over low rent for dorms, the Kingpin battles Spider-Man and succeeds in stealing the tablet. (This issue also introduces Randy Robertson, currently Peter Parker's roommate.) In ASM #69 (February), Spidey invades the Kingpin's headquarters, captures the mob leader, and takes the tablet back. But when he tries to return it to the cops, they shoot at him.
A fed-up webhead declares "if they call me a menace and treat me like a menace, I might as well BE a menace!" In ASM #70 (March), everyone is convinced that Spidey is the Kingpin's partner in the snatching of the tablet. Everywhere he goes, the cops try to shoot him. The Kingpin breaks jail and takes on the wall-crawler again. J. Jonah Jame! son gets involved and Spidey gets so fed up with the publisher's bashing that he grabs him and threatens him. A terrified JJJ has an apparent heart attack and Spidey flees the scene, worried sick that he may have killed his boss.
In ASM #71 (April), we learn that JJJ suffered a case of shock. While he is in the hospital, Joe Robertson buys and publishes photos from Peter that show the web-slinger battling the Kingpin. These photos clear Spidey of wrongdoing. The wall-crawler decides to give the tablet to Captain George Stacy for safekeeping. Oh, and he fights and defeats Quicksilver just for the heck of it. In ASM #72 (May), the Shocker smashes his way into the Stacy home, attacks the Captain, and steals the tablet. Spidey eventually defeats the villain but does not recover the tablet because the Shocker has stashed it somewhere. And Flash Thompson is back in town; on leave from the army.
|Pencils:||John Buscema, John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
It is night at the Stacy home. The Amazing Spider-Man has slipped unseen into Captain George Stacy's bedroom. He is feeling guilty about causing the Captain's injuries at the hands of the Shocker. (After all, if Spidey hadn't left the tablet with Stacy, the Shocker wouldn't have attacked.) Now he just wants to make sure the Captain is all right. As Spidey watches, Gwen enters the room to check on her Dad. The wall-crawler is struck by her beauty ("She must have taken a double dose of pretty pills today!") and can't believe he's actually "hanging around on the ceiling when he could have a dream-thing like Gwen in his arms", but he waits patiently until she leaves. Before she does, though, she asks her father if Peter Parker has called. She's afraid Pete is still angry over the confrontation he had with Flash Thompson the day before. Gwen acts as if silence from Peter is unimportant ("He's not the only boy in the world!") but her father sees right through her ("If he's not the only boy in the world why do your eyes glow that way when you mention him, young lady?") "Nitey nite, Mister Cupid", Gwen tells her Dad.
Once Gwendy leaves, Spidey leaps down from the ceiling to talk to the Captain. First he must take a tongue-lashing from the ex-detective, who is not pleased with the wall-crawler sneaking into his place ("Just because I don't think you're as bad as you're painted, that doesn't mean I like having my house broken into!") Once Spidey apologizes, the Captain is willing to listen to his questions.
The wall-crawler has come to George Stacy in search of any clue as to where the Shocker may have hidden the petrified tablet. Initially, Stacy cannot think of anything. Instead, he wants to know why the wall-crawler is so interested in recovering it. Spidey tells him that there are still doubters (J. Jonah Jameson among them) who think he had a hand in stealing it. He would like to return it in order to completely clear his name. Since George cannot help, Spider-Man exits through the bedroom window. But the Captain yells at him to "Wait!" He has just remembered that the Shocker had a girlfriend who "paid his bail once or twice". She "called herself an exotic dancer" (I wouldn't have thought the Shocker had it in him) and lives near the Theatre District on the West Side. Spidey thanks the Captain and swings off. George implores him to not take the law into his own hands. "Oh perish forbid", Spidey says.
Crossing Manhattan, Spider-Man realizes that he didn't even think to ask Captain Stacy if he knew the Shocker's girlfriend's name. Thus, he is forced to swing around the neighborhood hoping to trigger his spider-sense. (Well, he could have just gone back to the Stacy house to ask George if he knew the name but that's the easy way out.) After an hour of scouring the area, the spider-sense starts to tingle. It leads the webhead to a top floor apartment window. There is an argument going on inside... "yelling about a hidden tablet". Spidey decides he is in luck. Then he peeks through the window and sees the size of the man inside and wonders if "maybe I'm not so lucky" after all.
The apartment is in a shambles. There are two people in the room. One is an attractive orange-haired woman in a mini-skirt and fishnet stockings. (This is the Shocker's girl-friend? Yow! Maybe I should try to wear a quilt over my head, too.) The other is an immense man; seven feet tall, a great shock of combed-back black hair (with wide 60s sideburns) and a forest of chest hair revealed by a V-necked, wide-collared pullover which may be a leather jacket or a shirt made of Saran Wrap. The man's pants are made of the same material as the shirt and only reach to the top of his ankle, the better to show off his blue suede shoes. (This whole look just has to be influenced by the leather ensemble worn by Elvis Presley in his 1968 TV special.)
Initially, the woman denies that the Shocker left the tablet with her. The giant tells her that he is Man Mountain Marko, an enforcer for the criminal organization known as the Maggia. If the Maggia believes the tablet is there, Marko will tear the place apart until he finds it. The woman admits that she has it but tells Marko she is afraid of what will happen to her if the Shocker learns that she double-crossed him. The big man scoffs at this. After all, the Shocker is in prison and represents no immediate danger. Rather, it is Man Mountain Marko who should worry her. To prove this, Marko picks up a large love seat and rips it apart with his bare hands.
Spidey has seen enough. He busts right through the window and confronts the giant. However, Man Mountain Marko strikes first, delivering a right-handed punch that lands the web-slinger on his can. The Maggia goon moves in for the kill but Spidey grabs his assailant around the wrist and flings him hard against and through the wall. "To me, Charlie", he tells Man Mountain, "you're just an ant hill".
The wall-crawler turns to the poor woman whose apartment is trashed (and it's going to get worse!) and tells her to turn the tablet over to him. She is so terrified by everything that she can do little more than cringe. Spidey doesn't know if she's afraid of him or Marko or of what the Shocker may do to her but he knows he must "calm her down somehow". While Spidey tries to reason with the woman, Man Mountain returns to the room via the hole he made in the wall. He sneaks up on Spidey and pummels him with a nearby armchair (another piece of furniture shattered). "This makes us even, pantywaist!", he bellows.
And, at a nearby precinct, the Kingpin's assistant Wilson (captured by Spider-Man back in ASM #69) languishes in jail. He has just decided that he "was a fool to work for the Kingpin" when a policeman unlocks the cell and tells him that someone posted his bail. Wilson straightens his tie and smugly decides that the Kingpin can't function without him. But it isn't the Kingpin who has bailed him out. It is Caesar Cicero, known as Big C. He is a short man with a well-groomed beard. He wears a pinstriped suit with spats, a fur-trimmed coat and a fedora that puts his eyes completely in shadow. He smokes a cigar and he is "the big-time mouthpiece for the Maggia". The cops warn Wilson to think over leaving the station with the notorious Big C but he ignores them. Outside the station, Cicero and Wilson climb into a Maggia car. Caesar notes that Wilson was "the Kingpin's biggest brain" and knows "more about the tablet than anyone". Wilson tells Cicero he doesn't have the t! ablet. Cicero already knows this.
He tells Wilson they have a line on the tablet and will soon get a hold of it. Then, they will need someone who can reveal the tablet's secret. When Wilson admits that he doesn't know the secret, Big C says, "Then that's just too bad... for you!"
Back at the trashed apartment, Man Mountain Marko has lifted a bed in one hand and thrown it against the wall. This action jars the wall enough to reveal a safe hidden behind "a two-bit painting". Ignoring the woman's protestations, Marko rips the safe door off with one huge hand. Before he can reach inside, Spidey takes him on again. With a roar of "You half-pint punk, I'll mop up the place with ya!", MM tries to kick the webster, but Spidey ducks underneath. The wall-crawler springs up behind Marko, jumps on his back, and starts punching. This has no effect. ("This is ridiculous", he thinks, "I keep socking and he keeps standing!") Man Mountain leans down and rams Spidey into the wall. While our hero is still trying to recover his bearings, Marko reaches into the safe and pulls out the petrified tablet. The big man is content to leave Spidey behind ("he can't go blabbin' to the cops any more'n I can!") but he feels that the woman knows too much and must be silence! d. (Besides, she has no place to live anymore.) Before the giant can make a move, Spidey leaps up and punches him squarely on the jaw. "If you're still spoiling for a fight", he says, "How about trying me for size?"
Over at the Daily Bugle, Joe Robertson is lecturing his son Randy who has just quit school. Randy thinks college is making him a tool of the white man. "What's the point bein' a success in whitey's world?", he asks his father, "Why must we play by his rules?" Robbie replies, "the rules are the same... no matter who the players are". He has no problem with Randy wanting to be a militant ("Maybe we need more of that stripe!") but giving up education is giving up "the greatest power of all". Joe admits that he may be behind the times but he still wants "what's best for my people... just outside that door... there's a war going on, a war against bigotry, injustice and want! It takes weapons to fight a war, son, and without education, you're a soldier unarmed". Randy understands his dad's point of view but thinks it is cheapened by the fact that Robbie has "got it made here in whitey's world", as opposed to "other brothers who played it your way, who got their shee! pskins! , and still can't make it on the outside". But this whole conversation is interrupted by the arrival of a nasty J. Jonah Jameson.
Fresh out of the hospital, Jonah has learned that Robbie published photos that clear the web-slinger of wrongdoing. He barges into Robbie's office, accusing him of being a "Quisling", a "Benedict Arnold". Robbie stands up to Jonah's tirade. "I call 'em as I see 'em!", he tells the publisher, no matter how JJJ feels about "that web-slinging weasel". When Jameson threatens to fire him, Robbie says, "If you want the news distorted because of your own paranoiac vendetta, get yourself another Joe!" With that, Jonah backs down, the only way he can, by pretending Robbie has apologized, by wondering why Robbie got so heated ("Used to be a man could enjoy blowin' his top once in a while!") and by leaving his editor with one final expression of authority ("Just remember one thing from now on... I pay your salary here, not that crummy webhead!"). Randy is proud of his dad for standing up for himself but, after JJJ leaves, he wonders aloud why "you haveta take all that bull from a! racist like him?" Robbie tells h is son, "You've got a good brain, use it!" Jameson is no racist, just "a big blundering blowhard with a hang-up about Spider-Man! But just 'cause he's white, it doesn't make him a racist! We'll never get anywhere till we recognize who our real enemies are!"
Back at the apartment, as Stan puts it, "a certain young lady has absolutely no problem in being able to tell who her enemy is!" Why is that? Because Man Mountain Marko has got his big mitt around her wrist and he's holding her out the window! The terrified woman screams for help. Marko goads Spidey, telling him "here's your chance to be a hero!" Just as Spidey leaps to the rescue, Man Mountain drops the woman. The web-slinger jumps right through the window, which is precisely what his opponent wants. With the webhead busy saving the woman, Marko can escape with the tablet.
While in mid-air, Spider-Man shoots out a thin stream of webbing and snags the Shocker's girl friend just above the heads of bystanders on the street. He maneuvers his body so that he can cling to the wall, then he carefully lets the woman down. But, instead of leaving her down below, or bringing her up by the stairs, the web-slinger scales the outside wall, holding the woman casually in one hand. "You'll be okay now, Miss", he tells her as he brings her back to her destroyed apartment. But she sure doesn't look okay. She looks like she's in serious need of a lengthy rest cure.
By this time, Caesar Cicero and Wilson have arrived at the office of Silvermane. Wilson recognizes him as "one of the last of the legendary old-time leaders of the Maggia" and Silvermane is certainly old. (Yes, he has a lined face and silvery-gray hair, but the main reason we know he's old is that he keeps telling us!) He sits behind a large desk, reclining in his chair, dressed in a gray suit with a blue vest and smoking a cigarette in a holder. Big C introduces Wilson to Silvermane and the Maggia boss lectures Cicero for acting "without my orders"! He has no use for Wilson, who he regards as nothing but "a worthless pawn of the Kingpin". Clearly, there is a power struggle here between Silvermane and Big C and neither is shy about revealing it. Silvermane tells Caesar "to return to your plotting as you scheme anew for a means to depose me". Big C leaves with the parting shot of "not even you can order me about this way, Silvermane!"
Wilson is left behind with Silvermane. The old man decides to use Wilson, since he has him. Once the tablet arrives, he tells Wilson, "we will study it together!" And, at that moment, Man Mountain Marko enters the office, carrying the tablet. Silvermane has Wilson examine it to determine its authenticity. Wilson confirms that it is the real McCoy. Marko wants to know what the "nutty-lookin' scratches" on it are. Silvermane tells him they are hieroglyphics and "they are the key to one of the greatest secrets of all time!"
Out in the city, Spidey decides that he won't be able to find Man Mountain Marko without a lead. He heads home and swings into the window of his apartment under the cover of night. The apartment is empty with roommate Harry Osborn out on a date. Spidey changes back to his Peter Parker identity and decides to call Dr. Curtis Connors down in Florida. (Should Curt and Martha Connors know who Peter Parker is at this point in time? I can't remember. Anyone want to research this question and get back to me?) He has just had an idea that Curt could give him a summer job. He could not only learn "natural science" but also use the money to help Aunt May. Pete calls and talks to Mrs. Connors. She tells Peter that Curtis "left unexpectedly with a couple of men". Pete hangs up but can't shake the feeling that something is wrong. Curt Connors is the Lizard, after all, and wouldn't go with just anyone in the middle of the night. Not if it was his own choice.
And over in Maggia headquarters, Caesar Cicero has gone behind Silvermane's back once again, by ordering the abduction of Curt Connors. In fact, Curt is immediately brought in. (Hey, forget about the time it should take to fly from Florida to New York! They must have had Scotty beam them over with a transporter!) For some, crazy, unknown reason, both Big C and Silvermane think this "research scientist" is just the man to decipher the inscription of the tablet. Connors tells them that it isn't safe to keep him a prisoner. But, unwilling to admit to being the Lizard, he cannot tell them why.
The Spider's Web features letters from future pros Peter Sanderson Jr. (then of Milton, Massachusetts) and Marc De Matteis (then of Brooklyn, New York), but the most interesting letter is from Bennet Marks of Levittown, New York. In it, he advocates the death of Aunt May. (Said letter written over thirty years ago!) "I don't hate the dear old lady", he says, "I just feel that she serves only to depress people, she interferes with and stagnates the magazine, and, after all, she has been mortally ill for at least thirty-seven issues". All still true and, yet, she's still with us. What do you bet that Bennet is not? (I don't mean Bennet is dead. I mean... well, you know what I mean.)