We continue our review of the classic three-part story arc "The Secret of the Petrified Tablet", which started last issue in Amazing Spider-Man #73.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
In the Maggia office of Silvermane, Man Mountain Marko grabs Dr. Curtis Connors by the lapels of his lab coat and tells him to cooperate. "We also invited yer wife and kid up here to keep ya company", he tells the Doctor. (But, if this is true, they did it well after they took Curtis, since Peter Parker called and talked to Martha Connors last ish.) Silvermane tells Marko that Connors is too important to risk injuring him. When Marko tries to talk back, the old mob boss slaps him across the face with the back of his hand. Marko doesn't care for being dissed in this way. "You had no call to shame me that way in front of everybody", he tells his boss. But Silvermane hardly listens. The exertion has caused his "pain" to return. He obsesses some more about how old he is and how thrilled his rival Caesar Cicero would be to see him exhibiting such weakness.
Soon, Silvermane's pain subsides and he sets the whole operation in motion. He takes Curt Connors and Wilson to a lab. They are given the tablet and twenty-four hours to fathom its secret. Man Mountain Marko is stationed as a guard outside the door.
Left with Connors, Wilson starts to crack. He doesn't believe anyone can translate the tablet. "Some of the greatest hieroglyphics experts in the world have tried it". Curt isn't interested in these gripes. "You're babbling like a hysterical child!", he tells Wilson. Besides, Curt says, there is a greater danger than the Maggia here. Wilson doesn't know what Curt is talking about but he sees the "look of pain" on the Doctor's face. He does not see Connors' hand turn green and scaly, but Curt can feel the change. Under the stress of the situation, he is on the verge of turning into the Lizard. Knowing that this transformation could doom his wife Martha and son Billy, he concentrates and fights off the change. His hand is back to normal... but for how long?
Once he is in control again, Curt tells Wilson that he has heard about the tablet and that the secret "has something to do with biology". As a biologist, he believes he can dope it all out. He pulls a book off the shelf ("How to Decipher Tablets the Biological Way"?) and gets to work.
Elsewhere in the city, Spidey buys a paper (by snatching it with one web and dropping a dime with another) to see if there's any lead on Man Mountain Marko. He doesn't find that but he does find an article on the bail out of Louis Wilson by the Maggia lawyer Caesar Cicero. Spidey remembers that Marko mentioned a connection with the Maggia so he web slings over to Cicero's law office. He peers in the window and catches Big C just as he is leaving. A casting of the spider-signal on the wall freezes Caesar in his tracks. Spidey enters soon after and asks Cicero about "Man Mountain Marko and a certain stolen tablet". Big C manages to press a hidden button on his desk before Spidey can grab him. Try as he might, Spider-Man cannot get Caesar to tell anything ("I cannot betray the Maggia!", he cries.) and it isn't long before his spider-sense goes off. Four hoods, answering the panic button pushed by Big C, enter the room via a hidden door in the bookcase. Their guns are d! rawn and they come in shooting. S pidey takes to the wall to evade the bullets and goes into action, kicking a gun from one of the hoodlum's hands. Another goon opens his big yap to speculate that Spidey is here "to free that Connors dame and her kid". That remark helps Spider-Man put all the pieces of the puzzle into place. He realizes that "the Maggia has the tablet but doesn't know what its secret is and that's where Doc Connors comes in!" Big C also knows that the remark about the captives has given the game away. He decides, "the web-spinner must not leave here alive!"
So, while Spider-Man discombobulates the gunmen by attacking them with the law books from the office shelves, Big C sneaks away through the hidden passage. He determines that Martha and Billy must be moved and that it must be done without Silvermane's authorization. In fact, he is anxious to do it without the old man's orders. "It will be interesting", he thinks, "to see his reaction".
With the hoods seemingly out of action, Spider-Man notices that Cicero has taken a powder. The bookcase has closed, covering the passageway. Before the webhead can do anything about it, his spider-sense warns him to move. One hood has tried to whack him with a wooden chair. A second one aims a gun at him. The wall-crawler swings a book on the end of his web and knocks the gun away. Then, he clings to the ceiling while he knocks all the bad guys out. He webs them together, heads for the bookcase, and smashes right through it. On the other side, at the end of a passage, a steel door is sliding down, threatening to prevent his pursuit. The web-spinner races to the door, catches it by its bottom while it is only a foot away from the floor, and uses all his strength to push it back up again.
Spidey crawls on the wall, following the corridor as it leads down a stairway to a garage. He hears two voices ahead of him... "a woman and a young teen-ager". Spider-Man recognizes one voice as Mrs. Connors. But he hesitates. Why hasn't Cicero already escaped with his hostages?
And, in the garage, a black sedan speeds through an opening door as an explosion rocks the building just behind it. In the car, Big C gloats. He left a tape recording playing of Martha and Billy Connors' voices. He believes that these voices has caused Spidey to linger at the door to the garage rather than rush in and risk the lives of the captives. This lingering makes Spidey vulnerable to the bomb that was rigged to the door. Cicero is convinced that Spider-Man is dead even without seeing a body. He gloats (again) that this proves that he should be the leader of the Maggia. Martha and Billy sit next to him in the car, tied up with only two little strands of rope up around their shoulders (it keeps them from shrugging, I guess). They hope that the web-spinner has survived the blast.
And, of course, the Connors' hopes are borne out. Spidey was suspicious of the voices and stood well back as he yanked the door open with some webbing. He emerges unscathed but unhappy. He has let Caesar Cicero get away. Now he has no choice but to scour the city once more, looking for a way to track Big C down.
Later, Cicero shows up at Silvermane's headquarters. The elderly boss fears that the arrival of the hostages will "inevitably lead Spider-Man to this very spot" but Big C, confident that he has killed Spidey, scoffs at Silvermane for being "too fearful in [his] old age". Man Mountain Marko also seems to be joining Cicero's side. He is impressed with the way Caesar "got that Connors dame and her kid away from the wall-crawler". Silvermane is weary with the whole discussion. He barges into the lab to tell Curt and Wilson that their time is running out. Dr. Connors tells everyone to be quiet. He is busy looking at something through a microscope and he announces that "I finally have the answer! It's just what I guessed!"
Curt tells Silvermane that he was right to bring in a biologist. The undeciphered "hieroglyphics stand for biochemical symbols, not for words!" Silvermane seems to have a good sense of what the secret of the tablet is (a sense he didn't seem to have before). He tells Connors he must have the serum that can be made from the instructions on the tablet and he must have it before his heart gives out. The strain of this order turns Curt's skin green and scaly on the back of his neck but he forces himself to block the change to the Lizard and continues with his work.
In another room, Billy Connors tries to cheer up his Mom. Martha starts to tell Billy that his father is secretly the Lizard but Billy interrupts her and tells her he has known this for years. "If only Spider-Man hadn't been killed in that blast", the kid-of-little-faith says, "He'd have found some way to help us."
Elsewhere, the wall-crawler is ready to give up his search. He's been patrolling for hours with no tingle from his spider-sense. It is almost dawn so he heads back to his apartment for a little sleep. Back home, Peter tells himself to call Aunt May soon. (She is vacationing in Florida.) He remembers that he still hasn't gotten around to calling Gwen to square things with her after his argument with Flash Thompson in her presence. He wishes there was someone he could talk to but Harry is still out on his date. (It's almost dawn and he's still on his date! Harry Osborn, you animal!) Instead he catches a few quick Zs.
The next morning, Pete heads to ESU, figuring he should show up at some classes. Still, he is so worried about the Connors family that he is oblivious to those around him. A blonde-haired Flash clone wonders why Pete has snubbed him... "is he suddenly too good for us?" but Randy Robertson sticks up for him... "Parker's okay, man! He don't haveta do the rah rah bit to prove he's got soul!" Then, Harry Osborn approaches Pete to show off his brand-new Fu Manchu mustache. (And don't forget about that ginchy medallion he is wearing on a chain around his neck.) Harry picks the unfortunate moment when Pete decides he must get back to searching again. So, Pete blows his roommate off and takes a powder. Harry turns to an arriving Gwen Stacy and wonders aloud whether Flash Thompson is right about Pete. Gwen won't hear any criticism. "The man is uptight!", she says. "If you're his friend", she tells Harry, "then act like one!"
And over the rooftops of New York, Spidey decides he must keep searching until he finds Curt Connors, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much of the city he must cover. He swings around town, waiting for that telltale tingle of spider-sense. He vows to keep going until he does.
At Maggia headquarters, Dr. Connors has finished preparing the serum. (It is a concoction in a test tube with smoke rising out of it. Isn't that what all hastily-conceived sera look like?) Curt warns Silvermane that the serum is untested and "still only guesswork" but the boss is too old to care. He has "studied the legend of the ancient tablet" for years. He knows what the potion should do. Man Mountain Marko warns him that the doc may have tricked him with poison, but Silvermane doesn't listen. He quaffs the serum in one gulp.
As soon as he finishes drinking, the old man drops the test tube (it shatters on the floor, of course) and screams in agony. Calling to Man Mountain Marko, he collapses. Marko, convinced that Silvermane has been killed, grabs Doc Connors with the intent of doing him bodily harm. But a strong voice rings out, telling him to leave the doctor alone. It is Silvermane... young, strong, back in his prime again. Marko can hardly believe it but Silvermane crows that he guessed right as to the secret of the petrified tablet. It is "the secret of the fountain of youth!"
In The Spider's Web, Chuck Hamilton of Jacksonville, Florida offers nine points of what he would like to see happen to the wall-crawler, starting with the events of ASM #70, in which it appeared that Spidey caused J. Jonah Jameson to have a heart attack. Let's examine his nine points from our future perspective: "1. Jonah survives the trip to the hospital, and is revived, with a different, more sympathetic outlook on Spider-Man after seeing what he (JJJ) has done to Spidey. (Miracle #1)". (As evidenced by his "miracle" comment, even Chuck knew this was an impossibility.) "2. Spidey is exonerated, maybe with help from Ned Leeds, Joe Robertson, John Jameson, and most of all, Captain George Stacy". (This is pretty much what happened... if you ignore everyone on this list except Joe Robertson.) "3. Spidey, as Peter Parker, arranges a conference with Capt. Stacy where under strict confidence, he reveals his secret identity! (The "strict confidence" is for the ! sake of his aunt's weak heart, as if you couldn't guess.)" (If he had done this, as we know from ASM #90, George Stacy would have probably patted his hand and said, "I know, son.") "4. Aunt May is, somehow, painlessly taken out of the scene." (Another vote for the elimination of Aunt May, from over thirty years ago. And this is the character they brought back?) "5. Spidey reveals his identity to Harry, and then to - Gwen!" (Uh, no, Chuck. But Harry does find out eventually, unfortunately.) "6. Spidey reveals his identity to the world!! He's going to have to do this sooner or later, or else he'll go out of his mind!" (Uh, yeah, right.) "7. Peter begins to take a bigger part in events on the campus, so he won't look like a cop-out." (Hah!) "8. He grows his hair out and stops using Groom and Clean at last (grease went out with Rudy Vallee)." (Peter as a hippie? Wouldn't that have been great?) "9. (Sometime in the future) Peter Parker/Spider-Man marries Gwen S! tacy!" (Um... do you want to t ell Chuck or should I?)