This two-parter introduces Spidey to Mysterio II. That statement sort of gives away the mystery right off the bat, I suppose but, hey, these issues came out over twenty-five years ago. If you haven't read them by now, it's too late for a spoiler warning.
The web-slinger spent the previous three issues facing the Mindworm, the Grizzly, and the Jackal. All of those stories have already been "lookbacked". Start with those if you want to, then jump back to see what's happening here.
|Inker:||David Hunt, Frank Giacoia|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #118|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #7|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man: Clone Gensis (TPB)|
The ol' webhead is out on the Manhattan streets, cruising in the spider-mobile when a police car pulls up behind him and hits the siren. (And no wonder! Our hero is driving so recklessly that the car is tilted up, riding only on its front and back right tires. Not only that but his license plate only says "Spidey".) Back in the squad car, the cops are confident of an arrest in the near future. "He may be tough stuff swinging around skyscrapers" says one about Spidey, "but here on Mother Earth he's just another bad New York driver." As he rounds a corner (on New York streets that are completely deserted, by the way, proving that this is indeed a fantasy), Spidey thinks, "They're right, I should never have dragged this monstrosity out of retirement".
Okay, time out. The cop in his squad car says, "He may be tough stuff... " etc. and Spidey a hundred yards ahead in the Spider-Mobile thinks, "They're right." What's the deal? Does his spider-sense pick up conversations from a distance? Is the cop using a loudspeaker when he talks? Does Spidey have access to a police radio? What?
Okay, time in. Spidey reminds himself that he chose to use the spider-mobile because he thought it might "help... get around the boroughs, tracking down the Jackal" but now he knows he was wrong. All it has done is get the cops on his tail... and on his front, as well. Looking ahead, Spidey sees a second police car heading right for him. A third car pulls in from a side street and prepares to join the trailing cruiser.
Desperately casing his surroundings, Spidey sees only one possible escape from this box-in. To his left is a museum with marble steps leading to great Greek columns. A statue stands halfway between the width of the steps but its pedestal only goes halfway up. The stairs continue behind it. Taking all this in, Spidey tells himself, "This is going to get me killed", shifts gears and zips up the stairs, around behind the statue, and back down the stairs on the other side. The police are so surprised by this stunt that the approaching and trailing cars end up running into each other. The third car from the side street crashes into the side of the trailing car.
This move makes Spidey feel "just like Steve McQueen" but he's not out of the woods yet. More police cars approach from ahead and behind. Brimming with confidence ("who needs a web when I've got a spider-mobile?"), Spidey turns right down an alley down by the waterfront. A strange purple fog obscures his field of vision.
At first, Spidey can't figure out why the cops haven't followed him down the alley. Then, he wonders if they're sneaking around to the other end of the alley in an attempt to block him. Then, suddenly the spider-mobile is falling off the end of a pier, right into the river. Spidey tries to leap clear but he goes down with his car. For a moment ("a moment" equals "one panel") there is nothing on the water but the rings caused by Spidey's plunge, then a gloved hand pops up and grabs a board attached to the pier's pilings. The web-slinger pulls himself out of the water and perches on the board. He can't understand what has happened. He is certain that "there was an alley here" but how can an alley turn into a pier? The webhead is forced to believe that the alley "wasn't there in the first place". Then he has to stop talking to himself because he hears footsteps above on the pier.
Two police officers stand at the end of the pier looking over the edge. One (named "Cartwright") can't believe what he saw. "He went right off the end of this pier doing ninety at least!" he says. His partner is shedding no tears for the wall-crawler. "It's just one less crook to worry about" he says. The two cops leave the scene, deciding to "let the harbor patrol handle it tomorrow".
Once the cops are gone, a discouraged Spider-Man jumps up to the pier. He can't believe that his popularity is so low "the cops don't even want to dredge for my body". He is also concerned that, by imagining an alley, he may be "cracking up". How can things get worse? Well, when he tries to fire a web to travel home, all he gets is a feeble jet of water. His web-shooters are waterlogged and useless. Our sad sack super-hero takes to the rooftops and starts walking home.
Sometime the next morning, an exhausted Peter Parker valiantly tries to stay awake in Professor Warren's biochemistry class... and fails. The next thing he knows, he is being shaken awake by a hand on his shoulder. The hand belongs to the aforementioned Professor. When the class ends, Warren asks Peter to stay behind for a "chat". The Prof tells Peter he is "appalled". Because of bad marks the previous semester, Peter is taking "Bio Chem 106" for the second time. "And Peter", Warren says, "Your second chance is your last chance." Peter, yawning, tells Warren he is grateful for the second chance. "Then show that gratitude, Peter," says the Prof. "You have immense potential, more than any other student I've ever had. Please don't waste that potential. Don't betray my faith in you." Then he tells Pete he is available for advice not only as a teacher but also as a friend. (Don't worry about all this stuff, Pete! Once Warren is revealed as the Jackal and dies... apparently... in action, everybody in the class is probably going to get an incomplete!)
Peter leaves the classroom and meets up with Mary Jane out in the hall. MJ is still recovering from the explosion set by Green Goblin II, Harry Osborn (yet another of your copycat villains) in Pete's apartment in which she was caught, back in ASM #136 (September 1974). The doctors have ordered MJ to take it easy on "the old bod" so she has not signed up for classes this semester. Still, she looks healthier than Pete who looks to MJ as if he "can hardly stand at all". "Today you can be the sex object, Mr. Parker," she says as she offers to carry his books for him. They walk out together into a blustery day. MJ takes Pete's arm and tells him to relax. "You're the tensest person I've ever met" she says, "You always look like you're going to fall apart, like a Charlie Brown who's just had the football jerked away from him." Mary Jane assures Pete that she means that as a compliment and Pete smiles wistfully but then the image of his dead love, Gwen Stacy, crosses his mind and his smile disappears. As Peter wonders if anyone can ever replace Gwen, Mary Jane takes him by the hand. They walk.
In another part of town, J. Jonah Jameson and Joe Robertson arrive at JJJ's private club. The butler, Norton, takes Jonah's coat. JJ orders a "snifter of brandy for both Mr. Robertson and myself", then tells Norton he will be in the main salon and he is expecting an important phone call. And moments later, as Jonah and Robbie sit in plush armchairs and enjoy their drinks, Norton walks in with a telephone. Mr. Jameson's phone call has come in.
Robbie is curious about the call but Jonah tells him it is "just a small business deal". JJ only talks for a few seconds, long enough to learn that the person on the other end of the call has "made contact". He tells the caller he expects "another report tomorrow". Not much in the way of a phone call and yet, when he hangs up, Jonah sits back, blows a smoke ring with his cigar, and tells Robbie that "for the first time in many years everything is just fine".
At five o'clock in the evening, Spider-Man is webslinging above Manhattan. He has been trying to think of some way to salvage the spider-mobile from its watery grave but he hasn't come up with anything. "I'd chuck the whole thing and simply forget it, if I hadn't made a deal with those clowns at Corona Motors to build the stupid thing" (in ASM #126, November 1973), he says. As it is, he feels he has no choice but to recover it. He passes over a McDonald's and realizes that he is hungry. Since he is sure that he would cause a "riot in this costume" if he actually went in to order some food, he decides to rip-off a paying customer instead. (I'm not kidding. Oh, sure, he claims he'll "shoot a couple of dollars to him on my webbing" when he sets the food down but you think that ever happens? Not likely!) So (to backtrack a bit), doing his Jean Valjean impersonation by telling himself "it may not be strictly ethical but when a man's starving to death who has time for morality", Spidey shoots a webline down and snags a bag of food right out of the hands of a guy who just exited the restaurant. Just as he does this, two kids run in front of the poor schnook and this distraction keeps him from noticing the webbing. Next thing the guy knows the bag has just vanished out of his hands. At this point, Spidey sits at the edge of the roof, pulls a Big Mac and drink out of the bag and promises to "shoot" some money to the guy. But instead his spider-sense starts clanging and a strange mist surrounds him. Spidey recognizes it as "the same fog I drove into this morning" but this time it is actually sticking to him. Something about the mist makes him woozy enough that he topples right over the edge. Instinctively, he reaches out with his left hand and grabs a fire escape ladder as he falls. This breaks his fall before he pancakes into the roof below but it also injures his shoulder. "It feels like I've... torn my arm right out of its socket", he says. The good news is the pain clears his head. The bad news is the mist circles around him again. Now, Spidey is certain that someone is actually behind the appearance of this fog and he has a pretty good idea who it is. The mist thickens into a heavy fog that threatens to cut off his vision. Dimly, across the way, on another roof, Spidey sees a man, looking like little more than a shadow. The figure comes running toward him quickly. It is a man in a green costume with a purple cape and a crystal ball on his head. Just whom Spidey figured it would be. Mysterio!
In seconds, Spidey's old enemy is on him, punching him in the head with both fists. As the wall-crawler staggers, Mysterio kicks him in the chops. Then clinging to a wall with his hands, just as Spidey would, Mysterio swings around and gives him a two-legged kick. Spidey can't understand it. Not only is Mysterio faster and stronger than before but he's keeping uncharacteristically quiet. He doesn't give the web-slinger a chance to catch his breath either. After completing his attack, the master of illusion leaps over the side of the building and, again like Spidey, runs along the wall, above an alleyway. The webhead knows that Mysterio could just disappear in a puff of smoke if he wanted to get away. Since he is staying in sight, Spidey is sure that Mysterio is leading him into a trap. That's fine by him. He hasn't faced Mysterio since way back in ASM #67 (December 1968) and he's anxious to see what the villain has up his sleeve. But he doesn't expect this... suddenly Mysterio disappears and a Mack truck, driving on the alley wall, comes heading right for him. Again, Spidey acts instinctively and again he pays for it in pain. Even though he knows Mysterio creates illusions and he knows that the truck must be one of those illusions, Spidey leaps to avoid being hit. He lands hard in the alley on his left elbow. It hurts so much that it "feels like I shattered it". It gets worse from there. As Spider-Man gets to his feet, images of his old enemies start to drift out of the wall, as if they are all ghosts passing right through the bricks. (I always enjoy these moments when Spidey is faced with images of his enemies because they give you a good sense of who are considered the leading Rogues' Gallery at the time of the story. Some, like Doc Ock and the Green Goblin, are perennial but others shift depending on the writer and the year.) Right in front of Spidey's eyes, the Green Goblin, Doctor Octopus, the Vulture, the Molten Man, and the Tarantula pass through the wall and solidify. In seconds, the Jackal, Hammerhead, the Grizzly, Morbius the Living Vampire, and the Lizard, join them. (The ones chosen to represent this scene on this issue's cover, along with Mysterio of course, are the Jackal, Morbius, the Vulture, and Ock.) Again, Spidey is pretty sure that it's all an illusion but he can't stop himself from reacting to things. When the Green Goblin rears back and throws a pumpkin bomb, Spidey tries to avoid it but he hasn't the time. The bomb hits him square in the chest... and passes right through. Even with that proof that it is a trick, the web-slinger still can't get his equilibrium. The villains all attack and Spidey punches back, yelling, "Why don't you go away and leave me alone?" In seconds, it becomes a litany of "Why don't you let me live?" even as his fists pump like pistons with punch after punch after punch. Then, he stops to examine his handiwork. All the villains are gone and he has punched huge holes in the brick wall. The wall-crawler looks down at his hands. His gloves are in tatters, his web shooters bent and useless, his hands beaten and scratched from the impact.
With that, Spider-Man knows that the mist included some element that affected his thinking. He was ready to "really believe" that all his enemies had appeared at once. But now he knows "it was only one". As if on cue, smoke billows up in the alley and Mysterio appears out of it. He tells Spidey that "this is only the beginning" and that the end result will be "your death". Spidey immediately leaps at his opponent but Mysterio disappears once again. The webhead passes through the smoke and whacks his head on a fire escape. He falls into the alley, unconscious. (If the point of the whole exercise is Spider-Man's death, Mysterio would be well-served to appear again and do him in right now! But he doesn't.)
Sometime later, a battered Peter Parker walks into the Daily Bugle offices. He has bandaged up his hands with tape. Betty Brant and Ned Leeds take one look at him and offer to get a doctor. When Ned asks him what happened, Pete explains that he "got mixed-up in a brawl between Spider-Man and Mysterio". "But you must have made a mistake, Peter" says Ned, "either that or you saw a ghost" since "Mysterio died in prison almost a year ago!" And just that little piece of information gets our stunned hero to look at his hands and wonder if "Peter Parker is insane!"