Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 9 May 1977 - 3 Jul 1977

Background

After Stan leaves the book with Amazing Spider-Man #110, July 1972, there was every reason to believe that the Gibbon would be the last costumed Spidey villain that Stan and Johnny would create together. But, now, five years later, they have teamed up on the Spider-Man newspaper strip and it is time for their first new villain of the run. He's the Rattler!

Story 'The Rattler'

Remember the end of the Doc Ock storyline? This is from my review. “[Peter] visits Aunt May where he finds her upset because Anna Watson has been mugged and is in the hospital…Meanwhile, a strange man in a snake costume, is walking around town wearing a sandwich board for "Reptile World." He stops at Curtis Chemicals and thinks, "My little ruse is working perfectly! And now that I've reached my target, it's time for the world to meet - and to fear - the Rattler!" Let’s pick up where we left off.

I guess the Rattler circles around the block or something because he walks past Peter and MJ who are strolling in a part of the city that seems far away from Curtis Chemicals. Peter’s spider-sense tingles but he can’t figure out why. He’s still worrying about muggers attacking “old women” but MJ calls him “Mr. Dull Date of the Week” (May 9) and instead talks him into taking some photos of her for her modeling portfolio. (“Hey, who loves ya, baby?” she says on May 10, echoing Kojak’s catchphrase from the time, and “Maybe I’m not Margaux Hemingway – but you don’t see my face stopping clocks!”) (And check out Telly Savalas using the Kojak catchphrase in this travel ad for… Duluth, Minnesota!) As Peter and MJ find a shady park bench for the photos, the Rattler returns to Curtis Chemicals, zaps the guard at the door with a blast of “Rattler’s venom” shooting out of his hand (May 11), attacks two other guards using his sandwich board (May 12), then breaks into a cupboard where he finds “the serum!” “The prize is mine!” he says, holding it up in the air in true super-villain fashion, “And with it – the power!” The “prize” looks like a brick but I assume it’s much more than that.

The Rattler leaves the chemical plant (there are now five unconscious guards) and returns to “Reptile World,” a shop that is right across the street from where Peter is taking MJ’s picture. The Rattler wonders if Peter accidentally took a picture of him entering the shop and decides “I’ll get that film – if I have to kill him for it.” (You know, the Rattler spent the day walking around with a sandwich board that said “Reptile World” and he left that sandwich board at Curtis Chemical. I don’t think the police need Peter’s pictures to track him down.) The Rattler takes the “stolen serpent serum,” which is apparently the “prize” that was in the brick, then follows Peter and MJ who run into Flash Thompson and Harry Osborn (the first appearance for each of them in the strip-verse; May 17). They tag along to Peter’s apartment where Peter develops his pictures. (MJ says, “I look like a raven-haired …Farrah,” when she sees the photos but MJ isn’t “raven-haired.” MJ also says, “Eat your heart out, Raquel” as Stan tries to cover all of the sex symbols of the day.) The Rattler waits outside, ready to strike but Peter’s spider-sense tells him that “There’s something out there…something deadly!” (May 18).

The Rattler enters the building and zaps the janitor with his venom. Then he breaks down Peter’s front door. Flash tries to tackle him but the Rattler’s venom knocks him out. It also takes out Harry and MJ. He traps Peter in a corner, demanding the pictures. (After he knocks out the janitor, the Rattler says, “And the same fate awaits the one I seek! The one called – Peter Parker!” Should he know Peter’s name? Has he trailed the group closely enough to piece that together?)

Peter tries to escape but the Rattler tags him with his venom. “You forgot my snake-like speed,” he says, as if he’s an old villain with powers familiar to everyone. After demanding “pictures” and knowing that Peter has already developed some, the Rattler takes the film instead, leaving photos that might incriminate him. Peter has been stunned by the venom but not knocked unconscious. He gets into his Spidey suit and groggily follows the Rattler, coming upon him in a train yard. He webs him up but the Rattler slithers free (May 29). Using his speed, the Rattler grabs Spidey’s left arm, paralyzing it, but Spidey fends him off and retrieves his film (June 3). As the police arrive, the Rattler escapes down a manhole and Spidey returns to his apartment. He changes back into his Parker clothes just as MJ, Flash, and Harry wake up. After they leave, Peter checks his photos and sees the Rattler entering Reptile World behind MJ (June 5).

While Peter waits for his arm to lose its numbness, the Rattler returns to the shop where “the snake serum is wearing off.” Later, the apparent proprietor, a gray-haired sad-faced man, wonders how long he “can live with this nameless horror?” (June 8). He reflects that he’s always loved snakes “but that was before the Rattler. He’s too dangerous to live! He must be caught – crushed – not matter what the cost! No matter what may happen – to me!”

Spidey is finally ready to go and he swings over to Reptile World. Instead of charging in as Spider-Man, he changes back to Peter Parker, enters the shop and announces, “I’m looking for someone called the Rattler!” Not the brightest of moves. The proprietor tells him that “the man I hired to advertise my shop” has “quit without notice” but Peter’s spider-sense goes off and he looks behind a curtain into the rear of the shop. But someone attacks him from behind and when he comes to, he is tied up and facing the Rattler! And then, in classic villain fashion, the Rattler tells his story, seeing as he plans to kill Peter anyway. (But then why didn’t he just kill him? Why tie him up?)

He tells about Henry Bingham, the shopkeeper, and how he would “devenomize” snakes so he could sell them. But “the deadliest of all” bites him. Knowing he will die from the bite, he rushes to Curtis Chemical because he’s heard they have an antidote (June 14). The chemist analyzes Bingham’s blood and declares “You’ll be dead within the hour” unless he takes the untested serum. Bingham does, but it turns him into the Rattler! (“Half-man, half-rattler” but the snake that bit him wasn’t a rattlesnake, was it? It was “the deadliest of all.”) The trouble with all this is that he changes back to Bingham and needs more serum. Now, the implication (I think) is that he’s cured and only needs more serum to become the Rattler again but that isn’t made clear. In any event, again, in true super-villain fashion, he doesn’t just kill Peter, he opens snake cages and leaves, figuring the snakes will finish him off.

Once the Rattler is gone, Peter breaks his bonds, webs up the snakes, gets into his Spidey suit, and tracks his opponent to the chemical plant. “Serum! I must have more serum!” the Rattler says on June 19 but then it turns out he already has a vial on June 25. In between, he fights Spidey as JJJ complains to Robbie that “Everyone’s talking about that blasted human snake and not one single photo!” and Aunt May reads the Daily Bugle and says, “If that mysterious Rattler person frightened [Spider-Man] away, he should get a medal.” These two asides are the sort of thing you can get away with in a daily strip but not if the strips are read all at once because neither Jonah nor May should be talking about the Rattler. More on that later.

So, the Rattler starts to take that serum that he shouldn’t have but Spidey snags it with his webbing and smashes it against a wall. Furious, the Rattler uses a “two-handed touch” on Spidey’s head, infusing him with venom and knocking him out (June 26). But then the serum starts to wear off and, as he slowly reverts back, his human side preventing him from finishing off Spider-Man.

Okay, I’ve changed my mind. The serum did not cure Bingham of the snakebite because when he becomes human, he dies (July 1). (But then why was he able to run his shop as Bingham the other time the serum wore off?) As Bingham is dying, Spidey tries to hail a cab but the driver takes off when he sees that it’s Spider-Man. (They now seem to be in an alley rather than outside the chemical plant.) While dying, Bingham thanks Spidey for stopping him and allowing him to end “this crazy scene as a man.” (As opposed to ending it as a snake.) “Poor Bingham! He couldn’t help what happened to him!” says Spidey and that is for sure.

Spidey leaves Bingham’s body to the police and an ambulance. One cop says, “I was afraid he might’a been a victim of that Rattler creep” (should he know about the Rattler?) and Spidey, wall-crawling away, says, “He’ll never know how right he was! In a way, poor Bingham was…the Rattler’s victim.”

Spidey retrieves his camera, which he never set up, as far as I can tell, but from which he’ll get some fine Rattler photos (including close-ups!) Below him, a man joins two others in a car. “The Boss don’t like to be kept waitin’!” says one, “He said it’s time to start…Operation Spider-Man!

General Comments

You gotta feel for Bingham. He didn’t ask to become the Rattler. He was going to die “within the hour” from the “deadliest” snakebite if he didn’t try the untested serum. And the only thing he stole as the Rattler was more serum. Even Dr. Connors bore more responsibility and did more damage when he became the Lizard and Doc Connors wasn’t killed off in his very first appearance.

On June 24, JJJ complains that he has no pictures of the Rattler. On June 25, Aunt May mentions him as if everyone knows him. But he shouldn’t be known. All he’s done is rob Curtis Chemicals. Now, granted, he uses his name a lot as takes out the guards. (“I am – the Rattler,” “taste – the Rattler’s venom,” “nothing can stop the Rattler,” “nobody suspects the Rattler’s power,” “There’s no defense against the Rattler’s venom,” “So long as I possess my Rattler’s venom, I can do anything,” and “Never again will they laugh at – the Rattler!”) Any or all of those five guards could have mentioned the Rattler to the police. But this all takes place in one day, doesn’t it? The Rattler is walking around with his sandwich board, he robs Curtis Chemical while still carrying the sandwich board, he spots Peter taking MJ’s picture as he sneaks back into Reptile World, he follows them to Pete’s apartment where he attacks and takes the film. Spider-Man follows him and gets the film back but his arm is rendered numb. While Pete waits for his arm to recover, the Rattler gets back to Reptile World where he turns back into Bingham. Pete goes to Reptile World where the Rattler captures him and leaves him to be bitten by snakes. Peter webs up the snakes, becomes Spidey, and smashes the Rattler’s serum. The Rattler changes back to Bingham and dies. See? All in one day. There’s barely been time to even hear of the Rattler much less complain that no one has gotten pictures of him. But, ah, that’s the world of the stripverse for you.

Here are this story's "First appearances in the Strip-Verse"

  1. Flash Thompson: May 17, panel #1.
  2. Harry Osborn: May 17, panel #1.
  3. The janitor at Peter's building: May 20, panel #1.
  4. Henry Bingham (Rattler’s real identity): June 8, panel #3.
  5. The Chemist at Curtis Chemicals: June 14, panel #3.
  6. The Kingpin's Men: July 3, panel #6.

Overall Rating

What can I say? I love this story. The revelation that Bingham is the Rattler fools no one and the story has got its share of errors that I’ve already catalogued. But still, it works for me. I love the notion of a super-villain walking around with a sandwich board. I like the way Peter gets entangled in the tale…by taking a photo at the wrong place and the wrong time. I think the Rattler has a cool Johnny Romita-designed look and his powers are nicely confounding for the web-slinger. Spidey never really does defeat him, after all. For all of his nastiness, the Rattler is a tragic figure because we end up feeling for Bingham, who has done nothing worse than own a snake pet shop. Johnny’s rendition of the Rattler’s final metamorphosis and death is painful and heart-rending. As Spidey departs the scene, saying, “In a way, poor Bingham was – the Rattler’s victim,” you can’t help but feel for the villain and his undeserving death. And it is a death! The Rattler never appears again. How often do you see a well-conceived villain that seems like a decent foil for the hero killed off in his first appearance and never brought back again? Makes you feel like Stan had some Spidey stories in reserve from his comic book days, doesn’t it?

It’s not perfect by a long shot but I don’t care. It’s one of my favorite strip stories. I’m giving it five webs.

Footnote

Next: The Kingpin enters the Strip-Verse!