This issue starts just moments after the end of Marvel Team-Up 5 ("A Passion of the Mind", Spidey and the Vision), where we join Spidey standing over a defeated Puppet Master. Ben Grimm suddenly enters and bellows that he wants to have a word with Spidey. Coming home to find your place a mess and Spidey hanging around will get you in a sour mood, I suppose. Alicia Masters (blind sculptress and Ben's girlfriend at the time) steps out from behind the Thing and suggests he give Spidey a chance to explain. Spidey's explanation is an easy one... he simply shows Ben the unconscious Puppet Master. Ben grabs hold of the Puppet Master and shakes him awake, and of course opening his eyes to see the Thing panics the Puppet Master somewhat! The Thing hauls the Puppet Master into the next room to "have a little talk" with him.
Those of us who didn't already know now find out from Alicia that the Puppet Master is in fact her stepfather. She explains to Spidey that despite her stepfather's crimes she loves him every bit as much as she does Ben. As she finishes her speech we hear a huge "WHUMP" from the next room, and Ben emerges with the again unconscious Puppet Master and what has to be one of the biggest plot contrivances of all time. The information he got from the Puppet Master is that there's "a chance, a small chance" that Alicia's blindness may not be permanent.
So, just to re-cap, the Thing comes home and finds Spider-Man in his wrecked home with one of the FF's oldest and deadliest foes, and the first thing he thought to do was interrogate that foe about the permanence of his girlfriend's blindness. Well, I think that just repeating that does enough to highlight its silliness, so I'll move on.
The Thing, Spidey, Alicia and the Puppet Master all pile into a Fantasticar and head towards rural Pennsylvania, where the Puppet Master's old secret base is. Along the way we learn, through a flashback, the Puppet Master's origin. He used to be partners with a man named Jacob Reiss, and was bitterly jealous of the man's wife and daughter. Driven to desperation, he irrationally decided to destroy their joint work, the radioactive clay. But Jacob happened by the lab and caught him, and the two struggled. During the fight Jacob was hurled into the vat of clay, killing him and causing an explosion that blinded Alicia, who was outside with her mother. Masters stepped up to care for his victim's family, marrying "the mother" (whom they don't bother to name) and acting as Alicia's father thereafter. He vowed to try to undo the damage he'd done.
As the flashback concludes, our players have reached the spot where the Puppet Master recalls his base to have been. Almost as soon as they step out of the Fantasticar, Spidey's spider-sense goes nuts, and an energy cannon of some kind rises from the ground to knock them flat. Obviously expecting that, Puppet Master dodges the beam and disappears into the base, closing the camouflaged trapdoor behind him.
Sometime later, our heroes awake, and the ever-subtle Thing decides that since they can't find the entrance to the base, he'll make his own. A single blow from his rocky fist is enough to cave the door in and grant the pair access to the lair. Their first order of business is to trash the cannon that knocked them out earlier, and then they split up to search the place.
Deeper in the lair, we rejoin the Puppet Master as he tries to explain to his partner why he's brought two super-heroes to their very doorstep! His partner is the Mad Thinker, who with his ever-present android at his side will be familiar to readers of other Marvel Books, though I believe this is his first appearance in a Spidey mag. Rising to his control panel, he prepares to activate a series of traps designed to crush our heroes!
Our first intended victim is Spider-Man. Coming to a vertical shaft, Spidey starts to crawl down, but after a few feet his spider-sense again starts to tingle. The walls of the shaft begin to give off "some kind of super-slick oil" that prevents him from getting a grip. Just as we wonder how Spidey is going to survive that we cut over to the Thing, who finds himself trapped in an airtight room from which the atmosphere is being drained. To wrap up our trifecta of danger, the Thinker sends his android out to "protect" Alicia, still in the Fantasticar.
Back over to Spidey, who's thought of a way out of his fix. He begins to leap from wall to wall as he descends the shaft, slowing his momentum. He's able to latch on to the wall just 10 feet above some spikes in the floor because, as he says, "These last ten feet are dry, at last, I can get a grip!" Well Spidey, you're getting more than a grip, you're getting razzed for using a cheap cop-out to escape from this trap! See, the Mad-Thinker is supposed to be a super-genius, and he seemingly designed this trap specifically with Spidey in mind. This in itself is a pretty improbable notion, since it assumes that 1) his base would be found at all 2) his base in the woods of Pennsylvania would be found by New York City resident Spider-Man, of all people and 3) Spider-Man would enter the base and choose that exact hallway to proceed down. The Thinker is supposed to be a master at computing odds, and boy, would I love to hear the odds on that. But even if we grant that he'd make this trap in the first place, what possible purpose is served by having the last ten feet of wall be oil-free? Did his trap run over budget, forcing him to cut corners? Ugh. It's just a really lame escape from a really lame trap.
Well, having survived that "death trap" Spidey lets himself out of the convenient air duct at the bottom of the shaft, and we rejoin Alicia back on the surface. She hears the Thinker's android approaching, and, thinking it's Ben, calls out to it. When it doesn't answer, she screams, one of those great Gil Kane "EEEEEEEEEEEEEE" screams, and the Puppet Master hears it over the monitor. He demands to know what's wrong with his step-daughter, but all the Thinker will give him by way of an answer is a backhand slap and an order to "Be quiet, you sniveling fool!". In fairness to the Mad Thinker, I have to point out that the Puppet Master does indeed tend to snivel. Well, seeing Alicia in danger makes the Puppet Master want to do something, and he picks up a wrench intending to give the Thinker a little high-impact scalp massage. At the last moment he loses his nerve, but Spidey, who's crept into the control room since we last saw him, sends the wrench forward with a ball of webbing and completes the job, knocking the Thinker out cold.
Back up in the field, the Thinker's Android is just moments from grabbing Alicia when he's hit from behind by the Thing. They knock each other around a little bit, and then the Thing uproots a tree and hurls it at the Android, knocking him into the lake. The Android doesn't resurface.
We find out that Ben escaped his trap because the Thinker forgot one thing..."Ben Grimm's whatya call stubborn!", and he pounded on the door till it broke. As cop-outs go this is right up there with Spidey's escape. I don't care how "stubborn" anyone is, you can't breathe vacuum.
As the Thing finishes his tale an explosion consumes the entire base behind them. Though Spidey left both the Puppet Master and the Thinker webbed up, the Thing figures one of them must have gotten free. Alicia thinks it must have been her stepfather, blowing up himself along with the base as a way to escape the guilt he's lived with for so long. And on that note our tale ends.
Next Issue: Spider-Man and the Mighty Thor in "A Hitch in Time!"
Thoughts on this issue: I'm taking into account that at this point Team-Up was a bi-monthly title, and there must have been an imperative to keep the stories self contained. But still, the amount of contrivance in this story starts to get a little grating. Gil Kane's art here is not his top form, and frankly I don't care for his depiction of the Thing. Ben Grimm is a tricky hero to draw, admittedly, and some are better at it than others. Put Mr. Kane in with the "others".
Elsewhere in Spidey's world: In Amazing Spider-Man 116, Gerry Conway is giving us a better Spidey story than this as our hero battles the Disruptor, in a story that originally appeared in Spectacular Spider-Man magazine #1.
And meanwhile, in the real world: In Washington D.C. the U.S. Supreme Court hands down it's landmark Roe vs. Wade decision, legalizing abortion. The Paris Agreement freezes the status quo in South Vietnam, and on NBC the 440th and final showing of the popular western "Bonanza" airs.
At first blush I was going to give this one two webs, but as I re-read it for this review the so-called death traps really got on my nerves. One web for this issue, and hopes for better ones to come.