You know, part of the intent of "From the Beginning" is to take old and familiar comic books and (by going into story detail and bringing up items from the letter pages, Bullpen Bulletins, or advertisements) make them feel new and unexpected again. It doesn't matter if these early issues are before your time. Just sit back, close your eyes, and imagine being a kid in the 1960s, riding your bicycle to the corner drug store in order to pick up your weekly dose of comics. A fifty-cent allowance is enough to buy four comics. A dollar will get you eight books! You enter the drug store and find the comics hidden in a dark patch of the store somewhere in the back. They're all kept on one or two wobbly wire racks that squeak and tilt as you turn them, leaning over so far that you're sure that they will topple (but they never do). There's a sign on the top of the rack that says, "Hey, Kids! Comics!" with drawings of Richie Rich and Superman and Archie Andrews and Spider-Man in a row below the words. Some of the comics have been in the rack for months; getting dog-eared and bent as a succession of kids have riffled through them. Even the new ones have been shoved in without any real regard for condition. A mint copy of even the latest issues is rare. The selection is both mesmerizing and bewildering. It's not just super-heroes, not by a long shot. It's war comics and western comics and romance comics and Casper the Friendly Ghost and Sad Sack and Baby Huey and Twilight Zone and Boris Karloff and Archie and Classics Illustrated. Even many of the super-hero comics are unfamiliar today. Thunder Agents and Fatman the Human Flying Saucer and Dr. Solar and the Mighty Samson and Herbie Popnecker the Fat Fury and the Captain Marvel who could split his body apart by yelling "Split!" and Archie as Pureheart the Powerful and even LBJ as a super-hero in the satirical "Great Society".
With competition so fierce, the covers had to be garish enough to catch the eye and deranged enough to capture a child's imagination. DC comics dominated the racks with bizarre covers filled with sponge monsters and animal-vegetable-mineral men and Batman lifting a gorilla and Jimmy Olsen turning into the Giant Turtle Boy and the Justice League turning into trees and the Flash turning into a puppet. But the Marvels always shone out from the rest with those mesmerizing Jack Kirby characters: Thor battling the Man-Beast or the Fantastic Four taking on Dragon Man. And, of course, those Steve Ditko Spider-Mans.
The first thing you do when you arrive is spin the rack and look to see if any new comics jump out at you. Then you riffle through each stack, using your thumb at the top to see what you may have missed last time. Sometimes you find a comic you want and realize you missed the previous issue. You had to be diligent and you had to be dedicated. There was no one in that store who was going to hold comics for you behind the counter. No one cared a bit if the last issue had been continued and you've just missed the conclusion. And even when you found books, you had to choose wisely. All of those options and only a dollar to spend on them. And those covers could be deceptive. Something that looked essential on the surface could be a real disappointment inside. But occasionally an issue jumped right out at you such as a cover like Amazing Spider-Man #25 with the web-slinger caught in a mass of metallic tentacles projecting out of a robot topped with J. Jonah Jameson's laughing face. The only blurb on the cover reads, "Captured by J. Jonah Jameson!" This is one of the few covers I actually remember seeing there on the rack and I didn't hesitate for an instant, snapping it right up. I could just tell right away that it was going to be a great read and I was right.
When I was a kid in the 60s, I had a friend with whom I bought comics. (A dollar apiece. That got us sixteen books to read.) I would usually buy Marvel. He would usually buy DC. We would go to his or my room and read them, swapping as we finished each one. Sometimes a book looked so good, we would stretch out on the floor and both read it at the same time. That's what you and I are going to do with ASM #25 right now.
|Marvel Masterworks #10
|Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1
|Marvel Tales #163
|Marvel Tales #20
|Essential Spider-Man #2
|Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #17
Last month, you'll recall, Stan told us that this issue would feature "J.J.J.'s most amazing plan to capture and defeat Spider-Man, and for once the plan works!" And right off the bat, things are not looking too good for the old web-slinger. First there's that cover and then the splash page shows Spidey running in circles around a chimney on a New York City rooftop followed by this odd metallic Teletubbies-looking robot with J. Jonah Jameson's sneering face. In between the two, Steve has superimposed eight drawings of current Spider-Man characters within red rings assembled in the shape of a lopsided letter "I". On the top from left to right are Aunt May, Betty Brant (smiling) and Liz Allan (scowling at Betty). In the middle from top to bottom are Peter Parker (with that familiar half-Spidey effect that Ditko used so well) and Flash Thompson (looking up and squinting at Peter). On the bottom from right to left are J. Jonah Jameson, the robot, and a new face; someone we will undoubtedly meet in this tale. Right before we turn the page to start the story, Stan hits us with a surprise. He tells us that "Sturdy Stevey Ditko dreamed up the plot of this tantalizing tale". In fact, from this point until his departure, Ditko is credited with the plot for every succeeding issue in the series. (Well, except for ASM #31, December 1965, the first part of the Master Planner trilogy but since Steve is credited with the plots for #32 and #33, it's a pretty good bet that he plotted #31 too.) Makes you wonder how many earlier issues were plotted by Ditko before Stan got around to giving him the credit.
Remember how last issue ended? With Peter going over to Liz Allan's house to help her with her science lessons? Well, this issue begins with Peter bidding Liz goodnight after an evening of studying. He gives her a little half-wave. "Hope you dig those formulae now" he says. Liz stands out on the stoop of her home and thinks, "I dig you even more, Petey!" Pete ambles along the streets when he remembers that he left his spider signal on a roof ledge the day before in order to shake free of Flash Thompson. Now seems like a good time to retrieve it.
He needn't have bothered since he already retrieved it on page 9 panel 8 of ASM #24, May 1965. Actually this is a wonderful example of a failure to communicate between Stan and Steve. There is nothing in the illustrations of ASM #24 to indicate that Spidey picked up his spider-signal. Stan notices this and slaps a thought balloon into a panel to cover it ("Glad I didn't forget to grab my spider beam again!") little realizing that Steve is planning to deal with it in the following issue. Steve most likely never bothered to read Stan's dialogue and probably never realized that Stan already handled this plot thread. When Steve gives him a new story that devotes a whole page to the problem, what is Stan to do? Go with the flow and hope that nobody notices the contradiction. But nothing gets by us here at From the Beginning!)
According to Pete's spider-sense, there is no one around to see him in action so he doesn't bother to change into his Spidey suit. He just scales the wall Spidey-style and makes it to the roof where he finds his signal sitting there on the ledge. As he reaches down to retrieve it he notices "three seedy-looking characters" who are "slinking around below". The three men make their way from car to car. "They've got auto thieves written all over them," Pete thinks. The men stop and it seems they have chosen a car. Peter starts to take his jacket and shirt off, revealing the Spidey-suit underneath. But then he sees a cop walking the beat down on the corner. "What a lucky break!" he thinks, "It'll save me the trouble of wasting time on those three hoods!" The only problem is the cop is just as likely to cross the street and keep walking without ever seeing the thieves at all. So Pete makes sure the officer is alerted by shining the newly retrieved spider-signal down on him. Now that he has the cop's attention, Pete moves the spider-beam over to the three car thieves. This does the trick. The policeman pulls his gun and tells the men to "grab some sky". Apparently the cops have "been looking for [these] three for some time now" and one of the crooks mutters, "just our luck he found us in the middle of a caper". (Though, to tell the truth, it doesn't look like they've done anything yet that could be construed as a "caper".) Thrilled by this turn of events, Peter stays up on the roof and snaps photos for the Daily Bugle. "Everything's going my way for a change" he thinks.
I don't know what time it is but when Peter gets home he is surprised to find Aunt May still awake. May tells him that she wanted to make sure he got home safely and "besides, there was the loveliest Joan Crawford movie on the Late Show!" (What do you think May was watching? "Trog"? No, that hadn't been made yet. Maybe "Mildred Pierce"? Or one of those early flapper shows?) Pete heads up to his room and puts in some time stitching a spare costume. He hates to sew but he also remembers the time (in ASM #23, April 1965) when his costume was still wet and he couldn't wear it until it dried. He wants to make sure that never happens again.
Pete finishes the costume ("after only a dozen or so tiny pin-pricks" according to Stan) that night and the next morning heads over to the Daily Bugle to sell his photos of the car thieves. As he enters, Pete spies Jonah Jameson talking to another man. JJ has his arm draped casually on the man's shoulder and Pete notes, "Must be someone important" since "J.J.'s smiling". Jonah tells the man, "Don't worry about a thing! I'll take care of your ad personally and I'll see you at the club tonight!" Once again (as in ASM #23) the man says nothing and isn't given a name. He only appears for a single panel but there's no mistaking him. It's our good friend Norman Osborn and this is Peter Parker's very first look at him.
Norman leaves and Pete approaches Jonah with the pix. Jameson riffles through them but is not impressed. Nothing but some shots of "Spider-Man's signal beam shining on three punks and a policeman making a pinch". Peter needs money badly so he gives Jonah the anti-Spider-Man pitch. "Think how bad they make Spider-Man look!" he says, "He was beaten to some crooks by one lone officer!" Jameson perks right up. He slaps Peter on the back, takes credit for Pete's idea, but promises a check in the morning. (Isn't it morning right now?) All well and good except that Betty Brant has sidled up behind Pete and JJ while they were talking and has heard everything. Even as Jonah slaps him on the back, Peter notices Betty giving him "the cold-shoulder look". When Pete asks her what's up, she sticks a finger in his face and lets him have it. "You've been selling too many pictures to J. Jonah" she lectures, "You're beginning to sound like him now!" Pete is about to respond when a man entering the Bugle offices distracts him. The man pushes in a big console on wheels and a robot that looks a bit like a bow-legged teddy bear. He introduces himself as Smythe and announces that he is an inventor. (It looks like the only people working at the Bugle today are JJ, Betty, and Peter, by the way.)
Smythe, it turns out, is the man in the bottom left ring of the lopsided "I" on the splash page that we didn't recognize (since we are reading this together back in 1965, you know). He tells Jameson that he has been reading "your anti-Spider-Man editorials for months so I know how you hate him". He promises that he has "something that is guaranteed to defeat Spider-Man". But Jameson doesn't want to hear it. "Just what I need, another crackpot!" he bellows. Then he turns his back, covers his left ear with his left hand and waves the inventor away. "Out! Out!" he says, "I'm not getting mixed up with any more nutty mad scientists! Every time I listen to one of you nitwits, I end up being a laughing stock!" And that would have been the end of it except... Peter Parker decides to get mischievous. He looks at the dopey-looking robot, scratches the back of his head and smirks over the thought of it beating him. Then he gets a devious look in his eye, thinks about getting even with Jonah "for all the trouble he's caused me in the past", figures he could get some easy pictures of Spider-Man defeating the robot, and concocts a plan to convince Jonah to buy what Smythe is selling.
Smythe tells Jonah that it will only take a moment to demonstrate his robot but Jonah again tells him to get out. That's when Peter puts one hand on JJJ's right shoulder and the other on his left elbow and smilingly urges Jonah to give Smythe a chance. ("He probably is a phony" Pete says, "but it can't do any harm to watch him demonstrate. In fact, there's always the chance that he may really have something! What have you got to lose?") Betty Brant can't believe what she's hearing. She rushes up and tells Peter to "keep out of this!" The trio forms a conga line with Peter's hand on Jonah's shoulder and Betty's hand on Peter's back. As Peter tells Jonah that "maybe that nutty-looking robot is just what the doctor ordered", Betty asks Peter, "How can you talk that way? Do you want Spider-Man defeated?" Betty grabs Peter by the jacket and starts to tug but Pete sticks his arm out and tries to block her way. "Ixnay, Betty!" he says. (I kid you not.) Then Pete pushes his argument. He tells Jonah, "If the robot should be able to wallop Spider-Man, you'll get all the credit! And if it doesn't, who's to know?" Really getting into it, he adds, "Besides you know you're lots smarter than Spider-Man could ever hope to be! He's only beaten you by dumb luck before! Sooner or later you're bound to win! After all, look how successful you are! You're a born winner, J.J.!" This finally does the trick. Jonah straightens up, grabs his lapels as if posing for a picture and declares that he was "too hasty". Jonah tells Smythe that he's willing to see the demonstration and Pete is so tickled by this that even a sharp pinch from Betty can't dampen his spirits.
(Now, seeing as Spencer Smythe becomes a raving super-villain lunatic because of his hatred of Spider-Man and seeing how Jonah Jameson was going to toss him out on his ear before ever using the spider-slayer until Pete talked him out of it, can we argue that Peter is ultimately responsible for the wreck of Smythe's life and his eventual death? Just a thought.)
So, Smythe pulls out a spider (from thin air, it appears) in a "glass cage" that looks like a crystal ball or a soap bubble. He tells the assembled trio that he needs someone to hold the spider. Jonah puffs on his cigar and casually volunteers Peter Parker. "It was his idea," he says. Suddenly Pete is rattled. Smythe steps behind his console and promises that Peter won't be hurt. "I just wish to show how my robot can sense a spider's presence anywhere!" he says. (You know, it just occurred to be that this "sensing a spider" stuff fits in very nicely with the "totemistic" territory J. Michael Straczynski is mining in current issues of Amazing Spider-Man.) Peter holds the glass cage in his left hand as he faces the robot. Sweat starts to pour down his face. The possibility has just entered his mind that Spencer Smythe may not be a crackpot after all.
Smythe presses a button that releases about a dozen coils from the body of the robot, looking like an attacking nest of snakes. The coils are supposed to wrap themselves around the spider but they envelope Peter Parker instead. Pete knows this is because "the coils were attracted to my own, much greater spider power" but, fortunately, this doesn't occur to any of the observers. Smythe thinks it is just a "few little bugs" in the system that he can easily "iron out". But his point is still proven. "You can see how it automatically ensnares anything related to a spider," he says. Peter starts to struggle against the coils but Smythe tells him not to bother. "You cannot break that coiled steel" he says, and Peter discovers that even his spider-strength "can't snap the steel strands".
Pete gets no sympathy from Betty. "You finally got what you deserve, Mister Parker!" she sniffs, "I hope you never break loose!" And she stalks off to the other side of the room. Smythe turns to Jameson and explains his plan. The robot "will locate Spider-Man through its hyper-sensitive Geiger-type apparatus, then it will trap him in its coil springs". Jonah rubs his chin and agrees, "It sounds like a foolproof approach". Smythe puts a hand in his pants pocket. Jonah sits on his desk. Both are oblivious to Peter still caught in the coils. Smythe tells Jonah that "best of all, you can enjoy the triumph by operating the robot yourself" from the "remote control mechanism" here in the office, away from the action in the street. Finally, Peter has had it. "Hey! How about getting me out of here!" he yells.
Smythe steps over to the robot and pushes a button on its back. The coils retract and Peter is freed. By the time this is done, J. Jonah Jameson is sold. "I'll pay whatever you want for the robot!" he says, "Something tells me I'm gonna get Spider-Man this time!" Smythe tells JJ that he doesn't want to sell but he will rent the robot out. Jonah drapes an arm around Smythe's shoulder and leads him to his inner office to work out the details.
After they've left, Betty crosses her arms and tells Peter, "I hope you're quite satisfied with yourself." She drops her right hand down to her hip and points with a finger on her left hand. "You're even worse than Mr. Jameson," she says, "At least he thinks he has a reason to hate Spider-Man! But you haven't!" Peter tells Betty that he didn't mean anything by it, that he "thought it would be fun". Betty's eye widen in surprise. She can't believe Pete thinks it would be fun to get Spidey captured, "and after the way he saved your Aunt May from Dr. Octopus" (which was in ASM Annual #1, 1964). Then she stalks off, telling Peter to "go join your leader, Jolly Jonah Jameson!"
Pete tries to call Betty back but to no avail. He departs the Bugle offices with his left hand in his pants pocket and scratching his head with his right. He thought he was setting up a great gag but all he has done is get Betty mad at him. And, on top of that, "that robot really is dangerous!"
At Midtown High School, Flash Thompson is telling the gang his story about "how I helped ol' Spidey to get the last laugh on that phony psychiatrist a few weeks ago". (That psychiatrist being Mysterio back in ASM #24, May 1965.) A redhead in a yellow dress tells Flash she's heard it "dozens of times" but urges him to "tell us again" since "you tell it better every time". But a dopey-looking kid with a half-baked DA haircut and a blue bowtie rushes up to tell Flash that "Puny Parker" is coming "with your gal friend Liz runnin' after him!" (So, this loser is part of Flash's inner circle but Peter Parker is considered a square?) An unnamed brunette (who has to be Connie, the girl that Liz ditched in favor of Peter last issue) reminds Flash that she told him "the two of them had a date last night". Flash comes up with a plan and approaches Peter who is only trying to get away from Liz who is yelling, "Petey! Oh, Petey, wait for me!" Flash sidles up and puts his arm around Peter's shoulder (there are certainly a lot of hands going around a whole bunch of shoulders in this issue). "Well, hel-lo Pete ol' pal!" he says, "How's it goin' fella? How'sa boy?" Peter wants Flash to "cut the comedy" and spill what he's up to. Liz thinks Flash is trying to get Peter in a flight. If he does, she threatens to "never speak to you again". But Flash is all smiles. "A fight??" he asks, "Oh, perish forbid!" He tells Liz he just wants to have a chat with his "old buddy". Liz primps her hair with her right hand and buys into Flash's line. "In that case, I'll leave you two boys alone!" she says. As soon as Liz leaves, Flash tightens his grip on Peter's shoulder and waves a big fist under Pete's chin. "You creep!" he says, "I warned you what would happen if you tried to two-time me with my girl!" Now it's payback time. Flash tells Peter to meet him after school. "And you better be there!" he warns.
During school that day, Peter fidgets. The kids all think it is because he fears facing Flash at the end of the day but the truth is Peter is worried about Professor Smythe's robot. He thinks every noise may be the approach of the slayer and he can't stop looking out the window to see if the machine is heading his way. (But he hangs onto his sense of humor. When Liz asks him "Why do you keep staring out of the window that way?" Pete replies, "What other way is there, Liz?")
Back at the Bugle, Professor Smythe tinkers with the robot's controls behind a plate in its chest. He announces that "everything checks out perfectly" and promises Jameson that "Spider-Man will be your captive before nightfall". Smythe sets the robot on automatic. As soon as it "picks up the aura of Spider-Man's presence", it will begin to move. (Betty looks on from another room feeling sorry for Spider-Man and blaming it all on Peter.) Immediately, the slayer's antennae seem to quiver and the robot starts to move. It has picked up Spidey's impulses. Smythe sets Jonah up behind the master control panel and tells him to run the machine as instructed. The dark viewscreen on the robot's head lights up with Jonah Jameson's face. Jonah has his own viewscreen on the console through which he can see as if he were the robot. He maneuvers the robot out into the Bugle pressroom and barks at his employees to stop staring and get back to work; his voice coming out of the robot. The employees scatter (but it's nice to know that more than just Betty and JJJ are working there after all.)
Jonah is tickled by the reactions of his staff. ("That was delightful" he says, "I scared them out of a year's growth!") It takes him a moment to realize that the robot is already out on the street. All the pedestrians stare at it in surprise.
Back at Midtown High, the bell rings to signal the close of the school day. Flash tells Peter he will be waiting outside and Pete cracks wise. ("Fine, fine! And if you're real nice about it, maybe I'll let you carry my books home!") Clearly, he has no intention of backing down. But just as he picks up his jacket he happens to look out the window and he sees the robot rolling down the sidewalk, heading right for the school. He knows he must get away and change into his Spider-duds before the robot finds him. In order to accomplish this, he slips out a side door and runs for it.
Out front, the gang waits for Parker to show up. Liz Allan has just heard about it and she runs over to Flash to give him an earful about fighting with Peter. Flash tries to tell Liz that "this is something between Parker and me" but Liz rightly retorts, "But if you're fighting about me, then I'm involved in it, also!" However, this conversation is fated to go no further. A kid stationed as sentry yells out to Flash that "Parker's runnin' away" and that gets the group going. Flash and four other boys take off after Peter, leaving Liz behind. One of the gang, the redhead of the group, is so filled with blood lust that he lets out a "Yippee!"
Peter goes running down the street carrying his blue jacket in his right hand and his red tie in his left. About a half a block behind him, Flash Thompson and about eight of his stooges pursue. ("Parker! Come back an' fight, you chicken!" yells Flash.) About a half a block behind them, the J. Jonah Jameson-led robot follows. Pete looks back and is happy to see the crowd of kids. "I think I can use them this time" he thinks, "All I have to do is keep them between me and the robot!"
The robot passes two pedestrians (A white man in a brown suit who says, "Holy smoke! What in the name of creation do you call that??" and a black man in a blue suit who says, "What's that thing advertising?? Is he givin' away any free samples??") but can't seem to run down the teenagers. Frustrated Jameson bellows, "Outta my way, you brats! Move!" This shout gets Flash and his pals to look back. They are shocked by what they see. The redheaded "Yippee" kid recognizes Jameson's face "b-but he's turned into a monster!" The robot passes three runners but still can't get past the main group. In his frustration, Jonah mentions that "Spider-Man must be somewhere ahead of me" and this news motivates Flash to keep running. If Spider-Man is around, Flash doesn't want to miss it. Pete, meanwhile, is wracking his brain trying to figure out how to slip away and change to Spider-Man before the robot nabs him. He rounds a corner and sees his chance. As soon as he dips out of sight of the others, Pete leaps up to a flagpole and uses it to propel himself to the rooftops. Flash and his group keep running, wondering where Parker has gotten to. The robot, however, extends his arms and legs to about twice their previous lengths and scales the wall of the building. It arrives at the roof so fast that Spider-Man still hasn't had time to put on his boots and gloves. At least he has gotten enough of his costume on to conceal his identity. Jameson takes a moment to exult over the ease with which the robot found the web-slinger and this gives Spidey the time to get the rest of his costume on. But now he must run for his life.
Jonah is enjoying every minute of this. "It's your old pal, J. Jonah!!" he tells the webhead, "I've finally found a way to clip your wings forever!" Down in the street, the teens have stopped as they wonder what has happened to Parker, to the robot and to Spider-Man. (Liz Allan has caught up and joined the group as well.) Suddenly, Spider-Man springs through the air right over their heads, pursued by the projecting tentacles of the robot. The slayer follows right after, telescoping its legs down to the ground in the manner of Stilt-Man. The teenagers scatter as the robot comes through only to regroup a moment later. One kid is still wondering what happened to Peter Parker but Flash has a new agenda. "I've gotta help ol' Spidey" he says, "like I did last time". This news pleases Liz who thinks this will give Peter a chance to get away. Flash leads the group after the robot and Liz comes along, hoping that Flash will stop being jealous if she tags along with him.
Up ahead, Spider-Man has chosen to stop in the middle of an intersection. He figures "if I beat Jameson now, everybody will know about it! He'll never live it down!" And sure enough there are plenty of gawkers on the sidewalk corners as well as cars pulled over in the middle of the street. Spidey's first move is to cover the advancing robot with a spray of liquid webbing but the stuff just rolls right off. "His surface is specially-prepared" Spidey realizes, "It's too oily." So, he switches his tactic to regular webbing. He shoots it in the air, trying to spray it down on top of the slayer. But the robot extends its right arm way out like one of the tentacles and uses it to cover its head. Only the arm gets covered in webbing and the robot brushes it aside. Spidey sees his webbing slide off just as the liquid did. "It won't stick to any part of him!" he sees and wonders what to do now.
Of course, the robot can attack too. It extends a whole slew of tentacles from its chest. (It's hard to keep track of them all but I count twelve.) Spidey leaps high in the air to avoid them. Even though he flips and tumbles, the tentacles stay right with him and Spidey deduces that "they follow me automatically attracted by my spider impulses". It all turns out much harder than he thought and he decides to take to the rooftops again. His plan to humiliate Jonah in public backfires. Instead it is the wall-crawler who takes the public relations beating. "Hey, big shot!" a bystander yells, "What gives?? You're runnin' the wrong way!"
Spidey makes it to a wall and starts climbing just as Flash and Liz show up. They are disappointed by this tactic since they can't follow if Spidey "takes to the roof" but J. Jonah Jameson sure can. Back at the Bugle offices, Jonah stares into the viewscreen and revels in the chase. ("Smythe, you're a genius!" he says, "I've never had such a wonderful time!") But Betty Brant is still nearby and she knows she must help Spider-Man out somehow. Telling Jonah that one of the dials on the console is loose and that she'll tighten it for him, Betty sticks her arm in the way but she is too slow and Jonah pushes her arm aside. "Don't touch it!" he tells her, "I'll lose control over the robot! Stay back!" And Betty knows she must think of something else.
Up the wall goes Spider-Man with the robot climbing up right behind. "Why don't you give up and save yourself all this trouble?" Jonah gloats and Spidey wonders which is worse, "That robot's coils or Jameson's raspy, gloating voice!" They reach the roof with Jonah taunting Spidey about looking tired. "Personally, I'm as fresh as ever!" he says, "I could keep this up all day! In fact, I think I will!" The best retort Spidey can muster up is, "Well bully for you, big mouth!" "Now I know you're tired!" replies, JJJ, "Even your corny wise-cracks are sounding weaker than ever!"
Back at the Bugle, Betty Brant crosses her arms and watches Jonah at work. She knows that he is right; that the robot won't get tired but Spider-Man will and she decides she must do something to help the web-slinger. Now it turns out that the console has to be plugged into a wall socket (even though we never saw Smythe plug it in and the cord is only shown once before: down in the lower left hand corner of the third panel on page five). Betty sees the cord and comes up with a plan. She walks over to the electrical socket and pretends to stumble, dropping all the papers she is carrying. She bends down to pick up the papers and inches towards the plug, feeling a rush from the risk involved. ("I feel like the heroine in an adventure thriller" she thinks, "It's really exciting!") But just before she can pull the plug, Jonah Jameson spots her. He turns away from the console and yells at her to "get away from there". Busted, Betty thinks, "If this were just a story, I'd have made it." (I love this line from Stan because, of course, this is just a story. What Betty should have been thinking was, "If I was the star of this story.") Jonah literally shoves Betty out of the office, telling her to take the rest of the day off... "Without pay, of course!"
Now stuck out in the vestibule, Betty tries to come up with another way to help Spider-Man. She decides that Peter Parker "is as indebted to Spider-Man as I" so she gives him a call, hoping to induce him to help. Except the line is busy. (That Aunt May is burning up the phone wires again.) She paces back and forth for a while with her hands clasped behind her back. The more she thinks about Peter talking Jonah into this scheme, the more she determines that he needs "to find a way to talk him out of it". She calls again and the line is still busy. More pacing, with Betty acknowledging that she "never even liked Spider-Man or any silly costumed adventurer! But I can't help feeling sorry for him!" She calls again and the line is still busy. Now Betty considers the possibility that Aunt May is the one on the phone. "A woman can talk for hours!" Betty says. (Ah, those wacky, chatty women and their phones!) With that in mind, Betty grabs her jacket and purse and heads out to Forest Hills in person.
Back in the streets, Flash Thompson and his teen posse accept the fact that they've lost track of Spider-Man and the robot. Flash figures the thing to do is to "go find Puny Parker again". The dopey-looking kid with the blue bowtie tells Flash that Peter probably headed for home. "It's as good a place as any to start looking," says Flash. Liz Allan is appalled at this. She tells Flash she is ashamed of him and promises, "If you hurt poor Petey, I'll never talk to you again!" Flash tells Liz that he "won't even lay a finger on that crummy bookworm". He just wants Peter to admit to being a chicken. "He's just too smart to waste his time fighting", Liz says and Flash thinks, "The more she defends him, the more I hate him!!"
Back at the action, Spider-Man jumps a great chasm from one rooftop to another, kicking himself the whole time for talking Jameson into using the robot. Jonah is right behind as the robot extends its legs like stilts and steps over the distance. The web-slinger climbs to a higher point on the rooftop but the robot uses its stilt capabilities to rise up to his level. Spidey is tiring out but every time he slows down the robot extends its chest tentacles (or "coil steel feelers" as Spidey calls them) and he must speed up to avoid them again. The wall-crawler knows he must get some rest soon. But Jonah "won't let up for a second". In fact, he is having a ball. "Keep going, Spider-Man!" he says, "Don't spoil my fun so quickly! I want this delightful episode to last!" And, "How do you like being on the run, you costumed freak? How does it feel to be up against your superior, namely J. Jonah Jameson!"
Now we join Betty again as she gets out of a cab in front of the Parker home. There is already a group of teens standing around on the sidewalk, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan and the gang. As Betty approaches, Liz breaks away from the group. She tells Flash to wait as she checks to see if Peter is in. Betty is surprised to see Liz. "So!" she thinks, "Peter still sees her!" The two women end up walking side by side up to the front door and you can tell that they're really frosty to each other because they call each other "Miss" and their word balloons have little spikes on the bottoms of them like icicles. ("Well!" says Betty, "Fancy meeting you here, Miss Allan! Do you always travel in a pack like that?" "Why no, Miss Brant!" says Liz, "But sometimes it's hard to get rid of all my admirers! Although I'm sure you don't have that problem!") Aunt May answers the door and is all smiles. She invites the girls in, telling them "Today seems to be my day for surprises." Betty, ever the neurotic pessimist, looks distressed and wonders what May means by that. Liz asks if Peter is home and May tells her that she expects him back shortly. "Won't you come in and wait?" she asks and the girls both agree. They are each so anxious to be the first one in that they push in simultaneously, wedged against each other as they shove through the door. Now that they are in, May wants to introduce Liz and Betty to "another charming young lady" who is "the niece of Mrs. Watson, my next-door neighbor" (and I do believe this is the first time Anna Watson is mentioned as a next-door neighbor rather than just a neighbor. Of course, the last time Anna was mentioned, in ASM #18, November 1964, she was called "Mrs. Watkins" and had a husband so clearly the details of her character were still in flux.) The new arrivals are not happy to hear this. "Another girl??" thinks Liz. "More competition??" thinks Betty. Then May leads them into the next room and introduces them to Mary Jane Watson who "just dropped in to visit my nephew".
Mary Jane sits on a white couch and waves at the girls. She is wearing a yellow dress with a knee-length skirt, cinched with a big black belt. She has a green scarf tied around her head so we can't see her hair and, wouldn't you know it, we just happen to be standing in the one position in the room so that a flower in a pot blocks our view of her face.
Now a lot is made of the fact that MJ's face is concealed and not shown until ASM #42, November 1966 but, even though Peter is surprised at her beauty when he finally sees her, we shouldn't be surprised at all. True, we don't see her face but MJ clearly has a very nice figure and her yellow skirt rides up over her knees as she sits with legs crossed revealing a very shapely lower leg. When she speaks ("Hel-lo girls!" she says.), little musical notes surround her words so we know her voice is very melodic. And to cinch matters, Betty and Liz stare at her in shock with Betty thinking, "She's a friend of Peter's?? She looks like a screen star!" and Liz thinking "He's been hiding her from us?? Our shy, bashful, studious Peter??" So we know MJ is hot stuff and we don't need to see her face to confirm this. (But it is hard to imagine the later MJ wearing this yellow midi/green scarf combination.)
Aunt May, oblivious to the devastation wreaked on Betty and Liz by MJ's appearance asks the two girls if they would like "a nice refreshing cup of tea". Both turn her down and leave as soon as they can. Out on the sidewalk, Flash asks Liz if Pete is home. Getting frosty again, Liz replies, "He wasn't in and I don't know where he is!" adding, "Good-bye, Miss Brant!" "Good-bye, Miss Allan" replies the equally frosty Betty.
Head down, Betty goes her own way. Flash asks Liz if she wants to stick around to "see your bookworm boyfriend eat crow when he finds me waiting for him" but Liz announces that she is going home. One of the Thompson toadies tells Flash that they'd better leave too since "It's getting late." Another (in a yellow jacket) wants to get something to eat. A third (in a brown jacket) thinks Flash can "find Parker any time". A fourth (in a blue jacket) says, "We can't hang around here forever." They all take off, leaving Flash behind. Alone, Flash stubbornly crosses his arms and decides to stay until "that milksop" comes home. Though, he admits, "it would be more fun to prove how yellow he is with the other guys watching".
It's been a page and a half since we checked in on Spidey so back we go to the wall-crawler running along a rooftop ledge. Using his speed, Spidey has managed to get a bigger lead on the robot, which gives him time to take a moment to rest. He hides behind a chimney and wipes his brow. But the robot finds him right away. Jonah has resorted to his Marty Allen impersonation. "Well, hel-lo dere!" he says. "Oh brother!" thinks Spidey, "Now, he's becoming a comedian!" Spidey leaps off the roof to get away. Jonah starts singing, "He floats through the air with the greatest of ease!!" behind him and the web-slinger wonders if he "sounded that corny when the shoe was on the other foot?" (The answer is "yes". In fact, I'm pretty sure Spidey has also sung "The Man on the Flying Trapeze" but I can't quite remember where. Can anyone find that?) (Years and years after this was first written, M.B. Hwang contacted me to let me know that Spidey sang it in the second story in Amazing Spider-Man #8, January 1964. Thanks, M.B.!)
With this, Spider-Man decides to stop running. He knows that he will just continue to tire himself out until he won't have any strength to fight. He stops in the middle of a rooftop and makes his stand. The robot swiftly approaches and Jonah is eating up every satisfying moment. ("If only I could bottle up this glorious moment and take out the cork and re-live it whenever I want to!" he says.) Spidey thinks he is prepared for an attack but the steel coils shoot out of the robot's front faster than he expects. In seconds, the web-slinger is caught. He continues to struggle but it does no good. He is surrounded by metal snakes and he can't snap through a single one. Spidey is stunned by the ease of Jonah's victory. Jameson is so thrilled by it all that he even considers rewarding Peter Parker for talking him into using the robot. (Of course, his idea of a reward is to "allow him to call me Jonah if he wishes!") Spidey would like to reward Peter Parker too... "With a brick!" "How could I have been such a stupid lunkhead?" he thinks.
Jonah keeps crowing. ("When the news of my brilliant triumph is made public, I'll probably be asked to join the Avengers! But, I'll prove my modesty by declining!") Spidey keeps struggling. ("If only I could burn my way out! Rats! You never can find a Human Torch when you need one!") The more the web-slinger struggles, the tighter the tentacles get until has been pulled up right next to the robot's chest. Jonah wants Spidey to "Say it... Let me hear you say you surrender!" The wall-crawler doesn't comply but JJ is too happy to care one way or the other. Still, he can't just leave Spidey hooked up in the coils of the robot. He asks Smythe what they do next. The Prof tells Jonah that they don't dare let the robot bring Spidey back to the Bugle since "the coils may loosen during the trip and he might escape". Instead, he pulls out a "portable finder" (which looks like a walkie-talkie). It will lead them right to the site of the struggle.
But to do that, the two men have to leave the control console, which gives Spidey time to figure out his plight without interference from Jonah Jameson. Now that he is pulled up close, he taps the robot on its chest hoping to detect a power source. Sure enough, there is a chest plate within reach. Spidey presses his fingertips against the plate and uses his wall-crawling suction powers to pull the plate off. Inside are a bunch of bolts and circuits. Fortunately, our hero is a bookworm and science whiz. He sets out doping out the "operation of this panel".
In the meantime, Spencer and Jonah have taken a cab. They sit in the backseat following the impulses of the "finder" and ordering the driver to turn according to the finder's findings. "Turn left, turn right, forward" the driver thinks, "They must be nuts!" By the time he lets his fares off, the driver is certain they are demented because they climb a fire escape to a rooftop (Jonah in the lead with Smythe right behind telling him, "Keep going! The robot isn't more than thirty feet away!") Jonah is in rare form as he makes it to the rooftop. "This is a day the poets will write ballads about" he says, "In fact, the President will no doubt proclaim it as J. Jonah Jameson Day to honor the man who conquered that web-headed menace!" On the roof, Jonah sees the robot backed up against a tall chimney (when it was in the middle of the rooftop before). Spider-Man seems to still be in the coils but he has sagged considerably as if he has no bones. "Look at him struggling like a rat in a trap!" crows Jonah, "It's a sight to treasure for all the golden years to come!" Then he can wait no longer. He rushes over to the web-slinger and rips off his mask... only to find nothing underneath! Coming up behind, a shocked Smythe asks, "Mr. Jameson! What have you done to his head?" An equally shocked Jonah replies, "I didn't do anything! He hasn't got a head!"
The answer to this development is right above at the top of the chimney. Peter Parker, back in his blue suit and yellow vest manipulates thin strands of webbing like a puppeteer. He has figured out the control panel of the robot, escaped the coils, moved the robot over to the chimney so he could manipulate from up above, attached web-strings to his costume, and tugged on them so that the empty costume looks like it is struggling. (Which explains everything except how he got his clothes back. Was he wearing his shirt and vest and pants and jacket underneath his Spidey costume? Or did the chase circle back to the building where he changed his clothes in the first place?) Pete knows he has sacrificed his costume to pull off this prank but he considers it worth it "just to see the dumb look of bewilderment on Jonah's ugly pan".
The two unobservant men below never notice Peter up above. Smythe is merely annoyed by the result of this escapade. He cups his chin in his hand and muses, "I was sure my robot was unbeatable! Oh well, back to the drawing board." Jonah is a little more animated. He throws the web-slinger's mask down on the ground and vents. "He made a fool of me again!" he says, "I never should have listened to that idiot Parker!" Then he lashes out at Smythe, telling him, "get out of here with that crazy robot before I wrap it around your scrawny neck!" Peter is still hanging around up above enjoying every minute of this. He even takes a few snapshots "to chuckle over in my old age!"
Back in Forest Hills, Mary Jane is taking her leave. She walks along the sidewalk, turning back to wave at May so that we can't see her face again. Flash Thompson, still hanging around outside, can see her face, though. "Wow! Who's that chick?" he wonders. A police officer comes up, points at him, and tells him to move along. "We received a call about a suspicious-looking character hanging around" he says and Flash is convinced that Peter must be hiding in the house and called the cops to get rid of him.
It isn't long after, with Flash now gone, that Peter does get home. He apologizes to Aunt May for being late and announces that he's starved. But May isn't ready to serve food yet. She has something hidden behind her back and she wants to have a serious talk with Peter about it. She tells Peter that Mary Jane was over so that they could finally meet. After MJ gave up, May went upstairs to tidy up Peter's room. "I happened to find this behind the bookcase!" she says and reveals what she has been hiding behind her back: a Spider-Man costume. (And what was the old bat doing sneaking around behind his bookcase anyway?) It is, in fact, the spare costume that Pete was working on back at the beginning of the story and sweat pours down his forehead when he sees it in his Aunt's arms. It isn't enough for May to face Peter down with the costume. She is waiting for an explanation.
Pete decides that he must get out of this without lying. (An attitude that he doesn't hold for very long. Over the course of his career, Peter lies so often to May and his friends that it is almost pathological!) He tells May that "it's just a disguise" that he was "going to use it to fool some people" and then he points out that it is brand new and has never been worn. That should be more than enough but he can't seem to bring himself to stop. He ventures far into the "methinks thou dost protest too much" territory by saying, "Gosh, I can't believe you suspect me of being Spider-Man" even though Aunt May has done nothing of the sort. He even rolls up the sleeves of his jacket to show he has no Spidey suit underneath as proof that he isn't Spidey even though Aunt May would have no way of knowing for sure that Spider-Man wears his costume under his street clothes... not to mention the fact that May has the Spidey costume in her arms and has no reason to think that there is a second outfit that Peter might be wearing underneath. So the dramatic rolling of the sleeves proves absolutely nothing except to make our hero look one hundred percent guilty. Fortunately for him, Aunt May has the sense of a stunned guppy and buys everything her nephew is saying. Peter congratulates himself for getting out of this mess without "actually [telling] an untruth", though "I was going to use it to fool some people" qualifies as one, if you ask me.
May tells Peter she doesn't want him "wearing that silly costume to any parties" since it might get him in trouble. (To Aunt May, just taking a breath could get you in trouble.) So, she confiscates the costume but softens the blow by telling Pete "there's a cake for you in the kitchen!"
After May leaves the room, Peter wipes his brow in relief. He vows that his Aunt will never discover his secret since, "At her age, the shock could be fatal!" He puts his hands on his hips and decides that, all in all, "things didn't work out too badly" except that he's now a super-hero without a costume. "Oh well" he thinks, "I'll worry about that when the time comes!" Of course, as Stan puts it, "That time is coming sooner than Peter thinks!" In other words, "Next Issue".
Three pages of ads separate the story from the letters page. First, a page sponsored by Ripley's Believe It or Not! The top half tells you to "Hatch and Grow Live Sea-Monkeys" and includes the "new sea-circus aquarium". Yes, you can have a lunchbox full of plankton with little cardboard cutouts that simulate an audience for only a buck! The bottom half wants you to "Grow 2 Living Monsters in Your Own Room". I have no idea what these things were but a reference to "Two botanical hair-raising monsters!" makes me think they have to be some kind of Chia Pet. "All for $1" plus a twenty-five cent shipping charge. But 100% guaranteed with a "10 day free trial". How can you possibly lose?
The second page between story and letters is a full-page ad for "Another Marvel Masterpiece On Sale Now!" In this case, Fantastic Four #39, June 1965 guest-starring Daredevil and featuring Doctor Doom. Looks good to me.
The third page features Spider-Man plugging the Merry Marvel Marching Society. He holds a facsimile of the MMMS diploma that promises "Starting next ish, we're going to run a special MMMS page in each of our mags!" and "We're going to print the name and address of each and every MMMS member in our mags! Naturally, we can't fit them all in any one issue, or in any dozen issues so we'll print as many as we can on the MMMS page each month, issue after issue, for years if necessary, until every member has been listed!" And, amazingly, this promise was actually carried out! There is also a promise on the coupon that "We'll award a special de luxe no-prize for the best coupon we get!" I don't know if this promise was also carried out.
On to the letters. The page begins with a note from Flo Steinberg. "Dear Everybody" she writes, "Is my face red! As Stan's "gal Friday", it's my job to send these Spider's Web pages to the printer each month. I still don't know how it happened, but I repeated Tip Daniel's letter, together with our answer, in both Spidey #22 and #23! Nobody here realized it until hundreds of you wrote in to mention my super-king-sized bonehead mistake! So, I thought this would be the best way to apologize-and, I'll bet it will be months before the bullpen gang calls me Fabulous Flo again!-sob!" Stan tells Flo "no more no-prizes for you". I say, "Those were the days! Can you imagine anyone at Marvel nowadays publicly apologizing for anything, much less an insignificant little error like this? We still love ya, Flo!"
Meanwhile, Roy Rantilla of Warren, Ohio writes, "Many of us Marvel Madmen here in Warren have been arguing about the appearance of Steve Ditko's... uh... face. We have come to no definite conclusion as to what he may look like except that the majority of us believe that he looks exactly like J. Jonah Jameson. We'd appreciate your publishing a photo of Steve in a future issue of Spider-Man or Strange Tales." Stan answers, "Only if we can use someone else's camera! He's already broken all of our lenses every time he poses for us!" In other words, Roy, no dice! It's been almost forty years since this letter and I don't think I've ever seen a photo of Ditko more recent than the 1950s.
Finally, Tim Wise of Riviera Beach, Maryland writes, "Even though I know I will probably be criticized for my opinions, I also realize that the cover of a comic book is an important introduction to its contents. If the cover is a complete flop, then this is a sign that a poor comic story will follow. I was glad to see that you only had twenty extra words on the cover of #21. You've certainly reduced since issue #20-24 words-and a lot since issue #14-78 words. I didn't think that the 20 words on issue #21 had as much impact as the 21 words on issue #10. Certain words like "merciless" and "hates" are more compelling than "super-spectacular" and "says". The artwork was wonderful except for the right bulging kneecap on Spidey's leg. The outlines of Webhead's muscles were superb. Something that you have never done before on any of your covers was added. These were the tiny strands around the main rope of web on which Spidey was clinging. The dull background is something that I have always disliked, and the one on #21 was terrible compared to #18 where the different shades moved from gray (bottom) to dark blue (top). Now I'll sign off having the relief of knowing that you know that I know that Spidey's a great guy and has the best magazine in the world!" To which I can only add, "Nuff Said, Tim!"
Professor Smythe returns in ASM #28, September 1965 but not as the villain. At this point in his career, Smythe is simply an inventor who has gone back to the drawing board. Peter visits his lab in an attempt to get his Spidey costume back (which he left in the clutches of the robot in this issue). During his stay, Pete gets entangled in the now-dormant robot's coils again. He is also there to witness a fight between Smythe and his assistant Mark Raxton, which results in Raxton becoming the Molten Man. I also must confess that Smythe is not given the first name of Spencer until ASM #28, even though I've jumped the gun and used it in the Lookback for this issue.
I've also jumped the gun on referring to the robot as a Spider-Slayer. Smythe doesn't use that name for his invention until he presents a new and improved model to Jonah Jameson in ASM #58, March 1968. The new Slayer was certainly more buff with greater strength and nifty new items like a "destructo-beam" but I think Spencer made a big mistake dispensing with the metal tentacles. Spidey never did figure out a way to break free of those things.
Peter does get his original costume back from Smythe in ASM #28, by the way.
MJ, as we all know, finally shows her face in ASM #42, November 1966 as rendered by John Romita, Sr.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"Captured by J. Jonah Jameson" - JJJ tracks down Spidey using a specially designed robot.
The first spider-slayer story is undeniably the best. Spencer Smythe is just a slightly eccentric inventor rather than the crazed super-villain he eventually becomes. He's a much more interesting character this way and it is a shame that he wasn't left to tinker in his inventor's lab over the years rather than getting the same old same old mad scientist megalomaniac treatment and ending up being killed off because there was nowhere else for his character to go. The irony of Peter talking Jonah into using the robot is delicious. The introduction of Mary Jane shakes up the status-quo catfight between Betty and Liz. And J. Jonah Jameson really does capture Spider-Man! For a short time, at any rate. Sturdy Steve's first credited plotline is as good as it gets.
Next: It's the Goblin! It's the Crime-Master! It's ASM #26!