Spidey has been through a lot lately. He was living the good life after throwing his costume away (in ASM #50, July 1967) but he let his sense of responsibility get the better of him and retrieved it. What has he gotten out of it? The Kingpin put him in a death trap with JJJ and then Fred Foswell died (ASM #52, September 1967). He lost his memory and thought he was Dr. Octopus’ partner (ASM #56 January 1968). Ka-Zar and Zabu nearly killed him (ASM #57, February 1968). As Peter, he defended himself against a brainwashed Captain Stacy, making Gwen think that he attacked her father (ASM #60, May 1968). But now he’s in his toughest scrape yet; unconscious amidst a crowd that is determined to unmask him. Good thing Captain Stacy is around, un-brainwashed this time.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
What I love about the cover is the shadows. The light source is behind (it’s that big yellow patch on the left side) so all the shadows are thrown forward. The bars of the cell door are cast onto the floor. There is a slanted shadow, apparently caused by the bricks above that blends into that dark bricked area so that it forms a dark backdrop for the logo. Spidey is running on the wall, his warped shadow in front of him, being cut off by the end of the page. Although masked, he has a frantic look about him, with his left hand extended toward us (and into the logo) in a 3D effect. It looks like he’d run right off the cover if he could. The only blurb on the page is just below him, as if commenting on his attempt to flee. It says, “Escape Impossible!” There are six angry convicts behind him, about to walk past the open barred door. They do not cast any shadows at all, perhaps because they are more a representation of menace here than real men. Once they become real in the story itself, they start casting shadows.
On the splash page, the crowd closes in on the unconscious Spidey but, as you’ll recall, Captain George Stacy and Gwen are there, as well. Gwen is dead center amongst the crowd with George to her right. He holds his arms out and tells the crowd to “Stay back!” There is another police officer on the right side of the panel, also holding off the crowd, calling out to “Break it up, all of you!” Spidey fills the entire bottom fourth of the splash, looking larger than all the people surrounding him, increasing his vulnerability.
Another cop arrives and wonders where the ambulance is. “We’ve gotta get him to safety before the crowd gets hold of him,” he says. The first cop, whose name is “Tom,” asks Stacy if they should take his mask off. The Captain tells him he wouldn’t do it "not without expert legal advice". (I love the way Captain Stacy takes charge in these situations even though he’s retired.) As the police hold off the crowd, Gwen heads for the Daily Bugle, which, you’ll recall, was the site of the battle between Spidey and the Vulture. Gwen knows that Peter was up on the Bugle roof taking photos and she is worried about him. As she heads into the building, she passes JJJ heading out. (Last time we saw JJJ, in ASM #64, Spidey had covered him in webbing. Surely that webbing couldn't have evaporated already?) Jonah tells George that he wants to be present when Spidey is unmasked. When the Captain tells him the unmasking will not take place, Jameson replies, "What are you, Stacy, some kinda nut?"
The ambulance arrives and the paramedics load Spidey in. (Though, they don't bother with a stretcher and just dump him in like a sack of potatoes.) Jameson confronts George about the unmasking and George replies, "even a helpless masked man has his rights." "I knew it!" replies Jonah, "You're a religious fanatic!"
Meanwhile, Gwen has made it to the Bugle roof and learned that there's nothing there but rubble. She returns to her father, concerned because Peter can't be found. George tells her not to worry. Peter is probably developing film somewhere. (Of course, we all know that, as Captain Stacy is dying, in ASM #90, November 1970, he reveals to Spidey that he knows his secret identity. He may already know at the time of this story.) George adds that everything will be all right and tells Gwen, "If you hear anything, I'll be at the infirmary with Spider-Man. Call me there!” (Yeah, I just happen to have that infirmary number right here.)
Back in the Bugle offices, JJJ is exultant about Spidey's capture. "We've got a special edition to get out," he tells Joe Robertson, who is being examined by a physician after his trauma on the roof. But "wasn't the web-slinger fighting to protect the city from the Vulture?" Robbie asks. "That's what he wanted us to think!" Jonah replies, "It was just a grudge fight, that's all! Personally I can't stand anyone who carries a grudge!" (Nobody can write classic Jameson lines like Stan did. Or, as Stan calls them, in the following caption, “some Jolly Jamesonian philosophy.”)
The ambulance arrives at the prison infirmary. “Get him inside fast, pal,” says a guard, “Nothing but iron bars will hold that joker when he revives. (Actually, I don’t think iron bars will hold him either.) Spidey, now on a stretcher, is wheeled in and placed under a 24-hour guard. One doctor wants to unmask him but another tells him that "the police commissioner himself has personally ordered hands off" while he consults with "the city's legal eagles" to see if an unmasking will violate Spidey's civil rights. Outside the room, George confers with attorney Foggy Nelson about the ruling. (Foggy says, “Spider-Man’s capture has aroused nationwide interest.”) And inside, Spidey finally returns to consciousness. In an instant, he realizes where he is and that he hasn't been unmasked. He decides to lie still, feign continued unconsciousness, and hope to regain his strength. (I love the way they tucked him in so nicely.)
Hours later, Captain Stacy uses the prison pay phone to talk to Gwen. (The prison actually has a pay phone right next to some cells but far away from administration. What’s up with that?) George tells Gwen that he won't be home for dinner. And, sensitive to his daughter’s feelings, he says, “No word about Parker yet, dear? Well, it may be nothing more momentous than a date with another girl.” Gwen tells him that she’s “baking the most delicious, delightful, dazzlingly delectable little…” We never find out what it is because the conversation comes to an abrupt end. Six convicts are escaping from the prison through the infirmary and one has grabbed the Captain around the throat, figuring "the only way to break out is with a hostage." Poor Gwen is left to scream into the phone, wondering why her father no longer answers.
The cons bring Stacy up to the barred door. Once they show the guard that they have a hostage, he'll have to let them out. But there is no guard there. In fact, the cons have noticed a lot more activity around the area than they expected. Something must be going on.
And the object of all that activity finally sits up in bed, feeling much better. He hears some commotion over by the exit and notices the convicts holding George Stacy hostage. (And now the Captain's hands are tied behind his back and his mouth is taped closed, though God only knows where the convicts got the rope and the tape.) "Nine times out of ten," Spidey figures he could take care of the cons and easily free Captain Stacy but his head is still a bit groggy and he's not sure if his shoulder will start acting up again. It goes without saying that he must thwart the jailbreak but he decides to try an indirect method. "My best bet," he thinks, "is to bluff it out, make them think I wanna throw in with them."
Stepping from out of the shadows, Spidey reveals himself to the cons and tells them he wants to join the jailbreak. One of them is excited by the prospect ("If he means it, we can use a guy like him!") but the nasty-looking one with the dark eyebrows and five o'clock shadow (who appears to be the leader) doesn't like it. "He never helped any of us on the outside," he says, "Why should he wanna help us now?" To make matters worse, the sole black convict of the group reveals that it was Spidey who put him in prison to begin with. ("He must be one of the dozens of petty hoods I've put on ice in the past few years," thinks the webhead.) He'd rather polish the web-slinger off... right now! One con takes a poke at Spidey "while he's still weak" and the fact that the wall-crawler "just stood there and took it" encourages another one to join in. (Though how they know that Spidey is weak is beyond me.)
Spidey decides to nip this rebellion in the bud. He tells the cons that the only reason he took the punch was that he "couldn't believe any con would be dumb enough to take a poke" at him. He easily lifts one of the men and throws him at two others. And he is happy to discover that his shoulder doesn't hurt anymore. Yet another five o'clock-shadowed con tries to brain Spidey from behind with George Stacy's cane but Spidey pops him one in the gut, then lifts him up by his shirt collar. The man warns Spidey to let him go, unless he wants the other cons to knock off Captain Stacy. (And, let's face it…all the crooks look pretty much the same, except for the African-American one. It's all pretty much the same guy times five.)
Spidey knows he is sure to lose if he acknowledges that Stacy's life means anything to him, so he decides to bluff again. With a cry of "Do what you want with him, it's no skin off my nose!" he slaps the man he is holding. The leader is surprised by this... and taken in by the ruse. "He means it!" he exclaims, and all the others fall into line. They decide that Spidey is "trying to break out, just like us" and they decide to leave the escape plan up to the web-slinger. "This is it," Spidey tells himself, "I've got to think fast!" And he proceeds to tell the convicts what they are going to do.
Meanwhile, Harry Osborn has been searching for his father. Norman has gone missing after showing signs of a nervous breakdown. (Harry last saw his dad in ASM #63, August 1968.) Harry checks his father's Club but is told that Norman hasn't been there for days. But Jolly Jonah Jameson is there and, spotting Harry, opens the conversation by asking, "Say, boy, where's that no-good roommate of yours?" Harry tells JJJ that he's too worried about his father to keep track of Peter. They have a few choice words and Harry leaves the Club, with Jonah standing in the doorway telling him, "Kids! You're all alike! No respect for anyone! Now, when I was a boy..." "Nuts!" Harry thinks, "He was born fifty years old!"
Right outside the club, Harry runs into Mary Jane. Harry looks so low that, according to MJ, he looks like he lost his "last thrillin' Dylan disc!" (That's Bob, not Jakob, by the way.) Harry is too concerned with his father's disappearance, with the way the mention of the Green Goblin and Spider-Man seemed to make him worse, to even bolster much of an answer. He walks away with MJ sarcastically saying, "How did Rowan and Martin ever make it without you?" (Do I have to explain all of these '60s references?) and (my favorite line), "Say hello to the other swingers at the funeral home!"
Back at the prison, the cops have caught on that "there's a break at the Infirmary." They all grab riot guns but are told to hold their fire since Captain Stacy is a hostage. In the infirmary, Spidey tells the cons that he can free them by breaking the bars bare-handed. He leads the way, climbing on the wall, as the cons follow below, and he hopes that they will relax their grip on Stacy so he can "tear into them." They never do. Finally, Spidey arrives at a Window with bars that he bends enough to allow himself to escape but the cons complain that it will do them no good. It is too high off the ground for them to reach it. Spidey tells them that he will use it to find "an escape route in the yard outside." Meanwhile, he tells them, they must get through the guards by "holding Stacy in front of you."
As he exits through the window, Spidey puts together his plan. He knows he must free Captain Stacy and he decides that the only way to do that is to pick the convicts off one by one. The way to do that is to plunge the whole complex into darkness. So, "while the cons waste time getting thru the locked infirmary gate," Spidey goes in search of the master fuse box.
There are now three armed guards at the infirmary gate. (Is this the same gate where there weren’t any guards before? Did the cons retrace their steps?) The convicts threaten to kill Stacy if they are not released. They further taunt the guards by telling them that Spidey has thrown in with them. A disillusioned Captain Stacy can't believe the web-slinger has really done it.
Outside, Spidey discovers the fuse box. It is inside the Warden's office. Only trouble is, the Warden and a guard are in there as well. The Warden is on the phone ordering "no shooting while Stacy's with them" which reassures Spidey that his plan can work. He bends the window bars and sneaks into the room, then webs up the Warden and his assistant. "You'd never believe me if I told you I'm on your side," he tells them, "so I won't even try!" Then, he turns toward the fuse box. But first he spots a telephone.
Realizing that he hasn't called Aunt May in days, he decides to take advantage of the moment. The webbed-up men are apparently out of sight and hearing range (though it sure doesn’t seem like it) because Pete removes his mask to reveal a face still bruised and sore from his fight with the Vulture and makes his call. But, when Aunt May answers, she wants to know where Peter is. When he says he can't tell her, she gets more worried than ever. "I was a fool," thinks Pete after ending the call and re-donning his mask. He's only made his Aunt more concerned. "And with her weak heart, she mustn't worry!" (Hey, don't worry, Pete! Turns out your frail old Aunt is immortal! In fact, at this point, she’s younger than me!)
Feeling that he must finish things quickly, Spidey shoots a web at the master fuse box and rips its door from the wall. Apparently, this is enough to disrupt the fuses because, in a flash, all the lights go out. He finds the convicts stumbling around in the dark and tells them that he shut off the lights to make it harder to find them. All the convicts buy into this. Spidey leads the group through an open door, letting all of them pass through except the last two. Spidey conks their heads together, quietly taking them out of action. But the leader wonders what has happened to Mack and Gimpy. (At last, some names! This is Mack’s first and only appearance but Gimpy may have been seen before. The Amazing Spider-Man: Official Index to the Marvel Universe, in an entry that I think I wrote, speculates that Gimpy may be Rock Gimpy from ASM #19, December 1964 but he’s probably not.)
The men continue in the darkness. Spidey crawls along the ceiling and tells them that he has "everything mapped out." But the leader sends two cons to look for Mack and Gimpy and this plays right into Spidey's hands. In an instant, the two men are unconscious and then a third man. There is only one con left, "the toughest one," the one still holding Stacy as a hostage. He notices that all of his buddies are missing. "Duke! Red!" he calls out, giving us two more names but he, though the leader, never gets one. Suddenly, the auxiliary generators kick in and a spotlight comes on, revealing two of the cons webbed up on the ceiling. The leader realizes that he's been double-crossed. Holding Stacy close, he demands to have the gates opened now or else his hostage has had it. Spidey realizes that "it's now or never." He yells at Captain Stacy to move giving him space to shoot webbing at the convict's face. When the con grabs for the webbing, Spidey swoops down and knocks him unconscious with a quick right-hand blow. He then unties Captain Stacy.
The Captain tells Spidey he never really believed in the alliance with the convicts. He promises to testify in the wall-crawler's behalf. Spidey is stunned by this. "You mean," he says, "you expect me to stay here as a prisoner till I come to trial?" Stacy tells him it is his chance to clear his name but Spidey refuses. "They might decide to unmask me," he says. The Captain asks him why he must hide his identity if he's not a criminal but his words come too late. Spidey slips through the bent bars of a window and departs, telling himself that the reason he can't allow himself to be unmasked is the effect on Aunt May.
Moments later, the police storm the room to find all the convicts captured and Captain Stacy unharmed. George tells the cops that he owes his rescue to Spider-Man. When one man protests that, with his escape, Spider-Man is now a fugitive, the Captain replies, "Perhaps... but that doesn't alter the facts. Because of him, the jailbreak was foiled and I stand before you unharmed."
And later still, J. Jonah Jameson arrives at the office of the Deputy Commissioner to complain about Spider-Man's escape. (How does he know about it? And why would he go to the Deputy Commissioner’s office?) When told that the webhead foiled a jailbreak, JJJ complains, "He probably started it, just to take the heat off him." Outside, Spidey eavesdrops on Jameson's rant. "Life would be a bed of roses if you were my only hang-up," he thinks. But he's got other things to worry about it. For instance, he's got to visit Aunt May and just what is he going to say to her? And worse…the “Next” caption gives us one name, “Mysterio.”
The Bullpen Bulletins title is an “I” full. (Sorry. Couldn’t resist.) “Items of Incredible Import to Illuminate Your Interest, Invigorate Your Imagination, and Intoxicate Your Id!” With the explosion of new titles, the Bullpen items are reduced to less than the first column. Not much worth mentioning here but there is a reference to a “great plug we got in a recent ish of TV Guide…It went like this, ‘Marvel has become champ of the comic-book game – 50,000,000 books a year, with a high number of them selling to college kids’.” This may be from TV Guide #782, March 23-29, 1968 but I don’t think so. If anyone knows which issue this is, please let me know.
Another item introduces writer Arnold Drake. Stan says, “Arnie is certain to make his mark in the hallowed halls of Marvel – if we can keep him away from those endless movies he so dearly loves to write!” What movies did Arnold Drake write? According to IMDB, he wrote “50,000 B.C. (Before Clothing),” “The Flesh Eaters,” and “Who Killed Teddy Bear?”
In the Spider’s Web, Richard Swartz of Noblesville, Indiana says, “#62 was a tremendous let-down…The villain served only to set us up for Marvel Super-Heroes starring Medusa…The plot was corny with that stupid hair spray idea. The fight was short and not very sweet.” I hear you, Richard. That’s why I only gave it one and a half webs. On the other hand, Richard Volbrecht, Jr. of Groton, New York loved it. Or maybe he’s just horny. “Wow, far out! I refer, of course, to your latest Marvel masterwork, the Gorgeously Hairy Medusa #62! Having Spidey as a guest star was a great idea; maybe you should give him his own mag, huh? In all seriousness…I deem this the greatest issue of Spider-Man ever; it is the best. Jazzy John…has portrayed what I consider the most beautiful of all Marvel’s femmes fatales. In conclusion, I must say that this was a very hairy story. (Hairy: cool, fab, gear, way out – all these adjectives carried to the mth (M for Marvel) degree.” Meanwhile, Dennis Smith of Campbell, California has “come up with an interesting conclusion about Spider-Man. He is mentally ill.” Stan replies, “Nay, nay – a thousand times we say thee nay!...There are many things that keep Spidey on the crime-fighting circuit, like a recognized sense of guilt for his uncle’s death (you forgot that one!), but he wants to make up for his early disregard of duty, not get punished for it by being a loser!” And finally, Fred Brown of Crescent City, California thinks Spidey should have a kid sidekick named Spider-Boy. “Have Aunt May adopt a poor, lost child and then have Peter take him for a ride on his Honda (or is it a Triumph?) and have a wreck. The blood bank would be desperately low on blood and Peter’s the only one with his blood type. So Peter gives him…a blood transfusion and the boy gains spider powers!” Stan shoots this idea down, too. But he sort of uses it years later in The Savage She-Hulk #1, February 1980.
The “Another Marvel Masterpiece” page has been relegated to the back of the book. This time, the focus is on Avengers King-Size Special #2. You can read a review at Avengers (Vol. 1) Annual #2 (Story 1) and Avengers (Vol. 1) Annual #2 (Story 2).
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this issue:
“The Impossible Escape” – Capt. Stacy saves Spidey’s id, but falls victim to a jailbreak. So Spidey returns a favor.
Does that mean Spidey saves Capt. Stacy’s id? And what about his ego?
Yes, there are some glitches along the way. Why are there no guards with Spider-Man there? Shouldn’t there be more guards? Where do the convicts get the ropes and the gag to bind Captain Stacy? How come the Warden and the guard can’t hear Peter’s phone call to Aunt May? Why do the lights go out just because Spidey pulls the door off the fuse box? Do the convicts return to the same Infirmary exit they were at before or is this a new one? (The whole prison layout is very confusing.) But all of this is just nitpicking. Although we’ve gone from two Vultures to one Vulture to no Vultures in this trilogy, this is a very satisfying conclusion. We started with the threat of the crowd against an unconscious Spidey and the suspense never lets up until Spidey finally knocks out the nameless convict leader. We’ve seen a spectrum of emotions from Gwen’s concern to Jonah’s glee to Aunt May’s worry to Harry’s despair. The Romita-Mooney artwork keeps the action and tension moving. Look at how vulnerable Spidey looks on the splash page. Look at his transition from doubt to resolve on the lower tier of page 7. Look at his power as he bends the window bars in the top tier of page 13. And check out the two-and-a-half blue tinted pages as the lights go out followed by the bottom tier of light on page 18, focusing on the leader holding Stacy close as he is bathed in a spotlight. Great stuff.
With story and art meshing beautifully together, it looks like five webs for each issue of the trilogy.
I’d love to get right to that Mysterio story but you know how it is. So, what’s worse than Not Brand Echh or reprints getting in the way? Not Brand Echh reprints! Not Brand Echh #10 is next.