You know, up to this point, there have been 10 issues of ASM that didn’t feature the opponent on the cover and six of those issues feature the Kingpin. (The other four are ASM #1 and the whole Master Planner trilogy, ASM #31 to ASM #33.) This time, instead of our villain, we have Spider-Man facing off against the police because he is “Spider-Man – Wanted.” And speaking of all that, I got this letter from dangermash:
I'm glad someone else has spotted the pattern to these Kingpin trilogies where he doesn't appear on the first cover but makes the second cover his own. No doubt you're going to point out next time how the third cover always seems to feature some sort of "how will he get out of this" dilemma akin to a William Dozier Batman cliffhanger.
Anyway, I'm writing in the hope of winning a no-prize. You suggest that the Kingpin cover in the second part of these three trilogies is always the best if the three covers. But isn't the iconic cover to the first issue of the first trilogy often rated as the greatest ASM cover of all time? And in most people's top ten?
Anyway, keep up the good work big man.”
Thank you, dangermash. Great letter and a good point about the cover to ASM #50. July 1967. I don’t know if I have the authority to give out a no-prize but, if I do, you got it!
Okay, now, where were we? The Kingpin took advantage of a student protest at Empire State University to steal the petrified clay tablet on display there. A number of students including Randy Robertson and Josh Kittling were arrested in the aftermath. (ASM #68, January 1969) Spidey tracked the Kingpin back to his headquarters and defeated him, recovering the tablet. The police showed up and arrested the Kingpin. They demanded the tablet but the Kingpin told them that his “web-swinging ally has taken it safely away from here.” Convinced by that simple statement of Spider-Man’s guilt, the police shot at the web-slinger as he tried to turn the tablet over to them, leaving him with the tablet and a huge chip on his shoulder. “If they call me a menace and treat me like a menace, I might as well be a menace!” (ASM #69, February 1969) Which explains why the cover of this issue shows Spidey perched on a wall in a spotlight while three cops wielding three guns approach him. It’s not the best ASM cover ever but it does literally put the spotlight on Spider-Man who is not only looking at the police but looking at us. Under the light, the bricks of the wall shine like gold and Spidey’s red and blue outfit stands out from the cops who are gray in the darkness. I like the shadow cast by Spidey behind him and I like the two-word blurb: “Spider-Man Wanted!” It is reminiscent of another recent cover with a two-word blurb; ASM #65, October 1968; “Escape Impossible!” There, Spidey is seen running on a wall, seemingly trying to escape the convicts behind him. Here, he is pinned to the wall, with, seemingly, no way to escape the police in front of him.
The splash page is more striking than the cover. Most of it is filled with the front page of the Daily Bugle, which has the headline “Spider-Man Wanted!” that also serves as the title of this issue. The sub-headline gives us all the summary we need, at least from J. Jonah Jameson’s point of view. (“Makes off with priceless clay tablet as police apprehend his partner, the Kingpin.”) There is a nice photo of Spidey rushing off with the tablet which I’m sure was not taken by Peter Parker. (Who did take it?) A jail guard is reading the paper. We will see him on the next page. We only see his arm and hand here. To the right of the paper, the Kingpin takes up the rest of the page. He is behind bars and he is raging, “I’ve got to get out of here! I’ve got to catch the web-slinger! The tablet is mine! No one else can have it! No matter where he holes up…I’ll find him…and destroy him!” But the Kingpin has forgotten that he “convinced everyone that the wall-crawler helped [him] steal the tablet” until reminded by the guard, who comments, “Spider-Man’s your partner, isn’t he? So why the gripe?”
On page two, the “camera” moves into the cell with the Kingpin so we can now see the guard. In the next panel, it moves into a cell directly opposite the Kingpin. The guard has disappeared. Instead, we look from behind the two men in that cell. They are both members of the Kingpin’s gang, or, at least, former members. One of them is the guy he tossed out “just cause I mentioned yer wife!” This happened last issue and Stan is bringing it up again because the fact that the Kingpin has a wife is going to become very important, although we may not realize that until ASM #83, April 1970.
Determined to escape, the Kingpin starts working on the bars of his cell. “I’ll act as though I’m gripping them in frustrated rage!” he thinks, “And all the while, I’ll be slowly twisting…and turning them!” Although, he does really seem to be gripped with frustrated rage. Just look at his face on page two panel 5!
Elsewhere, Spidey is stuck with the tablet, webbing around the city, not knowing what to do. Whereas a spotlight illuminates him on the cover, a full moon creates a halo around his head on page three panel 1. “That fat foul-up convinced the police that I’m in league with him and, since they know my power, they have orders to shoot me on sight!” he says. (Do they? If so, how does Spidey know this? Just because the cops he encountered at the end of ASM #69 shot at him doesn’t mean they have orders to do that.) This gets him thinking, as he essentially did at the end of last issue, “If anyone had an excuse to really turn bad, Spidey’s the guy!” But then he rethinks it, wondering if he’s “just trying to justify my crime.” (What is his crime, exactly? Hanging onto the tablet?) He gets so caught up in his soul-searching that he nearly slips off a roof edge. Angry, he obliterates a small chimney pipe on the roof (now, that is probably a crime) then gets a hold of himself, “If I keep up this nutty soul-searching, I”ll be a candidate for the Funny Farm!” He decides that the first thing he must do is figure out what to do with the tablet.
He starts to lower himself to the street but his spider-sense warns him that someone is shooting at him. It’s a police officer who is “shooting wide - - just trying to get me down.” Spidey swings down and knocks the gun out of the cop’s hand, then returns to the rooftops. The cop shakes a fist at him and tells him, “You can’t escape us forever!”
Figuring he’s been a “prize chump,” Spidey realizes that “nobody’s ever gonna bother to look in the private closet of Peter Parker, boy sophomore” for the tablet. (So, Peter is now a sophomore. Was there a defined moment when that happened?) He returns to the apartment he shares with Harry and puts the tablet in his closet. “It’s lucky for me that he’s dating MJ tonight!” he says. (We got an MJ mention! We haven’t seen her since Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2, November 1968 and won’t see her again until ASM #82, March 1970 when she returns from Florida. In other words, she’s AWOL for all of 1969, but at least we learn that she’s not in Florida yet.) Peter goes to bed worrying about someone finding the tablet in his closet, worrying that someone will figure out he’s Spidey, worrying that he may have to face the Kingpin again and might lose to him this time. (Well, I suppose if someone found the tablet in his closet, they would probably figure out that he’s Spider-Man but I wouldn’t worry about that one. The third one, though. Even though Kingy is currently in jail, it turns out Spidey is right to worry about that…except for the part where he loses to him because…SPOILERS!... he doesn’t.)
As he lies in bed, visions of Aunt May, JJJ, Gwen, George Stacy, Joe Robertson, Randy Robertson, Josh, and the Kingpin swirl through his mind; all of them inducing anxiety. “As the first faint flickering fingers of dawn begin to steal across the awakening city,” Peter gives up trying to sleep and wonders, “With all my strength, with all my powers, why can’t I ever make things right?” And so, sluggish and sleepy, Peter heads to class. At ESU, he runs into Gwen who is wearing some sort of fringy buckskin mini-skirt. She takes one look at the exhausted Peter and asks him, “Did you take zombie pills this A.M.?” She follows that up with, “According to the other kids, you should be exhausted from chickening out whenever it’s time to take a stand for something. Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t right!” (Gwen is referring to the moment last issue when one of the student protesters said to her, “Where’s your chicken boyfriend, lady? He hasn’t the guts to take a stand with us!” Gwen slapped that guy in the face but then wondered if he wasn’t right.) Peter doesn’t know what to say. He can’t tell her he’s Spider-Man (or so he thinks…maybe he could have). So, he turns away, thinking, “I was a fool to think that anyone could love me enough to trust me blindly!” It’s a good question whether anyone should love anyone else enough to trust them blindly but Gwen isn’t ready to give Peter up. She points a finger at him and says, “There must be a reason for that disappearing act of yours and I’ll wait till you level with me! Like I should have my head examined but maybe I’m just too dumb to write you off!” Peter realizes that this means “She does love me! She does trust me!” but then is surprised to see Gwen turn away and start to cry. “What brought that on?” he asks. “Skip it, Mr. Parker! It’s just no fun losing your stupid heart to someone who’s always making like a coward,” she says. “You think I’m a coward??!” asks Peter with two question marks and an exclamation point. “Don’t make me answer that, Peter!” she replies. Now, there is a challenge to a writer in any ongoing fictional series where he/she has established that two characters love each other to keep that relationship fresh and exciting. This is a challenge at which Gerry Conway failed in this same Peter-Gwen relationship by killing Gwen off in ASM #121, June 1973. Gerry has always blamed Gwen’s bland personality for that decision but it’s up to the writer to build up that personality, to inject that relationship with interest. Gerry gave up on this and, consequently, failed utterly. Stan, on the other hand, does a nice job of keeping the Peter-Gwen relationship loving even as he keeps it on edge. Since Peter and Gwen became a couple, Spidey has had amnesia causing Peter to disappear and Gwen has seen Peter attack her father (or so she thinks), seemingly ending their relationship. Now Stan injects this “cowardice” concern even as he reaffirms the love they have for each other. A nice wrinkle, Stan! But one we have to go away from for the rest of this issue as we dissolve to JJJ and Robbie Robertson.
They are at police headquarters where Robbie is waiting for news on Randy and the protesters. Jonah barks at him, “That blasted wall-crawler is still at large with half the police force out to get him! That’s where the news is, Robbie! Anyone can cover this kid stuff!” but Robbie replies, “So long as my son is involved, nobody covers this story but me! If you want Spider-Man…go find him yourself!” This reply to Jameson not only puts us firmly in Robbie’s corner but foreshadows the end of the issue where Jonah does find Spider-Man himself…much to both of their regrets.
In a conference room, Randy, Josh, two other protesters, Captain Stacy and one other detective meet with ESU’s Dean Corliss, who tells them that he always wanted “to convert the Exhibition Hall into a low-rent dorm for needy students” but had to “convince the trustees.” He tells them, “I thought students should be seen and not heard! I realize now how mistaken I was!” Then, he drops the charges against the students (although I thought they were also being held for possibly colluding with the Kingpin) and everyone is free to go. Randy says, “Sometimes it isn’t easy to tell who your real friends are!” and Josh says, “Maybe there’s a lotta thinks I gotta think about some more!” And, with that, Stan pulls off his balancing act of introducing student protests to Amazing Spider-Man without placing the blame on anyone…except possibly on the Dean for being like all the adults who won’t listen to their kids. (The Dean, by the way, having done his resolution duty has never been seen again.)
Back at the jail, the Kingpin has loosened the cell bars enough to break free. His two men complain. One calls out, “You can’t go without us!” but since Kingy already kicked that guy out of his gang, I don’t know what he’s complaining about. With three THOOMs and one THUMP, the Kingpin lumbers toward the exit. Two guards hear him coming (“Sounds like a runaway hippo thundering down the corridor!”) and approach but the Kingpin shoves them aside and gets away. (Are those the only guards in the whole building?) Meanwhile, Peter is back in his Spidey duds, still looking out for number one. He has retrieved the tablet and heads for “the biggest authority on hieroglyphics in town” because he thinks, “There’s a fortune waiting for the man who deciphers it and it might as well be me!” (Well, technically, Spidey, it would be the guy who actually deciphers it but I get what you’re saying.) He just reaches the guy’s studio when a police spotlight pins him to the wall. (Ah, it’s our cover scene!) The police have actually figured that Spidey would show up here (did they stake out the second biggest authority on hieroglyphics in town, just in case?) and they surround the building. “If Spider-Man’s here, the Kingpin may be holed up inside,” says one cop, allowing Spidey to learn that the Kingpin has escaped. Spidey uses his webbing to smash the spotlight and he swings away. (So much for the danger in that cover situation.) Now, Spidey figures his best bet is to find and recapture the Kingpin. “I’ve got to tackle every cheap hood I find down below! It won’t take long for the Kingpin to hear that I’m on a one-man web-swinging binge!”
And that’s just what he does, making sure each group of hoods sees that he has the tablet in a web pouch on his back. Finally, the web-slinger comes upon what seems to be a truck hijacking. Two men hold guns on a guard and a driver, apparently forcing them to transfer their cargo. But it’s a phony, as Stan tips us off right away, with the “guard” whispering, “It’s Spider-Man, just like we planned it.” The “driver” says, “Clam up, you fool! He’ll hear you!” But he doesn’t. Instead, he swings down and knocks out the two gunmen. (You’ve got to admire the gunmen’s dedication. They know it’s a set-up and they know Spidey will clobber them. That’s called “taking one for the team.”) Spidey clings to the side of the truck and tells the “driver,” “These sleeping beauties have suddenly lost interest in grabbing other people’s dinky toys!” (Dinky toys? Was that a thing? Does he mean, “tinker toys?” No, wait! It was a thing.)
As the truck speeds off, the Kingpin emerges from a nearby car. But he doesn’t just emerge, he kicks the right-side backdoor open, wrecking one of his own cars just for a cool effect, I guess. (It is his car, isn’t it?) He demands the tablet. Spidey refuses. And the battle begins. The Kingpin’s punch is strong enough to shatter the sidewalk with a FTAM! and crunch a car with a SPANG! but Spidey dodges both of those blows. They both get personal, with Spidey calling Kingy “Fatso” and Kingy calling Spidey “You pathetic pile of skin and bones.” Then Spidey uses his momentum from a web-swing to kick the Kingpin in the head with a ZOK! The Kingpin topples, hitting the pavement with a THOOOOM! and shattering more sidewalk. Spidey thinks it’s over and is surprised to see that the Kingpin is actually getting up.
But then a car drives up right between them. It is J. Jonah Jameson and Ned Leeds in the Daily Bugle’s Radio Patrol Car. What is a radio car? Well, Merriam-Webster says it’s “an automobile equipped with radio communication,” such as being able to contact the police. This is what JJJ tells Ned to do right now. “Use your radio, Leeds! Call the police…Fast!” (So, how did JJJ track Spidey down? I don’t know but Robbie did say to him, “If you want Spider-Man, go find him yourself!” So, I guess he did.)
The Kingpin starts to get up. He still wants the tablet but he is weakened from the fight. Then, another car races up. This one stops between the Kingpin and the sidewalk. (There didn’t look like there was room for the car in the previous panel but let’s not get too nit-picky.) The person inside says, “Into the car, quickly…while there still is time!” And although that person looks to us like nothing more than a blob, Spidey can see well enough to think, “that looks like a woman at the wheel.” (And he’s right but we don’t find that out until ASM #83, April 1970. This is the first appearance of Vanessa, the Kingpin’s wife and, yeah, it’s not much of a first appearance.) “Even if I leave now, without the tablet…Spider-Man loses,” says the Kingpin, “He’s still a fugitive and not even the tablet can help him!” So, the Kingpin opens the back door of the car and gives us another hint of the driver’s identity when he says, “You arrived just in time, my dear!” Ned Leeds, watching this, thinks, “If only one of our photographers was here!” A nice bit by Stan because, of course, one of the photographers is there.
Spidey tries to follow the fleeing car but JJJ orders Ned to block Spidey with their car. When the wall-crawler complains that they helped the Kingpin get away, JJJ gets out of the car and accuses Spidey of planning the whole thing with the Kingpin. Jonah, then, hides behind Ned, who has also gotten out of the car, as he tells Spidey, “I’ll keep the public clamoring for your hide!! I’ll attack the police in every editorial until they’ve caught you!” But he stops and asks Ned to protect him because it looks like Spidey is about to attack.
JJJ is right. Spidey has reached his “breaking point.” He shoves Ned aside and grabs Jonah, whom he calls “the human hate machine.” Lifting JJJ up by his coat lapels, he looks him in the eye and tells him, “You’ve been on my back ever since I can remember and for no reason at all! So maybe it’s time I give you a reason!” This is too much for Jameson. He passes out, scaring Spidey, who lets him down. As the police arrive, Spidey flees. Ned holds Jonah in his arms and tells Spidey, “I don’t feel a pulse.” Spidey decides that “he must have had a heart attack” and realizes that “if he dies, they’ll call me a murderer!” He swings away not knowing where to turn next, wondering if “by losing my temper, by losing control, I’ve proven myself as dangerous as he always said I was!”
The “Next Issue” blurb here says, “The most shockingly unexpected super-foe of them all!” and I have to wonder if this is a remnant of an original plan to have the Shocker story come next. You know, “shockingly unexpected” sure seems to refer to the Shocker, right? (Like the cover blurb on ASM #151, December 1975, which says, “Can You Guess the Shocking Secret Identity of Spidey’s Super-Foe?) And Shocky does appear in ASM #72, May 1969, the issue following the next one. On the other hand, the actual ASM #71 opponent is certainly unexpected, if not “shockingly” so. At least, until we get to the blurb on the Spider’s Web page that tells us that “Next” is “The Coming of Quicksilver!”
The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page gives us “Brilliant Bits of Block-Busting Bombast Straight From Your Blushin’ Bullpen!” but there’s not that much of interest this time. I already covered the blurb about Roy writing the wedding of Yellowjacket and the Wasp on his own honeymoon in my review for Avengers #60, January 1969. There is a promo for Barry Smith, soon to become a super-star with his work on Conan the Barbarian and later to be known as Barry Windsor-Smith, with Stan saying, “This young, long-haired titanically talented Britisher has a style which combines the pulse-pounding power of Jack (King) Kirby with the offbeat improvisations of Jaunty Jim Steranko!” Not a bad description of Barry’s artwork of the time. He develops and flourishes in the next few years, creating a style of his own. By the way, if you’re wondering from where the Spidey-Kingpin illustration in the lower right-hand corner comes, it’s page 15 panel 3 of ASM #69.
The Spider’s Web has responses to the letters again! But are any of them worth quoting? Let’s see!
Scott Hamilton of San Angelo, Texas (not the Olympic figure skater) gets a little carried away with his spider-strength experiments: “A few days back, I shot a spider on the wall with a nozzle (on full power) connected to our hose. Though I was less than 1 foot away, the blast just knocked the spider down. He promptly got up and began scaling the wall again. Today, setting up a can of ‘7Up,’ I shot at it from 4 feet (I tried 5, but the spider didn’t fall) and the spider fell. The can was from 12 to 20 times heavier than the spider, so multiplying the 4 feet by the 16 (about halfway between 12 and 20) I have come to the conclusion that he [Spidey] is as strong as 64 men.” That’s great, Scott, and I’m sure you’ll be hearing from PETA shortly.
Cole Kitchen of Potomac, Maryland thinks, “Aunt May should be allowed to die, and then Pete should enlist and be sent to Vietnam.” Stan dodges the question by putting it up to “Marveldom Assembled.” (I suspect “Marveldom Assembled” said “no.”) Jan Wayenberg of Yakima, Washington admits “that I am in love with Peter Parker, and if I wasn’t already engaged, I would lock Gwen in a closet and take her place. One long-haired blonde looks pretty much like another.” If that’s the case, Jan, I hope you were never visited by the Green Goblin.
Ben Brosgol of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania also has it in for Aunt May. He passes along this plot idea: “Just as the dear lady is about to shuffle off this mortal coil, enter Doc Ock. He seems to be all heart when he proffers one of his three coeurs (octopi, I do believe, do have three) as a transplant, but fiend that he is, he has had installed in this heart a psycho-cybernetic servo unit which affects the nervous system of the transplantee and makes her an extension of the villainous Ock’s ego - - in addition to giving her the usual battery of super-powers. Of course, her first mission is to vanquish the woe-beset Spidey. I’ll leave the rest to you guys, except that a good ending would be for Aunt May to finally kick, leaving Spidey with a fresh motive to continue his career as a crime-combater. Either that, or else have Aunt May take her place as a permanent baddie like Dr. Doom or the Red Skull - - you might even have her zap Ock and hoist him with his own petard.” Ben offers this idea to Stan “for the price of two no-prizes,” but Stan doesn’t bite. He does respond, however, with “who are we to argue with a guy who wants to make Aunt May into a super-villain? Frankly, we think that’s the most preposterous idea we’ve heard yet! But now, if you wanted us to turn her into a super-villainess…!”
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this issue:
“Spider-Man Wanted” – As Spider-Man is hunted by police and JJJ the Kingpin escapes. Confrontation between Spidey & JJJ that gives Jameson heart attack.
Yeah, that one’s pretty good. That pretty much says it all. Except it turns out it isn't a heart attack.
I’m not sure why this one doesn’t do more for me. It’s got a nice middle-of-the-road resolution to the student protest storyline. It’s got Spidey stuck with a strange tablet that he doesn’t know what to do with. It’s got the web-slinger knocking hoodlums around. It’s got a nice battle between our hero and the Kingpin. It’s got the Kingpin looking cool kicking a car door open. And it’s got a great cliffhanger. Did Spidey just kill J. Jonah Jameson? Will he be wanted for murder? Nowadays, we know that JJJ is immortal but we didn’t know that in 1969. Remember Frederick Foswell? Just imagine where Stan would have taken this series if he’d had JJJ die? Have you imagined it? That’s what readers of this issue at the time likely imagined.
So why don’t I rate this story higher? Maybe the student protest resolution was too convenient. Maybe there’s a letdown with how little the police actually harass Spidey after that big “Spider-Man Wanted” build-up on the cover. Maybe I’m just tired of seeing the Kingpin get away.
Whatever it is, I’m giving this one three webs.
In our “sprint” to #100, there are fewer non-ASM issues year by year in the last 30 issues than there were in the first 70 issues. But there will always be reprints. Marvel Tales #19 is next.
Postscript (January 31, 2021): I just finished reading ASM #58 (Legacy #859), March 2021. It's nice to know that the Kingpin is again after the tablet, 52 years later.