American Comic Book Chronicles The 1960s (1965-1969) quotes John Romita as he fesses up that he and Stan had no idea what the secret of the tablet was when they started. “We just drifted into using the tablet as a thread to run through a few issues while bringing other villains into each story as it suited our needs,” he said, “This gave us the complete monthly stories we were always striving for, and it saved us from having to wrap it all up because we had no idea how we were going to do it! We never even thought up Silvermane until the seventh issue, let alone a socko ending.” But they knew the secret of the tablet by this time and, by the end of this issue, we’ll know that secret, too.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
Actually, the cover gives us a hint right off the bat. The blurb announces, “Featuring the Fantastic Secret of the Petrified Tablet!” (Not just the secret but the fantastic secret!) and the blue background seems to waft into a ghostly image of Silvermane holding the tablet in his left hand while he drinks a steaming liquid from a beaker in his right hand. In the foreground, Spidey swings on a web while clobbering three Maggia goons. But the Spidey part is just eye candy. We probably look first at the title, then notice the strand of webbing hanging from the upper left corner; crossing the “S” in “Spider-Man.” We follow it down to Spidey and the goons. Then we widen our field of vision to see Silvermane behind and that’s where our focus remains as we now see that, whatever the secret of the tablet is, it has something to do with creating a potion that Silvermane will drink.
Let’s get to the story. We left off last time with Curt Connors having been abducted and taken to Silvermane’s office. There, Man Mountain Marko grabs him by his lab coat lapels and tells him to cooperate. "We also invited yer wife and kid up here to keep ya company," he tells the Doctor. (But, if this is true, they did it well after they took Curtis, since Peter Parker called and talked to Martha Connors last ish.) Curt tells Marko to stop. “You don’t realize what can happen!” (And in case we don’t realize either, John Romita and Jim Mooney have provided a big image of the Lizard’s head floating in the background.) Silvermane tells Marko that Connors is too important to risk injuring him. When Marko tries to talk back, the old mob boss slaps him across the face with the back of his hand. He also tells Marko that “I may be old but I am still leader here!” in case you forgot that Silvermane is old. Marko doesn't care for this. "You had no call to shame me that way in front of everybody," he tells his boss. But Silvermane hardly listens. The exertion has caused his "pain" to return. He obsesses some more about how old he is. (Let’s count the number of times he does this in the issue. Naw, let’s not.) and how thrilled his rival Caesar Cicero would be to see him exhibiting such weakness.
Let’s back up to Marko’s complaint about being shamed “in front of everybody.” So, who is everybody? Well, it’s Curt Connors and Wilson. As Silvermane points out, Cicero is not there. When we left off last issue, though, Curt was brought into Silvermane’s office by a Maggia goon and Cicero was there bragging about getting Curt to New York. Wilson was not in the room. This issue appears to follow directly from the last one. In last issue’s final panels, Curt tells Silvermane “But you can’t keep me here! It…it isn’t safe!” Silvermane replies, “Is that a fact? And just why isn’t it safe, Connors?” Curt replies, “I…can’t answer that!!” This issue begins with Marko grabbing him and saying, “You better do what Silvermane wants, see?” It’s the next moment after last issue, right? Except it can’t be because Wilson is there and Cicero is not. So, it has to be later. Not much later, but definitely later.
In the next panel, Silvermane's pain subsides and he sets the whole operation in motion. He takes Curt and Wilson to a lab, fully stocked with test tubes and beakers and a whole bookcase full of references. They are given the tablet and twenty-four hours to fathom its secret. Man Mountain Marko is itching to get out and “tangle with Spider-Man again” but Silvermane nixes that and stations him as a guard outside the laboratory door.
Left with Connors, Wilson starts to crack. He doesn't believe anyone can translate the tablet. "Some of the greatest hieroglyphics experts in the world have tried it." Curt isn't interested in these gripes. "You're babbling like a hysterical child!" he tells Wilson. Besides, Curt says, there is a greater danger than the Maggia here. Wilson doesn't know what Curt is talking about but he sees the "look of pain" on the Doctor's face. He does not see Connors' hand turn green and scaly, but Curt can feel the change. Under the stress of the situation, he is on the verge of turning into the Lizard. Knowing that this transformation could doom his wife Martha and son Billy, he concentrates on them (and we see them floating in the air above his head) and fights off the change. His hand is back to normal... but for how long? He knows he has “to work as I’ve never worked before!”
Once he is in control again, Curt tells Wilson that he has heard about the tablet and that the secret "has something to do with biology." How he knows this is beyond me but, as a biologist, he believes he can dope it all out. “Then that’s why they captured you,” says Wilson, “because you’re a biologist!” (Figured that out all by yourself, Wilson?) Curt pulls a book off the shelf ("How to Decipher Tablets the Biological Way"?) and gets to work.
Elsewhere in the city, Spidey buys a paper (by snatching it with one web and dropping a dime with another) to see if there's any lead on Man Mountain Marko. He doesn't find that but he does find an article reporting that Wilson has gotten out on bail. This is apparently big news because the Daily Bugle has published a big article with the headline, “Kingpin’s Crime Lieutenant Bailed Out By Maggia Lawyer: Police Ponder Connection.” There are even pictures of Caesar Cicero and “Louis Wilson,” which is, I think the only time we ever get Wilson’s first name. Spidey remembers that Marko mentioned a connection with the Maggia and, since he knows where Cicero’s law office is for some reason, he web-slings over. He peers in the window and catches Cicero just as he is leaving and he thinks, “It figures they’d nickname him Big C. He can’t be more than five feet tall.” (And here I thought he was called “Big C” because he is a cancer.) A casting of the spider-signal on the wall freezes Caesar in his tracks. Spidey enters and asks Cicero about "Man Mountain Marko and a certain stolen tablet". Big C manages to press a hidden button on his desk before Spidey can grab him. (How’d he get back over to that desk? In panel 1, he’s a good five feet away from it and yet he manages to press it in panel #4. Well, there’s certainly nothing in his way. The only things in the office are a desk and chair. Oh, and a bookcase hiding the old concealed entrance.) Try as he might, Spider-Man cannot get Caesar to tell him anything ("I cannot betray the Maggia!", he cries.) even after lifting him in the air and giving him Strother Martin’s line from Cool Hand Luke; What we have here is a failure to communicate.
It isn't long before his spider-sense goes off. Four hoods, answering the panic button, enter the room via a hidden door in the bookcase. (Told ya!) Their guns are drawn (“And that’s no peace pipe starting to poke thru!” thinks Spidey) and they come in shooting, doing a number on Cicero’s office by smashing a vase on his desk and shattering his window, which Spidey must have closed after him. Spidey takes to the wall to evade the bullets and goes into action, kicking a gun from one of the hoodlum's hands. Another goon opens his big yap to speculate that Spidey is here "to free that Connors dame and her kid." That remark helps Spider-Man put all the pieces together. He realizes that "the Maggia has the tablet but doesn't know what its secret is and that's where Doc Connors comes in!" Big C also knows that the remark about the captives has given the game away. He decides that “there must be a speed-up of the plan” and that, "the web-spinner must not leave here alive!"
So, while Spider-Man discombobulates the gunmen by attacking them with the law books from the office shelves (“Here, guys…you can use some book learning!”), Big C sneaks away through the hidden passage. It is a long narrow corridor with a whole bunch of stairs, looking like something out of the Castle of Frankenstein. (I have two questions about this corridor. First, who built this thing? Big C’s office is at least fifteen stories up in a modern New York office building? Did the Maggia build the building? Second (ok, it’s technically three), how did the goons get up to the office so fast? There’s no place off the narrow corridor for them to be.)
As he runs, Big C determines that Martha and Billy must be moved and that it must be done without Silvermane's authorization. (So, Martha and Billy are stashed somewhere back there, too.) In fact, he is anxious to do it without the old man's orders. "It will be interesting," he thinks, "to see his reaction."
With the hoods seemingly out of action, Spider-Man notices that Cicero has taken a powder. The bookcase is closing, covering the passageway. Before the webhead can do anything about it, his spider-sense warns him to move. One recovering hood has tried to whack him with a wooden chair. A second one aims a gun at him. The wall-crawler swings a book on the end of his web and knocks the gun away. Then, he clings to the ceiling while he knocks all the bad guys out, doing a better job of it this time and webbing them together. The bookcase has closed so he smashes right through it. On the other side, at the end of a passage, a steel door is sliding down, threatening to prevent his pursuit. The web-spinner races to the door, catches it by its bottom while it is only a foot away from the floor, and uses all his strength to push it back up again. (Sort of a miniature version of his feat in Amazing Spider-Man #33, February 1966.)
Spidey crawls on the wall, following the corridor as it leads down a stairway to a garage. He hears two voices ahead of him... "a woman and a young teen-ager" coming from a side room. Spider-Man recognizes one voice as Mrs. Connors. But he hesitates. Why hasn't Cicero already escaped with his hostages?
In the garage, a black sedan speeds through an opening door as an explosion rocks the building just behind. In the car, Big C gloats. He left a tape recording of Martha and Billy Connors' voices playing behind the side door. He believes that these voices have caused Spidey to linger at the door to the garage rather than rush in and risk the lives of the captives, making him vulnerable to the bomb that was rigged to the door. (At least, that’s what he says but the truth seems to be that the bomb was triggered when the door was opened.) Cicero is convinced that Spider-Man is dead even without seeing a body. He gloats (again) that this proves that he should be the leader of the Maggia “and not the aging Silvermane.” Martha and Billy sit next to him in the car, tied up with only two little strands of rope around their shoulders (it keeps them from shrugging, I guess). They hope that the web-spinner has survived the blast.
And, of course, he has. Suspicious of the voices. Spidey stood well back as he yanked the door open with some webbing. He emerges unscathed but unhappy. He has let Caesar Cicero get away. Now, he has no choice but to scour the city once more, looking for a way to track Big C down. (You’d think his car would be easy to spot and only a block or two away in Manhattan traffic but…oh, well.)
“Meanwhile,” Cicero shows up at Silvermane's headquarters. (Does that “meanwhile” mean that Silvermane’s office is right around the corner? Or was Spidey really slow getting out of the damaged garage? Speaking of which, didn’t that explosion damage the building? Will there be infrastructure problems? Who’s going to pay for it? Aargh. Enough, enough.) Silvermane fears that the arrival of the Connors family will "inevitably lead Spider-Man to this very spot" but Big C, confident that he has killed Spidey, scoffs at Silvermane for being "too fearful in [his] old age." Man Mountain Marko also seems to be joining Cicero's side. He is impressed with the way Caesar "got that Connors dame and her kid away from the wall-crawler." But Silvermane is too busy thinking about how old he is. “I am old, Cicero…and the strength has long since faded from my once-powerful body” and “To much talk makes me weary.” Silvermane leaves Big C in his office and barges into the lab to tell Curt and Wilson that their time is running out. He seems to know the answer to the tablet already, which explains why he wanted it. (Did he have this sense before? Well, he did tell Marko last issue that the tablet hieroglyphics “are the key to one of the greatest secrets of all time” and added “If I told you it would be a secret no longer,” so maybe he did.) “With each passing minute my heart grows weaker!” he says, “If I should die before you have finished…you will not live to gloat!” Dr. Connors tells everyone to be quiet. He is busy looking at something through a microscope and he announces that "I finally have the answer! It's just what I guessed!" Curt then tells Silvermane that he was right to bring in a biologist. The undeciphered "hieroglyphics stand for biochemical symbols, not for words!" (Ancient biochemical symbols? Um…okay.)
Silvermane tells Curt, “But your task is only half done! You still must create a serum! At my age…In my condition…every minute…every second…is of vital importance! I must have the serum now.” So, Silvermane even knows about the serum, which is why he brought in Dr. Connors but, in that case, why didn’t he tell him all this at the start? After all, “every second is of vital importance!” The strain of all this turns Curt's skin green and scaly on the back of his neck but he forces himself to block the change to the Lizard and continues with his work.
In another room, Billy Connors tries to cheer up his Mom. Martha starts to tell Billy that his father is secretly the Lizard but Billy interrupts her and tells her he has known this for years. Actually, Martha should know this. She was standing right there with her arm around Billy back in ASM #6, November 1963 when Spidey went off to tackle the Lizard and Billy said, “D-don’t hurt him, Spider-Man! He’s still…my father! Sob." “If only Spider-Man hadn't been killed in that blast," the kid-of-little-faith now says, "He'd have found some way to help us."
Elsewhere, “miles away,” the wall-crawler is ready to give up his search. He's been patrolling for hours with no tingle from his spider-sense. It is almost dawn so he heads back to his apartment for a little sleep. Back home, he passes by a note that says “Call Aunt May” who is, vacationing in Florida with Anna Watson. (Peter saw them off at the train station in ASM #72, May 1969. He remembers that he still hasn't gotten around to calling Gwen to square things with her after his argument with Flash Thompson in her presence (also in ASM #72). He wishes there was someone he could talk to but Harry is still out on his date. (It's almost dawn and he's still on his date! Harry Osborn, you animal!) So, Peter catches a few quick Zs and then heads to ESU, figuring he should show up at some classes. Still, he is so worried about the Connors family that he is oblivious to those around him. A blonde-haired Flash clone wonders why Pete has snubbed him... "is he suddenly too good for us?" but Randy Robertson sticks up for him... "Parker's okay, man! He don't haveta do the rah rah bit to prove he's got soul!" Josh is also there, standing next to Randy. Neither of them will be seen again for another year.
Harry approaches Pete to show off his brand-new Fu Manchu mustache. And don't forget about that ginchy medallion he is wearing on a chain around his neck. The last time we saw Harry, in ASM #71, April 1969, he was still clean-shaven and wearing bow ties. Harry picks the unfortunate moment when Pete decides he must get back to searching again. So, Pete blows his roommate off and takes a powder. Harry turns to an arriving Gwen Stacy and wonders aloud whether Flash Thompson is right about Pete. Gwen won't hear any criticism. "The man is uptight! He needs help…not hostility!", she says, "If you're his friend, then act like one!"
Over the New York rooftops, Spidey decides he must keep searching until he finds Curt Connors, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much of the city he must cover. He swings around, waiting on his spider-sense, vowing to keep going until it tingles.
But, if it does, that won’t be this issue because things are happening at Maggia headquarters. Dr. Connors has finished preparing the serum in record time. It’s a concoction in a beaker with smoke rising out of it. Isn't that what all hastily-conceived sera look like? Curt warns Silvermane that the serum is untested and "still only guesswork" but the boss is too old to care. Stan knows he’s revealing Silvermane’s knowledge a little late in the game (not surprising seeing as he and Johnny didn’t have that knowledge themselves until now) so he gives the Maggia leader a soliloquy. “For years I have studied the legend of the ancient tablet! The older I grow…the more certain I become…that it must be mine! Today, none would believe! But, years ago…in the old country…they knew what this serum can do! …Just as I know…now!” (Okay, fine. I’ll buy that.) Man Mountain Marko warns him that the doc may have tricked him with poison, but Silvermane doesn't listen. He quaffs the serum in one gulp.
As soon as he finishes drinking, Silvermane drops the beaker, shattering it on the floor, and screams in agony. Calling Marko, he collapses. Convinced that Silvermane has been killed, Marko grabs Connors by his lab coat. Curt isn’t afraid of Marko, though. He’s afraid of the transformation that Marko’s violence may trigger. “You don’t know…what you’re tampering with,” he says. But then a strong voice rings out, telling Marko to leave the doctor alone. It is Silvermane... young, strong, back in his prime and crowing, “I gambled everything on being right about the tablet’s secret…the only secret that could save me…the secret of…the Fountain Of Youth!”
But then Stan spoils the party with his “Next” blurb: “Spidey slams into action as Death strikes again!”
The Bullpen Bulletins page (“A Sagacious Smattering of Space-Wasting Small-Talk!”) has five items, Stan’s Soapbox and the Checklist plus Spidey and Kingpin panels from ASM #70, March 1969. (Page 12 panel 4 and page 10 panel 2 respectively.) The items tout,
The Spider’s Web has a panel of Spidey and the Kingpin from page 10 panel 1 of ASM #69, February 1969, but with Spidey’s chest hastily colored blue because he was bare-chested in the original. The letters begin with Chuck Hamilton of Jacksonville, Florida offering nine points of what he would like to see happen to the wall-crawler, starting with the events of ASM #70, in which it appeared that Spidey caused J. Jonah Jameson to have a heart attack. Let's examine his nine points from our future perspective: "1. Jonah survives the trip to the hospital, and is revived, with a different, more sympathetic outlook on Spider-Man after seeing what he (JJJ) has done to Spidey. (Miracle #1)." (This “miracle” eventually takes place when Jonah learns Spidey is really Peter Parker in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #6, January 2018.) "2. Spidey is exonerated, maybe with help from Ned Leeds, Joe Robertson, John Jameson, and most of all, Captain George Stacy." (This is pretty much what happened... if you ignore everyone on this list except Joe Robertson.) "3. Spidey, as Peter Parker, arranges a conference with Capt. Stacy where under strict confidence, he reveals his secret identity! (The "strict confidence" is for the sake of his aunt's weak heart, as if you couldn't guess.)" (If he had done this, as we know from ASM #90, November 1970 George Stacy would have probably patted his hand and said, "I know, son.") "4. Aunt May is, somehow, painlessly taken out of the scene." (She’s gone from the movie franchise but, somehow, over 50 years later, still not from the comic.) "5. Spidey reveals his identity to Harry, and then to - Gwen!" (Uh, no, Chuck. But Harry does find out eventually, unfortunately. See ASM #135, August 1974.) "6. Spidey reveals his identity to the world!! He's going to have to do this sooner or later, or else he'll go out of his mind!" (Uh, yeah, he did and that didn’t work out so well.) "7. Peter begins to take a bigger part in events on the campus, so he won't look like a cop-out." (Hah!) "8. He grows his hair out and stops using Groom and Clean at last (grease went out with Rudy Vallee)." (Peter as a hippie? Wouldn't that have been great?) "9. (Sometime in the future) Peter Parker/Spider-Man marries Gwen Stacy!" (Um... do you want to tell Chuck or should I?)
Frequent letter hack Shirley A. Gorman of Hereford, Texas wonders whether the ASM #69-titled “Mission: Crush the Kingpin” would actually feature the crushing of the Kingpin. She notes, “There I was on page 11 and Kingpin was still in one piece. Hmmm. Onward, wondering fan. There it was on page 16. The Kingpin was down and out; but not crushed. Maybe a better title would have been ‘Mission: Knock the Wind out of Kingpin’ or ‘Mission: Knock Kingpin Flat’. Anyway, the important thing is that the mission was accomplished.”
Charles Graff, Jr. of South Boston, Massachusetts notes how the Sandman went from being a Spider-Man villain to being formidable enough to take on the Fantastic Four and the Hulk. “Where will it all end? Will we see the Sandman taking on the Silver Surfer, Galactus, or even the Watcher? If the folks of Marvel ever remember that Sandman first bore hatred toward the web-slinger, then beware! It may be the first time in comicdom that a super-baddie emerges…forever and irrevocably triumphant!” To which, Stan replies, “In which case, fickle and feeble-hearted souls that we be, we shall proudly and punctiliously present our newest Marvel mag: The Spectacular Sandman!”
But Stan’s not planning to eliminate the web-slinger any time soon. In his closing comments, he notes that collectors “are buying dog-eared copies of Spidey #1 for as much as $15 already. (And the mag is only six years old!)” I think it’s worth a little bit more than that now.
In case the “death” comment in the page 20 “Next” blurb didn’t sink in, the blurb at the bottom of the letter page tells us, “Next: Surprise Follows Surprise! We don’t want to tip you off yet, but… Somebody Dies!” So, does somebody die? Well, yes and no.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this issue:
“If this be Bedlam” – The tablet’s secret revealed to be a fountain of youth. – Silvermane uses it. – Dr. Connors calms the Lizard is captured.” The first two sentences are all well and good but that third one is a doozy.
It’s a bit of a place-saver issue. Spidey reads the paper, harasses Cicero, throws some books at some Maggia goons, prevents himself from being blown up, and wanders around the city. As Peter, he’s so out of it, he doesn’t even notice Harry Osborn’s new mustache. But Spidey’s fruitless moments of action balance the ‘action-less’ but more suspenseful moments taking place within Silvermane’s office and lab. Will Curt Connors turn into the Lizard? Will he and Louis Wilson find the answer to the tablet? Will Silvermane survive the potion he drinks? The answers to those questions are no, yes, and yes, leading to a final page that is truly a surprise.
That surprise boosts the issue up from routine, giving us a rating of three and a half webs.
Next: I’d love to wrap up the story next time. Really, I would. But there’s this little matter of a cameo appearance in Daredevil #54.