We conclude our review of the classic three-part story arc "The Secret of the Petrified Tablet", which started back in Amazing Spider-Man #73.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
Spidey is still searching the city for any clue as to the whereabouts of the Connors family. He decides to "cover the high crime areas of the city", hoping to "get a glimpse of Man Mountain Marko or any other known hood". He notices two small-time bookmakers doing business in an office. One of them warns the other that someone is spying on them from the window. The second one doesn't believe his buddy since they are twenty floors up from the street. Nevertheless, they investigate and are immediately grabbed at their collars by Spider-Man. He pulls them out of the office and dangles them outside until they cough up the location of Maggia headquarters. This they do with alacrity, telling the web-slinger that "it's right across town; the Galby Building!" The wall-crawler webs his informants onto the sill with their heads sticking out the window and heads toward this new destination.
And, at the Galby Building, Man Mountain Marko is still grabbing Dr. Curt Connors by the lapels of his lab coat. He wants to know what's become of Silvermane. After all, "nobody can git 40 years younger just on accounta some nutty formula", therefore Connors and this middle-aged man in the gray suit (he is graying at the temples and looks quite a bit like an evil Reed Richards) must be in cahoots. Marko drops Connors and confronts the man claiming to be Silvermane. As they continue their dispute, Curt manages to slip away. Silvermane doesn't want to lose the Doctor ("He alone knows the secret of the tablet's formula!") but Marko is unconcerned. "How can a one-armed punk like him git outta this joint?", he asks. Besides, the Maggia is holding "his wife and kid hostage".
Meanwhile, in the room holding Mrs. Connors and Billy, Caesar Cicero wonders "what caused all the noise on the other side of the wall". Maybe something has happened to Silvermane. If so, he must be there to assume command. Big C leaves the hostages and walks into the laboratory. He is so startled by what he sees that his cigar drops right out of his mouth. Cicero recognizes the new man and realizes that, somehow, Silvermane has gotten younger, but he also knows that denying this fact is in his best interest. So he tells Marko that the man in front of him "must be in league with the police!" He orders Man Mountain to silence the intruder. After giving the order, Big C runs out of the room.
Man Mountain Marko is relieved to hear that this strange man cannot be Silvermane and he attacks with gusto. But he is dealing with a man who, in his prime, "fought his way to the top of the Maggia over many such as you". In other words, Silvermane was tough and, thanks to the formula, he is in his prime again. He socks Marko squarely on the jaw, and then dodges the return punch with ease. In fact, he glories in it. And, thanks to the power of the tablet, he declares, "I shall stay young and strong forever!"
Silvermane gives his opponent a sharp slap across the face and Marko is finally convinced. This man fights "just like the stories I usedta hear of how nobody could ever beat Silvermane". The Maggia leader grabs MMM by the collar (in this story, it seems like every other panel, somebody is grabbing somebody else by the lapels or the collar) and orders him to admit "that I, and I alone am Silvermane!" Marko readily agrees. He can even see the other man getting younger still, right in front of his eyes! Now the graying temples are gone and Silvermane looks like an evil version of Peter Parker. A shocked Marko proclaims, "You're even younger than me!" And, at this point, the moment is interrupted by the arrival of Spider-Man.
The web-slinger smashes through a window and knocks both men sprawling. He demands the release of Dr. Connors and his family. Instead, Silvermane orders Marko to attack Spidey. When Marko refers to the other man as "Silvermane", the webhead can't believe it. After all, Silvermane "should be eighty years old".
Marko lunges at the web-slinger but only ends up punching the wall. Spidey has easily steered clear of the punch. He tells Man Mountain that he had other things on his mind at the last fight "and there was a lady present". Not so now. While crawling on the wall, he grabs Marko by the scruff of his neck, picks him up, and flings him across the room, wiping him out. (This is the guy who was ripping sofas in half in the first part of this story?) Marko is beaten and Spidey stands over him, wanting some answers. But he is, instead, distracted by a shocked cry from behind. It is Silvermane, reveling in the realization that he is getting younger still. "I'm like a man in his early twenties", he says, "in the very prime of life". He is so confident in his refound strength that he removes his jacket and tie, and then rolls up his sleeves. He is going to take on the wall-crawler in a fight all by himself.
Dr. Curt Connors watches everything from an adjoining room. (And what happened to Wilson? He seems to have disappeared into thin air.) Curt takes advantage of Spider-Man's appearance to flee the scene. After all, he knows what the final result of the formula will be and "when the Maggia finds out... my life won't be worth a nickel". Curt decides to try to free Martha and Billy before the impending Lizard transformation occurs but he doesn't get very far down the hall before he experiences the spasms that begin the change. His missing arm starts to throb, then to grow back. Quickly, he decides to get as far away from his family as possible, to lock himself in a room to keep everybody safe, but it is already too late. The transformation is complete. Dr. Curt Connors has become the Lizard. A Maggia hood confronts him at gunpoint in the hallway but the Lizard slaps the gun away and moves on. He doesn't know where he is and he doesn't like being cooped up in these narro! w hallways. All he knows is that he must get out "to plan to stalk" so that he can "remain the Lizard forever"!
Back at the locked room, Martha and Billy can hear a commotion outside the door. Big C is smacking the face of the hood that was attacked by the Lizard. Cicero won't buy the story that the assailant "looked like a human Lizard". As far as he's concerned, it must be a trick staged by Silvermane. He has had enough. He tells two goons to "get your guns". He is going to face Silvermane "for the final showdown!"
In the lab, the battle between Silvermane and Spidey continues. The web-slinger is playing a defensive game, evading Silvermane's blows, looking for an avenue of escape since his "first job is to find Doc Connors and his family". But Silvermane catches him with a backhand swipe that knocks him into a "beaker of chemical acid". He is lucky he averts his face in time to avoid being doused with it but he is still shaken. He crouches on the floor, holding his head, as Silvermane closes in. The webhead wonders if it's "just my imagination but I could swear his voice is getting shriller, younger with every word".
Silvermane, who has talked non-stop throughout the fight about how tough and youthful he is (he's mentioned his youth so much, you'd think he was scripted by Howard Mackie!), tries to finish the fight by kneeing Spider-Man right in the jaw. He is surprised to discover that this move doesn't knock Spidey unconscious. Now, you may think the reason Spidey is still awake has something to do with the fact that no regular guy like Silvermane could really do him damage. But the stated reason here is that Silvermane has gotten so young that "each blow has less weight, less power behind it". Spidey scoops the mob boss up and tosses him across the room. As Silvermane struggles to rise, Spidey plans to case the place for Doc Connors and crew but another complication presents itself. Big C and three goons are right outside the room. Caesar gives the order to rush in "and shoot anything that moves".
Before the final order can be given, Spider-Man leaps out into the hall and takes on the three hoods. (Or maybe the hoods have entered the room and Spidey tackles them there. To tell the truth, it's hard to tell where this battle is taking place.) With the web-slinger occupied by the thugs, Cicero, now smoking a cigarette in a holder (Did JR lose track of who smoked what or did Caesar run out of cigars?), approaches the figure on the floor. "It is time", he declares, "to put an end to the career of Silvermane".
Cicero bends over the fallen mob boss and turns him over onto his back to get a better look at him. But Big C is so shocked and frightened by the "madness" he sees that he runs off in terror. He leaves behind a man getting younger by the minute; a man who now looks like a teen-age boy.
Silvermane stands and looks at himself. His clothes are now too big for him. He staggers to a cracked mirror, looks at his child-like face and screams! Spidey, still involved with the thugs, hears the scream, and then sees a boy dressed in Silvermane's clothes flee from the room "as though Satan himself is at his heels". Quickly, the web-slinger dispatches his opponents. He wall-crawls through the hallways looking for Curt Connors. In one room, he hears the sound of a child sobbing.
Spidey enters the room and sees a small bundle engulfed in Silvermane's clothes. He notices that "the sobs are fading away into nothingness". And, in an instant, the clothes are completely empty. "Silverman found the youth he sought", Spidey says, "and the prize will be his forever!"
The wall-crawler leaves the empty room. He now understands why the tablet was written in hieroglyphics. (Um... because that's how they wrote back then? No!) Because "it was a secret too dangerous too deadly for any man to possess". (Then why write it down at all?) Anyway, all thoughts of this sort are dismissed when Spidey hears familiar voices behind a door. He smashes the door down and finds Martha and Billy Connors. They are happy to see him but worried about what can have happened to Curt. There are only two explanations, as far as Martha is concerned. Either Curt is injured somewhere or... She can't even bring herself to say the alternative.
And Martha has good reason to worry, as we know. Elsewhere, in some unspecified location, the Lizard struggles with his dual nature. The human side wants to board himself in to protect his wife and son. But he loses the battle and, tragically, "only the beast remains!"
In ASM #76 (September 1969), Spidey takes on the Lizard. He devises a plan to gain an advantage by pretending to be beaten by the reptile but this whole idea is scuttled by the arrival of the Human Torch. In ASM #77 (October 1969), Spidey must keep the Torch from playing too rough since only the wall-crawler knows that the Lizard is actually Curt Connors. He spends as much time fighting the Torch as he does fighting the Lizard. But finally he captures the Lizard, fakes out the Torch and uses "dehydrating powder" to dry out the Lizard's skin which triggers his transformation back to Curt Connors.
And what of the members of the Maggia? Well, Man Mountain Marko has only made one other Spider-Man appearance (Web of Spider-Man #82, November 1991) and "Big C" Caesar Cicero didn't see Spidey again until just a few years ago (Spider-Man #73-74, October-November 1996) but Silvermane... you know, the guy who died, has made approximately twenty appearances in Spider-Man books since then. "Silvermane found the youth he sought and the prize will be his forever!" Sure it will. Maybe this story should have been called, "Death... but he got better... without warning!" . Or maybe "Dozed off there for awhile without warning." Or something like that.