Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #78

 Posted: 30 Jun 2024
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)


With the defeat of the Lizard, we have finally wrapped up all the threads from the Petrified Tablet saga. Time to start fresh with a new story and a new character. This is from the John Romita Sr. interview in Comics Creators on Spider-Man: “How did you come up with the idea for the Prowler?” “That was an interesting one. John Jr. actually came up with the name for the Prowler when he was thirteen years old. He had sent a drawing in to Stan but the character had a silver costume with boots and a mask and everything. Stan wasn’t crazy about the costume but he did like the name. The costume eventually used for the Prowler was originally meant for a character that we called the TV Terror, who was supposed to appear in the third issue of the Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine, but it was cancelled after its second issue.” American Comic Book Chronicles The 1960s (1965-1969) states that the name for the TV Terror character was “the Stalker.” They also quote Johnny that “To my surprise, Stan said he liked the name” but “the costume was too sci-fi to fit.” The Chronicles adds, “Combining the Prowler name and the Stalker outfit, Lee and Romita had their character.”

But there’s more to the character than that. The Chronicles again: “The Amazing Spider-Man…introduced two black characters in 1969-dated issues, the first of whom was Randy Robertson, son of the Daily Bugle’s city editor and a classmate of Peter Parker...His debut came in the midst of [an] issue…on campus unrest… ‘He’s troubled…rebellious…full of the angry impatience of youth,’ a worried Joe Robertson remarked to his wife…Frustration also motivated Hobie Brown, a young African-American window-washer with a flair for science who couldn’t generate any interest in his inventions and had alienated his girlfriend.” Both characters are treated sympathetically, without stereotype, and were some of the first examples of comics trying to portray the roadblocks hindering 1960s black Americans from achieving their goals and dreams.

Story 'The Night of the Prowler!'

The cover is pretty straightforward but it’s interesting to note that the Prowler dominates the shot. If you had never read Spider-Man before (and didn’t bother to look at the upper left-hand corner illustration) you may be inclined to think that the Prowler is Spider-Man. Their masks are similar with nearly identical eye lenses and the shots fired by the Prowler look like they’re coming from a web-shooter. Once we’ve looked at the Prowler, our eyes go down to that shooter and follow the trail of the shots down to Spider-Man and into the cover’s bottom right corner. One of the shots goes between Spidey’s left thumb and forefinger and the web-slinger mostly has his back to us as his head dips down toward the bottom left corner, almost parallel to the shot bursts in the other corner. The blurb simply says, “The Night of the Prowler!” and it is parallel to the Prowler’s chest emblem, far away from the web-slinger. Remind me again who the star of this book is.

The splash page begins with the title “The Night of the Prowler!” filling the top third of the page but then compensates for Spidey’s pale cover showing by having him face us, leaping down in an action pose. The credits include a “Thanks to John Romita Jr. for suggesting the Prowler!” but we now know all about that.

Just as the cover can be regarded as a 50-50 split (more or less) between our characters, so the issue is divided in two with Spidey/Peter Parker taking up the first 10 pages and Hobie Brown/Prowler taking up the rest until they meet in the final panel. In Spidey’s section, he makes it official by telling us that “the case of the petrified tablet is ended.” Then, he thinks that he should “pay some attention to the private life of Peter Parker” and to “a certain little blonde I can’t get off my mind.” He decides to call Gwen, using a pay phone that is just below but when he gets to ground, he remembers that he has no money in his Spidey suit. Fortunately, he is standing on a grate and he spots a dime down in the dirt by a half-used pack of matches. (I would imagine that a grate right next to a pay phone collects a lot of loose change.) He uses his webbing to snag the dime and says, “I’ll never knock my spider-powers again.” (Which is a lie.) The bulb in the booth is burned out so that the “musclebound loudmouth” who pounds on the door can’t see that it is Spidey inside. “Get outta there, punk, ‘n let a man use that blasted phone,” he says. Spidey emerges and lifts the man up with one hand. “And he ain’t even straining!!” The man still can’t see that it’s Spidey but he doesn’t wait around to see. Once the man runs off, Spidey makes his phone call. Gwen answers. “Hi pretty girl! Guess who?” says Spidey, his mask lifted so his voice doesn’t sound muffled. “Well, since Dustin Hoffman doesn’t know my number,” Gwen says, “It must be Peter Parker!” (Dustin Hoffman had just made a big splash in “The Graduate.”)

But then Gwen tells Peter that she can’t see him since she has “something to attend to” and I guess she does because we now see that Flash Thompson is in the room with her.

Lost in thought, wondering if Gwen still thinks “of him as her fella,” Spidey loiters outside the telephone booth where he draws a crowd. A young woman asks for his autograph and a man tells him, “Wait’ll I tell the wife about this!” He quickly web-slings away, saying, “All of a sudden I’m as in as Tiny Tim” and “I think I liked it better when they were scared of me.”

The “Tiny Tim” that Spidey references is not the character from Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” but the falsetto singer with the ukulele who first gained fame appearing on Rowen and Martin’s Laugh-In and later for marrying Miss Vicki (shortly after this issue came out) on the Tonight Show. His real name was Herbert Khaury, his biggest hit was a version of the 1929 song “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” and he died in 1996 at the age of 64. If you haven’t seen Tiny Tim perform, you’re in for a treat…of sorts.

Spidey heads home but can’t enter his apartment because Harry is there talking on the telephone. Spidey figures “from that smile on his face” he must be talking to Mary Jane, who was Harry’s girlfriend at the time. We haven’t seen MJ since Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2, November 1968, a full year ago. We don’t even know if she’s in New York or Florida. I suppose this could be considered a “behind-the-scenes” appearance by her but we don’t even know for sure if it is she to whom Harry is talking. Spidey waits for 20 minutes until Harry gets off the phone (and leaves?) before he can enter. He gets to his bedroom and changes into a yellow turtleneck and blue slacks. He grabs himself a cup of coffee (or tea or hot chocolate) and plans to bone up on his physics. But he can’t get Gwen out of his mind. (And no wonder! There’s her giant head looming behind him on page 7 panel 2.) So, he puts a brown jacket on and heads outside, planning to walk past her house. “Or I can always ring the bell and say I came to talk to Captain Stacy.” As he wanders past The Coffee Pot, he wonders if Gwen has gone there for “a cup of java” but decides that she wouldn’t go without him. He looks through the plate glass window and sees Gwen at a table with Flash. He slinks off, thinking that Gwen and Flash are now an item. He can’t hear their conversation but we can and we know that Gwen is out with Flash to ask him about Peter. With Flash knowing Peter “as long as anyone else,” she thought he might “know something about him…something from the past perhaps…that might explain his mysterious disappearances.” And speaking of the past, what’s all this about “the Coffee Pot?” The coffee shop that the gang frequents is the Coffee Bean, as seem most recently in ASM #66, November 1968. Has the Coffee Bean become the Coffee Pot?

Flash has no answers about Pete’s disappearances. “Most of the gang just thought he was chicken, and let it go at that!” But Gwen says, “he’s as courageous as anyone!...There must be another reason! I’ve got to learn the secret that he’s hiding! He means so much to me! If he’s in trouble, I have to help him!” And it’s nice that Gwen wants to help him but maybe she’d have helped him more if she had postponed her talk with Flash and not blown him off when he called.

Lost in his thoughts, Peter runs into two men, one of whom, Big Joe, calls him a “runt” and prepares to clobber Pete for his rudeness. (First the guy at the phone booth and now these two. Was the Manhattan of 1969 filled with boorish jerks who immediately resort to violence?)

We’ll find out the result of that confrontation after looking at the “Marvel Bullpen Bulletins,” which are a shadow of their former self. They only get about a third of the page, the rest of which is taken up with an inducement to join the “Exciting New Club…Marvelmania International” (which we know all about by now, right?) Two columns of the Bulletins are taken up with “The Mighty Marvel Checklist,” leaving us only one column for Bullpen news. And we don’t even get one of those alliterative titles…or any title! And what’s in our remaining column? A plug for Fantastic Four Special #7, November 1969 and news that the artwork for the Sub-Mariner #19, November 1969 now unites two former EC comics stalwarts, Marie Severin and Johnny Craig. It ends up happening only one other time in the series, with Sub-Mariner #21, January 1970.

So, what about Peter and Big Joe? Well, Pete wipes out both men with a wave of his arm and a ZTOKK! Peter is shocked to see that he knocked out both men without even thinking. “They’ll be okay…but if I had swung harder, no telling what might have happened!” Pete runs off, soon finding himself walking by the Daily Bugle building. He looks up and sees a window washer and thinks, “I’ll bet that window washer hasn’t half the worries I do. Wonder if he knows how lucky he is?”

That is the last panel of page 10 and what follows is one of my favorite transitions. The first panel of page 11 flips the angle. Before we were on the ground with Peter, looking up. Now we’re on the same level as the window washer, looking down as Peter walks by. The window washer talks to himself, as he looks down at Pete. “Why can’t I make it like all those other joes down there? How come nothing I do ever works out right for Hobie Brown?” Hobie is a young African-American man and the second panel gives us a close-up as he continues his soliloquy, wondering if washing windows is the best he can do and discouraged that “nobody’ll give him a chance” and that “nobody’ll believe in him.” “I can’t take it from the rest of the pack,” he says, “But then…when Mindy started to put me down…” and that leads us into a flashback.

Mindy is Hobie’s girlfriend and she tells him to “stop feeling so sorry for yourself! I know how clever you are…how great you are at inventing things! But, you’re still young! It takes time to be discovered…time to reach the goal you’re trying for?” (No, I don’t know what the question mark is doing there either.) They are in a club where all of the customers are black. It sure isn’t the Coffee Pot where it doesn’t look like they have any African-American clientele.

Hobie tells Mindy to stop treating him like a kid. “We both know,” he says, “I’m just never gonna make it!” Mindy tells him to “bring some of your new ideas to the man you work for” but Hobie waves that off. “You don’t know him, Mindy!” he says, “He only hired me to fill out a quota!” Mindy has had enough. She tells Hobie, “If you act like a born loser…you’ll be a loser!” and “I’m tired of being your crying towel!” She gets up and leaves Hobie behind.

Hobie decides to give Mindy’s suggestion a try so the next day he brings diagrams of his inventions to his boss, Mr. Clark. “New types of belt harnesses and toggle hooks!” But Clark is not interested. He blows smoke out of his nose while he still has his cigarillo in his mouth. “Ya know what it would cost me to scrap all our old equipment?” he says, “Now get back to your windows, hear? That’s what I’m payin’ you for!”

And now here is The Spider’s Web, reduced to one page and losing its place at the back of the issue. There are four letters this time and I am going to quote from only one of them. Ronald Gayda of Bridgeport, Connecticut says, “Social life is where it’s at. Sure, there’s a couple of pages a book of Harry, Gwen and the rest of the group, but two pages in twenty isn’t enough. Acton is great, but Spidey has too much. I myself don’t like panels where Spidey hits the Kingpin as much as I like seeing the luscious Gwen or the lively Harry. In the past five Spider-Man issues, there have been 437 panels with only 46 of these pertaining to the social life of Peter Parker! This is only one-tenth of the mags!” He then goes on to ask for a vote “1) Leave it the way it is, 2) give Spidey more action, 3) give Spidey more of a social life.” “Let us know, Spiderphiles,” Stan replies. We’ll see if there is a follow-up to this in the future. (It’s interesting to note that Stan agreed with Ronald…at least as involved the newspaper strip. In Comics Creators on Spider-Man, John Romita says, “Stan didn’t really see the newspaper Spider-Man as an adventure strip…He wanted to use Spider-Man to write a soap opera strip like Mary Worth. Stan told me a hundred times that newspaper readers didn’t read comic books. They were a different audience and they were more interested in Peter Parker’s personal life.”) Back to Mr. Clark who tells Hobie, “get back to work before I dock ya!” The flashback ends with Hobie back doing the windows of the Daily Bugle and thinking, “There’s gotta be some way to crack the establishment.” He is shaken out of his reverie by J. Jonah Jameson, who first comes off as nasty (“Don’t get flip with me, kid! I can chew up a dozen smart-mouths like you before breakfast.”) but then reveals that he got Hobie’s attention because “I just wanted to tell you to stop day-dreaming and get with it! The guy you work for is outside, checking up on his crew and he wanted to know why you spent a half-hour on that one little window!” Hobie enters JJJ office even as Mr. Clark does. Clark wants to know what Hobie is doing “wastin’ time in Mr. Jameson’s office” and Jonah tells Clark that “I called him in to complain about the prices you charge.” “You mean, it was you that slowed him up around here?” Clark asks. “You better believe it, Curly,” JJJ responds, “I still run this place!”

Telling Jameson, “You don’t haveta try to go to bat for me,” Hobie quits his job. “That’s okay with me, Brown!” says Clark who is only a hand and a pointing finger in this panel, “I’ve had it with your type!” “Waddaya mean…my type?” asks Hobie and Jonah cuts in with “Clark! Shut your big yap or I’ll do it for ya!” As Hobie leaves the office with a SLAM! of the door, Clark says, “Wh-what are you siding with him for, Mr. Jameson?” and JJJ says, “If you don’t know…you never will! Now take off, Clark! All of a sudden, I don’t like the smell around here!” I like these moments when Jonah shows his positive side (although he looks angry through this whole sequence). He has one huge blind spot…his hatred of Spider-Man…and this blind spot often makes him a villain in the series. But, in spite of his gruffness, he is a strong advocate of equal rights and other progressive stances and is capable of admirable moves, such as lying on Hobie’s behalf to try to stave off Clark. All of which makes it unfortunate that Hobie chooses to return to the Bugle in his first foray as the Prowler.

Hobie heads home, walking past what may be a street dice game. “I’m out of a job,” he thinks, “My chick walked out on me…and I’m heading straight for nowhere!” When he gets home, he notes that he’s “been spending every cent I made on my workshop equipment.” He looks at himself in the mirror and decides that “you can’t sell anything until you sell yourself!” As he grabs a box from his closet, he says, “Nobody cares what Hobie Brown invented…’cause nobody cares about Hobie Brown! But I don’t have to remain Hobie Brown! I can do what lots of other cats do…! I’ll make myself a costume…give myself a name that nobody can forget! And use some of the things I invented to make it look like I’ve got super powers!” He pulls “this bracelet gizmo” out of the box, originally intended “to shoot special cleaning fluids at the window glass…But the pellets can be just as easily filled with gas and other stuff!” He has “steel-tipped gloves” that can cling to the side of a building. As he works on other inventions (possibly creating the gas for the pellets) he decides that “being a superhero can be too slow.” He needs publicity for his inventions now. And the way to get that is to become a super-villain.

And so, we are introduced to the Prowler in a full-page spread, revealing his green, gray, and black outfit with pellet launchers around his wrists and ankles, with the claws and his Spidey-like mask making him look fearsome. Stan says that he is “a masked, mysterious being, destined to be know [sic] far and wide as the Prowler” but I’m not sure the Prowler is ever really known far and wide.

Hobie tests out his equipment. He fires “a single pellet…propelled by a blast of highly compressed air” which is “strong enough to shatter a three-inch plank like it was nothing.” His “special insulated boots” allow him to leap off a second-floor fire escape and land on the ground with a THOPP! Now, he is ready to put his plan into effect. “All I have to do is let the Prowler be seen committing some kind of crime and then, later, Hobie Brown will recover the loot…return it…and be a hero! My plan can’t fail!” Yeah, what could go wrong?

At around this time, Peter Parker arrives at the Bugle offices, hoping to get “an advance on my next batch of action photos” so he can send money to Aunt May (who, you may remember, is in Florida). The Prowler climbs up the side of the Bugle building because he figures that his “best bet is to pull a robbery right inside a newspaper office” since, “if I’m looking for publicity, I might as well go to the source!” Never mind that he’s robbing the guy who just stood up for him. Inside, Peter spars with Jonah who tells him, “If you need any dough…go to a bank! I’m thru being everybody’s fall guy!” “Fall guy!” says Pete, as the Prowler watches from outside, “You’ve still got the first nickel you ever chiseled!” He leaves the office with a BWHAM! (A harder slam than Hobie’s earlier SLAM!, I assume.) As he leaves, Peter is in mid-thought about never bringing a photo to JJJ again when his spider-sense goes off. He hears “the sound of a scuffle” just “around the corner” and decides not to change to his Spidey duds since “every minute may count.” There he finds the Prowler with “the payroll bag” (which is a brown satchel with loose greenbacks flying out of it) and he sees that the watchman has been hurt. “It was his own fault! I didn’t wanna to do it!” says the Prowler, sounding every bit like a villain. Peter grabs the Prowler by the wrist even as Hobie says, “I’ll have to give you the same treatment I gave him!” (This is all part of the plan, right? He can’t be tagged as a super-villain if no one sees him doing villainous things.) And just then, Jonah looks out and sees Peter and the Prowler. “I can’t let him see me holding my own against this guy without arousing suspicions,” thinks Peter, (but would he take on a super-foe while in his civvies even if no one was watching?) “So, what do I do now?” thinks Peter as the “Next” blurb tells us there is “No Turning Back!”

General Comments

Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)

  1. First appearance of Hobie Brown and the Prowler. He’s back next issue.
  2. First appearance of Mindy McPherson. She shows up as a thought in Hobie’s mind next issue but she’s not back in the flesh until ASM #93, February 1971. She doesn’t get her last name until Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe Update ’89 #6, November 1989 in the Prowler profile.
  3. Only appearances of Mr. Clark, Big Joe, his buddy, and the guy at the telephone booth.
  4. Gwen chooses to not see Peter so she can go out with Flash and talk about how Peter is never around.
  5. Gwen, Harry, JJJ, Robbie, and Flash all show up this issue.
  6. Spidey’s fans scare him away, although he does think that he’s “as in as Tiny Tim.”
  7. MJ is still MIA but she does have a behind-the-scenes appearance on the phone with Harry…maybe…sort of.
  8. Peter knocks Big Joe and his buddy in two different directions with one sweep of his arm.
  9. One of my favorite transitions occurs exactly halfway through the book to turn from Peter Parker to Hobie Brown.
  10. Jonah sticks up for Hobie and kicks Clark out of his office for his racist remark.
  11. Hobie deftly maps out why he creates the Prowler persona and why he chooses to appear as a super-villain, then decides to rob the Bugle on the same day that Jameson supported him.
  12. Peter chooses to not put on his Spidey duds even though his spider-sense is tingling and then doesn’t dare take on the Prowler as Peter Parker.
  13. With the Spider’s Web going to one page, the issue only has one “Next” blurb and the one that we get does not tell us much.

The Spider-Man checklist entry for this issue:

J. Buscema-Mooney/Johnny Romita Jr.-Lee/Rosen
“The Night of the Prowler” – Introduction of Prowler and Peter must face him.

Overall Rating

Ronald Gayda must have loved this issue. The only Spidey-action is when he lifts the phone booth guy with one hand.

Here’s what I like about this issue:

  1. The focus on Hobie Brown that is allowed to take up half the book with careful plotting and monologuing so that his decision almost makes sense to become a super-villain called the Prowler.
  2. The way Hobie’s sense that racism plays a part in his troubles is proven by the not-so-subtle comment by Mr. Clark.
  3. JJJ, as gruff as ever but doing the right thing.
  4. That glorious transition!

Here’s what I don’t like about this issue:

  1. Gwen blowing off Peter so she can tell Flash how much she likes Peter.
  2. Hobie deciding to rob the same business whose boss just went to bat for him.
  3. The Spider’s Web down to one page.
  4. The only Spidey-action is when he lifts the phone booth guy with one hand. (Sorry, Ronald Gayda!)

That puts me right down the middle. Three webs.


I’ll get to the conclusion as soon as I can but there are some reprints standing in the way. First, Marvel Tales #23.

 Posted: 30 Jun 2024
 Staff: Al Sjoerdsma (E-Mail)