Who says comic books can't be educational? This issue had me flipping through the dictionary when I encountered a word, "ostentatious", which I had never seen before. (The question as to whether I should have already known this word at the age of 17, we will leave for a far future time.)
My copy of this issue also has a heavily rolled spine, recalling those days when I was happily oblivious to such terms as "mint" and "near-mint" and used to fold the comic back on itself to read it one-handed. (Hey, you guys with the dirty minds, watch it out there! That's not what I meant!) Ahh, for those days again! (Actually, I still do this on occasion. After all, who's going to buy my issue of ASM Vol. 2 #Whatever off me anyway, mint or no mint?)
For me, these memories illuminate an otherwise silly, forgettable one issue story that serves as filler between the first defeat of the Harry Osborne Green Goblin and the start of the big push by the Jackal that eventually becomes the first clone story. But, it's our silly forgettable one issue story. Make way for the Mindworm!
It is the aftermath of Spider-Man's battle with the Green Goblin and Pete sits on the floor in the midst of the debris that once was the possessions in his and Harry Osborn's apartment. Looking around at the ruined furniture, smashed vases, trashed books and overturned lamps, Pete hasn't even bothered to get out of his Spidey suit. (Though he has removed his mask.) He holds a book in his left hand, as if having just paused in some reading. He still can't quite believe that his longtime roommate, in his new guise of the Green Goblin, planted a bomb (in ASM #136) that destroyed the apartment and injured Mary Jane. But all such reflections cease with a pounding knock at the door. Pete remembers that Mr. Templeton, his landlord, was coming over to inspect the damages.
He quickly puts on a shirt and pants to cover his costume and answers the door. Mr. Templeton, a gruff-looking man with square-framed glasses and Jimmy Swaggert hair, takes a look around and is not pleased. He didn't want to believe that the damage is as severe as he heard but it clearly is. And it's not just Pete's apartment either. It is the floor below, it is the entire side of the building, "water leaking everywhere, floors listing, ceilings collapsing". With a flourish, Mr. Templeton pulls Peter's lease out of his pocket, tears it in half, then tears it into dozens of smaller pieces. He tosses the pieces up in the air as he leaves, informing Peter, "I expect you out by tomorrow morning." And that is that.
An hour later, Peter sits in a phone booth, going through his address book. He has called everyone he knows from college and none of them can help him out. He doesn't want to call Aunt May. After all, she just moved in with Anna Watson again and he doesn't want to interfere with all that. In desperation, Pete turns to the only name in the book that he hasn't tried... that of his old enemy Flash Thompson. He dials Flash's number (yes, dials... it's a rotary phone), and can barely get a word in edgewise. "You heard?, You what?, You will?, I can?" Pete says. Hanging up the phone, Flash's new roommate decides, "You know a guy for six years and you've never really known him at all." (Now, let's see... if Pete has known Flash for six years, that puts him at about 21, which means everything in the last 26 years of the Spidey books has been condensed into about 1 year. On the other hand, haven't there been some stories lately that established that Pete knew Flash way back when they were kids, which means, using the six year yardstick, that Pete must be about 12 years old at the time of this story? On the other hand, my head hurts and I want to stop this now.)
With his worldly possessions packed into a suitcase and a satchel, Pete hails a cab. It is a long trip from Pete's regular midtown Manhattan haunt to Flash's apartment in Far Rockaway, way out in the hinterlands of Long Island Sound. (It is a place Flash "managed to rent with money left over from his student G.I. Loan", because Flash used to be in the army, you know, and he fought in Vietnam, and here comes that headache again.) The cabbie gives directions as he drives so that Pete can find his way back to Manhattan. Because, friends, this is one desolate stretch of beach front. They pass a couple of old houses right out of Psycho, then finally stop at the only apartment building around. Pete pays off the driver and looks up at the plain, grey, six-story residence. "Well, I'll say this for Flash's building", he says, "It's not ostentatious." (And you can just look it up the way I did back then.)
Pete enters the building, unaware that his presence has been sensed by a very muscular man with an extremely large head. The man is living in one of those Psycho-houses, of course. He peers across the street at the young man entering the apartment, a young man whose "emotions are deeper, his sense of life far more complex" than any of the other people around. The strange man is dressed in tan shorts, a yellow and white striped body shirt that shows off his huge biceps and pecs, and sandals. His dome-like head is bald in front but with a great mane of flowing grey hair behind. His eyes are oversized and white with tiny black pupils. His upper lip spikes upward, giving him the appearance of a vampire; a deliberate trait since the man is a vampire, though of the psychic variety. He declares that he feeds on the emotions of the people who live around him. This is why "some men" (who, exactly?) dared call him "The Mindworm". Now, Peter's presence has added "almost more psychic power than I can stand". In response to this, he "snorts, a foul unhealthy sound" and, in a mockery of the lotus position, sits cross-legged on the dusty floor of his room. (The room is Psycho-like, too, with only a single bed, a small wall-shelf for a handful of books, a plain table and chair with a candle, and barbells and dumbbells under the bed. The Norman Bates Workout.) The Mindworm puts his fingers to his temples and a glow seems to form a halo around his head. It may just be meditation but it also "seems to be... a feeding".
At the apartment, Flash helps to put Pete's things away while our hero takes a look around. He wonders if he's intruding and Flash tells him that, after the army, "a room to myself is like wide-open spaces". Pete tells Flash he thinks "this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship". (And it was, too, until Flash was recently regressed back to an immature lug.)
The conversation moves to the living room. For several hours, the two men talk and Peter learns that he has far more in common with Flash than he ever expected. But it gets late and Flash falls asleep on the couch. Pete lets out a big yawn but is not ready to sleep just yet. He feels like sneaking out and doing a little web-slinging.
Pete slips into his room and changes into his Spidey-suit. Then (a bit too cavalierly for my tastes) he tiptoes past the sleeping Flash and exits through an open window. But, instead of deserted streets, Spidey sees hundreds of people, walking "like zombies... or sleepwalkers... toward the shore". This is something, he decides, that Flash must see. But, when he goes in to awaken Flash, Spidey finds the front door wide open and his new roommate gone. The webhead rushes out into the hallway, just in time to see the elevator heading down. It must be Flash, he decides, in the elevator. He rushes back to the open window, knowing that something "screwy" is going on in Rockaway tonight.
Spidey runs down the wall of the building, heading for the entrance. Sure enough, sleepwalkers are streaming out of the residence. Flash Thompson is right there in front. Spidey realizes that something is affecting everyone but him... then he feels it, too! It triggers his spider-sense; a mental "pull" drawing everyone to one isolated house. People of all ages, "half-undressed, girls in nightgowns, men in pajamas, they're all helpless". Only Spidey is able to resist the pull and, as the crowd pushes up to and around the house, he decides he must take matters into his own hands.
Inside that house, the Mindworm "drinks in the surging" psychic energy and the intensity of it makes him thrash about as if immersed in orgasm. As a result, he thinks back to the day he was born. (Hey, who doesn't, right?) His parents live near a government-installed "experimental compound" which has resulted in "a rash of abnormal births". But this huge-headed baby is the first to actually survive. The father takes one look at his son and it is clear he wishes the mortality rate was complete.
As the years go by, the father loses his job, the mother becomes frailer and more defeated. The Mindworm feels "an indefinable sense of guilt" though he is unaware that his vampiric powers were working all along on his parents. Finally, with his mother little more than "a walking corpse", his powers take away too much, and she drops dead while tucking him into bed. His father, only too aware of the truth of the horror, flees in terror... right into the path of a speeding car.
So it is, that, still very young, the Mindworm is sent to an orphanage, where, one day, he retaliates against the bully who is always picking on him "by doing something funny to the kid's brain". Even so, the fights with the bully are a reminder to him to work hard at building his body just as much as he built his mind. Finally, the adult Mindworm leaves the orphanage for the outside world. He decides to move into an abandoned house in Far Rockaway to feed on people without giving himself away.
But, tonight, the pull is so strong that the whole community is at the house, and this draws the police to the scene. Two cops in a patrol car make their report to headquarters, then abruptly sign off, as they, too, are pulled like lemmings to the Mindworm. The report is just disturbing enough to alarm the dispatch sergeant who contacts the captain who, in turn, makes a frantic call to the riot squad.
Meanwhile, Spidey tries to make his way to the house by pushing through the people. They stand so close together and with such rigidity that he cannot get past. Finally, the crowd moves but Spidey wishes that they hadn't. For, inside the house, the Mindworm is aware of the webslinger and he sends out a mental command to the sleepwalkers. "Kill him, kill him, kill him, kill him", he repeats.
In seconds, the crowd forces Spider-Man down to the ground, their hands hooked into claws as they try to dismember him. But the webhead is a little bit stronger than that. He gets to his feet and tosses his assailants aside. Then, he sprays his webbing on top of heads, around ankles, over entire bodies, in his own attempt at crowd control.
All around the area, with the police report taken much more seriously than you would ever imagine, "forces move into action". The toll bridge is closed down, the "A" train forced to stop, and cops armed with machine guns climb into helicopters and fly to the scene. But, will the cops arrive and be engulfed by the psychic energies, giving "the Mindworm control of an army?"
Spidey isn't worrying about such things. He creates a fence out of webbing to hold the crowd back as he leaps to the roof of the house. His spider-sense locates the right room, then Spidey uses his strength to rip a big chunk out of a second-floor wall. He enters the building and finds the Mindworm cross-legged on the floor.
The Mindworm immediately recognizes Spidey as the "one whose mind is filled with emotion". He must have that emotion and concentrates his powers on the web-spinner. Slowly, Spidey starts to stagger and falls to his knees, "as he feels the very strength of his soul draining from him". But then something happens. That "will to resist" kicks in, that never-say-die attitude that has allowed Spidey to overcome everything from the water trap of the Master Planner to the power of D'Spayre. And Spider-Man stands, in spite of the Mindworm's power. He not only stands, he socks his opponent with a stunning left handed haymaker.
From the floor, the Mindworm attacks with a mental bolt. All the other residents of Rockaway have been slowly conditioned for years to this siphoning but Spidey is not only new, he's stronger! The Mindworm decides that Spidey must die. "Take your best shot, chuckles!", says Spidey as he connects with a right cross. (Now, did Spidey punch an already-fallen Mindworm or did the villain stand up between panels?) The Mindworm has been hurt by the blow but this only motivates him to hurt Spidey in return. Rising to his feet, the Mindworm unleashes a mental assault that causes severe pain to Spidey's head. Then, taking advantage of Spidey's disorientation, the Mindworm leaps on our hero, knocking him through a wooden railing and onto the stairs. The two tumble down the stairway, the Mindworm on top. Using his powerful arms, the Mindworm wraps Spidey up in a crushing grip, all the while declaring that "If I'm to live and survive, I have to destroy you!"
They reach the bottom of the stairs. The Mindworm still has his grip in place and it is breaking Spider-Man's ribcage. "All I've ever wanted is to live here with all these people, all of them feeding me with their minds, their souls", the Mindworm continues. "Then you had to come along and I could hear you, so loud in my mind! That's why I have to crush you, so I can't hear your mind anymore." Spidey is so out of it that he can barely hear anything himself but the Mindworm's comment gives him an idea (and fortunately the Mindworm's ribcage grip leaves Spidey's hands completely free). He reaches up, and with a loud "kra-kow!" smacks the Mindworm on each side of his head, open-handed, right dead on the Mindworm's ears. The villain immediately releases his grip and holds his ringing ears. Spidey explains that the Mindworm "kept talking about hearing minds". This gave him the idea of disrupting the Mindworm's regular hearing to see if this would disrupt his mental hearing as well.
And it seems to do the trick. With a cry, the Mindworm staggers out into the night. His ears are roaring so violently that he can no longer concentrate his power on the people outside. They all turn and sleepwalk back to their homes where they wake up the next day, "thinking it all just a bad dream". When the cops arrive in their helicopters, they don't hear the Mindworm's mental call either. The vampire himself calls to the people but no one responds. He falls to his knees and pounds the ground with his fists. "Don't leave me", he calls, "I've always been so alone, don't you see? And I can't stand being alone! It...it frightens me!"
The police quietly approach this pathetic, shattered man. Peter Parker is there now, too. And Flash Thompson, who has inexplicably stayed and awakened when all the other zombies went home. "Let's get some sleep", Peter tells Flash. Flash agrees. "Guess it's been a long night for us all."
On the Bullpen Bulletins page, Stan's Soapbox touts the beginning of an "exciting new project"... Spidey Super Stories! Check out what Stan was hawking in the Spidey Super Stories Lookbacks elsewhere in PPP.
On the letter page, the topic of the day was trying to figure out who the Jackal was. Charles S. LeCates of Seaford, Delaware thinks the Jackal is "None other than the Kingpin's son, Richard." Kevin Williams of Bellflower, California says, "All your letters seem to assume that someone startling is behind the mask of the Jackal. Well, may I submit to you that the Jackal isn't wearing a mask... and really is the Jackal? It's just a thought." and Michael Biegel of Upper Saddle River, New Jersey says, "In Spider-Man #1, when Spidey beat up the burglar that killed his Uncle Ben (okay, we all know it was actually Amazing Fantasy #15 but let's cut Michael a break)... during the fight, Peter Parker was in costume and said, "You killed my Uncle Ben". Wouldn't that give the crook some idea who Spidey was and is? Or could the burglar know already and be - the Jackal?" All of these writers, though ingenious, were wrong, of course. In one of the responses, Marvel writes, "We told you the revelation of the Jackal's identity would come as a surprise and we meant it." Well, I can't speak for the rest of you guys but it was a surprise to me!
The Mindworm appeared one other time, in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #35, October 1979. It is in that issue that we learn his real name (William Turner) and see the Mindworm grapple with his powers until he finally learns that power is responsibility. At the end of the story, William is "ready to accept that responsibility" and, with a smile, refers to Spidey as "my friend".