|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
Spidey is web-slinging home, twenty stories above the street, when his spider-sense starts to tingle. Without regard to the cost of the window, the web-slinger crashes through a skylight to see what is causing his alarm to go off. He finds a "fully-equipped laboratory" stashed away on the top floor of "a run-down apartment building", which strikes him as strange. Stranger still is the fact that the lab has been trashed. Two men wearing orange jumpsuits have been beaten into unconsciousness. Clearly, this destruction just happened. The web-spinner deduces that the culprit has just exited through two swinging doors into a dark hallway. Spidey follows. But in that darkness, our hero walks squarely into a hard punch in the jaw. (Why didn't his spider-sense warn him of that?) From the shadows, the man behind the fist announces, "Cursse you Ssspider-Man... thisss isss none of your affair!" Amazingly, Spidey does not immediately recognize this sibilant voice. Nor does he intend to call it quits, especially now that has been physically attacked. But before he can act, he is doubled up by a kick in the gut. In the time it takes him to recover, the assailant escapes out another door.
Seconds later, Spider-Man follows. The next room is well lit. The attacker won't be able to hide in the shadows there. But as he barrels through the doors, the wall-crawler runs into two more guys in orange jumpsuits. Only these guys have guns. Spidey realizes what this lab is: "a secret SHIELD installation". This doesn't help him convince the new arrivals that he had nothing to do with the brutal attack. So, once again, while dodging bullets, the misunderstood web-slinger is forced to battle the good guys. He shoots two streams of webbing to cover the eyes of each of the SHIELD agents, then crashes through a window and out into the night. (And at least this time he apologizes for "all the broken glass".) He continues on his way home, wondering why he persists in sticking his nose into things he knows nothing about.
Somewhere in midtown Manhattan, Dr. Curtis Connors is watching TV in his combination laboratory-apartment. He turns off the set when he hears his wife and son enter. Martha and Billy have been out shopping for Christmas presents and Curt offers to help them haul the stuff in. Billy tells him that he has bought something for him and doesn't want his dad to peek but Curt insists on helping (maybe he just wants to peek), stands up, and falls flat on his face. Martha rushes to him, asking if he is all right. Curt thinks he is fine; just a little woozy from "that explosion of a few days back". ("That explosion" refers to events in the previous issue, ASM #164 (January 1977) in which the Kingpin used his "Vita-drain" machine to suck the life force out of Spidey so he could revive Richard, his comatose son. The machine does its job, leaving Spidey running on empty. He barely makes his way to Curt Connors's apartment. There, Curt puts Spidey in his "enervator" which restores the webhead enough so that he can go after the Kingpin. Curt gives Spidey a device that he adapts into a "siphoning mechanism". Spidey uses this gizmo to siphon his life force back from Richard. In the ensuing battle, the Kingpin topples to his apparent death, Richard is left comatose once more, and the Kingpin's wife Vanessa decides to end the feud then and there. And, oh yeah!... the reason I'm even mentioning this... as Curt uses the enervator on Spidey, the machine's generator explodes leaving the one-armed doctor very shaky and, perhaps, heading to "Lizardness".) As Martha asks Curt why he hasn't told her about this, as Curt explains that he thought the dizzy spells would pass, as Billy starts to carry packages out of the living room, someone starts to loudly knock at the door. Finally, Martha tells Billy to answer the door and tell the visitor to come back later but before Billy can do that, the thumping knocks the door right off its hinges! And who is on the other side, barging his way in? Why, Stegron the Dinosaur Man!
Steggy barges in and does the first thing practically anyone does when they come to visit the Connors family... he picks up Billy and prepares to kidnap him! (I mean, how many times has this kid been kidnapped anyway? He must twitch every time the doorbell rings.) Martha tries to put up a fight but Stegron shakes free of her. Curt is amazed that Steggy is still alive but he shakes off his surprise enough to attack. Steggy knocks Curt across the room onto a table with a backhand slap. (No, it's not a "table with a backhand slap", it's a... you know what I mean.) He tells Connors that he "could ssslay you with a sssingle blow" but he has a need for him. In Curt's lab, the Dino Man has left the materials he has stolen "plusss detailed instructionsss for their ussse". Curt has forty-eight hours to follow those instructions or else Billy will be returned to him "bone by bone". Stegron runs off with Billy. Martha asks Curt what they can do about it. As far as her husband's concerned, there is only one thing they can do. He gets to his feet and heads to his lab, ready to follow the instructions and get to work.
Meanwhile, in an alley, Peter Parker is pulling his sweater over his Spidey shirt when he spots Flash Thompson walking by. After getting completely dressed, Pete emerges from the alley and flags Flash down. He has something he needs to get off his chest. He hasn't liked the way Flash has been pursuing Mary Jane, or, as Pete puts it, "chasing after my girl!" (as exemplified by MJ and Flash's little frolic in the grass back in ASM #162, November 1976) and he lets his old High School rival have it. He tells him he is "fed up" and ready to "open old wounds" if need be. Flash lets Pete have his say, then explains that "I have no idea what you're talking about". "I thought Mary Jane Watson was a free agent", Flash says. After all, he tells Pete, it sure seemed that way when she suggested to Flash that they go out... not the other way around. Flash then tells Pete that he wouldn't have cut in if he'd known there was still a relationship there with MJ. "After all, Pete", Flash says, "you're my friend, aren't ya?" And next thing Pete knows, the two men are shaking hands and Flash is heading off, determined to "have a little chat with our dear Ms. Watson" since "this is one ex-soldier who dislikes being played for a chump". Alone again, Pete heads down the steps to a subway station and whacks himself in the head for his stupidity. "You haven't got all that many friends, mister", he chides himself, "that you can afford to walk around with a boulder-sized chip on your shoulder!"
Over at Empire State University, J. Jonah Jameson is hanging out with Dr. Marla Madison. Not long before, Jonah introduced himself to Dr. Madison (in fact, it was also in ASM #162 on the page following Flash and MJ on the grass) as a "good friend of your late father". "You're one of the most eminent electro-biologists in this country, yet you claim you've run out of challenges", he tells her. But he has a new challenge for it and it involves destroying Spider-Man. Now, at this meeting, Marla pulls Jonah's lit cigar out of his mouth, and fits him with a "psycho-cybernetic helmet". With the device, that looks like half of a red hubcap, on Jonah's head, Marla takes readings on a panel with nine different EEG lines. Marla couldn't care less about Spider-Man but she is interested in the challenge and, by the time she has finished taking her readings, she is certain it is a challenge surmounted. She cheerfully hands Jonah's cigar back to him. "Before the week is out", she tells JJJ, "you'll be able to face Spider-Man precisely as we've planned and defeat him!"
That evening, Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson have a talk as they walk through the strangely deserted streets of Manhattan. Pete sarcastically thanks MJ for showing up ("What? No heavy date with Flash Thompson? Amazing!" he says.) and she tells him he is being cruel. MJ says Flash came by, told her about the talk he had with Pete, and tore into her for placing the two men against each other. "It took more courage than I thought I had to even show up here tonight", she says. Pete is not sympathetic. He asks her what she thought she was doing, playing games with his emotions. MJ's reply: "I... I just don't know." She tells him that it all started so simply. When Gwen died (ASM #121, June 1973), she was ready to step in as a friend. But then Pete kissed her before his flight to Paris (ASM #143, April 1975) and things got more complicated. "All my life I had been happy-go-lucky Mary Jane Watson, Queen of the swinging set", she says, "I didn't take anything from anybody that they didn't offer me first". But the problem, Pete replies, is that she "didn't give anything to anyone either".
By this time, the couple has passed by the Museum of Natural History and arrived at the Hayden Planetarium for the laserium show. They continue their talk as they take their seats. MJ talks about looking around and seeing all their friends getting married. But every time she wants to get close to Pete, he is running off to take his "precious photos". "So I get possessive and I hate myself", she says, "and I hate you for making me hate myself." As the light show begins, Pete suggests that they "let things ride for a while... let water find its own level". But some people are at the planetarium to see the show and they aren't interested in listening to Pete and MJ's soap opera. After being blasted to "pipe down", Pete whispers to MJ that he's glad they had this talk. Then the show suddenly ends as the whole room goes completely, unaccountably dark!
At the Connors home, Martha has picked up the phone to call the police but Curt stops her. He promises her that he will get Billy home without any assistance. A teary Martha hugs Curt. He puts his arm around her... and notices a telltale twinge in his hand. Suddenly he breaks away from his wife, knowing he has to get back to work in his lab, before it is too late for him to do anything.
In the Museum of Natural History, Vincent Stegron steps into the room that houses the dinosaur skeletons. He has a ray gun with him that will generate an electro-magnetic field, which will reanimate the bones. He shoots it at the skeleton of a triceratops.
In the darkened planetarium, Pete tells MJ it is time for him to take his "precious photos" again. MJ promises that, "This time I'll understand." Pete runs through a dark hallway, hoping that MJ doesn't notice that he doesn't have his camera with him.
In the dino room, Steggy has animated a stegosaurus skeleton, as he goes into his usual rant about the "long-tailed brothersss" reassuming their place in the world with him as their king.
In a stairwell, Pete changes to Spidey. He hears a heavy clumping sound coming his way so he charges up the steps to meet it and he ends up coming face-to-face with the skeleton of a lumbering brontosaurus. The bronty knocks into him with its jaw and the web-slinger somersaults backwards to get out of the way. When he settles back to earth, "a whole blasted army of those runaway doggie bones" confronts him. He's backed against the wall so he leaps to the ceiling, allowing the bones of the bronty, the stegosaurus, the triceratops, and a t-rex to exit the museum and head out toward the street. Spidey watches them as they cross Central Park West and head into Central Park (and, again, there is no one on the street...what's the deal?). He makes no move in their direction, apparently because he is too busy trying to figure out who could be responsible for this. (Let's see... animated dinosaur bones, a voice that uses three "S"s where one is sufficient... who the heck could this be?) While he is puzzling this out, his spider-sense tingles and the webhead ducks just in time to avoid the swinging, spiked tail of Stegron!
The wall-crawler strikes quickly back. He leaps and catches Stegron's head in a full nelson using his feet. (Steggy is wearing a machine around his neck that looks like a car battery on a strap but is actually the control device for his animated dinosaurs.) Then he grabs Steggy by the tail and swings his opponent against the wall. Then he lays a hard right hook into Steggy's jaw. It is about this time that Spidey asks how Stegron managed to survive sinking to the bottom of the harbor (as seen in MTU #20, April 1974). Steggy takes a punch at Spidey (which Spidey avoids by leaping up in the air and which takes a chuck of stone out of the museum wall) as he explains that he reduced his metabolism to "a ssstate of virtual sssussspended animation", and then drifted with the current until he was finally washed onshore. Spidey strikes back, by standing on the wall, and punching Stegron with a left. This punch knocks the car battery from around Steggy's neck. The Dino Man lifts a big chuck of stone over his head to use as a weapon but Spidey punches him in the gut and the stone falls out of his hands and lands on his head. It is then that Steggy notices that he has dropped his dinosaur control box. He tries to get up and grab it but the wall-crawler is too fast for him. Spidey is bound to get a hold of the box so Stegron uses his tail to demolish a stone pillar and all the rubble falls onto the web-slinger. Steggy grabs his control box and races away.
A short time later, there is movement amongst the fallen rock. It is our hero, who managed to brace himself under the stone and thereby avoid injury. But he is too late to stop Stegron who is long gone. (And so are the people of New York! What is the deal with this long empty stretch of Central Park West? Where the heck is everybody???)
Back at Curt Connors's place, the strain of the work and worry have proven too much for the scientist. Ever since the enervator explosion, his body has been trying to affect the metamorphosis. Now, he can resist it no longer. His missing arm starts to regenerate and grow scaly. Then, the rest of his body follows suit. In seconds, the creature known as the Lizard is back! And he is ticked off at Stegron the Dinosaur Man. "Beware", he calls out to his former assistant, "For the Lizard is coming to destroy you!!"