If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll likely recall last month’s post about my very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, #59. That issue featured the first part of a three-part story that continued in the comic book that’s the subject of today’s post. As you’ll remember, the first chapter of the tale found our hero going up against a mysterious “new” foe called the Brainwasher — who, on the story’s last page, was revealed to be a not-quite-so-new villain after all — namely, the Kingpin.
Not that the Kingpin was exactly a veteran adversary of Spider-Man. He had, in fact, appeared in only one previous storyline, which had run through three issues of the comic less than a full year earlier.
The Kingpin — ultimately to also be known by his “real name” of Wilson Fisk, although readers wouldn’t learn that particular fact for another 13 years — had made his debut in issue #50, although he didn’t make the cover (which, as shown at left, featured instead one of artist John Romita’s most iconic covers). The Kingpin’s cover debut followed in issue #51, and the Stan Lee-scripted tale wrapped up in the following issue, #52. While it didn’t give much background on the big guy (let alone reveal his real name), the story established the basics that would define the character for decades to come — a ruthless crime boss who’s ready and willing to get his own hands dirty, and whose apparent corpulence belies the fact that he’s made of muscle, and a formidable hand-to-hand fighter, to boot. Indeed, he’s strong and skilled enough to take on Spider-Man one-on-one, without the aid of any actual “super-powers” or external armament.
And that’s just what he does in the opening scene of issue #60, which kicks off with this splash page:
Spidey and the Kingpin go at it for a couple of pages, until the big guy catches our hero by his feet and swings him “around like a rag doll!” (to use Spidey’s phrase), just like on the cover And when the Kingpin finally lets go…
The dazed Spider-Man manages to make his getaway, but what about Captain Stacy? You may recall that our hero got into this mess when, while he was enjoying an evening out with friends as Peter Parker, his girlfriend Gwen Stacy’s dad went missing from the nightspot they were visiting (the Gloom Room A-Go-Go), and Pete opted to investigate as Spidey.
As it turns out, they don’t call the Kingpin the Brainwasher (even sometimes) for nothing:
While all this is going on in the nightclub’s back rooms, Gwen is starting to worry about the now-missing Pete as well — especially when their friend Mary Jane Watson (who works at the club) comes to tell Gwen and their other friend, Harry Osborn, that she just witnessed a fight between Spider-Man and some hoods. But then, Capt. Stacy shows up — seemingly none the worse for wear — and tells the kids that there’s nothing to worry about:
Meanwhile, Peter — still in the guise of Spider-Man — has discovered that the electrical shock he received from the Kingpin’s equipment has shaken him up worse than he realized, giving him a dangerous case of double vision:
Spidey eventually manages to make it home, but the night brings no rest to the worried mind of our wall-crawling hero:
“The girl I love!” It’s a big moment for Pete, as he realizes just how serious his feelings for Gwen Stacy have become. But since it comes to him in the midst of his anguish over how he’s going to be able to protect her and her dad while dealing with his injury, it’s also a notable signifier that even in this era — when Steve Ditko’s science-nerd, sweater-vest-wearing “puny Parker” has been mostly superseded by John Romita’s romance-comics-hero, motorcycle-riding version of the character — your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man’s life is not (and is probably never going to be) a bed only of sweet-smelling roses; he’s always going to be dealing with at least some weeds. As a new reader in the winter of 1968, I had yet to meet the earlier, “nerdier” version of Peter Parker, but scenes such as this one, focusing on the young hero’s inner turmoil, would quickly come to define the character for me.
In the next scene, Pete visits the Stacys at home, hoping that if he can talk to Gwen’s father alone, he can get a better sense of what’s going on. Unfortunately, when Pete asks Capt. Stacy what he knows about the fight Spider-Man got into at the club the previous night, the older man — who’d been nothing but friendly to Pete when they’d met before, not to mention rather sympathetic towards Spider-Man — becomes downright hostile:
One thing that struck me in re-reading this story for the blog is the apparent huge age difference between Gwen — who gives her age as 18, elsewhere in the issue — and her father, who appears to be in his mid-to-late 60s at the youngest. That would indicate that Capt. Stacy sired Gwen when he was around 50 (or older), which isn’t impossible, of course, but is nevertheless rather unusual. Of course, Amazing Spider-Man had already set a precedent for this kind of thing with Peter’s own elderly Aunt May. One can’t help but wonder why Stan Lee and his collaborators were inclined to make so many of Marvel’s parental figures so aged, though I don’t expect we’ll ever know the definite reason (or reasons).
Anyway, as you can imagine, despite Peter’s plea, Gwen quite reasonably chooses to believe the evidence of her own eyes, and tearfully throws her erstwhile boyfriend out of the house, saying she never wants to see him again. Knowing the only way to put things right is to get Capt. Stacy out from under the Kingpin’s influence, Peter is anxious to go after the crime boss as Spider-Man — but he feels he must wait until his vision has cleared. Meanwhile, the brainwashed Capt. Stacy puts in a call to his new master:
Note the reference to our hero as a “teenager” in the first of the two panels above. I’m not sure at what point my younger self realized that Spider-Man was supposed to be less than 20 years old. It may well have been via the animated television series, which I started watching in the fall of 1967 — but it’s also possible that I learned that fact, or at least had it driven unambiguously home, by the Kingpin’s dialogue in this panel. However and whenever I learned it, though, I clearly remember that it was a big deal — mainly because virtually all the other teenage superheroes I was familiar with had words like “Boy” or “Lass” or “Kid” attached to their names. Peter Parker, on the other hand, was a teenager, but he wasn’t called “Spider-Boy” — he was Spider-Man, and what was more, this “kid” was also obviously Marvel’s flagship character. That made a huge impression on me, and was one of the things that served to set Marvel on a different level from my long-loved DC Comics, and their unambiguously “older generation” heroes like Superman and Batman.
But getting back to our story… the Kingpin sends a couple of goons to Peter’s apartment to silence him, permanent-like (the big man doesn’t mess around), but since our hero is out at the time, visiting his ailing Aunt May, they only find Pete’s roommate Harry there at the time. Fortunately for Mr. Osborn, the thugs have a description of their intended target to go by and aren’t inclined to casual murder, so they only threaten Harry and mess up the apartment a bit before leaving, promising to return later. (In some ways, this sequence feels a little like Lee and Romita are padding the story to fill the specified page count. On the other hand, putting Spidey’s best friend in danger, along with his girlfriend and her father, could be seen as meaningfully raising the stakes for our hero.)
After returning to the apartment and getting the lowdown from Harry, Peter decides he can’t wait any longer to go into action as Spider-Man:
Spidey heads to the Gloom Room A-Go-Go to confront the Kingpin — but just as he arrives, he sees Capt. Stacy getting into a car with a couple of hoods. He trails the car to police headquarters, where he sees Stacy take the crooks straight to the steel vault where the NYPD’s vital records are stored. The web-slinger quickly sets up his automatic camera outside a window to snap pictures of what’s about to go down — and then, it’s action time:
Trying to subdue the two bona-fide bad guys without hurting Stacy, Spidey leaves himself open to attack from the retired, elderly (but still pretty spry) police captain:
The crooks and Stacy escape, confident that they can claim Spider-Man was the one trying to rob the police file room, and no one will doubt them. Unluckily for them, however, when Pete develops his roll of film at home, his photos prove that they were rummaging through files of records before Spidey ever got there.
Pete doesn’t know whom he can trust at police HQ — or in any other city department, for that matter — since he doesn’t know who else may have been suborned by the Kingpin’s brainwashing technology. So, reluctantly, he does the only other thing he thinks he can do — and sells the photos to newspaper publisher J. Jonah Jameson:
Hoo, boy! It looks like things are going to get worse before they get better. But isn’t that always the way it goes with your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man? Check back in around 30 days or so to see how it all turns out, when we review Amazing Spider-Man #61, “What a Tangled Web We Weave!”
One more thing before I go…
I mentioned earlier that Marvel’s casting of teenagers in the roles of primary heroes — not just sidekicks — was one of the things that helped set them apart from DC. Another thing that set them apart from their competition back in early ’68 were ads like this one:
And also this one:
These two ads, which both appeared in Amazing Spider-Man #60 — tucked away among other classifieds hawking model rockets and weight gain pills (yes, weight gain) — were among the earliest indicators I had that comic book collecting was a thing, an actual hobby, just like coin and stamp collecting were hobbies. That there were people who sold (and bought) back issues. That there were also people (sometimes, but not always, the same people) who wrote historical articles and created art about the comic books they enjoyed.
It would be another year, probably more, before I had the nerve to send off a quarter to Robert Bell (and to his primary competitor, at least as far as advertising in Marvel comics went, Howard Rogofsky) for a back issues price list. And it would be several years after that before I ever saw a copy of Rocket’s Blast Comicollector (or any other fanzine, for that matter) let alone bought one. But I can’t help but feel that these ads — my earliest glimpses of the worlds of comics collecting and fandom — were themselves milestones in my own personal journey with comic books; and so, I’m commemorating them here.
We do have some scarily similar memories! Right down to the Rocket’s Blast/Robert Bell/Howard Rogofsky ads fascination.
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J.Jonah Jameson had to have been the only person, post 1945, to sport a Hitler mustache.
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Don Heck’s finishing of the great Johnny Romita’s pencil’s ruined the artwork. I always admired Heck’s work on the Avengers, though.
Gary, the Romita/Heck/Esposito collaboration works surprisingly well to my eyes — but that’s what makes a horse race, right? Thanks for commenting!