During this time, I was continuing to regularly pull comics from the Big Bin of Slightly-Older Books that was maintained by my local drugstore chain, which is where I got this issue of MARVEL TEAM-UP. I still wasn’t much on Spider-Man, but the Human Torch was my guy, and so it was a no-brainer that I’d buy this issue. It’s got what I think of as the classic cover copy for this era–there are innumerable books during this time with the hero thinking to themselves how they can’t win, that they’re finished and done for, that there’s no way they can stop whatever. Clearly somebody thought that desperate odds and failure sold comic books.
The story, the first of two parts, is a weird one, steeped in a slew of old Spider-Man continuity that I was completely unaware of. It’s very much a comic book for people who have been reading Spider-Man for awhile, for all that a newbie like myself could still be entertained by it. Like most issues of MARVEL TEAM-UP, especially during the 1970s, it felt perfunctory and unimportant–anything really important that was going to befall the web-slinger was going to happen in his own comic, right? So TEAM-UP was always just a nice little second helping of B-rate Marvel action, but never anybody’s favorite book.
Te story opens with Spider-Man hanging around on a rooftop feeling depressed for no apparent reason, while he’s stalked by a mysterious gunslinger in the shadows who intends to do him harm. Spidey’s reverie is interrupted by the arrival of Mosquito, a Puerto Rican kid who raises pigeons up on this rooftop. Spidey and the kid “rap” as people did in the 1960s–and Spidey’s spider-sense warns him about the gunman in time to dodge the shot. But one of Mosquito’s pigeons is killed by it, and the shadowy shooter gets away.
Elsewhere, the Human Torch is joyriding around in the Fantasti-car when suddenly a pariat encircles the vehicle and flips it over–it must be said, that is SOME lariat! Johnny flames on and saves himself from falling, and discovers that his assailant is none other than Montana of the Enforcers, whom the Torch had battled in an old issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. The Torch burns up Montana’s lasso, but he’s then felled by Montana’s boss, another gunman in the shadows who douses the Torch with gas. At which point Fancy Dan, Montana’s partner, proceeds to kick the flameless Johnny in the head.
Swinging around town after leaving Mosquito behind, Spidey chances upon what looks like an underworld meet-up. Hoping to get some pictures he can sell to the Daily Bugle, Spidey follows the bad guys inside, curious about the strange coffin that they’re carrying which as airholes poked in the top of it. As the criminals congregate, their boss arrives with the Enforcers–and it turns out that he’s the Big Man, the crime lord who first organized the Enforcers but who died some time thereafter. Spidey’s a bit stunned by the Big Man’s entrance.
Meanwhile, on the letters page, there’s a missive from a reader credited only as Ralph that I’m pretty certain is Ralph Macchio, soon to be an editor at Marvel and who would eventually edit AMAZING SPIDER-MAN. The use of the word Waste in the letter’s first line, a bit of a Ralph trademark, is a tell. It’s also worth looking at the reply to Ralph here, because it’s just a bit more nasty than it really needs to be. Whomever wrote this particular letters page, they seem to have been irked by Ralph’s complaints.
Anyway, the Big Man is auctioning off the right to kill the Torch to the assembled underworld bigwigs who are attending this meet-up, and he has no shortage of takers. Spidey clobbers a guy in the back of te room, appropriating his hat and coat, and uses their cover to maneuver himself close to the casket the Torch is in, which is sealed in with glass. (How this tracks with it also having air holes, I don’t know.) Spidey takes his opportunity to smash the glass, freeing his buddy the Torch, and the fight is on. It’s a one-sided battle, as none of the assembled gangsters, including Montana and Fancy Dan, are really a match for the Torch and Spidey together.
Spidey in particular has a jones to unmask the person posibg as the Big Man, since the real Big Man, Frederick Foswell, gave his life to save Jonah Jameson months earlier and died a hero. Spidey’s cheesed that this new Big Man is besmirching Foswell’s reputation. But before the mask can come off, events are interrupted by a pair of new arrivals: the Sandman (who had teamed up with the Enforcers in that old issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN where Spidey and the Torch fought them together) and the Crime Master, another old Spidey foe who had also met his demise in the past. It’s old home week for dead Ditko gangster villains, apparently, and what’s really going on here wouldn’t be revealed until the next issue. Sadly, I didn’t get to read that issue for decades to come, so I wound up learning what happened in an eventual MARVEL TEAM-UP Index.