I can distinctly remember looking at the cover to this issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN when it first came out, through the window of a candy store near to where my Grandmother lived. At that time, I hadn’t yet taken the plunge into buying Marvel books–but this cover, very much in the DC style of the 1960s where an unbelievable situation is presented that can only be explained by reading the issue, got my attention. I wondered what it was all about. And so, nine months or so later, when the issue turned up in the 3-Bags that could be found in department stores and toy stores, I wound up purchasing it. On a separate note, look at the crooked paste-up on Jonah’s word balloons, especially the second one. Somebody in the Bullpen was a bit cockeyed the day this cover went through production.
This is something of a weird issue, a bit of a pause between what had come before and what was about to be going on in the issues to come. But it was also given over to resolving a threat that had been kicking around since the beginning of writer/editor Len Wein’s time on the series: that being who took those photos of Spidey dumping the dead body of his clone down a smokestack for disposal and what were they going to do with them? Len actually dropped a stitch in terms of establishing who–it was Harry Osborn, of course. But here we’d get the payoff on that whole thread. We’d also get another off-kilter art job from Ross Andru, those days the wall-crawler’s regular artist. There’s something a bit bizarre about the manner in which he’s got Spidey standing at a right angle to that building here on this splash page. Even with spider-powers, that’s got tot be tough on the ankles.
In typical Marvel 70s style–I almost want to say formula–the issue opens up with action, albeit throw-away action, as Spidey stumbles upon a van full of convicts who are making an escape attempt. Spidey brings that attempt to a close by ripping out a lamppost and using it like a baseball bat to clobber the van–which seems like a pretty extreme way of doing things, but at least it was colorful. After some quick mop-up, Spidey heads off into the night, and we check in with members of his cast: Jonah Jameson and his new girlfriend Marla Madison are lamenting the failure of Marla’s Spider-Slayer robot to capture the web-slinger, while Harry Osborn introduces his girlfriend Liz Allen to his therapist Bart Hamilton, a mellow 70s kind of guy who will ultimately take up Harry’s mantle as the Green Goblin in a few issues. Given how few pages the Marvel books had to work with in the 1970s (there are 17 story pages in this issue) it’s telling that so much of the space is devoted to the people in Peter Parker’s life beyond his immediate Spidey situation.
Anyway, by the time Spidey makes it back to his apartment, Jonah Jameson is waiting for him there–saying tat he’s got something important to discuss with him. Upon being let in, Jameson grabs Peter Parker’s air and attempts to pull off the Mission: Impossible-style Parker mask that he thinks Pete is wearing, to conceal the fact that he’s really Spider-Man. Of course, that’s no mask, and so Jonah is momentarily stymied–but he then pulls out the packet of photos that we knew from the cover was coming, insisting that they show that Spider-Man killed the real Peter Parker and stole his identity.
But it turns out that Peter learned about the incriminating pictures in a previous issue and has already made preparations for Jonah’s eventual attempt to unmask him. After a bit of bad acting, Peter goes to a closet and digs through a box of his own photos, picking out a series of shots that seem to be components of the photographs that Jonah has. He explains that Jonah’s photos must be clever double-exposure forgeries. (In fact, it is Peter’s pictures that are the forgeries, but Jonah has no way of knowing this.) After some more bluster, Jonah is placated–and Peter lets the rest of the plotline drop, not ever really wondering just how Jonah got those pictures or who might have sent them to Jameson. Sloppy, Spidey!
Anyway, with that drama out of the way, it’s web-slinging time, and Spidey heads back out into the night–and we get a one-panel cameo from Stan Lee and a pair of contest winners. These kids had been on the New York area Sunday morning show Wonderama and had won in a Spider-Man dance contest, the prize for which was being drawn into an issue of the comic book. (I presume they were plugging the Spider-Man: Rock Reflections of a Super Hero album at the time, and maybe the newspaper strip.) I remember having seen that episode of Wonderama when it aired, actually, and being fascinated watching John Romita draw Spider-Man in real time. The real question here is why those kids are out on the street all by themselves so late at night.
But now it’s time to get down to brass tacks. Swinging around, Spidey’s attention is drawn to a guy skulking through the shadows. Dropping down, the wall-crawler discovers that he’s a henchman on his way to a heist, so after webbing the guy up for the cops, Spidey bursts in on the erst of his cohorts, and the action starts. There are a bunch of guys left in the fight, and they’ve got a mobile laser cannon purchased from the Tinkerer to attempt to cut through the wall of a subway tunnel which can also be repurposed as a weapon–but they really aren’t any match for Spider-Man.
But the bad guys have made mention of waiting for their leader to arrive, so Spidey isn’t too surprised when a large figure with a cigarette holder emerges from the shadows. Despite having just defeated him a couple issues ago, Spider-Man assumes that this is the Kingpin, back for another round–but he and we are surprised to discover that this mystery player is actually Captain America’s old enemy Doctor Faustus, who smokes a mean cigarette holder himself. And on that note, our story is To Be Continued–though Doc Faustus really doesn’t seem to be much of a threat to the wall-crawler in person.