This was another issue that I purchased in a 3-Bag, the most readily available source of recent back issues in 1978. In that time before widespread comic book stores and trade paperback collections, these plastic bags containing three recent books (typically about nine months old) could be found in the toy departments of department stores, supermarkets, toy stores and the like. They were plentiful, and so I filled in a bunch of recent holes in both my Marvel knowledge and my burgeoning collection by picking them up. It was always a bit of a crapshoot since you were limited by which books happened to be bagged together with one another. But since I was still a relatively new Marvel reader, I didn’t run into any situations where I already owned some book in a bag with another book that I also wanted.
Spider-Man was sort of in a weird place in the 1970s when I started following his adventures. A far cry from the nerdy outcast he had started out as, in the Me-decade, the wall-crawler had become positively hip and plugged into the scene, a lot more with-it for all of his problems that I could ever hope to be as a reader. This was the sense of what the audience wanted at the time (and in part an extension of the fact that Spidey had grown so popular he was already headlining five regular titles, including SPIDEY SUPER STORIES.) But that made it more difficult for me to connect with him on an emotional level a lot of the time.
Visually, Spider-Man’s series continued to be in the idiosyncratic hands of artist Ross Andru, whose work was somewhat divisive among fans. Marvel art director John Romita loved Ross’s work, and in particular the manner in which he’d produce lovingly rendered perspective shots of the actual Manhattan as Spidey swung around the city. On the other hand, I had a friend who accurately once described Ross’s Spider-Man as looking like a little old man in a Spider-Man costume a lot of the time. Ross’s work on the series could be something of an acquired taste–but he was the flavor of Spider-Man in this era, having been on the book consistently since issue #125 and with no sign that he would be departing any time soon.
This issue opens with Spider-Man finding himself in the middle of a heist being carried out by minions of the evil psychologist Doctor Faustus. Spidey had thought he was facing the Kingpin given Faustus’ large bulk and cigarette holder–but no such luck. Faustus is able to get the upper hand, though, using a gas spread through his cigarette smoke to cause Spidey to hallucinate that he’s being attacked by all of his enemies at once, in a scene right off of the cover. Faustus then proves his friendship to Spidey by banishing those ghosts and taking the wall-crawler protectively under his arm. Meanwhile, there’s a slightly prophetic cut-away to where Liz Allen and Mary Jane Watson are shopping for a wedding dress for Liz, where MJ momentarily muses on marrying Peter Parker. This was still the flighty, sassy, party girl incarnation of MJ, so while events would get there over the next decade, it was difficult to imagine this MJ getting married to anybody.
Spidey’s been so enthralled by Dr Faustus’ narcotic smoke and his psychological rap that he goes along with the gang, helping them to break into the high-tech lab that they’re trying to loot. This gives Ross a few opportunities to show what he can do on the action front, including this cool multiple image panel as Spidey agilely dodges through a field of stun beams. Things aren’t looking good for the web-slinger, as he’s pretty much just about helped the bad guys get away with their scheme.
Elsewhere, writer Len Wein begins another subplot–one that would go untouched-upon for another twenty-some issues after this, but which would prove important to the web-slinger’s 200th anniversary issue. Out in Forest Hills, a mysterious hatted figure rents the house where Peter Parker grew up, which is still owned by his Aunt May. Despite the different art style, eagle-eyed readers could tell instantly that this figure was the burglar who killed Uncle Ben hears before–and his declaration that he’d come back for the secret hidden inside the house portended dangerous things for the future. It’s just that nobody knew how far off that future would turn out to be.
Back at the lab, Faustus and his guys have reached their objective: an enormous vat of a vaccine created to inoculate the public against a dangerous new strain of the flu–how timely! Faustus intends to add in his own psychotropic compound, which will allow him to control the minds of everybody who is inoculated with the drug. But at this point, his cigarette smoke starts to wear off and Spidey starts paying attention to the crazy things he’s saying, and snaps out of his stupor, launching himself at Faustus and his men.
This fight ought to be a cake walk for the web-slinger: a half-dozen goons and an overweight psychiatrist against the proportionate strength of a spider? Please. However, as this is the back half of the issue and we need an extended action sequence, things don’t go smoothly for ol’ Spidey, and he winds up getting knocked around a lot more than he ought to be Faustus. In the end, the big man hits him with another blast of his hallucinogenic gas and makes a run for it. But Spidey quickly reconnects the security system that he tore apart earlier and Faustus winds up blasted by the very stun beams that Spider-Man dodged earlier. The end.