Now that I had begun to pick up AMAZING SPIDER-MAN as a new series, I also did the typical thing and began being open to buying somewhat older issues of the title out of my local drugstore’s Big Bin of Slightly Older Comics made up of affidavit returns that were intended to have been destroyed. And so, one of the first Spidey issues that I read was this one. By a fluke, this was the issue after #159, which my brother had bought a year or two previously and which I now had access to, so in a way it was as though I hadn’t missed a thing, even though 20 issues had gone by. That cover is also among the most 1960s DC covers done by Marvel in the 1970s. Part of that is due to the fact that the premise is ludicrous on the surface of it. By the same time, seeing this cover interested me in the story contained therein. So silly or not, I was hooked, especially for 20 cents.
The splash page to issue #160 almost exactly matches the final panel in #159–same extreme downshot on Spidey swinging away from the street–and this gave me the impression that these events were taking place moments thereafter, even though there’s no evidence of that in the story itself. For all that Ross Andru had his strengths and weaknesses as a Spider-Man artist, pulling off these strange urban shots was pretty cool, and something that nobody who came after him would even much attempt.
Writer Len Wein had been laying track on a number of storylines since he began writing the book, and in this issue he decided to bring the sage of the Spider-Mobile to a close. For those not in the know, the Spider-Mobile was the result of a demand from the licensing department at Marvel through Stan Lee that the wall-crawler be given a car, the better to be able to merchandise the character on toy vehicles and the like. Writer Gerry Conway did as he was instructed, but his disdain for the Spider-Mobile showed through every satirical moment–both he and Spidey made fun of the car constantly, and he ultimately had the web-slinger accidentally drive it off a pier while battling Mysterio. A couple of issues later, new writer Len Wein had Spidey go diving in search of the wreckage, since Carter and Lombardo, the two ad execs who had commissioned Spider-Man to build a car (and who were very thinly disguised caricatures of Stan Lee and Roy Thomas) would be asking about it. But Spidey discovered that the wreckage had disappeared, and while this perplexed him, he really stopped worrying about it. But Len wasn’t finished with the car yet.
This story opened with Spidey attempting to break up a burglary by a gang of high-tech crooks that he’d run into on a few earlier occasions–these guys were working for the Kingpin, though we didn’t know it at the time. But the fight is broken up by the astonishing appearance of the Spider-Mobile, which is driverless and which sprays Spider-Man with a mist that neutralizes his wall-sticking ability and also clogs his web-shooters–shades of the Green Goblin! The crazy self-driving car tries to kill him, but using a drainage pipe as a vaulting pole, Spidey is able to make his escape from the homicidal dune buggy. After a visit to Aunt May in the hospital (where she was recuperating from the previous adventure) and a check-in with the supporting cast of Mary Jane, Harry Osborn and Liz Allan–to say nothing of publisher J. Jonah Jameson, who drives off yet another personal assistant before opening a package of photographs that have been sent to him anonymously and declaring that they spell the end for his nemesis the wall-crawler–Peter tests his various powers back at his apartment, and everything seems to be in working order. Consequently, he decides that he needs to head out, find and destroy his runaway motorcar.
This proves to be more difficult than he imagined, though, as when he’s finally able to find the Spider-Mobile, the car once again douses him in power-neutralizing mist, and shows off some new abilities of its own–notably, the power to somehow drive right up the side of a building in pursuit of the retreating web-slinger. And yeah, this doesn’t really work at all, the Spider-Mobile seems to somehow be able to reorient itself 45 degrees instantaneously without worrying about how–but it’s comics, just go with it. The car has Spidey on the run, chasing him across the rooftops before eventually ensnaring him with its web-cannons and depositing him in its back seat, to be taken–somewhere.
That somewhere is the headquarters of the man who has rebuild the Spider-Mobile into a weapon to destroy the web-head, the terrible Tinkerer. These days the Tinkerer is a ubiquitous part of Spider-Man’s gallery of villains, but back when this issue came out, he was a mostly-forgotten foe from very early one, one who had been revealed in the final panels to have been an alien in disguise. Here, Len throws that explanation out and sets up the Tinkerer as what he would eventually become: the arms manufacturer for super-villains. But he’s got a Jones for vengeance on Spider-Man, and what would be more humiliating that having his own car kill him? Fortunately, Spidey is still a wiseass, and he’s able to goad the Tinkerer’s muscle Toy into tearing him free from the webbing that’s incapacitating him.
From there, it’s a perfunctory dust-up, as Spider-Man trashes the Spider-Mobile, Toy and the Tinkerer all in the space of a few pages–and in the end, he delivers the wreck of the Spider-Mobile back to Corona Motors with good riddance. It’s unclear from this story whether Len intended for Toy to be a (super-)strong human being or what, but the scene where Spidey webs him up in airtight webbing bugged Roger Stern enough that, years later, he’d do a story to establish that Toy was a robot, a creation of the Tinkerer’s. Which makes as much sense as anything. This was a fun yarn, light and breezy and done-in-one, so I enjoyed it as a young reader quite a bit. It was silly and fun, and very much along the lines of the Flash stories that I had enjoyed in the past.
The letters page this time out included a correspondence from Dean Mullaney, a regular Marvel reader and fan who along with his brother Jan would eventually found Eclipse Comics in the late 1970s, one of the earliest of the independent comic book publishers. But that was still a hair’s breath away at this moment, and here he’s just a fan enjoying the latest Spider-Man adventures,