So the next time my family went to our local pharmacy, I chose to develop my burgeoning interest in Spider-Man by digging through their Big Big of Slightly Older Comics and walking away with two consecutive issues of MARVEL TALES, the reprint series that presented anew stories from AMAZING SPIDER-MAN that were a number of years old. These reprints were being edited, alas, as the page count for new material in the Marvel books at the time was 17 pages (18 on a reprint if you had no letters/text page) but the stories that were being reprinted had been 20 pages long–although some, like this issue, were originally 19 pages in length, with one page being broken in half across two pages with ads underneath–one of several sneaky cost-saving measures that Marvel would attempt during the 1970s.
I had no way to know it diving in, of course, but this story was an acknowledged classic even then, culminating in the demise of a long-running Spidey supporting player. On top of that, it looks excellent. Gil Kane had taken over the penciling, and he brought some real Ditko flair to his compositions (he swiped Ditko Spider-Man figures in a few places) while retaining the more kinetic aspects that he had been attempting to cultivate in his own work. Over top of that, John Romita provided his lush finish, making sure that all of the characters were on model. This was a very effective combination. Dialogue, as always up to this point, was provided by writer/editor Stan Lee.
In the opening, Spider-Man is mid-fight with his recurring foe Doctor Octopus, with whom he’d been tussling for three issues now. Thrown off a rooftop and with his web-shooters empty, Spidey performs some breathtaking acrobatics and makes his way deep into the building, pursued by Ock’s probing tentacles. I remember well this tense moment where Spider-Man crouches in the darkness, the tentacles waving around in front of him, trying to find him–before they withdraw and he is safe. He does manage to hit one with one of his patented Spidey tracers so that he’ll be able to locate Ock for the inevitable grudge match later on in the story. But for now, a weary Spider-Man makes his way back home, becoming Peter Parker along the way.
But Peter is on his last legs from the beating he just took at Ock’s hands, and so just moments after he bumps into retired police captain George Stacy, the father of his romantic interest Gwen Stacy, he collapses, out on his feet. He awakens to find himself at the Stacy home, being ministered to by Gwen. I have to say, it was stories such as this one that made me really like Gwen–especially since I didn’t really care for the present day Mary Jane Watson, who always struck me as being shrill. Even if it was just based on her Romita-given good looks, I could see what Peter saw in Gwen. I don’t know that I knew that she had been killed off when I first read this story, but it was clear that she was no longer around for some reason in the present.
Pete pulls himself together and heads back to his apartment, where he equips himself with a new web-formula designed specifically to counter Ock. For no good reason, he puts the triggering mechanism for this new web-fluid in his belt rather than on the web-shooters themselves. And then he heads out to track down Doc Ock. Which he does–and the two being their battle. The page above was the page that, in the original story, was done as a spread with ads underneath, and Kane had made use of that arrangement to make the first panel extra-wide. Here, though, that panel gets cut in two, with the Ock figure and his balloons moved to the lower tier. It works relatively well–I don’t think I noticed this the first time I read this reprinted story.
And so the fight kicks off, in electric Gil Kane style. At one point, Ock grabs Spidey, pinning him to a wall with two of his tentacles while the other two pummel the web-slinger. Spidey is desperate to free his arms so that he can use the special webbing triggered by his belt-trigger, and he pulls out all the stops to extricate himself from Ock’s grasp, in a short sequence clearly inspired by Ditko’s Master Planner saga. From there, Spidey begins to zap Ock’s tentacles with his new web formula. It’a a concoction that messes up the mental connection between Ock and his arms, which begin to flail wildly. They wind out cold-cocking Ock himself–but they also wind up swinging around and demolishing a nearby smokestack, sending a hail of dangerous bricks and masonry careening to the ground below. Way to go, Spidey!
The masonry is about to crush a child bystander when Captain Stacy hurls himself into danger, knocking the kid to safety but being buried and smashed by the falling rubble himself. With Ock forgotten, Spider-Man races streetward and digs the fatally injured police captain out of the debris, intending to rush him to a hospital. The other bystanders, in typical Spider-Man fashion, assume that Spidey has struck down George Stacy intentionally, and is now moving to finish the job. But Stacy knows that he’s done for, and he asks Spider-Man to put him down–referring to him for the first time as Peter. He makes Spidey promise to take care of his daughter Gwen before he expires–and Spider is left with the realization that Captain Stacy must have known his true identity for some time, having figured it out for himself. But he never betrayed that secret. It’s a sad ending as Spider-Man feels like he lost the closest thing he would ever have to a second Uncle Ben–and matters would only get worse in the following issue. But we’ll get to that tomorrow.