BHOC: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #164

Hey, we were just talking about this issue while discussing PETER PARKER, SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN #2 last week. This was another book that came my way from my school friend Don Sims, who no doubt purchased them both at around the same time. Now that i was starting to follow the character, it was I suppose only natural that I’d be interested in earlier issues of his adventures. During this period and for the next few years, I’d cyclically get interested in one character or another (typically after a really good new issue came into my hands) leading me to focus on them in terms of my collecting and knowledge-gathering for while. I had my ongoing favorites, but almost every core character at both Marvel and DC became the subject of periodic temporary obsessions with me.

This issue came out about midway through Len Wein’s time as AMAZING SPIDER-MAN’s writer and editor. I’ve sung Len’s praises in the past–he was an undersung hero in my world, somebody who had written a lot of the formative comics of my youth. But it has to be said, his Spider-Man work was no better than solid. In part this seems to be due to Len taking his cues on what to do with the character from the Stan Lee/John Romita run on ASM–a fine choice as such things go. Unfortunately for Len, that same section of the run was being reprinted in MARVEL TALES at around the same time or just before, giving some of his stories a feeling of not being quite as original as they might otherwise have seemed. He was partnered for his time on the book mainly with Ross Andru, who defined the look of the web-slinger throughout the 1970s and whose work on the title had both its strengths and weaknesses. Ross, too, was using the John Romita version of Spider-Man as his guide, but his version of the character was even more solidly built, more blocky, and often not very spidery in his movements. Ross was fantastic at capturing both the specific landmarks of New York City and the vertigo of Spidey being high up in the air, or upside down, or whatever. But his work was something of a mixed bag.

Story-wise, the issue opens up with Spidey having been captured by his old foe the Kingpin. The Kingpin is trying to resuscitate his son, Richard Fisk, who had seemingly perished in an earlier CAPTAIN AMERICA storyline of all places. The Kingpin wires the wall-crawler up like a battery, using his life force to jump start Richard’s. This process, though, leaves Spider-Man’s own life hanging by a thread–and the Kingpin is so little concerned about him that he has him dumped out onto the street. For some reason–likely so that Len can get a little bit of time in with the supporting cast he’s been building up for the title–Spidey crawls back to his apartment and resumes his Peter Parker identity–only to immediately shuck it off again and head back out as Spider-Man after a brief interaction with his new neighbor Glory Grant.

As was mentioned in that issue of PETER PARKER, THE SPECTACULAR SPIDER-MAN, the web-slinger seeks out his old friend Doctor Curt Connors for help. Connors is able to stick Spidey into an Enervator to charge up his fleeting life force (and nevermind that an Enervator should probably do the exact opposite of this. Stan used the term in a backwards fashion too, earlier. Maybe that’s where Len picked it up from.) But of course, Connors himself is caught in the feedback from the device, setting him up to once more become his scaly alter ego the Lizard in a forthcoming issue. But that’s a problem for another month. Having been given a momentary reprieve, Spidey needs to track down the Kingpin and reverse what’s been done to him–and fast! Connors hooks the hero up with an arm-mounted siphoning device, to help him in this endeavor. Of course, what this will mean for the newly-restored Richard Fisk is a question that’s passed over for the time being.

Fortunately for Spider-Man, his spider-sense is able to hone in on his missing life force, and he follows the Kingpin and his son to the Brooklyn Nay Yards. This gives Ross Andru an opportunity to shine, and according to the letters page, he spent time out at the actual Navy Yard making preliminary sketches for this adventure. The web-slinger is quickly able to zap Richard Fisk with Connors’ restorative gizmo, sucking his vitality back into himself. But the Kingpin isn’t one to take this lying down, and he attacks using his own prodigious strength. (In these days, the Kingpin’s power was often depicted as superhuman rather than within the bounds of what was capable for any regular human being. A necessity, I suppose, when one is battling with a guy who can lift a Buick over his head.)

What follows is fight, fight, fight, as the Kingpin tells his men not to fire at Spidey for no good earthly reason so that he can settle matters with his own hands. You would think that atop tall bits of scaffolding the wall-crawler would have the obvious advantage, but that’s not the way this particular fight scene goes down–the Kingpin is able to keep his foe on the defensive. Chalk it up to Spider-Man still being woozy from having gotten his life force back. But as these things go, at a pivotal moment, the Kingpin is knocked off of the perch by a swinging crane-hoist–and rather than allow Spidey to save him, he instead plummets with the collapsing structure into the river, and the battle is finished.

With their boss finished, you’d expect that the Kingpin’s goons might decide to start shooting to avenge him–or simply to get rid of the troublesome super hero. And they would, if it were not for the intervention of the Kingpin’s wife Vanessa. As it turns out, despite Spidey having taken back his life force, Richard had it long enough that it’s had a restorative effect on him, and so he’s now alive again. It would have been nice of Spidey knew this might happen, so that he wasn’t condemning the kid to death simply to save his own skin, but whatever. Vanessa feels that she owes Spider-Man for this, and so allows him to depart unmolested, as she and her husband’s men cart Richard’s unconscious form away, to allow him to heal and recuperate. And that’s the ball game here.

Well, except for the letters page, that is. This time out, in addition to that blurb thanking the Brooklyn Navy Yard for allowing artist Ross Andru access to their grounds in preparation for this story, there’s also a letter from Adam Castro. He’d go on to write a number of things in a number of different mediums, including at least four Spider-Man prose novels in the 1990s and 2000s. There’s a bunch of fun gotcha and counter-gotcha on this page as assorted readers point out gaffs in an earlier issue and the page-writer attempts to cover for them.

One thought on “BHOC: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #164

  1. Regarding the Enervator, I recall a letter published a few issues later taking Len to task for this, to which he came clean and admitted he wasn’t aware of the term, and had simply mashed “energy generator” together to arrive at enervator.

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