When we left things off last week, we were talking about a pair of issues that I got in those plastic-wrapped bundles of coverless comics my local drug store had begun to sell. When this story was originally printed in the pages of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, the Comics Code Authority of the time wouldn’t approve it, since it had a subplot running through it that dealt with drug use–a plot whose inclusion had been requested of Marvel by the U.S. Government. By the time the story was printed again in the pages of MARVEL TALES, though, the Comics Code had been revised to allow depictions of drug use if they were cautionary. So on the cover above, you can see the Code symbol proudly carried in its usual upper right position.
This story was produced right towards the end of Stan Lee’s tenure as the wall-crawler’s one and only scripterm and so by this point he had the flavor of the character and the strip down to a science. He was aided visually by penciler Gil Kane. Reputedly, it took a bit for Lee to warm up to Kane’s style at Marvel in general, but he brought an energy and an excitement back to Spider-Man, combining the velocity and quirkiness of the character’s other creator Steve Ditko with the more grown up polish of John Romita. Inker Frank Giacoia looked goon over almost everyone, and helped Kane’s work conform to the accepted Romita style. And looking at these credits, poor letterer Artie Simek gets name-checked, but his credit line has been deleted. In the original, it was a gag line: WHO STILL HAS HIS HAIR, but I suspect that somebody felt it was in bad taste given that Simek had passed away between the initial printing and this reprint. Or else, somebody was simply sensitive about their own hair-loss. (Tony Mortellaro apparently inked backgrounds on this job–his hidden credit is partially visible on a sign on a building on this page. He would hide such notations whenever he would help out on a job, and it became something of a game to find them.)
At the close of the previous issue, Peter Parker’s roommate Harry Osborn, depressed after he’s been dumped by Mary Jane Watson, turns to illegal pills to ease his pain, and winds up overdosing. Pete finds him and is about to get him to medical attention when, outside, the Green Goblin signals his arrival. He’s regained his memory and knows that Pete is Spider-Man, and he’s come to polish off his hated foe. Pete’s back is to the wall, but he succeeds in driving off the Goblin by brandishing the unconscious body of Harry–the Goblin was really the boy’s father, Norman Osborn, and seeing his son stricken in this manner makes him begin to remember that fact-which causes him to turn and flee before his Goblin persona is subsumed once more. So now Pete can get Harry to a hospital.
After a brief cut-away to far-off Britain, where Pete’s lady love Gwen Stacy has been living with relatives since the death of her father Captain George Stacy (seemingly at the hands of Spider-Man) we get back to Peter having deposited Harry at the hospital and on teh hunt for the Goblin. Instead, he runs across the pusher who sold harry those pills in teh first place–and when he expresses some outrage, the guy summons a trio of goons to beat the hell out of Parker. bad move. Because while Peter is momentarily concerned about maintaining his secret identity, as all super heroes during this era reflexively did, he then throws caution to the wind and beats the holy hell out of teh four junk-pushers, while getting across the story’s anti-drug message. As Lee wasn’t at all in tune with the drug culture, the whole sermon is a bit facile and surface. But it’s still satisfying to see Parker kick the crap out of these guys.
But drama time is finished for the moment–now it’s time for action! And as night falls over the city, Pete dons his Spider-Man togs and sets out in search of teh elusive Goblin. But he doesn’t have long to wait–within a few short panels, he’s immediately attacked by his flying foe. Kane delivers some excited fast-paced action beats in this fight, emphasizing Spidey’s agility and athleticism in a manner not seen since Ditko. The Goblin quickly gets the upper hand over his enemy by blitzing the wall-crawler with a chemical that robs Spider-man of his ability to stick to walls. What’s more, either by coincidence or as a side-effect of his substance, Spidey’s web-shooters refuse to work as well. So he’s fighting a losing underdog battle against overwhelming odds–which is the way we readers liked to see Spidey during his heyday, one of the elements of his enormous popularity.
But even down his wall-crawling and his web-shooting, Spider-Man is still Spider-Man, and after a number of gripping pages, he manages to leap onto his opponent’s back, death-gripping him around the neck like steel. Looking for a way out of his predicament–Spidey’s not just worried about being killed by the Goblin, but also about the Goblin revealing his true identity to the world even if he should win their fight–he steers his unwilling steed on a course to the hospital where Harry is still being treated. He figures that, based on his earlier experience, perhaps being faced with the sight of his unwell son will snap Osborn back to his more benign persona (and he’ll forget that Peter is Spider-Man at the same time, at least for the moment.)
And wouldn’t you know it? It works! The Goblin, now snapped out of his evil persona, collapses, and Spidey takes him back home, stripping him of his costume along teh way. When he awakens, he can help Harry in his recovery. So all’s well that ends well, more or less. Except that Peter is still distraught about the departure of his girlfriend Gwen Stacy to the UK. And just then, as though summoned by his own depressed thoughts, Gwen appears! This doesn’t make a whole lot of sense given that we saw her in Britain only a few pages earlier and only a couple of hours can have gone by in the story since then, but so what? It’s a rare happy ending for ol’ Parker–so we can let him have it.