This issue of MARVEL TALES was another book that I got out of a 3-Bag from a department store or toy store. It reprinted AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #99, a story that I’ve seen an argument for being the Silver Age end of the story begun in AMAZING FANTASY #15. Scripter Stan Lee would write one more sequential issue, #100, and then come back for a small handful of other adventures. But in terms of bringing the growth and development of Peter Parker from an ostracized bookworm in his first appearance into a full grown young man with a woman who loves him, I can certainly see that argument.
This is another Spider-Man story illustrated by Gil Kane. Reportedly, when Kane first tried to make the move from longtime home DC to Marvel, Lee wasn’t all that wild about what he did. But then, neither was Kane–he wanted to show off his action muscles more, influenced by the work that Jack Kirby was then doing. He’d eventually get his chance at both companies, and by this point he had become the regular artist on what was clearly the flagship title, working hand in hand with Lee. Kane was able to adapt the unique body language that co-creator Steve Ditko had brought to the early Spider-Man stories with the more heroic and muscular interpretation of Ditko’s successor John Romita. Kane’s Spider-Man was kinetic, he moved like a shot. When combined with a sympathetic inker, he was probably the best Spider-Man artist of the 1970s.
The story opens with Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy reunited–she had returned to the United States and Peter after spending several months in England following the death of her father. Pete is pretty much ready to propose to her, but he realizes that in order to do so, he’s going to need a regular job and not just live hand-to-mouth as a freelance photographer. To his good luck, though not everyone’s, when he heads into the Daily Bugle to look into the possibilities, he arrives just as Jameson is looking for a photographer to cover a prison riot that’s going on, and Pete is able to back Jameson into a corner and get put on salary. The overjoyed Spider-Man web-swings his way to the prison, intending to get pictures no other photographer can get, since he’ll be able to penetrate the grounds with his spider-powers.
When the web-slinger gets there, he learns that the cons are rioting for better conditions–he’s told that the inmates wait months for a trial date. This was a situation that was in the press in the early 1970s, an issue of interest to the activist college age crowd that Lee had been courting, and so he has Spider-Man take it on here, as a follow-up to the anti-drug storyline. The riot has been organized by a con named Turpo, who is really only interested in escape, and who has taken the warden hostage. (This whole scenario is a bit reminiscent of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #65, except in that instance, Spidey himself was behind bars, and it was Captain Stacy who was taken hostage.) Anyway, the web-slinger comes crashing in, and makes quick work of Turpo and his henchmen.
At Spidey’s urging, the now-freed warden begins to listen to the rioting con, and the conflict comes to an end. The warden expresses to the press that they need better funding in order to improve conditions–which make Spidey remember that he needs to get paid in order to take Gwen out that evening. As he races across the city, he’s flagged down by, no kidding, Johnny Carson. Carson is never named in this story, for legal reasons, but Kane does a pretty accurate caricature of the popular talk show host. Carson wants Spidey to appear on the Tonight Show that evening, to capitalize on the press from the riot, and the wall-crawler sees this as an opportunity to bring the situation in the prison system to wider attention. But first, he heads back to the Daily Bugle to drop off his pictures and pick up a check–only to learn that, as a salaried employee rather than a freelancer, he’s going to get paid every Friday, which doesn’t help him at all today. So that TV appearance suddenly has a second importance, in terms of being able to put some money in his pocket. (Spidey has apparently forgotten one of his first experiences, when he tried and failed to cash a check made out to Spider-Man. )
Spidey gets to the TV studio just in time, as the taping for the Tonight Show is just beginning. After an introduction from Carson, Spidey comes swinging in, performing a series of stunts reminiscent of the story in AMAZING FANTASY #15 when the wall-crawler made his first public appearance. And then, having proved his bonafides, Spidey talks about the need for prison reform–only for the taping to be broken up by the arrival of the police. See, Spidey is still wanted in connection with the death of Captain Stacy, and not wanting to tussle with the cops, he needs to book on out of there–and again without getting paid for his efforts.
And so, having done some good throughout the day but still having failed to come up with the money necessary to take Gwen out on the town, Peter decides that he needs to be straight with her, so he makes his way to her apartment. As it turns out, Gwen has spent all afternoon cooking dinner for the two of them–she wasn’t intending to go out at all. And so, on that happy note, the issue ends. You can see that there are any number of parallels to the first Spider-Man story in AMAZING FANTASY #15, but the distance the character has covered in the space of an almost-decade is also highlighted. You could consider this the final issue of AMAZING SPIDER-MAN and feel as though you got a complete story. It’s also emblematic of the kind of tale that Lee was increasingly attempting to put forward. Inspired no doubt both by his interactions with the youth culture of the period, especially in his college public appearances and his desire to capitalize on the press that had made him out to be something of a philosopher in comic book form, Lee would increasingly attempt to incorporate some manner of social commentary in his later stories whenever possible–though usually without saying anything specific about any particular cause. His specialty was universal bon mots that seemed a bit more deep than perhaps they truly were to a youthful audience.