The 3-Bag package was a godsend to me, at least during the year or so when the books so packaged were from a point before I had started reading Marvel titles. It gave me an easy (if somewhat inconsistent) way of catching up on recent books that I had missed. There was a period in here in which the fan cognoscenti decided that the 3-Bag copies counted as reprints, and so were deemed “worthless” in terms of accruing value over time. That idea has gone the way of the dodo over the years, largely. But I can remember the days when a Marvel book having the diamond set-up in its upper left corner rather than the typical rectangular one meant that it was less desirable. Comic book fans, huh? Anyway, this issue of AMAAZING SPIDER-MAN was yet another book that came to me out of a plastic 3-Bag purchased at a department store or toy store.
AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was in something of a weird place at this point in the 1970s. While the character had started out as a bit of a social outcast in his earliest appearances, as the 1960s and 1970s went on, Peter Parker became much more of a with-it figure, for all his youth. By this point, while he still had his share of troubles, it’s difficult to picture Parker as a luckless outsider–he seems entirely more together than many of the other characters arrayed around him. This was just the product of natural evolution over time (and, I suspect, a shift on the part of then-writer Stan Lee to make him more appealing to his college audiences) but it did mean that I was still a bit resistant to his adventures. Far from relating to him, Spider-Man came across to me as much smarter, worldlier and funnier than I could ever be–and not in an aspirational way. Some of that, no doubt, was the artwork by Ross Andru, who had been the web-slinger’s regular artist for several years. A friend once described Andru’s version of the character as looking like “a little old man in a Spider-Man costume”, and while that’s too unkind, it did have a nugget of truth to it. Andru’s Spidey wasn’t quite as spidery–he was massively solid and powerful-seeming (even if he did routinely get his head handed to him.)
The hallmark of the serie was still running soap opera plotlines. This kind of changed over time, as more and more Spider-Man titles were added to the publishing schedule. But for many years, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN was the clear and only driver of Peter Parker’s life. And part of the appeal of the series were his assorted supporting characters and their own ups and downs. This is stil lthe case today, but these days the whole endeavor feels a bit more artificial, somehow. Certainly, no writer today is going to devote as many pages to just the supporting cast as Len Wein does in this issue of ASM. (Probably the closest would have been Brian Bendis at points, while he was writing ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN.)
So what was going on with the wall-crawler this time out? Well, the issue opens with Spidey being confronted by a pair of cops while in the bowels of Newhope Memorial Hospital–one of whom immediately shoots at him and wings him. Spidey is there looking for evidence that might be able to exonerate Liz Allen, his friend, who works there as a nurse, and who was caught stealing rare chemicals. Pete knows that she was being coerced into doing so by her step-brother, the red-hot Molten Man, but he’s hoping to prove it. However, while he’s able to fight his way out and avoid capture (Spidey was wanted by the law for most of the 1970s) he wasn’t able to find anything helpful. Meanwhile, the Molten Man is attempting to cure himself of his fiery condition. He had started out as a villain with steel-hard skin, but at some point the process that made him that way began to break down, and he started to blaze, making him a danger to everyone around him.
The Molten Man takes the chemicals that Liz had helped to supply him with to a pharmaceutical technician, who can help him to create the antidote to his condition (Molty himself is too hot to mix the chemicals safely.) And it seems to work for a moment–but ultimately, after a brief respite, Mark Raxton begins to burn again, and all hope is lost. He realizes then that he is dying, and half out of his mind, he demands that his step-sister Liz is brought to him, so that he won’t have to perish alone. Lz gamely goes into the building to talk to Raxton, and Peter becomes Spider-Man so that he can sneak in and see to Liz’s safety. Unfortunately, the sub-par work in the place’s ceiling collapses under the wall-crawler’s weight, and the Molten Man is alerted to his presence.
What follows, of course, is an extended fight sequence, during which Spidey is hampered by his still-fresh gunshot wound and also by the fact that Raxton is growing hotter by the minute, making it impossible to touch him directly without being burned. What’s more, Liz is caught in the middle of the fracas, and Spidey’s attempts to get her to safety are all stymied by the Molten Man. Raxton’s deterioration has seemingly been accelerated by the cure that didn’t taken, and his radiant heat as well as his super-strong blows are causing the building to come apart, jeopardizing himself, his step-sister and Spider-Man all at once. But suicidal because of his condition, he doesn’t much care–he’s out of his mind, lashing out blindly.
As the structure becomes a (topical) towering inferno, Spider-Man is at least able to break away from the fight long enough to lower Liz to the ground and safety. He intends to go back in after Raxton–but it proves to be too late. The Molten Man’s body chemistry hits a critical mass, and before the eyes of most of the supporting cast, he is consumed by his own raging heat and fire (Or so it seems, anyway–the Molten Man would come back in later years, as all good Spider-Man enemies seem to do.) Liz is traumatized by this, and the role she played in her step-brother’s demise, and she races off into the night, leaving a heartbroken Harry Osborn (whom she is dating) behind. This is, of course, set-up for the return of the Green Goblin in just a couple of issues, and it’s on this note that the issue wraps up.
2 thoughts on “BHOC: AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #173”
Mooney isn’t my favorite inker for Andru but he was my first Spider-Man artist pretty much and I loved his work. I know I started reading when Kane was still on the book but can only recall THAT two parter.
“This is still the case today, but these days the whole endeavor feels a bit more artificial, somehow. ” I have the same feeling about big epic events. COIE pushed the envelope at the time it came out; now every major event tries doing the same things (characters die! Nothing will ever be the same!) but it’s usually just an unimaginative imitation.
Calling a villain “Hitman” always sounded idiotic to me. It’s generic, even if the bad guy puts a capital letter on it and acts like he’s trademarked the term.