Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #100

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This story is part of an Arc: "The Six Arms Saga"
     Part 1 / Part 2 / Part 3

This story is part of a Lookback Series: Al Observes

This review was first published on: 1997.

Background...

Back around 1964 or so, in the beginning of the time he would come to call the "Marvel Age of Comics", Stan Lee was writing nearly every publication his company put out. With the important collaborative contributions of huge creative talents like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, Stan was scripting super-heroes, westerns, war books...even Millie the Model. But as time went by, "The Man" started to lighten his load, turning over assignments to young writers like Roy Thomas, Gary Friedrich, and Denny O'Neill. Seven years after the start of the "Marvel Age", Stan was down to four books: Thor, Captain America, Fantastic Four, and Spider-Man.

Even those assignments apparently became too much for Stan as he assumed more and more editorial powers within Marvel. In 1971, he took a vacation, giving up his titles on a four month "temporary" basis. But it was Stan's return that was truly temporary. Six months after his comeback, Stan was gone again, this time for good. With the exception of the Spider-Man newspaper strip, he has never regularly scripted any of the major Marvel Super-heroes again.

The "why" of all this is not entirely clear, but the "when" certainly is. Stan held off his vacation until he had scripted one hundred consecutive issues of the Amazing Spider-Man. (I recall a three or four panel strip in one of the Marvel calendars of the 1970s that depicted Stan Lee hunched over his typewriter and proclaiming, "I did it...scripted one hundred straight issues of Spider-Man" only to collapse on the machine right after.) I have no knowledge of the plotting strategy for the issues in question (it would be fun to talk to Stan or Roy and ask them) but the fact remains that when Lee completed his hundredth issue and turned the scripting reins over to Thomas, he bequeathed his successor a dilemma never faced by the Amazing Spider-Man before.

In all, the story covered three issues; the last being king-size. (Not because it was any special event but because, for one month in 1971, Marvel attempted a price hike from 15 cents to a double-sized 25 cents. The following issue was a regular size 20 cents. The Marvel Implosion, so to speak.) The artist was Gil Kane, who seemed to have a knack for illustrating Spidey during important events in his life. (See ASM #90 and ASM #121-122, for example.) The concept, silly as it is, has become such an integral part of the Spider-Man story that it appeared as a major plot thread in the Neogenic Nightmare sequence of the animated series.

Here, from Amazing Spider-Man #100 to #102 is the Six Arms Saga.

In Detail...

"The Spider or the Man?"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #100
Sep 1971 : SMURF 100.500 : SM Title
Summary: First Six-Armed Spider-man
Arc: Part 1 of "The Six Arms Saga"
Editor:  Stan Lee
Writer:  Stan Lee
Pencils:  Gil Kane
Inker:  Frank Giacoia
Cover Art:  John Romita, Sr.
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Issue
Review
 Reprinted In: Marvel Selects #1
 Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #251 (Story 1)
 Reprinted In: Marvel Treasury Edition #14
 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #5
 Reprinted In: Spider-Man: Strange Adventures (TPB)
Articles: Green Goblin I (Norman Osborn)

"I've been combing the city for hours. Looks like no work for Spider-Man tonight." So thinks Spidey as he webs his way around Manhattan. He is on the verge of packing it in for the night, of stopping by Gwen's house to see if she is busy when he notices some gunmen exiting a bank. There are four of them in all, (One of them is wearing a yellow hat, beige jacket, red tie, shades and a goatee. It IS the early 70s, you know.) but Spidey, with the help of a policeman, handles them easily. The fifth crook, driving the getaway car, tries to speed off but his whole car gets ensnared in Spider-Man's web. As other cops arrive to mop up, Pete wonders how many times he must catch crooks before, "people realize I'm not a combination of Bluebeard and Jack the Ripper."

Swinging home, Peter realizes that being Spidey now bores him, that he used to think he was better off than normal folks but now is not so sure. "Maybe I'm finally growing up at last", he decides. Maybe his love for Gwen is making him want to settle down. ("I know what I want. And Gwen Stacy is it.") But Gwen blames Spidey for the death of her father. "It's tough enough to keep my secret identity from her now. But once we're married the strain would be too great." So, just like that, Peter decides to give up being Spider-Man.

Of course, he has tried this in the past and his feelings of responsibility always bring him back. So, how to prevent that from happening this time? He sees only one way around it. He must find a way to get rid of his powers. With roommate Harry Osborn still in the hospital as a result of his drug overdose in ASM #96-98, Peter has the whole apartment to himself. He vows, "In order for Peter Parker to really live...Spider-Man must die!"

It turns out that Peter has been working on a project for years that would remove his powers in case his radioactive blood ever became dangerous to him. (It's got something to do with test tubes and the result is yellow. Trust me.) He actually finished it months ago but never had any way to test it. Now, he's willing to take the risk. With a cry of "For Gwen!", Peter downs the liquid. The potion immediately affects him "Like a million explosions deep inside my brain". He climbs into his bed as delirium takes over. Vivid memories come back to him. Uncle Ben's death and Aunt May's sorrow. The time he joined the Daily Bugle. Betty Brant ultimately falling for Ned Leeds. Gwen. Gwen's father, George Stacy, who died in Spider-Man's arms.

Smoothly, the memories turn into a dream. Pete is dressed as Spidey, standing on a rooftop, when he hears a voice calling for help. "It's a voice I've somehow heard before", he decides. Spidey tries to locate the voice but is attacked from behind by the Vulture. (Right near a billboard that reads, "Don't Smoke". A Public Service Announcement courtesy of 1971.) It wasn't the Vulture's voice he heard so he fights back by snagging the villain's ankles with webbing. "You mustn't harm me!" shrieks the Vulture, "You only harm your loved ones!" "Then even you know!", a horrified Spidey replies. "But you mustn't tell! You mustn't!" And a single punch takes the Vulture out.

Pete continues on, still hearing the voice, when he is attacked by the scaly tail of the Lizard. (But it wasn't the Lizard who called.) As they fight, the Lizard says, "You're insane, Spider-Man! You've always been insane!" This hits a nerve with Peter. "I've always wondered about my sanity," he cries. "Why would somebody normal live this life? And I could never find the answer." During the fight, Spidey covers the Lizard's head with webbing which he uses as reins to ride his foe. But he soon leaves Lizzie behind as he continues the search for the voice.

Again, his search is interrupted...this time by the stun bombs of the Green Goblin. "You're a loser, Spider-Man", says Gobby, "You were born to lose. All you ever did was you managed to survive". This is yet another sore point with our neurotic hero. "My life can't have been one entire waste." He knocks the Goblin out with a flying kick. The Goblin soars off, unconscious on his glider and Peter notices that his side hurts like blazes even though no one has hit him there.

But the voice is calling and, pain or no, he tries to pursue it...only to be snagged by the tentacles of Doctor Octopus. Ock berates him with, "You thought of yourself as a do-gooder but all you ever really wanted was fame, glory, thrills." Spidey grabs the tentacles and smashes Ock against a wall, crying, "All I do is fight..fight..for what?" His side hurts worse than ever now. And he realizes that the voice is the voice of a man, the voice of a friend.

Soon, Spidey's sides hurt so badly that he must stop and rest. A shadow falls over him. The shadow of the Kingpin. As they fight, the Kingpin tells him that he'll never learn whose voice it is. "You'll fail in that as you've failed in everything else." "Maybe I have been a failure," Spidey says, "but I've never been a quitter." and with three hard blows, he knocks the Kingpin out.

The pain in his sides is the worst he has ever felt but he somehow still makes it to the waterfront. And there, in the sky, concentric rings of different colors take shape. The voice is coming from these rings and a face starts to appear, the face of Gwen's dead father, Capt. George Stacy. "Listen to me, Peter," Stacy says. "I know your secret. I know who you really are and what you are. But the tragedy is that YOU don't really know...You've been given great power and you've tried to use it for good. No man could do more... You have tortured yourself by trying to live a normal life! But you can't!.. You are Spider-Man! It's your blessing and your curse forever!"

And as Capt. Stacy speaks, Peter wakes up. He knows it's all been a dream but the words of Capt. Stacy seemed so real, as if it was really something more. Now awake, Pete's sides hurt worse than ever. He knows the potion has done something to him. He pulls off his sweatshirt, revealing his Spidey outfit underneath...AND the four extra arms he has grown, bursting out of his sides.

The next issue blurb reads: "Important Note: There'll be no cop-out, we promise you! Spidey is really awake! He HAS six arms! And our tale will be continued next issue!"

Indeed it is.