Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #173

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This story is part of a Lookback Series: Absolutely Amazing

This review was first published on: Apr 2013.

Background...

After briefly being introduced to the Rocket Racer, last issue focused mainly on the mystery behind the man that was tormenting Liz Allan. That man was eventually revealed to be Liz’s step-brother, Mark Raxton. After a brief scuffle in the hospital between the Molten Man and Spidey, our hero found himself in a bad position – in point blank range of two angry, pistol packing security guards.

In Detail...

"If You Can't Stand The Heat...!"
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #173
Oct 1977 : SMURF 173.500 : SM Title
Summary: Molten Man
Editor:  Len Wein
Writer:  Len Wein
Pencils:  Ross Andru
Inker:  Jim Mooney
Cover Art:  Ross Andru
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 Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #8
Articles: Flash Thompson, Elizabeth (Allan) Osborn, Mary Jane Watson-Parker, Molten Man

Spider-Man is no stranger to having a gun or two pointed in his direction. So as he regains his senses, he routinely attempts to web up the guns belonging to the two security guards that are confronting him. This time around though, our hero isn’t fast enough. One of the guards is a little too trigger happy and fires at Spider-Man before he can properly react. The bullet rakes across the arm of Peter Parker who is utterly stunned that the rent-a-cop actually fired at him. This makes Spider-Man rather angry. He quickly disposes of the two guards and then beats up a bunch of doctors who also attack him as he attempts to leave the hospital. What was originally supposed to have been a noble deed has now turned into a huge mess.

Meanwhile at a pharmaceutical company on the other side of town, the Molten Man has broken in and is demanding that a beautiful young lab technician use chemicals stolen from the hospital to concoct a cure for Raxton’s fiery condition. Once the formula is complete, the technician injects the antidote into the red hot skin of the Molten Man and within moments the flames subside and Raxton is human again. As Raxton dresses and begins plans to move on with his life, the antidote wears off and a furious Molten Man is left with no other options. “Lord, what do I do now??” he screams as he trashes his unwilling assistant’s office.

Elsewhere, a distraught (and recently freed from prison) Liz Allan is surrounded by the company of her closest friends. One of those friends is her fiancé, Harry Osborn. Harry is trying in vain to get the girl he loves to open up to him about her recent trip to jail. Before he can receive any answers though, two cops pull up and ask Liz to accompany them to a pharmaceutical company. Apparently the Molten Man is threatening to destroy the entire building if he doesn’t speak to his half-sister soon.

After treating his gunshot wound (and finding out that his days in college are going to be prolonged because of poor grades), Pete gets a call from Robbie leading him directly to the pharmaceutical building that the rest of the gang is heading to. Once he gets there, Pete finds that Liz is volunteering to enter the building in an attempt to try and calm the Molten Man - despite Harry’s objections. This gives Pete a chance to change into his long underwear and sneak into the building himself.

Once inside, Liz finds that her step-brother has already given up. He feels as if there is no way to reverse the molten process that has consumed him and that he will soon die. Much to Liz's chagrin, he doesn’t want to die alone. Not long after Spider-Man arrives on the scene, another battle with Molten Man begins. The combination of Spidey’s wounded arm and the Molten Man’s extreme temperature is too much for our hero though. He quickly falls behind in the fight and has to think of a way to attack his enemy without getting burnt. A solution to this problem comes to Parker rather quickly. By webbing his hands, Spidey is able to hit Raxton without feeling the intense heat. With the aid of his ingenious tactic, Spider-Man swiftly lands a round of solid punches on his opponent. One particular punch hits Raxton a bit too squarely though and he is sent soaring through the air next to the oxygen tanks. This obviously causes the tanks to rupture, which soon engulfs the entire building in flames.

With the building falling apart around them, Spidey and the Molten Man continue their tussle until they hear a cry for help from Liz who is surrounded by flames. Without a second thought, Raxton tosses Spidey aside and attempts to save his step-sister. “Keep away!” shouts Liz “Your molten touch can kill me!”

Raxton takes Liz’s plea as a form of rejection and angrily moves closer to his sibling until Spider-Man swoops in, grabs Ms. Allan and swings her to safety. As Raxton rambles about in anger, the building soon explodes sending the Molten Man to an assumed early grave. As soon as Spider-Man sets Liz down next to her worried fiancé, Harry attempts to comfort his future wife. Liz is even more distraught now that her brother is dead though and she runs off leaving a stunned Harry Osborn alone yet again.

In General...

While on the surface this may seem like your typical Molten Man arc, there's actually more going on here. Though you might not catch it a first, Harry’s turn around from depressed and maniacal to happy and content is partially reversed here. His confidant and lover has become cold and refuses to use Harry’s shoulder to cry on. The last panel, which shows Harry standing in the ally by himself as Liz runs in the opposite direction and Spider-Man swings away, is telling. Harry’s two best friends are both leaving him in his time of need. While this plot line is powerful just in the way it ends this particular book, it also helps set up the next few issues which depicts Harry’s declining mental health. So once we see the return of the Green Goblin in Amazing Spider-Man #176, we have no other choice but to think that Harry is once again behind the mask.

Apart from the Harry/Liz dynamic, we don’t get a lot of other exciting subplots going on during this two part arc. The Molten Man is a great villain, but his motives and actions are the same here as they were when Gerry Conway made the connection between Raxton and Liz three years prior. Still the fight scenes and art by the ever exceptional Ross Andru are fantastic. It’s also always fun to see a knock-down-drag-out between Spider-Man and a flame engulfed Molten Man. Upon his next appearance in Spectacular Spider-Man #63, the Molten Man’s molten properties would get extinguished. This would eventually lead to a nicer Mark Raxton in the future.

Overall Rating...

There’s nothing super memorable here, but there are a lot of nice touches. It’s certainly one of the better Len Wein ASM arcs in my opinion.