This issue finds Spider-Man back in New York after his San Francisco adventures (seen in Marvel Team-Up 12 and Daredevil 103). The death of Gwen Stacy is still an open wound and very much at the forefront of his thoughts.
This issue's villain is the Gray Gargoyle, who first appeared as an enemy of Thor in Journey Into Mystery 107 (August, 1964), when the Marvel Universe was not even three years old. This surely makes him one of Marvel's oldest active Super-Villains.
A man stands on a waterfront pier that offers a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, recently the site of a terrible tragedy. This is not just any man though, it's Peter Parker, and he seems to be standing on the exact spot he laid Gwen's body after his unsuccessful attempt to save her from the fall that killed her. Peter stands in the cold blaming himself for the death of his first love, and looks to be inconsolable.
That's not going to stop someone from trying, though. A pea coat wearing drunk presently staggers up behind Peter and, recognizing "the sorrow in yer eyes, lad" begins to share the wisdom found in the bottom of a port bottle with Peter. Sharp eyed readers will recognize that this is not just any degenerate drunk, but our friend Nathaniel (last seen counseling Johnny Storm in the opening pages of Marvel Team-Up #2). Nathaniel has gotten neither less drunk nor more coherent since we last saw him, and not wanting to stand around and listen to "this guy jawing till he collapses" Peter waits for Nate to turn his back and swings off into the night, leaving Nathaniel to doubt his sanity yet again. Personally, I think Peter made the right choice.
Although Peter has taken his leave of our resident philosopher we still have some business with him. Before Nathaniel can leave a meteor falls from the sky and hits the water mere yards from the pier. Nate rushes to the pier's edge and contemplates making a wish on this "falling star" when the form of a man breaks the surface. Nathaniel may be a drunk but he's also a decent fellow, so he rushes to do the right thing and help this unfortunate guy out of the East River, but it turns out to be the wrong choice. No sooner does he grasp the man's hand than he's turned to solid stone? for this is no ordinary drowning man he's tried to save, you see, it's the Gray Gargoyle! Chuckling in a self-satisfied manner at his random act of cruelty, the Gargoyle strides off into the night. We'll check in on him later.
Cutting a little way across town we see Peter on a rooftop, changing into his Spidey threads to get a little exercise. Even as he does so he's questioning the wisdom of his choice, considering all the grief that being Spider-Man has brought him. I'm sure there's a Psych 101 term paper waiting to be written by the enterprising student that wants to take the time to analyze this page.
Spidey doesn't have to travel far to find the exercise he desires. After swinging just a few blocks he sees a pair of A.I.M. agents (easily recognized by their canary yellow jumpsuits and beekeeper masks) running down the street. "No-not him too!?!" exclaims one of the agents as he turns and takes a shot at Spidey. Spidey doesn't really like being shot at, and the fight that follows is great. After kicking him to the ground, Spidey picks up the gunman and slams him WWF style into a garbage can. In the time he took to do that the other agent took off running down the street though (way to get your friend's back there, pal, good work) and Spidey wants to stop him. "Hey, hot-shot, you forgot something!" Spidey quips as he picks up the senseless gunman and throws him down the block into the second agent! Protective uniform or no, that guy is gonna need some physical therapy before he walks again? Spidey tossed him easily 40 feet down the street, and keep in mind that's after the body slam. I think that's one of the worst beatings I ever saw Spidey give a non-super baddie.
Those two being quite unconscious, Spidey webs them up to a nearby lamp post and begins back tracking to see what these guys were running from is such a hurry. After a short trip, Spidey thinks he's found the right place when he sees an A.I.M. agent come flying through a window. Seeing that the guy was knocked through the window by a certain red, white & blue shield leaves little doubt that the agents within are getting their butts handed to them by none other than Captain America. Spidey lends Cap a hand mopping up (not like he needed it) and the two adjourn to the roof. Cap takes out a communicator and calls Nick Fury for a "mop-up squad" to take care of the A.I.M. casualties, and gives Spidey a little lecture about his flippancy. Before Spidey can issue a retort, our heroes vanish. They've been teleported up to the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, which has been keeping station overhead.
They reappear surrounded by S.H.I.E.L.D. agents, lead by Dum-Dum Dugan, and promptly escorted on their way to see Nick Fury (you surely don't need me to explain who Nick Fury is, right?). En route Spidey is recognized by a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent who tries to arrest him (remember, Spider-Man is still wanted for questioning in connection with Norman Osborn's death). Spidey is more than a match for some rookie though, and heedless of Captain America's pleas he begins to toss agents around like they're nothing. The melee is stopped by the authoritative voice of Nick Fury, and they agree to stop with the whole "arrest the web-head" thing long enough to hear what Fury needs from Cap.
Fury tells Cap & Spidey that the beating they just put on those A.I.M. agents didn't shut down their scheme. Although Cap stopped A.I.M. from making off with the missile telemetry system (which is vital to national security, natch) they were able to get away with an identical system they nabbed in a simultaneous attack in the Midwest. S.H.I.E.L.D. had the foresight to install homing devices into each unit though, and using it they've pinpointed the location of A.I.M.'s base. Flushing Meadows, in Queens, New York, in the science pavilion left over from the '64 World's Fair. Deep within, the Gray Gargoyle stands as overseer of a cadre of A.I.M. workers, and rants on about how he's going to get revenge on the world in general and Captain America in particular (for details of his gripe against Cap, including the story of how GG came to be stranded in space, see Captain America v1 #142). Now that A.I.M. has gotten him back down to Earth, he means to get that revenge by launching the pilfered telemetry device and using it to "control the skies".
The Gargoyle's rant is interrupted by the colorful shield of Captain America crashing through the window! Cap and Spidey come busting in and the fight with the Gray Gargoyle is joined. Although both our heroes are superb hand-to-hand fighters, the Gargoyle needs only touch them his right hand to turn them to stone, and this he manages to do.
We next see our petrified heroes chained to the base of the rocket that will shortly be carrying out the Gargoyle's plan. He begins the "unstoppable countdown to launch" and turns to gloat to a subordinate, but we in the audience can see some color returning to Spider-Man's hand. Spidey and Cap (for reasons never adequately explained) have recovered early from the Gargoyle's touch, and now that they're flesh and blood again it's time to kick some butt. During the struggle, the Gray Gargoyle's foot becomes entangled in the chain that was holding out heroes, and the chain is still attached to the rocket. Remember that "unstoppable countdown"? Well, despite the Gargoyle's pleas it turns out to really be unstoppable, and the Gray Gargoyle is hauled off into space along with the rocket as that countdown reaches zero. Again showing an extremely cavalier attitude towards the (apparent) death of a foe, Spidey simply quips that "It couldn't have happened to a nicer guy" before heading off. It's getting late, and "even a Spider needs his rest".
Next Issue: The Savage Sub-Mariner!
Although there's some great action in this issue, I have two problems with it. One is glaring and one more subtle.
The glaring problem is that, simply, the bad guys won. While it's true that the Gargoyle was seemingly dragged to his death, the fact remains that the missile and its payload were launched. This means that A.I.M., which has not been dismantled at issue's end, is free to pursue whatever Earth-threatening plan it was engaged in. I suppose we can assume that Cap and Nick Fury will mop things up, but it would have been nice for them to let us know.
The other problem may actually be a deliberate subtext. In the last two issues of Marvel Team-Up, Spidey has been witness to three apparent deaths (The Werewolf and Moondark in issue 12, the Gray Gargoyle here) and in each case his reaction has fallen somewhere between a shoulder shrug and a wise crack. This casual attitude about human life seems out of character for Spider-Man, who has always held life to be sacred. It's possible that the writers are showcasing a hardening of the spirit he's undergoing since Gwen was murdered, or maybe it's just sloppy writing. Like David St. Hubbins said in the classic 'This is Spinal Tap', there's a fine line between clever and stupid.
Elsewhere in Spidey's world: the Web-Slinger is helping Daredevil and the Black Widow fight Ramrod in Daredevil 103, and in Amazing Spider-Man 124 John Jameson is turning into the Man-Wolf for the first time. Incidentally, that issue has one of my favorite Spidey covers ever, and was made into a fantastic book & record set by Power Records.
And meanwhile, in the real world: The fantasy reading world suffers a double blow this month, as both J.R.R. Tolkien and Bill Everett (creator of the Sub-Mariner) pass away. Thirty years after their deaths, both men's fictional creations are still going strong and fascinating whole new generations.
I have some misgivings about the writing, as detailed above, and I think that saving the heroes by saying "wow, the stone touch wore off early" is a little cheap. But there was some outstanding action in this issue, and although Gil Kane didn't do such a great job drawing Nick Fury all the other art was solid. A big hand to Len Wein as well for his use of Nathaniel in the opening. I give this one three webs.