I haven't actually bothered to research this but it seems to be that The Beetle owes his existence to The Beatles and the British Invasion. The villain first appeared in Strange Tales #123, August 1964 battling the Human Torch at about the same time as Beatlemania was taking over the United States. Six months later, the Beetle returned to face Spidey and the Torch in ASM #21, February 1965. A month after that, in Strange Tales #130, March 1965 the Thing and the Torch "Meet the Beatles" and even wear moptop wigs. Certainly, if nothing else, Beetles and Beatles were very much on Stan Lee's mind.
For those keeping track of such things, this is the third time in ASM that the featured bad guy previously appeared in some other Marvel magazine, as somebody else's villain. (I'll give you the length of this Lookback to search your memory before I come out with the others.) It won't be the last time but it certainly is the last time for a while. (It doesn't happen again until Dr. Faustus in ASM #170, July 1977, believe it or not unless you want to count the Wizard in ASM Special #4, November 1967 or heroes like Ka-Zar in ASM #57, February 1968 or villains-turned-heroes like Medusa in ASM #62, July 1968.) This one starts with a great Ditko cover of Spidey tangling with the Torch with the Beetle ready to pounce on the both of them and only gets better from there.
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #10|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #159|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #16|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #2|
|Reprinted In:||Giant-Size Spider-Man #5 (Story 2)|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Megazine #6|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #15|
|Reprinted In:||All Detergent: The Amazing Spider-Man|
For once, Stan has little to say on a splash page, leaving us more room for Steve's dynamic drawing of Spidey duking it out with the Beetle in Dorrie Evans' battered living room. But not so fast. Let's step back to a federal penitentiary where Abner Jenkins has finished his prison term and is ready to step back into society. He has red hair, wears a blue suit, a red tie, and sunglasses, and carries two big bundles wrapped up in white paper and string. The bundles contain his Beetle costume which the authorities had to return to him since there is "no law against a man owning an armored costume" even though it's sure to prove he's up to no good. And, sure enough, Abner only gets to "a secluded spot in the nearby woods" before stopping and putting the Beetle outfit on. It turns out that Mr. Jenkins has spent his entire prison term dreaming of the day he would "don my Beetle outfit and get my revenge against the Human Torch", who defeated him in Strange Tales #123 as previously mentioned. (Two quick thoughts here: First, note how Marvel time equaled real time back in these early issues. The Beetle's first appearance was cover-dated August 1964 and this story is cover-dated February 1965, meaning Abner Jenkins served a six-month jail sentence. Second, it's worth noting that the original Beetle costume is oversized and clunky with unwieldy suction gloves, big cumbersome helmet with antennae, and ponderous wings that even have beetle-like dots on them. Far different from the sleek design the Beetle eventually gets. You know what? I like this early too-large dopey look better.)
In Manhattan, Johnny Storm and Doris Evans are finishing up their date when Johnny (who is not-so-secretly the Human Torch) snags a paper from a newsstand. Dorrie tries to tell him that she has enjoyed their date because he acted like a "quiet, normal" teenager (this is Dorrie's entire gig; her obsession with wanting Johnny to cut out the Human Torch stuff and just be a regular guy so it's no wonder that their relationship is doomed). Johnny, however, is not listening. He is too busy reading the headline about the Beetle being released from jail. Dorrie tells Johnny that "that doesn't concern you" and that the Beetle will "probably fade into obscurity" but she can't stop her boyfriend from "flaming on" and flying up into the air. He apologizes to Dorrie for ditching her but he just knows that the Beetle will "be more dangerous than ever now" and that he must search the city for "some trace of him". Abandoned once again, Dorrie can do nothing but slap her forehead in frustration.
Over in Forest Hills, Peter Parker has been studying so long at his desk at home that he has developed a stiff back. He knows just what to do to get the kinks out. He puts on his Spider-Man suit and goes leaping over the rooftops of Manhattan.
Stopping for a breather, Spidey perches on the wall of a building and is spotted by the crowd below. A man in a green suit points him out and then runs like a scared rabbit. Two other men hightail it out of there too, with one of them asking, "Why doesn't someone call the police?" Discouraged, Spidey leaps to a chimney and observes, "I'm about as well-loved by my fellow citizens as J. Edgar Hoover is by the Mafia!" (But J. Edgar sure did look good in a dress!) From his new perch, Spidey observes the Human Torch flying by "as if he had sense" but the crowd reaction to the flaming teen is just a little bit more positive. In fact, everyone is thrilled to see him. "What a break!" cries one happy fellow, "I've always wanted to see him in real life!" And another guy calls out, "Hey, Torchy! How about doin' a few tricks for us, pal?" The Torch hasn't found any trace of the Beetle so he figures he might as well give his fans what they want. He forms the outline of a Valentine's heart out of flame and then flies through it like Cupid's arrow. At least one guy loves it! "Wow! Look at that!" he yells.
Spidey is also watching the show and he is thoroughly disgusted. He can't understand why "people run for the hills" whenever he appears "but that flamin' freak shows up and they knock themselves out fallin' all over him".
The Torch flies through the heart a few more times and then tells the crowd he has a job to do. ("Yayyy! Torch!" they all yell.) But while Johnny Storm has allowed himself to be distracted by his admirers, the Beetle has snuck up and watched it all from behind a building. Now he plans to follow Johnny until he figures out how to get his revenge.
The Torch is completely clueless. He still can't find a trace of the Beetle. Not only that but his show has put a strain on his flame. He decides to call it a day before his fire dies out. And so the Torch flies off with the Beetle carefully following. Spidey, wall-crawling just a few feet away, gets no signal from his spider-sense and decides to head on home himself. "I've more important things to do" he thinks, "than watch that blazing birdbrain playing to the crowd!"
Johnny does not head over to Fantastic Four headquarters at the Baxter Building. Instead, he stops off at Dorrie's house, flames off, and walks right into the place without even knocking. Dorrie turns her back on him, not because he walks in like he owns the place but because he "flamed on and flew away for a while". When Johnny asks if she's angry with him, Dorrie sarcastically replies, "Of course not! I love having my date suddenly leave me in the middle of the street while he makes a silly, smoking spectacle of himself!" (And she also loves having to make her own way home while her boyfriend can fly wherever he wants! Way to go, Johnny!) The Torch asks Dorrie for one more chance before she dumps him like a (literally) hot potato. Dorrie puts a hand on her hip and points right at Johnny with her other hand as she declares her conditions. If Johnny can go a full twenty-four hours without becoming the Human Torch, she will keep him as her boyfriend but "just one cry of flame on, even a whisper, or just one little spark, and you'd better forget my phone number" she tells him. Johnny agrees to the deal but wonders, "What did they feed you when you were a baby? Nails?" (No, Johnny. Maybe her folks left her in the middle of Manhattan and forced her to get home all by herself!)
The Beetle has been peeking through a window this whole time and watched this scene unfold. He now knows what his plan will be. But before we get to that, there is a full-page ad we must look at first. It's the lowdown on all the goodies you'll get if you join The Merry Marvel Marching Society. Let's take inventory, okay? First you get a "Giant-size M.M.M.S. membership button" which shows Spidey, the Torch and the Thing along with the declaration "I Belong: The Merry Marvel Marching Society". Then you get "a whole mess of absolutely useless M.M.M.S. stickers" some of which say, "The M.M.M.S wants you" and others that say "Help stamp out the M.M.M.S!" for all the "ingrates who don't appreciate us". You also get a membership card stating that you are "a charter member in good standing" (which features a "pledge of allegiance to Marvel" on the back that Stan calls, "probably the funniest thing since Thor's last crew- cut" which I'm dying to see so if there's anyone out there who has one of these and can tell us what the pledge is, please pass that info along, okay?) and a "frankly fabulous 33 1/3 R.P.M. record with the actual voices of the Bullpen gang clowning around and welcoming you to the good ol' M.M.M.S." All of this for only one dollar. And if six of you want to join together, Stan gives you a break and charges only five bucks while also sending out a certificate that declares your group to be "an official M.M.M.S. local chapter". The whole page ends with a promise that "in the months that follow there'll be more surprises to come". If all that doesn't convince you to join, Stan also included such come-ons as "So, if you want to be able to tell your grandchildren that you were one of the first to join, what are you waiting for?" I want to hear from all the former M.M.M.S.ers who have grandchildren. Did you tell them you were one of the first to join? And if not, why not?
Remember the Beetle's plan that we put on hold while we checked out the M.M.M.S. goodies? Well, it's simply this: "The Torch seems to care for that girl! So that's how I'll get my revenge on him... by using Doris Evans!" (But how did he find out her name? And where the heck are Dorrie's parents? Do all these teenagers own their own homes or what?)
Meanwhile, Spidey seems to be taking the long way home. He spots a couple of guys trying to hoist a huge crate into (or out of) a moving van. While hanging upside down, he asks the men if they can use some help. One of the men nervously orders Spidey to "stay away" and then asks his partner, Sam, to "call the cops... quick!" Spidey swings away convinced that, "I couldn't win a popularity contest even if I was the only one entered!"
The next day, Dorrie Evans is doing some shopping. She has her arms filled with packages but her mind is really on "whether Johnny is keeping his promise not to flame on". A kid named Tommy runs by, followed by a second kid who tells Tommy to "come back with my football". Between the two of them, they manage to spin Dorrie around and knock all of her packages onto the ground. Before Dorrie can do more than stare after the kids with her hands on her hips, a polite young man in a blue suit picks up her packages and hands them to her. This "nice, sweet, gentlemanly boy" charms Dorrie but she leaves without learning his name. We recognize him immediately as Peter Parker. Before he moves along, Pete notices that Dorrie "dropped her wallet in the confusion". He picks it up and checks her ID, which has her address on it. He knows the street and knows that it is not far away so, with time on his hands, Pete decides to take it over to her immediately.
When Dorrie opens her front door and sees Peter there with her wallet she is so thrilled that she offers him a reward. Peter tells her the reward is not necessary but he is happy to accept when she invites him inside for a glass of Coke. Soon after, Coke in hand, Peter tells Dorrie that he lives nearby with his Aunt and Dorrie can't help but notice that Peter is "so quiet, so soft- spoken and gentlemanly... so cultured and down-to-earth" unlike her current hotshot boyfriend.
Peter finishes his visit and saunters along the sidewalk, whistling happily, right by a fellow in a brown hat and sunglasses who is just lighting up a cigarette. Johnny Storm pulls up in a convertible (looks like he's driving on the wrong side of the road) just in time to see Peter leave Dorrie's house. He lets himself into Dorrie's place once again, announces that he has gone twelve hours without flaming on, and asks her whom "that fella" was who just left. Dorrie, cleaning up the empty glasses on a tray, realizes that she can use the opportunity to "try to make Johnny more of a gentleman". How? By making Johnny jealous! So, Dorrie tells Johnny all about Peter; his name, his interests and where he goes to school; haughtily keeping her back to him as she speaks. Then, she finishes it off by telling Johnny that "it wouldn't do you any harm to take a leaf from [Peter's] book" and that "it would be wonderful if some of his poise and polish were to rub off on you". Johnny can also clench his fist and think, "Oh, bro-ther!"
Outside, the man in the hat and sunglasses flicks his cigarette away as he walks off. Abner Jenkins has seen enough. When next he is in the neighborhood, he will be dressed once again in the "full fighting armor of the Beetle".
A little bit later, Peter Parker is window-shopping with Betty Brant. They are just scoping out a pet shop (Betty seems thrilled by the little doggie in the window) when Johnny Storm shows up in his Fantastic Four uniform and calls Peter out. Peter unintimidated by the outfit notes that Johnny is either "the Human Torch or some jerk walkin' around in his pajamas! Or maybe both!" (Heh. I love that one.) Johnny is not amused. He sticks a finger in Peter's face and tells him that "Doris Evans is my gal friend and I hope you're not dumb enough to think you can beat my time". Peter is stunned. Here is an honest-to- goodness fan favorite super-hero and he is jealous of Puny Peter Parker. Flash Thompson and his squad of toadies arrive just in time to take in this scene. And poor Betty has heard every word. "He's telling Peter to stay away from some other girl! And I never even suspected!" she thinks, as she brushes away a tear, then she starts to slink away, thinking, "I might as well leave now! He doesn't care about me, anyway!" (That's right, Betty! It's all right for you to hang out with Ned Leeds until Ned goes off on an assignment to Europe but any hint of Peter seeing somebody else sends you away sobbing.) Peter tries to call Betty back but she is too full of self-pity to pay any attention to him. This honks Peter off bigtime and he turns on the Torch, yelling, "You brainless, swell-headed, loud-mouthed jerk! Who do you think you're shooting off your yap at?" Johnny doesn't know how to respond to this. As Peter continues the verbal barrage ("You may be a big, brave super-hero to everyone else but to me, you're just a knuckle-headed pain-in-the-neck!") Johnny just stands there and takes it. After all, "I can't even take a poke at him" he thinks since, "It wouldn't be fair! He wouldn't have a chance!" The Flash sycophants are impressed with Peter's moxie but Flash tells them to "stow it". He tells his gang that Peter knows that the Torch won't dare fight him since "a super-powered member of the FF can't go around beating up nobodies". In other words, knowing he was safe, "Parker was just tryin' to impress everybody" according to one of the Flash crowd. Meanwhile, Peter storms off after Betty as the Torch, hands on hips, watches him go. "What can Dorrie see in a big zero like him?" Johnny wonders. To make matters worse, Flash proves his point by leaning up against a nearby building and taunting the Torch. ("Why don't you take a lesson from Spider-Man, Torchy", he says. "He wouldn't have let anyone talk to him like that.") His plan in disarray, the Torch is forced to take Flash's guff and just walk away.
In the meantime, Peter has caught up with Betty at a construction site and tries to explain the situation. But Betty is too wrapped up in her own despair and tells Pete she would just like to go home alone. So, off she goes, leaving Peter behind to agonize over everything. He bends over a pile of bricks, grabbing a loose brick in each hand. What he really wanted to do with the Torch was wipe "that conceited smirk off his face" but he didn't dare do this in his Parker identity. The frustration becomes so great that he crushes the bricks in his bare hands. This bit of destruction seems to calm Pete down enough to head for home. But then an idea occurs to him. As long as Betty is mad at him anyway, why not make the Torch really jealous. After all, if Torchy was stewing over Peter Parker hanging out with Dorrie, "how would he feel if Spider-Man made a play for his gal?" Deciding that "the poor guy'll explode", Peter decides to put his plan into action. He changes into his Spidey duds and heads over to Dorrie Evans' home.
But somebody else is already there. The Beetle is playing Peeping Tom again, watching Dorrie through the window and waiting for the Torch to appear. (Somehow the Beetle knows that Dorrie and the Torch have a date this evening. What is he doing? Sneaking peeks at Dorrie's date book?) He leaves the window and flies up near the peak of the roof just in time to see Spider-Man arrive. And, well, he panics. Desperate to eliminate any potential complications to his plan (lame, though it may be), he flies down, attaches his sucker fingers onto Spider-Man's chest, lifts the wall-crawler up in the air and throws him at a tree. The idea is that "the impact of hitting that tree should knock [Spidey] out long enough for [the Beetle] to finish [his] little project" but our bad guy makes three big mistakes. 1. He throws Spidey at a tree that is about fifty feet away instead of just thumping his head against something nearby. 2. He actually believes that Spidey's collision with the tree will be enough to knock him out for hours, apparently, since the Beetle's plan requires that the Torch show up for his date which, I assume, will be sometime in the evening. (Combine that it's broad daylight out with the fact that the Torch is just hanging around at home on his couch the next time we see him and I think that the Beetle has one heck of a wait. Granted, it's another one of those time-skewed Marvel days, seeing as the Torch tells Dorrie it's been twelve hours since he flamed on when it probably should have already been twenty-four.) 3. He blabs that he has a "little project" which interests Spidey very much in what it could be.
So. Using just a fraction of his spider-powers, the web-slinger flips around in the air and lands on the tree with his feet. He then springs right back and tries to grab the Beetle before he can move. But the Beetle is faster than he appears and he flies about five feet up in the air so that Spidey leaps underneath him. Then he uses those finger suckers again to grab the wall- crawler, this time on the back. (Spidey is surprised by the Beetle's move because he thought "those metal wings were just ornaments", not realizing that the Beetle can fly which is pretty unobservant on his part seeing as the Beetle just flew down from the roof to nab him the first time.)
Never let it be said that the Beetle doesn't learn from his mistakes. This time he holds Spidey over his head and prepares to "hurl [him] to the ground like a sack of potatoes". So, he's figured out that the fifty-foot-toss-to-the- tree doesn't cut it but he hasn't doped out that he should stop telling his opponent what he's going to do before he does it! Warned of the "sack of potatoes" move before it happens, Spidey shoots a strand of web down to the tips of each of the Beetle's wings. When Abner tosses the web-slinger, Spidey just leaps forward and tugs on the webs. The Beetle is turned upside down and dumped on his head.
But our buggy villain is protected by armor that "must be two inches thick" so he's soon up and fighting once again. Spidey socks him in the head but all he gets is a cool sound effect out of it. ("Poinng!") The Beetle retaliates by using his big clunky wing as a club. This knocks Spidey slightly silly but the sound effect is nowhere near as good. ("Thunk!") Spidey counters by trying to flip over the Beetle but the Beetle flies a few feet straight up in the air and clubs Spidey with his wings once again. Then the two combatants return to their corners and start the face-off all over again.
Inside the house, Dorrie has heard the commotion and goes to her window to investigate. When she finds Spider-Man and the Beetle duking it out on her lawn, she has just one thought. "I... I need help! Johnny... I've got to call Johnny!"
Over at the Storm place, the Torch is hanging around on the couch feeling sorry for himself when the phone rings. Dorrie is on the line and she is thrilled that she has reached Johnny. Frantically, she tells him that she's in danger and that he must flame on and come over right away. But Johnny won't bite. He tells Dorrie he still has "about eleven hours to go" before the twenty-four hours is up (which means it was only an hour ago that he was over at Dorrie's place, which means all that stuff with Peter and Betty took place in the last hour even though it would have taken Johnny that long just to park his car which means that the Beetle is WAY early for that date this evening which means that Marvel skew-time is in progress once again) and he's not going to fall for some cheap trick that's going to make him lose his bet. As Dorrie tries to assure her boy friend that she needs him, Johnny lies back on the couch and ridicules her. "Why, I'll bet there are a couple of big bad villains outside your window right now! Who are they, Dorrie? Spider-Man and Doctor Doom?" he says and that pretty much sinks any chance that Dorrie has to convince him. "I have to hang up now, baby!" Johnny adds. "The big bad wolf is trying to blow my door down! See ya around!" And he hangs up on her, settles into the couch with his hands behind his head and chuckles over his girl friend's attempt to get him to flame on too early. "Good ol' Dorrie!" he says, "I always did like a gal with a sense of humor!"
But there is a battle going on outside Dorrie's window and at this moment Spider-Man, while tumbling, shoots out two web-streams and hooks them on the top and bottom of the Beetle's wings. This does no good. The Beetle just flexes his wings and breaks the webbing "before it could harden". Spidey decides to attempt the direct approach. He springs right at the Beetle and the force of this collision sends both men smashing right through Dorrie's window and into the house. Dorrie has just decided to call the police but she is too late. Now Spider-Man and the Beetle are between her and the phone.
The fighters seem completely oblivious to the fact that they are now battling inside of someone's house (and, for this, Spidey, at least, should be ashamed). The Beetle takes a swipe at Spidey that the web-slinger avoids. Spidey punches the Beetle in the helmet with a left uppercut. Then they start throwing furniture at each other. Spidey picks up an armchair and it looks like the Beetle may have the television set. (I doubt there is any insurance company that exists that would help poor Dorrie out, even in the Marvel Universe.)
Back at his own home (wherever the heck that may be) the Torch is still chuckling over his "nutty" but "great" "gal" but he figures it's about time he "mosey over" to her house "and pay her a visit". (So, did Johnny and Dorrie have an arranged date for this evening or not?) He puts on a white crew shirt and a brown jacket and hits the street.
Back at the Evans' house, Dorrie is in a state of shock. The fight still rages on and she still can't get around it to the phone. Just then, Spidey bops the Beetle in the chest from a wonderfully awkward position; perched lengthwise about a foot off of the floor. This is enough for the Beetle. Spidey has proven to be more dangerous than he thought. Time for a "different tactic"... kidnapping! The Beetle turns away from the fight and nabs Dorrie as his hostage. Then, he announces his intention of leaving. Not wishing any harm to come to Dorrie, Spidey can only stand in the doorway as the Beetle flies off with her. (The Beetle continues his habit of blurting everything out by telling Dorrie "with you accompanying me, there is still a chance of me baiting a trap for the Human Torch".) But the Beetle's wings are so heavy and clumsy that he cannot fly very fast. So, Spidey lets him get a bit of a head start and then he follows by jumping up to the top of a lamp post and shooting a webline from there.
It isn't too much later that Johnny shows up at Dorrie's house and finds the place is a shambles. (Where are Dorrie's parents, anyway?) Not only that but Dorrie is gone and "there are traces of webbing around". (Note, however, that Spidey never did use his webbing once he was inside the house. Oops!) Suddenly, it all hits Johnny. Dorrie's phone call was for real and, somehow, Spider-Man is involved. With that, the promise is forgotten and Johnny flames on. He takes to the sky and it isn't long before he spots Spider- Man perched on the wall of a building. "Hold it, you web-spinnin' creep!" he yells, "Where's my girl friend? What's happened to Dorrie?" and then he attacks to begin a page and a half fight that features some of the best action art that Steve Ditko did in the entire run. I can give you the details but I can't possibly describe the tone, style, and nuances that make this little segment so great, so if you've never seen it (and I don't mean in black and white in Essential Spider-Man) go out right now, find a copy, and take a look at it.
The Torch's attack consists of about a half-dozen fireballs. Spidey perches himself on a ledge with one hand and then shoots a web onto a flagpole and swings down to avoid the flames. He loops around and comes up behind the Torch. "Here's an asbestos web-ball to chew on for a while!" he declares but it really looks more like two or three web-bolos. This webbing wraps around the Torch and Spidey hopes this will give him time to get back on the Beetle's trail. But Johnny frees himself quickly by increasing his flame to a level that the webbing is melted "into nothingness". Spidey realizes that the Beetle is "getting further away". The best thing for him to do is to get the Human Torch to follow him.
That was the half page. Now the full page of the fight, done in three large panels. Need I say it again? It's Ditko at his best. Panel One: Spidey realizes that the Torch is so mad that "it won't be hard to get him to trail me". Johnny looks like he's standing up in mid-air as he throws fireballs at the web-slinger. Spidey has one foot on a ledge and the other hanging in mid- air. He has created ping-pong paddles out of webbing and is swatting the fireballs back at Johnny. Panel Two: Spidey stands on a wall just below a ledge, his body tiled at a forty-five degree angle. He shoots webbing from each wrist-shooter and is wrapping it around the flaming Torch who looks awkward and off-guard. Panel Three: The best of the bunch. The Torch frees himself and lets it all hang out. He blocks new webbing with a gout of flame even as he throws fireballs and creates a gyroscopic medley of flame that looks like something Steve would have drawn for a Dr. Strange incantation. Spidey has leapt up from a fire ring on a rooftop and tumbles upside down through the gyroscope rings as he shoots his webs. You can almost see the flames casting shadows on the back of his costume. The web-spinner has exactly what he wants... the Human Torch following him to the Beetle and Dorrie. "Now" he thinks, "all I have to do is find a way to live through it!" One look at this classic panel lets you know that it will take all of his spider-skill to do just that.
Dodging fireballs, Spidey does manage to move things along so that he and the Torch are gaining on the Beetle. "All I have to do is get the Torch into position so he'll see the Beetle before he bounces a fireball off me", Spidey thinks. But first, let's visit with J. Jonah Jameson, who is just now coming out of his office at the Daily Bugle, unlit cigar in hand. He asks his secretary Betty Brant where Peter Parker is these days. Betty tells him she doesn't know which Jonah finds hard to believe. "You're his girl friend, aren't you?" he bellows, "Although I can't see why!" Betty tells Jonah that she hasn't seen Pete lately. "Teen-agers, bah!" says JJ, "Can't depend on any of them! I'm leaving for the day!" And that's your Jonah Jameson fix for this issue. Betty pulls Peter's file out and looks at the mug shot inside. She is still wondering "who that other girl is that those boys said [Pete's] been dating". Then it occurs to her that she may have been unfair to Pete, slinking off like a wounded weasel as she did. "Maybe there's an explanation!" after all. So, big-hearted Betty calls Peter's home to give him a chance to explain. Aunt May, duster in hand, answers and tells her that Peter has not been home since morning. So much for explanations! Betty hangs right up on Peter's Aunt but not before May thinks, "I could have sworn I heard a sob!" Betty kicks herself for being a fool. Now she's sure there is no explanation. The Human Torch must have been right about Peter and Dorrie! Betty is convinced that "Peter is probably out with her right now!" And, as Stan puts it, "in a very remote sense, Betty Brant is right" because Spidey and the Torch have caught up to the Beetle and Dorrie.
It all starts at the top of an empty condemned building. With the heroes' arrival, the Beetle decides he needs his hands free so he drops Dorrie off on a mostly-missing rooftop. The Torch now understands that it was the Beetle who has kidnapped Dorrie. "That's what I was trying to tell you!" Spidey says. (Except I've just looked through everything Spidey says to the Torch in their fight and he never tries to tell him anything about the Beetle. Here. See for yourself: "The Torch!!!" "Heads up, Torchy! You're not the only bush- league pitcher around here! Here's an asbestos web-ball to chew on for a while!" "Stick with me, hot stuff, and you'll find out! Here, have your fire- balls back. You may need 'em again! And don't get too close, Torchy boy! I don't wanna singe my new Sunday-go-to-meetin' britches!!" That's it. That's all he says.) The good guys pass by Dorrie on their way to tackle the Beetle. Dorrie tells Johnny, "Thank heaven you're here!" and Johnny pauses long enough to tell her, "Take it easy, dollface. Everything's gonna be a-okay now!"
The Torch is the first to encounter the Beetle. He comes up behind him and starts throwing fireballs. The Beetle avoids the attack by flying into one of the windows of the condemned building. But as he passes through a doorway, Spidey jumps down through a hole in the ceiling and blocks his way. The Beetle uses his finger suckers to yank a huge chunk of wall out. He throws it at the web-slinger. However, the Torch just happens to fly through a doorway in search of the Beetle and gets clobbered by the hunk of wall instead.
The Beetle takes advantage of the confusion to fly off into another room. Spidey, perched on the doorframe, takes off after him. The Torch decides to flank him by flying through the new hole in the wall. He reenters through a window just in front of the Beetle, who tries to retaliate by using those suckers again to yank out another chunk... of ceiling this time. But just as the Beetle pulls the ceiling down, Spider-Man jumps through the newly made hole. He ends up between the Beetle and the Torch. His fireballs thwarted by Spidey's interventions, the Torch can't help but wonder, "Is [Spider-Man] trying to help me or protect the Beetle?"
Sure enough, the Beetle has managed to slip away again in the confusion. This time he decides his opponents are too unpredictable and he must get away "and make new plans". But he is still stuck in the building, flying from room to room.
The Torch flies up through the hole in the ceiling, planning to "head the Beetle off". Spidey has noticed that the Beetle "glided upstairs" and is heading for the roof. He climbs out a window and walks up the outside wall to the next story.
And so it is that the Beetle flies through a doorway into another room and finds Spider-Man swinging through a window on his left and the Human Torch burning a hole through the wall on his right. (Another great Ditko panel with the Beetle's head looking like it's on a swivel as he tries to take all this in.) All three super-types meet in the middle with a loud "Thok!" The collision knocks both Spidey and the Torch to the ground (Torchy is even losing his flame) and the Beetle starts to fly off once again. But, from the ground, Spider-Man shoots a web that adheres to the Beetle's left leg. Then, the Torch encircles the Beetle in a cage made out of flame, which subdues him enough ("The flames are too hot even for my asbestos garb! I'm trapped!" the Beetle says) so that Spidey can thoroughly web him up into a ball.
In the aftermath, Johnny (flamed off, of course) puts his arms around Dorrie but she isn't quite ready to be amorous. First she points at the web-slinger and asks her boyfriend "Are you going to do something about that horrid Spider- Man?" since she "still thinks he was in league with the Beetle!" Johnny tells her that she has no proof of that and reminds her that Spidey helped to catch the Beetle. Then, he points out to Dorrie that "you don't mind me being the Human Torch at all when you're in trouble!" Spidey takes all this in and realizes that Dorrie will "never really trust Spider-Man! And even the Torch isn't sure about me!" This puts him into an immediate funk. He figures that Jameson is probably mad at him because he hasn't done any work for him lately as Peter Parker. He knows that Betty is mad at him and he can't figure out any explanation to give her. He wonders if his fate is to "go through life as a professional fall guy" and "be a costumed super-powered sad sack". It all seems amplified what with seeing the Torch get the glory "and even the girl". "For him" Spidey thinks, "life is one big happy ending".
That's it. Spidey has had enough. He web-slings away. Dorrie points out that Spider-Man is getting away but Johnny tells her he couldn't stop him even if he wanted to. All of this recent activity has temporarily pooped out his flame. Dorrie puts her hands on Johnny's shoulders and asks him what kind of person Spider-Man is. "Sometimes I think he's really a terrific guy," says Johnny, "and other times I wanna knock his block off". But all the time he's thinking, "I could understand if she fell for a guy like Spidey! But, that Peter Parker guy! I just don't get it!"
And Spidey? He lands on the top of a very tall smokestack, just wanting to be alone to clear his thoughts. He wonders if he will ever get the acclaim that the Human Torch gets. He wishes he could reveal his identity as the Torch has and "let people realize who I am". But, he slumps a bit as he realizes that "I just don't dare!"
Mostly just praise for Stan and Steve in the Spider's Web this month but there is this impassioned defense of J. Jonah Jameson by John Bailey of Washington C.H., Ohio: "I ask by what standard may JJJ, a producer, be said to be less moral or even immoral in comparison with Spider-Man. How can J. Jonah Jameson, who has provided work for hundreds or thousands and news for millions, be said to be immoral? Why has a man that has amassed a fortune solely through providing the news faster, cheaper, more concisely, and more accurately than any other source accepted a standard of morality that holds his production, his virtue to be evil? Money is not a tool of the looters or the moochers; it is a tool of the producers. To be able to say that one has made money is to pay oneself the highest possible compliment. If J. Jonah Jameson can truly say that he made money, he may walk tall."(Stan replies, in part, "never let it be said that the guys in the bullpen are anti-money" and I'm going to skirt the thesis all together and only point out that, if J. Jonah Jameson is immoral, it has a bit to do with the fact that his news may be fast, cheap and concise as John says but it is certainly not accurate when it comes to Spider- Man.) Meanwhile, Charles Harris, Jr. of The Bronx, New York says, "I'm 25 years old and would like to read happier things about Spider-Man... Let the public like him!" Stan tells Charles that "it's more important to us that you READERS like him!"
In the Special Announcements Section, Stan tells us that this issue was "specially produced in answer to a flood of mail demanding more adventures of Spidey fighting either with or against our human matchstick". He also tips the readership that Peter Parker has a short appearance in Fantastic Four #35, February 1965 (we'll get to that one next month) and informs us that the question as to whether Spidey's villains have too many gimmicks has been answered. "[A]ccording to the letters that followed, most of you like Spidey's little sparring partners just the way they are." And in a little blue box way down at the bottom of the page, Stan hits us with the sad news that, "Now that all our mags have letters pages, we get so much mail that we just can't send cards in answer to your letters any more!" But to make all you prospective letter writers feel better, the opposite page has a beautifully moody "Marvel Masterwork Pin-Up" by Steve Ditko of the web-slinger perched on a wall, ready to pounce on someone.
After appearing with Spidey every other issue for the last several months, the Torch goes his own way and (except for stray cameos here and there) doesn't hook up again with the web-slinger until Amazing Spider-Man King-Size Special #4 (November 1967)
Dorrie Evans pretty much disappears from Peter Parker's life, though she does tell Johnny Storm what a gentleman PP is this month in Strange Tales #129, February 1965.
The Beetle makes the rounds between now and his next Spidey appearance. He makes a one-panel appearance standing next to the Melter, the Unicorn, the Mandarin, and Electro as they try to muck up the wedding of Sue Storm and Reed Richards in Fantastic Four Annual #3 (1965), he dukes it out with the Avengers as a pawn of the Collector in Avengers #27-28 (April-May 1966) and he takes on the Man Without Fear in Daredevil #33-34 (October-November 1967). Spidey doesn't see him again until Amazing Spider-Man #94 (March 1971). Recently Abner Jenkins joined the Thunderbolts as Mach-1. The 'Bolts were the Masters of Evil disguised as good guys and while some held fast to their evil ways, some grew to like playing hero. Abner was one who decided to turn a new leaf and, in Thunderbolts #75, February 2003, he turns himself into the authorities with plans to pay his debt to society and ultimately go straight. And, yes, there was briefly a second, female, Beetle but the less said about that the better.
Oh, yeah. I almost forgot. Those two villains who appeared elsewhere first. Dr. Doom in ASM #5, October 1963 (first appeared in Fantastic Four #5, July 1962) and the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime in ASM #16, September 1964 (first appeared in Incredible Hulk #3, September 1962).
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"Where Flies the Beetle" - Spidey's first encounter with one of H.T.'s old foes. Human Torch guests.
It's not your typical issue of Amazing Spider-Man. In fact, it's almost as if the Torch feature from Strange Tales has taken over the book. There isn't much in the way of subplots and Spidey's regular supporting cast is virtually non- existent. By my unofficial count, Spider-Man/Peter Parker appears in 86 panels, the Human Torch in 58 panels, the Beetle in 46 panels, Dorrie Evans in 35 panels, Betty Brant in 10 panels, Flash Thompson in 4 panels, J. Jonah Jameson in 3 panels and dear old Aunt May in only one panel. That makes a total of 139 panel appearances for the Strange Tales Human Torch-Beetle-Dorrie Evans group compared to 104 panel appearances for the ASM Spidey-Betty Brant- Flash Thompson-J. Jonah Jameson-Aunt May bloc. And you know what? It is just the change of pace that we needed. Spidey and the Torch are still great together in this absolute romp. Looks like another five-web gem to me.