Hey, remember this Gil Kane quote (Comics Journal #186)?
"And by that time, as I understand it, Ditko was doing all his own stories... So, he would outline all of these jobs and draw them and send them in. And Stan would write them without ever having said a word to Ditko."
The creative combination of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko was essential to the formation of the character of the Amazing Spider-Man. Certainly, by continuing on past Ditko's departure, for another 60 plus issues, Stan Lee has demonstrated his mastery over the Web-Head. But Ditko's influence should not be underestimated. All you have to do is to look at later Ditko creations such as Mr. A., the Creeper, Shade the Changing Man, and Speedball to see that Steve had a strong (if not complete) hand in developing characters such as the Vulture, the Big Man, Kraven the Hunter, the Green Goblin, and Doctor Octopus.
It is unclear just how much was created by Stan and how much by Steve in the very early issues but, certainly, according to Gil Kane, by the time of Steve's last year or so on the book, his control was absolute. Quibble with Gil's comment if you will, but the fact remains that Steve was credited with both art and plot for issues 25 to 30 and for 32 to 38. (And since #31 is the first part of the Master Planner trilogy, we can assume that it is merely an oversight that he is not credited there.)
(Steve was also credited with art and plot in the Dr. Strange strip in Strange Tales at the time. A revealing blurb in the Marvel Checklist for Strange Tales #142, reads, "As for Dr. Strange, we hope Steve Ditko can save him - poor Stan doesn't know how!".)
If you have ever wondered why some characters such as the Enforcers and the Scorpion appeared more than once under Ditko and then were never used again by Stan, the answer may be that Stan had almost no hand in the making of them in the first place. (This is only guesswork on my part, of course.) Certainly, there is one character in which Stan seemed to have no interest. He appeared twice in eight issues in Ditko-plotted tales, then didn't appear again until Gerry Conway used him almost a hundred issues later. The Molten Man.
But before we get to him... Hey, remember Marvel Pop Art Productions? In an attempt to escape the stigma of the term "comic books", Marvel changed its name in 1965. It was a natural. Marvel comics had become immensely popular on college campuses. The Pop Art of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein was all the rage. How could it miss? Four issues later, Stan wrote on the Bullpen Bulletins page that, "we never realized how many thousands were intensely loyal to the name Marvel Comics!.... So, once again we fall on our red faces and from now on, we're the Marvel Comics Group once more. SO BE IT!"
The Amazing Spider-Man #28 was the first issue of the series to come out with the imprint of Marvel Pop Art Productions. It featured a justly-famous Steve Ditko cover that seemed to glow in the dark. It was the first appearance of the Molten Man. And it was the last major appearance of a certain supporting character for almost ten years.
|Cover Art:||Steve Ditko|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #10|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #166|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #2|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #18|
We've come to the end of perhaps the best five issue run in Spider-Man history. We've had the Goblin, gangsters, Spidey going mad, Spidey getting captured by J. Jonah Jameson, the Crime-Master, Patch, and the Goblin again. Is there any way to top this? No. But Stan and Steve sure try with Peter Parker's High School graduation, the coming of the Molten Man, and the best Spider-Man cover of all time. (Look at it on the rack, practically glowing in the dark! There's no way you can bypass this issue.)
In the words of Stan Lee, "Our story begins with the savage impact of a falling feather...!" Peter Parker is hailed by his High School Principal as he walks along at school. Principal Davis tells him that Flash Thompson has fessed up that Pete was not at fault in the fight the two teenagers had (Stan seems to think this happened in the last issue but we know it was actually in ASM #26, July 1965). "Wow!" thinks Pete, "Ol' Flash is the best enemy a guy ever had!"
Peter assumes that Flash's confession was as a result of influence from Liz Allan and, when he sees her approaching, he decides to thank her for it. But Liz gives him the cold shoulder. (This is not because Pete accidentally refers to her as "Liz Hilton" since he thinks this rather than says it, but it would serve him right if it was.) Liz actually calls him "Peter" rather than "Petey". This so stuns our hero that he watches her walk away and scratches the back of his head.
Next on the scene is Flash himself, but when Pete tries to thank HIM, Flash gets defensive. "Flash Thompson doesn't let any meatball take the rap for him!" is his only response.
It is nearly the end of the school year. Classes are letting out early so that seniors can attend to caps and gowns. But Peter has other apparel to worry about. He left his Spidey costume in the hands of Spencer Smythe's Spider Slayer back in ASM #25 (June 1965) and has been using a cheap imitation ever since. He decides to try to get his outfit back. On his way out of school, he hears Liz turning down Flash's offer of a soda together. "Not now! Not tomorrow! Not ever!" she says, "Do I make myself clear?"
Now come with me to those halcyon days when Professor Spencer Smythe was a quiet inventor who created a robot to attack Spider-Man out of scientific curiosity and wasn't a criminal mastermind at all. So, it is not necessary for Pete to track down Smythe's hideout. He just goes over to Smythe's house instead. He rings the front door bell. Smythe answers and Pete tells the Professor that he has dropped by to see if there have been any improvements made on his machine. (Smythe remembers Pete well. "You're Peter Parker!" he says, "The one who talked Jonah Jameson into using my robot to try to capture Spider-Man.") Pete carries a box and a wrapped-up jar with him. All part of the plan.
The Professor tells him that he has been too busy on other projects to improve his robot but lets Pete in to look at the Slayer anyway. As we know, though, the robot has been built to be "attracted by anything that has to do with spiders". When Peter gets too close, it captures him by engulfing him with its metal tentacles (just as it did to Spidey in ASM #25). But our hero has prepared for this possibility. Before Smythe can fully surmise that Peter Parker is Spider-Man, the captured teen-ager reveals that his packaged jar is actually filled with spiders! (Pete explains that he brought the spiders for the Professor's research but he doesn't explain why he bothered to gift-wrap the darn thing. I can hear the Professor now. "Spiders? How thoughtful. For me??")
Ahem... well. Smythe falls for the deception and hits a switch on the wall to release Peter. Pete then tells Smythe he would love to see the Spider-Man suit which was left behind at the scene in ASM #25. (Pete knows Smythe has it because Jameson told him in ASM #26.) As the Professor is distracted by the doorbell ("That must be my assistant," he says as he heads to the door.) Parker grabs his costume, replacing it with the "shrunken store-bought" one he had concealed in his box.
OK, let's all pause for a moment and review our scorecards. Do we all know where the costume is? The jar of spiders? The Spider Slayer? Liz Allan? Principal Davis? (Hey, look! A character from Spidey's past who has not turned into a crazed super-villain. Who's responsible for this?) And who is Spencer Smythe's assistant just entering stage right? Mark Raxton, of course.
Peter tries to sneak out but he first overhears an argument between Raxton and Smythe. It turns out that the two men have created a "liquid metal alloy" together and Raxton wants his share of it to sell to the highest bidder. Smythe refuses to give it up and the argument turns violent. In the struggle, the Spider Slayer is activated. Again, it captures Peter but this time without the jar of spiders. Parker has no alibi now. His secret is out, if anyone happens to notice. As the fight continues, Smythe is knocked cold but the bottle of liquid alloy is broken, spilling all over Raxton. (Who is simultaneously zapped by some weird Ditkoesque machine lurking in the Professor's laboratory.) The alloy gets soaked up by Raxton's skin, leaving his brown suit and blue tie untouched. (Quite a trick.) Shaken up by the experience, Raxton wanders out of the lab, anxious to get to a doctor. He never notices Peter at all.
But Pete is still trapped by the Slayer and he knows he must get away before Smythe recovers and sees him. Desperately, he pulls out his web-shooter and manages to snag the power switch with webbing, shutting off the robot. When the Professor comes to, Peter is free. Still moaning over the lost alloy, Smythe gives Raxton's address to our hero. Dressing in his Spidey suit, Peter decides to pay the lab assistant a visit.
But meanwhile, Raxton has overcome his anxiety and noticed that the alloy doesn't seem to be hurting him. He wanders out into the street and, angered by an irate driver, he strikes out instinctively, smashing the car. To his surprise, he has gained great strength. "Even though my fingers are still flexible, they have the power of solid metal," Raxton realizes and he goes on a self-absorbed rampage, smashing automobiles and lampposts. After leaving a path of destruction, Raxton figures out that this may not have been the best way to test out his powers. (A bit conspicuous.) He grabs a blue hat from some nearby garbage and uses it as a disguise to get back home. But his plans of creating a big crime are stopped cold when Spider-Man shows up at his apartment, telling him to give up.
And the big fight begins. Spidey doesn't take the Molten Man very seriously until he sees Molty's punch put a big hole in the wall of the apartment ("I hope I can stay out of his way" Pete thinks, "I don't want to go to graduation with bruises on my face".) and discovers he can't budge Raxton when he tries to take him in. (All he manages to do is rip Molten Man's jacket and shirt off, making him look like Sgt. Fury cast in gold.) Molty tags Spidey with some powerful punches and the Web-Slinger returns the favor. "I usually save this punch for celebrity-type villains", Spidey says, but at the end of it, Raxton is still standing. Spider-Man webs up the Molten Man but the webbing doesn't stick to his "slick, molten skin". Raxton then rips off the legs of his pants, apparently trying for a "look" (nice try, Raxton) and knocks the Webhead and himself through the front door of his apartment and down the stairs. The fight continues, leading to my favorite quote of the issue... "It's no picnic being hit by a molten fist, is it?" Raxton says, "especially if you're kicked by a molten toe at the same time!"
Finally the Molten Man knocks Spidey down the cellar steps and follows him there. Peter realizes that the Molten Man "isn't even scratched". (If he were, his retail value would go down. Sorry.) Spider-Man first uses his speed to evade blows then knocks out the light bulb, plunging the cellar into darkness. While Molty can't see, Pete is guided by his spider sense. (And once again he blabs to an opponent that he even has a spider sense; something he should keep to himself.) First, Spidey creates a rope out of extra-thick webbing. He sneaks up behind the Molten Man and ties his feet together (but since he couldn't move Molty before, I don't know how he lifts him up to bind him), then his hands. Even though Raxton's skin is slippery, the knots are tight enough to hold. But once Spidey hauls his captive up the stairs, Raxton begins to loosen the webbing. As Spidey tries to re-tighten it, the Molten Man grabs him and pounds him against the wall. But Spidey is just biding time until the webbing hardens and, finally, Molty can't struggle out. Using directions received from Spencer Smythe, the cops show up and take the Molten Man away.
Ah, but this is only page sixteen of a twenty page story. What's next? Well, Peter has to hurry up and get to his High School Graduation. (Wait a minute? Didn't they just have class today? Oh well.) He runs home to see if Aunt May is ready. May tells him she is coming in a half an hour with Mrs. Watson, then she straightens Pete's tie and tells him that "Your Uncle Ben would have been so proud of you! My little boy graduating with honors!" Pete heads to Midtown High for the ceremony. Students are already milling around with their caps and gowns on. "Y'know I automatically feel 200 percent smarter with this crazy pancake on my dome," says one grad and his friend replies, "I always said you had a flat head, Charlie, and now we know it." (A student named Charlie has appeared twice before in Spider-Man comics. In ASM #8, January 1964, a blonde kid stumbles while trying to get away from the Living Brain. Spider-Man steps in and rescues him. In ASM #17, October 1964, a black haired teen attends the Spider-Man fan club and tells Flash, "Wow! What a turnout! Half of Forest Hills must be here! But where's Spidey?" It's impossible to tell if either of these "Charlies" is this Charlie but why don't we be charitable, say that Charlie dyed his hair and that this is his third appearance?) By this time, May and Anna have shown up but Peter looks for Betty Brant in vain. (Betty is still miffed that Pete helped Professor Smythe in ASM #25 and that he appears to have several other girlfriends, namely Liz Allan and Mary Jane Watson.) Principal Davis announces two scholarships to Empire State University; Flash Thompson for sports and Peter Parker for science. (Thus solving Pete's college financial problems.) One grad (Charlie?) seems oblivious to Pete's success as he gloats, "Boy! The chicks'll go ape over ol' Flash now!" And finally the guest speaker is introduced... J. Jonah. Jameson. The students groan. "They're making us get our diplomas the hard way." "Is that a smile or is he wearing a fright mask?" (And no one could draw a leering, smug JJJ like Steve Ditko.) Peter barely listens. He's too busy noticing that Liz Allan is still down in the dumps.
After the ceremony, Flash exults, "The only thing that woulda made everything really perfect would have been if they had Spider-Man make that speech instead of ol' prune-face". Pete celebrates with his Aunt May and Anna Watson. (Anna says, "I can't wait to dash home and tell my daughter Mary Jane about it", which is either a colossal mistake by Stan... since MJ is Anna's niece... or a Freudian slip by Anna. Maybe a retcon in the making!) Jonah approaches Peter ("There's Parker! He sold some photos to a rival paper the other day!" in ASM #27, August 1965, "I've got to win him back to the Bugle again.") and gets introduced to Aunt May. ("His Aunt!" he brays, "I thought you were his sister!") This interesting exchange takes place: JJJ: "Yes, the newspaper business is always exciting. Once I was even accused of being the Green Goblin." May: "Oh, dear! That's as ridiculous as accusing my nephew Peter of being Spider-Man." To those readers of the time, ignorant of the Goblin's identity, this qualified as a bona fide clue. Now, it's nothing more than a quaint thirty-year old red herring.
Flash is still busy exulting over his scholarship. "I feel so good now, I don't even mind Puny Parker being in the same college as me!" But Pete approaches Liz to see what the problem is. Now that High School is over and she's fairly sure that she won't see Peter again (Liz isn't going on to college), she admits to Pete that, "My feeling for you was more than just liking, Petey. I... I had a crush on you. But you always seem to prefer other girls... Betty Brant... Mary Jane Watson... You always thought of me as just a dizzy blonde and perhaps I am! But it's time for me to graduate out of that part of my life, also." Liz leaves the graduation ceremony with her parents. (We last saw Mr. Allan in ASM #17, October 1964 when he let Liz and Flash use his restaurant, the Avenue Dinner Club, to host the Spider-Man Fan Club. This is the first time we see Liz' mother and we don't even get to see her face! Neither one has ever appeared again.) Peter leaves with his arms around May and Anna. A chapter in life has ended. Another begins.
As we make our way to the letters page, the house ad is for "Another Annual Masterpiece": Journey into Mystery Annual #1, 1965 featuring Thor versus Hercules. We'll be looking at an annual or two of our own next time.
"The Merry Marvel Bullpen Page" advertises "Official Swingin' Stationary" which also features a "batty bonus autograph page, signed by almost every one of our costumed kooks" which I suspect means that some office boy created signatures for Spidey, Hulk, Captain America and the like. The Spider-Man t-shirt is still only a dollar and a half and the twenty-five MMMS members are: Danny Walsh of Baltimore, Maryland. Gary Brock of Dayton, Ohio. Dan Huitt of Springfield, Missouri. Kal M. Wall of Hays, Kansas. Edward Machnik of Meriden, Connecticut. Joey Jones of Ashland, Virginia. James Puhr of Mandan, North Dakota. David McDaniel of Baltimore, Maryland. Tommy Peno of Dorchester, Massachusetts. John Barone of Kansas City, Missouri. Gary Ayerback of Baltimore, Maryland (Baltimore in the spotlight this month.) Darrell J. Douglas of Pasadena, Texas. Kenneth Jamel of Lewiston, Maine. Joseph J. Wehrie, Jr. of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania. (Included, no doubt, just to test my typing skills all these years later.) Paul Gollis of Newport, Rhode Island. Arthur Sperling of Middletown, Rhode Island. Jim Cohn of Skyesville, Maryland. Rickey Tuttle of Misquite, Texas. David Black of Austin, Texas. Billy Orcutt of Natrona Heights, Pennsylvania. Richard Simcox of Bellaire, New York. Richard Kashmar of Youngstown, Ohio. Albert F. Pavis of New Haven, Connecticut. Hank Simmons of Hoensboro, Arkansas. And Leonard Womack of Richmond, Virginia.
In the Spider's Web, Dave Saari of Minneapolis asks, "What happened in Spidey #24? You had in the special announcements the next ish listed as #22. Boy, at this rate, it won't be long till we see Amazing Fantasy #15 again." (And wouldn't that be nice?) And L.L. Simpson of Tyler, Texas wanted Pete to go on a blind date with Jean Grey. (Hey, great, then all of the Spidey books and X-Men books could be interrelated. Yearrrgghhh!)
Let's cash out:
Liz Allan shows up just briefly in ASM #30, November 1965 (She bumps into Peter in the street, tells him she is now working and is trying to avoid Flash Thompson, who is following her. Pete helps her out.) then doesn't appear again until ASM #132 May 1974 when Gerry Conway ties her fate to the Molten Man.
The Molten Man appears next in ASM #35, April 1966, but then Ditko leaves and Stan loses interest. Molty goes away until Gerry Conway reintroduces him in ASM #132. In ASM #133, June 1974, we learn that Liz Allan is Mark Raxton's step-sister, that the molten alloy began to react badly with Raxton's flesh so that he had to be hospitalized and that Liz took a job as a nurse to take care of him. Personally I liked the idea that she became a working girl and thus never entered Pete's circle of college friends a lot better. But at least this brought Liz back to the series.
This is the last we see of Principal Davis, Mr. Allan, and Mrs. Allan (and Charlie?). But Flash goes on to Empire State University with Pete. They meet new friends and teachers when college begins in ASM #31, December 1965. We'll get to that shortly.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"The Molten Man" - The first encounter and origin of the Molten Man. - Peter graduates from high school.
I can't tell you how much I love Steve Ditko's art in this issue. I love the machines and electrical doodads in Smythe's laboratory, the Molten Man's glowing appearance, the shadows in the lab, alley, and cellar, and the terrific battle in the dark, which highlights the spider sense spikes around Spidey's head, the thick cords of webbing, and the Molten Man's sparkling hands and feet. I've already mentioned that I think this issue has the best Spidey cover ever. This is all Steve Ditko at his finest.
As for the story, the importance of Peter Parker actually graduating High School cannot be overemphasized. At this point, the series was moving more or less in real time, making everything seem as real as a super-hero strip can feel. While I'm not really interested in reading a series about a sixty-year old Spidey, it is a shame that time ever had to slow down to a dribble for these characters.
I also enjoy that nifty little scene when Peter goes to Professor Smythe's house to get his costume back. And I love that Smythe is just a suburban guy instead of a super-criminal. But though the Molten Man looks great, he is not especially interesting here and the story doesn't compare to the great ones that just preceded it. It's the first fall from five webs since ASM #22, March 1965 but it's gotta be done. Call it three and a half webs, mostly on the strength of the artwork.
This Lookback has been around since Peter Parker's Pad Volume 2 #10 (1996) but I've gussied it up a little bit to fit into the flow.
Meanwhile, let's hit up some Annuals, starting with Fantastic Four Annual #3