Why does Steve bring back the Molten Man only seven issues after his original appearance in ASM #28, September 1965 when so many better known villains have had longer waits? It sure isn't because Stan asked him to, if Stan's future use (or non-use) of the character is any indication. My guess is because Steve just finds him so cool to draw.
There is something about the Molten Man that seemed to inspire Steve Ditko. The cover of ASM #28 is arguably the best in the history of Amazing Spider-Man. (It's certainly my favorite.) This cover is one of the top ones, too. In a predominantly green room, the golden Molten Man runs right toward us while bathed in the white light of the spider-signal. At first glance it may look like Spidey is held up by puppet strings but those are actually speed lines, letting us know that the web-slinger is running full tilt away from us and at the Molten Man. And whereas Molty has one leg bent at the knee in the process of running, Spidey is moving so quickly that he is hovering a few feet off the ground. Down at the bottom is the intriguing title of the issue: "The Molten Man Regrets...!" So what does the Molten Man regret? That he went back to crime? That he took Spidey on again? That Stan won't use him again after Ditko is gone? Or is it like refusing a party invitation? "The Molten Man regrets that he is unable to attend the next issue due to being thrown back in jail." There is an old Cole Porter song called "Miss Otis Regrets" but I can't really see what that would have to do with this story. Whatever the meaning, it sure doesn't sound good for ol' Molty. But then we don't read these stories without knowing that the villains are probably going to lose, do we?
|Cover Art:||Steve Ditko|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Masterworks #16|
|Reprinted In:||Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus #1|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #174|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #28|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Comics Weekly (UK) #29|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #2|
|Reprinted In:||Spider-Man Pocket Book (UK) #20|
As Stan says in his page one copy, "This one is for the real old-fashioned, dyed-in-the-wool Spidey fanatics who like to see ol' web-head fighting as only he can!" And, as if to demonstrate that, the splash page illustration is a scene from the eventual fight between Spidey and the Molten Man with the web- slinger hanging upside-down in the air while holding onto Molty's left ankle with his right hand and gripping two thick coils of webbing (or are they rope?) with which he has lassoed both of Molty's wrists. This moment is shown again but from a different angle on page 17, panel three (except, yeah, Spidey's holding the Molten Man's other ankle) and is really only moments away from the conclusion of the whole multi-page fight. An interesting choice on Ditko's part to reveal this moment on the very first page but, of course, no one knows it's giving away the ending until he actually gets there. (Except, if the guy doing Lookbacks gives it away to you. Sorry.)
Now we head to Mark Raxton's prison cell "some months ago" where a cop opens the door and tells the prisoner that "hizzoner wants to see you". Raxton is the Molten Man because he got coated in Professor Smythe's Liquid Metal Alloy but that doesn't mean he can't cover his unique condition with clothing. (Actually you may recall that Raxton absorbed the Alloy into his body when he was covered in it and it never seemed to affect his clothing at all.) So there he is dressed in a brown suit, standing in the cell with one foot up on a stool. When he gets the news from the cop, he figures it is finally time for his sentencing. Once in the court, the kindly gray-haired judge tells him that since he became the Molten Man "thru an unforeseen accident" and has offered to "pay for the damages you've caused", he's "giving you a suspended sentence". Raxton thanks the judge and tells him "you won't be sorry" but he's lying through his teeth.
And so Raxton, with a green tie and hat added to his brown suit, his right hand in his pants pocket, leaves the courthouse. He thinks about how "lucky I was a model prisoner and acted repentant". (So, just how long was Raxton in jail without being sentenced anyway?) Now he vows, "No more jails for the Molten Man!" He gets back to his apartment where he just happens to have big steel bars and a brick pillar sitting around. He strips down to his golden skivvies and tests his strength by twisting the steel bars into pretzel shapes. Then he breaks chunks off the brick pillar with his bare hands. This exhibition of his power convinces him that he is stronger than ever and that Spider-Man only beat him before because "my power was new to me! I didn't realize how to handle it!" He has had time to think things out. Last time he just went on the rampage in full view of the public. Now he's "figured all the angles" and concocted a plan. The first step, though is to "lay low for a while" which accounts for the transition from "some months ago" to today.
So, it is that "many days later" a man in a green suit, white gloves, brown hat, gray hair at the temples and black goatee, carrying a walking stick, enters "an exclusive Madison Avenue jewelry shop". He looks very much like Dr. Ludwig Rinehart, Mysterio's disguise from ASM #24, May 1965 and may very well be the Rinehart disguise for all I know. Who says the Molten Man couldn't have borrowed it? (Hmmm. Looks like I'm giving things away again.) The "distinguished-looking patron" tells the jeweler that all the gems on display are "too ordinary, too pedestrian". He wants something "more exotic, more expensive". The jeweler is only too happy to oblige. "I wish I had a dozen more customers like him!" he thinks, "I could retire in a week". He goes into the back and opens up the safe but as soon as he does so the "customer" shoves him out of the way. Realizing that the man is "nothing but a crook", the jeweler pulls a gun and orders him to "raise your hands". When the crook comes after him instead, the jeweler shoots him smack-dab in the middle of his chest. This doesn't even slow the man down so the jeweler decides the crook must be wearing a bulletproof vest. By then, the man has gotten close enough to take the gun out of the jeweler's hand. He crushes it "like an eggshell", declaring, "Can a vest do this??!"
Well, it just so happens that Spider-Man is web-slinging his way right over the jewelry shop. (It is "a sagacious fate" according to Stan that Spidey happens to be there. Fully aware of the absurdity of this coincidence, Stan lays it on thick. "Which is as lucky for us as for the merchant below" he adds parenthetically, "else we'd have a super-hero yarn sans super-hero!") He hears the shot from the jeweler's gun and decides to investigate. Rushing into the back room, he sees the man in the green suit and declares, "Okay, Beaver! Stay where you are till I learn what's going on here!" (And I have no idea what this "Beaver" appellation is. Eager Beaver? Beaver Cleaver? Yoo hoo! Stan?) The distinguished patron sees Spidey and immediately puts his hands up. "Don't hit me!" he cries, "I'm no match for you! I give up! I give up!" So, Spidey, expecting an easy capture lets his guard down. When the web- slinger gets close enough, the crook socks him solidly in the jaw with a hard left. (So, is the Molten Man left-handed? Wouldn't he want to unleash his strongest punch with his dominant hand? And am I giving away the crook's identity again?) The punch lands with a "Wok!" and Spider-Man staggers back.
A moment while we peruse the monthly "More Triumphs For Marvel" page. Three issues "now on sale" this time. From left to right, they are Fantastic Four #49, April 1966 with the second part of the Galactus trilogy, The Mighty Thor #126, March 1966 changing over from Journey Into Mystery with this issue, and Marvel Collectors' Item Classics #2, April 1966 which has been given its own Lookback thanks to its reprinting of Amazing Spider-Man #4, September 1963. All three worth seeking out.
The man in the green suit has Spidey on the ropes and he knows better than to let up. He keeps the webhead off-balance with a right uppercut and then pounds him with a roundhouse left. The web-slinger is halfway to the ground but still conscious. "What's holding you up?" says his assailant, "You should have been out cold by now!" But while the crook is busy beating on Spider-Man, the jeweler is at the front door screaming for the police. The notion of the cops arriving makes the bad guy decide to "scram". He shoves the jeweler into Spider-Man's path and bolts out the door. By the time Spidey can get the salesman out of his way and get to the exit, the would-be jewel thief is gone. Deciding that his adversary is "too strong too dangerous to run free", Spidey climbs the wall of the building, hoping to spot him from the roof.
Unfortunately (we learn in the very next panel) Spider-Man has no luck. Running through an alleyway, the crook realizes he has shaken Spidey's pursuit. He heads for his "decrepit digs", which happens to be the same place where he lived before being arrested, namely, "a seedy rooming house near the waterfront". (I never got the sense in ASM #28 that Molty lived in a rooming house or near the waterfront but after looking that issue over, I don't see anything that says he doesn't so we'll give Stan the benefit of the doubt here.) Once inside he removes his hat and then he removes his head... specifically the full head "Ludwig Rinehart" mask he was wearing to reveal (surprise!) the Molten Man underneath. He plans to destroy this disguise (but I'm not sure how) and he is quite pleased with himself for not providing a link between the would-be gem thief and the Molten Man. But he is less pleased with himself for escaping empty-handed. "In the excitement, I left the loot behind!" Aggravated at Spider-Man for fouling him up again, the Molten Man smokes a cigarette and vows that next time, "I'll finish him off for good!"
Elsewhere, Spider-Man is still searching for his mystery opponent without success. Giving up, he changes into his Peter Parker duds, buys a paper, and "reads a front-page account of what has just transpired". (Damn, they got that into the newspaper fast!) Once he reads the jeweler's statement that the "would-be robber crushed a revolver in his bare hands", he remembers how hard he was hit and realizes that there was "something disturbingly familiar about him". He casually tosses his newspaper into a garbage can (in these pre- recycling days) and tries to puzzle it out. Back at home amidst his test tubes and beakers, Peter reasons that the bad guy could have been wearing a disguise so that he could "have been almost anybody" including "even some former enemy of mine". Again he thinks about how hard he was punched but this time he tells himself, "He sure packed a punch like iron". This turn of phrase triggers the realization that the "punch felt like metal" and that makes him realize that "it could be the Molten Man!" Once he comes up with this, he is so excited that he tosses the thing he was holding in his hand onto the desk. But what is that thing he was holding? In one panel it looks like a pen but in the next it looks like an opaque slide... or maybe a very dirty stick of gum.
Well, never mind that. Let's follow the wall-crawler as he travels to Mark Raxton's old rooming house and peeks into the window of the room "where Molty lived". The room is empty but it looks pretty much the way it did when he saw it last, which makes him think that Raxton must still live there. Perching on the rooftop across the way, Spidey decides to wait until someone comes home. It is growing dark by the time a light comes on in the room. Spidey web-swings over and perches on the wall as he sneaks a peek inside. Sure enough, the Molten Man is home and he's wearing that same green suit but Spidey doesn't seem to think that's any sort of proof that Raxton is the man he's after. He watches as Molty takes his green jacket off and hangs it somewhere (just where is never made clear). Then he waits a half an hour until Raxton goes to bed before he carefully opens the window, enters, and attaches one of his "spider tracers" behind the lapel of the green jacket. (This is the first time that Spidey refers to his devices as "spider tracers" by the way.) With that mission accomplished, he heads for home, secure in the knowledge that he can "keep tabs on him no matter what".
Up to this point, Spidey still have to use a receiver to pick up the spider tracer signals. He keeps it turned on as he works on science experiments at home. "As the days slowly pass", it finally goes off, letting him know that Raxton is "on the move now". Except, well, I have some questions about this. Does this mean that the spider tracer only gives out with a signal when it is moving? Does this mean that Raxton has stayed home all these days, not venturing out at all? Has Peter spent all these days hanging around his room at home instead of going to class? And who says Raxton didn't go out before only without wearing the green jacket? And, in fact, even this time turns out to be a false alarm. Spider-Man goes out and tracks him down only to find Raxton in his green jacket and brown hat "just walking around". "He seems about as menacing as a tootsie roll!" thinks Spidey. (Great line, Stan!)
So, more days go by and Raxton apparently spends all his time indoors again while Peter spends all his time in his room. Then, as Pete reads a very thick textbook, the signal goes off again. "It's probably a waste of time" thinks Pete, "but I can't afford to take any chances". Out web-swinging, Spidey decides, "If this is another false lead, I'll have to forget the whole thing! I can't keep neglecting my studies this way much longer!" (No kidding! He's just buried away in his room every day. I wonder what Aunt May thinks about this. We'll never know. Aunt May doesn't appear in this issue.) Spidey finally tracks Raxton down, walking along a narrow back alley. Perched high up on the wall, he watches Mark walk through a door at the end of the alley. Then he waits until Raxton comes out. But when Raxton does come out, he isn't recognizable. He still has that green suit and those white gloves on but he has changed his hat and put on another full-headed mask. This one gives him dark black hair, eyebrows, and a mustache with a cleft chin. Vowing to "not [let] him out of my sight", the web-slinger watches from high up on a wall as the disguised Molten Man makes his way to the "alley right behind the jewelry shop he tried to rob before". Using brute strength, Molty snaps the cables that lead to the burglar alarm. Then, with just his thumb and forefinger, he rips the lock right out of the door. Spidey, meanwhile, sits back and takes pictures of the whole thing.
Raxton, now inside, makes his way in the dark to the safe. After ripping up the burglar alarm and the door lock, he decides to get subtle. Instead of tearing the safe door off its hinges, he removes his white gloves and uses his metallic skin to get attuned to "the sound of the other metal within the lock tumblers". He is right on the verge of detecting the combination and opening the safe when the room is lit up with the big red image of the spider-signal. ("Spider-Man!!" cries out Raxton. "Shucks! I hoped you'd think I was Yogi Berra!" says Spidey.) "That's a mighty shabby suit you're wearing, Mister!" says the wall-crawler, "It might look better if I cover it up with some wash- and-wear webbing!" So saying, he sprays webbing all over the disguised Molten Man. But Raxton is prepared for this tactic. He tells Spidey, "My suit was specially designed so I could shed it in seconds." (Specially designed and yet still shabby! Who is his tailor?) Before the webbing can completely dry, Molty yanks his mask off his head and tears his suit apart, shedding the webbing along the way and revealing himself in all of his golden, near naked glory. (He has a little golden Speedo on underneath.) Now you may recall that Spidey's webbing was unable to stick to Molty's "slippery molten body" last time. Molty remembers it too and he brags about it as he runs right at Spider- Man. "Too bad!" replies Spidey, "It would have been a pleasure to shut your slippery molten mouth for you!"
Then Molten Man and Spider-Man come together, each striking a blow to the other's chin with a "Thwop!" Stan knows a great fight sequence when he sees one so he lets eight straight panels go by without dialogue; only Artie Simek's sound effects. Molty clubs Spidey in the snoot with a left handed "Puh-twee!" Spidey smacks Molty in the jaw with a right handed "Brrakkk!" He follows that up with a right ("Ka-pow!") that sends Molty staggering back. But Molty comes back with a right to the chin ("Wok!") and follows that up with a right hand that staggers Spidey ("Spwat!") The webhead returns serve with another staggering right hand ("Ka-boppp!") and a hard left hand that snaps Molty's head back ("Rakkk!"). Then Molty grabs Spidey from behind and the dialogue picks up again. Declaring, "Hah! I proved I could take the best you can dish out! And now, from here on in, I'm gonna be calling the tune, hear?", Molten Man clasps his hands around Spidey's middle, pinning his arms to his sides. Then he squeezes hard "with an unbreakable bear hug". Spidey struggles but still gets lifted right off the floor. His only move is to shoot webbing up to the ceiling. Once the web is anchored, Spidey uses it like a trapeze, accomplishing "a sudden breath-taking acrobatic flip-over" which takes the Molten Man with him. But Molty can't hang on and, upside-down, lets go and lands on the floor. Spidey tries to follow up his maneuver but the desperate Molten Man kicks wildly, sending what looks today like a flat-screen monitor but is probably actually a sign for the jewelry store customers right through the plate glass window in the front of the shop. Stan tells us that this distracts Spidey because he is forced to cover his face from the flying glass but Steve doesn't bother to show us that. Instead, Steve shows us Molty tossing a big green file cabinet or refrigerator or something at Spidey, forcing the web-slinger to leap away. Seizing his temporary advantage, Raxton leaps out the broken window onto the street. Once again, he is more afraid of the police than he is of Spider-Man. He is sure that the broken window will bring the Law but he's also convinced that "no one can prove I was involved in these attempted robberies" if he gets away before they get here. Spidey quickly follows out the window, looking this way and that, but again Molty has eluded him. But this time, Spidey knows where Raxton is heading and he decides to get there first "via the skyway".
So, Molten Man makes it back to his rooming house (where it looks like there's an empty tin can and piles of garbage right out in the hallway). He didn't see Spider-Man following him so he assumes that he is, once again, safe. But once he gets in his room, he finds Spider-Man hanging on a web in the darkness, waiting for him. Molty is panicked but still moves in swiftly and punches Spidey right off his web. He follows that punch up with another left that knocks Spidey upside down and a right that turns Spidey right side up. While Molty punches, the two men have this conversation: "Once I've beaten you there'll be nobody left to stop me!" says Raxton. "Don't kid yourself" replies Spidey, "There's always Irving Forbush!" "Who's he?" asks Molty. "Forget it!" says Spidey, "It's an in joke!" (Stan engaging in self-referential humor decades before it becomes trendy. Stan, you old trend-setter you!) But Spidey has had enough. "If you wanna use me for a punching bag any longer, you'll have to pay union rates!" he says as he punches back, sending the Molten Man staggering. In this brief breather, he reaches over to a simple wooden chair sitting up against the wall. There are two long sections of thick rope lying there, though they are probably actually thick cables of webbing. (Seeing as Spidey tells Molty they are "something I had made specially for you". He may have gotten to the rooming house ahead of Mark but probably didn't have time to stop at a store to buy rope.) Each length of webbing is tied in a loop at the end. "It's the better to tie you up with, Red Riding Hood," says Spidey. The Molten Man, who remembers that this is exactly how Spidey beat him in ASM #28 declares that he's "a lot smarter, and stronger and tougher than I used to be" which means he won't fall for the same trick twice. ("Sure! And you probably have 23% fewer cavities, too! So what?!!" says Spidey.) Then he proves he's as stupid as ever by throwing a punch with his right hand and kicking with his left foot simultaneously; a move so awkward, he practically ties the loop on his wrist by himself. (Though, of course, it is Spider-Man who lassoes him.) Molty still doesn't get it. Even with his right wrist trapped, he seems to think he is winning. "[J]ust stay where you are web- head" he brags, "This is the pay-off!"
So, Molty tries a left uppercut that only allows Spidey to lasso his left hand. Still unimpressed, Molty calls Spidey a "masked nitwit" and swings his hands, trying to give the wall-crawler a helicopter ride. But Spidey anticipates this move. Before he can be flung through the air, he grabs onto Raxton's right ankle and yanks that leg into the air. (This is the moment previously shown on the splash page from a different angle and with Spidey holding the Molten Man's other ankle.) But in the very next panel, it looks like Spidey is holding onto Raxton's left foot after all. It's a little hard to tell. And it's all sort of left to us to figure out because in the next panel after that, the Molten Man is defeated, apparently "hog-tied" though we never do get to see a full view of the job. We just have to assume Spidey got a hold of both feet, put loops around them from the ends of the webbing and tied Molty's hands to his feet.
Although defeated, Raxton is still not concerned. "You can't prove I was involved in any robberies!" he bellows, "It'll just be your word against mine." And Raxton is still bellowing "Get me out of here! You've nothing on me!" when three police officers find him hog-tied and webbed up in the air outside the building with the spider-signal shining down right next to him guiding the way. There is also a note from Spider-Man promising proof of Molty's involvement in the robberies. "Well" says the cop who reads the note; "I guess we can stand your company for a while, if you'll put up with ours! Get him down from there! We'll hold him on suspicion of robbery for as long as we can!" (This order to "get him down from there" has me wondering if the police have figured out some method of extricating felons from Spidey's web. They sure have to deal with it often enough. Or do they have to wait for the webbing to dissolve?)
So, the police take Molty to headquarters where he continues to protest his innocence. ("You can't do this to me! I know my rights! You can't keep me here! I didn't do anything! I'm as innocent as a new-born baby!") He's untied now but makes no move to escape. It's not like the cops could stop him. Stan has thought of this too because he has the police sergeant say, "Anyway, if you go charging out of here, you'll probably just get tied-up by Spider-Man again! You're better off where you are!" ("You tell 'im, Sarge!" says a black cop named Lou... as we continue our effort to mention every single character that actually gets a name in a Spider-Man comic.) But actually I think Raxton just has a respect for the police!
At this moment, Spider-Man appears at the window with an envelope, which he tosses to the sarge. Inside are the photos he took at the jewelry store. Raxton takes a look at them and is so shocked he blurts out, "Shots of me changing disguise, breaking into the shop, everything!" The sarge smiles and tells Lou to get his notebook. "We've got a confession coming up!" he says.
Now, Lou may get a name from Stan but JJJ's new secretary never does. At this moment, Peter doesn't even know she exists but he's about to find out because he arrives at the Daily Bugle with an envelope of more photos which he intends to sell to Jonah. He realizes that he's "nervous about facing Betty". He rounds the corner and starts to say "hello" when he notices that the woman with shoulder-length black hair, wearing earrings and a knee-length red dress isn't Betty after all. The secretary has heard of Peter but doesn't bother to introduce herself. (Seeing as, you know, she has no name.) Pete asks if Betty is on vacation and the secretary tells him that "she doesn't work here any more". This news is enough to send a tremor through Peter's head. It gets worse. "She left something with me" says the secretary as she pulls something out of her desk drawer and passes it over. "I was asked to give it to you when I saw you." It turns out to be Peter's framed photo that he gave to Betty some time back. (But I'm not sure if he ever specifically did it in any previous issue. Does anyone remember?) Downcast, Peter asks if Ned Leeds left as well. "I believe he did go to the West Coast" says the secretary but qualifies it with, "Actually I'm still new here. I'm not sure of everybody's whereabouts!" Peter knows that Ned has wanted to marry Betty. Now with them both gone, he suspects they have left together to elope. But he never completes the thought. Instead he tries to tough it out. "Aww, what's wrong with me?" he thinks, "What do I care?" So, putting on the tough guy exterior, he puts his right hand in his pants pocket and passes the envelope to the secretary with his left hand as he walks away. "I brought these photos for Jameson!" he says, "He can have them!" "But what about your check?" asks the secretary. "He knows my address," says Pete, "let him mail it!"
As Peter marches off, the secretary calls him back. He has left his framed picture behind. She hands it to him and he looks at it, reading the inscription. "To Betty, forever! Peter", it says. "Forever!" Pete scoffs, "I wonder when I wrote that? Must have been a lifetime ago!" And he tosses it into a garbage can sitting by a desk with such force that the glass in the frame shatters. Which I'm sure didn't endear him to the secretary. Speaking of which... Let's have a hand for the secretary, folks! We'll never see her again but wasn't she great?
Having thrown the photo out, Peter trudges off into the perspectived distance of an odd little Ditko panel with two yellow outlines of Betty's head with glass shards floating through the air. Again, he leaves the last panel of the page (in this case, the final third of the page) to tout next issue featuring a close-up head shot and full body drawing of "a swingin' super-villain so different, so new, we can't even tell you his name yet!" Which sort of makes me feel that Stan and Steve hadn't agreed on that name yet.
Check it out! "Hypno-coin. New pocket size invention helps hypnotize in minutes! It must work for you or money back!" Only a dollar! And check out the photo of the hypnotized woman walking with her arms stretched out like Karloff's Frankenstein Monster! We can hypnotize chicks! Fill out that order form!
Not much worth mentioning from the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins except the notice that "The Sept. '65 ish of Esquire included the Hulk and Spidey among the 28 people who count most on campus!" Sort of makes you wonder who the other 26 were. In any event, here's the list of 26 M.M.M.S. members: Mike Wilson of Oakwood, Illinois. Otis Harlan, Jr. of Chicago, Illinois. Zacharey B. Copper of Springfield, Ohio. Kenny Crowe of Birmingham, Alabama. James Ries, Jr. of East Orange, New Jersey. Ray Clutter of Troy, Ohio. Steven Tuegel of Dubuque, Iowa. Miss Maridee Artting of Traverse City, Michigan. (They've always been so formal in Traverse City.) Alex Civinski of Yonkers, New York. Andrew Hollan of Houston, Texas. Marvin Rosskope of Baltimore, Maryland. John Hall of Middleboro, Massachusetts. Charles Ortiz of New York, New York. Roy Belili of Saginaw, Michigan. Keith Bayard of Brevard, North Carolina. Roy Folsom of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Chris Veremakis of Stamford, Connecticut. Scott Eagle Burger of Middleton, Wisconsin. Steven Mell of Black Eagle, Montana. Jim Solonsky of Lindenhurst, New York. Ricky Walsh of Westchester, Illinois. Donald Scott of Manitoba, Canada. Gordon Scott of Manitoba, Canada. (Related to Donald Scott, y'think?) Larry Bowler of Stamford, Connecticut. Vincent Femia of Meriden, Connecticut. And bringing up the rear is Jerry O'Leary of New Rochelle, New York. (Home of Rob Petrie!)
This time the Incredible Hulk sweatshirt is touted by Peter Parker who says, "Do people mutter YECHH when you walk by? Does your own pooch growl and bark at you? Do you shatter mirrors just by looking in them? Are you unloved, unwanted, and uncommonly unkempt? Cheer up, pussycat! There's still hope! Latch onto... an Incredible Hulk Swingin' Sweat Shirt! It may not change you, but at least you'll ENJOY being a shlump!" And this time we get to see the back of the shirt with the Hulk dragging the toy bunny behind him, as mentioned in our last Lookback.
Some real gems in the Spider's Web this issue. First, for all those who just assume that ASM #31, December 1965 was hailed as an instant classic, here's the opinion of Victor L. Morgan of Wilmington, Delaware: "Tonight I have just finished reading Spider-Man #31 and after reading the last four issues I've become a bit distressed, and even worried! It's becoming ironic, even pathetic at times." Ann Neckameyer of Phoenix, Arizona, however, is full of high-toned praise: "I had been craving a good adventure comic for many years and hadn't found one. Anyway, my younger sister had this pile of comic books and my brain reeled at the thought of a possible adventure one. So I picked up a few wild-looking covers and the first I opened announced Kraven the Hunter on the cover. We all realize that some of the language in comic books is not for Shaw readers, but you do right well in adapting to your audience. Suffice it to say (swell phrase for a high-class fan letter) that I enjoyed the composition as much as a Peter Sellers movie or a Charles Beaumont story... I hope you men are writing in other than comics, despite deadlines and paychecks. You have so much talent-and the ability to transpose the talent through masterful technique into a razor-sharp result enabling a good many people to be entertained by a much higher level of satire and pure adventure than television can offer." Not to be outdone, Art Raveson of the Stockbridge School in Interlaken, Massachusetts wonders if Spider-Man will "enter adulthood as a super-hero defending the United States, giving money to charities such as orphanages and hospitals? Or (as I so desperately hope) will he go through college and become the first intellectual, left-wing liberal super-hero, helping to stop wars, supporting S.N.C.C., C.O.R.E. and the N.A.A.C.P., singing songs of Bob Dylan and every so often commenting on the works of Jean Paul Sartre?" (You all know what N.A.A.C.P stands for, I assume. And who Bob Dylan is. And who Jean Paul Sartre was. For the rest, C.O.R.E is the Congress of Racial Equality and the S.N.C.C. was the radical campus group Student Non- violent Coordinating Committee.) Stan responds, "We've got a hunch the John Birch Society may demand equal time!" From what I've heard about Ditko's conservative politics, he could have probably answered Art with, "Not if Steve Ditko has anything to say about it!"
Those three letters are great but now we come to my favorite of the month, from Jon Brant of West Orange, New Jersey and reproduced in its entirety: "Dear Stan and Steve, Please, I ask you as a dedicated Spider-Man fan, for every honest-to-goodness Marvel madman, knock off Aunt May! I mean, after all, what type of teenager, no matter how special he may be, could stand an ugly nag like her? If nothing else, she's nothing but a problem to him. I didn't mind good Uncle Ben (and his converted rice) but you had to do away with him. Now that nasty old witch is pushing our poor hero around and making him nuts. If you don't get rid of her soon, we may find our web-headed friend in the loony bin someday. [My note: he's right! We did!] You can be nice about her death. Just have Aunt May trip on her crutches, or choke on one of her beauty pills, or even have a heart attack after reading this great letter. Speaking as spokesman for the "I Hate Aunt May 'Cause She Is A Trouble-Making Nag" Society, I want you to know that if you don't do something soon, we may be forced to picket the Baxter Building until we get the Fantastic Four to do the job for us. Remember, the Thing has an Aunt Petunia but she doesn't boss him around (that's 'cause he's bigger and uglier than she is), so why does Petey Parker have such problems? I hope by the time you receive this letter the old witch will be gone. We can't take much more of her and I bet Spider-Man is getting pretty sick of Pruneface himself! This is not a threat, although we do have several cans of DDT in case of emergency. (Only joking!) Spider-Man is by far the best comic and we think he's really marvelous. Only please, let's rid the world of that awful menace known as Aunt May." Now THAT is a letter! Stan answers, "Are you kiddin', Jon? Do you want us to lose half our fans? We've been told that mischievous May provides the romantic interest for our older Spiderphiles! Just wait'll you get fifty or sixty years older you're liable to think she's a real pussycat!" Well, Jon has gotten forty years older since this letter. Are you out there anywhere, Jon? Do you still feel the same way?
In the Next Ish box at the bottom of the Spider's Web, Stan admits that it "took us longer to dream up a name for [next issue's villain] than to write the story itself. He even tells us that "At first we were gonna call him The Meteor Man" which is just the name that Gerry Conway switches him to in Marvel Team-Up #33, May 1975. But instead, Stan and Steve choose to call him... well, tune in next time and we'll let you know then!
After going only seven issues between his first and second appearance, the Molten Man goes ninety-seven issues (and eight years) between his second and third; finally brought back by Gerry Conway in ASM #132, May 1974. You just got to figure that, if Stan had never given up the scripting chores, the Molten Man would never have been seen again.
Speaking of "never being seen again", J. Jonah Jameson's black-haired secretary has put in her two issues and is on permanent vacation. The next unnamed secretary appears in ASM #37, June 1966. She is a blonde.
As far as I know, the cop who lets Raxton out of his cell, the judge who gives him a suspended sentence, the jeweler he tries to rob, the three cops who bust him and Lou and the Sarge are one-shot deals. Which pretty much wraps things up since there are no other supporting characters in this issue.
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 Regrets" - Molten Man returns. Betty Brant exits from Spidey's life.
You can't argue with the artwork. The Molten Man is a great visual character with his metallic gold and tarnished darks and the fights he has with Spidey are panel after panel of dynamic punches, agile leaps and powerful impacts. But the story... well, the story is not much to speak of. The plot is as straightforward as they come: the Molten Man tries to rob a jewelry story (twice) and Spidey stops him. The notion that Molty lies about it until faced with Spidey's revealing photos is fun but hardly earthshaking. What's more, all sub-plots come to a grinding halt except for Peter's discovery that Betty is gone and all supporting characters are absent except for JJJ's unnamed new secretary. But most disappointing is that Spidey defeats Raxton in the same way that he did it before. I don't know if Steve was trying to make a comment on the hubris, stubbornness and stupidity of the criminal mind or if he was just too lazy to come up with a new way to resolve the battle but it makes for a rather uncomfortable feeling of reading ASM #28 all over again, only without the High School graduation. Two webs.
Next: Not Marvel Tales #2 but Marvel Collectors Item Classics #2!