The whole idea of From the Beginning was to cover every Spider-Man appearance that took place between (and including) Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962 and Amazing Spider-Man #100, September 1971. If we go by the ASM issues alone, we are now two-thirds of the way through and it only took us a little over 20 years.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
And here we have a cover that is so powerful that no blurb is necessary, which is a first. It shows Mysterio’s huge left hand interfering with the logo. It grabs our attention right away as that fist’s position steers our eyes down as it is, itself, on its way down to squash a small and quivering Spider-Man. There are five giant digits on the left side of the cover, from Mysterio’s right hand, and Jazzy Johnny has signed it – “Romita” - between the forefinger and middle finger. That, “Marvel Comics Group” in the upper lefthand box, the logo itself, and the “Comics Code Authority” symbol are the only words on the cover. It is glorious in its muteness.
Everyone remember where we were? Spidey is fighting Mysterio in a warehouse, where Mystie has placed a tabletop toy amusement park. Mysterio shoots him with a “deadly-looking gadget” that makes Spidey feel like he’s “dying…and being born again – all at the same time!” He gets engulfed in smoke and when the smoke clears he finds himself in an amusement park with a giant Mysterio looming over him. It looks like he is on the tabletop and Mysterio has shrunk him so that he is six inches tall.
Now, he dodges Mysterio’s giant fist, which crashes down and seems to shatter some rock. Stan’s opening blurb tells us that “our hapless web-spinner suddenly regains consciousness” but I don’t think he was ever unconscious last issue so I suspect this is “sleight of hand” to make the conclusion here conform with last issue’s story, sort of like the old movie serials where they hoped you wouldn’t remember exactly what happened last time.
Spidey dodges the fist again as it smashes a glass dome. He is still trying to figure out what happened to him. But Mysterio doesn’t give him the time to think. He squeezes a metal pole on which Spidey is perched, twisting it out of shape as the web-slinger leaps away. But then, Mysterio vanishes “in another puff of smoke” and Spidey wonders, “Why would he hide if my plight is so hopeless?” Mysterio seems to read his thoughts, telling him, “If you’re wondering why I’ve concealed myself – I’ll set your doubts to rest! Merely crushing you is almost too easy! First, I’ll mystify you – to the point of madness!” Mysterio’s “gigantic clenched fist” sails through. Spidey dodges it but notes, “it felt like a missile zooming past!” Mysterio gloats, “I am merely toying with you! But, you’ll never know when my real attack will be launched!” Suddenly, Mysterio emerges out of the smoke, his hands clapping together in a “SPTAP!” as he tries to crush Spidey between them. The web-spinner dodges again, then, deciding he needs a place to hide, heads into the hall of mirrors.
Spidey looks around, amazed at the detail. “Mysterio is a genius – to get such detail in an object the size of a doll’s house,” he says. Then, the mirrors drop from the ceiling, trapping him. Mysterio’s big right forefinger nudges a tiny lever and the mirrors form a circle around Spidey and start to close in on him. Spidey knows “If I can’t break free – I’m done for!”
(So, is this a cheat, showing Mystie’s giant finger nudging a lever? Or did Mysterio create a tiny lever to operate the mirrors? Beats me, but I’m not going to worry about it.)
And what better time to change our scene to Aunt May who, in what may be “extra-sensory perception” or “a fantastic coincidence,” calls out Peter’s name, certain that he is “in some terrible danger.” Remember that, last issue, May had a shock, watching Mysterio’s menacing challenge to Spider-Man on television. Peter heard her cry out and he smashed the front door open to get to her. Anna Watson arrived and Peter suggested that she call the doctor while he ran off to take on Mysterio.
Now, Anna tells May that she hears the doctor arriving and the doctor finds the front door smashed in. “No wonder poor Mrs. Parker’s nerves are shot!” he thinks, “Where’s that footloose nephew of hers? He’s never here when he’s needed!” Now, it always seems as if Aunt May is just a big worrywart but Dr. Bromwell is taking it seriously. He takes May’s temperature and tells her, “For a moment I considered sending you to the hospital for complete rest and isolation. But I’d rather not move you right now so we’ll leave things as they are!” and he tells Anna, “Mrs. Parker is very weak! She must be shielded from any worry and sudden shocks! And the best therapy would be more frequent visits from that flighty nephew of hers!”
From there, we move to the Daily Bugle for three panels that really don’t do anything more than add four supporting characters to the issue. J. Jonah Jameson is going nuts because he hasn’t gotten any news about Mysterio and “that slimy spineless Spider-Man.” “Do I have reporters – or ostriches!” he bellows. (You just know Stan loved writing JJJ’s dialogue.) Ned Leeds tells Robbie Robertson that he’ll “scout around and see if I can learn anything” and he also reminds Betty Brant about their dinner date. Robbie, meanwhile, figures he’ll call Captain Stacy to see if he “has any new theories.”
Okay, back to the action. As the mirrors close in on Spidey, Mysterio tells him, “They’re coated with a thin film of lethal poison! The slightest scratch would mean ‘farewell, Spider-Man’!” Spidey knows Mysterio is counting on him not being able to “break a mirror without getting scratched,” but he has a plan. First, he shoots webbing into the mirror mechanisms to slow down their movement and then he covers his forearms with webbing so it looks like he is wearing two muffs. He hates to use that much webbing but it can’t be helped. “I’ve got to make sure I wrap it around me thick enough so that I can break thru the glass without getting scratched!” And even as he says it, he does it. The problem is that there is “deep water” on the other side and he gets “pulled down by a powerful undertow.”
At first, he tries to fight the current, despairing, “Even if I escape, what then? How can I face life – six inches tall?” But he puts that out of his mind and, just like he did in ASM #33, February 1966, (where he says things like “I can’t fail again…No matter what the odds”), tells himself “Mustn’t stop trying…no matter what!” The plunge through the water continues. “If not for spider power…lungs would have given out by now,” he thinks. But he decides that the “current must be taking me somewhere” and chooses not to fight it. Soon, he surfaces in “some sort of house of horrors” where an axe swings down at him. He evades it and then grabs onto it so it pulls him out of the water when it swings back up. He clings to a wall, wondering why Mysterio “hasn’t allowed me a second to stop…to think.” Just then, Mysterio seems to peel back the ceiling and peer in. While Spidey is focused on his nemesis, a dragon, that appeared to be “just for show” in the house of horrors, grabs him with one of his “serpentine arms.” Spidey shoots webbing into the dragon’s mouth but that doesn’t do him any good. He is being crushed. But then he gets into more of that pep talk stuff, saying, “My size doesn’t matter! Even my life doesn’t matter! No one can win every battle but no man should fall without a struggle!” And with that, he breaks free of the dragon’s arm.
Again, Mysterio doesn’t give him a chance to rest. His giant hand comes down but the web-spinner leaps away. He ends up on what looks like a radio tower. He has noticed that “For the first time he seems confused!...He’s hesitating – wondering what to do next! This gives me the time I need to think to figure things out!”
And we’re going to give Spidey part of that time because we’re going to visit Gwen and George Stacy for two panels. Their phone rings and Gwen wonders if it is Peter. But instead it’s Joe Robertson for her dad. The scene switches to Robbie on the other end of the line and he tells George he will call him back later because his son, Randy, has just come into his office. And this is Randy Robertson’s very first appearance. We know right away that Randy is hip because he says, “I can come back later if you’re uptight, dad!” But Robbie says “I’ve always got time for my outrageous offspring!” and then he actually says, “What’s on your mind, man-child?” because, you know, he and Randy are black and it’s only been a couple of years since Claude Brown’s book Manchild in the Promised Land came out, of which Stan was sure to be aware. Joe asks his son if he thinks he “made the right choice enrolling at ESU” and when Randy seems “lukewarm,” he asks him what’s wrong. Randy looks out the window, his back to his dad, and says, “Aww, I’m not even sure, dad! I don’t know if it’s the school or my own nutty hangup!”
But we don’t get to hear any more of this because it’s back to Spidey and Mysterio where, in the 7-panel rest he got, the web-slinger decides it all has to be a trick. He tells Mystie, “I don’t buy any of it! You rigged it up like those Hollywood special effects you used to do!” Mysterio throws a huge knife at Spidey to prove that everything is real. It sticks in the tabletop (or the ground). “Now touch it!” he orders, “Go ahead – touch it – I want you to!” Spidey does and it seems real enough but he then pulls on it with his webbing, using it to catapult himself toward Mysterio. “If I’m really this small – if you’re really a giant – then stay where you are!” he says, “I’m too small to harm you! But if you fade away again…” And that is exactly what happens. Mysterio disappears and Spidey knows that “This proves I was right!”
He climbs up the radio tower deciding, “He used post-hypnotic suggestion! That’s why he made me look at the table-top park before knocking me out – to plant it in my mind!” He looks around from his high position and sees a light on another tower. It is “the only light that’s lit.” “Must be a reason,” Spidey figures. He swings over and rips the top off the tower, only to find Mysterio, “and life-sized – just as I knew you’d be!” He tries to web him up but Mystie uses his “electrically charged cloak” to burn off the webbing. So, Spidey wades right in, first tackling Mystie, then punching him with a SOK! and then with a THIS! (As in “And wouldja believe – THIS!”) “I’m kinda glad you wore your protective helmet, Mystie,” Spidey says, “It gave me a chance to really hang one on – without pulling my punch!” But Mysterio isn’t wearing his helmet now. Spidey has taken it off. In the very next panel, he burns Mystie’s helmet, boots, and gloves. (What? How did he get the gloves and boots off so easily? Where did he get the matches to light the fire? And will the helmet burn up?) He then webs Mysterio up on an amusement park ride and swings away. Next thing you know (in the next panel) he’s in Manhattan, swinging over a student protest. (But, wait! Did he call the police to pick up Mysterio? And if so, where did he tell them to go? Where were they anyway? What amusement park is close to Manhattan and could be tricked up with poison mirrors and dragons with serpentine arms without anyone knowing about it? We will never know.)
Spidey notices the demonstration as he swings by but decides, “at least it doesn’t concern ol’ Spider-Man!” But if the “Next Issue” blurb is any indication (it says, “Spidey Gets Involved!”), it looks like the ol’ web-slinger is wrong.
The Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page, entitled “A Plethora of Pronouncements Up For Grabs,” does not have a plethora of pronouncements. It has one; the results of the awards for the Society for Comic Art Research and Preservation from their “annual International Convention of Comic Art, at New York’s famed Statler-Hilton Hotel.” Marvel won most of the awards and Stan lists them here. The ones that concern us are “Best Adventure Comic (Single Character): Spider-Man,” “Best Editor: Stan (the Man) Lee,” “Best Writer: Smilin’ Stan again!” “Best Costumed Hero: Spidey,” “Best Supporting character: (A) J. Jonah Jameson,” and “Best Supporting Female: (A) Mary Jane Watson, (B) Gwen Stacy.”
Stan’s Soapbox is a notable one and deserves to be completely reprinted here: “Let’s lay it right on the line. Bigotry and racism are among the deadliest social ills plaguing the world today. But, unlike a team of costumed super-villains, they can’t be halted with a punch in the snoot or a zap from a ray gun. The only way to destroy them is to expose them – to reveal them for the insidious evils they really are. The bigot is an unreasoning hater – one who hates blindly, fanatically, indiscriminately. If his hang-up is black men, he hates ALL black men. If a redhead once offended him, he hates ALL redheads. If some foreigner beat him to a job, he’s down on ALL foreigners. He hates people he’s never seen – people he’s never known – with equal intensity – with equal venom. Now, we’re not trying to say it’s unreasonable for one human being to bug another. But, although anyone has the right to dislike another individual, it’s totally irrational, patently insane to condemn an entire race- to despise an entire nation – to vilify an entire religion. Sooner or later, we must learn to judge each other on our own merits. Sooner or later, if man is ever to be worthy of his destiny, we must fill our hearts with tolerance. For then, and only then, will we be truly worthy of the concept that man was created in the image of God – a God who calls us ALL – His children. Pax et Justitia, Stan.”
When I dealt with the Spiders Web in ASM #64, September 1968, I didn’t even mention Vernon West’s letter but he sure got under some skins with it. Bobby Crais of Baton Rouge, Louisiana says, “This letter is for or about Vernon West. This guy has got to have loose strings in his head. 1st) While speaking of Spidey, V.W. says, ‘He’s supposed to be a normal everyday teenager…’ Huh! Man, a genius he (V.W.) ain’t! How many normal, everyday teenagers do you know that can jump 3 stories high, lift a couple of tons, and spin a web? Only one! Right! Of course – ol’ Pete. 2nd) ‘You’re gonna ruin the best comic book ever sold with all those problems.’ Another great observation. Spider-Man is almost based on those problems. That’s what makes Spider-Man the greatest comic sold…The human factor!! If this part-time Marvelite wants a pinky-dinky hero that doesn’t have a problem in the world, let him go full-time to Brand Echh. 3rd) ‘If I were Spidey I’d…’ He couldn’t rate a used web cartridge because of the nervous breakdown he would have. Sheesh! 4th) ‘I’d rather lose and have no problems than to win and have problems up to my neck.’ That statement is about as much Spidey or a true Spidophile as ‘I need vitamins!’ is the Hulk. 5th and final, thank goodness) V.W. says you would sell twice as many mags as you do now if you cut out the problems. Sure! Your sales would probably drop 75%!”
Mike Nave of Joplin, Missouri also has issues with Vernon. “Vernon West…thinks Spidey has more problems than the ordinary teenager. Not surprising, since he isn’t an ordinary teenager. Mr. West also thinks that teenagers with that many problems are non-existent. I have dozens more problem than Spidey. As for taking Spidey’s problems away and letting him ‘live as a natural teenager should’, who wants to read a comic about a natural teenager? Mr. West also guarantees that you’ll sell twice as many mags as you are at present. Maybe so, but I wouldn’t be one of the buyers.” Mike also gets after Herman Nievwendaal, whom I also neglected in my ASM #64 lettercol rundown. “I don’t see what Mr. Nievwendaal has against non-realistic covers; they are much nicer than realistic ones. Proof? Spider-Man #50, FF nos. 72, 74, 75, SHIELD nos. 1, 3 and so on. The only really beautiful cover I’ve ever found that is realistic is Thor #145.’
Stephen Voorhies of Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut also has a bone to pick with Mr. Nievwendaal. “”In a letter printed in Spider-Man #64, Herman Nievwendaal complained that your covers were ‘missing details…Not small unimportant details like forgetting to put the webbing under Spidey’s arms but big, very important details’, like f’rinstance buildings, skies, and people. You replied that the cover for issue #64 contained all three of these, with action to boot. I hastily checked the cover to verify your statement. Yup, all there – action, sky, building, people…but…you forgot the webbing under Spidey’s arms. But let us not quibble. I think the stories, art and covers of Spider-Man are great. Johnny Romita’s Vulture-eye views of New York City are about the most breath-taking in comicdom, equaling even the super-psychedelic scrawlings of Jim Steranko.”
The other thing readers don’t like is MJ’s new “ginchy” hairstyle. Our friend Bobby Crais says, “Please let M.J.’s hair uncurl and grow out. It looks gross the way it is now.” And Matt Ohmes of Perryton, Texas says, “What have you done to M.J.’s hair?!? How could you cut those luscious long locks? What are you trying to do, make half the males in the world become hermits?” Don’t worry guys. The good news is, the next time you see MJ, she’ll have her long hair back. The bad news is that, the next time you see MJ will be ASM #82, March 1970.
Finally, Gard Wright of Willowdale, Ontario, Canada says, “Let’s face it, Spidey is the best comic mag in the history of the world. You guys at the Bullpen should take that once-true title ‘World’s Greatest Comic Magazine’ from the FF and put it on the top of every cover of the Amazing Spider-Man. After all, Spidey is the greatest comics magazine the world has. There is only one thing the matter with the mag, and that is the grease in Peter Parker’s hair. Let him grow it like every other kid. Grease went out about 60 issues ago.” So…does Peter have grease in his hair? Let’s check. Oh no, we can’t. He never gets out of costume in this issue!
So, what does Stan have to say about all this? Nothing. He’s in the midst of his “we’re not answering letters” campaign that, fortunately, has a short lifespan.
The big “Next” blurb at the bottom of the page says, “Crisis on the Campus,” which just happens to be the title of our next issue.
And the last page in the issue is a full-page ad for Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2. Is that still on the stands? Well, it is if you believe The Mighty Marvel Checklist. It has it listed under “And still on sale – (If you’re lucky!)”
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
A classic checklist entry from the 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio with a really unfortunate typo that makes a puzzling report more confusing yet:
“To Squash a Spider” – Spidey overcomes the giant Mysterio and his booby-traps only to find that Mysterio was really a giant nor was he shrunken.
So, wait…he really was a giant nor shrunken? Nice job on that one.
In case you weren’t counting, the Spidey-Mysterio battle takes up 17 of the story’s 20 pages. And the other three pages with Dr. Bromwell, Aunt May, Anna Watson, J. Jonah Jameson, Joe Robertson, Ned Leeds, Betty Brant, Randy Robertson, Gwen Stacy and George Stacy pretty much accomplish nothing. (Oh, except to introduce Randy, which is definitely something.) But that’s okay because this really is a heck of a ride. Spidey keeps talking about the frantic pace and his comments are, perhaps, one of the reasons why we feel that pace as well. Because we do feel that pace with the web-slinger dodging Mysterio’s fists, smashing through poisonous mirrors and fending off mechanical dragons. His decision to attack the giant Mysterio head-on to prove he’s an illusion is inspired and the revelation that Mystie has faked it all is a great conclusion. Even if you figured it out. It may not have the subplots and the characterization of other issues but it’s a great runaway ride and it’s deserving of five webs.
And so ends 1968 in ASM. As I alluded to in ASM #65, October 1968, we’ve had quite a run of issues from ASM #50, July 1967 till now, going at a breakneck pace with only occasional breathers. Even those breathers (ASM #58, March 1968, ASM #62, July 1968) kept us in suspense with subplots. Now, following this issue, it’s time to take a deep breath and reset as we plunge into the petrified tablet saga, which will keep us occupied for most of the next year. But we’re not through with 1968 just yet. There are a number of things still to get to, starting with Avengers #59, December 1968.