There is a small list (that is getting smaller) of dead comic book characters who should not be brought back to life. For the most part, the characters, like Uncle Ben (still on the list) and Bucky (no longer on the list), are significant but that doesn’t mean they have to be. Case in point: the character who meets his end in this issue and who never should have returned, unless you want to reduce this storyline, like the character himself, into a puddle of goo. Let’s see how it goes.
|Pencils:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Cover Art:||John Romita, Sr.|
|Reprinted In:||Marvel Tales #56|
|Reprinted In:||Essential Spider-Man #4|
He doesn’t much look like a puddle, or empty clothes, on the cover but Johnny doesn’t want to give away the ending, does he? Forget that little quibble. This is one of the most striking covers we’ve seen in the series, right up there with ASM #50, July 1967, “Spider-Man No More.” The full figure of Spidey walks away from a body on the floor and right towards us. We’d be looking at him eye-to-eye, except that his head is down, buried in his right hand. That bowed head covers a bit of the logo so we get a 3D feeling, like that logo is actually there, hanging from the ceiling and Spidey is about ready to step off the cover and into our laps. There is a big window behind him with the city skyline down at his foot level. The window casts Spidey’s reflection so we see his back walking away from us even as he is walking toward us. The body lies on the floor in front of the window so it appears as if Spidey is walking away from it in two directions. A simple three-word blurb floats in a cloud above the Spidey reflection, saying, “Death Without Warning!” Who could see this cover on the spinning rack and not pick up the issue? (But wait, what’s that in the upper left corner? Looks like the price for an issue has gone up to 15¢! I’ll let Stan talk about that when we get to the Soapbox.”)
Now for the story, which begins with a four-panel splash page. The panels are divided vertically like the outlines of tall buildings even as Spidey leaps around from one to the next, searching the city for any clue as to the whereabouts of the Connors family. This is all a continuation from the last time we saw him in ASM #74, July 1969, page 18 panel one, in which he thinks, “Come on, Spidey sense…what are you waiting for? Start your tingling, blast it! I’m not quitting till you do!” But with the tingle not cooperating, Spidey decides to "cover the high crime areas of the city,” hoping to "get a glimpse of Man Mountain Marko or any other known hood." He notices two small-time bookmakers doing business in an office. How he knows they are bookmakers while he peers through a closed venetian blind or why he thinks bookmakers would know the headquarters of the Maggia is beyond me. But he strikes gold with this move. One of the bookies warns the other (named Blackie) that someone is spying on them from the window. How many Marvel characters out there are named Blackie? Seems like a lot. There’s Blackie Drago, the second Vulture, from ASM #48, May 1967 and Blackie Gaxton from ASM #11, April 1964 and I’m sure we’ve run into a number of other thugs and henchmen along the way.) Anyway, Blackie doesn't believe that someone is outside the window since they are twenty floors up. Nevertheless, they investigate and are immediately grabbed at their collars by Spider-Man. He pulls them out of the office and dangles them in the air until they cough up the location of Maggia headquarters. This they do with alacrity, telling the web-slinger that "it's right across town; the Galby Building!" The wall-crawler webs his informants onto the sill with their heads sticking out the window and web-slings toward this new destination. On his way there, though, his spider-sense kicks in. “That means it’s time for the ol’ web-slinger to go into action!” Does this mean he’s right outside the Galby Building? If he is, he takes his time about entering. Or has he spotted some other crime in progress? If he has, we learn nothing about it. It’s time to spend four pages with the Maggia before Spidey shows up.
At the Galby Building, Man Mountain Marko is still grabbing Dr. Curt Connors by the lapels of his lab coat, as he was on the last page of last issue. (Only now, Curt is clearly conscious while he looked like a limp dishrag last time and he says, “Let go of me, Marko…while you still can;” a reference to what can happen to Curt and will happen to Curt later in the issue.) So, this scene takes place seconds after last issue’s end. Marko wants to know what's become of Silvermane. After all, "nobody can git 40 years younger just on accounta some nutty formula," therefore Connors and this middle-aged man in the gray suit (he is graying at the temples and looks quite a bit like an evil Reed Richards) must be in cahoots. Marko drops Connors and confronts the man claiming to be Silvermane. As they continue their dispute, Curt manages to slip away. Silvermane doesn't want to lose the Doctor (since "He alone knows the secret of the tablet's formula!") but Marko is unconcerned. "How can a one-armed punk like him git outta this joint?" he asks. Besides, the Maggia is holding "his wife and kid hostage."
That’s our cue to head to the room holding Mrs. Connors and Billy where Caesar Cicero (last seen in Silvermane’s office; I’m not sure why he’s hanging out with the Conners’ now) wonders "what caused all the noise on the other side of the wall." He’s hoping that something has happened to Silvermane, which would put him in charge. He instructs the guard at the door to “allow no one to enter or leave the room,” then he heads to the lab next door. There, he is so startled by what he sees that his cigar drops out of his mouth. Cicero tells Marko that the man in front of him "must be in league with the police!" and orders Marko to silence him. After giving the order, Big C runs out of the room, thinking “I don’t know what happened or how…but if I can get them to crush each other, then no one will stand in my way,” which seems to indicate that he recognizes the evil Reed Richards as Silvermane. Marko is relieved to hear that this strange man cannot be Silvermane and he attacks with gusto but he is dealing with a man who, in his prime, "fought his way to the top of the Maggia over many such as you." In his prime again, Silvermane socks Marko squarely on the jaw, and dodges the return punch with ease. (Probably a good thing since Marko’s punch shatters the wall behind him.) “Despite your bestial power—you have not the speed—nor the skill—to handle the likes of Silvermane!” says Silvermane. “That is why I am the leader –why I shall ever be the leader! Now that the secret of the tablet is mine--I shall stay young and strong—forever!”
Time for a short break, since the Marvel Bullpen Bulletins page (“Welcome to the wonderful, way-Out World of Marvel Madness!”) has been moved from the back of the comic to this spot after page 6. The highlight of the page is Stan’s Soapbox in which he tries to quiet the expected grumbles over the price increase. He writes, “As you’ve already noticed, the price of our magniloquent mags has just risen from 12¢ to 15¢…but far be it from us to make so monumental a move without cluing you into the whys and wherefores. At a time when the prices of just about everything you can think of keep rising daily, our mighty Marvels have been holding the line as 12¢ for the past seven years! However, in our never-ending efforts to bring you nothing but the very best, we have regularly increased the payments that we make to artists, writers, printers, etc. It’s finally reached the point where we MUST raise our selling price to 15¢ or sacrifice the quality of our comics – and THAT we would never do. That’s it, Believer…the whole ball of wax. But now, let’s look at the bright side – today you can buy your majestic Marvel mags even faster…’cause you don’t have to fumble around with pennies! Just another glowing example of how we strive eternally to make your life easier.” Fifteen cents a copy? I can only buy 6 comics for a dollar now when I’m used to buying 8? Outrageous!
There are two other Items worth noting. First, “Didja notice the new Marvel Super-Heroes? Nothing to get excited about—all it contains is some honest-to-Forbush Lee-Kirby Avengers, featuring the Hulk, Thor, Iron Man, Sub-Mariner – plus Lee-Kirby’s X-Men, and a few more surprises. If it’s already sold out, now you know why!” Well, we reviewed that issue recently and Stan neglected to mention one other thing about the book: it’s all-reprint! Nice try, Stan!
Second, “Here’s one of the latest Marvel-mention record albums we’ve heard of - it’s the new Mother Earth smasheroo, entitled ‘Living with the Animals,’ and the very first number is called ‘Marvel Group!’ (Ta ta ta ta ta ta!) ‘Twas penned by vocalist Powell St. John and brought to our attention by manager Travis Rivers, who personally gave us a few complimentary copies! Many thanks, gang - it’s the wildest!!” Anybody out there heard of the group Mother Earth? No, me either. But here’s the cover of the album.
And here’s the song.
Back at the fight, Silvermane gives Marko a slap in the face, causing Marko to say, “The way ya talk, the way ya use yer dukes – just like the stories I usedta hear – of how nobody could ever beat Silvermane!” The Maggia leader grabs Marko by the collar (in this story, it seems like every other panel, somebody is grabbing somebody else by the lapels or the collar) and orders him to admit "that I, and I alone am Silvermane!" Marko readily agrees. He admits that he did see Silvermane getting younger. “In fact…You’re still getting’ younger – right in front of my eyes! Yer hair—it ain’t grey no more! You—you’re even younger than me!” Silvermane no longer looks like an evil Reed Richards. Instead, he looks like an evil Peter Parker. Speaking of which, Spider-Man comes through the window with a KURASH! His entrance sends both men sprawling. “Now, the first thing I want is Dr. Connors,” says Spidey. The two get to their feet, with Silvermane ordering Marko to “Shut him up…and do it now!” When Marko replies, “I was hopin’ you’d ask me, Silvermane,” a startled Spidey thinks, “Silvermane? That can’t be him! He should be eighty years old!"
Marko lunges at the web-slinger but only ends up punching the wall. Spidey tells him that, at their last fight, he went easy on him because he had other things on his mind "and there was a lady present." Well, let’s see…their last fight was in ASM #73, June 1969 and Spidey didn’t really go easy on him and he didn’t really have other things on his mind but there was a lady present. It was the Shocker’s girlfriend (who never got a name) and Marko won the fight by dropping her out the window, forcing Spidey to rescue her. So, nothing for Spidey to make excuses about, but maybe he was going easy on Marko last time because now he grabs him by the scruff of his neck, picks him up, and flings him across the room. This is the guy who was ripping sofas in half in the first part of this story but here he is quickly beaten and he doesn’t appear again until years later. Spidey stands over him, wanting some answers, but he is, instead, distracted by a shocked cry from behind. It is Silvermane, reveling in the realization that he is getting younger still. "I'm like a man in his early twenties," he says, “in the very prime of life." He is so confident in his renewed strength that he removes his jacket and tie, and rolls up his sleeves. He is going to take on the wall-crawler all by himself.
As the fight begins, Dr. Curt Connors watches from an adjoining room. (And what happened to Wilson? He, too, won’t appear again for years.) Quickly, he takes advantage of Spider-Man's appearance to flee the scene. After all, he knows what the final result of the formula will be and "when the Maggia finds out... my life won't be worth a nickel." Curt decides to try to free Martha and Billy “because it’ll be too late for anything if the Lizard should appear.” That sounds like a cue if I’ve ever heard one. Suddenly, he experiences the spasms that begin the change. His missing arm starts to throb, then to grow back. In his last Curt moments, he decides to get as far away from his family as possible, to lock himself in a room to keep everybody safe, but it is already too late. The transformation is complete and he doesn’t know how close he is to Martha and Billy because the guy guarding the door steps out, gun drawn, to confront him. “Hold it right there, mister!” he says, “till I see who you are!” “I am the Lizard!” says the Lizard, knocking the guy’s gun away with one swipe of his hand. Then he runs off, declaring, “Must get out! Must have time to plan, to stalk, and then to strike!” In the locked room, Martha and Billy hear the resulting commotion but don’t know the cause. They’re hearing Big C smacking the guard’s face even as another hood looks in the room to see that they are still there. "What do you mean it looked like a human Lizard?” Cicero demands of the guard. He doesn’t wait for much of an answer. As far as he's concerned, it must be a trick staged by Silvermane. He tells his men to get their guns (don’t they already have them?) He is going to face Silvermane "for the final showdown!"
In the lab, the battle between Silvermane and Spidey continues. The web-slinger is playing a defensive game, evading Silvermane's blows, looking for an avenue of escape since his "first job is to find Doc Connors and his family." Silvermane, that “oversized Peter Pan” as Spidey calls him, seems to be getting more talkative as he grows younger. He brags that “not even Spider-Man can stand up to the invincible power of eternal youth” and threatens that “All the gangland killing I have ordered in the past will be as nothing to the reign of terror that is yet to come!” He also fights dirty, throwing a “beaker of chemical acid” (is there any other kind?) at Spidey who averts his face in time to avoid being doused. As Spidey crouches on the floor, holding his head, Silvermane closes in. "Could be just my imagination,” thinks Spidey, “but I could swear his voice is getting shriller, younger with every word."
Silvermane tries to finish the fight by kneeing Spider-Man in the jaw. He is surprised to discover that this move doesn't knock Spidey unconscious. Spidey shoves him back, thinking, “He is getting younger by the second. Each blow has less weight, less power behind it.” Before he can do any more than order Silvermane to “stay there, Mister!” Big C and his three men rush in, with Cicero ordering them to "shoot anything that moves." They enter to find Spidey “high-tailin’ it away!” as he leaps out into the hall and takes on the three hoods. (Or maybe the hoods have entered the room and Spidey tackles them there. To tell the truth, it's hard to tell where this battle takes place.) With the web-slinger occupied, Cicero approaches the figure on the floor. "It is time," he declares, "to put an end to the career of Silvermane.” He bends over the fallen figure and turns him over onto his back. But then, Big C is so shocked and frightened by the "madness" he sees that he runs off in terror right out of the issue and, yep, he won’t be seen again for years. He leaves behind a man getting younger by the minute; a man who now looks like a teen-age boy.
(Reader Steve Mills has pointed out that Big C has a standard (over)reaction to things. On page 5, on seeing Silvermane younger, he says, "No! It cannot be! It is madness!" And again on page 15, on seeing Silvermane younger still, he says, "No! No! It cannot be! It is impossible! It is madness!" Steve writes, "This is one weird guy. Does he talk like this all the time? Is this how he talks when he's having trouble at the self serve tills in the supermarket and getting the 'Unexpected item in bagging area!' treatment? 'No! It... it cannot be! Why does this happen every time? It is madness!' Thank you, Steve!)
Silvermane, his clothes, now too big, and hanging off of him, stands and looks at himself in a cracked mirror. He looks at his child-like face and screams! Spidey, still involved with the thugs, hears the scream, and then sees a boy dressed in Silvermane's clothes flee from the room "as though Satan himself is at his heels." Quickly, the web-slinger dispatches his opponents, telling them “I’ll tell Cicero you fought like savages ‘cause I know how he takes these things to heart.” (Maybe he’ll tell him when he sees him years from now.) He wall-crawls, noting that there’s “still no trace of Connors” until he hears a child sobbing. Spidey enters what appears to be an empty room with a real squeaky door. (“CRRREAK!”) There, he sees a small bundle engulfed in Silvermane's clothes or, perhaps, it’s just a bundle of Silvermane’s clothes. Spidey notes that "the sobs are fading away into nothingness.” And, in an instant, there is nothing left but clothes. "Silverman found the youth he sought." Spidey says, burying his face in his hand, "and the prize will be his forever!" (Well, yeah. Unfortunately, no.)
The wall-crawler leaves the empty room. He now understands why the tablet was written in hieroglyphics. Um... because that's how they wrote back then? No, because "it was a secret too dangerous too deadly for any man to possess." (Then why write it down at all?) But then, Spidey hears familiar voices behind a door. He smashes it down and finds Martha and Billy Connors. They are happy to see him but worried about what has happened to Curt. There are only two explanations, as far as Martha is concerned. Either Curt is injured somewhere or... She can't bring herself to say the alternative.
And Martha has good reason to worry. Elsewhere, in some unspecified location, the Lizard struggles with his dual nature. The human side wants to board himself in to protect his wife and son. But he loses the battle and, tragically, "only the beast remains!" Which brings us to our bottom-of-the-page “Next” blurb. “The Lizard Lives!” The “Two More Triumphs for Marvel!” ad has been reduced to a third of a page. And who can blame them when the rest of the page is taken up by the “Brand New…swingin’ inflatable plastic pillows!” which can “hold more weight than you can shake a Forbush at!” Comes in Thor and Spidey styles. Only $1.50 apiece “plus 15¢ for postage and handling.”
The Spider’s Web consists of only three long letters; all of them critical. Kudos to Stan for printing them. First, Gordon Matthews of Union City, Pennsylvania writes, “It seems that ever since issue #39, Spider-Man has been getting weaker and weaker, not to mention much less agile…To make matters worse, his web was once strong enough to keep the Thing a prisoner for life. Now it seems that the web’s only virtue is its stickiness, and everyone outside of Irving Forbush can sever it – not snap it – sever it….Today also, Pete doesn’t have a care in the world compared to his problems of yesteryear…Give Spider-Man problems permanently!...Who was once comicdom’s Hamlet is now, in comparison, comicdom’s Old King Cole.” Stan responds, “It seems to us that, the last time we looked, Spidey had about as many problems as ever – they had just been changed around a bit, or perhaps postponed a bit…As for his getting weaker - if this is true, it’s purely the blushin’ Bullpen’s fault, and it’s entirely unconscious and against our own wishes.” He finishes by asking the readers, “Is Spidey still at the peak of his power – or does he need a refresher course from Charles Atlas and crew?”
Second, Eric Nash of New York, New York writes, “According to my files, the only time Spidey fought a real down-to-earth menace was in the first phantasmagoric issues penciled by Steve Ditko. From then on it was a series of one fantastic villain to another.” He then contradicts himself by saying, “I realize the fact that in Amazing Spider-Man #65 there was a jailbreak, but I think this was more like something out of an old gangster movie instead of a real happening.” He continues, “In issue #68 there was a student protest which seemed factual, but then the Kingpin entered and it became a fantasy again” and finishes with, “In Amazing Fantasy #15…Uncle Ben was killed by a real criminal, and that is how Spidey got involved in crime-fighting. Then why, if disaster was caused by a common hood, should Spidey fight only super-powered enemies?” Stan replies, “What we’ve attempted to do, in such recent issues as you mention, is to mix the worlds of fantasy and reality, with neither crowding out the all-important other.”
Finally, Steve Games of Portland, Oregon writes, “I think everyone that’s been with Spider-Man for over three years, or who reads Marvel Tales, realizes that a certain something is missing from the web-slinger’s mag…Once Spider-Man crawled the canyons of the city by night and battled deadly felons and foes with his strange and mystifying spider-like powers. The Amazing Spider-Man was a figure of controversy, and most important, a figure to be FEARED BY ALL! This image lived quite successfully with Spidey through his first 38 issues. Issue #39 introduced a new artist and a new era. Slowly but surely, the once-feared, once awesome Spider-Man became just another non-entity…Now we get into the third and present era of Spider-Man: The Spidey of today, from ish #57 up. Remember those days when a fight with a baddie took up half the mag, and the other half consisted of Aunt May, Peter, Flash, Liz, Betty Brant, Jolly Jonah, and others? Unfortunately, magazines, like people, do change. Now, in following the ‘big panel policy,’ fights take up 75% and more of the space. However, we do have a new look in keeping up with the latest trends. We now have Mr. Robertson, his son Randy, and Josh, who might not have existed three years ago because of their color. Bravo, Marvel! The point of this letter is this: Spider-Man cannot long exist without an evenly distributed portion of Peter Parker and company. And vice-versa. Some good points that Spidey now has that he didn’t have are the fact that the magazine now recognizes national problems and is more realistic in portraying blacks and other minorities. One thing that Spidey used to have that it now sorely lacks is more Peter Parker.” Stan says, “Is it really true that the problem-laden life of Peter Parker has been all but crowded out of existence by the ‘new’, third-wave Spider-Man?...To be perfectly honest, we don’t quite think so – if anything, we feel that our wondrous wall-crawler is more popular in his unpopularity today than ever before - and a legion of fans seem ready to back us up on it. Still, now that the subject’s out in the open – now that one long-time Spider reader who cares has voiced his considered opinion- let’s hear what the rest of Marveldom Assembled has to say on the matter. We’ll print the most interesting missives – pro and con – right here in the months to come.” Personally, I think these three letter writers are just missing Steve Ditko (and I can relate), but we’ve seen some pretty great issues since #39, including this one. We’ll see what responses get published in future Spider’s Webs when we get there.
Now, in case you missed the last page of the story, the “Next” blurb at the bottom of the page says, “And Now…the Lizard!” The Petrified Tablet part may be finished but this storyline that began in ASM #68, January 1969 continues on.
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
The Spider-Man checklist entry for this issue (exactly as written):
“Death Without Warning” – Silvermane marko and the Lizard in this issue. – The curse of youth dooms Silvermane!”
Look, I am rating these issues as if I’m reading them at the time. In that light, this issue has everything (except Peter Parker and Spidey’s supporting characters. I’m looking at you, Steve Games!). A desperate Spidey searches for the Connors family who are in the Maggia’s clutches, even as the power struggle within the Maggia gets turned on its head by Silvermane’s rejuvenation. Spidey’s main worry is that Curt will become the Lizard again but, when he crashes through the window, he finds himself in a totally unexpected situation. Before it’s done, Man Mountain Marko is humiliated, Big C flees and Silvermane de-ages into nothing, justifying the dramatic cover. And to make matters worse, Curt does become the Lizard after all. A satisfying conclusion to the Petrified Tablet Saga. Five webs!
But let’s make matters even worse still. First, look at all the trouble they went to to make Silvermane’s death special. That “Next Issue” blurb in ASM #74 (“Surprise Follows Surprise! We don’t want to tip you off yet, but… Somebody Dies!”), the great cover here, and the big finish to a story that had been going on for 8 issues. Now, allow me to quote from Chadman’s thorough history of Silvermane on Snood’s great Marvel Appendix page. “After being de-aged, Silvermane found himself as an adult again, the process having reversed itself.” The Process Reversed Itself! Pfft! All wiped away, as revealed in DD #123, July 1975 when Tony Isabella brings Silvermane back as the Supreme Hydra. Is it worth reviving a character who was likely created solely to have this great off-beat finish? Well, no. Have any Silvermane stories since justified watering down the impact of this issue? Well, no again.
So where does this leave us? "Silvermane found the youth he sought and the prize will be his forever!" Sure it will. Maybe this story should have been called, "Death without warning…but he got better!" Or maybe "Dozed off for awhile without warning." Or “Death without warning but the process reversed itself.” Or something. That said, I should bump my rating down several webs just for what’s been done with the character in subsequent years. But if I’m reviewing it in 1969, then…five webs.
Just when you thought things were getting back to normal, here comes something completely different. The Ann Arbor Argus #11. What’s up with this? Find out next time.