There has been a Spider-Fan review of this story since 2004. Written by Robert Rothschild, it succinctly tells you everything you need to know about this issue. Here it is:
The story opens at night in the Algerian Casbah, where Spider-Man has been ambushed by a well-armed group of thugs in a dark back-street. Spider-Man evades their initial attack and takes down several of them, but a lucky shot wings his scalp and he falls from a rooftop to the river. The attackers leave him for dead, going to report to their master that Spider-Man has been dealt with.
Spider-Man crawls from the river downstream and passes out, his mind drifting back to the reason he has come to the Casbah...
Peter Parker was helping his Aunt May clear out the attic of her Forest Hills home, when he accidentally broke open an old trunk. Picking up the spilled contents, he stumbled across old newspaper clippings about his parents- Richard and Mary Parker. The newspaper stories revealed that his parents were international spies who had betrayed U.S. secrets and were killed in a plane explosion over Europe.
Peter confronted Aunt May with the stories, who admitted that both she and Uncle Ben had hidden the story from Peter, since they never believed it was true and didn't want to cause him grief. For years after their deaths, Uncle Ben had attempted to contact a man in the Casbah who knew the Parkers and might be able to clear their name, but the man never responded.
And so Peter took up the search, flying overseas and confronting the tavern-owner as Spider-Man. The man panicked, and called the Master for help. Thus was Spider-Man attacked...
Spider-Man trails the tavern-owner to a secret headquarters for an international spy ring. Sneaking into the central office, Spider-Man finds a file on his parents, including an ID card for the spy ring. Before he can dig further, he is confronted by the head of the ring -- the Red Skull. The Skull drives Spider-Man away, and sends an assassin known as the Finisher after him.
Spider-Man and the Finisher battle through the streets and rooftops of the Casbah, as the Finisher launches tailored weapons that grow deadlier and more accurate. The Finisher is killed when Spider-Man leaps under his car and rolls out the other side, luring one of the Finisher's missiles into the car.
Spider-Man returns to confront the Skull about the Parkers. The Skull gloats that he engineered the Parkers’ treason-- in reality, they were U.S. agents who had infiltrated his spy ring. He discovered their duplicity and had them killed, framing them for treason as his final revenge. A fierce battle ensues as the Skull unleashes an incredibly strong henchman, laser traps and finally, a personal arsenal of missiles and smoke bombs.
The headquarters is destroyed in the battle, and the Red Skull escapes. But the heat from the flames partially melts Richard Parker's ID card, revealing a U.S. intelligence ID underneath. Peter returns to America with the proof that his parents died defending their country, never betraying it.
If that does it for you, great. Read no further. But if you’re looking for more, you know where to find me.
|John Romita, Sr.
|Marvel Tales #264
|Marvel Tales #265
|Marvel Visionaries, Stan Lee
|Spider-Man Annual (UK) 1978
|Essential Spider-Man #4
|ASM Annual #5 (JC Penney Promo)
Let’s begin with Flashback-Untold Tales of Spider-Man #Minus 1 (Story 1). It came out nearly twenty years after this Annual but it deserves to be examined first, since it tells “An Untold Tale of Spider-Man’s Parents!” Actually, you know what? I don’t need to give you any of the details of this story. Use the link above to read Nate’s review of it and then come back and join me here.
All set? So, now you know that Richard was with US Special Forces and was picked by Nick Fury for the CIA. There he met translator Mary Fitzpatrick, daughter of Wild Will Fitzpatrick of the OSS. After being orphaned, Mary used her father’s connections to join the CIA where she eventually entered the field alongside Richard. Since Mary really had no one else in her life, May Parker became her maid of honor at her wedding. Richard’s brother Ben was his best man. After the adventure told in UTOS # -1, Richard and Mary learn that she is one month pregnant. That means that story takes place about 18 years before this one.
So, let’s get to this one. First, the cover. The copy touts, “At Long Last – The Parents of Peter Parker!” but they aren’t shown on the cover. Instead, just about everyone else is shown as Spidey looks into a green and yellow spiral that seems to be out in space, if the stars and Saturn-like planet on the bottom can be believed. Spidey has his back to us and his hands outstretched. His posture is hunched, giving him a sad or regretful stance. To his left, at shoulder level, is Aunt May’s head. She looks worried. Going down, in sequence below May are Gwen and George Stacy, J. Jonah Jameson, Joe Robertson, Mary Jane with her ginchy hairdo, Flash Thompson in his Army cap, Harry Osborn, Ned Leeds, Betty Brant, Uncle Ben, Frederick Foswell, and two others too small and smudged to be recognizable but, after careful examination, may be Norman Osborn (because of the slight ridges in his hair) and Anna Watson (because of the white hair and because she’s about the last regular character left). These head shots spiral down into the vortex and arrive at two white silhouettes; Peter Parker’s parents.
So, with this being one of the few issues that shows nearly all the regulars on the cover, let’s look at when they appeared before on covers and when they appear again. Norman Osborn has had the most recent cover appearance of the group (assuming he’s even in this group) with Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2, November 1968 but that doesn’t really count because Norman is in his Green Goblin costume. If you’re looking for a regular Norman cover appearance, you won’t find one before this. He’s not on another cover until ASM #121, June 1973 and we all know what issue that is.
Working our way backwards, Gwen and George Stacy are both on the cover of ASM #61, June 1968, while Mary Jane is on the cover of ASM #59, April 1968. All three of them are next on ASM #87, August 1970. JJJ, who is on more covers than any other supporting character was last on ASM #58, March 1968. He’s next on ASM #79, December 1969. Aunt May was last on ASM #54, November 1967 and is next on ASM #91, December 1970. Flash and Betty were both last on ASM #17, October 1964. Betty is next on ASM #94, March 1971 while Flash is next on ASM #100, September 1971. This is the first cover appearance for Joe Robertson, Harry Osborn, Ned Leeds, Uncle Ben, Frederick Foswell, and Anna Watson (assuming that is Anna). Harry returns on ASM #87. August 1970, Robbie on ASM #91, December 1970, Uncle Ben on ASM #94, March 1971, Anna Watson and Foswell on ASM #100, September 1971, and poor Ned Leeds doesn’t show up again until ASM #149, October 1975.
One more thing before we get going. There is an unnecessary greytone frontispiece on the inside front cover. It reproduces the ASM logo, complete with webs at the top of the page and the spider-signal at the bottom. In between are two panels from the story; page 23 panel 3 and page 2 panel 2. Neither one shows us anything we need to see twice. The text reads, “At Last! The Parents of Peter Parker!” which is something we read on the cover and, if we turn our heads slightly to the right, we can read on the splash page, since it is the title of the story. Looks like somebody had a page they had to fill.
Let’s turn our heads slightly and look at that splash page where Spider-Man’s spider-sense is tingling as he travels “amongst the silent shadows of the mysterious Casbah, in far-off Algeria.” Surprised by this opening? I’m more surprised that the penciler for this story is Stan’s brother Larry Lieber. Granted, we’ve seen Larry’s Spidey work fairly recently in Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 (Story 2) and Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #4 (Story 1) along with all the subsequent features in that issue, but Larry is mostly known for his long stretch on the Spider-Man Newspaper Strip and that’s some years in the future.
All right. Spidey is in the Casbah. He sees the shadow of a man ready to throw a knife, allowing him to evade it. But there are plenty of others trying to get the webhead. As he stands on a wall, a guy on the roof leaps down at him. At the same time, another rooftop goon is preparing to throw a big chunk of concrete down on him. Two others take a bead with their guns while the knife thrower leans out a window and prepare to toss another. Spidey grabs the roof leaper by his arm (as another knife whizzes by him) and throws him down on the two gunmen. The leaper and one of the gunmen (the one who wore a fez) lie sprawled on the ground but there are five more goons waiting down there. Two have guns (one shoots at Spidey), one with a knife, one with a club, and one with a rope. (Good call, buddy. Bring a rope to a gunfight.) Spidey collars the knife wielder and the club wielder (who seem to have switched places), then does a handstand and kicks the rope wielder in the jaw. The leaper makes a run for it and then pushes a conveniently-placed “cart full of melons” at Spidey. “I wonder if he ever worked for the Keystone Kops?” Spidey thinks.
Spidey leaps out of the way as the cart collides with a wall, sending the bad guys sprawling. With watermelons flying all around, Spidey notices that “one eager beaver is still trying to reach his luger.” That “eager beaver” actually was the club wielder, but who’s counting? The web-slinger sticks to the bottom of a… bridge? Is there a bridge going from one building to another? He grabs the luger with his webbing and swings it up so it hits the man (who is wearing a lovely ascot) in the jaw, with a PZOK! The ground-based knife wielder pulls Spidey off the bridge and tosses him to the ground. He doesn’t realize that Spidey has let him do this so he can spring back and head-butt him in the solar plexus, figuring, “When his bloodthirsty little buddies see what I can really do, I’m betting they’ll suddenly remember that they have lots more important business to attend to elsewhere!” Sure enough, the others run for it. Most of them don’t even seem to be the same guys that attacked. The rope wielder, who has bothered to retrieve his fez after it was knocked off when he evaded the watermelon cart, pulls a gun out of the sash around his waist. Spidey gets careless in his pursuit and doesn’t notice the gun until it’s too late. The gunshot grazes his head and he falls from a roof into a canal. Two men, in shadow, wait for Spidey to surface. When he doesn’t they pronounce him “finished” and leave to report to “the master.” But, soon after they go, the web-slinger surfaces; first a hand, then an arm, then he pulls himself out of the water in some nice silent panels. Stan goes a bit overboard here, talking about “his head throbbing with the impact of a thousand anvils” and “the silent shadows of evening swirl crazily about him” and “as he slowly sinks into a helpless coma, his mind goes drifting back – back into the now-vanished past.”
And it’s flashback time. It was “just a few short days ago” that Aunt May asked Peter to move a trunk into the basement. Peter is using a hand truck but it looks like he goes down the steps with the truck in front of him, which makes the trunk start to topple. He reaches out to stop it and his spider-strength gets the better of him so that he tears the lock from its hinges. All sorts of “old letters, souvenirs, photographs” end up on the floor. As he picks them up, he finds a newspaper clipping with the picture of a man who looks like him. In his left hand, he holds a wedding photo of Mary and Richard. But the newspaper clipping is in his right hand. It is dated “June ‘49” and it says, “Richard Parker and wife killed in plane crash in Algeria. Parker prime suspect in spy plot against the United States. Incriminating evidence found upon his body. U.S. embassy refuses comment. Congress demands investigation. Public demands to know ‘Why did they betray their country?’ Accused traitors, photographed before the fatal accident.” Okay. First, this appears to be an article that has nothing but headlines. Where is the full article? Did May only keep this bit? Why did she keep it at all? Second, if Congress demanded an investigation and the public demanded to know why they betrayed their country, doesn’t this seem like a pretty big deal? Granted, it was about 20 years ago but wouldn’t Peter know about this? Wouldn’t there be people who would yell, “Your folks were traitors!” at him? Yes, Aunt May kept it from him but nobody else has been trying to keep it from them, have they?
Anyway, Peter runs upstairs and confronts May. She tells him that she and Uncle Ben tried to keep it from him because they “didn’t want to hurt you.” She says that she and Ben didn’t believe the treason business at first but Richard “had always been so secretive never talking about his work to anyone.” She tells him that the news “almost killed your Uncle Ben.” Even so, May could never really believe it. “Not about him or your mother.”
And it’s flashback within the flashback time! And it’s pretty much an unnecessary flashback within a flashback since we know all we need to know about this already. Richard bounces baby Peter on his knee and tells May and Ben that his job is taking him “overseas for a few months and Mary is going with me.” May and Ben agree to take care of Peter. A month later, they read that article that Peter just found and decide to raise Peter as their own son. They also agree to never tell him about his parents.
Back to the regular flashback as Peter wonders if it could all be a mistake. May tells him she doesn’t know any more. He asks about the plane crash and May tells him that she and Ben wrote to the man who identified the bodies but he never wrote back. May tells him to not dwell upon the past and just accept it but Peter can’t. He walks away from May’s house, realizing that he can’t know peace until he’s proven his parents’ treason to himself.
Is that the end of the flashback? Oh no. There’s five more pages of flashback. Peter arrives home, trying to put it out of his mind but he just can’t. He tortures himself with a thought-image of a crashed airplane, that newspaper article, and the word “Treason” written in four different fonts, sizes, and colors. Sweat breaks out on his brow. “It’s the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to me, the most numbing news I’ve ever received,” he says. He doesn’t know what to do but he knows he must do something so he changes into his Spidey suit and goes web-swinging. (There’s a big billboard nearby that says, “Give to the Red Cross.” Artie Simek’s contribution?) He spots a man leaving a jewelry store with a satchel and jumps to the conclusion that he is a thief. But he’s actually the storeowner and he doesn’t appreciate being manhandled as Spidey lifts him up in the air using only one hand. “I was about to rough up an innocent man,” thinks Spidey (About to?) and he flees. The storeowner calls after him, “If I knew who you are under that mask, I’d sue you, you hot-headed menace!” Yet another good reason to have a secret identity.
In the days that follow, Peter “seems to move thru his normal routine like a sleepwalker…like a man in a trance.” He doesn’t even notice as he walks past Gwen and Harry and Flash (who should be off in the Army). Finally, Peter realizes he can’t go on this way. He must go to Algeria and find out the truth. It is Summer vacation (does this mean he’s completed his Freshman year at ESU?) so he doesn’t have to worry about missing school but he can’t afford a flight to Algeria so he web-swings to the Baxter Building and tells the Thing, the Torch and Mr. Fantastic, “I need a lift to the Near East! And I know you’ve got all kinds of swingin’ sky ships.” Reed tells him that he’s in luck. “I was asked to check out a new two-man gyro-cruiser developed by Tony Stark’s company. It’s supposed to have an 8000-mile non-stop range.” He offers to do more than ferry Spidey to Algeria but the webhead tells Reed, “this is strictly a one-man job!” The gyro-cruiser travels so fast that it gets to Algeria “in less time than it would take Peter Parker to drive his cycle crosstown in New York’s bustling traffic.” (Peter sold his cycle in ASM #66, November 1968 so this story probably takes place before that. In fact, the Amazing Spider-Man: Official Index to the Marvel Universe, written in part by Yours Truly lists this story as taking place between ASM #62 and ASM #63.
Spidey has Reed drop him off in mid-air. He spins a web-parachute to take him down to the Casbah. Apparently, Aunt May told him that the man who identified his parents’ bodies “ran a restaurant in the Casbah.” “I’ve tried most of them already,” he thinks, “That one’s probably the only place left!” (Couldn’t Aunt May have just given him the address?) He watches as a man in a green fez closes his restaurant up for the night, then he accosts him. The man pulls a gun, using the expression that always denotes that the character is a Muslim in a comic book…”By the beard of the prophet!” Spidey, standing on the wall, grabs the man and knocks the gun out of his hand. Outside, a man smoking a cigarette in a holder, listens in. Spidey tells the green fez man to think back “to the early days after World War Two.” And, yeah, if Peter was 15 in 1962, then he was born in 1947 and so it would be “the early days after World War Two.” (Plus we already saw that the newspaper article was from 1949.) The man confesses that he is the one who identified the Parkers’ bodies. “I knew them because they had dined here many times,” he says, “Everyone knew he was a spy – working for a master of intrigue, whose headquarters were in this very city!” The man gives Spidey the address of the “master of intrigue” which is apparently no secret. But the cigarette holder man runs off, saying, “The master must be warned!” Spidey webs up Green Fez, lying to him when he says, “that webbing will dissolve in a few minutes.” He heads for the address, which is when all those guys with guns and knives and ropes and clubs and cinder blocks and watermelons attack him. And we are finally free of the flashback!
Now, coming to, Spidey continues his trip to the master’s address. (He seems to know his way around Algiers very well.) When he gets to the address, he finds a man with a rifle guarding the door. He leaps down, breaks the rifle in two, knocks the guard out, and rips the door off its hinges. (He does wonder “if this is still the headquarters of a secret spy ring.” If it isn’t, then he’s ripped somebody’s door off its hinges for nothing. Except there was a guard with a rifle outside, which doesn’t make it all that secret, does it?) Inside, he finds an empty office. He searches carefully until he finds “some sort of secret control button” that is “hidden beneath the desk.” It opens a wall, revealing rows of file cabinets behind it. He starts searching the files, suddenly worried that he will find something that will prove that his father was an enemy agent. He comes to a drawer of Membership Files and, within it, a file on his father. He pulls out a membership card, “No. 7Y 6834-R” with a skull depicted on it. On the back is Richard Parker’s name and signature. Shocked, Spidey thinks, “My own father was a traitor to his country!” and doesn’t immediately notice that someone has entered the room. He turns and finds himself face-to-face with the Red Skull! Dropping the file papers at his feet, Spidey comments that “from all the accounts of how dangerous you are, I’d have guessed you’d be ten feet tall and about as broad as the Hulk!” The Skull is also unimpressed. “Why, compared to my accursed arch-enemy Captain America, you’re no more than a spindly scarecrow,” he says.
And so, Spidey finally meets the Red Skull…but is this really the Johann Shmidt, the original Skull? Well, at the time this issue came out, I think it was intended to be. But since then, things have retconned. The problem is that the original Red Skull was revealed, in Tales of Suspense #79, July 1966 to have been in suspended animation since the end of World War II. So, what to do with the Skull appearances that occurred in between time, specifically Young Men #24, December 1953 and Young Men #27, April 1954, when he was a Communist and not a Nazi? Well, like the Captain America and Bucky who appeared in those stories, he has to be a different person. Not Johann Shmidt but Albert Malik. The Marvel Database says this:
“Albert Malik was a Soviet spy during the later half of the 20th Century, not much is known about his past until the 1950s. He was part of a spy cell that was operating out of Algeria at the time. In 1953, following the death of Joseph Stalin, his government sought a legend to help bind the Soviet people to the late Vladimir Lenin's communist vision. Stalin's successor Gregori Malenkov had pulled Malik from his operations in Algeria and outfitted him as the new Red Skull following the disappearance and presumed death of the original Nazi operative”
while Wikipedia says this:
“With Johann Schmidt's [sic, it’s Shmidt] disappearance after 1945, the reputation of Red Skull was still formidable enough to prove useful. In 1953, Soviet Russian KGB agent Albert Malik set up his spy/criminal organization in Algeria and assumed the Red Skull identity, pretending that he was the original, when he was actually serving Soviet interests, in Captain America Comics #61. During the 1950s, he faced the then-active version of Captain America, who was also pretending to be the original. While the Captain and Bucky (Jack Monroe) were placed into suspended animation when his flawed replicate of the Super-Soldier Formula seriously affected his and Bucky's minds, Malik continued his activities, and over time severed his links to the Soviet Union.”
This backstory was apparently established in Captain America Annual #13, 1994, although I’m not digging out that issue to be sure. And since that issue throws the Algerian stuff into the mix (I think), then this Skull must be Malik and not Shmidt, even though Shmidt was released from his suspended animation by this time. Good enough? Can we move on?
(But, before we move on, reader Fredrik has followed this up for us in an email with the subject line, "Regarding Captain America Annual #13 and Albert Malik:" "You brought up this issue in your Spider-Man Annual #5 review, but mentioned you weren't going to dig it out to check exactly what it said, so I thought I'd fill you in. Unfortunately, it's doesn't actually mention anything more than Malik being 'called from the spy cell (he) led in Algeria to take up this new role (as the second Red Skull),' and it also says this happened in 1953 under the command of Georgy Malenkov, so it doesn't fit with this issue showing Malik in his Skull guise in the Finisher's flashback to 1949 anyway. But I assume this 'spy cell in Algeria' mention was included to make it clear once and for all the Skull from this issue was Malik, if that hadn't already been established somewhere else at the time." Thanks, Fredrik!)
Saying, “I’ll effortlessly destroy you without the necessity of sullying my hands,” the Skull snaps his fingers and summons a big bald guy named Sandor. “Sandor, alas, is unable to speak,” says the Skull, “but, do not fear! I’m certain you will not find him dull!” Sandor lunges at Spidey, trying to get him in a bear hug but Spidey leaps up to the ceiling, where he punches Sandor with a WOK! But Sandor is unfazed and he grabs Spidey by the arm, pulls him off the ceiling and throws him across the room. The Skull kibitzes through all of this (“You lunged much too slowly…That is better, Sandor…Now you may finish the job.”) while Spidey kicks himself for being “so shook up about my father that I’m not hitting on all cylinders.”
The throw knocks Spidey right through the wall. He responds by shooting webbing over the hole that was just created. Sandor tries to break through and gets stuck in the web, where Spidey kicks him in the jaw, then delivers three punches that send Sandor reeling. He smashes into a pillar, destroying it. Realizing that “Spider-Man is far more powerful than I would have guessed,” the Skull beats it out of there.
Spidey emerges from the hole, declaring, “It was probably the most useless battle I’ve ever fought. Just as this was the most disappointing trip I’ve ever taken! I came all this way – hoping to find proof of my father’s innocence – only to learn he was employed by the most evil spymaster who ever lived. Anybody connected with the Red Skull has to be as traitorous as he. And, I’ve found no evidence that my own father – was any exception.” He leaves the Skull’s place and walks the roofs of Algiers. (Did he have a plan for getting back home?) All he has to show for his efforts is his father’s identification card.
But the Skull isn’t finished with him. He returns to his lair to find Sandor trying to clean up the mess, which is much worse than we left it. The Skull slaps Sandor in the face, telling him that he will determine his punishment later. (Poor Sandor! I wonder what his punishment was.) Then a guy with an eye patch (but not the guy in the fez and an eye patch who had the rope earlier) finds a piece of Spidey’s costume that came off his shoulder. Holding the costume piece up in the air, the Skull declares, “This is all the Finisher will need – in order to perform the task for which he is named!”
“Then, within a matter of minutes,” the Finisher shows up, a couple of other Skull thugs show up, and the room has been completely restored to its pre-fight condition. The Finisher is an old guy with a cane who wears his white coat over his shoulders without putting his arms in the sleeves as he carries a pair of gloves in his left hand. It turns out the guy with the eye patch is named Ahab (does he have a peg leg too?) and the Skull orders him to turn over the patch of Spidey’s costume. (The Skull had it in his own hand in the previous panel. Did he turn it over to Ahab for safekeeping?) So, Ahab turns the patch over to the Skull so that he can turn it over to the Finisher who looks at it and says, “This is all I require in order to write finish to the life of him who wore it.”
The Finisher drives off and the Skull is so sure of his success that he says, “Spider-Man will be heard from no more!” So, what is the Finisher’s power that assures his success? Does he have some sort of ability to track and kill anyone who has worn something he now holds? Naw. He’s just a guy who has some fancy gadgets. First he uses his “electro-scanner,” which is set out before him like a keyboard in the car’s back seat. (He has a driver in a green fez named Amal who is on the right side of the front seat which seems to mean that they drive on the left side of the road in Algeria…except they don’t.) The scanner only needed “an instantaneous spectro-analysis of the torn piece of fabric” in order to locate Spidey, which it does quickly.
Now, the Finisher shoots off a missile from the trunk of his car, attuned to…what? Spidey’s DNA? Spidey’s costume? As the missile descends, Spidey snags it with his webbing, swings it around to destroy its guidance system and tosses it into the river. Realizing his opponent is tougher than he thought, the Finisher decides to use his “most sophisticated missile next.” (What? Was he saving it?) He fires that one at Spidey who responds by leaping down to the Finisher’s car (since it wasn’t a secret where the missile came from). The missile follows and strikes the car, blowing it up. Somehow unhurt, but with his fez turning from green to red, Amal runs for it. Spidey tears the door off the car and pulls the Finisher out. The Finisher says, “I’m done for,” which seems to imply that he knows he’s dying but then he says, “I’ll talk – it may make it easier for me.” So, does he know he’s dying? Because he is dying. Or does he just think his career is over because his car has blown up? (And need I add that this is the guy who was so good at what he did that he was called “the Finisher.” He was just a guy with a car that had missiles! And he went down real easy.)
Spidey presses him about what he knows about Richard Parker and the Finisher knows a lot. So much, in fact, that it triggers another flashback. In this one, the Finisher is twenty years younger but he is still wearing the same suit with the same white coat hanging on his shoulders. The Skull has summoned him to say, “There is a double agent in our organization.” He tells the Finisher that Richard Parker has betrayed him and “therefore, not only must he die – but he must be dishonored! The world must always think he has truly been a traitor to his own country.” With the Finisher looking on, the Skull tells Richard he has “some important papers for you to deliver for me! They must not fall into American hands!” The Finisher drives Richard and Mary to the airport where they will fly a private plane. But the Finisher has tampered with the controls and now his flashback turns into a panel of what he imagines Richard and Mary said when they discovered this. “The controls! They’re not responding properly!” says the Finisher’s imagination of Richard. “It’s the Skull’s doing! He’s learned the truth about you at last!” says the Finisher’s imagination of Mary. The plane crashes and kills them. Later, the restaurant owner who identified the bodies comes to the Skull and tells him, “I planted the false evidence on him as you commanded!” (The restaurant owner looks exactly the same except that his white jacket is light blue and his green fez is red. I assume he planted the false evidence when Richard was eating at the restaurant instead of trying to plant it on a charred body. Lucky for him that Richard ate at his restaurant on that day or, if it was earlier, never noticed the false evidence that was planted on him.) As the restaurant owner reports, the Skull pulls Richard’s membership card out of an envelope. Isn’t this something Richard supposedly carried with him on the plane? Did the authorities send it back to the Skull after the accident?
The flashback ends and so does the Finisher’s life. But first, Spidey gets the Finisher to admit that Richard was a “United States secret agent.” He gets nothing in writing but at least he now knows the truth. With Richard’s Skull membership card in hand, he decides to return to the Skull.
He smashes through the window of a completely different place than where he was before. It is a high-ceilinged room with suits of armor on either side of a door and the Skull sitting on a throne with smoking pots on either side of it. He’s not doing anything, either. Just sitting on a throne all by himself in a big room. His throne, which he calls his “command chair” has “deadly built-in weaponry” which consists of a couple of guns built into the armrests. Fortunately for the Skull, Spidey drops down right into the line of fire. Unfortunately for the Skull, he leaps away when the shooting starts. (I’m not sure he’d even have to leap away. The guns are in the armrests. If you came directly at the Skull, the guns would shoot on either side of you.) Landing on the door, Spidey demands, “Talk, Skull! Why did you try to convince the world that Richard Parker was a traitor?” “Such was my revenge – because he dared betray me!” says the Skull and Spidey thinks, “He’s backed up my theory,” only…isn’t that exactly what the Finisher just told him? Did he really need the Skull to verify something that was pretty easy to figure out?
With his spider-sense warning him, Spidey leaps away just as the two suits of armor, responding to “the Skull’s silent electronic impulse,” attack him with axes. He tries to take the Skull out but misses; the Skull has quickly left his command chair. Then the Skull attacks, saying, “Shall I – who have fought Captain America himself to a standstill – be so obligingly overpowered by the likes of you?” So, first, has this retconned Skull actually even fought the real Captain America? And, second, has any Skull really fought Captain America hand-to-hand? Here, he gets an elbow into Spidey’s gut and Spidey is impressed. “He’s right! He is a hot shot and he knows it!” he thinks. Now, somehow, they are across the room from each other. The Skull pulls his shirt open to reveal some big clunky metal thing on his chest. It shoots a destructor-beam. Spidey rushes him and the destructor-beam hits the Skull’s command chair power source causing it to explode. In the blaze that follows, the Skull disappears. Spidey doesn’t know if he escaped or was killed in the fire but he doesn’t bother to look for a body. Instead, he is still looking for some proof that his parents are innocent. He notices that the Skull membership card that he is carrying in his belt has been “singed by the flames,” but Spidey himself hasn’t been singed for some reason. “The heat opened some sort of hidden seam! There’s another card hidden inside!” It’s his “dad’s credentials as an American counter-spy answerable only to the USA,” to which I can only say, “Now wait just a minute!” Why in the world would Richard’s spy credentials be inside the Skull membership card? Didn’t the Skull organization give him that card? Or did he make his own card? This great revelation, this great proof of the Parkers’ innocence for which we’ve gone through 40 pages of story, unfortunately, makes no sense. “Here, Richard, I’m too busy, make your own membership card!” “Sure, Skull, I’ll just slip my spy credentials inside this unfinished card you’ve given me and seal it up in case my son ever becomes Spider-Man and needs to prove my innocence.” To quote Stan, “Hoo boy!”
So, with his proof (And who is his going to give it to? Don’t the US authorities already know he was a double agent?), Spidey swings out into the night and Stan gets all over-the-top to cover up this story’s deficiencies. He finishes with, “And so, the quest is ended – the prize is won! The long-dead past has yielded its half-forgotten secret to a youth who wouldn’t surrender – who wouldn’t lose his faith! The road has been long, and the battle bitter – but now, in this one brief moment of eternity – the pounding heart of Peter Parker is flushed with victory – is filled with pride – such as few men before him have ever known!” To which I can only add… how the heck does he get home from Algeria, anyway?
The “Two More Triumphs for Marvel” page features Fantastic Four Annual #6, November 1968 and Silver Surfer #2, October 1968, both better stories than this one.
What follows are four pin-ups with a full-page ad for Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2, November 1968 between pin-ups #2 and #3. (#1 and #3 are single pages while #2 and #4 are double pages.) Another “Two More Triumphs for Marvel” follows the pin-ups featuring Not Brand Echh #10, October 1968 which I reviewed not too long ago, and Marvel Tales #17, November 1968, which I will look at not too long from now. There’s going to be a separate review for the three-page story that ends this issue because, well, it’s a separate story. But first, let’s look at the pin-ups!
A Day at the Daily Bugle - - Or, What Would You Do If You Had An Extra Page To Fill Up And Nothing To Put On It?, designated as “A Special Spidey Pin-Up,” features J. Jonah Jameson storming out of his office and demanding, “Where’s Parker?” Joe Robertson is sitting on a short filing cabinet with his pipe in his right hand and a copy of the Bugle in his left hand. He says, “Don’t you remember? You just fired him!” Betty Brant is at her typewriter. She says, “For the thousandth time.” Ned Leeds stands behind Betty with his hand on her shoulder. He gets no lines. These are the only appearances in this issue for Joe, Betty, and Ned, besides the cover. And what can you say about this one-pager? It’s pretty much what Stan admits it to be; a page to fill the extra page.
According to GCD, John Romita wrote that he worked very closely, page by page, with Larry Lieber, in laying out the story and assisting with the pencils, on this issue, including the pin-up features. I suppose you can see Romita’s influence in the layout but it very much looks like Lieber’s work
Peter Parker, the Super Sports Star gives us the disembodied head and right hand of Peter as he thinks, “Imagine an athlete who has the power of Spider-Man.” He imagines three sports; baseball, football, and shot put. For baseball, we get a cool high-angle view of Peter up at the top of a flagpole, barefooted so he can use his spider-powers to climb the pole, as he snags a high fly that is otherwise destined to be a long home run. The flagpole is so high that the crowd is mere dots of ink below and another player looks like an insect. There is a speed line coming up to Peter that makes it look like he leapt out of the crowd and there are only three cars in the parking lot! Now, that is using your imagination! In the football scene, Peter is #35 of the red jerseys. He has avoided a scrum of defenders in the blue jerseys to leap up and over the goal post to get a touchdown. Yes, the goal posts used to be at the front of the end zone but I don’t think that Peter could have played without a helmet, as he’s pictured here. In the final panel, Peter has his back to us as he puts the shot so far that it lands on the roof of a high-rise. The six people watching all seem surprised but since they are featureless silhouettes, it’s hard to tell. Stan finishes it all up by saying, “And, can you just picture ol’ Pete in the hundred-yard dash – a swimming meet –or a weightlifting contest?!! See? Even the bullpen can daydream!”
Where It’s At! is a partial map of Manhattan with spotlighted locations embellished with head shots of various characters. It’s not particularly accurate and the map underneath is too small to read but it looks like Harry and Peter’s apartment is on the Upper West Side. (I always thought it was on the Upper East Side.) The spotlight shows an extremely neat living room with couch, coffee table, bookshelf, and bowl of fruit. (Are any college students ever this neat?) The headshots are, of course of Harry and Peter. The outside of the Daily Bugle building is shown in Midtown with JJJ’s head. I love that there is smoke coming from his cigar even in a disembodied headshot. Over on the East Side is Aunt May’s home along with Aunt May but that should really be in Queens, shouldn’t it? Empire State University is somewhere in the south (Tribeca, maybe?) Gwen’s head accompanies it. I think the Coffee Bean is supposed to be in Greenwich Village but it looks like it’s in the Battery here. MJ with her ginchy hairdo is next to it. This is the last time we will see MJ’s hairdo ever. It’s the last time we will see MJ herself for quite some time.
Our last pin-up is This is Spidey as We Know Him But – What If he Were Drawn By Other Artists, For Other Publications? Imagine If He Looked Like These --! This is one of my favorite Spidey pin-ups. It starts with, as it says, “Spidey as We Know Him,” then shows us Spidey as Dick Tracy (just his head in profile with the Tracy nose and the Tracy hat), Lil Abner (his costume is drawn as patched-up long johns with a flap in the rear while the mask is like a Halloween mask, which shows off Abner’s cowlick), Mickey Mouse (all in his Spidey costume but with Mickey’s white gloves), Archie (looking slightly dumpy and casual; swinging his mask around on his finger so his Archie face is exposed), Superman (all Spidey including a web but drawn in the classis Joe Shuster “Up Up And Away” Superman pose) and Charlie Brown (wearing Charlie’s shirt, pants, socks, shoes, and baseball cap but with a Spidey mask; he is shooting webbing that drops to the ground and his frustration is shown with anxiety lines radiating from his head. What with the inclusion of Spider-Ham into continuity and all the rest of the Spider-Verse these days, you could almost imagine these characters really existing in some alternate reality. Regardless, they are fun tributes to other comic characters and their creators.
It later appears that Richard and Mary Parker may not be dead after all. They resurface in Amazing Spider-Man #364, July 1992. In ASM #366, September 1992, they tell Peter that they were taken by Russian agents who faked their deaths and that they’ve been in Russian prisons ever since. Richard says, “It was only after the recent dissolution of the Soviet Union that we were discovered and set free.” We are also told that Richard and Mary were not spies at all but couriers who were approached by the Skull “to work for him as counter-spies. He promised us huge sums of money, he threatened [Peter’s] life. We were terrified but we wanted to do the right thing. We reported this to our superiors. They asked us to go along, to get the goods on the Skull. We weren’t trained spies but to help our country, we agreed.” This is in stark contrast to the super-spies we meet in Flashback-Untold Tales of Spider-Man #Minus 1 (Story 1) but, then again, these people in ASM #366 are not really Peter’s parents. They’re robots! Oh, excuse me, they’re “replicoid duplicates” who have been masterminded by Peter’s then-dead frenemy Harry Osborn. I don’t know how this all fits in now that Harry isn’t dead anymore or if it even fits in at all. The Harry Osborn revelation is in ASM #389, May 1994 so, yes, this subplot goes on for a long time.
It is in ASM #366 that Peter also learns that the Skull he faced was not the real Skull but “an imposter who was killed long ago.” This, as the footnote tells us, was in Captain American #347, November 1988 when the Scourge of the Underworld, “operating on behalf of the original Red Skull disguised as a pilot,” murders him.
There also seems to be a character in “The Amazing Spider-Man” films (the ones with Andrew Garfield) named Gustav Fiers but known as “The Gentleman.” He, apparently, is the pilot of Richard and Mary’s plane who kills them and survives the crash or else he is the one who tipped the Skull off to their double-agent status or something. But we won’t worry about that because I don’t think he’s ever shown up in the comics.
Since I first published this, I have gotten an email from Daniel who says, "I recently read your review for Amazing's Annual #5. It reminded me of some novels I read a long time ago and got me really interested in reading Spider-man in a non-comic book format. The three "Sinister Six" books by Troy-Castro. (A review for the first of the three on your site is here: Spider-Man: The Gathering Of The Sinister Six.) In it, there was a character called The Gentleman and I think it was implied that it was the same character as the guy from this annual. My memory is not great on these novels despite how much I loved them, but thought I would mention it since you mentioned that he also might have appeared in The Amazing Spider-man movies."
My memory isn't great on these novels either, Daniel. Not only did I read them but I'm the guy who wrote that review and I can't say whether The Gentleman is the same as the apparent pilot of Richard and Mary's plane or not. Is there anyone out there with a better memory who can fill Daniel and me in?
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
For all its “Special” oversize status, this story really does feel slapped together. There had clearly been fan interest in what became of Peter’s parents and, since Stan had to make a story of it, they couldn’t have simply died in some prosaic way. Drama is needed and what is more dramatic than having them falsely accused as traitors? Once you get to that point, the overall story writes itself since it follows that Spidey must prove they are innocent. But the story’s details and structure don’t write themselves and that is where it starts to crumble. All the flashbacks don’t help, particularly the flashback within the flashback. The stereotypical fez-wearing, cigarette-in-a-holder smoking, “come with me to the Casbah” type villains don’t help matters either. Then, there’s all those irritating little details. When is the false evidence planted on the Parkers? Why does the Skull think it will even survive a plane crash and fire? Why does the Skull have Membership files of his spies in a file cabinet that is easily found once you find the secret button on the desk? And how did the Skull get Richard’s membership card back so that he could put it in his file? And why does that membership card have Richard’s “counterspy” credentials inside of it? And if the US government knows that Richard was a counterspy, then why did they let the world think that Richard and Mary were traitors? Is the Finisher, a guy with a missile-firing car, really the most formidable hitman in Algeria? Has he really never failed the Skull yet? And so on.
I do like the reveal of the master as the Red Skull, one of the last bad guys you’d expect to show up in a Spider-Man comic. Too bad he’s later retconned into being some other guy.
I like Larry’s artwork on the newspaper strip but not here. It’s too stiff and posed and the action scenes carry little impact. You can almost feel him following Romita’s layouts.
So, it’s a not very special Special this year but I hope the readers of the time enjoyed it. It’s the last new material in an Annual for 8 years.
Yes, it gets its own review. “Here We Go A-Plotting,” Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #5 (Story 2) is next.