Mindworm was an interesting Gerry Conway creation that starred as the antagonist in a rather forgettable one-off issue in '74. The premise behind Mindworm is that he is an odd looking psychic mutant who needs to feed off of the emotions of others. Spidey quite easily disposed of the nuisance in Amazing Spider-Man #138, but as so often happens, Mindworm is back for revenge.
Jumping right into the action, the story begins with a splash page showing Spider-Man falling from a tall building. The voice that worms into Spidey’s head as he flails in agony is that of an old familiar foe, William Turner AKA the Mindworm. As Spider-Man falls to his impending doom, he is luckily able to attach a web strand to a nearby building which causes him to come crashing through a window. It doesn’t take long for a couple of cops to hit the scene and immediately try to arrest our hero for attempted burglary. At this point, Mindworm, who is telepathically controlling Spider-Man, forces Spidey to wipe out the two cops. Mindworm then coerces Spidey to swing across town to an unknown destination.
It doesn’t take long for Pete to notice that the neighborhood he has been led to is the same area in which he once shared an apartment with Flash Thompson. Instead of the neighborhood being littered with high rises though, a lone shack remains along Rockaway Beach – the same shack that Spider-Man confronted the Mindworm in back in Amazing Spider-Man #138.
As soon as Spider-Man enters the shack, the Mindworm appears before him, levitating and eager to tell Spidey his life story. Apparently after the cops hauled Turner off after his duel with our hero, he had emotion-feeding withdrawal and only survived by the skill of a group of well trained doctors. He soon escaped from the hospital though and has been wandering the streets alone ever since. The villain then exclaims that “it was you who condemned me to this living hell, Spider-Man” and he uses his headache inducing powers to knock Spidey through another window - this time into a rocky labyrinth awaiting him below.
In the strange labyrinth, Spider-Man comes across Dr. Joyce Phillips, Turner’s psychiatrist who has also been expelled into the maze. Chasing Dr. Phillips is a pack of man-sized, Nutcracker type rats that attack both characters. After a short tussle, Spidey makes short work of the giant rats and then joins Dr. Phillips in an attempt to find a way out of the labyrinth. Phillips explains that the both of them may very well be trapped inside the Mindworm’s neuroses.
No sooner is this revelation revealed, that both Dr. Phillips and Spider-Man are swept away into a dark cave. Inside the cave is a mutated Mindworm that looks, oddly enough, a lot like Krang, the mutant brain from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (tentacles and all). Mutant Mindworm then proceeds to use both his brain waves and his aforementioned tentacles to viciously beat Spidey. With a tentacle wrapped around Spider-Man’s throat, Dr. Phillips cries out that the only way to defeat Mindworm is to remind him that he’s human. Once Spider-Man manages to free himself from the grasp of the tentacle, he shouts to Mindworm that "You're stuck with the rest of us poor slobs from cradle to grave!" and finishes with “didn’t your parents ever tell you about that?”
This infuriates the Mindworm, who accidentally used his powers to murder his own parents when he was a child. Mindworm brutally attacks Spider-Man until the mutated brain slowly returns back to human form. As the thoughts of his parents flood his mind, William Turner falls to his knees and slowly fades away. A panel then shows Turner’s face inside the torn mask of Spider-Man, possibly representing the fact that Mindworm can finally understand and relate to his sworn enemy.
The next page shows that everything that happened was in fact a dream. Peter wakes up in a cold sweat and heads out to the psychiatric hospital in his costume to confront William Turner. Once Spidey reaches the hospital he finds Turner and Joyce Phillips, who in fact is only a nurse. Mindworm, calmer than he’s ever been before, tells Spider-Man that in their shared dream he was able to finally beat his madness. He tells Peter that he has learned something tonight that our hero has known for a good many years, that “with power comes responsibility.” Spider-Man then wishes his former adversary good luck and William Turner returns the sentiment, watching the web slinger disappear into the sunrise.
This is quite the endearing filler issue. The Mindworm might have looked ridiculous when he debuted during Conway’s run on Amazing, but his telepathic powers were really interesting. It only makes sense that the Mindworm would be back at some point to get his revenge. Tony Isabella does a great job bringing the villain back and wrapping the story up neatly in one issue. I was also completely oblivious to the fact that Pete and Turner were in a dream until the big reveal at the end.
The more I read this story, the more that it appeals to me. It’s not every day you get a one-off issue that brings back a classic character and sends him on his way with such a satisfying ending. Paul Jenkins would bring Mindworm back into the Spider-verse decades later in another one-off story. Jenkins’ story is much less satisfying than Isabella’s though, opting to needlessly kill the character off in the final pages of Spectacular Spider-Man (vol. 2) #22.