Marvel’s dominance of pop culture continues, so here’s a look at some classic covers and stories from the 1970s Spider-Man series.
SPIDER-MAN Vol 1 #113 (October 1972)
Title: They Call the Doctor … Octopus
Villain: Doctor Octopus
Synopsis: With the Kingpin, overlord of organized crime in New York City, having been arrested in Las Vegas over in the Captain America & the Falcon comic book series months earlier, a gang war has erupted in New York to fill the power vacuum. Among the main contenders for the vacant top spot is Doctor Octopus, who employs thugs PLUS scientific advancements to run his criminal empire.
Meanwhile, as Spider-Man, college student Peter Parker continues his quest to find his missing Aunt May, who ran away after Peter’s girlfriend Gwen Stacy argued with her about May’s refusal to accept that Peter was a grown man now and didn’t need constant mothering.
Reluctantly, Spider-Man was drawn into the raging Mob War by his archenemy Doctor Octopus. Doing his best to bring down Doc Ock as quickly as possible so he can resume his quest to locate Aunt May, our hero had just used some of Octopus’ own technology against him to defeat him and some of his gangsters. Suddenly, he was attacked by the other top contender in the raging gang warfare – the new crime boss called Hammerhead.
Comment: I will observe that if this multi-part story had ever been adapted into animation on a series, I would have preferred that the opening two parts (which I skipped) did NOT feature the worthless villain the Gibbon. Instead they could fill the first two parts with the long ago tale when Spidey got amnesia fighting Dr O and was tricked into helping him for a brief period, only in this case it would have been in this gang war. Spider-Man would have just gotten his memory back and downed Doc Ock when this issue ended with Hammerhead’s arrival.
SPIDER-MAN Vol 1 #114 (November 1972)
Title: Who Is Hammerhead?
Villains: Hammerhead and Doctor Octopus
Synopsis: Spider-Man battles the supervillain Hammerhead and his men, all of them attired and talking like gangsters from the days of James Cagney and Edward G Robinson movies. NOTE: The different m.o.’s of Doc Ock and his men and Hammerhead and company make for a nice contrast – the latter with his old-fashioned “tommy-guns and tough talk” approach compared to Otto and his men with their high-tech weaponry.
NOTE: Dr Jonas Harrow implanted pleated steel prosthetics into a gangster’s badly damaged head, thus turning him into Hammerhead.
Octavius escapes while Spider-Man defeats some of Hammerhead’s best thugs. Spidey gets knocked out when one of Hammerhead’s bullets grazes his head. Meanwhile, HH has some of his gangsters trail the fleeing Doc Ock.
Elsewhere, at Empire State University, Gwen Stacy has left one of her biochemistry courses and is lost in thought, still blaming herself for Aunt May having gone missing. Professor Miles Warren, a regular supporting cast member in the comic book for over 70 issues by this point, can tell something is bothering her and she opens up to him about it.
Professor Warren tells Gwen she shouldn’t blame herself but she’s not buying it and walks off. Next, Flash Thompson drives by and tries to pick up Gwen by tossing some insults at Peter Parker. Gwen tells him off, and says that one of Peter “makes twelve of you.”
Later, back at the new villain’s circular, rotating nightclub HQ, Hammerhead decides to play Doctor Octopus’ game of allying himself with Spider-Man against his rival gang leader. In the middle of all this, HH gets a call from his men who followed Octavius to his Westchester, NY mansion. Listening to Hammerhead’s side of the conversation, Peter Parker can tell that HH’s men have referred to spotting Doc Ock and “an old broad” inside the mansion.
Spidey reflects to himself that the “old broad” might just be Aunt May, since she had awhile back unknowingly rented out Peter’s old room to the villain once when he was on the run and concealing his identity. The bizarre Aunt May had always been under the impression that Octavius was simply misunderstood and not really a criminal just because he was nice to HER. (His sinister plans for Aunt May will be revealed in future issues.)
HH goes with most of his thugs and drives off in a caravan of cars toward the Westchester mansion. Spider-Man, who had slipped a Spider-Tracer on Hammerhead earlier, defeats the men left to guard him and then follows HH and the rest of his underworld army.
At that mansion, Spider-Man rushes in ahead of Hammerhead’s arriving troops, hoping to find Aunt May and escape with her. Unexpectedly, Aunt May smashes a vase against the back of Spidey’s head, leaving him on the floor, dazed and unable to stand up. (Peter’s Spider-Sense only warns him about enemies, that’s why it didn’t react to Aunt May behind him.)
May, like much of the public, mistakenly believes Spider-Man to be the menace that J Jonah Jameson says he is, and she cries out for Octavius to come and help her against “that awful” Spider-Man.
NOTE: At this time Spider-Man was erroneously wanted in regard to Captain John Stacy’s death, but in reality Doc Ock had caused that death. Our hero would not be cleared until years after this story.
SPIDER-MAN Vol 1 #115 (December 1972)
Title: The Last Battle
Villains: Doctor Octopus and Hammerhead
Synopsis: Hammerhead and his men invade Doctor Octopus’ mansion, preventing him from being able to go to Aunt May’s side. She sneaks away from the recovering Spider-Man while HH and his thugs contend with the high-tech booby traps of the mansion and the scientifically advanced weaponry of Ock’s men.
Spider-Man comes to and searches for Aunt May throughout the place, while fighting and defeating Octavius’ and Hammerhead’s men whenever he comes across them. Doc and HH fight it out but Ock eludes him and goes to Aunt May.
Meanwhile, at the Daily Bugle, reporter Ned Leeds tells the arriving Gwen Stacy about how he traced Peter’s Aunt May to an employment agency. That agency told Ned that she was hired by an estate in Westchester and Ned now recognizes the name of the owner as a known front-man for Doctor Octopus. Gwen, Ned and Robbie Robertson take one of the Bugle’s radio cars and head out to that mansion.
Back at the mansion in question, Spider-Man and Hammerhead meet up amid the confusion of the room-to-room firefight going on between his and Ock’s men. During the fight, Hammerhead brags to Peter that he found something in Ock’s office which, if he bides his time, will let all of New York and maybe even all of the U.S. fall under his control. He seizes an advantage during the battle to escape and ride off, abandoning his men.
Gwen, Robbie and Ned arrive as HH is leaving, and with all the gunfire and fallen men around the estate, Robbie calls in the cops. Back inside, Spidey meets up with Dr Octopus, who is with Aunt May. As Ock pretends to be “protecting” May from Spider-Man, their fight goes on and on.
At length, when Otto refers to himself as protecting the woman he “loves”, Spider-Man is infuriated and his outrage fuels his attack on Doctor O. He batters him unconscious only to see Aunt May holding a gun on him, threatening to fire. The sound of the arriving police sirens gives her a jump and and she fires blindly, missing the costumed Peter, who escapes and turns back into Peter Parker.
Epilogue: As police scour the mansion, arresting or taking to the morgue all the fallen gangsters from both armies, Peter hangs out with Gwen, Robbie and Ned, pretending he was there to take pictures of this big battle in the Gang War for the Daily Bugle. Aunt May and Gwen reconcile and May tells her that she (Gwen) was right -Peter is a man now & no longer needs her to look after him.
As the veritable Who’s Who in New York gangsters continues to file past them all in handcuffs, eventually the cops bringing out Dr Octopus come by. Ock asks to speak to his “housekeeper” May and the cops say it is safe since Ock’s tentacles have already been removed and stored in an armored car.
It turns out Aunt May has agreed to continue taking care of Octavius’ mansion while he is in prison, “protected” there by his armed “bodyguards”. No matter how hard Peter tries to talk her out of it, it’s no use, because she assures Peter that he is a man now and has Gwen in his life. He doesn’t need her anymore, but she feels Otto Octavius DOES need her, so she wants to stay.
Since this is a comic book, she gets away with it as Peter, Gwen, Robbie and Ned soak in the horror of the situation. Only Peter, of course, understands the full irony of his beloved aunt working for his greatest enemy.
The story ends with Hammerhead leaving the U.S. on a plane for Europe. He reflects to himself on how powerful he can become with what he took from Octavius’ office. He plans to wait until Ock gets out of prison, then force him to help him capitalize on whatever he took.
Comment: What Hammerhead stole from Doc Ock’s office and just what Otto wants with Aunt May will be revealed in future installments. FOR THE NEXT PART CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ MANTIS/ KANG/ CELESTIAL MADONNA STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS IN THE AVENGERS/ KREE-SKRULL WAR STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s ADAM WARLOCK/ GAMORA/ THANOS/ MAGUS STORY CLICK HERE.
FOR CHAPTER LINKS TO THE 1970s BLACK PANTHER VS KILLMONGER STORY CLICK HERE.