"The Molten Man!"
Scripted by Stan Lee.
Plotted, drawn and inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.
Schooldays may or may not be the happiest days of our life but one thing's for certain, they have to end at some point. And this is the tale where Peter Parker's do just that as he graduates from high school. I once read an interview where Steve Ditko said he thought Peter Parker should always have been in high school and should never have gone to university. He's wrong, of course, the strip hit its peak when Peter Parker was at university and I doubt that's coincidence.
I wish I could say our hero leaves school with a tale that fully explores and exploits the inherent metaphors but the simple truth is it doesn't. The B plot, Spider-Man's latest adventure, is simply pants. Whatever Mark Raxton's later revival as a man driven mad by the pain of burning-up beneath his inferno-like skin, here the Molten Man's a damp squib. Leaving aside the fact he's not actually molten - he doesn't seem to be giving off any heat at all - his fight with Spider-Man's like a walking definition of the word pedestrian. Basically they throw punches at each other in his house for page after page until Spider-Man ties him up with his webbing, the fight seemingly ending when Steve Ditko gets bored with it.
And I think that's the major problem with the strip at this point in its history; snowed under with work, Stan Lee was now giving Ditko total freedom to plot the comics. The problem is Ditko's an artist not a writer and, just as the Fantastic Four suffered with the more freedom Lee gave to Jack Kirby, so this tale desperately needs a writer to inject a few twists, turns and a dose of ingenuity into proceedings. A story that's just two people throwing punches at each other until the artist runs out of pages is never going to grab anyone.
But that's enough of the fighting. Given its importance in Spider-history, we have to view Peter Parker's graduation as the A plot. In fact we don't hear too much about it until the last few pages, so it can hardly be said to dominate proceedings. What does stand out is the odd behaviour of Liz Allen who writes herself out of the strip for no noticeable reason. It's an odd development, not properly explained, and you wonder if there ever was any plan to explain it or if it'd just been decided to dispense with her and this was the quickest way to do it.
Of course, what could've been behind Liz Allen's departure could be an identity crisis. At one point in the story, Peter Parker calls her Liz Hilton. In an earlier tale, she suddenly became Liz Brant and, of course, there's the endless confusion as to whether she's Liz Allen or Liz Allan. With an identity crisis like that, no wonder she wanted to run away and hide.