Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #43. The Rhino

Amazing Spider-Man #43, Spidey holds onto the horn of the Rhino as a group of onlookers watch in trepidation, John Romita cover
(Cover from December 1966.)

"Rhino On The Rampage!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn and inked by John Romita.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

If Amazing Spider-Man #39 was John Romita's first work on the strip, issue 43 was the one where he finally arrived. No longer living in Steve Ditko's shadow and there to carry on that artist's good work, suddenly, he was given a chance to show what he could bring to a comic that Ditko couldn't. Before he'd returned to drawing super-heroes, with Daredevil, Romita had been pencilling romance comics and, in this tale, it shows, with Mary Jane Watson allowed to charm and bedazzle the reader in a way that no female ever had before in Spider-Man. It was also, as it turned out, a chance to remind us what a hard-luck kid Spider-Man really was.

But all that would come later in the tale because the story kicks off with melodrama as the Rhino, finally awoken from his sedation of the previous issue, is busting free of captivity.

And, just as the Rhino's fleeing captivity, the next set of characters we encounter are flinging themselves headlong into it. Back at the offices of The Daily Bugle, Betty Brant and Ned Leeds are announcing their engagement, to reformed crook Fred Foswell.

But Betty Brant and Ned Leeds aren't the only ones feeling loved up because, back at Anna Watson's, Peter Parker's being knocked dead by Mary Jane Watson, a living whirlwind of energy that, in less innocent times might make you wonder just what she's on. And, wonder of wonders, it seems she digs Pete as much as he digs her. And why shouldn't she? Under the guidance of Romita's pencils, and Lee's breezy extroversion, the school nerd has become quite the pretty boy.

Amazing Spider-Man #43, John Romita, as Peter Parker watches, Mary Jane dances with the TV on in the background, they are playing our song
 But, of course, this is Peter Parker Land and so, the fun can't last. Interrupting the music show that Mary Jane's happily dancing to, a newsflash declares the Rhino to be on the rampage. This is it, Pete needs to find a way to get away and confront him.

Except he doesn't - because Mary Jane declares that he and she should go down to the scene of the "happening" and check it out for themselves. And here, right now, is the reason MJ's such a unique creation; a girl who doesn't hold our hero back, doesn't get in the way and seems to know instinctively where he needs to be in moments of crisis. Looking back at it, it really does make you wonder if this woman who's just breezed into our hero's life knows more than she's letting on about him.

Within a couple of panels, the pair of them are on Peter's brand new bike and at the scene of the crime. Our hero makes his excuses - excuses that Mary Jane accepts without question - and he's off to deal with the Rhino.

Amazing Spider-Man #43, John Romita panel, Mary Jane points at the dreamiest
The only problem is, the Rhino seems to have got noticeably tougher since his last encounter with Spider-Man, and flattens him, leaving him needing to be rescued by a beat cop. Stan Lee clearly liked scenes like this; ones that showed his heroes' vulnerability and that gave him a chance to remind us that characters like Spider-Man might have super-powers but there are real-life heroes on the streets of our town's every day of the week. Thinking Spider-Man dead, the Rhino sets off. He's got other matters to deal with.

Back at The Bugle, Peter realises what those other matters are. In his previous appearance, the Rhino was out to abduct John Jameson and sell him and his mystery-spore-laden body to the highest bidder. What if he's still on that mission?

Spider-Man has to stop him.

Amazing Spider-Man #43, The Rhino attacks but is trapped in a barrel by our hero, John Romita panel
But first, time for a little foreshadowing, as the wall-crawler drops in on one-armed scientist Curt Connors, in search of help analysing a small patch of hide the Rhino's left behind. During this meeting, there's much mention of the Connors' evil alter-ego the Lizard - and how deadly a foe he was - before Spider-Man, armed with what he believes he needs, sets off to confront the Rhino.

Spidey's right. The Rhino's at the hospital where John Jameson's being kept, and hero promptly starts to fight villain. Trouble is, Spider-Man's having no more luck punching the Rhino out than he was before. So, he changes tack and sprays him with webbing. But it might as well be candy floss as the Rhino snaps it with ease.

But the Rhino hasn't counted on one thing.

It's no ordinary webbing.

No. It's webbing that Spider-Man and Curt Connors have just created and, as it sticks to the Rhino, his protective hide starts to dissolve. One good punch from Spidey and the now-unprotected villain is out like a pack of cards.

But an issue of Spider-Man isn't all about thrills and spills and this tale isn't over yet because, on his way home, Peter comes across the other members of what is now his gang; Flash Thompson, Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn. It's amazing in retrospect just how quickly these people have changed from being his enemies to being his allies.

There are other changes too. Reality's entered the world of Marvel Comics, with Flash Thompson announcing he's been drafted. Even in the escapist world of comics, the Viet Nam war's starting to loom large.

During this conversation Gwen Stacy is silent, seemingly with no interest in Peter and he realises that Mary Jane Watson is a girl better suited to his needs. However, when he gets home, Aunt May's having another of her turns and Peter cancels his date with the new girl in his life who, true to form, doesn't seem in the slightest bit bothered. Yet again a story that had started off so promisingly for our hero has ended with bitter disappointment.

But then again, it wouldn't be Spider-Man if it hadn't.

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