"Petey! As I live and breathe! I haven't seen you since graduation."
This frame also makes little sense: why should Peter phone Betty (presumably from a phone booth) after he has already set out to visit her?
The word “groovy” became a universal term of approval in the flower power era (usage peaks in 1972). In 1965 it still retained its older 1950s jazz club connotations -- so Peter is saying that his Aunt’s pie was “up to the minute” “fashionable” or “of the moment”. The word “fridge” was certainly in use by 1965, but it hadn’t fully replaced “icebox” as a synonym for refrigerator. So Peter Parker misuses a slightly unfashionable word; his aging Aunt responds with an up-to-the-minute one.
The Claws of the Cat is not really about anything. It is an orphan issue, winding up threads from last month, setting up plots for next month, but not really about anything itself. Like issue #9 it seems to plunge us into the stream of Peter Parker’s life and make no attempt to connect the threads together.
Even the cover is weird: our hero is so small you could easily overlook him. A tiny Spider-Man, a tiny man in a green boiler suit on a rope. Way, way down below, tiny police and tiny onlookers shine search lights at the building. We’re observing Spider-Man from a distance. A small figure involved in a small crime. You could be forgiven for thinking that this was the latest issue of The Amazing Collapsing Water Tower.
The splash page warns us that Spider-Man is going to “encounter a brand new foe”, but in truth the Cat barely rises to the level of foe-hood. We see him on page 1 running through a montage of faces -- Aunt May, Betty, Ned, Flash, Liz, Jonah Jameson and some guy in a purple mask. The message is clear. The Cat Burglar is simply one of many things which happen to Peter Parker this issue. He is a nobody, and he knows it:
“That was a close call! If Spider-Man had just turned his head, it could have been the end of the Cat Burglar’s career! But I’m just small potatoes to him! He’s only interested in super-powered world menaces!”
It takes a serious nudge from our old friend "an inscrutable fate" for Spider-Man's life to become entwined with that of this criminal non-entity. The Cat Burglar just happens to burgle the New York apartment of one J. Jonah Jameson and J.J.J. offers $1,000 reward for the thief's capture. So naturally, Peter decides that he is going to capture the Cat and claim the reward --- partly because he could do with the money but mostly because it will annoy Jameson. "Jolting ol’ Jonah is fast becoming my favourite indoor sport”. There is no longer any doubt that the relationship between J.J.J. and Peter Parker is one of mutual bullying.
The first great cycle of Spider-Man stories is nearly at an end, and Peter Parker is still no altruist. He goes after the Cat for money, and for fun, and as a distraction from his personal troubles. When he accidentally stops a businessman from being murdered by a disgruntled former employee, he is positively disappointed. "Heck! It wasn't the Cat Burglar after all!" What was that you said about power and responsibility?
The multiple plots keep interrupting each other and ostentatiously failing to come together. Peter rushes out of Aunt May's house because he wants to see Betty, and runs right into a gal who is coming round the corner...but it isn't Betty it’s, Liz from school. She is still trying to avoid Flash Thompson. This incident is itself interrupted when Peter Parker thinks he spots the Cat through an upstairs window, and stumbles on the murder-in-progress. It's a fun little scene, of course, but it has no bearing on the Cat, or on Betty or on Aunt May or on anything else.
Ned Leeds drops in on the way to work and asks Betty Brant to marry him, as one does; Peter fortuitously drops by a few minutes later. Much of the rest of the issue is driven by humour and a sense of fun (Spider-Man seems to be thoroughly enjoying all the fight scenes). But the big confrontation between Peter and Betty is incredibly emotionally charged, borrowing its visual vocabulary from horror comics. Betty tells Peter the news; Peter loses it completely and storms out of the apartment, saying that he never cared about Betty to start with; Betty is left on the other side of the door, crying that Peter Parker is the only person she has ever loved,
Peter is behaving appallingly. Since Bennet died, he has known that Betty will never accept him as Spider-Man, but he has continued to passively date her -- or at least flirt with her in the office. He knows that Betty and Spider-Man are mutually exclusive; but he somehow thinks the situation will magically resolve itself. When he thought he had lost his powers (in The Sinister Six) almost his first reaction was that he could now marry Betty; and when he was ready to give up his double life (in The End of Spider-Man) settling down with Betty and making a life as a scientist was one of the attractions. He cannot accept that Destiny -- Mr Stan Lee -- will force him to remain Spider-Man forever. At some level he still thinks that being Spider-Man is a phase he will grow out of.
On the splash page, Stan Lee talks about Peter Parker being “beset with the same old problems”. As we come to the end of the Lee-Ditko era, I fear that the Lee-Romita Spider-Man is beginning to show his irritating face. This is the received Peter Parker, the Peter Parker of the movies and the cartoons, the angsty Peter Parker who walks the streets with his hands in his pockets, vaguely blaming the universe for whatever harm he has inflicted on himself this month. Superheroes with super-problems, as the fellow said.
Yes, Peter. A bad thing has happened. But it is the bad thing you have been setting yourself up for, every day, for months. You can't bring yourself to tell even a white lie to your Auntie but you are happy to tell the most blatant lies to the girl you think you love, every day, for years. You could have told her you were Spider-Man. You chose not to. So go ahead and tell yourself that every day is like this due to some metaphysical entity called "the Parker luck."
However, in the current issue Stan Lee believes that the Purple Minions work for the Cat Burglar rather than the Master Planner. "Only the cat could have thought up a scheme like this!" they say, as they steal uranium from a moving vehicle. Stan has not remotely understood what is going on: the whole point of the Cat is that he is a skilled, but otherwise unimportant “second storey man”. The idea that he’d have secret agents stealing nuclear material from Iron Man is obviously bonkers.
When the Minions report back to base, their mysterious boss talks like a super-villain:
But Lee really thinks that the Cat has something to do with the Minions: on page 13 he is shown thinking "I'll grab a bundle and then think of a plan to get rid of Spider-Man!" even though he has never met Spider-Man and regards himself as beneath his notice. Even more oddly, Stan gives a random Purple Minion a thought balloon (while he is being knocked out by Spidey) that says:
...as if he thinks that either the Cat or the Master Planner is one of the goons carrying out the uranium heist.
The Cat says that it is “getting dark” on page 14, so a whole day has passed between Peter visiting Betty and him leaving the house as Spider-Man.
Our day 2 has to be a weekday since Liz, Ned and Betty are all at work. One possibility that very nearly makes sense looks like this:
Fight with Scorpion (issue 29)
Sunday 22 August
Afternoon: Everyone recovers.
Evening: Cat robs Jameson, Purple guys rob the van.
Monday 23 August
Morning: Betty and Peter have a row.
Afternoon: Peter mooches round feeling sorry for himself.
Evening: Cat Burglar caught
Tuesday 24 August
Morning: Parker sells pictures (issue 30);
Evening: Spider-Man encounters Master Planner's men (issue 31)
Wednesday 25 August
Thursday 26 August
Aunt May sick; Classes begin.
If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon.
if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.
Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are used for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copyright holder.
Please do not feed the troll.