Monday, July 9, 2012


Part 7 of the 8 part Petrified Tablet Saga
These days, when we see stories about organized crime and the Mafia in comics we immediately think of characters like The Punisher, Daredevil and Huntress. But back in the Silver Age, there wasn’t a whole lot of stories about the Mafia or organized crime. You had criminals and gangs and super-villains trying to take over gangs. But you didn’t see much of the Mafia. The Fantastic Four were busy with Galactus and Skrulls. The Avengers were fighting Kang the Conqueror and the Masters of Evil. Hulk was fighting anyone who didn’t leave him alone. Nick Fury and SHIELD were fighting commies and Hydra. Daredevil was fighting the….um…Owl and Stilt Man. And most every other hero was content with the average costumed villain and the occasional bank robber. The one hero who fought the most against organized crime and the Mafia(or as Marvel Comics referred to it…the “Maggia“) during the Silver Age was Spider-Man.

Spider-Man’s first big foray into the arena of “organized crime” was in ASM #10 when Spider-Man took on The Big Man and The Enforcers. Big Man wanted to consolidate and control all the various gangs in New York. Then came The Crime Master in issues 26 and 27. Crime Master had similar goals but had to compete for control of the gangs with Green Goblin. All of these groups felt that killing Spider-Man would show the gangs that they were strong enough to be leader. Needless to say they failed. 

Crime Master and Green Goblin compete for control of organized crime

The Crime Master story was the last time we saw Spider-Man tackle organized crime in a meaningful way. However, when it came to major threats seeking control of organized crime, it was hard to beat Wilson Fisk aka The Kingpin! Almost two years after the Crime Master story, Kingpin brought back organized crime in a big way with his debut in ASM #50. But we still really hadn’t seen much of the “Maggia” in Marvel up to that point, nor at all in the pages of Spider-Man. That all changed in Amazing Spider-Man #68 which launched the first part of one of the most epic Mafia stories seen in comics at that time: The Petrified Tablet Saga.

Prior to the original Clone Saga from the early 70s, The Petrified Tablet Saga (aka “The Clay Tablet” aka the “Stone Tablet”) was the longest and one of the most complex story arcs to be seen in the pages of Amazing Spider-Man. With the exception of the Kree/Skrull War over in Avengers, it might have been one of the longest story arcs at Marvel at that time. It ran for 8 issues, from ASM #68 to ASM #75 (with some spill over into issues 76&77). It introduced new characters, delved into social issues and brought “The Maggia” to the world of Spider-Man.  The story has it all, Spidey fighting battle after battle with barely a chance to catch his breath, an epic battle with Kingpin, generational conflict between father and son, more melodrama than you can shake a web at and of course, the Maggia.  The story is representative of the best of Spider-Man. The issues also boasted some of John Romita Sr’s most powerful cover art for the series.

Jameson pushes Spider-Man too far in the Petrified Tablet Saga

The story sees the return of Kingpin, still stinging from his last two defeats at the hands of Spider-Man. Kingpin is made aware of a stone tablet older than the dead sea scrolls upon which are engraved hieroglyphics that no one has ever been able to decipher. The tablet is to be on display at the university that Peter Parker attends, ESU. But there’s trouble brewing on campus as students are protesting plans that the university has for turning the exhibit hall into dorms for visiting alumni. The protestors want it turned into a low rent dorm for needy students. At the center of this protest is Randy Robertson(making his debut as another supporting player in Amazing Spider-Man), son of Daily Bugle city editor Robbie Robertson.

Kingpin uses the protest as a diversion from his theft of the stone tablet. In spite of Spider-Man’s efforts, Kingpin obtains the tablet and leaves the protestors taking heat from authorities who think they might have been complicit in the theft of the stone tablet. Spider-Man is hot on the trail of the tablet and after an epic, 10 page battle with Kingpin, Spider-Man gets the tablet back. But Spider-Man has problems returning the tablet as Kingpin has told police that Spider-Man is his partner in crime. Jonah Jameson fans the flames, putting pressure on Spidey that pushes him to his breaking point.
The debut of Maggia leader Silvio "Silvermane" Manfredi

Spider-Man angrily confronts and threatens Jameson who is so terrified by the encounter that he has a heart attack. This shakes Spider-Man to his core, making him doubt himself, thinking that maybe Jameson was right about Spider-Man being a menace all along. With no one to turn to, Spidey gives the tablet to Captain Stacy, hoping that, with the tablet in safe hands, his problems are over.

But things don’t get much better for Spidey as Quicksilver turns up, trying to prove his worth to his fellow Avengers by bringing in the wanted Spider-Man. Quicksilver finds this easier said than done and after a confrontation that leaves the speedster with the wind knocked out of his sails, Spider-Man convinces him that he’s innocent.
Meanwhile there is lots of melodrama with the supporting players. Randy’s friends accuse his father of being an uncle tom working for a racist Jonah Jameson, causing Randy to feel the need to be more of a militant to prove himself to the other protestors. Gwen defends a missing Peter from a crowd of students who think he’s a coward. Gwen herself is having doubts about this as Peter is always missing whenever there is trouble. And a sickly Aunt May gives her approval of Gwen to her nephew as she sees Gwen and Peter’s relationship is getting more serious.

Then the Shocker turns up to steal the stone tablet from Captain Stacy who is hospitalized after the encounter. Shocker is defeated by Spider-Man but the stone tablet is nowhere to be found. Spidey finds out that Shocker hid the tablet with a girlfriend. Also seeking the tablet is aging Maggia crime boss Silvermane(who makes his debut in this story as well). Silvermane also finds out about Shocker’s girlfriend and sends mob enforcer Man Mountain Marko to her apartment to retrieve the tablet. Marko and Spidey clash and Marko gets away with the tablet by throwing Shocker‘s girlfriend out of a six story window to divert Spider-Man. While on Marko’s trail, Spidey discovers that friend scientist Doctor Curt Connors and his family have been kidnapped by Silvermane who wants Connors to decipher the engraving on the stone tablet.

Connors discovers that the engravings on the tablet are not words, but bio-chemical symbols for a formula that will supposedly bestow eternal youth. Based on this formula, Connors makes a serum that the aging Silvermane quickly drinks. Silvermane turns into a young man again and goes about settling a score with mob lawyer Caesar Cicero who has been trying to take over Silvermane’s empire.

Spider-Man arrives to save Connors and his family and recover the tablet but the strain of events has turned the kindly Dr. Connors into the homicidal Lizard and Spidey has his hands full with Caesar, Silvermane, Marko and various mob goons to go after him. He manages to thwart most of them while others escape. However, Silvermane is still growing younger and younger by the minute. When Spidey finally catches up with Silvermane he finds that the serum has de-aged him into nothingness. Spidey manages to save Dr. Connors wife and son and retrieve the tablet, but the Lizard escapes.

There would be other great stories that pitted Spider-Man against the Maggia and organized crime. Some of the best of these were the Hammerhead/Dr. Octopus Wars. Most of the best of Spider-Man’s crime stories involved Kingpin and Silvermane. But other than that you just didn’t see many stories about the Maggia and organized crime. The Amazing Spider-Man began to focus more on stories of typical costumed criminals, clones, old enemies with grudges, costumed femme fatales and team ups with other heroes fighting bigger threats than organized crime and the Mafia. I thought these stories of Spider-Man battling organized crime were some of his greatest stories. Organized crime was something that affected the average Joe and Spider-Man was always the hero who protected the average Joe. Sure, I love stories of Spidey battling the Sinister Six and I even like some of his stories as an Avenger. But battling organized crime and the mafia seemed like a nice narrative fit for Spider-Man and I wouldn’t mind seeing more of those stories again.

The Petrified Tablet Saga is one of those great stories that has yet to be collected in trade on its own. You can read it on the cheap in black and white in Essential Spider-Man Vol-4 or you can get the pricier color hardcover version by purchasing Marvel Masterworks Amazing Spider-Man Vol-8. Either of these versions that collect this story are well worth the money.