Wein delivers another set of off-beat issues here, and I'm beginning to wonder if it's a good idea to have the editor also serve as the writer.
Issue #156 is fine, the sort of mad-cap caper that I expect from this era. The Mirage just so happens to rob the wedding hall where Betty Brant and Ned Leeds are getting married. (It's hosting several weddings at once, so it's a plum target.) As a result, Peter has to engage in his typical disappearing act to save the day. Eventually, the excuse that he provides here -- that he ran into another room to call the police -- becomes so overused (and unbelievable) that writers were forced to acknowledge the implausibility of everyone still buying it. But, at this point, I guess that it's more or less believable that they're all still going with it. (Notably, Mary Jane is getting suspicious, since Wein continues to portray her as acutely aware of Peter's absences). The best part of the issue is probably the first few pages where Wein sets up the story. As Peter alights on the roof of his apartment building in his Spidey costume, his drunken landlady attacks him with a broom (and worries that she killed him when she knocks him off the roof). To make matters worse, he realizes that his milk is spoiled as he drinks it. He also never manages to get food at the buffet table before the ceremony starts. It's the sort of college-boy antics that had again gotten stale by the time that I started reading "Amazing Spider-Man" in the mid-80s, but they feel fresh here, since they legitimately represent Peter on his own for the first time. Also, the most important panel is easily overlooked: on page 18, Harry tries to save Liz from Mirage stealing her purse. She'll later approach him in issue #157 to thank him, beginning their relationship. The only real downside to this issue is that I did raise an eyebrow at the idea that Peter and Mary Jane serving as the best man and maid of honor at the wedding. Ned has no other male friends than the first love of his soon-to-be wife? Betty has no other female friends than the current girlfriend of her first love? Really?
But, it's the three-part Dr. Octopus story in issues #157-#159 that stakes out new territory in oddness. We learn that the mysterious homeless man that we've seen a few times over the previous issues is actually Dr. Octopus. He appears on May's doorstep for help, and he's still there when Peter arrives. Honestly, I had no idea that May and Ock had a relationship so soon in the series. I expected it to be much later in the 100s. But, a relationship they had, and Otto tells us what happened after he left May at the altar. Apparently, it was Hammerhead that caused him to flee the ceremony to a "uranium-rich Canadian island" that May had apparently inherited. (No, really. I assume that this tidbit was better explained during the original story.) Hammerhead followed him there and, in the scuffle, caused a nuclear explosion that only Otto survived. However, he claims that it also turned Hammerhead into a ghost, and he's been haunting Otto (again, really) ever since. We learn that Otto isn't crazy when Hammerhead appears in May's living room. Otto flees with May, starting a three-issue battle with Spider-Man over which one of them is going to save her.
(Seriously. For reasons that don't really make sense to me, Peter doesn't trust Otto with May. He acts as if Otto is going to kill her, something that he clearly has no intention of doing. Maybe Peter is just young and overly emotional?)
Eventually, Hammerhead manipulates Otto into returning him to his body. (Apparently, Hammerhead wasn't "killed" so much as he was "out of phase" or some such nonsense. Seriously, Wein puts no real effort into explaining it. He also puts no effort into explaining how Hammerhead -- not the sharpest tool in the shed -- knew better than Otto that the device that he created to kill Hammerhead once and for all would actually resurrect him. But, I digress.) However, Hammerhead's resurrection doesn't last long. Corporeal again, he swipes Aunt May and escapes, forcing Peter and Otto to join forces to find them. They do, and Otto eventually downs Hammerhead's helicopter as he (again) tries to escape, allegedly killing him (again).
Honestly, it's just strange. As the next issue confirms, this arc starts a pattern of Wein using science as a deus ex machina, putting little effort into explaining major drivers of plots. Moreover, Aunt May seems to be perpetually near-death. She was in the hospital for issues #144-#146, and she's unconscious for the better part of issues #157-#159. She's essentially the original woman in a refrigerator. It makes you really appreciate how great it is that "Brand New Day" made her less frail. (Look, I said something nice about "Brand New Day!")
All that said, it all somehow gets even weirder in issue #160. Spidey encounters the henchmen from issues #153-#154 again, this time robbing furs. While he fights them, the Spider-Mobile reappears and attacks him. (The disappearance of the Spider-Mobile from where he previously crashed it into the Hudson River has been a sub-plot for the last few issues.) It's unclear to me if the henchmen were working for the Tinkerer, the guy that we later learn sent the Spider-Mobile after Spidey in the first place, or if the Tinkerer just happens to attack at the same time as Spidey's fighting the henchmen. (At this point, I don't expect us to ever learn anything about these guys.) Peter barely manages to escape the Spider-Mobile in his first encounter with it, because some sort of gas robs him of both his Spider-Powers and the use of his Web-Shooters. In a second encounter, the Spider-Mobile eventually webs up Spidey and delivers him to the Tinkerer. The Tinkerer (besides revealing that his alien bit from issue #2 was a ruse) exposits that the gas clogged Peter's pores, denying him his Spider-Powers. (I have no idea how it also clogged his Web-Shooters, because Wein doesn't even attempt to explain it. Again, it's "SCIENCE!") The Tinkerer is apparently supposed to deliver Spidey to his mysterious employer, but Spidey manages to escape. He later delivers the Spider-Mobile to the PR company that conned him into creating it in the first place, after they had previously threatened to sue him if he didn't return it.
Honestly, it just makes no sense. Wein is using it as part of this larger story that he's apparently telling involving the henchmen, but it just seems bizarre that he chose the Spider-Mobile as this issue's action-forcing event. Moreover, seven issues after the henchmen's first appearance, I still have no idea who employs them or what his/her goal is. At this point, assuming that it's the same employer, s/he wanted the missing piece to the WHO, the industrial freeze-ray, some furs (I think), and Spider-Man. It's an eclectic mix, to say the least.
Despite the just downright bizarreness of these issues, Wein does include some decent small moments. Glory brings over a cake to Peter's apartment in issue #158, and she meets Mary Jane, who amazingly doesn't have a conniption fit over a woman being in Peter's apartment. (We're also treated to Peter in his tighty-whities as he puts on his costume under his street clothes in his bedroom. Speaking of a naked Peter, I should also note a glitch in issue #157 where his Spidey pants are flesh-colored, making it look like he's flashing his ass at us. It makes you realize how important colorists are, since the spandex crowd are essentially naked all the time.) Moreover, JJJ, Jr. is going through secretaries like Kleenex now that Betty has moved to Paris with Ned; he fires his third one in issue #160. (Betty made that announcement at the end of the wedding issue that they were moving to Paris, though, honestly, I don't recall it being mentioned since I started reading this era, with issue #144.) All these moments definitely leave you feeling like you've got a good insight into Peter's life. In fact, I'm starting to think that it's why it's so easy to feel connected to characters of this era and not of the modern one. The authors took the time to let us into the characters' lives, and I just feel like we don't get that anymore. I can't remember the last time (outside maybe "Batgirl") that I saw people gathered in a character's apartment or home. I mean, where does Sam Wilson even live?
Finally, I will say that Wein does a marvelous job keeping plots on a slow burn (even if, when they come to a boil, they make little sense). For example, the Spider-Mobile sub-plot appeared in several issues before it came to a resolution in this issue, similar to Otto's initial appearances as a haunted homeless man. In issue #160, we've got JJJ, Jr. receiving a mysterious package of photos that'll apparently ruin Spider-Man. This effort to preview coming conflicts again leaves you feeling like you're involved in Peter's life, since we're not just seeing conflicts randomly burst onto the stage.
Now, if we could only just have the plots make a little more sense, I'd be a happy camper.