John Dunbar re-reads AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (AF 15, ASM 1-50)

We have a wonderful thread, started by Richard Mantle, that examines the Amazing Spider-Man starting with issue #51.  I don't know why it took me so long to realize we don't have a thread that covers Spidey's beginning to the point where Richard starts.

Spider-Man is hands down my favorite Marvel hero and I love the early stuff.  Peter Parker felt like an outsider in high school.  He had girl troubles and money troubles.  I think a lot of us could identify with him when we were teenagers; I know I certainly did.  Those first 50 issues of Amazing, plus the Annuals and Amazing Fantasy 15, are among the cream of the Silver Age.  Outstanding artwork from Steve Ditko and John Romita.  Unforgettable dialogue from Stan Lee.  A fantastic rogues gallery and a wonderful supporting cast.  Just terrific, terrific stuff.

Join me, won't you?

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The twist reveal of the Big Man's real identity recalls "The Secret Life of the Catwoman!" from Batman #62 (spoiler warning), where the masked gang leader Mister X turns out to be a minor crook called Mousey.

One thing I didn't mention was some nice character development for Flash Thompson.  He went to the hospital with Liz to visit Aunt May - something he easily could have refused to do.  Also, when Peter is bragging at school that he has figured out the Big Man's identity, Flash pulls him aside to try and talk some sense into him.  We're seeing the first signs of Flash being more than a bully and tormentor.  It will take years, but eventually Flash and Peter will become friends, and the seeds of it start here.

I like it that Lee & Ditko made Flash Thompson a more complex character than was typically the case for someone who initially came off as a one-note bully, and even after Lee left, Conway continued the process.

On the other hand, it's nice to see Jameson continue to be a jerk no matter who writes him. Some things need to be constant in life.

Here are the panels I promised, Ron.

It is from the CD collection of ASM, which was shot from original issues. Condition varies. There is some ink smudging in the upper left corner, but I think it's easy to read.

Richard Willis said:

I volunteer to provide the panels. When the time comes I'll need to be sure which scene you want to see.

Ronald Morgan said:

That's a big moment for JJ. Can somebody print those panels when we get to it? My only copy is from the paperback in the 70s and it's difficult to read his dialogue.

John Dunbar said:

A jewel thief climbs to the end of a flagpole and taunts police when they urge him to surrender, saying the Big Man planned this, and he never fails.

The way the thief climbs on the flagpole makes me think he came across one of those radioactive spiders.

They balk at this, so the Big Man unleashes his Enforcers: Fancy Dan, a master of judo, the very large and very strong Ox, and Montana, an expert with a lasso. The Enforcers make quick work of the gangsters.

Only one of the gangsters produces a gun. They all try to use their fists. I love the Enforcers but they would have been shot to pieces by the gang bosses or their bodyguards, which don’t seem to be here.

At the hospital, Liz and a reluctant Flash come to visit Peter and his Aunt May. Just then Peter is told May needs a blood transfusion. He hesitates because his blood was affected when the radioactive spider bit him and gave him his powers, but Liz and Flash shame him into it. Afterwards, the doctor tells him it will take a few days to get back to normal. Aunt May soon recovers, and the next day goes on a trip to Florida with her neighbors.

I think it’s odd that the doctor says that May needs a transfusion but he waits around for her nephew to show up instead of giving her a transfusion from the hospital’s supply. Peter may be slightly weakened by giving blood, but if Aunt May misses her bus to Florida she can pounce on  its roof.

He intimidates the guy with a web dummy, that the crook thinks is a giant live spider, into revealing where the Enforcers are hiding out.

This giant web-spider is one of the clever things they used to do before everything became just slugging everybody.

When he arrives, Montana pulls him in with his lasso. The Big Man is there with the Enforcers. Spider-Man battles all three of them and hold his own for a bit, but soon he is feeling weakened from the blood transfusion.

He was weakened by the blood transfusion, but at this point in his career his power level wasn’t as overwhelming. Clever teamwork by guys like the Enforcers could still give him believable opposition. I also note that his underarm webbing is prominently displayed, which was fondly missed in later years.

He thinks the Big Man has to be someone smart that has money, but he can't believe Jonah is the Big Man.

Even though Jonah believes the worst of him, Peter shows his good heart by refusing to believe the worst of Jonah.

Finally he is able to contact the police with his spider signal.

A clever use of the spider signal, another overlooked, lamented feature.

He's wearing a similar hat and green suit.

The color of Jonah’s suit is clever in the original printing but is overlooked in my reprint, where Jonah’s suit is blue. I wish the reprints used the colors in the original printing as a guide instead of coloring them from scratch.

The cover was pretty bland and I'm guessing it was a rush job. There's no background at all, and according to the GCD, Ditko drew the Big Man and the Enforcers, and Kirby drew Spider-Man, inked by Dick Ayers. The first cover was rejected.

IMO, they made a mistake not using the cover originally drawn. They made the same mistake with Amazing Fantasy #15.

I’m not so sure that Foswell was obvious. When I was 15 and bought this off the spinner rack it was only my second Spidey. Maybe I didn’t realize Foswell was a new character or wasn’t as familiar with misdirection in comics stories. I wonder if many fans actually read this story after they had read later stories referring to his past as the Big Man?

The original cover, the Enforcers are too close to Spider-Man. The one used they're too far away. Probably Stan said put them further apart and they overcompensated.

The 70s horror reprints also used random colors instead of what was used in the original stories. Pretty sure Marvel Tales and Marvel Collector's Item Classics did the same thing.

Perhaps the jewel thief was Quentin Beck, testing the equipment he'd soon use to impersonate Spider-Man in #13, three months from now.

But if the hospital gave May somebody else's blood then they couldn't have her get radiation poisoning later. Interesting it almost kills her instead of transforming her like it did Peter. Always wondered if Ben, who was a blood relative of Peter's, would have gotten sick or developed spider powers if it had been him.

Wearing green makes JJ look like a villain, since almost all of Spidey's enemies at the time wore green.

It was only a year and a half since Spidey's debut, and a year since his title started. It's interesting that Lee thought Jameson's name would be familiar to enough readers for it to be worth running that cover blurb.

Ronald Morgan said:

Always wondered if Ben, who was a blood relative of Peter's, would have gotten sick or developed spider powers if it had been him.

Great point! I missed the fact that Ben, as the brother of Peter's father, was a blood relative while May was a relative by marriage.

Seemed Lee pretty much forgot that Peter was not a blood relative of his Aunt May, but then Lee also forgot that Loki was Thor's adopted brother, not his stepbrother or half-brother (and in the myths Loki wasn't Thor's brother at all but Balder was).

Richard Willis said:

Ronald Morgan said:

Always wondered if Ben, who was a blood relative of Peter's, would have gotten sick or developed spider powers if it had been him.

Great point! I missed the fact that Ben, as the brother of Peter's father, was a blood relative while May was a relative by marriage.

Fred W. Hill said:

I like Ditko's original cover far more than the one that was used.  Circa 1973 I started collecting the Marvel Tales, the first I got featuring a reprint of ASM #53, on the first page of which refers to the death of Frederick Foswell in the previous issue.  Within a couple of years I got the 2-part MTU story with the new Big Man (and Crimemaster), but it wasn't until several more years that I got the Pocketbook reprints of the very early issues of ASM, including this one, that I finally read a story in which Foswell was still very much alive, and a little more filling in the holes to get to Foswell's return to the series.

I had the same Pocketbook - Volume 2 (there were 3 volumes) - that reprinted ASM 7-13.  That would have been around 1980 or so, the first time I had ever seen Ditko's work on ASM.  I was hooked, and must have read that book until it fell apart.  Ironically, the first time I read #53 was when it was reprinted in Spider-Man digest from the late 80s when Marvel Tales stopped reprinting ASM in chronological order.  Fred Foswell in ASM #10 looks nothing like the Foswell in ASM #50-52, ebven allowing for the very different art styles of Ditko and John Romita.

 I agree the mystery would have worked better if Foswell had been introduced several issues earlier so he didn't stand out so much.  Overall a very entertaining story, even if the Enforcers were among the goofiest of Spidey's early recurring foes.  I know the original Ox was killed off in an issue of DD but to my knowledge other than being brought out of the mothballs for that MTU story, Fancy Dan and Montana went right back into storage and were still there when I mostly quit keeping up with Spider-Man circa 1985.

The Enforcers made a few more appearances after they were in MTU 39 & 40.  They showed up next in Spectacular Spider-Man 19-20, with a new Ox (identical twin brother to the original Ox), Dazzler 7-8, and MTU 138.  That takes us up to 1984, and there were a few more appearances over the last 3 decades.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Fred Foswell in ASM #10 looks nothing like the Foswell in ASM #50-52...

Prison changes a man.

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