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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I've seen it pointed out several times recently that "temporary insanity" is rarely used as a defense because it almost never works. If someone is really insane (not temporarily) it probably would work, depending on the demand for vengeance from the public. But then they would keep you in another kind of institution.

Certainly ASM seemed to follow real time during the Ditko years if Peter was 15 when he was bitten by that spider and in the 10th grade in 1962 (and hence born about 1947) and graduated from high school in the spring of 1965 and began college the following fall.  The years begin stretching out after that as otherwise Peter, Harry & Gwen all should have earned their bachelor degrees by 1969 given a typical 4 years.  Hard to say whether Flash went into the army after one semester or one year in college in 1967 but if he did a two-year hitch by the time he was shown to have gotten out in 1971, that would put Peter and the rest in their third year of college by then and still Juniors at the time Gwen was murdered in 1973, and it was about another 5 years before Peter was shown to have earned his Bachelor's degree and started towards a Masters and as it was never shown that Peter took any significant breaks from college, not even after Gwen's death (he's shown back in class two issues later, although he nearly snaps and leaves early).  So basically 4 years in Peter's life in Marvel time was stretched out to about 13 years in real time, from 1965 to 1978.  

Ronald Morgan said:

Amazing Spider-Man#3 said Doc Ock suffered brain damage in the accident that welded the metal arms to him, so he probably pleaded temporary insanity. Saying a comic that came out last year took place last year shows Spidey is pretty much living in real time at least at this point.

Ah, but Doc Ock was represented by the truly excellent legal team of Lieber & Ditko who were able to twist the legal system to allow the mad doctor out in about 8 months so he could play his key part in the ongoing Spider-Man mythos.  I'm sure they cited the legal precedent set by the Joker's regular releases from prison or the asylum to ensure he never misses his scheduled sparring rounds with Batman & Robin.
 
Richard Willis said:

I've seen it pointed out several times recently that "temporary insanity" is rarely used as a defense because it almost never works. If someone is really insane (not temporarily) it probably would work, depending on the demand for vengeance from the public. But then they would keep you in another kind of institution.

On the other hand, while Lex Luthor somehow got out repeatedly, he must have realized deep down that he'd get caught again, considering he never bothered to change out of his prison uniform.

And Crusher Creel spent years wearing his prison pants.

I had two theories about Lex's wardrobe choices back in the day: Either he was so intent on whatever his next brilliant scheme was that he couldn't be bothered to waste time on trivialities like fashion, or he was deliberately wearing the prison uniform to serve as a constant reminder that he could never truly be free until he'd exacted his revenge on Superman.  In retrospect, considering the green & purple outfits he wore later, we were probably all better off that he didn't indulge his own fashion sense more often.

Ronald Morgan said:

On the other hand, while Lex Luthor somehow got out repeatedly, he must have realized deep down that he'd get caught again, considering he never bothered to change out of his prison uniform.

All supervillains love green and purple. Possibly because primary colors remind them too much of the guys that keep ruining their schemes.

Richard Willis said:

This was my first experience with Doc Ock and my third Spider-Man purchase.

John Dunbar said:

Peter Parker sits in his room, moping about Betty Brant, who has left town. Suddenly, he hears a radio bulletin announcing that Dr. Octopus is going to be released from jail, after serving his full prison term.

It’s hard to believe he’s served his “full prison term.” In his first appearance he took three hostages at a hospital and then took over an atomic research center, getting the military’s attention. It’s hard to believe they didn’t throw the book at him. Time off for good behavior, as I understand it, would mean he would have served half of his sentence.

Perhaps he had a good lawyer who really played up that Octavious was a law-abiding and respected citizen before the explosion, with no prior criminal record.  A lawyer could argue the total change in behaviour was due solely to the explosion, that Octavious has "recovered" and recognizes what he did was wrong.  In this scenario, Otto apologizes, accepts a plea bargain to pay his debt to society (hence the short sentence), and promises after being released to be a good citizen going forward.

Back in his home, Peter realizes the warden was right, that everyone deserves a second chance, but just in case, he constructs a device to help him keep tabs on Doc Ock. It's a tracing device in the shape of a spider; now Peter just has to figure out a way to attach it.

Making the tracers in the shape of a spider is cute and all, but it makes them conspicuous.

I think they were found a lot of the time by the villains.

Spider-Man hears her, and swings down to the ship, but lands awkwardly, spraining his ankle.

It was always a kick that Spidey would get banged up and catch the flu. I can’t think of another hero offhand who was so vulnerable.

Yeah, (briefly) powerless against the Sinister Six, broken arm while fighting the Lizard, dealing with an ulcer while fighting Hammerhead, etc.

Enraged, Spidey goes after Gaxton, and knocks him silly with one punch.

As depicted, he hits him so hard that he flies through the air and across the room. I’m surprised his head stayed attached.

Dr. Octopus has recovered and goes after Spidey, and they battle back and forth on the ship, with Spidey a bit slower than usual due to his bad ankle.

Doc Ock says this is “the moment I’ve waited for since you sent me to jail last year.” So he served less than a year for everything he did in his first appearance.

It does seem convenient that Gaxton went out of his way to vindicate Betty. I suppose you could say that she reminded him of someone from before he went so bad. Few people are 100% bad. Ditko would disagree.

Iron Man broke his arm in the early 70s and wore a metal sling for an issue or two.

That's actually why the prison greys suited Silver Age Luthor so well--no real color at all is as far away as he could get from Superman's primary colors, and served to separate him from the herd of "common" super-criminals and their use of secondary colors to establish their second class status.

Ronald Morgan said:

All supervillains love green and purple. Possibly because primary colors remind them too much of the guys that keep ruining their schemes.

Then at some point he decided to join the herd. Perhaps the Legion of Doom had a dress code.

Amazing Spider-Man 12 (May 1964)

"Unmasked by Dr. Octopus!"

Written in the white heat of inspiration by: Stan Lee

Drawn in a wild frenzy of enthusiasm by: Steve Ditko

Lettered in a comfortable room by: Art Simek

Cover by Steve Ditko

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After the events of last issue, Peter and Betty have returned to New York.  Betty resumes working at the Daily Bugle, much to Jonah's relief.  Peter comes by to visit her, but Jonah chases him away since he doesn't have any news photos.  Meanwhile Doc Ock is committing crimes all over the nation, trying to draw out Spider-Man and wondering why it's not working.  The answer is Peter has exams, and no money for airfare.  Besides, his Aunt May thinks he's coming down with something and wouldn't allow him to go anywhere.

Doc Ock returns to New York to draw out Spidey, by kidnapping Betty Brant.  He invades the Bugle office through a window, and holds Peter, Jonah and Betty in the air.  He tells Jonah to put a note in the paper for Spider-Man to contact JJJ, and for Jonah to explain that Betty is Ock's hostage, and Spidey must come to Coney Island alone if he wants to save her.  Ock states Jonah can send one photographer to take pictures of the battle.  Jonah complies but decides to go out to Coney Island too, fearing Peter will "muff things up".

Just as Spidey arrives at Coney Island, a virus attack hits him hard.  Feeling he has no other choice, he goes after Doc Ock, but his weak punches have no effect on the villain.  After a brief, one sided battle, spidey is nearly unconscious, and Doc Ock unmasks him in front of Jonah, Betty, and the cops.  When Ock sees it's Peter Parker, he declares "It isn't Spider-Man!" and he flees the scene.  The police take Peter to his home, and Aunt May has a doctor look at him.  The doctor tells her it's a 24 hour virus that just needs to run its course.  The next day, it has, and Peter can feel his spider-powers have returned.  Aunt May gets cross at Peter because she has found out what (she thinks) he did, but he promises not to do it again.  At school, Peter thinks everyone is going to give him a hard time, but Liz thinks what he did was wonderful, leaving Peter and Flash confused.

Meanwhile, Doc Ock is seething because the papers are all saying a teenager made a fool out of him.  He decides he will do whatever it takes to get Spider-Man to come to him.  He frees several dangerous zoo animals, and Spidey helps the cops round them up.  Ock goes on a further rampage, and Spidey confronts him.  A fierce battle breaks out, with Spidey doing everything he can to stay ahead of and away from Dr. Octopus.  They fight across rooftops and along smokestacks.  Eventually the chaotic clash spills through a skylight and into a deserted sculptor's studio.  Both men spill some cleaning fluid and a fire breaks out.  Spidey tries to reason with Ock for them both to get out of there, but the good doctor is so blinded by hate he won't listen.  Suddenly, Ock gets trapped by a giant statue.  Spidey tries to save him but is not able to, and realizes he has to save himself.  He gets out, and changes back to Peter Parker, and runs into Flash and Liz.  Just then, they see a fireman turn a badly injured Doc Ock over to the police.  Ock mutters that Spider-Man didn't beat him, and if it wasn't for the fire, things would have been different.  The cops ridicule Ock, saying Spidey beats him every time.

Liz invites Peter to a party, but he declines, saying he is taking a brunette out for a date.  He tells her to take Flash, even though he knows it's hard to use one syllable words all the time for Flash.  He also says they deserve each other.

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My rating: 9/10

I actually like this issue better than ASM #11.  First off, #12 has a far superior cover.  It immediately hooks the reader, making you wonder how Spidey get to that point - defeated and unmasked by Doc Ock, in front of Betty and Jonah no less - and what will happen next.  In addition, it's an accurate reflection of what takes place in the story, always a good thing (the cover for #11 fails to do this).  And while the previous issue was a bit like an old and creaky gangster movie with a maudlin feel to it, this is a straight-up all out action tale.  Doc Ock manages to be a very dangerous foe, and despite the cops mocking him at the end, there is some truth to him saying "Spider-Man didn't beat me!"  Then again, Spidey warned him they were both in danger when the fire started in the sculptor's studio.
The unmasking scene became an iconic moment.  Years later, Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, who weren't even there, talked about it as if they were!  It's a brief sequence, only a few panels, but it is amazing.  Spidey is defeated so quickly, that when he is unmasked and revealed to be Peter Parker, no one - not Betty, Jonah, the police, and certainly not Doc Ock - believes he really is Spider-Man.  It is reminiscent of ASM #5, when Flash dresses up as Spider-Man, except that in that story, Dr. Doom is briefly fooled and believes he has the genuine article only for a short time.
I like the little touches of realism, like Doc Ock committing crimes across the country away from other heroes (why doesn't this happen more often?) and Spidey not going after him, as he's in high school - he can't just jump on a plane and chase after Ock.  He doesn't have the money and Aunt May wouldn't allow it anyway.  The story does take a weird turn, however, when Doc Ock frees the animals from the zoo.  It goes on a bit too long and felt like it was a piece of a DC story to me.  I can see Flash, Wonder Woman, or Superman rounding up wild beasts but it doesn't seem like a fit for a street level crime fighter like Spidey.  However, it's followed by an excellent fight scene spanning several pages, so it's forgivable.  Remember, Spidey has fully recovered from his 24 hour virus, and still had his hands full with Ock.  Ock is both ruthless and resourceful, and it takies all of Spidey's powers, quick thinking, and ingenuity just to stay one step ahead of him.
I have long thought that the Amazing Spider-Man series had many strengths and one of them is the supporting cast.  This is particularly true in the Silver Age, although I will say that in my opinion the post-Ditko era edges out the Ditko era as the pinnacle.  So many great characters, like Mary Jane, Joe Robertson, and George Stacy; plus Harry and Gwen, who both debuted in Ditko's last year on the book, became much more likable after Ditko leaves.  But even in these early days, ASM stands out from the rest of the Marvel books, with Jonah being such a great character and great antagonist for Spidey; likewise Flash was a great antagonist for Peter Parker, with the twist of Flash idolizing Spider-Man.  Jonah seems to get the most development each issue.  Little by little, he comes across with more bluster - "Don't just dangle there, Parker!  Tell him who I am!"  When he places the ad for Spidey as Doc Ock directed, you think he's doing the right thing so as not to endanger Betty, putting aside his dislike for Spidey because Jonah knows he's the right guy to go after Ock.  But then he decides to also go to the Ock/Spidey confrontation so that Peter doesn't muff the job; by doing so, he's putting Betty in more danger if he gets caught!
I feel the female characters don't come off as well.  Betty was "the girl" at this point; but virtually every series used that trope and there's nothing really remarkable about her.  Liz Allan is another character who doesn't stand out and is kind of forgettable.  One of the biggest surprises for me when I am re-reading these issues - which during the course of this project is the first time in many years - is how little Stan and Steve used Aunt May.  She appears in 3 panels here and doesn't get to say much.  I guess we have to wait for her many heart attacks, seizures, and dizzy spells for a bit.  The scenes at the Bugle and Midtown High are longer and more fleshed out.

NEXT ISSUE: The Menace of Mysterio!

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