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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Still have that pocketbook, but somehow volume 1 disappeared about a couple of decades ago. They have a tendency to come apart at the spine, and my FF volume lost its cover years ago.

I still have those pocketbooks -- 3 volumes of ASM, one each of the FF, Cap, Dr. Strange & the Hulk.

So does getting a new artist to cover your exploits!

Richard Willis said:

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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Amazing Spider-Man 11 (April 1964)

"Turning Point"

None but Stan Lee could have written this epic tale!

None but Steve Ditko could have drawn such gripping scenes!

Lettered by S. Rosen

Cover by Steve Ditko

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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.  Peter thinks back to his battle with Dr. Octopus, and how Ock nearly defeated him.  He thinks Ock is too dangerous to be free and goes to the prison to plead with the warden not to release him.  However, the warden admonishes him as Doc Ock served his full sentence, and furthermore, he won't be dictated to be any masked adventurer.  Meanwhile, in his cell awaiting his release, Doc Ock thinks he was smart to not try and escape as he got time off for good behaviour.  He spent his time practicing with his mechanical arms and vows he will never be captured again.

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.  A few hours later, Ock is released and a car is waiting for him.  Spidey is there too, watching Ock from the shadows, and he can't believe his eyes when he sees Betty Brant driving the car that picks up Dr. Octopus.  As the car speeds off, he sees a map fall out.  He throws his spider-tracer and it sticks to the roof of the car, thanks to an adhesive he had coated it with.  Spidey picks up the map and it is of Philadelphia, so it looks like he is taking a trip.

In Philadelphia, lawyer Bennett Brant, who is Betty's brother, is visiting his client, mobster Blackie Gaxton, in jail.  Blackie is behind Betty driving Dr. Octopus to Philadelphia, and Bennett owes him a gambling debt, which is past due.  He says he will cancel the debt once Ock breaks him out of jail.  Bennett remembers he graduated at the top of his class, and now he's a mobster's stooge, and worse, he has gotten Betty mixed up in it.  He arrives back at his apartment to see Ock threatening Betty.  He tries to step in but Ock sneers at him that he "can't make a move without Blackie Gaxton's okay".  Octopus says they have things to discuss in another room.  Betty asks if he can leave and start fresh now that she did as Gaxton asked.  Bennett says he can't until Ock frees the mobster, but promises he'll make it all up to Betty someday.

Back in New York, Peter tells Aunt May he's taking a weekend trip to Philadelphia to do some sight seeing.  She says it will be good for him, and she apologizes for not being able to go with him, which he is relieved to hear.  After he arrives in the city, he swings through the skies trying to find Dr. Octopus with his tracer.  After a few hours, he locates Betty's car with it and changes back to his regular clothes.  He reunites with Betty and she tells him everything.  He tells her he has learned Spider-Man is also in Philadelphia to keep tabs on Ock, so her worries are over.  He decides to tell Betty he is Spider-Man when they get back to New York.

Doc Ock breaks Blackie out of jail minutes before Spidey arrives there trying to prevent it.  He realizes with Blackie now free, Betty and Bennett are in danger and heads back for Bennett's apartment.  Gaxton's men are holding the Brants at gunpoint, and one of them tells them they are both going on Gaxton's getaway ship in the harbor.  After they board the ship they are soon joined by Dr. Octopus and Gaxton.  Spider-Man also arrives in the area due to the mobsters using the same car that he put the tracer on to get to the ship.

On the ship, Bennett reminds Blackie that he has done everything he was asked and now his debt is cancelled, and tells the mobster he has to let he and Betty go.  Gaxton replies by punching Bennett in the face, and Betty screams.  Spider-Man hears her, and swings down to the ship, but lands awkwardly, spraining his ankle.  Gaxton's men are there and with guns on him, take him inside the ship.  Gaxton starts to panic, saying Spider-Man is dangerous, but Dr. Octopus welcomes the chance for revenge on his old enemy.  Spidey attacks Gaxton's men and sends one into Ock, knocking him over.  Gaxton goes for his gun and Spidey struggles with him, telling the Brants to take cover.  Bullets are flying wildly; Bennett stands in front of Betty to protect her, and he is struck down.  A distraught Betty blames Spider-Man for her brother's death.  Enraged, Spidey goes after Gaxton, and knocks him silly with one punch.

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.  Meanwhile, two of Gaxton's men grab the $100,000 he was going to give Ock for freeing him, and they also grab Betty, intending to use her as a hostage.  Ock knocks them out and grabs the money as Betty faints.  He sees the launch boat that was going to pick up Gaxton and decides they will take him instead.  Spidey arrives and drives Ock away from Betty.  The villain jumps down to the smaller boat and dares Spidey to follow.  Spider-Man knows it's dangerous as he will have less room to maneuver on the launch, but follows anyway.  A furious battle begins again.  The man driving the boat jumps off, saying he didn't sign up for this.  Spidey finds himself tiring and losing the fight.  Luckily, a police boat arrives, and then the small craft that Spidey and Doc Ock are on crashes into a piling timber, and both men go flying into the water.  Doc Ock escapes.

The police round up Blackie and his men.  Gaxton admits to them Betty was an innocent pawn in his jailbreak scheme.  They note Doc Ock got away, and that Spidey's is gone too - he's actually watching from a rooftop - and are surprised that the thugs claim Spidey beat them up.  Spidey webs up his bad ankle, and decides he can never tell Betty his secret.  He goes to find her.  She's broken hearted about her brother's death, but tells Peter she knows Spider-Man isn't to blame, that he was trying to help them.  However, she never wants to see Spider-Man again, as she couldn't bear to be reminded of Bennett.

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My rating: 7/10

This is a good story, but not quite a great one.  It's a landmark issue in a few ways - the first continued story (although it doesn't end with a cliffhanger) and one of the characters in the story dies (albeit a never before seen or mentioned brother of one of the supporting cast).  Unfortunately, the story leans heavily on some old cliches.  As soon as Bennett promised Betty he would pay her back for everything and make her proud someday, you knew he was a goner.  When Peter decided he was going to tell Betty he was Spider-Man once they were back in New York, you knew that wouldn't end well either.  And at the end, it all gets tied up a little too neatly.  Blackie Gaxton, the violent thug who had no intention of keeping his word to let Bennett out of his gambling debt, goes out of his way to let the police know Betty was an innocent pawn in the whole scheme.  But despite the familiar tropes, it's still a well told story.  I think it was set in another city to really play up the spider-tracer, which is really an ingenious addition to the mythos.  This is probably the only time Spidey has a walkie-talkie like device around his neck to use it.  Going forward he would use his spider-sense.

The art is up to the usual Ditko standards, really well done, especially the fight sequences with Dr. Octopus on the ship.  The cover is a little wonky; I've read that Jack Kirby re-drew some of it.  It's just a matter of personal taste but I find Ditko and Kirby's work doesn't mesh well.  They were both very strong pencillers, and both in their prime in the Silver Age, but I find their strong yet very different styles don't compliment each other well.  Plus in the story, Doc Ock never has Spidey cornered and cowering, unlike the cover.

In this era of Marvel Comics, a subpar issue of Amazing Spider-Man was still better than just about any other comic that would have been on the racks at the time, IMO.  The closest competition was the Fantastic Four, which hadn't quite yet reached its genuine classic run that would start within the next year.  Considering how often key villains appeared over and over again in other early Silver Age Marvel superhero strips, its fairly unusual that 11 issues into ASM only two issues have featured villains making a comeback and Doc Ock will be the first to appear in a continued story, even if it's not of the cliffhanger variety.  And now, in contrast to the death of Uncle Ben, which Spidey may have prevented but for his indifference, this time despite his efforts to do good, someone still gets murdered and although Spidey is truly blameless it still causes someone close to him to associate him with the death and results in the first push that will wreck Peter's relationship with Betty. Compared to Marvel's other teen hero strip, the Human Torch, ASM has been far more adult and compelling, with Peter having to regularly deal with significant problems and tragedies that readers of any age could relate to whereas Johnny Storm's problems in his strip are fairly insignificant and he seems to be living more of an ideal fantasy life (and I don't think there was even any mention in his solo series of his mother's death and father's imprisonment; apparently Lee wanted that strip to be more little kid friendly than appealing to more older teens or young adults.

That's also true of Fantastic Four and Marvel's other teams, Avengers and X-Men. Stan seemed to be floundering with Avengers before bringing in Cap's Kooky Quartet, and X-Men really doesn't get anywhere until Chris Claremont (not counting a brief period while Neal Adams was on the series), but Fantastic Four kept getting better and better during the same time period.

I always loved this story as I felt it established just how ruthless Doc Ock was, and also established him as Spider-Man's arch-nemesis.

Agree totally Fred.  Any subpar Spidey story has the first year of Thor (Journey Into Mystery) and Iron Man (Tales of Suspense) beat hollow, to use examples of other Silver Age books I'm doing re-reading threads on.  The Human Torch and Ant-Man/Giant-Man series were several rungs below that most of the time.

Fred W. Hill said:

In this era of Marvel Comics, a subpar issue of Amazing Spider-Man was still better than just about any other comic that would have been on the racks at the time, IMO.  The closest competition was the Fantastic Four, which hadn't quite yet reached its genuine classic run that would start within the next year.  Considering how often key villains appeared over and over again in other early Silver Age Marvel superhero strips, its fairly unusual that 11 issues into ASM only two issues have featured villains making a comeback and Doc Ock will be the first to appear in a continued story, even if it's not of the cliffhanger variety.  And now, in contrast to the death of Uncle Ben, which Spidey may have prevented but for his indifference, this time despite his efforts to do good, someone still gets murdered and although Spidey is truly blameless it still causes someone close to him to associate him with the death and results in the first push that will wreck Peter's relationship with Betty. Compared to Marvel's other teen hero strip, the Human Torch, ASM has been far more adult and compelling, with Peter having to regularly deal with significant problems and tragedies that readers of any age could relate to whereas Johnny Storm's problems in his strip are fairly insignificant and he seems to be living more of an ideal fantasy life (and I don't think there was even any mention in his solo series of his mother's death and father's imprisonment; apparently Lee wanted that strip to be more little kid friendly than appealing to more older teens or young adults.

In my opinion the cream of early to mid 60s Marvel is ASM, FF, Thor once Lee and Kirby take over with JIM 97 - both the main book and the Tales of Asgard back-up - and the Dr. Strange strip in Strange Tales while Steve Ditko was on art.  I agree Avengers got better with the Kooky Quartet but it didn't become a great book until about a year after Roy Thomas started writing it, around issue 50, again just one fan's opinion.

Silver Age X-Men is a painful book to read.  I tried to read 1-66 as a reading project a few years ago and didn't even make it halfway.  I've read a few of the Adams issues and all I remember is they were pretty to look at.

Ronald Morgan said:

That's also true of Fantastic Four and Marvel's other teams, Avengers and X-Men. Stan seemed to be floundering with Avengers before bringing in Cap's Kooky Quartet, and X-Men really doesn't get anywhere until Chris Claremont (not counting a brief period while Neal Adams was on the series), but Fantastic Four kept getting better and better during the same time period.

Excellent point.  A lot of fans think of the Goblin as Spidey's arch-foe but for me it's always been Doc Ock.

Randy Jackson said:

I always loved this story as I felt it established just how ruthless Doc Ock was, and also established him as Spider-Man's arch-nemesis.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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