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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When I was in elementary school and junior high, I identified most with college aged Peter Parker as depicted by Lee and Romita. It gave me something to hope for.

I think part of the problem with Johnny Storm, too, was his personality (or lack thereof). It’s no wonder the Thing was more popular.

Many aspects of the early Spider-Man stories harken to Lee/Ditko fantasy/suspense story of the “Atlas” era (and many of the early Lee/Kirby FFs harken to the monster books).

Regarding Peter Parker’s age when he became Spider-Man, comics of more recent vintage have set it at 15 when he was a sophomore, but evidence suggests Lee thought of him as a senior in high school. I noticed this was established twice, but I wasn’t interested in leading a discussion at the time, so I didn’t write it down. At least once, for example, it was mentioned that the spider bit him on the senior trip. Peter’s high school lasted three years real time, but we all know the vagaries of so-called “Marvel Time.” AFAIAC, the first 28 issues depict Peter’s senior year in high school. Note also: no summer vacation.

I’ve always thought of the security guard as a retired cop. Regarding his resemblance to the police officer at the end of the story, that’s just one of Ditko’s stock characters (as were Uncle Ben and Aunt May).

I have always maintained that the intention for Spider-Man’s costume was for it to be red and black (with blue highlights), like Miles Morales’. Little by little, the highlights became the costume color.

John, what format are you reading? Do you have access to the letters to the editor?

I'm reading it on Marvel Unlimited.  No letters to the editor pages, although they did include the announcement from the editor from Amazing Fantasy 15.

Marvel Unlimited also showed the pupils, btw.

Ha, ha. Good to know. It passes muster, then.

When I was in elementary school and junior high, I identified most with college aged Peter Parker as depicted by Lee and Romita. It gave me something to hope for.

Amazing Spider-Man 1 (Mar 1963)

"Spider-Man - Freak!  Public Menace!" (1st story)

Script - Stan Lee / Art - Steve Ditko / Coloring - Stan Goldberg / Lettering - Jon D'Agostino (as Johnny Dee)

Cover pencilled by Jack Kirby and inked by Steve Ditko 

The story opens in Peter Parker's bedroom.  He is still upset over the death of his Uncle Ben, blaming himself because he was "too late to save him".  He thinks back to the day the spider bit him and everything that happened since - becoming an entertainer, his uncle surprising and then being murdered by a burglar, and Spider-Man catching him and turning him over to the police.  Now with Uncle Ben gone, the family is left without a breadwinner, and bills are due.

Peter offers to quit school and get a job but his Aunt May will not hear of it.  He considers for a moment becoming a criminal but dismisses the thought - he's no crook, and it would break his aunt's heart.  He decides he must perform as Spider-Man again.  At school, the other kids are excited, and laugh at Peter for announcing he will not be going - but he can't very well be in two places at once!

After the performance, Peter is paid with a check.  The man paying him says he has to for tax purposes, and asks for his real name, but Peter declines.  However, just as the man warned, he cannot cash the check at the bank.  Meanwhile, a man at a typewriter says when he is done with his article, Spider-Man will be run out of town.  The next night, the talent agent tells Spider-Man there's no show tonight or in the future, thanks to editorials by J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of the powerful Daily Bugle, proclaiming Spider-Man is a menace.  Jameson also delivers lectures all over town, decrying Spider-Man as a masked menace who takes the law into his own hands.  He warns that children may try to imitate him, and he must be outlawed.  He says people like his son John, a test pilot, are true heroes.  Peter wonders how others like the Fantastic Four and Ant-Man do it, no one bothers them and they seem to have enough money.

Peter tries to find a part-time job without success.  While he's pounding the pavement, he sees Aunt May pawning her jewelry.  He angrily blames Jameson, and vows not to give up, even if it means Spider-Man must stalk the city again.  The next day, Peter  goes to watch John Jameson test flying a space capsule.  After liftoff, disaster strikes!  The guidance device breaks loose, and the capsule is now out of control.  There's limited time to save Jameson, and the capsule itself may be doomed.  

Peter takes that as a cue and changes to Spider-Man.  He overhears the military say there is a spare guidance system but no way to get to Jameson.  He says he can do it.  Jonah calls him a headline seeking phony, but Spider-Man replies "Just watch and see what I can do!"  He commandeers a plane and a pilot, and heads towards the capsule.  He snags it with his webbing and climbs towards it.  He manages to install the spare guidance device and save John Jameson's life.  He takes off but thinks everyone would congratulate him, and maybe even Mr. Jameson himself would hire him.

To his astonishment, the next day, J. Jonah Jameson calls for Spider-Man to be arrested and prosecuted.  He accuses him of sabotaging the capsule to take the spotlight away from John Jameson and play glory-hound.  He warps the truth about Spider-Man illegally entering the army base and commandeering a plane, and uses innuendo to make him look like a criminal.  He whips up public sentiment against Spider-Man enough that the masked hero is now wanted, with a reward for his capture.  Even his Aunt May wants "that horrible Spider-Man" locked up, and Peter wonders if he will no choice but to become a menace to society.

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My rating: 8/10

Not a lot of series get it right, right from the start, but Amazing Spider-Man comes pretty close.  Here's the debut of J. Jonah Jameson, the perfect foil to Spider-Man, wonderfully in character right from the beginning.  We see the old Parker luck with the check scene, although it's really played for laughs, as well as Peter expecting to be hailed as a hero even by Jonah after saving his son, but JJJ doubles down and Spider-Man is now wanted by the F.B.I.

There's a few glitches, but maybe only from the hindsight of today.  The story glosses over key parts of Spidey's origin, with Peter only saying he was "too late" to save Uncle Ben; there's no mention of him failing to stop the burglar earlier or the famous line "with great power comes great responsibility".  Peter says he never wants to hear Spider-Man's name again and seemingly only puts on the costume again to make money in show biz.  The other glitch in my eyes was JJJ accusing Spider-Man of taking the law into his own hands by being a crime fighter.  Other than catching his uncle's killer, there's no scenes of crime fighting and no indication there was any.  Before he saves John Jameson, he doesn't seem motivated to do anything as Spider-Man other than make money, and we haven't reached the point where Peter is selling crime pictures featuring Spider-Man to the Daily Bugle.  But these are minor nitpicks in an otherwise strong story.

It was nice to see Peter mention the FF and Ant-Man - and we'll see the FF in the second story of this issue.  The Thor and Iron Man strips in Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense seemed to exist in their own universes before the debut of the Avengers title, which feels DC-esque to me.  I much prefer the inter connected Marvel Universe approach, and here Spidey has it in the first issue of his own title.

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

Peter tries to find a part-time job without success. While he's pounding the pavement, he sees Aunt May pawning her jewelry. He angrily blames Jameson, and vows not to give up, even if it means Spider-Man must stalk the city again.

His performance gigs suddenly dried up because of Jameson's smear campaign, which is why he blames Jameson. Of course, so far he only has an uncashable check to show for them.

On page 2 they show Aunt May telling her landlord that she'll pay the rent next week. I don't think they ever said she rented her house in later stories. The implication was that she and Uncle Ben owned the house.

He commandeers a plane and a pilot, and heads towards the capsule. He snags it with his webbing and climbs towards it. He manages to install the spare guidance device and save John Jameson's life. He takes off but thinks everyone would congratulate him, and maybe even Mr. Jameson himself would hire him.

Stan and Steve had an odd concept of that era's space capsules. Not only is John Jameson flying the capsule through the atmosphere but he's trying to steer it. The only thing right is the parachute landing at the end.

The story glosses over key parts of Spidey's origin, with Peter only saying he was "too late" to save Uncle Ben; there's no mention of him failing to stop the burglar earlier or the famous line "with great power comes great responsibility".

They summarized Spidey's origin in two-thirds of a page. I wonder if it was streamlined for the space available or whether they were having second thoughts about Peter's partial culpability in Uncle Ben's death?

The other glitch in my eyes was JJJ accusing Spider-Man of taking the law into his own hands by being a crime fighter. Other than catching his uncle's killer, there's no scenes of crime fighting and no indication there was any.

Good point. If he only went after Uncle Ben's killer how can anybody criticize that? It was left to interpretation at the end of AF #15 whether Peter was inclined to fight crime or not. At the beginning of this story he is wearing his costume and it doesn't seem to be immediately after Uncle Ben's death, so maybe he was fighting crime and they just didn't show us.

It was nice to see Peter mention the FF and Ant-Man - and we'll see the FF in the second story of this issue. The Thor and Iron Man strips in Journey Into Mystery and Tales of Suspense seemed to exist in their own universes before the debut of the Avengers title, which feels DC-esque to me. I much prefer the inter connected Marvel Universe approach, and here Spidey has it in the first issue of his own title.

I think this was their opeing the door to a shared universe. I wonder if Martin Goodman's fiction of multiple publishing companies caused the initial separation of characters?

They did eventually give the burglar a reason for breaking in and killing Uncle Ben. A lot of stolen money was buried in their house decades ago, and he was looking for it. It turns out the money had long ago been eaten by silverfish so he killed Ben for nothing. Can someone put up the ad saying Spider-Man will be in future issues of Amazing Fantasy?

Bob Ingersoll once wrote one of his "The Law is a Ass" columns debunking the notion that Peter couldn't be paid because he couldn't cash a check made out to "Spider-Man," so you may want to add that to your list of "glitches."

It's not an ad, but this is where Stan says Spider-Man will be in future issues of Amazing Fantasy.

Here is the Law is a Ass column mentioned by Jeff:

http://www.worldfamouscomics.com/law/back19991207.shtml

It's a Stan's Soapbox/Bullpen Bulletins prototype. Interesting explanation for putting superheroes in the fantasy books. Also interesting there was no attempt at making longer fantasy stories.

Imagine them running the Amazing Scoreboard today, voting what stories were popular or unpopular. (The implication, of course, is nobody liked "I, the Gargoyle.")

Richard Willis said:

Here is the Law is a Ass column mentioned by Jeff:

http://www.worldfamouscomics.com/law/back19991207.shtml

Thanks, Richard. You know, I thought that was the answer but I didn't mention it because it seemed too simple.

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