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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Philip Portelli said:

As far as the failing spider-sense, when Spidey first met the Green Goblin, there was no immediate threat. The Goblin wasn't going to attack him in New York City but days later in Hollywood. He was stringing Spidey along but at no point was he a direct danger to him. 

It's not as clear cut as the Enforcers go but it's a similar premise. They weren't going to fight Spidey at the studio but in the desert. So Spidey wasn't in danger there either.

We'll just have to agree to disagree here.  In my opinion, the spider-sense warns him of danger, without deciding how immediate it is.

The Spider-Writers regularly screwed up the logical way the Spider-Sense should work, that is to warn Spidey of any potential threat, even if from a supposed "friend" so that if anyone nearby was creeping up to thump him from behind with a flowerpot, even old adorable Aunt May, it would tingle in time to warn him, but Stan & Gerry, etc., kept using the angle, "oh, of course your Spider-Sense didn't work when I snuck up to whack you from behind because I'm your (aunt) (best friend) (favorite teacher) (whatever)."  But then the Spider-Sense is a totally fictional trait for a fictional character so it "works" however the writer says it does, even if it makes no sense but they really should have tried to make it more consistent.

As to the Goblin's Ditko-era appearances, I loved the two-parter with the Crime Master (one I didn't read until the '80s when I obtained reprinted versions).  A lot of humor in that tale, mixed with some of the standard drama that doesn't get too serious -- the Master Planner trilogy was the one Ditko-Lee tale that really got heavy on sustained drama, which is partly why it stands out.  But then, the trilogy which begins with the Goblin's appearance in ASM #17 in which Spidey appears to chicken out is also pretty good, IMO.  Yeah, Gobby doesn't yet appear to be a deadly serious threat, but still building up his mystery and his strange mania about Spider-Man even before he had any idea who Spidey was.

Does it warn him of danger from natural sources, say an avalanche, or only malignant actors? If the latter it might pick up the malignancy, in which case it could miss aggression from a friend.

If both Peter could rent himself out as a psychic and make a fortune. "Have that railway bridge checked! It feels dangerous..." "I get no feeling of danger from your suspect, but his aunt sets me off like crazy." "My powers don't work on stock market deals, but you can't trust that broker."

If he joined the police he could be a top detective. "That's Lieutenant Parker. They call him 'Hunches'. I don't know how he does it: he's always right!"

Richard Willis said:

The next day, Peter visits Betty Brant at the Daily Bugle. He's about to tell her about his trip when Jonah interrupts and tells Peter he is sending him to Hollywood to get photos from the movie set. Peter was hoping Jonah would do that, but Betty is upset, saying Peter can't wait to meet starlets. She's actually upset at Peter for walking Liz Allan home from school recently.

Earlier in the issue it was established that Liz appears to have a crush on Peter as she defends him against Flash’s slanders. Even some of the other classmates say she’s right, but they might just be wanting to be on her good side.

Jonah and Betty thinking that Peter (Peter!) is going to be running around with beautiful starlets is a bit of a stretch.

Agreed.  I buy Betty being angry about Peter walking Liz home and accusing him of chasing starlets in the heat of that moment.  I don't buy Betty being truly concerned about it.  Jonah just doesn't want Peter to be doing anything but taking photos as he is footing the bills here.

A few days later in Hollywood, Spidey is impressed with Cosmos' make-up people, as he thinks the "actors" really look like the "real" Enforcers.

This is when the spider-sense should have kicked in, if not in his earlier meeting with the Goblin. They all had evil intent toward him.

Exactly.

Maybe his spider-sense was still maturing?

Just hard to believe as we've never seen this type of thing before.

Spider-Man watches the Hulk leave the cave. He grabs the Enforcers and turns them over to the authorities.

To his credit, Spidey puts himself in danger to rescue the unconscious Enforcers, fearing the Hulk will kill them.

Yes, that was a nice touch.

Spidey and the Goblin disappeared, and the Enforcers got arrested.

It’s hard to figure out why the Enforcers were arrested. It’s not established that they broke out of prison, though between ASM #10 and ASM #14 there were only a few months to us. Was it longer? Peter mentions to Aunt May that he’s a Senior in High School now, presumably seventeen or eighteen. I believe when the spider bit him he was only fifteen.

The Goblin looks a bit silly, when I think he is meant to be scary, but as a super-villain there's nothing silly about him.

My theory was that he intentionally looked silly so that his adversaries would underestimate him. The next time we see him the Goblin has switched out his broomstick for his classic glider.

I would guess it was the final test of how well the Hulk would be received as a solo star again. This appearance was a great showcase for him. He's dangerous but just wants to be left alone.

This is my favorite Hulk version. He can talk and he’s crafty, not the later “Hulk Smash” version.

I started reading comics in the late 70's.  The first time I read a reprint featuring this verbose, crafty Hulk would have been the early 2000's.  Still blows my mind.

It hasn't been long since we last saw the Enforcers, and we will see them again before long. This should have been their farewell in my opinion. Although they work together well as a unit, they are not much more than colorful henchmen, and clearly not a match for Spidey.

In hindsight they don’t seem like very good foes for Spidey. I think after the climax of the Master Planner story we all think of Spidey as much more powerful. When ASM #14 was out he was stronger than he looked but not that strong.

Usually up to now, Spidey's super strength is not played up.  But I will point out that in ASM #1, Spidey ripped the door off of a helicopter to get to the Chameleon, and later on in a tussle with the FF, he was manhandling the Thing, lifting him over his head.  Well beyond the Daredevil or Hawkeye level.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 15 (August 1964)

"Kraven The Hunter!"

Written by STAN LEE (because we couldn't afford Mickey Spillane)
Illustrated by STEVE DITKO (because Picasso was out of town)
Lettered by ART SIMEK (because his name fits this space)

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Hanging upside down outside a window, Spider-Man tells four crooks that he knows they are planning bank robberies, and now the party's over.  The crooks scatter, and while Spidey does capture three of them, one gets away.  Spidey is unaware that it's his old foe, the Chameleon!  The villain remembers back to his first encounter with Spider-Man, and how he was arrested as a spy and deported.  He's back in the U.S. to resume his crime career but Spider-Man is still a threat to him.  He decides to enlist his old friend, Kraven the Hunter, to attack Spider-Man for him.  He calls Kraven the most dangerous stalker alive, and a man who would relish the job.

A week later, Kraven the Hunter arrives in New York on a ship from Africa.  Waiting for him is a huge crowd, including Jonah, Betty, Peter, Flash, Liz, and a bunch of kids from Midtown High.  Peter tries to introduce Liz to Betty, but Miss Brant is having none of it, and she fumes while Liz flirts with Peter a bit.  Jonah yells at Peter that he is there to take pictures of Kraven.  As Kraven disembarks, Jonah approaches him asking for an exclusive interview, saying he is willing to pay a lot for it.  Kraven, however, is not interested, stating he is there "to hunt the most dangerous game of all".  Before he can say more, a crane drops a bunch of cages and several wild beasts are loose.  Peter sneaks off and changes to Spider-Man to round them up, but Kraven manages to capture them in moments, capped off by dead-lifting a full grown gorilla!  Realizing he isn't needed, Spidey changes back to Peter.  Jonah gets angry when Peter says he didn't get any pics of Kraven fighting the animals and tells him to take a hike.  He asks Kraven what type of beast he will be hunting, and Kraven says "the most dangerous game of all is -- man" and he will be hunting Spider-Man.  Jonah states that there are laws against hunting human beings, but Kraven dismisses him.

At the Chameleon's hideout, he and Kraven discuss Spider-Man.  The Chameleon warns him not to underestimate the hero, but Kraven boasts he is no mere hunter, saying he has undreamed of strength and speed, thanks to a special potion he stole from a witch doctor of a hidden tribe in Africa.  Not long afterward, Spidey hears a shot and finds a large group of crooks.  He dives into them and they try to attack him unsuccessfully, with Kraven watching from a distance.  The criminals work for the Chameleon, and didn't know they were going to be bait to lure Spidey out so the Hunter can observe him.  Kraven is impressed, saying Spider-Man will be a worthy foe.  After a few minutes, Spidey has defeated all of the thugs, and swings off.  As he passes a rooftop, his spider-sense alerts him to Kraven's presence.  Kraven challenges him, and they fight on the rooftops.  The Hunter realizes he can't beat Spider-Man fairly, so he scratches Spidey with a potion-tipped claw, and Spidey immediately feels woozy.  Kraven leaves, saying he has won and can beat Spidey at any time, but he wants to prolong his enjoyment of the situation.

Spidey returns home and still feels dizzy, and then his hands begin to twitch.  He hopes a good night's sleep will make him feel better.  The next morning he doesn't feel woozy anymore but his hands are still twitching.  He manages to hide it from Aunt May, who has what she considers exciting news: she has a arranged a date for Peter with the niece of her neighbor, Anna Watson.  On the way to school, Peter drops by the Daily Bugle,  Betty is still frosty to him over Liz.  They squabble a bit and Peter says that Liz doesn't mean anything to him.  Before the conversation goes much further, Peter is surprised to hear Kraven talking to Jonah.  He tells Jameson that Spider-Man's days are numbered.  Jonah insists whatever Kraven does has to be within the law, but just like before Kraven scoffs and says no one dictates to him.  Peter wonders what they were discussing and why Kraven is so confident.  He gives Jonah some crime photos taken the day before of the crooks he fought, but Jonah dismisses them as nothing special, telling him he wants pictures of Spider-Man, or Kraven.  Later at school, Peter's hands are still twitching and causes him to drop a beaker.  Flash has a laugh over it and mocks Peter, but Liz defends him - and Flash threatens to give Peter two black eyes over it.  Peter, however, is paying no attention to Flash, as he's more concerned with Kraven.

Peter decides to put the spider-tracer he used on Dr. Octopus (in ASM 11) on Kraven so that he will know where he is at all times.  He heads out but his hands are still too shaky to use his webs, so he uses his agility to leap from building to building.  Eventually he spots Kraven but his spider-sense feels different, as if it is unsure somehow of what he sees.  Spidey shrugs it off and decides to concentrate on how he will plant his spider-tracer on Kraven.  Spidey is unaware this is the Chameleon and he's being watched by the real Kraven.  Suddenly a net drops on Spidey, and he can't rip it.  He remembers the old adage of a chain only being as strong as its weakest link, and exerts pressure on every section until he finds the weak spot, and then rolls out of the net.  Amazingly, it took him only a few seconds to escape the trap.  Suddenly he hears drums beating, and the noise confuses him for a moment.  Kraven takes advantage and slaps iron manacles on his right wrist and right ankle.  He tries to attack but Spidey leaps away, but then he realizes the manacles have a magnetic attraction, and also have bells on them, so that noise allows Kraven to easily track Spidey.  Kraven taunts him, saying that the magnetic attraction of the iron cuffs will keep getting stronger and he has the only key for them around his neck.

Spidey leaps away from Kraven so he can try and figure out a way to get the cuffs off.  He pulls some wires out of a circuit box and the entire area plunges into darkness.  He covers the cuffs with liquid webbing and it kills the magnetism and the bells.  His spider-sense alerts him that someone is behind a bush, and Spidey grabs him, but it's not Kraven, it's the Chameleon.  Soon afterward, Spidey gets the drop on Kraven, and now ... (wait for it!) ... the hunter becomes the hunted!  Kraven tries to evade him but Spidey keeps on his tail thanks to his spider-sense.  He continually shines his spider-beam on Kraven, unnerving the villain.  Kraven hides and tries to jump Spidey but the hero is ready for him.  He keeps trying to attack but Spidey ducks, dodges, and gets in a few shots of his own.  Kraven tries to get away but runs into webbing between two trees, and is stuck in it.  Spidey leaves Kraven for the police, and snaps some pics of them arresting the Chameleon.

Later at the Daily Bugle, Jonah is impressed with Peter's pics and tells him he deserves a big bonus.  He tells Betty to give Peter one of his personal milk chocolate bars from his safe (!).  Betty apologizes to Peter for being angry with him before and tells him she's free for the night, but Peter blows her off because he promised Aunt May he'd meet "that Watson girl", and he doesn't want to tell Betty that.  Betty's feelings are hurt and Peter is annoyed at himself because he can't say no to his aunt.  However, it turns out Mrs. Watson's niece has a headache and can't come over.  Peter calls Betty but she hangs up on him, so he decides to call Liz, but she's out dancing with Flash.  Poor Peter!

Kraven and the Chameleon get deported, and the Hunter vows to return and continue the hunt for Spider-Man, which he says will never end until he is destroyed.

NEXT:  DUEL WITH DAREDEVIL!

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My rating: 7/10

One of the great things about the ASM series by Steve and Stan is that every now and then they delivered something a little offbeat and decidedly different from just Spidey versus the villain of the month.  Kraven is certainly not a conventional super-villain in this story.  When he comes to America, he's a celebrity, he's news.  He walks about freely, and doesn't commit any crimes directly.  I'm surprised at the end of the story he gets deported.  With a decent lawyer, Kraven should have walked.  He could say he thought Spider-Man was a wanted criminal and he wanted to apprehend him for the police.  He stated he planned to hunt Spider-Man, but never said publicly "hunt and kill".  He could tell a judge he meant "hunt and capture".  After all, isn't that what Spidey himself does to super-villains?

In 1924, author Richard Connell wrote a short story called "The Most Dangerous Game".  It inspired four movies between 1932 and 1961.  The plot is about a big game hunter who is bored with hunting animals and decides to start hunting humans instead.  It seems very likely to me that Stan and Steve were familiar with the story, or at least the movies based on it.  They do a good job giving the story a Marvelized G-rated spin on it.  While Kraven may not be the most original character introduced in the series, he certainly has a memorable look. 

This being Kraven's first appearance, I found it interesting that the much touted concept that he is a man of honor is absent from this story.  He is old friends with the Chameleon,  who is a criminal and a spy.  When Jonah tells him there are laws against hunting humans, he scoffs at the notion.  When he first encounters Spidey, he realizes quickly he's not going to win a fair fight with him, so he jabs him with a weapon that will (supposedly) allow him to pick off Spidey whenever he feels like it.  Heck, even his super-powers come from a potion he stole from someone.

One thing that bugged me a bit was that before their final battle, Spidey decides he's going to plant a spider-tracer on Kraven, so he can keep track of his whereabouts.  He doesn't actually plant it on Kraven, and at no time does the reader see the tracer or the device used to pick up its frequency from ASM 11.  At the end of the fight when Spidey has Kraven on his heels, he uses his spider-sense to follow and eventually trap the Hunter, with no sighting or mention of the tracer.

With little fanfare, this is the first appearance of Anna Watson, and the first mention of her so far unnamed niece.  As you probably noticed, I had a bit of fun with that in my comments above.  The supporting cast gets a chance to shine here.  The unintended meeting of the two Elizabeths in Peter's life - Liz and Betty - go about as well as you would expect.  Peter has girl trouble in spades here - Liz's playful flirting makes Betty jealous and Flash angry - and when Betty is ready to make up, Peter just dismisses her to keep his blind date with (ha!) "that Watson girl".  I thought Aunt May was aware of Betty but maybe not.  It's just too funny that when Peter tries to get out of meeting this unnamed girl, May gives him heck and tells him "you'll want a girl who'll make a good housewife".  And Jonah is surprisingly almost a decent person here, but at the end the weasel we love to hate comes out: "You deserve a big bonus for this!  Miss Brant -- open the safe and give Parker one of my own personal bars of milk chocolate!"  Hilarious!

Another very nice cover, although I think they would have been wise to skip the blurb declaring Kraven one of the newest and greatest (super-villains) of all.  This is the third issue in a row with that type of hype.  Other than that it works, it's simple, yet effective: Spidey is trapped, and a nasty looking fellow who we are told is a hunter is approaching him menacingly.  Steve Ditko does his usual superb job with the art.  The battle scenes are especially good; the group of a half dozen or so ordinary thugs tackling Spidey and getting their butts handed to them is very well done.  The final battle is great storytelling.  Spidey's determination to capture Kraven, and then his ability to evade the Hunter's traps are well told.  When the tide turns in Spidey's favor, you can feel Kraven's panic growing and his capture feels inevitable.  And as usual, Stan walks a fine line between wordy and entertaining, and succeeds.

Stan and Steve wouldn't have intended it (back then comics were supposed to last awhile then just quietly go away), but the stories we're seeing have suggested lots of future comics. For instance, has anyone put Betty and Liz in a story fighting over Peter? Or, since JJ keeps chocolate bars in his safe, have they ever melted over anything important he was keeping?

Marvel has some fun with the next few appearances of Kraven and the Chameleon.  Kraven returns almost immediately, in ASM Annual 1, which came out the month after ASM 15 hit the stands.  There's no explanation of how he's back in America and no mention of the Chameleon.  At the end of the story he's in a jail cell with the rest of the Sinister Six.  He must get deported again and reunite with the Chameleon because two months later in Tales of Suspense 58 the duo are trying to sneak in to America again.  This was not Kraven's finest hour, as Iron Man defeats him in two panels.  Ouch.  At the end of the story, the Chameleon is arrested and taken into police custody.  He shows up again, two months later, in Tales to Astonish 62, and is featured in the next few issues as a spy working for the Leader.  He just kind of disappears without explanation from the Hulk strip, and next appears in ASM 80, over 5 years later.  Meanwhile Kraven makes a one panel cameo appearance in ASM 18, one month after TOS 58, not in jail and seemingly deported again.  He reappears in ASM 34, again sneaking back into America.

Personally, I love this kind of thing.

It seemed like whatever Chameleon was doing in the Hulk was suddenly over and he just moved on again.

Again, this was the kind of thing you could do if you were writing everything. Once Stan wasn't everywhere it became a lot more difficult to toss bad guys any old place.

Steve Ditko was working on the Hulk strip at the time.  Also could have been his idea.

John Dunbar said:

When he comes to America, he's a celebrity, he's news. He walks about freely, and doesn't commit any crimes directly. I'm surprised at the end of the story he gets deported. With a decent lawyer, Kraven should have walked.

The police should have said “look, it’s that celebrity Kraven webbed to a tree.” They would have freed him. He wasn’t in the country illegally and Spidey didn’t/couldn’t testify against him, so he should have walked free. For that matter, Spidey “knowing” that the earlier thugs were planning to commit a crime wasn’t actionable either. It may be that the police dealing with Kraven and the thugs without evidence of a crime was an early indication of Steve’s outlook on justice.

When Jonah tells him there are laws against hunting humans, he scoffs at the notion.

Jonah’s hatred of Spider-Man must have tipped him over the edge because soon he will be paying scientists to create weapons and villains which would likely kill him.

One thing that bugged me a bit was that before their final battle, Spidey decides he's going to plant a spider-tracer on Kraven, so he can keep track of his whereabouts. He doesn't actually plant it on Kraven

I think he intended to plant the tracer but never had a chance. His spider-sense detecting Kraven was probably just another vague part of this power. The tracer works from a distance and his spider-sense allows him to find Kraven when he is close enough.

With little fanfare, this is the first appearance of Anna Watson, and the first mention of her so far unnamed niece.

When she is at the door, Peter thinks of her as “one of the neighbors,” seemingly not knowing her name.

I thought Aunt May was aware of Betty but maybe not. It's just too funny that when Peter tries to get out of meeting this unnamed girl, May gives him heck and tells him "you'll want a girl who'll make a good housewife".

It seems like she either doesn’t know about Betty or doesn’t think much of her. In retrospect, it’s funny that she would think that Anna’s niece would be content to be a housewife.

Another very nice cover, although I think they would have been wise to skip the blurb declaring Kraven one of the newest and greatest (super-villains) of all. This is the third issue in a row with that type of hype.

I think the hype on the covers was developing into Marvel’s style to differentiate it from DC. When they did less of this, the hype relocated to Stan's Soapbox.

The final battle is great storytelling. Spidey's determination to capture Kraven, and then his ability to evade the Hunter's traps are well told. When the tide turns in Spidey's favor, you can feel Kraven's panic growing and his capture feels inevitable.

This whole sequence has a natural flow to it, demonstrating Peter’s intelligence as well as his strength. It also shows Kraven to be, well, craven. He cheats every step of the way and finally runs like a scared rabbit. I wonder if his name was suggested by Steve.

What was pre-John Romita MJ like from the little we did see of her?

We see no sign May thinks much of Betty in the annual either. All she cares about is the Beverly Hillbillies.

Kraven's name doesn't exactly make him sound like a great hero. Wasn't there a later story saying he was copying that medicine man's formula to get his powers back? What powers did it give him? Besides running like a scared rabbit.

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