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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In those early years, Stan was occasionally rather sloppy with the editing as while in that Human Torch story, Johnny read about Steve Rogers putting on his Captain America costume, it seems to me that when Cap was thawed out just a month later, Stan meant for Cap's civilian I.D. to still be a secret from the general public and it was in a Tales of Suspense tale a few years later that Cap revealed his true I.D. to the public, which led to lots of trouble and finally to the Steranko tale where Cap faked his own death and left a "Steve Rogers" mask to be found and befuddle everyone.  Hmm, now why didn't any of the people who met Steve later on but who didn't know him as Cap ever ask, "hey, I remember in the news Cap claiming he was you but then he was shot and they found a mask that looked just like your face and it turned out Cap wasn't really dead and that the Steve Rogers identity was a fake but here you are, so what's the deal?  Why would Cap pretend to be you? Oh, and exactly when were you born?"

That's like when Iron Man faked his own death after the first Armor War then tried to join the West Coast Avengers claiming he was Iron Man's replacement, and Hawkeye said "We all know that Tony Stark was Iron Man, and we all know that Stark isn't dead, so I've got to ask you...are you Stark?" Caught, all Iron Man can think of to say is that he can't answer that question.

Captain America revealed himself as Steve Rogers in a televised press conference shown in "A Time to Die---a Time to Live!", from Tales of Suspense # 95 (Nov., 1967).  Earlier issues of The Avengers showed that his teammates knew his secret identity, but this was the first time it was established that the public-at-large knew who he was under the mask.

As to the matter of putting someone from the government "in charge" of the Avengers, it never made sense to me that the heroes would tolerate it.  The government needed the Avengers a great deal more than the Avengers needed the government.

GOV'T OFFICIAL:  "Iron Man, the membership of the Avengers does not conform to government guidelines for the minimum participation of females and minorities.  You need to fix that immediately, or I'll be forced to revoke your security clearances.  You will no longer be permitted to operate as an organisation.  You'll have to disband."

IRON MAN:  "No problem.  Go ahead and revoke them.  We'll be glad to disband.  Oh, and the next time a Skrull invasion force shows up to conquer the Earth, let us know how that works out for you."

Anytime the government stuck its nose into how the Avengers---a private organisation---conducted its affairs, the Assemblers should have told it to shove off.

Commander Benson said:

As to the matter of putting someone from the government "in charge" of the Avengers, it never made sense to me that the heroes would tolerate it.  The government needed the Avengers a great deal more than the Avengers needed the government.

GOV'T OFFICIAL:  "Iron Man, the membership of the Avengers does not conform to government guidelines for the minimum participation of females and minorities.  You need to fix that immediately, or I'll be forced to revoke your security clearances.  You will no longer be permitted to operate as an organisation.  You'll have to disband."

IRON MAN:  "No problem.  Go ahead and revoke them.  We'll be glad to disband.  Oh, and the next time a Skrull invasion force shows up to conquer the Earth, let us know how that works out for you."

A scene like that took place in Avengers (1st series) #190, December 1979. After a run of stories in which Henry Peter Gryich has been making various demands on the team, they are now in a hearing before a Senate committee where Gyrich is making the case that the Avengers' security clearances should be revoked.

During the hearing, there's a report of a rock-like monster on a rampage in midtown. Captain America respectfully asks that the business at hand be postponed. Gyrich angrily declaims the request as a trick. Someone watching TV (why is there a TV in a Senate hearing room?) sees one of the monsters smash a car and says the report is "confirmed." Then the Beast breaks the leg off a table and says:

After a moment, Gyrich relents. In the next issue, the Senate committee loosens the reins on the Avengers and even later, Gyrich is replaced as the team's security liason.

I loved that scene when I read it.  It illustrated what I had been thinking all along, ever since whatever writer it was came up with the idea of a government "security liaison" interfering with how the Avengers did business.

And it's the scene I always recall whenever I read anything about someone from the government "in charge of" the Avengers, or over at DC, the Justice League of America.

Thanks for reprinting it!

He looks like he might have actually ran out and tried it if the monster wasn't so big and powerful. Beast: "Okay, who wants to go save Gyrich from being eaten?" Iron Man: "Uh...uh...power failure! Need an emergency recharge immediately!"

Always assumed Iron Man was running everything. He was a billionaire, and the team's headquarters was his property.

And again why this guy instead of somebody from SHIELD? Cap was a SHIELD agent when he wasn't an Avenger, and Tony Stark had had a SHIELD bodyguard (Jasper Stupid Sitwell) just a few years before this. Gyrich is just too obviously "let's put somebody really annoying in the Avengers to tick people off."

Amazing Spider-Man 8 (January 1964)

"The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain!"

Written by Stan Lee

Illustrated by Steve Ditko

Lettered by Art Simek

Cover by Steve Ditko

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One day at Midtown High, two men wheel a strange looking machine into Peter Parker's classroom.  Meanwhile, Peter and Flash are bickering; it gets a bit physical, and Flash accidentally break Peter's glasses.  They continue sniping at each other until the teacher, Mr. Warren, introduces a Mr. Petty of International Computing Machines Corporation.  Petty explains that the machine is a highly advanced computer made in the form of the human body and it is dubbed the Living Brain.  It has great mobility due to having ball bearings where feet would be, and has powerful arms.  It also has the ability to think.  It contains more knowledge than any other brain, human or mechanical, and never forgets anything, so it can answer any question posed to it.  Petty asks Warren for a student to assist him in the demonstration, and he chooses Peter.  Petty is impressed with Peter's science knowledge as he is quite comfortable with operating the machine.  Warren tells the class to think of a question to ask the Living Brain.  Meanwhile, the two men who helped Petty bring the Brain in the school discuss how the machine could make them rich by figuring out things like horse race winners.

Peter's classmates decide to ask the Living Brain to figure out Spider-Man's identity and come up with several known facts about Spidey to feed into the computer.  This makes Peter very nervous but he doesn't know how to avoid going ahead with this.  The Living Brain prints out an answer in mathematical code, and Warren directs Peter to take it home and decode it over the weekend.  Flash tries to take the paper from Peter and they start shoving each other.  Warren breaks it up and tells them they can settle their differences in the school's boxing ring.  Peter's only concern is pulling his punches so he doesn't clobber Flash with his spider-strength.  He easily avoids Flash's punches and then, although he pulled his punch, he sends Flash flying through the ropes and out of the ring.

The two men who were helping Petty decide to steal the Living Brain.  Petty walks into the room as they try to do that and gets knocked out by one of the crooks.  But the first crook bumps the other one into the Brain and the machine gets activated - but it is clearly out of control as its arms are whirring around rapidly, and the Brain starts moving on its own.  In the gym, Flash is frustrated he can't lay a hand on Peter, who decides he will swat Flash by flipping just his wrist and not his whole arm.  As Peter goes for the punch, a student runs in and tells everyone the Living Brain is running wild in the school.  Flash turns his head and Peter can't stop his punch.  He knocks Flash out but Flash had turned his head just before contact, and the other kids jeer Peter.  He decides to carry Flash to the locker room and go investigate as Spider-Man.

He sees students panicking, running from the Living Brain.  He tells them to get to safety and jumps on the machine, which quickly swats him away.  He tries to stop it with his web, but the Brain analyzes it and then breaks through it.  Spidey tests the Brain's thinking abilities by running towards it and then trying to avoid it.  He sees that the machine reacts very quickly and now sees him as an enemy.  He tries to catch Spidey and then corners him.  Spidey realizes he has to do the unexpected and jumps over the Brain to avoid it.  He bounds off the walls back and forth and knows he can't repeat his movements or the Brain will catch him.  He runs into more kids who can't get outside due to a jammed exit door, so he breaks it open for them.  When he turns around the Brain is gone.

The Brain was waiting behind a door and when it senses Spidey on the other side, it knocks the door down on top of him.  The machine leaves, and Spidey thinks the Brain thought he was finished.  But actually it was a trap; as Spider-Man goes around a corner, the Brain grabs him and traps him.  Spidey tries to free himself, and when the Brain realizes how strong he is, it tries to smash him against a wall.  But Spider-Man saves himself with his webbing, and then stays on the ceiling just out of reach.  The machine is frustrated and leaves again, with Spidey following.  Some kids came back in the school to see the action, and Spidey has to save them.  He jumps on the Brain's back and tries to shut down the control panel.  He manages to shut off the part of the system that allows the Brain to think, but the machine is still moving, heading towards a stairway.  Spidey uses his webs to swing him and the machine through a window and back again, avoiding a crash down the stairs.  He then completely deactivates the Living Brain.

Elsewhere, Petty is now conscious and points out the two crooks who were responsible for everything that happened.  The crooks run into the locker room just as Flash wakes up and has bent down to tie his shoe.  They trip over him and are knocked out, giving Peter an idea - he accuses Flash of being Spider-Man!  He points out Flash wasn't around while Spidey fought the Brain, he easily knocked out the crooks, and he's about Spidey's size.  He also points out Flash tried to grab the paper that supposedly had Spider-Man's identity on it.  Flash denies it but now the other kids are also thinking he may be Spidey - he would deny it anyway, and it explains how "Puny Parker" beat him - Flash did it to hide the "truth" so no one would suspect him.  Peter decides he'll tell everyone he lost the paper with his identity on it in all the excitement, and heads home with a big smile on his face.

-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

My rating: 7/10

This was a bit of hokey fun, a somewhat corny story of a runaway robot, with the usual great art by Steve Ditko.  Stan and Steve are clearly having fun with the high school setting and the rivalry between Peter and Flash.  I realized when I re-read this story for our discussion that the Living Brain was actually Marvel's first robot capable of independent thought, beating Ultron by a few years, but the Brain is a lot nicer than Ultron!  The good stuff here, of course, is the characterization of Flash and Peter.  Flash gets his just desserts in the ring and at the end when he's furiously denying he's Spidey.  I like Peter standing up to Flash, though he's not above being a bit immature himself.  He basically starts the fight with Flash and things go downhill from there.  But boy oh boy it must have felt good when he knocked Flash out - hasn't anyone who has ever been bullied dreamed of turning the tables on their tormentors?  It was the little things that made Spidey so identifiable with readers.

No Jonah or Aunt May this issue.  I continue to be amazed how little we see of May Parker in these early stories.

I always wondered if the Living Brain figured out who he was or not. Stan and Steve never tell us.

A bit surprised the guest star in the backup gets more of the cover than the main story. This issue is like Fantastic Four#11, a bit of silliness between big fight issues, but this is a much more conventional superhero comic than reading the mail and ignoring an obnoxious alien.

On the other hand, the FF had somebody that could wiggle his ears!

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

One day at Midtown High, two men wheel a strange looking machine into Peter Parker's classroom. Meanwhile, Peter and Flash are bickering; it gets a bit physical, and Flash accidentally break Peter's glasses.

Peter starts the fight by reacting to a harmless comment by Flash by calling him a loudmouth. Of course they have a lot of past conflicts, but this one didn’t have to start. As for Peter’s glasses, it’s interesting that this is the last time we see them. Has Peter been looking through prescription lenses when he doesn’t need them anymore? Anyone who wears glasses can tell you that (spider-power or not) Peter wouldn’t be able to see well looking through glasses that no longer work for his eyes. It’s also interesting that, as far as I know, no one (not even Aunt May) ever asked why he just stopped wearing glasses. In 1963-64 there were no miracle eye operations like today and contact lenses weren’t easy to deal with.

But Spider-Man saves himself with his webbing, and then stays on the ceiling just out of reach.

The Brain proves he can think by trying to swat Spidey off the ceiling by swinging a door at him.

The crooks run into the locker room just as Flash wakes up and has bent down to tie his shoe. They trip over him and are knocked out, giving Peter an idea - he accuses Flash of being Spider-Man! He points out Flash wasn't around while Spidey fought the Brain, he easily knocked out the crooks, and he's about Spidey's size. He also points out Flash tried to grab the paper that supposedly had Spider-Man's identity on it.

This was great fun!

Peter decides he'll tell everyone he lost the paper with his identity on it in all the excitement, and heads home with a big smile on his face.

He probably should have let Flash take the paper home to decode it. He wouldn’t have been able to do it and, in frustration, would have thrown it away himself!

No Jonah or Aunt May this issue. I continue to be amazed how little we see of May Parker in these early stories.

I realize we haven’t discussed the second story in #8 yet, but neither Aunt May nor Jonah appear in the entire issue. Heck, in the second story not even Peter appears. Were they testing the readers to see if they really wanted the old folks in the stories?

Tried putting on my glasses after my cataract surgery and found I couldn't see a thing. Unless Peter took the lenses out he should have been walking into walls since Amazing Fantasy#15.

Ronald Morgan said:

I always wondered if the Living Brain figured out who he was or not. Stan and Steve never tell us.

I can only guess, but my theory is that so little was known of Spider-Man by the general public at the time that even the Living Brain would have needed more information.  Peter came up with a good solution by saying he lost the paper but there would be nothing stopping anyone from posing the question again.  Even if the 1980's Spidey was a puzzle to people.  Roger Stern wrote a two-part story in Avengers 236 & 237 where Spidey guest starred and wanted to join the team.  At the end of the story, the Avengers were ready to add him but the government guy who replaced Henry Gyrich - Sikorski, I think was his name - vetoed that saying something like "we have a file on him a mile long, and we still don't know a thing about him!".

A bit surprised the guest star in the backup gets more of the cover than the main story. This issue is like Fantastic Four#11, a bit of silliness between big fight issues, but this is a much more conventional superhero comic than reading the mail and ignoring an obnoxious alien.

Keep in mind that in the early 60s Fantastic Four was their flagship book and best selling title.  They also thought Johnny Storm was the breakout star of the team.  They probably thought the Torch was a better choice for the cover than a robot they probably didn't think they would use again.

On the other hand, the FF had somebody that could wiggle his ears!

And would many years later date May Parker for a while!

John Dunbar (the mod of maple) said:

No Jonah or Aunt May this issue. I continue to be amazed how little we see of May Parker in these early stories.

Richard Willis said:

 I realize we haven’t discussed the second story in #8 yet, but neither Aunt May nor Jonah appear in the entire issue. Heck, in the second story not even Peter appears. Were they testing the readers to see if they really wanted the old folks in the stories?

I think they just wanted to set one (shorter) story totally in Midtown High and use Flash, Liz, and the other kids as the supporting cast.  No Jonah, May, or Betty, no mention of the Daily Bugle, no picture taking by Peter.  I haven't read #9 in a long time, but off the top of my head I remember Jonah is a big part of the story next issue.

By the way, Peter's teacher is a Mr. Warren but obviously not Professor Miles Warren, aka the Jackal.  I think in Untold Tales of Spider-Man, this guy is revealed to be Miles' brother.

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