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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Curiously, Peter's first day at college was in ASM # 31, publication date December 1965, while Johnny's first day was in FF #50, publication date June 1966, or six months after Peter.  Of course, since the chain of events before FF #50 began with issue #44, it could be construed that they began college at the same time.  I'm not aware that there was a story showing Johnny actually graduating from high school, as there was with Peter, but it does seem they were meant to be about the same age.

I believe Stan said he did it because people were saying Johnny was too stupid to go to college.

Course nothing really happened except he met Wyatt and they went galaxy hopping. Not much time for school when you're running from dinosaurs trying to stomp on you.

I personally never got the feeling or idea that Peter and Betty knew one another in high school. It always felt like they met one another a the Bugle.

And where was it established that Johnny was 15 when he got his powers? I always assumed 17.

Always had the feeling Peter didn't know anybody except bullies like Flash.

Seems like that was kind of a chance, calling him Barry Allen's name.

Stan rarely ever mentioned any character's specific age, perhaps the only exception being when Janet Van Dyne turned 21 and inherited a fortune, if I recall correctly.  The events of FF#1 may have taken place during the summer between Johnny's Junior & Senior years in high school, for which 17 would be the right age and to me it makes a bit more sense than having Johnny be a 15 year old expert on car mechanics and makes it bit less bizarre that Reed would consent to allow him to take part in that first ride into space.  Of course, in any modern movie telling, Johnny would have to be well into adulthood with specific skills that make him a necessary member of the crew rather than a hot-rodding juvenile allowed on a cosmic joy ride simply because the guy who designed the rocket and wanted to take it into space had the hots for his sister.

Ronald Morgan said:

I believe the Torch was 17 and Iceman was 16.

After introducing Wyatt, and after meeting up with the Black Panther, Johnny spent most of the next year trying to find a way to get to Crystal and once the Inhumans were freed and Crystal became a regular member of the cast, the aspect of Johnny being a college student was apparently totally forgotten by Lee & Kirby, probably because (a) it would have been too difficult to regularly fit in references to Johnny being at college with all the doings of the rest of the FF cast; (b) doing so would have essentially divided the team into Johnny College Kid and The Terrific Three; and (c) since Crystal had taken up residence at the Baxter Building as Johnny's girlfriend, it would have been rather awkward to have her there while Johnny was living on campus -- Wyatt, after all, was introduced as his roommate.

Ronald Morgan said:

I believe Stan said he did it because people were saying Johnny was too stupid to go to college.

Course nothing really happened except he met Wyatt and they went galaxy hopping. Not much time for school when you're running from dinosaurs trying to stomp on you.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 16 (September 1964)
"Duel With Daredevil"
("Also featuring the unique villainy of the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime")

Written by:  STAN LEE, Master of the spoken word
Illustrated by:  STEVE DITKO, Dean of dramatic drawings
Letter by:  S. ROSEN, Sultan of sparkling spellings

Cover by Steve Ditko

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Peter Parker is at home, trying to relax, but his Aunt May keeps asking him why he won't go out on a date with the niece of her friend Anna.  She just doesn't understand why he won't call Mary Jane Watson.  Peter makes an excuse to leave, saying he needs some air.  He gets "some air" as only he can, by web slinging through the skies and rooftops of New York.  Before long he spies some crooks fleeing from a robbery, and threatening a blind man.  He makes short work of the crooks, and then asks the man if he is ok.  The man assures him he is fine, and Spidey swings off.  The man muses that Spider-Man appears to be "... about 17 ... five foot ten inches ... and, judging by the sound of his pulse and heartbeats, in excellent health ..." .  The blind man is none other than Daredevil!  He can determine these things, thanks to his radar sense and his senses other than sight being greatly magnified.

Daredevil also has his own unique way of travelling the rooftops of the city, and he makes his way to the office of his everyday identity of Matthew Murdock, attorney-at-law.  He can hear the breathing of his law partner Foggy and their secretary Karen through the wall even with the door closed.  He goes out where they are, and the two of them invite him to go with them to the circus.  He declines, making an excuse that he has too much work and he needs to catch up on it.  The real reason is that he doesn't trust his feelings for Karen, and feels it's better if he doesn't see her socially (Matt's own words).

At the circus, the Ringmaster is exhorting the performers to keep rehearsing for the "show", which he says will be the most daring crime ever attempted in the city.  He asks that the ads and posters be brought to him to check.  They say Spider-Man will appear and perform at the circus, and the proceeds will go to charity.  Thanks to this false advertising, the tickets are selling very well.  However, the Ringmaster did not think about the possibility of Spider-Man himself seeing the posters, which he does.  Peter decides he'll go, since the proceeds are going to charity.  He checks with Jonah to make sure he's not needed that evening.  Jonah okays it and also tells him not to bother bringing him any more pictures of Spider-Man; he figures if he stops writing about him, "that publicity hound will go to some other city".  Betty invites Peter over to her place and offers to cook him spaghetti, but he says he is busy.  Before he can explain, his circus ticket falls out of his pocket.  Betty walks away in tears, thinking Peter is taking someone else.

At the law offices of Nelson and Murdock, Foggy tells Matt that Spider-Man will be appearing at the circus, so Matt changes his mind and decides to go.  Later, in line to enter the circus, Peter recognizes Matt from the previous night, and wonders why he triggers his spider-sense.  He dismisses it as he feels a blind man presents no danger to him.  He changes to Spider-Man and climbs to the top of the circus tent.  Spidey says he's going to enjoy this as he's always wanted to be a circus star.  Inside, the Ringmaster is getting ready to rob the crowd and tells the other performers to keep the entertainment going.  The crowd is impatient, demanding Spider-Man.  Matt can sense Spidey is there, about to descend from the ceiling.  When Spidey does appear, the crowd goes wild, which is a pleasant surprise for Spidey.  He uses his agility, speed, and other powers to put on an amazing exhibition.  After several minutes, the Ringmaster waves to him, trying to get his attention, and when Spidey comes up to him, the Ringmaster hypnotizes him with his gimmicked top hat, and then turns to the audience and puts all of them under his hypnotic power as well.

Matt realizes the entire crowd is in a trance, and drops to the corridor below to change to Daredevil.  He realizes he'll have to battle the entire circus cast.  The Ringmaster is stunned that his top hat doesn't work on DD.  Since Spidey is still under his spell, he orders him to attack Daredevil.  DD manages to elude him, and under hypnosis, Spidey can't think for himself, so no one has an advantage in the fight.  Daredevil manages to get the Ringmaster's hat away from him, and uses his magnified senses to quickly figure out how it works, so he is able to release Spidey from his trance.  The two heroes shake hands and DD warns Spidey that the circus performers are about to attack.  DD eludes two of them who tried to tie him up in a net.  Spidey tells him this is his fight now and he'll holler if he needs him again.  Spidey tackles a crowd of them as DD leaps back to his seat, changing back to Matt Murdock.

The circus performers keep attacking Spidey but they are no match for his speed, strength, or agility - and Spidey is having a ball fighting them.  When Spidey is perched on a high wire, the Ringmaster shoots the Great Gambino out of a cannon at him.  However, this backfires, as Spidey mockingly asks if they thought he would just stand still and let himself get hit.  He gets on top of Gambino's back and steers him back at the Ringmaster and the others like a missile.  When Gambino lands, he wipes out the other performers, as the Ringmaster tries to run.  He manages to retrieve his hat and tries to hypnotize Spidey again, but Spidey is ready for it and closes his eyes.  The Ringmaster can't tell thanks to the opaque eyelets, and then Spidey punches him in the jaw, and grabs his hat.  Matt Murdock applauds and yells "Bravo!" at Spidey, who realizes that must be DD but can't tell where the voice is coming from because of all the echoes in the building.  He webs up Ringmaster and the other performers, and then uses the hat to break the trance on the audience.  They break out into loud cheers, as they feel they've seen a great show.

As the crowd leaves, Karen and Foggy notice Matt is not with them.  They panic a bit, but Matt is just giving his business card to the Ringmaster, who tells him "Aww, get lost!".  His friends are relieved to find him.  Spidey watches from a rooftop as the police put the circus performers into a wagon, thinking it's too bad he didn't get to know Daredevil better.  He swings away thinking that Betty is probably still mad that he didn't take her to the circus, and Aunt May probably wants to nag him more "about dating that Mary Jane chick", and the most fun he had all day had him fighting for his life.  "How about that??!"

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My rating: 8/10

If I were cynical, I might be tempted to say that the Amazing Spider-Man series was interrupted to bring readers a 22 page ad for Marel's newest series Daredevil.  It's a fun story, though, so I will forgive it, not to mention that Spidey never has to look bad to elevate Daredevil.  They have the classic Marvel misunderstanding fight, but Spidey being hypnotized and forced into it is a good reason for it.  Perhaps it's just more common in modern comics, but I really enjoyed that DD didn't defeat Spidey or single-handedly beat up the entire Circus of Crime as Spidey watched in awe.  It was a clever twist frankly, that once DD breaks Spidey out of the trance, he (literally) takes his seat and observes Spidey doing his thing.

The only Spidey subplot that advances is that Anna Watson's niece gets a name - whatever became of that Mary Jane chick anyhow? - and we get 3 panels featuring Aunt May, and four panels at the Daily Bugle.  In hindsight we know it was a throwaway line, but it's kind of jaw dropping that Jonah all of a sudden doesn't want any more pictures of Spider-Man.  The sequence with Betty was a bit weak: why did Peter buy a ticket to the circus when he wasn't going to be in the audience?  Anyway, he wasn't going to be honest about turning down Betty's invitation to a home cooked meal so it was a kind of cosmic karma (or the Parker luck, take your pick) that the ticket fell out out of his pocket just as he starts lying to her.  Peter and Betty's relationship is not in a good place.

So with these very brief appearances by Aunt May, Jonah, and Betty, and no scenes at Midtown High or elsewhere of Flash, Liz, and the other kids, this is a mainly a showcase for Daredevil.  A whole page is devoted to DD, who explains his powers in a monologue to the readers.  We spend about as much time at the law offices of Nelson and Murdock as we do at the Daily Bugle.  Karen and Foggy get plenty to do for being minor guest stars in this story, and it's well established that Matt has unspoken feelings for Karen that seem to be reciprocated (although unspoken as well).  Ditko, strangely, draws a slim and trim Foggy Nelson.  ASM #16 came out in between DD #3 and 4, so this is pretty early in DD's history - early enough that we get the black, yellow and red DD costume.  Ditko draws it like it's skin tight spandex, but in the early DD issues it appears to be more like loose fitting workout clothes.  Despite Ditko's depictions of Foggy and DD's costume, I can't help but wonder what a Ditko run on DD would have been like.  My guess is this guest spot happened for a few reasons: ASM was a popular book, so it's a good way to promote any other series, plus DD has a few passing similarities to Spidey anyway.  Also, the first issue of DD was super late and the whole series seemed to be a bit of a mess in the early stages, so having the team of Stan and Steve do a DD story might help right the ship.  The Daredevil series would get better when Wally Wood came aboard with #5, and later when John Romita Senior followed Wood on #12, it served to be his warm-up for his ASM run.

Another thing that was a bit out of left field was the villains of the piece: the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime.  Over the years, they appeared in a lot of Marvel series.  But at this point, the only previous appearance was in Hulk #3, two years earlier, in the second story in that book, spanning 10 pages.  Kirby drew some creepy and gruesome circus performers in that tale, and the modus operandi of the Ringmaster and his cohorts established in that story were kept with little variation for decades.  But the name "Circus of Crime" wasn't used in Hulk #3 and actually wasn't used in this story except for in the sub-title on page one.  These guys will return to face Spidey only six issues from now with a name change, a new (although temporary) leader, a memorable new female member, and they will all get code names that will stick.  The guy shot out of the cannon, for instance, was called the Human Cannonball in the Hulk story, even though he only is in a few panels.  Here, he's called the Great Gambino, which seems like an error; going forward, the acrobats - unnamed here - will be known as the Great Gambonnos.  But it probably makes more sense that these villains don't call themselves the Circus of Crime out loud - why advertise something like that?  To me, that's similar to the early X-Men stories; it would have made more sense if Magneto had called his group the Brotherhood of Mutants and left the word "Evil" out - he truly thought his cause was just, regardless of the means.  It's the types like Baron Zemo and the Frightful Four who know they're evil and aren't scared of saying so - they reveled in it.

I mentioned Ditko on DD would have been interesting.  Steve did his usual excellent job on this issue, including the cover, with the highlights being Spidey using his powers at the circus and in his battle with the performers.  This is where Stan shines too: the dialogue when Spidey is trash talking during the fight scenes is a joy, and an wonderful example of what made Stan and Steve such a great team.  Ditko likewise does a great job on any action scenes featuring Daredevil, however the dialogue is a bit hard to read in the early pages because it's an information dump for readers not familiar with DD.  Stan probably saw this as unfortunate but necessary to promote DD and try to get readers to pick up his book.  He was certainly capable of better, as the rest of the issue shows.

One last thing, as I have mentioned before I am reading these issues on Marvel Unlimited.  The letters pages are included with some issues, including this one.  In case you were wondering when I would be getting to it, the next issue I will be covering in this thread is Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1.  In the letters page, there's a bit of hype for the Annual, but it's for the "novelty" story of "How Stan and Steve Create Spider-Man", plus "a million unexpected features and pin-ups" and in a reply to a letter, there's going to be an explanation of what Spidey's webbing can do and how it works.  However, considering what a classic it is and how it features six of Spidey's most sinister foes (see what I - yeah, of course you did), plus cameos from the rest of the Marvel Universe in 1964, the hype for the main story is muted, other than stating it is "an unbroken 41 page feature story".  For Stan Lee, that's positively restrained.  But maybe that was for the best and helped a story with low key promotion become legendary.

NEXT:  AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1  "THE SINISTER SIX!"

Great review, John!  ASM #16 doesn't quite rate as a classic but a very good yarn nevertheless and linking Spidey with DD, who, after all, was specifically created on orders from Martin Goodman to be a knock off of Spider-Man, just as the X-Men were created as a knock off of the FF.  At least Stan managed to keep the knock-offs unique enough that they didn't come off as obvious knock-offs.  Oh, and purely coincidental I'm sure that Spider-Man would just happen to pop up in DD's 16th issue.

I first read this one as a reprint though I can't remember where. What I do remember was that Daredevil's costumed was colored all red but with the lines still showing!

John Dunbar said:

If I were cynical, I might be tempted to say that the Amazing Spider-Man series was interrupted to bring readers a 22 page ad for Marel's newest series Daredevil. It's a fun story, though, so I will forgive it, not to mention that Spidey never has to look bad to elevate Daredevil.

According to Mike's Amazing World, this was on sale the same month as Daredevil #3, introducing the Owl and following #2, featuring Spidey villain Electro. I agree that they did a good job. Strange to see the Circus of Crime without Princess Python. I think she was added in their next ASM appearance. The fighting of both heroes was well choreographed.

The only Spidey subplot that advances is that Anna Watson's niece gets a name - whatever became of that Mary Jane chick anyhow?

Good catch! She was first mentioned last issue but no name was mentioned. Stan was probably trying to choose a name, so didn’t rush into it. He obviously didn’t consider her a throw-away character even then.

The sequence with Betty was a bit weak: why did Peter buy a ticket to the circus when he wasn't going to be in the audience? Anyway, he wasn't going to be honest about turning down Betty's invitation to a home cooked meal so it was kind of a cosmic karma that the ticket fell out out of his pocket just as he starts lying to her. Peter and Betty's relationship is not in a good place.

I didn’t catch the point about buying a ticket when he wasn’t planning on being in the audience. Probably Stan should have scripted it differently to match Steve’s artwork. Since Peter was only “maybe” going to show up because his appearance was advertised, it’s hard to understand his turning down a chance to get his aunt together with Betty over a home-cooked meal. More self-sabotage. Daredevil could have handled the Circus of Crime by his lonesome in his own book, but then he wouldn’t have attracted new eyeballs to his book.

But it probably makes more sense that these villains don't call themselves the Circus of Crime out loud - why advertise something like that? That's similar to the early X-Men stories; it would have made more sense that Magneto had called his group the Brotherhood of Mutants and left the word "Evil" out - he truly thought his cause was just, regardless of the means.

It didn’t occur to me as a young Marvel reader, but they shouldn’t have called themselves “Evil,” since their self-image was fighting for mutantkind. (And to rule normal humans)

Fred W. Hill said:

ASM #16 doesn't quite rate as a classic but a very good yarn nevertheless and linking Spidey with DD, who, after all, was specifically created on orders from Martin Goodman to be a knock off of Spider-Man.......

The cover copy and artwork for Daredevil #1 made the characters sound and look like teenagers.

And note that the cover of X-Men #1 included the blurb, "In the Sensational Fantastic Four Style!"  With DD #1, Stan upped the ante by including both Spidey & the FF on the cover.  DD #1 was supposed to come out in the same month as the X-Men, cover dated September 1963, but came out 7 months later, dated April 1964. Lee's patience must have been put to the test with Everett being so late with the work and having to get assistance from Kirby & Ditko to finally get the completed package out, and perhaps explains why he went a bit overkill on the cover to get fans of Spider-Man and the FF to pick up Marvel's latest offering, and the last of its characters to get his own title prior to the 1968 expansion.

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