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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As you say John, an iconic moment in the unmasking and a powerful cover with all the questions you posed.

This kind of story, to me, showed the massive difference I felt there was between the way DC stories progressed and the way Marvel's did.

DC always seemed to have the same staus quo issue after issue, no changes in the events or the reactions of the supporting cast etc - like isolated episodes of a TV series etc - but Marvel moved their characters on and there was ongoing ramifications from events in one issue to reactions of characters in future issues.

I was intrigued how Peter would explain away his unmasking here - if at all!

I also loved the way that the fact that he did explain it away - it was still referenced in future conversations between support-characters as in 'real life'.

What I also liked is that Marvel heroes were fallible - they actually lost fights!

Classics

That's one of the reasons Ant-Man and the Human Torch lost their series. Except Ant-Man picked up a partner and became Giant-Man, and the Thing joined the Torch, their series didn't change or advance. Giant-Man's powers were limited at very end, but his series didn't continue long enough for that idea to go anywhere.

As referenced in another site I read many years ago, Lee & DItko set up an excellent story-engine for Spider-Man with so many different aspects of Peter Parker's life - home, school, a job that required him to get out and seek interesting events and which was tied in to his superhero adventures.  Of the other Silver Age series starring solo characters, I think the only other one that had a comparably great supporting cast was Thor, and that only from about 1966 on, once Sif, Balder and the Warriors Three all became regulars in the modern stories. in Nova, Marv Wolfman tried to replicate Spider-Man's success but while I mostly enjoyed the series, even after Carmine Infantino took over as artist, it didn't quite work. On the other hand, Daredevil really took off under Miller in a way it hadn't before, in part, I think, because Miller more fully developed the supporting cast that already existed and expanded it, most noticeably with the introduction of Elektra.

I think the strong supporting cast elevated ASM over other Marvel books in the early 60s.  The team books had few characters outside the team members, with the exception of Alicia Masters.  The solo strips stuck to the tropes of "the best pal" and "the girl", and sometimes didn't even have both.  Peter had Betty, but unlike most DC heroes and a few Marvel ones, he didn't have to compete with his alter-ego for Betty's attention.  He lacked a Foggy Nelson or Happy Hogan, but I guess you could say, in a way, May Parker filled that role somewhat.  She was a constant presence in his life and a sounding board for him, although he quite obviously did not (and felt he could not) confide everything to her.  But he had a genuine affection for her that showed in all their interactions.

The most interesting thing about the supporting cast in these early days, to me, was the way Stan and Steve used Jonah and Flash.  Jonah was a respected, middle-aged businessman and because he was Peter's boss and his elder, Peter had to feign respect for him.  But Jonah was an awful person in many regards, and many of his employees resented him for constantly browbeating them, being a cheapskate and an egomaniac.  Peter was no different, except that he could tweak Jonah's nose as Spider-Man.  With Flash, here was a guy who was an athlete, popular with girls, and had lots of friends - everything Peter was not but probably wished he could be - and he still tormented Peter relentlessly.  But he was Spidey's #1 fan!  That must have given Peter a lot of satisfaction.  And wisely, Stan and Steve allowed both Jonah and Flash to grow and be more nuanced over time.

And they got a lot of humor and pathos from Peter's situations of working for someone who hated his alter ego and being bullied by someone who idolized his alter ego and having a romance with someone who liked him but was alarmed by his mysterious connection to that alter ego and even his beloved Aunt May believed that that alter ego was a menace!  And so Peter Parker had a lot of reason to stop being Spider-Man but in the end could never forget that it was his failure to stop a bad guy when he had the opportunity that enabled that same bad guy to be on the loose and wind up later murdering Peter's beloved Uncle Ben.  So despite all the hardships being Spider-Man brought him, due to his own guilt complex of Ben's death he couldn't give up trying his best to do good as Spider-Man -- and besides, he found being Spider-Man was fun and enabled him to create a persona that was very different from that of the plain old Peter Parker readers were introduced to in Amazing Fantasy #15.

Thor and Spider-Man also both shook things up by dropping their original love interests for new ones, something that's happened a lot since the Silver Age but just wasn't done back in the 60s.

Seems from maybe 1940 through the late '60s, Superman comics didn't change that much and neither did Batman for most of that period, at least not until Infantino took over in the mid-60s, but most of Marvel's titles underwent significant changes just between 1963 to 1967, much like the pop music scene of the time.

Anyone who bought, say, Journey Into Mystery #90, Amazing Spider-Man #10, and Avengers #5 and then skipped each title until The Mighty Thor #138, ASM #58, and Avengers #53, would note very significant changes in each.  Certainly, in the Silver Age at least Marvel was far less static than DC but during the Bronze Age DC became somewhat less static and Marvel a bit more so, opting more for the illusion of change rather than real change, although there would still be significant changes every so often in the best-selling titles.

John Dunbar said:

Meanwhile Doc Ock is committing crimes all over the nation, trying to draw out Spider-Man and wondering why it's not working. The answer is Peter has exams, and no money for airfare. Besides, his Aunt May thinks he's coming down with something and wouldn't allow him to go anywhere.

At this point Peter interacts with his classmates. Is this the first time Flash, reacting to the Bugle, showed his support for Spider-Man? Also, Peter thinks “it’s only the people who are inferior themselves that keep picking on others.” This sounds like Ditko suggested the phrasing.

The police take Peter to his home, and Aunt May has a doctor look at him. The doctor tells her it's a 24 hour virus that just needs to run its course.

Is this the first time a virus weakened Peter? Interesting that in addition to becoming weaker he was also having trouble sticking to walls.

Just then, they see a fireman turn a badly injured Doc Ock over to the police. Ock mutters that Spider-Man didn't beat him, and if it wasn't for the fire, things would have been different.

It was different from many other superhero stories in that Doc Ock wasn’t presumed dead in the fire.

Liz invites Peter to a party, but he declines, saying he is taking a brunette out for a date. He tells her to take Flash, even though he knows it's hard to use one syllable words all the time for Flash. He also says they deserve each other.

As character development for Liz, which pans out many years later, she tells Flash that they deserved it after the way they had treated Peter.

The unmasking scene became an iconic moment. Years later, Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, who weren't even there, talked about it as if they were! It's a brief sequence, only a few panels, but it is amazing. Spidey is defeated so quickly, that when he is unmasked and revealed to be Peter Parker, no one - not Betty, Jonah, the police, and certainly not Doc Ock - believes he really is Spider-Man.

It’s really an effective sequence and it makes a lot of sense. There is no reason anyone would think “Peter is Spider-Man” based upon this. If it’s so well known that people who weren’t there at the time know about it, one would think that Flash Thompson would have instantly changed his mind about Peter, like Liz did.

I just started following this thread using my Amazing Spider-Man CD-ROM collection, which I find easier than fumbling with the Masterworks. Just in time, because this issue has one of the published fan letters from future pro Dave Cockrum!

Richard Mantle said:

DC always seemed to have the same staus quo issue after issue, no changes in the events or the reactions of the supporting cast etc - like isolated episodes of a TV series etc - but Marvel moved their characters on and there was ongoing ramifications from events in one issue to reactions of characters in future issues.

Returning to status quo at the end of a story was a standard technique back then. The original Star Trek TV series had the status quo returned, I think, at the end of every episode. In contrast, years later, when Peter David wrote his first Babylon 5 episode he was told he didn't have to return everything to status quo. The advantage to making no lasting changes is that there is always a jumping-on point for new readers or viewers. Storylines that continually advance can make for a richer experience over the long haul but can discourage new readers or viewers who may feel lost.

And keeping to the status quo makes it a lot easier for new writers to know what's going on without watching the most recent episodes that haven't aired yet.

Richard Willis said:

John Dunbar said:

Meanwhile Doc Ock is committing crimes all over the nation, trying to draw out Spider-Man and wondering why it's not working. The answer is Peter has exams, and no money for airfare. Besides, his Aunt May thinks he's coming down with something and wouldn't allow him to go anywhere.

At this point Peter interacts with his classmates. Is this the first time Flash, reacting to the Bugle, showed his support for Spider-Man?

At the end of ASM 3, Flash says to Peter "Now there's my idea of a hero!  The Human Torch -- and a guy like Spider-Man, too!"  It was the first time Flash expresses admiration for Spidey, but he's not reacting to a Daily Bugle story.

At the beginning of ASM 5, Jonah is on television, ranting against Spider-Man.  Peter, Flash, Liz, and other kids are watching it at the bowling alley.  A few of them react, including Flash, who says, "Personally I think that Spider-Man's the coolest!".  Peter, hoping to avoid any suspicion, pretends to support Jonah.  Later, this is the reason Flash masquerades as Spidey to "teach our bookworm buddy to knock Spider-Man!"

So Flash was a Spidey-booster early on, although it didn't happen every issue.

Amazing Spider-Man 13 (June 1964)

"The Menace of Mysterio!"

Presented with pride by one of the most famous teams in comics:

Stan Lee, Author / Steve Ditko, Artist

Lettered by: Art Simek
Cover by Steve Ditko
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Late at night, it appears as if Spider-Man has committed a robbery.  Passersby remark that no one could scale sheer walls like he is doing.  He shoots a web at a pair of watchmen, and swings away on another as they free themselves.  One of them is shocked that Spidey has turned to crime.  Across the nation, this is reported in the media, and many people are in disbelief and saddened.  J. Jonah Jameson is not one of them, however; he is jubilant and orders his old editorials deeming Spider-Man a menace be reprinted to show everyone "how right he was".  All of the kids at Midtown High have turned on Spidey, except for Flash Thompson.  Even Peter Parker himself worries he has a split personality and is guilty, as he feels no one could have duplicated his abilities and impersonated him.  At home, May Parker can tell something is bothering Peter and asks if he is worried about making the mortgage payment as their savings are almost gone (!).
That night Peter is almost afraid to fall asleep, but he eventually does.  In the morning, he wakes up to a radio bulletin stating Spider-Man committed another robbery through the night.  He decides to go see a psychiatrist to see if someone can do something in their sleep they wouldn't do while they are awake.  The doctor invites him to lay down and relax, and just say whatever comes to mind.  Spidey is worried he might reveal his identity if he does, so he declines the doctor's offer and leaves.  Later at the Daily Bugle, Betty notices how dejected Peter is, and asks if it is because he hasn't sold any crime photos to Jonah lately.  She also expresses a wish that he would do something less dangerous.  She's shocked when Peter tells her to butt out.  Jonah is still in a great mood, until Peter asks him for a loan for the mortgage payment.  Jonah says he never makes loans, but would do it if Peter reveals how he is able to take such great pictures, but Peter refuses.  Peter changes to Spider-Man to go take some crime pictures, but finds himself attacked by members of the public, and decides to head home instead.
The next day at Midtown High, Liz Allan shows off a new hairdo to Peter.  He has so much on his mind he finds it hard to feign interest.  He does get a good chuckle when Flash tries to compliment Liz but ends up with his foot in his mouth.  Meanwhile, at the Daily Bugle, Jonah has called a meeting of some of his employees.  He received a note from someone claiming they could get rid of Spider-Man single-handed, and Jonah challenged him to come to the Bugle and prove it.
Suddenly a man in a strange costume appears.  He says the disguise is to protect his family from the underworld.  He gives Jonah a letter to publish in the Bugle, inviting Spider-Man to meet him atop the Brooklyn Bridge.  Jonah agrees, figuring he has nothing to lose, and if Mysterio succeeds, he'll be a hero.  Peter sees it the next day, and goes to the bridge as Spider-Man.  Mysterio appears out of nowhere, in a cloud of smoke, and easily avoids a charging Spider-Man by leaping high in the air.  He evades punches and tackles from Spidey, and even stymies Spider-Man's webbing.  Spidey figures he must have magnetized boots and an invisible mist that can dissolve his webs.  Mysterio taunts Spider-Man and disappears within another huge cloud of smoke.  Spidey thinks he can easily find Mysterio with his spider-sense but finds out it doesn't work inside the smoke, as if it is being jammed somehow.  He swings wildly, hoping to get lucky, but soon realizes Mysterio can see him, as he is getting pummeled.  Feeling he has no option, Spidey dives into the water below, as Mysterio gloats.  Spidey heads home, thinking the day wasn't a total loss, as he learned the answer to one of the things that had worried him.
The next day there is a parade for Mysterio for defeating Spider-Man.  He is cheered by onlookers, except for Flash, who says his money is still on Spidey.  Later at the Bugle, Jonah introduces Mysterio to his employees, and tells everyone Mysterio will reveal his identity exclusively to the Bugle once he has defeated Spider-Man for good.  Mysterio reminds him about the money Jonah has promised for doing so.  Jonah introduces Mysterio to Peter Parker, saying despite his youth he is the Bugle's best photographer.  Peter uses this meeting to pin a spider-tracer on Mysterio.  A smiling Peter leaves, bumping into Betty Brant.  She's happy to see him in a good mood, until he brushes her off (again).
Peter changes to Spider-man, and thanks to his tracer quickly finds Mysterio.  Mysterio again creates a big cloud of smoke and repeatedly punches Spidey, who begs off, saying he can't cope with Mysterio's bag of tricks, but he asks him to admit he impersonated Spidey and committed robberies.  Mysterio admits it and tells Spidey that he used to be a movie stuntman and later became a special effects creator.  One day, he came up with the idea of imitating Spider-Man by drawing on his movie background.  He studied Spider-man's powers for weeks and decided to duplicate them artificially, designing a gun that shot a web-like nylon cord, and using suction cups to cling to walls.  His plan was to frame Spider-Man for robberies he committed, but then came up with the persona of Mysterio to battle Spidey and become a hero for defeating him, all the while being a criminal.  His helmet was based on Spidey's eye pieces: he could see out but no one could see in.  The costume was also equipped with a mist that dissolved webbing, and his boots had both magnets and springs on the soles.  He also has a sonar device that allows him to see from inside that cloud he makes, and also jammed the spider-sense.
Peter changes to Spider-man, and thanks to his tracer quickly finds Mysterio.  Mysterio again creates a big cloud of smoke and repeatedly punches Spidey, who begs off, saying he can't cope with Mysterio's bag of tricks, but he asks him to admit he impersonated Spidey and committed robberies.  Mysterio admits it and tells Spidey that he used to be a movie stuntman and later became a special effects creator.  One day, he came up with the idea of imitating Spider-Man by drawing on his movie background.  He studied Spider-man's powers for weeks and decided to duplicate them artificially, designing a gun that shot a web-like nylon cord, and using suction cups to cling to walls.  His plan was to frame Spider-Man for robberies he committed, but then came up with the persona of Mysterio to battle Spidey and become a hero for defeating him, all the while being a criminal.  His helmet was based on Spidey's eye pieces: he could see out but no one could see in.  The costume was also equipped with a mist that dissolved webbing, and his boots had both magnets and springs on the soles.  He also has a sonar device that allows him to see from inside that cloud he makes, and also jammed the spider-sense.
Later, Jonah goes to police headquarters as he had heard Mysterio was there.  The police inform him of Spidey's innocence, and Jonah is despondent, until he sees Peter's pictures of the fight.  He says he will write out a check to Peter, which will take care of the mortgage payment - he's willing to pay almost half (!) of what the photos are worth.  Just then, Spidey swings into his office through the window, and congratulates him on a perfect record of being wrong about him.  For good measure, he webs up Jonah, suspending him from the ceiling.  As he swings off, onlookers below mention that he exposed and defeated Mysterio - he's vindicated!  The next day at Midtown High, Flash is bragging that he was right all along about his hero; later Peter, as Spider-Man, is web swinging along, musing if only Flash knew his true identity -
It would be worth anything to tell him some day -- just to watch him explode!
-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
My rating: 8/10

This issue features the debut of another classic member of Spidey's classic rogues gallery.  Mysterio's look is unforgettable, somewhat spooky, almost otherwordly.  He doesn't quite live up to the cover hype of "the greatest villain of all for ol' Spidey!", but he is a legitimate foe, and this is a pretty decent tale.
You might say the theme of this story is "arrogance".  Peter is a bit arrogant (and naive) to assume that his powers could not be duplicated by an imposter; to him, somehow it is more "logical" that he is doing bad things in his sleep that he can't remember when awake.  Maybe he's been watching too many late night movies?  Not only was Mysterio's explanation that it was all special effects not at all outlandish, Spidey lives in a world of super-powered people who can perform all kinds of amazing feats.  Thankfully, Peter isn't a total dunderhead, after his first battle with Mysterio, he realizes who has been pretending to be him, even if he doesn't have the how fully figured out.  Jonah is arrogant as always, even though he should be smart enough not to blindly trust Mysterio.   He knows nothing about him, Mysterio (like Spider-Man) conceals his true identity, and he wants money from Jonah for defeating Spider-Man and giving the Bugle an exclusive interview afterward.  You would think demanding money would raise Jonah's suspicions, and maybe it would if Joe Robertson were around to point this out.  Unfortunately, Jonah is surrounded by some nameless yes-men, telling him how brilliant he is.  Predictably, it all blows up in his face, although he does get some great photos of the final Spidey / Mysterio battle from Peter in the end - enough to cover the Parker's mortgage payment (side note: how does Jonah and the Bugle have any credibility at this point?).  Naturally, Mysterio is arrogant enough to assume he will get away with his scheme, like any good super-villain.  He is fortunate that Spidey is also a bit arrogant during the first meeting, as he hands our hero a pretty resounding defeat.  Luckily, Spidey does learn from his mistakes, and he was smart enough to figure out some of Mysterio's tricks in their first fight - and he will figure out how to counteract them, which leads to his victory in their rematch.
Spidey's visit to a psychiatrist doesn't go anywhere, only taking up a few panels, despite getting a promo blurb on the cover.  But Steve and / or Stan will use this idea in the future in ASM 24,  That story will feature arguably one of the best uses of Mysterio ever, and he doesn't even appear in costume in that story.
Peter has lots of troubles with the female members of the cast here.  We get one of the most passive aggressive May Parker panels ever (and that is saying something):  "You're not worried because our savings account is almost gone, and it's getting harder to make the mortgage payment each month, are you dear?"  Yikes.  He and Betty are butting heads, and even though early in the story she can't believe Spider-Man has turned bad after saving her life recently, later she asks Peter if he is "also" celebrating Spider-Man's defeat.  Peter brushes her off after that question and she wonders if it's because of Liz Allan.  Meanwhile Liz is flirting with Peter and showing off a new hairdo while he has too much on his mind to even respond well.
Although Jonah has whipped up the public against Spidey, and even Peter is wondering at first if he's doing this in his sleep, Flash Thompson never loses his faith in his hero.  The supporting cast gets a lot of development every issue - and Jonah, Flash, and Betty are all more complex than most non-powered characters in other comics of the era.  Liz Allan is really a minor player at this point, and I find it interesting that Peter seems to have lost interest in her.  Meanwhile, I'm still surprised how limited the use of May Parker is in these early issues of ASM.  Scenes at the Daily Bugle and Midtown High are longer sequences, and frankly, more interesting than Peter's home life, as they are more fleshed out.

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