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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Perhaps the story was based on an idea originally meant for Amazing Fantasy.

Amazing Spider-Man 8 (January 1964)

"Spider-Man Tackles the Torch!" (2nd story)

Written by Stan Lee / Drawn by Jack Kirby / Inked by Steve Ditko / Lettered by Sam Rosen

Spider-Man is clinging to a wall near the home of Doris Evans, the Human Torch's girlfriend.  He plans to pay her a visit and show her what she's missing by not dating.  Doris is having a party, and Johnny shows up driving a new Stingray.  He's using his flame powers to entertain Doris and her guests when a bat flies in.  Johnny tries to swat it away with a pillow, only to discover it's made of webbing.  He is tangled in it a bit, and Spidey stands in the doorway, announcing his presence.  The other kids are annoyed and want Johnny to get rid of him.  Spidey won't go and instead challenges Johnny to a fight outside.

Johnny throws a flame arrow at him, and Spidey responds by drenching Johnny with sand.  The Torch is really angry now and attacks with flaming buzz saws and a fireball net.  Spidey avoids it but lands on the ground on his stomach.  Before he can get up he sees the rest of the Fantastic Four.  He misinterprets a few comments from Reed and Ben, and thinks they are laughing at him.  He loses his cool and attacks them.  Reed tries to calm him down but Ben is happy to have a go at him.  However, before things (hah!) get out of hand, Sue grabs Spidey with a net while she is invisible and calms him down.  She gets Spidey and the Torch to stop fighting, although they continue to razz each other.  Spidey leaves, saying Sue is the only good thing about the otherwise over-rated FF, and leaves her a heart spun out of web fluid.

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

My rating: 9/10

A fun little romp.  Was this the beginning of the friendly rivalry between Spidey and the Torch?  They both acted pretty immature, as did Ben, but I can't say it wasn't entertaining.  It's a good thing Sue was there to play mother hen or peacemaker.  Spidey leaving her a valentine was an unexpected surprise.  Artwise, although we didn't see it often, I always enjoyed Ditko inking Kirby's pencils.  It's a nice fit, which is a bit surprising considering both men had such strong pencilling styles that weren't that similar.

Seeing as this was the only full story Kirby drew for ASM, albeit not a full issue, I wonder if Kirby drew or did layouts for at least one story for every ongoing series Marvel started up through their expansion in 1968?  Well, right off I can think of one he didn't do -- Dr. Strange (speaking solely of the Dr. Strange series, not counting covers or guest appearances in other series).  But it seems that even for those on which he wasn't the regular artist from the beginning, at some point he did at least one fill-in, including on Daredevil, Iron Man and Sub-Mariner.

This is a fun little story, a bit silly.  ASM was the one series in Marvel's early years that varied in tone regularly, from this sort of carefree fare to the more angst heavy issues, as with his first two appearances, with the murder of Uncle Ben and the resulting worries about money, or the later story in which Betty Brant's brother is killed, and the repercussions of that on Betty & Peter's budding relationship.  I think Lee & Ditko managed the mix of comedy & drama in these stories very well, just another thing that made ASM unique in this era.

A commentator at the Supermegamonkey website offers the suggestion that the story was originally intended for the Fantastic Four Annual #1. It's the same length as the annual's back-up story, which retells Spider-Man's attempt to join the FF and was also illustrated by Kirby/Ditko. (They also did the Human Torch/Spider-Man team-up story in Strange Tales Annual #2, which came out the month before the FF annual.)

Another Silver Age series Kirby never drew was Ghost Rider - the Western version - which ran from Dec. 1966 to Sep. 1967 (on sale dates). The series was drawn by Dick Ayers, who had been the "Ghost Rider" artist at Magazine Enterprises.

Then they would have come up with the back up story after they saw the Brain was running short.

Amazing Spider-Man 9 (February 1964)

"The Man Called Electro!"

Written by Stan Lee / Illustrated by Steve Ditko / lettered by Artie Simek

Cover by Steve Ditko

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

Spider-Man is speeding through the rooftops of New York, ignoring onlookers and even a gun battle between some cops and crooks.  He's rushing to get home with a prescription for his Aunt May, who is very ill.  She dozes off after taking some medicine, and Peter keeps a vigil by her bedside.  Meanwhile, in another part of the city, a man in a strange green and yellow costume gives himself a full charge of electricity as he prepares to go on a crime spree.  He calls himself Electro!  He shoots bolts of electricity from his fingertips, and uses his powers to easily rob an armored car.

The next morning, Peter has called a doctor for his aunt.  Her condition has worsened, and she has to go to the hospital for an operation.  After school, Peter goes to see her, and finds Betty Brant is visiting her.  When visiting hours are over, Peter makes an excuse so he can go into action as Spider-Man.  Betty say she is okay that Peter isn't walking her home but she is still worried about him.  Peter changes to Spider-Man so he can take some crime photos to raise money for May's operation but his plans are dashed when it begins raining; his camera can't take pictures in the rain.  Later at home he tries to study but is too stressed out to do so.

The next day, J. Jonah Jameson is at his bank, demanding to see some figures.  His banker offers to get them for him the following day, but Jonah insists he must have them immediately, and the man gives in, which pleases Jonah:

That's more like it!  When I give an order, I expect people to hop!

Just then, Electro enters the bank.  He has knocked out a guard and silenced the alarm.  He robs the bank, after making a comment indicating he recognizes Jonah.  After making his getaway, he races up the side of a building, using his powers to grasp on to iron beams like a magnet.  The police arrive and question witnesses, asking what Electro was like.  After seeing Spider-Man swing by, Jonah is convinced Spidey is Electro!  He tells this to the police, who dismiss the idea, but Jonah puts it in the next edition of the Daily Bugle anyway.

At the hospital, Peter learns the surgeon who will perform his aunt's operation charges a fee of $1000.  He asks Jonah for the money (without telling him why he needs it), and Jonah states while he never lends money, he will gladly give it to him if he brings him photographic proof that Electro is Spider-Man.  That gives Peter the idea to capture Electro for the reward money.  He scours the city looking for him, and after several hours finds Electro breaking into an apartment safe.  They have a brief battle, which ends when Spidey touches Electro's charged up body.  It knocks him out, although Electro thinks Spider-Man is dead.  After he comes to, Spidey takes some pictures of himself, and then super-imposes some photos he took of Electro over them to give Jonah the "proof" he is looking for.  Peter feels awful about taking the money under false pretenses, but feels he had no choice as May's life was at stake.

Electro reads the story and gloats Spider-man can never prove anything ever again.  He thinks back to the day when he gained his powers.  He used to be an ordinary lineman named Max Dillon.  One day while he was working on a power pole when he was struck by lightning.  He should have been killed, but he was also grasping some wires at the time and he figures the two currents cancelled each other out, giving him his powers.  Later, he goes to a jailhouse where over a dozen prisoners are awaiting transfer to a federal penitentiary.  He plans to free them and make them his flunkies.

Peter is on his way to the hospital when he walks by a police car.  He hears on their radio what Electro is doing, and plans to go after him once he checks on his Aunt May.  But the doctors are ready to operate, and Peter knows he cannot leave.  Betty stays with him while he waits.  Meanwhile, Jonah has gone to the jailhouse to see the situation for himself.  Some of the prisoners Electro has freed make a run for it but are quickly subdued by the police.  At the hospital, a relieved Peter learns the operation was a success, and shares the good news with Betty.  She tells him she has to go to the Bugle as Jonah is at the jail.  She begs Peter not to go as it is dangerous, but he says those are the photos Jonah pays the most for.  Betty replies she is worried Peter is becoming attracted to the danger, like someone she used to know, leaving him wondering what that's all about.

Peter changes to Spider-Man to go after Electro, stopping at a store to get some things.  As he swings toward the jail, a distraught Jonah realizes Spidey and Electro are different people, and now he will be a laughing stock - thanks to Peter Parker!  Spidey goes inside and puts on some rubber gloves and soles, and sets up his camera for whatever happens.  Not far away, Electro rallies the remaining prisoners, just before Spidey announces himself with his Spider-Signal.  The other crooks scatter, and Electro attacks with a bolt.  But Spidey is ready, deflecting it with some metal bearings, and then using a steel chair as a lightning rod.  He punches Electro in the jaw, and keeps him off balance by throwing more bearings at his feet.  The other crooks attack, but Spidey makes quick work of them.  Electro slips away while this happens, and then tries a surprise attack, but Spidey's spider-sense saves him.  Electro has a gun now; Spidey kicks a bucket of sand at him, which Electro turns to glass.  However, that's just what Spidey expected, and he webs up the gun while Electro was doing that.  Spidey comes across a fire hose, and sprays it at Electro full-blast, knocking him out.  He unmasks Electro but doesn't recognize him, so he grabs him camera and leaves.

Later, at the Daily Bugle, Betty tells Jonah that Peter is there to see him.  Jonah is irate, until Peter shows him the pictures he has from the jailhouse riot.  Peter agrees to let Jonah have these photos to make up for the faked ones he sold him before.  Jonah gloats to himself:

I'm robbing him!  I'll make a fortune with his pictures!  But I deserve it -- 'cause he's a fool!

Betty is upset with Peter for going to the jailhouse, and he tells her she can't stop him from doing what he feels he has to do.  They have a fight, and Peter goes home to check on his aunt.  Betty is there when he goes outside, and apologizes, and they make up.

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

My rating: 8/10

There's a lot to like here.  We get the introduction of a classic, although admittedly second-tier, member of Spidey's rogues gallery.  Poor Electro was probably never this dangerous again.  We also see for the first time two very familiar tropes for the Spidey mythos.  The first is Aunt May being at death's door, and the complications this causes for Peter and for Spider-Man.  We will see this again - and again - to the point where it will feel overused.  But it feels fresh here.  This may be the most May was used in a story since the origin.  And I can't help but note the contrast between how devoted Peter is to May here, to how poorly he treats her in the late 60s/early 70s (see Richard Mantle's excellent thread examining those stories).  He barely spends any time with her, and even when she's not well, he can't wait to run away if someone like Anna Watson is with her.

The second trope is Jonah being, well, pretty despicable.  Up to now, he's been gruff and bossy, and he's no fan of Spider-Man, but he hasn't been so thoroughly unlikeable..  He's a jackass to the banker, just because he's rich and he can get away with it.  He comes up with the idea that Spider-Man is Electro and prints it on the front page without any proof or evidence..  It won't be the last time he does something like that, but up to now he has been more or less honest and honorable as far as we know.  This feels like a direction Stan and Steve could have gone with Jonah after Amazing Fantasy 15 where he used his paper, his fame and money to criticize Spider-Man, but more than once between then and now, Jonah has said his only concern is selling papers.  Peter did the wrong thing by selling Jonah the fake photos, but he also felt guilty afterwards, even though he did it to pay for his aunt's operation.  Jonah meanwhile, cheated Peter out of thousands of dollars, gloated about it, and got no comeuppance.  You, sir, are dee-spicable.

This was my first Spider-Man off the spinner rack. I think it was a good jumping-on point in that it had all of his supporting cast and problems and the introduction of one of his classic villains. I was already familiar with Ditko’s art through earlier issues of Amazing Adult Fantasy.

The next morning, Peter has called a doctor for his aunt. Her condition has worsened, and she has to go to the hospital for an operation.

Interesting and odd that they say she needs an operation but never say what is wrong with her.

After school, Peter goes to see her, and finds Betty Brant is visiting her. When visiting hours are over, Peter makes an excuse so he can go into action as Spider-Man. Betty say she is okay that Peter isn't walking her home but she is still worried about him.

Last issue he was showing interest in Betty and they seemed to be getting closer. Here he is almost blowing her off.

Peter changes to Spider-Man so he can take some crime photos to raise money for May's operation but his plans are dashed when it begins raining; his camera can't take pictures in the rain.

Does he seriously expect to make significant money selling photos to Jameson?

He has knocked out a guard and silenced the alarm. He robs the bank, after making a comment indicating he recognizes Jonah.

They never explain how Dillon recognizes Jonah. Maybe from TV in one of his rants? Jonah, trying to understand this, jumps to the conclusion that he’s Spider-Man.

At the hospital, Peter learns the surgeon who will perform his aunt's operation charges a fee of $1000. He asks Jonah for the money (without telling him why he needs it)…

Why in the world didn’t he tell Jonah it was for Aunt May’s operation?

She begs Peter not to go as it is dangerous, but he says those are the photos Jonah pays the most for. Betty replies she is worried Peter is becoming attracted to the danger, like someone she used to know, leaving him wondering what that's all about.

ooohh, foreshadowing!

Not far away, Electro rallies the remaining prisoners, just before Spidey announces himself with his Spider-Signal.

Me love some Spider-Signal!

And I can't help but note the contrast between how devoted Peter is to May here, to how poorly he treats her in the late 60s/early 70s (see Richard Mantle's excellent thread examining those stories). He barely spends any time with her, and even when she's not well, he can't wait to run away if someone like Anna Watson is with her.

I think the difference is Ditko. He wouldn’t have Peter running out on her. They shouldn’t have later either.

The second trope is Jonah being, well, pretty despicable. Up to now, he's been gruff and bossy, and he's no fan of Spider-Man, but he hasn't been so thoroughly unlikeable..

If they REALLY wanted him to be despicable they should have had Peter tell him about May’s operation and then refuse the money.

Richard Willis said:

Peter changes to Spider-Man so he can take some crime photos to raise money for May's operation but his plans are dashed when it begins raining; his camera can't take pictures in the rain.

Does he seriously expect to make significant money selling photos to Jameson?

Well, Jonah did give him $1000 for the faked photos, and when he takes the jailhouse photos from Peter at the end of the story in place of the fakes, Jonah thinks to himself that he's cheating him, so they must be worth a lot more than that.  I think Stan was pulling these figures out of the air.  Even with Jonah being a skinflint that would be a lot of money today, never mind in 1964.

He has knocked out a guard and silenced the alarm. He robs the bank, after making a comment indicating he recognizes Jonah.

They never explain how Dillon recognizes Jonah. Maybe from TV in one of his rants? Jonah, trying to understand this, jumps to the conclusion that he’s Spider-Man.

They don't address it directly in this issue but Jonah is at this point a well known newspaper publisher, he's been on television many times, and he's wealthy.  And Electro is shown to be a Bugle reader in the story.  Not a stretch he would know who Jonah is.

At the hospital, Peter learns the surgeon who will perform his aunt's operation charges a fee of $1000. He asks Jonah for the money (without telling him why he needs it)…

Why in the world didn’t he tell Jonah it was for Aunt May’s operation?

That was weird.  He wasn't too proud to ask Jonah for a loan but was apparently too proud to tell him why.

And I can't help but note the contrast between how devoted Peter is to May here, to how poorly he treats her in the late 60s/early 70s (see Richard Mantle's excellent thread examining those stories). He barely spends any time with her, and even when she's not well, he can't wait to run away if someone like Anna Watson is with her.

I think the difference is Ditko. He wouldn’t have Peter running out on her. They shouldn’t have later either.

Agreed.

The second trope is Jonah being, well, pretty despicable. Up to now, he's been gruff and bossy, and he's no fan of Spider-Man, but he hasn't been so thoroughly unlikeable..

If they REALLY wanted him to be despicable they should have had Peter tell him about May’s operation and then refuse the money.

I think they were okay with Jonah being cartoony evil but not cold blooded evil.  I don't know if you can come back from Jonah looking Peter in the eye and flat out refusing to help him in any way when he really needed it.

The $1,000 for the photos is a surprise. Before this he was getting tiny payments for the photos.

I think before this he may have gotten $100 for some really spectacular photos.  In my opinion, $1000 is used here only because it sounds like a fee a high priced surgeon might charge.  A surgeon charging a $100 fee might have sounded dumb.  On the other hand, I think at the end of an earlier story Jonah paid him enough for some pictures that Peter was able to buy Aunt May a whole new set of appliances and pay the rent for a year.  Neither that nor the $1000 in this story feel realistic to me.

I think the whole thing about not telling Jonah that the money was for his aunt's operation was meant to be a pride thing, that Peter didn't want anyone nosing into his business.  It's fairly consistent later on when he won't tell anyone at ESU why he's not spending any social time with them.  I'm not saying that's the right tack to take, but I also think that's part of what made Peter work so well--he didn't always make good choices or approach things well.

Peter goes too far when he fakes the photos. I think that element a misstep by the creators.

We also see for the first time... Aunt May being at death's door, and the complications this causes for Peter and for Spider-Man.


That's a sharp observation. It makes the issue a turning point indeed.

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