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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Having Osborn just pretend to forget is yet another attempt to make him an all powerful being that Spider-Man can't hope to defeat, one that's been manipulating him all his life without him even knowing it. I'm surprised they haven't said the burglar was working for him.  

Shhhh!  Don't give them ideas!

It is possible they might read this. Some jokes on deviantart have turned up on youtube, Wikipedia, and other sites as facts.

John Dunbar said:

At an atomic research center, a brilliant scientist named Otto Octavious is conducting experiments using radiation.

At some point they changed the spelling of his name from Octavious to Octavius. In his next two appearamnces in ASM #11 and #12 I think he's only referred to as Doctor Octopus so it must have been after that.

He rips the bars off the window easily, as the arms have great strength.

They really put bars on his hospital window? Why? At this point they didn't know he was a threat. Maybe they were intended to stop thieves from stealing drugs and equipment. OTOH, they did say he had brain damage so perhaps they were being careful while he was being evaluated.

Peter replies by reminding Jonah of their agreement (Jonah can't ask him how he does it) and arrogantly tells him to have a check ready for when he brings back pictures of Octopus.

Peter still is something of the jerk he was in his origin.

.... he has used his flame a lot recently and needs a few days to let it get strong again.

I don't think they ever used this with the Torch before or since.

The Torch does a few demonstrations with a small bit of flame and then gives the students a pep talk. He tells them that when things ever get tough, never give up. Even the FF have had some defeats but they always come back and never say die. Peter feels like the Torch is almost talking to him directly, and that he is absolutely right. Peter thanks him, although Johnny seems more interested in the girls who want his autograph.

Peter was extremely grateful to Johnny here. Their later rivalry belies this.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man finds a chem lab and quickly mixes up a formula to use against Octopus, and puts it in several test tubes attached to wiring. He goes in search of him; Octopus attacks from behind but his spider-sense warns him in time. He manages to get one device of wiring and tubes around two mechanical arms but drops the other after a free arms hits him. The chemical fuses the two arms together, which Octopus says he can easily take care of after disposing of Spider-Man for good. He grabs him but Spider-Man webs up his glasses and Octopus can't see, although his arms pull Spider-Man closer to him. Octopus manages to get his glasses off as Spider-Man grabs his free arms, and Spider-Man knows he has only one chance to win. He lets go of the arms and knocks out Octopus a split-second later with a punch to the jaw. He uses a huge amount of webbing to bind up Octopus, and leaves him for the authorities, who he has alerted with the Spider-Signal.

The choreography of their battle is a joy to behold. Not just a slugfest but a battle between two thinking opponents. Ironically it ends with a punch to the jaw. It seems that once anyone got within punching distance it should be easy to knock out Doc Ock.

Speaking of Flash, the very last panel of the story is the start of him being Spider-Man's #1 fan while he is Peter's #1 nemesis at school, a brilliant idea.

I always thought that was a great idea and they had a lot of fun with it later.

Is this the first use of the Spider-Signal? I think so. It feels superfluous to me, somehow.

In the Masterworks volume they have a page sandwiched between AF #15 and ASM #1 which show Spidey's mask and other equipment. It shows him shining his signal against a wall but the captions don't refer to it at all. Looking at the scans of the original comics which I have on the CD set, this page doesn't appear before the Doctor Octopus debut. I suspect it was from one of the annuals. I always liked the Spider-Signal. It seems like a means of scaring the bad guys and throwing them off balance.

Richard Willis said:

It seems that once anyone got within punching distance it should be easy to knock out Doc Ock.

 

I guess a police sniper could take him out.

Possibly nobody corrected Stan on Octavious like they did on Palmer two issues ago.


 Richard Willis said:

John Dunbar said:

At an atomic research center, a brilliant scientist named Otto Octavious is conducting experiments using radiation.

At some point they changed the spelling of his name from Octavious to Octavius. In his next two appearamnces in ASM #11 and #12 I think he's only referred to as Doctor Octopus so it must have been after that.

Amazing Spider-Man 4 (September 1963)

"Nothing Can Stop ... The Sandman!"

Script - Stan Lee / Pencils and Inks - Steve Ditko / Colors - Stan Goldberg / Letters - Sam Rosen

Cover by Steve Ditko 

Spider-Man sees a Daily Bugle billboard, advertising a new series by J. Jonah Jameson called "The Spider-Man Menace!".  He takes it in stride, saying "some guys just never give up!".  He sees three guys casing a jewelry store, and webs them up.  But because they hadn't yet done anything, they threaten to sue him!  They yell for a cop so they can make a complaint!  An officer comes along, and Spidey takes off.  The three guys laugh at him, but the cop tells them to move along, as he is as suspicious of them as Spider-Man was.  Swinging by the billboard again, Spidey blames Jonah for this, saying even crooks aren't scared of him.  He decides to pay JJJ a visit, but when he gets there, Jonah's office is empty, so he leaves him a souvenir.

Later, Spidey sees some police cars in the streets below, and then spots a man climbing up to the roof of a building.  Spidey confronts him and asks the man who he is.  When the guys says he is the Sandman, Spidey says he has heard of him but thought the reports of him were a gag.  Spidey says Sandman is a wanted man and goes to grab him, but is pushed aside.  Sandman says he has some banks to rob.  Spidey tries to grab him but he changes his body to sand, and then reforms himself as a human.  Spidey tries to punch him but his hand goes through him, and then Sandman makes his jaw so hard Spidey hurts his hand punching it.  Sandman then stretches his mid section like Mr. Fantastic and sends Spidey tumbling.  His mask rips when this happens, and Spider-Man imagines he will be jailed if his identity is revealed, and his Aunt May will be left destitute, forced to sell shoelaces just to survive.  He runs away.  Sandman heads for a bank and uses his powers to get inside without tripping an alarm.

Back at his home, Peter is sewing his mask back together when a TV report about the Sandman comes on.  He is a criminal called Flint Marko, who escaped from prison and hid out at an atomic devices testing center.  He was on a beach near it when he was caught in a nuclear test explosion, and somehow his body took on the properties of the sand he was on.  Just then, Peter's spider-sense alerts him that his Aunt May is coming in the room, and he's still wearing his costume.  He quickly grabs a robe and holds it tightly against him.  May assumes he has a fever, and Peter fibs and says he isn't feeling well.  She goes to get some aspirin and a thermometer.  While she's gone he turns on the TV again to see Sandman being filmed leaving a bank he has robbed, with the police unable to stop him.  But with Aunt May looking after her "sick" boy, he's in bed until the next morning.  Peter says he's feeling better, and tells her he will be late coming home as he has to go see J. Jonah Jameson.  May calls him "that nice gentleman who publishes the Daily Bugle and Now Magazine".

Peter leaves for school, and bumps into Liz and Flash.  Liz feels bad Peter has asked her out so many times and tells him she will go out on a date with him that night.  But Peter tells her he can't tonight, as he has to study for an exam, although he really will be looking for the Sandman.  She is very annoyed at him, and Peter is as well at himself.  A teacher yells at him for daydreaming in class.  Meanwhile, the Sandman is barely evading the police, and needs to hide before they catch him, so he ducks into Midtown High.  Peter is carrying bottles to the boiler room, and when he gets there the janitor tells him to put them next to the school's new king-sized vacuum cleaner.

The Sandman enters a classroom, where Principal Davis is talking to a roomful of students.  Davis demands an explanation, but Sandman tells him he'll do the talking.  He says he never finished school, and demands Davis write out a diploma for him.  Davis refuses and Sandman grabs him.  Just then Spidey bursts in and decks Sandman; Peter had been walking by and heard the commotion.  The kids cheer Spidey as Sandman gets back to his feet.  Spidey knows he has to get Sandman out of the room before anyone gets hurt.

Spidey keeps away from Sandman so that there's time for the school to be evacuated.  He also wants to get away from closed quarters, where Sandman would have an advantage.  He makes it to the school gym where he has room to maneuver.  He covers him with webbing but Sandman slips right through it.  Sandman corners him and catches him, and almost knocks him out with headbutts.  Spidey desperately throws him against an iron stairway post, and Sandman's body becomes sand for a moment.  But he reassembles quickly, and tries to trap Spidey again.  Spidey lets him cover his body like a ball and bounces down to the boiler room.  He gets Sandman off him and then bluffs him, threatening to us a drill that can bore through anything on him.  Sandman changes to soft sand again, and then Spidey quickly grabs the industrial vacuum, and suck Sandman into it, saying the heavy canvas bag will hold him.

Spidey thinks it's too bad he didn't get pictures of the fight, but then decides to re-enact it.  He sets his camera on automatic, and then throws some real sand in the air and dives through it.  Meanwhile, the police have cordoned off the school, and Jonah arrives, demanding to be let through.  He asks why the police haven't charged into the school, and is told they won't until they are sure all the students are out and accounted for.  Spidey arrives with the Sandman trapped in the vacuum.  The police tell him to come down and give a full report to them.  Jonah angrily shouts questions at Spidey too, and he decides to go before Jonah turns the crowd against him.  He leaves the Sandman with the police and goes in the school to change to Peter Parker.  He bumps into Jonah who asks if he got pictures.  Peter says yes, but he hasn't developed them yet.  Jonah tells him not to worry, he'll just take it out of his pay.

Jonah goes back outside and asks the police what they are going to do about Spider-Man.  They tell him they have nothing against him, and Jonah rants about the damage to public property and calls Spidey a gloryhound.  He's told the police appreciate Spider-Man's help and while he can publish what he likes, people will soon realize he just has a personal grudge.

Peter is in a good mood and tells Liz he can take her out.  She brushes him off, and Flash razzes him.  Peter loses his temper and almost hits Flash, but stops himself before he hurts him.  Everyone is making fun of him until one guy grabs his arm and says Peter has muscles like a weightlifter, but Flash is unimpressed.  Later, Peter is walking home from school and overhears people talking about him who had read Jonah's story on him in the Daily Bugle.  Almost everyone has a negative opinion of Spider-Man, and Peter wonders if he is a gloryhound, but he figures he must have been given his powers for a reason, and must remain being Spider-Man.

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

My rating - 7/10

This was pretty good, but a bit shy of great.  The problem I have with the story is that with all the things Sandman can do, I can't see a vacuum cleaner trapping him for long, even a king sized industrial one.  But that's a minor nitpick, and there's a lot to enjoy about this story.  We finally get the Jonah we love to hate, and frankly Spidey is somewhat responsible because he left webbing on his chair.  JJJ is a bit mean to Betty Brant (in her first appearance) and also to Peter, giving him a "what have you done for me lately" lecture, yelling at him for asking for an advance, and later taking the cost of developing pictures out of Peter's pay.  I also liked the sequence where he's berating the police and they don't put up with it at all.  Up to now JJJ has been portrayed as gruff but otherwise normal other than a bit of an obsession with Spider-Man.  I found it interesting he wouldn't suggest a tie with Sandman without some proof of that.  It won't be long before he's making wild accusations against Spidey without proof.

Other memorable sequences

- the crooks at the start of the story making Spidey feel like a jackass, calling for a cop to help them

- Principal Davis fearlessly standing up to the Sandman and protecting his students

- Peter panicking when his mask ripped, imagining what would become of him and Aunt May

Ditko's art was wonderful here.  He uses a lot of different sized panels, which I enjoy.  The panel where Spidey bursts into the classroom where Sandman was threatening Davis is one of several widescreen ones, a smart choice for a character like Spider-Man.  I'm not a fan of the cover though, I just don't care for the layout that looks like a page inside the comic.  I prefer the one image on a cover that grabs your eye.

I think it's a great cover, but found it annoying that nothing like the scene happens inside.

I believe this is the first time Liz is named. (She had a cameo in Amazing Fantasy#15 but only Flash and the never again seen (until recent years) Sally are named.)

This issue shows how unique Spider-Man was. What other superhero couldn't fight a crook because somebody was constantly watching him, not (like a certain lady reporter) because they suspected him of being the hero, but because they were worried about his health? Also, attacking bad guys that haven't actually done anything yet is a good way to get in trouble. In the future that cop will probably wonder if JJJ is right about him.

Interesting that Sandman wanted a diploma. Seemed to be an important thing to him.

A better ending might have been to lead Sandman to the school swimming pool and push him in, turning him into mud. This stopped an alien Sandman in a horror story a couple of years earlier.

Spidey faking pictures to get money sounds funny when you're a kid, but he's really ripping JJ off here, although he does make up for it in a later issue.

Spidey faking pictures to get money sounds funny when you're a kid, but he's really ripping JJ off here, although he does make up for it in a later issue.

That's always bothered me.

I'd guess somebody wrote in about that, since Peter later lets Jonah rip him off.

It bothered me too.  He says "it's like shooting a re-take of a movie!", which would only be true if both guys from the original fight re-enacted it.  Of course, Sandman wouldn't agree to it and quietly go back into custody. That doesn't make what Peter does honest though.

Peter lies quite a bit in this story.  Some are little lies of necessity any hero would tell to protect their secret identity, and then here he's lying to himself.  He also told May he was going to see Jonah after school, but goes before school.  I think Stan Lee and Steve Ditko were giving readers a message between the lines here: this hero is a kid (like you), he isn't perfect and he makes mistakes (like you), but he's still a good person (like you).  Later, when it became apparent lots of readers identified with Peter Parker, it would be less between the lines and more openly spouted and used as a selling point.

I prefer the full page scene as opposed to multi-panel covers myself -- the bottom left image might have made for a good cover itself.  As for Peter faking some photos, that's the immaturity of Peter coming out (of course, plenty of very real people never grow out of that sort of immaturity and ruined their careers due to such behavior).  I'd bet part of the growing appeal of Spider-Man when these issues were brand new was that for all his powers, Peter wasn't a perfect paragon of virtue, and despite being basically good he'd make moral lapses like this but would gradually grow out of them.  Of course, when first reading this story, in one of the little PocketBook digests published in the late '70s, my main reaction was that it seemed implausible that he could get any photos JJJ would even want to purchase just by throwing sand around and punching at it.  The ending is both silly and amusing -- the great and powerful Sandman brought low by an industrial strength vacuum cleaner!  Sandman was certainly one of the most unusual and powerful, albeit not particularly bright, villains created in the early years of Marvel.

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