|The Doctor Octopus in ASM3 story was reprinted in MCIC1 just two and a half years after it first appeared. This may well have been in response to the volume of letters the Bullpen was receiving asking for back issues of the Marvel titles.|
|The first page of the story (this is the reprint from Marvel Collectors' Item Classics 1), acts as a second cover, letting the reader know that Human Torch is also inside.|
But once we're past that, the story kicks off at breakneck pace. Spidey foils some run-of-the-mill burglars heisting safe, and ponders that it was too easy. If only he had a foe that really tested his mettle. In the next two pages we're introduced to brilliant nuclear scientist Dr Otto Octavius (called Doctor Octopus behind his back by co-workers), see him injured in a laboratory explosion and diagnosed in hospital as having brain damage and his uncanny mechanical arms fused to his body. And we're only on page 4.
|It takes just one page for Dr Otto Octavius to go from hapless victim to scowling supervillain. Lee and Ditko sure knew how to move a story along.|
Overconfident, Spidey wades in, thinking to teach the crazy guy a lesson, but doesn't reckon with the super-strong mechanical arms of Doctor Octopus. In a one-sided battle, Doc Ock snaps Spidey's webbing, slaps him around and flings him out a window. And to add insult to injury, he calls him "Super-Man" during the fight.
|Of course, Doc Ock has no way of knowing how Spider-Man got his powers ... but Spidey's abilities are also "born of the atom", and of the hapless arachnid that was bombarded with radiation before it bit Peter Parker.|
|No one does misery like Steve Ditko, right? Given his immature years and the fact Peter's never been beaten as Spider-Man before, we can understand how he feels. And Ditko puts it across beautifully.|
But even as a kid reading this, I knew that it wasn't really the end of Spider-Man. And help comes in the unlikely guise of The Human Torch. Visiting Peter's high school, Johnny Storm gives the students a lecture on how they must stick to their goals no matter what obstacles life puts in front of them. "Ability alone isn't enough," he says. "Even the Fantastic Four have had defeats -- but we always come back."
|As it would many times in Spider-Man's future, Peter's knowledge of lab work helps him defeat a far stronger foe. The image of Doc Ock, blinded by Spider-Man's webbing is an absolute classic and powerfully memorable.|
|Spidey defeats the scary super-villain and Ditko gives a couple of strong images of Spidey being heroic. The epilogue with Spidey thanking a puzzled Human Torch for all his help is a nice touch, and feels like a trademark Stan Lee moment.|
When I break it down like this, the story might sound formulaic and a little trite, but it's important to stress that this sort of this just didn't happen over at DC Comics. The Flash never had a crisis of confidence after such a minor defeat. And Green Lantern never heard a pep talk in his civilian identity that made him realise what a twonk he was being. Only Stan had the savvy to realise that giving his heroes such human traits wouldn't make his readers look down on them. Quite the opposite. We could all identify what it felt like to fail. Twelve years olds face failure on a regular basis. It's all part of growing up.
|The original Marvel trademark corner boxes were designed by Steve Ditko. So it kind of makes sense that a giant version would be included on the Amazing Spider-Man letters page as an advertisement.|
As with Amazing Spider-Man 3, I would have first seen ASM4 (Aug 1963) as a reprint in Marvel Collector's Item Classic 2 (Apr 1966), which would have reached the UK in the late summer of that same year. The story introduced one of Marvel's most enduring super-villains, The Sandman, a career criminal who is (you guessed it) exposed to radiation while escaping from prison over a beach. The radiation fused the sand molecules to his body and suddenly Flint Marko is able to transform his body into sand at will.
|Right after Ditko's trademark "second cover" splash page, Spider-Man tries to foil a robbery, only to have the criminals accuse him of assault and call for a cop.|
|In their first encounter, The Sandman manages to defeat Spider-Man by accidentally tearing his mask, so Spidey has to retreat lest his identity become known.|
|I really liked the way Stan and Steve portrayed the principal as a heroic figure, standing up to the scary Sandman and trying to delay the villain so his students can escape.|
|Not one of my favourite Spider-Man issues, ASM5's cover was a little weak. And I was never much taken with Ditko's version of either the Fantastic Four nor their premier foe Doctor Doom.|
|Flash Thompson's practical joke backfires on him when Doctor Doom takes him for the real Spider-Man. Lucky for Flash that Spidey saves the day long before the FF turn up.|
I already covered ASM6 in a previous blog so I won't repeat myself here.
Amazing Spider-Man 7 (Jan 1964) featured the return of The Vulture. Now I always thought that The Vulture was a bit of a creepy villain. The character, Adrian Toomes, was clearly a much older man and shouldn't have been able, by any account, to offer any kind of threat to the super-powerful Spider-Man. There have been attempts by other writers to retrofix this and offer "plausible" explanations of why this should be so (his flying harness gives him super-strength and increased lifespan ... Huh?), but I prefer it was never explained and we just accept that this weird-looking old guy is somehow strong enough and wily enough to give Spider-Man pause for thought.
|I wouldn't have seen Amazing Spider-Man 7 as it came out before I knew about Marvel Comics, but I would have certainly read the story when it was reprinted in Marvel Tales 4 (Sep 1966).|
|Over-confident and inexperienced, Spider-Man believes he's going to beat The Vulture the same way a second time. The mistake costs Spider-Man another defeat and an injured arm into the bargain.|
The Issue closes with JJJ holding Spider-Man responsible for the damage to him premises and Spider-Man silencing JJJ in his own inimitable way, then Peter and Betty share a quiet romantic moment amid the wreckage left in the wake of the battle. All in all a satisfying conclusion to a good battle issue.
|I think the "Special Tribute-to-Teen-Agers" cover line was Stan's way of trying to reach readers beyond the traditional 8-12 year old audience for comic books. Perhaps he felt it made Amazing Spider-Man more of an aspirational read.|
I wouldn't have see the second story till later, as it wasn't reprinted in Marvel Tales in 1966. The main draw for me in that first story - and for Stan who cover-featured it - was the boxing match (the result of an incident where Flash breaks Peter's glasses) in which Peter batters Flash senseless. I'm sure just about every kid reading that wanted to do that to the school bully. I know I did. And I'm betting Steve Ditko did, too. The main plot, featuring Spider-Man's battle with a giant computer on wheels was pretty unmemorable, and very much had the feeling of a filler.
Stan never gave a reason, at the time, for having a second (Kirby-drawn) Spider-Man tale in the issue, aside from mentioning at the end of the letters column that it was intended as a "change of pace". The only reason I can think of is that it may have originally been drawn as a filler story for Fantastic Four Annual 1, but then replaced with the six-pager that actually saw print there. Then Stan would have had to write a shorter Spidey tale for ASM8 to accommodate the inventory strip, which meant that because of the space constraints, "The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain" was a bit *meh*.
"Spider-Man Tackles the Human Torch" was the third time the pair had met (they'd encountered each other before in ASM1 and Strange Tales Annual 2 - Spidey's appearance in FF Annual 1, which came out a month after the Strange Tales Annual appearance, is just a re-telling of the incident from ASM1), and up till this point, their relationship had always been friendly. Admittedly, it's more interesting dramatically to have Spider-Man and Torch feuding, but it's not clear why (if I'm right) Stan decided to delay the onset of the feud until ASM8. The next time the pair would meet would be in ASM17, where their feud continued.
|The defeat of Spider-Man - again. Despite the very goofy costume, I really liked Electro as a villain. Ditko always managed to imbue Spidey's earliest villains with an air of thuggishness, and Electro is no different.|
Aunt May's illness is what motivates Peter to try to raise the $1000 he needed for her medical bills. First he tries to borrow the money from Jameson, but Peter knows, as we do, that that will never work. So he resolves to capture Electro for the reward money. When that doesn't work out so well, he sells Jameson photographic "proof" that Electro and Spider-Man are the same person. It's not Peter Parker's finest moment, and though he might tell himself he's saving his aunt's life, it's just another example of how Stan was pursuing greater realism by making his heroes morally ambiguous.
|Spider-Man's defeat of Electro is simplicity itself. Spidey short-circuits him with a handy firehose. And in the closing scene with JJJ, Peter is able to redeem himself by giving the publisher pictures of Spider-Man's battle with Electro.|
|It's a bitter-sweet moment, and I'm sure that Stan and Steve had this difficult relationship planned right from the beginning. It's hard to identify where this is coming from, but I suspect the sentiments are Ditko's and the words are Lee's.|
Even better, in my opinion, was Amazing Spider-Man 10 ... this issue introduced a sinister new villain, The Big Man. While he didn't have super-powers himself, his three henchmen, The Enforcers, did have skills. Fancy Dan was a master martial artist, Montana had traditional cowboy abilities and used a lasso as his weapon of choice, the The Ox was just big and very strong. With his keen intellect and his Enforcers as muscle, The Big Man sets out to take control of all organised crime in New York. Meanwhile Aunt May is still recovering from the operation she underwent in ASM9, and now requires a blood transfusion to help her recover her strength. When the doctor asks Peter about his blood type, Peter is fearful is radioactive blood might harm his aunt. But of course he can't admit to that and reluctantly allows the medical staff to use his blood.
After that, Peter needs to rest as it's likely his powers have been weakened by the transfusion. However, when The Enforcers threaten Betty Brant, Peter decides that Spider-Man needs to get involved. Spider-Man scares a small-time hoodlum into revealing where he can find The Enforcers, then sets out after them. But they find him first and a skirmish ensues. Weakened from the earlier blood transfusion, Spidey realises he's not strong enough yet to take them all on, so he douses the lights and makes his escape. Outside he sees J. Jonah Jameson passing and develops a suspicion that JJJ's the Big Man, thinking that might explain why Jonah's accusing Spider-Man of being the Big Man.
So to get to the bottom of things, Peter resolves to boast that he's figured out the Big Man's true identity, hoping the underworld hears about it and brings him before the Big Man. Interestingly, Flash pulls Peter aside and warns him that, if he continues, the The Enforcers will be coming for him, not realising that's exactly what Peter wants. Even this early on, it seems like Stan and Steve were intent on softening Flash's character. Predictably, The Enforcers show up, grab Peter and lock him in a storeroom. Though Spidey quickly escapes, he's spotted by the mobsters and an epic battle kicks off. The fight choreography is some of Ditko's most imaginative to date, full of clever touches. Responding to the Spider signal, the police show up to round up the gangsters, while the Big Man makes his escape.
But Spider-Man, thinks he knows where the Big Man is going and heads for the office of the Daily Bugle. Watching from outside he sees the police show up and arrest ... Frederick Foswell, a timid columnist on Jameson's staff.
|Busted ... The Big Man turns out to be not J. Jonah Jameson, but ...Frederick Foswell. And the final scene of a snuffling Betty Brant is setting up the next story where we discover just what a pain in the nether-regions this girl turns out to be ...|
|I've never really liked this scene. I'd prefer to think Jameson isn't this much of a hypocrit. I'd actually think the character would be more interesting and sympathetic if he actually believes Spider-Man is a menace and does more harm that good.|
Then along comes Spider-Man - a much younger man - who appears to have had everything handed to him on a plate. He has super-powers, gained by some happy accident, and is admired by many. And that's something JJJ just can't stomach.
|These scenes from earlier Amazing Spider-Man issues are a true reflection of what Jameson thinks. To have him reveal in ASM10 that actually, all this time, he hasn't actually believed his own oft-stated views just seems plain wrong.|
By now, anyone reading this blog has probably heard enough about Spider-Man for a while, so I want to take a look at the Marvel anthology titles of the mix-Sixties, with a special focus on my all-time favourite superhero, Captain America.
Next: America, America!