Sunday, October 27, 2013

Spider-Monday - Amazing Spider-Man #1

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. You're going to hear that a LOT in this blog, because these two are the geniuses behind Spider-Man. The storyline, the character, the dialog, and most importantly the costume came from these two men, and have survived for decades despite some trying very hard to destroy them (*cough* the nineties *cough*). What's amazing *no pun intended* about Spider-Man is how quickly the basis for the character is developed, and how long it has lasted. Superman has had three origin stories alone in the 2000s, while Spider-Man has always failed to stop a robber that killed his Uncle Ben.

His powers, his costume, and his supporting cast are all here in Amazing Spider-Man #1. To be fair, he actually first appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15, which presented his origin story, but fans were so vocal that it took no time at all for him to get his own book. Enough musing, though. What's the plot?

Peter Parker is feeling guilty, depressed, and broke. Of course, broken down like that, it could also be the plot of 90% of all non-clone related Spider-Man stories ever told, so I'll have to get a bit more specific. 

The issue actually starts with an introduction to Spider-Man and a wonderfully done recap of his origin. I mean it.. his entire origin is recapped in a total of eight panels, and it carries all the emotional weight of the original story. It's genius, and it's thanks to rare, sparse Stan Lee dialog and wonderful body language from Steve Ditko. Having failed to stop the robber that killed Uncle Ben, Peter Parker's dear Aunt May is now unable to pay the rent. This means that Spider-Man is going to have to come up with a way to make money!

Part of the genius here is that Peter first offers to quit school and get a job. Over the next 40 years, Peter Parker will be defined as being Aunt May's bitch, and that's definitely established here. He's willing to ruin his entire life to help make the rent, and that's both impressive and sad at the same time - it's sad because he pretty much ends up doing that anyway. Then, Peter considers the idea of a life of crime. Finally, though, he settles on going with what worked before and getting back into showbiz. 

In a hilarious twist, which again was inspired on Stan Lee's part, the producer of the show can only pay Spider-Man with a check so that it can be tracked for tax purposes. Peter is, naturally, hesitant to give his own name so he asks for the check to be made out to Spider-Man, which he then proves to be utterly incapable of cashing! (There were no Wal-Marts back then with rather loose check cashing policies).

And as if that weren't bad enough, we get a cameo from J. Jonah Jameson who, unsurprisingly, hates Spider-Man. SPIDER-MAN MENACE is the headline on the Daily Bugle (because editorials often make the front page, I suppose) and it causes his one-man show to be shut down. I blame the mainstream media. The wonderfully meta aspect of this is that Jameson's complaints about Spider-Man actually do make sense. He's considered that Spider-Man is an "outside the law" vigilante, that children might copy his acrobatic feats, and overall he's just a bad influence on a regular kid that might copy him. Not that Jameson doesn't have his own goals, mind you, as he manages to encourage children to hero worship his test pilot son John Jameson.

Run out of show business, Spider-Man is left wondering why it is that he always gets the shaft, compared to Ant Man and the Fantastic Four. Ha! If he only knew the bad press headed Ant Man's way!! So after seeing his precious Overlord, Aunt May, pawn some of her jewelry, he decides to get a part time job. Of course, none of them want a school kid for the job, so he ends up just going to the launch of John Jameson's rocket. But!! As the rocket takes off, the dreaded "flashing red light can mean only one thing! I've lost the heart of the guidance device!" This apparently means he can't control the ship, which is apparently a bad thing.

So, along comes Spider-Man to get the device needed to fix the ship, convince a jet plane to let him ride on its wing as it chases the capsule, web line over to the capsule, install the device, jump off as it seems to land in a random park, and then read in the paper about how he's still a menace. Yep, save the life of ol' John Jameson and you'll only pay for it. If only Spider-Man could remember that in the future!! The kicker, of course, is that Aunt May finishes the story by saying how she hopes that they catch that awful Spider-Man. Peter Parker may be Aunt May's bitch, but Spider-Man would never be!

That ends the first half of the comic, after only 15 pages. The second half is a back-up story with the Chameleon and the Fantastic Four. The art is also done by Steve Ditko with words from Stan Lee, and it actually seems to pick up from the last story as Peter is still attempting to find a way to make money. He decides joining the Fantastic Four is the best way to make some cash and get Aunt May some much needed bling, so he heads over to the Baxter Building before it was the Baxter Building. Unable to use their elevator or, you know, call them, Spider-Man decides breaking and entering should impress them enough to hire him on.
"He balances on that web like a human spider!" Real subtle there, Mr. Lee.

Setting off the alarms and causing the Fantastic Four to spill their afternoon tea, even Johnny Storm has the sense to ask why Spider-Man doesn't call and make an appointment as anyone else would. Johnny Storm, everyone - voice of reason.  Spider-Man successfully gets in through a conveniently open window, breaks a thousand dollar trap, and proceeds to make chumps out of the Fantastic Four. This, of course, is supposed to make them love him and offer him money to hang out with them. Spider-Man, boy genius.

Finally, Reed gets tired of getting his butt handed to him and demands to know what Spider-Man is up to. Unsurprisingly, they decline his offer to provide them with his services, especially after they point out they are a non-profit organization that pays no salaries. Then, hilariously, they ask if he isn't a criminal and that they aren't a hangout or "Outlaws Anonymous." Spider-Man - can't catch a break. He truly is the Rodney Dangerfield of superheroes.

In a line that would inspire a thousand "What Ifs", Sue Storm wonders if maybe they shouldn't have tried to help Spider-Man. And so, we come to the Chameleon. He's a master of disguises, able to change appearance at a moment's notice. This is all done through make-up and acting right now, although that will change later. Deducing that Spider-Man is broke, Chameleon decides to make him the fall guy for a major heist, which.. actually isn't a terrible plan! Chameleon - better tactician than Cobra Commander. Chameleon manages to send a message to Spider-Man to be on a certain rooftop at a certain time, steals secret plans, and manages to escape as Spider-Man is left to accidentally web up some cops and get framed for the crime.

Spider-Man manages to "tune in" his spider senses to get a fix on the Chameleon and then, in a very clever use of his webs which would be repeated many times, manage to make himself into a human slingshot to catch up the the helicopter. I can't emphasize this enough. A trick that would be used for decades to come appears in Spider-Man number one. This is why Marvel Story-telling was so genius. Their ideas worked, and worked for a VERY long time.

Spidey makes a web parachute for a soft landing, and manages to catch up to the helicopter landing on a.. er.. submarine. A Russian submarine. In New York Harbor. Ok.. we'll just let that one go. Spider-Man webs down the hatch so that the sub has to submerge and get away, foiling Chameleon's attempts to sell the plans. He rips off the door of the chopper, grabs Chameleon, lands the helicopter, and hands over the - wait!! The Chameleon escapes! He uses a gas and makes a quick getaway, changing his appearance to that of a cop. In a genius series of panels, Chameleon fails to consider Spider-Man's spider sense, has to turn off the lights, then accuses Spider-Man of being the Chameleon. The cops run off Spider-Man, but still manage to capture him since his clothing was torn, and his old costume was showing up underneath it. Spider-Man leaves, crying, down a dark alley, as the Fantastic Four ponder what would happen if he ever turned his powers on them. Spider-Man - cries like a baby.

The last page actually is a feature they added to the first several issues of Amazing Spider-Man, describing in scientific (for the time anyway) detail Spider-Man's various powers. In this one, the Fantastic Four demonstrate Spider-Man's webbing. It's a great idea that they clearly define Spider-Man's abilities very early on in the series, allowing for a consistency that still wasn't entirely heard of at the time. 
This was an extremely fun read. I can see why Spider-Man was so very popular so very quickly. Stan Lee's wit and writing were top-notch as he was at the peak of his game, and Steve Ditko managed to take what could have been a ridiculous costume and get a lot of miles out of it. Rather than having the full mask reduce Spider-Man's personality and ability to show emotion, he uses body language to make up the difference and creates a very human, acrobatic hero. There's not a lot of wise-cracking, as Spider-Man is actually massively depressed throughout the issue, but considering that his life was just turned upside-down with the loss of his uncle and the persecution of the Daily Bugle, I'd say that actually fits with the overall story. This is a great stepping in point and a first issue done real justice. There will be ups and downs from here, but this is very deserving of being a classic!


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