Monday, November 4, 2013

Spider-Monday - Amazing Spider-Man #2

Every hero is, ultimately, defined by their villains. Batman wouldn't be nearly as cool if he spent all of his time hanging out at the local middle school scaring away drug dealers. Superman would probably be less impressive if all he ever did was rescue treed cats and the occasional frog in front of a lawn mower. Luckily for Spider-Man, this is something that Stan Lee understood very well. In his first appearance, his biggest foes were himself and the burglar that killed his uncle, and to be honest these would always be his biggest foes. To have these quickly followed in the first issue of Amazing Spider-Man with J. Jonah Jameson and the Chameleon is definitely a plus! For this issue, we get introduced to the terrifying, gravity-defying Vulture and the Tinkerer.

As is fitting for Marvel comics, both of these characters are science based. Mysticism has very little place in the early Spider-Man comics. The radioactive spider that bites Spider-Man is from a science experiment. The Chameleon uses masks and outfits to change his appearance. In this issue, the Vulture and the Tinkerer both use science to have their abilities rather than magic or various other nonsense. To put it another way, there were no Supermen in Marvel Comics. Science and nature provided all of the powers. (Well, until the Sentry anyway, but the longer I can put off THAT particular headache, the better!)

The Vulture kicks us off into the sophomore effort of Amazing Spider-Man. This is another comic set up with two different stories in it, with The Tinkerer getting back-up status this time. It actually starts off with a wonderful Steve Ditko splash page of Vulture and Spider-Man going at it as a preview, and it is definitely an attention getter! The Vulture isn't just drawn as a poor-man's Superman, moving and posing the same way. He truly has the appearance of a man moving in flight as a bird, which is eery and adds to his overall evil demeanor. That's all Steve Ditko and it works phenomenally well.

So Vulture swoops into the scene on the next page, stealing a briefcase full of a bonds, a fortune's worth. Me? I'd deliver that baby in a truck, but what do I know. J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of "Now Magazine (?)" want to dedicate an entire issue of his magazine to the Vulture, while also running some stories on the evils of Spider-Man (a man has to have his hobbies after all).  Unfortunately, Jameson only has one crappy picture of the Vulture to use, and demands that he get better pictures, or else he'll get better editors. Given the questionable future of Now Magazine, I'm guessing he probably should have tried for better editors, actually.

Peter Parker is working in a high school laboratory as a science major (could you really have majors and minors in New York high schools back then?) when he hears the other brats - er, students - talking about how one picture of the Vulture would be worth a fortune. Excited, Peter gets into trouble for ruining his experiment, endures some rather pathetic insults from Flash Thompson (future Spider-Man lover and Venom symbiote host), and borrows his uncle's old miniature camera from his Aunt.

Meanwhile, Vulture is planning a jewel heist. Vulture - lacking in creativity. He could make a fair bit of cash just taking a picture of himself, but I'm guessing he's thinking a little bigger than that.  Vulture decides to fly around the city, mysteriously dropping off messages as Spider-Man watches from afar. He basically tells everyone exactly what he's going to do. After that, he hears Spider-Man trying to get his camera working, drops him into a water tower, and flies off.

One thing that is really fun about these early comics is that Spider-Man is entirely inept! It's something that even the Ultimate Spider-man line failed to truly capture. He is blind-sided by Vulture, knocked out, dumped into a water tower, and runs out of webbing. That's what I call a rough afternoon. Luckily, he figures out how to jump really high and manages to avoid the most embarrassing hero death ever.

On his escape, he is appropriately embarrassed and designs another feature of his outfit that would last for decades - the Spider-Man utility belt. He stores his camera, a Spider-Light, and his extra web cartridges here. After that, he uses scientific know-how and his mind to solve the problem of the Vulture! Now that's the Spidey I know and love! Taking care of his own problems and using his brain! It got forgotten for far too long just how smart Peter is supposed to be.

Anyway, he turns in the picture to Jameson, giggling the whole time about how he's getting one over on the old man. He requires that he never be asked how he got the photo, and that they credit it to a "Now Magazine Staff Reporter" and Jameson happily pays him for it. (Now that's a switch from later)

Peter and the High School Twerps later go to watch the Vulture steal the diamonds, since that's what kids did before the days of video games, and Peter has to sneak off while once again getting mocked by Flash Thompson. Stan Lee really didn't hold back on making Flash a total ass - he has absolutely no redeeming values in these early comics, much like most of the people I went to high school with!

The Vulture manages to steal the jewels, using the sewers instead of the air to surprise everyone, and it's up to Spider-Man to catch up to him and recover the booty. (hee hee, I said booty) His web-swinging is specifically mentioned, which is nice, and it lets him catch up. After a bit of a tussle, Spider-Man uses his techo doohickey to shut down the magnets that Vulture used to fly and finally hands him over to the police.

Peter takes the pictures of his fight to Jameson, who is friendly and tickled pink by the images. He actually gives Peter a bonus and tells him to "go buy some twist records." Wow, nice and dated. J. Jonah Jameson - He does the twist.

The Vulture is placed into jail where he is allowed to remain in his costume (?????) while swearing revenge, while Peter goes home to spend his money on Overlord May, paying her rent for a year and buying her all new kitchen appliances.

The second half of the comic starts off with Spidey declaring the Tinkerer to be one of the greatest menaces he's ever faced (a list that includes all of himself, J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Flash Thompson, the Chameleon, and the Vulture.. not really an inclusive list at this point!). Stan Lee and Steve Ditko are behind this one once again, and we start with high schooler Peter Parker in the science lab once again at Midtown High, where he gets a chance to intern with Professor Cobbwell, conveniently labeled as a top electronics expert. Flash and Peter trade insults, and off Peter goes to pick up a radio for the professor at the radio repair shop, because Peter Parker is the world's gopher.  At The Tinkerer Repair Shop, named so strangely even Peter Parker comments on it, Pete feels his spider sense go off while waiting for the radio.

The Tinkerer goes downstairs to pick up the radio from large green alien that all radio repair shops come equipped with in their sound proof basements. It's part of New York code, you know. They cackle over how no one suspects that their radios have now been heavily modified (probably to add stereo and FM reception would be my guess) while we are treated to another iconic image, the shot of Peter Parker's head split down the middle with his Spider-Man mask. It's a GREAT way to show the Spider-Sense at work and is also incredibly dynamic. Major credit to Ditko for coming up with such a phenomenal presentation.
Peter is surprised to find that the Tinkerer only charges a dime to fix radios, which certainly seems cheap to me, but he doesn't question it and pays for the repair. And, of course, the Professor doesn't even offer to pay Peter back. Professor Cobbwell - skinflint. As Peter ponders the rationale of the Tinkerer's financial policy, he realizes that he's detecting the same radio waves in the professor's lab as he did in the Tinkerer's shop, setting off his spider sense once again. Naturally, once the professor leaves Peter tears apart the repaired radio and identifies the strange components. Seriously, this is a smart kid!! How did that get forgotten for so long? Deciding he's had enough after.. uhm.. seeing one weird radio, he figures he has enough information to do some breaking and entering into the Tinkerer's shop.

He manages to work his way down into the basement, where the Tinkerer and several aliens are hanging out, just moments before their terrible master plan comes together! Spider-Man, who isn't exactly wearing a stealth costume, gets discovered and is forced into the main basement by some ray guns, where he shows off some fantastic acrobatics. Steve Ditko managed to work some fluid motion into his art with these scenes, and the flow easily from panel to panel. With Stan Lee coloring the panels with exclamations, it really is art on page. As Spider-Man hides on the ceiling, the aliens are lucky to have an inverter mechanism, which just happens to loosen him from the ceiling and let them over power him, placing him in a resisto-glass enclosure. (Please note, all of this is just in seven pages of comic!!!)

Spidey uses his web shooter to hit a button to release him from the cage as the aliens were attempting to kill him. It makes no scientific sense whatsoever, but eh. It's fun to see. I personally love that the diagram of his web shooter includes a notation of the safety device. Those attention to details are what made these comics so classic and long-lasting.  Of course, Spider-Man defeats the aliens, sending all of them retreating to their space ship, managing to get back in time to meet the professor as he returns from his errands.

Like the last issue, this Spider-Man includes a demonstration of one of Spider-Man's powers. This time, it's all about his webs and the newly created Spider-Belt. Apparently, for a high schooler he's also the world's greatest authority on webs and their creations. Go figure!

This was a fun issue, and definitely full of action. As time goes on, my write-ups are inevitably going to get shorter and shorter for each episode. As modern super-hero comics grew more popular and sophisticated, the art will slowly come to supplant the writing, leading to less and less happening in each issue and larger panels of art. I'm actually really enjoying the pace of these early books, and I'm dreading the eventual slow-down. Still, I've got some time before that happens!


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