Monday, November 18, 2013

Spider Monday - Amazing Spider-Man #4

Welcome once again to Every Amazing Spider-Man Reviewed! This time around we're featuring issue number four, the debut of the Stupendous Sandman! Acting almost as a combination of The Thing and Mr. Fantastic, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko present the Sandman as another radioactive villain, but this time he can control the grains of sand that make up his body! Will Spider-Man be able to adapt and save the day, or will Sandman successfully terrorize an innocent high school principal? The stakes have never been.. er.. stranger!
The Sandman continues the Lee/Ditko love of radioactivity gone wrong. In the days of 1963, radioactive anything was hot stuff, if you'll pardon the pun. The Cold War was at its strongest and scariest, it seemed like every dangerous nation was unlocking the secret to nukes, and we were teaching children to "duck and cover" in case of a nuclear attack. The lack of knowledge was astounding when it came to this mysterious force. Far be it for Lee/Ditko to ignore this and not make the most of it! There's a reason why both Dr. Octopus and the Sandman share a similar origin. The only real difference is that Flint Marko, the Sandman, was evil before his accident, while Otto Octavius was originally a smug man of science.

The issue opens with Spider-Man on patrol. Hanging out near a jewelry shop, he notices three thugs apparently casing the joint, as he so quaintly puts it. Once the owner leaves, the thugs move in and Spider-Man is there to stop them! With some easy webbing, Spider-Man saves the day - until one of the thugs starts hollering for a police officer. As Spider-Man has no evidence, they want him to be charged with assault and battery. This. Is. Hilarious. The cop comes over to see what's going on and Peter skips out, figuring it could only end badly for him. Cursing a giant billboard of J. Jonah Jameson, he swings off frustrated and with a badly bruised ego. He goes by the office of Jameson, who apparently is the publisher of both the Daily Bugle and Now Magazine (I'm betting a reader noticed the change from Now Magazine to Daily Bugle and called Mr. Lee out on it). As he leaves, her sees police cars racing down the street and deduces that the man climbing a nearby building must be who they're looking for.

Shining his Spider-Light "to let them know who they're dealing with" he lunges at the Sandman, who quickly makes him look like a fool. Here's a hint, Spider-Man - as long as you're dressing like that, most people don't need a Spider-Light to know who they're dealing with. You're probably the only one on the street in the middle of the night running around in red and blue spandex with webs taped to your armpits.

Half-way through the fight, tragedy strikes and Peter tears his Spider-Man mask accidentally, revealing his face. This knocks him out of the fight, as he hilariously imagines how his life would continue if everyone knew who he was. He figures he'll be put in jail because of being a teen-aged vigilante, and that his Overlord, Aunt May, would be reduced to selling shoelaces for a dime each. At least she doesn't lose her sunny disposition!
So it is that Spider-Man runs away and the Sandman goes back to his plan of robbing a bank, because Stan Lee only knows three criminal master plans. Spider-Man is powerless to stop him as he's thwarted by the evil Needle and Thread of Doom. He claims that he's a terrible tailor, which doesn't go with his established role of having made his own costume. It's an odd gap, but not an uncommon one. Stan Lee, famous for his terrible memory, was writing up to 10 comic books at a time at this point and would often forget small details that would have to be corrected later. He was the source of his own continuity errors, such as originally naming the Hulk Bruce Banner, only to call him Robert Banner in a later issue, leading to his name to be declared Robert Bruce Banner. There's a whole list of these things!

We get to see Flint Marko's origin thanks to a television news report, where apparently he hid from police at an atomic test site and ended up on the beach when a bomb went off, transforming him and giving him terrible new powers. This inspires Peter even more to stop the Sandman, but he's interrupted by Overlord May, who almost catches him in his suit. To protect his identity, he puts on a robe, making Overlord May think that he's sick. She dotes him so long that he barely has time to finish sewing his suit. Finally, though, he gets his costume back together and heads back out into the world, disguised as Peter Parker, but not before his overlord requires him to carry an umbrella and promise not to over-exert himself. Having Parker humbled adds to her power, I suppose.

We then cut over to Jameson's publishing office, where it's established once and for all (until later, I guess) that he does, indeed, publish two periodicals, NOW Magazine and the Daily Bugle. Obviously, knowing our history, it's easy to see which one Stan Lee prefers. NOW Magazine editors should probably put their resumes together. Anyway, Jameson has found Peter's little prank and has discovered himself webbed to his chair. Unable to free himself, he ends up taking off his pants and hollering for Betty to get him another one. How cool is that? Peter gets sent in with the pants and is able to see first-hand the results of his pranks.The page ends with it being revealed that Peter Parker finally has a date with Liz, who caved into a pity date after he asked so many times. Peter Parker - Willing to settle.

What does all this have to do with our villain? That's.. uhm.. a very good question, actually. Luckily, Stan the Man hasn't forgotten about Sandman, and the next page shows Peter telling Liz he can't make their date (secretly because he has to go capture Sandman). It is nice that it shows him wondering what the hell he's thinking, breaking a date off with her to go play the superhero. I certainly would wonder the same thing! At the same moment, Sandman is being hounded by police and decides to hide in the local high school. Please bear in mind, this is WAY before Columbine, after which this would be the worst. idea. ever. Peter, who has been caught daydreaming, gets stuck with the task of taking dirty bottles to the boiler room because - look, I can't answer everything for you guys, okay?? I have no idea! He does walk past a giant vacuum cleaner, though.

Sandman hears someone coming, so he ducks into the nearest classroom, which happens to be filled with students and an incredibly surly principal. The principal dresses down the Sandman in the most embarrassing way possible, buying Peter Parker time to overhear what is happening and charge in as Spider-Man. I want to point out at this point the fantastic work of Steve Ditko. Everytime the sand flows, it looks fantastic, and close-ups of Flint Marko feature a fuzzy bit of line and ink work, making him look a bit out of focus and soft-featured. This isn't done as much with modern representations of the Sandman, and if you ask me it's a shame. It really adds a fluid look to his appearance. The page below best describes what I'm talking about.
It's time, then, for another dramatic, Ditko-drawn battle between the Sandman and Spider-Man. This goes on for about three or four pages and every panel is totally engaging. It makes it clear that Spider-Man is slowly drawing the Sandman to the basement, where he finally manages to trick him into getting sucked into a vacuum cleaner - the same one he noticed before. Yes, he's defeated by a Hoover. How awesome is that??
With the Sandman in the bag, so to speah (hehe) Spidey realizes he doesn't have any pictures of the fight, so he just gets some sand from a bucket, throws it around while snapping pictures, and voila! Instant money! Just don't let the Associated Press find out about it, Parker! He delivers the Sandman to the police while getting taunted again by Jameson (and after once again making sure to shine that Spider-Light of his that is bizarrely effective in the middle of the day). Afraid of getting arrested, Spidey changes into Peter Parker, just in time to give Jameson his bogus photos and run into Flash Thompson and Liz once again. This time, Flash pushes Peter too far and he's ready to smear the jock from one end of the school to the other. At the last moment, he realizes he's making a mistake and backs off, looking like more of a coward than ever (although one student is apparently impressed by his muscles!). It's a good moment and a fitting end to a Spider-Man comic, stating that there will always be injustice for Peter, but he'll try to do good in spite of them.
At this point, I'm totally hooked on these early Spider-Man comics. They've aged very well, and I can safely say that three things made Spider-Man possible, where it would have failed with any other. 1- Stan Lee, for his living dialogue and insane but fun master plots. 2 - Steve Ditko, for his crazy awesome and detailed art in a time where most art was done with speed and general appearance in mind. 3 - The villains - for constantly keeping Spider-Man challenged and forced to continue on despite his own doubts. This is, without a doubt, yet another perfect Spider-Man comic, so the streak continues! 4 for 4!


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