Monday, December 16, 2013

Spider Monday - Amazing Spider-Man #8

This is kind of a special review of The Amazing Spider-Man. See, this is the first original review I'm writing for Fine Vintage Reviews. All of the ones up until now were cribbed from my old project, creatively titled Every Amazing Spider-Man Reviewed, which was just too limited to keep me interested. I'm really enjoying putting them back up, and also looking forward to getting back into writing about the exploits of Evil Overlord May and her hapless nephew. Today, we get to kick some glasses' butt, fight Flash Thompson, and discover the menace of The Living Brain.

Once again brought to you by the dynamic team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, we open the eighth issue of The Amazing Spider-Man with the senior science class of Midtown High School in New York City. As often happens with high school science classes, one of the modern scientific marvels of the age is wheeled in - the Living Brain!. As it is, Flash Thompson decides to be his usual, charming self and knocks Peter's glasses off, so that they break on the ground. This causes Peter to swear eternal vengeance against Flash, as well as deciding he didn't really need the glasses anymore, anyway.

Now, one could ask the question of how Peter managed to see anything through glasses he didn't actually need if his vision really had become perfect after the spider bite, but given Stan Lee's established scientific genius, I'm sure there's an explanation that would make no sense whatsoever, so we'll just fake it. Ultimately, I suspect that Ditko got tired of drawing the glasses, so they just simplified the whole thing.

Oh.. and the Living Brain was created by ICM, of all things. International Computing Machines Corporation. Good thing they weren't called the International Business Machines Corporation or there might have been legal trouble!

Anyway, while Parker fumes and Flash prepares to kick the ass of someone half his weight, the scientist goes on, blissfully unaware, and explains just what the Living Brain is. Sadly, he doesn't get around to explaining why the Hell it's called the Living Brain, as opposed to.. I don't know.. something that makes sense. Apparently, the Living Brain is notable for being able to roll around on ball-bearing feet, arms that can do simple motions, and being programmed with more knowledge than any other brain on Earth, human or mechanical.

Being given the chance to question the Living Robot, the class decides the only possible question to ask would be the identity of Spider-Man. Of all things, Peter even has to be the one to program the information into the robot for it to answer. What a horrible position to be in! We do learn a bit more information about Spider-Man, though. He's about 5'10", weighs about 160 pounds, has been sighted in the Forest Hills area a lot, and is the most wonderful, heroic, glamorous man in the whole world. Using that information, Peter reduces all the known information about Spider-Man and plugs in the data. After about five seconds, the robot spits out the answer, and Peter collects the ticker tape.

fortunately, just as Peter is told to read the result, two attendants plan on stealing the Living Brain and Flash Thompson bullies Peter into decoding the ticker tape. The science professor orders the boys into to fight in a boxing ring, so the tape is immediately forgotten as they strip off their shirts and pull on some boxing gloves.
The crowd naturally pities Peter even as he worries about how he's going to pull his punches enough to not clobber the daylights out of Flash. This is also the second time in this issue alone that Ditko draws the Half-Peter/Half-Spider-Man face... but it actually includes the whole body this time.
as Peter and Flash fight, Peter finds that he's actually too fast, making it look like he's running away from Flash. dialing it back a little bit, he throws a punch that he pulls back as much as he can.. and leads to one of the best pieces of art that Steve Ditko has or ever could draw.
I seriously crack up every time I see that particular panel. Anyway, the punch knocks Flash all the way out of the ring and into the crowd, and the students just think that Flash was fooling around, trying to make Peter look ridiculous. He is, however, pretty nervous as he moves to fight Peter again.

As the kids go through the adolescent experience of beating each other into pulp, the two attendants continue to work at stealing the Living Brain. Let me just say, "Thank God." I had almost forgotten that there was an actual plot here! Unfortunately, in the process of moving The Living Brain, the two random assistants bump the control panel while punching out the elderly science expert. Those dastardly dastards! This causes The Living Brain to swing his arms quickly and keeping the thieves from exiting, before promptly changing its mind and breaking into a classroom instead.

Meanwhile, the fight continues between Peter and Flash, with Flash not being able to land a blow on the agile Peter. Finally, Peter figures out how to hit Flash without smattering him into pulp, and bitch slaps him. Just as he does, students call out for help against the Living Robot, and it looks like Peter sucker punched Flash, making all of the students boo him rather than, I don't know, attending to the Living Brain issue. I really can't say Living Brain enough.

Being the only sensible student in the entire school, Pete quickly carries Flash off to the locker room before changing into Spider-Man in only thirty seconds! That's a quick change! As he races to the scene of the crime, he actually states "Sizzling Spider-Webs!" in shock. Yes, those were words uttered by Spider-Man. Eh, he's still new at the whole quipping thing.

As the kids run away from The Living Brain, Spider-man (tactical genius that he is) tells the students to run.. which they were already doing. Nice job? He launches into battle and leaps onto the robot, promptly forgetting that The Living Brain can think, and gets knocked off easily. Adopting a new strategy, he shoos kids away and then puts up some web to slow down the robot.

With a bit of calculation, the robot figures out how to break the webs and Spider-Man decides to test whether or not The Living Brain can think. Didn't we establish this? Like twelve times now? Well, we establish it a thirteenth time, as The Living Brain outmatches Spider-Man in speed and maneuverability.

As Spider-Man gets rid of even more kids by opening a door (wow!) he is attacked from behind by The Living Brain and crushed under a door. Unfortunately, The Living Brain underestimates Spider-Man's strength, causing it to think that Spider-Man is degeated. As he tries to get out from under the door, Spider-Man is trampled by the two thieves who conveniently confess to their crime as they pass. Knowing now that he has to get to the control panel (which I guess didn't occur to him before? This really isn't Petey's best day) he goes through five pages of being tossed by The Living Robot before crashing through a window and finally shutting it down. Meanwhile, the two thieves trip over Flash Thompson as he's attempting to tie his shoe (no, seriously, it's a challenge for him) and knocks them both out. Inspired by the sight of Flash with the two thieves, Peter hints that Flash is Spider-Man, all the kids buy into it, and Peter decides to just say that he lost the ticker tape from The Living Brain in all the confusion.

And so it is we reach the end of.. uhm.. there's more? Really? I'm kinda done with this one, but there are more pages to get through?


Alright, we now have a back-up adventure featuring Spider-Man and The Human Torch. I've mentioned before that Marvel was built from the beginning to have a joined universe when they were recreated it in the 60s, combining different publishers and properties. Stan Lee was not the least bit afraid to take advantage of this, since he was writing pretty much all of them anyway. Perhaps he knew he wrote a stinker with The Living Brain and decided to throw us a bone.

Here's the interesting part, though. This is, to my knowledge, the first time that Spider-Man was drawn by Jack Kirby! Kirby, of course, would become a legend of modern comics, and also had a chance here to show Spider-Man as drawn by someone other than Steve Ditko (who actually did the inking. Pretty sweet!!).
So anyway, Spider-Man is swinging around and decides to visit The Human Torch's girlfriend's house and play home wrecker, showing her why she should date him instead of the Torch. Keep it classy, Spidey! Johnny is rolling up in his new, all-white (even the tires) Stingray as the women swoon around him.

Immediately jealous, because that's another spider power, Spidey decides to show off (because that only ever led to the death of his uncle, you know) and creates the world's first web bat.

Web. Bat. Not only does it look like a bat, but it manages to fly and act like a bat, which is astounding. Johnny Storm tries to swat at it, and it comes apart to cover him in webs as Spider-Man steps through the door to gloat. Not surprisingly, the guests of Johnny's don't really take the showboating well and ask Torch to get rid of him. After accusing Johnny Storm of being related to J. Jonah Jameson due to his completely irrational annoyance at being coated in spider webs at his own part, Spider pushes his luck and Torch decides to Flame On! as his pants and shoes fall away.. which is more than a little creepy, not to mention they probably should have burned up.
Torch shoots a fire arrow at Spider-Man, Spider-Man dodges and creates a couple of web parachutes. He then follows up with sand from a beach webbed up into balls,  which extinguishes Johnny's flames for a moment. Johnny makes the beach erupt, Spider-Man dodges, Johnny shoots flaming saw blades at Spider-Man, which Spider-Man dodges,  and then Johnny throws a large enough fireball that Spider-Man decides he should call it a draw.

Unfortunately, he lands at the resting spot of Mister Fantastic, The Invisible Girl, and the Thing. They are very genial and offer to help him up, but Spider-Man decides that they won't get a chance to laugh at him, so he webs Mister Fantastic and manages to get into a fight with all four of the Fantastic Four. That Spider-Man is a master strategist!
Spidey manages to avoid a boulder thrown by Thing, creates a pair of web wings, and finally gets defeated by the Invisible Girl. Using a bit of sweet-talk and feminine wiles, Sue manages to talk them down and get Spider-Man and the Torch to be friends again. With nothing but sweet words for Sue, Spider-Man leaves behind a web heart for her to remember him by.

Look, I love Spider-Man more than the next guy, more than likely, or I wouldn't be trying to review all of these in the first place. Still, this was a tough issue to get through. I've read much, much better. There have to be some stinkers in with the gold, and this was definitely one of them. The Living Brain will return again, and is even currently being used as an assistant to Superior Spider-Man (which is pretty awesome) but his first appearance was not impressive at all, and the back-up story gave us some fantastic Kirby art trying to balance out a horrendous and rushed Stan Lee script.

Its only claims to fame are the ditching of Peter's glasses, which would continue ad infintum, and the Jack Kirby back-up story. Otherwise, there's just really nothing here to recommend it.  Fear not, though, True Believers!!! Next episode is the first appearance of Electro, and I think we all know that he's a character with some real legs. As for this issue, I am forced to give it a disappointing..


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