Spider-Classics: the first six stories of Spider-Man

October 25, 2007

By Avi Green

Almost a year ago, a friend of my mother’s who lives in Ohio sent me some special free reprint copies of Spider-Man’s first six stories, which were being given out for free as bonuses in the Sun Newspapers of Cleveland, and were republished in two parts. As a big Spider-Fan for so many years, this was one of the best things to come my way, as now, I get to revisit a couple of those early stories and their classic introductions of some of the best heroes and villains in Marvel history. In this review, I’m going to look over each of the six first stories, which include both the premiere story in Amazing Fantasy #15 and the first five issues of the ongoing series.

The beginning: Amazing Fantasy #15

We open up our story with young teenager Peter Parker shown as being the outcast among the other students at his New York City high school. He’s introduced as an intelligent yet nerdish type of guy, who likes science but doesn’t have much luck in getting a date because of how he’s viewed as too nerdish for the girls, certainly one whom he’s tried to ask out, who finds Flash Thompson more to her liking. In annoyance, he heads off to visit a science exhibition at the neighborhood science institute, where, during the demonstration of a radiation device, a spider descends within its vicinity and gets irradiated, and then makes its way over to Peter and stings him before it dies. And this, of course, led to Peter’s acquiring his legendary superpowers, as he discovered on his way home. The ability to stick to walls, and even a fair amount of physical superhuman strength. Later on, he thought to try and test his powers by facing a wrestler at a ring who was challenging anyone in the audience to fight him, but decided it best to wear a disguise. After his success, he was noticed by a TV producer who invited him to audition for an entertainment show.

We’re also introduced to Peter’s beloved uncle Ben and aunt May Parker, who provide Peter with some food that turns out to be perfect for making a starting template for his sticky web-spinning fluids. You’d think at first that his life was about to go on the upswing. But, leaving the studio that evening, he made that fatal mistake that cost him the life of his beloved uncle Ben: he was so lost in his own self-centeredness, that he didn’t care to stop the burglar racing past him who was stealing from one of the offices, allowing him to escape the pursuing policeman by the elevator. And later on, coming home from the job, he made the horrifying discovery, not made any better when, after defeating the murderer of his uncle, he discovered it was the very burglar whom he let slip past in the TV studio. Pondering this in misery after leaving the villain tied up for police to deal with, he decided he would dedicate his life to being a crimefighter, to prevent similar crimes from happening.

It’s a very good start to one of the most classic superheroes in comic books, one that Stan Lee didn’t have as easy a time getting off the ground as a few of the other characters he’d introduced at the time, because then EIC Martin Goodman thought he had far too “repulsive” an idea in store. Not so at all. Fortunately, Stan was able to fit the story into a soon to be cancelled anthology title, which soon sold out every copy published, leading to a regular series a few months afterwards, and the rest is history.

Starting the series: Amazing Spider-Man #1

A brief recap, and then we continue onward with the new life Peter Parker begins to find. With his uncle now gone, when not out crimefighting, Peter has to prove himself the breadwinner not just for himself, but also for his beloved aunt May. So first, he’s trying to work out in the TV show, but he can’t give up on his anonymity, so it’s not like he can get a check cashed when paid that way. And then, J. Jonah Jameson, in his debut, begins to make things worse for our wall-crawler when he starts inciting against him in the Daily Bugle and also in NOW magazine, which his publishing company also owns. So, the TV show can no longer employ him as it might practically be illegal, what with the authorities possibly being after him now!

Whether or not Spidey is in danger of being arrested, he certainly is looked upon in a negative light by many of New York’s citizens, thanks to JJJ’s meddlings. And things certainly aren’t made better when, after saving the newspaperman’s astronaut son from possible disaster in an out-of-control space capsule, instead of changing his view on Spidey, JJJ only makes things worse – he accuses Spidey of deliberately sabotaging the space capsule, all in order to gain a better image as a hero, when this was not so, and in doing so, JJJ turns public opinion further against Spidey!

Peter Parker certainly is depressed and conflicted about what to do, especially when you see that aunt May too has turned against his costumed identity. Then, Peter wonders about turning to the Fantastic Four, as they by contrast were unscathed by any of JJJ’s propaganda at the time, and see if he can join them. Of course, he otherwise goofs at how he tries to do it, as when he first tries to get into their Baxter Building headquarters, they try to trap or knock him senseless, and when everything is settled down and they talk civilly, Spidey is still turned down. And while they don’t try to reject him totally, he still races out in annoyance, telling them that in that case, he’ll make them look like “pikers” by trying to nurture a career on his own. Sue Storm is disappointed that he’s left, because maybe they can try to help, and Reed Richards assures her that they may be seeing more of him in the near future, which they did, and they’d patch up any misgivings.

Spider-Man’s next encounter during this issue is with the Chameleon, an enemy spy working for Communist sources at the time (remember, this was written during the time of the Cold War!), who tries to get off by using a disguise as Spidey to mislead the authorities. Fortunately, our wall-crawler manages to thwart him and eventually, the Chameleon is caught, though not before a clever ploy he tries to pull, pretending that Spidey is the crook and that he’s just a police officer. Fortunately, Spidey’s own powers, when he gets away from the police, let them know who the real Spidey is, and the real villain is detected and caught at last.

An amazing thing about this premiere issue for the series itself is how it manages to pack quite a few interesting details into just a few pages. That was the great thing about some Marvel books at the time their own Silver Age was just beginning, that they could tell a good story in just a few pages, probably because they knew how to provide a certain amount of panels within that amount of space in which to do so!

At the end, when Spider-Man is running away, he sobs about how, in his possible view, he was misunderstood, even if it was understandable why, but perhaps he understood why it wouldn’t pay to let the screw-ups involved in the efforts to nail the Chameleon get him down. The next day, the news appears in the papers, with the Fantastic Four reading in amazement too, and as flattered as the Invisible Girl is that Spidey’s proven himself effective in some way, she’s still concerned that, as a youngster, he might prove corruptible. Fortunately, as the years gone by proved, he made an effort to avoid that.

Amazing Spider-Man #2

In the second of Spidey’s outings, he finds himself investigating the case of the new supervillain, the Vulture. This is as he’s just deciding upon the idea of going to work for JJJ as a photographer, as not only would it be a way to earn money for a living and support aunt May as much as himself, but it would be simply amazing at how JJJ wouldn’t even know that an employee working for his newspaper was really the same man he was attacking. And the Vulture’s got a master plan on how to rob a bank delivery just as it’s being transferred to the local bank in NYC, which Peter and his classmates go to take a look at while it’s being done. And man, is the Vulture’s idea of how to make off with the loot clever!

Then, there’s a second story here where Spidey meets up with the Tinkerer, one of a small bunch of alien invaders who’re spying for their planet on earth disguised as a repair shop. It’s interesting how, during that time, Stan wrote at least 3-4 stories involving alien invaders of some sort in a few of the books he created back then.

Amazing Spider-Man #3

Who now makes the scene here but…Doctor Octopus! Otto Octavius, a radiation researcher, is busying himself with the usual chemical experiments, assisted by steel tentacles he himself invented, when wouldn’t you know it, an explosion occurs that knocks him senseless. And then, while recuperating in the hospital, he begins to turn mad, and discovers that his tentacles have become a part of him in some ways, and that he can control them with but a thought. This marks the beginning of another of Spidey’s most recognizable foes, and one who, certainly at first, gave our wall-crawler a trouncing that filled Peter Parker with initial doubts about his ability to prove effective as Spider-Man. But, it was thanks to a special visit that Johnny Storm, the Human Torch, made to his school, that Peter was encouraged not to throw in the towel, and after tracking Doc Ock to the chemical research plant he’d taken over, struck back and this time emerged the victor.

Amazing Spider-Man #4

This time, it’s the Sandman to make the scene. Flint Marko, as he was first known – but later as William Baker – was a convict who’d escaped from a maximum security prison and hid out on a shore by a nuclear missile testing site. And he was apparently so affected by radiation on the sandy shore that he ended up turning into a creature of sand himself. Discovering this, he revived his life of crime, figuring to himself that in his now sandy state, it would make things plenty difficult for the cops to get hold of him. But of course, he hadn’t reckoned with just how clever Spidey could be.

This issue is also famous for being possibly the first time a superhero was seen having to repair his costume, as Spidey’s first run-in with the Sandman was cut short after his mask accidentally ripped and he had to bolt as quickly as possible, lest the villain learn his secret identity. Then, at home, he had to go to all the trouble of sewing the mask back together properly, and no doubt that in later times, he made sure to use the best possible quality spandex, so that it wouldn't get ripped again so easily!

The Sandman later looks for refuge in Peter's school after being chased by quite a few cops, and tries to cause trouble by threatening the principal. Fortunately, Peter wasn't in the classroom at the time and was able to change into his Spidey costume and jump into action, this time finally capturing the Sandman for the first time. It wouldn't be the last time he'd have to deal with him, and I think the next time they met may have been in an issue of Strange Tales co-starring the Human Torch.

Amazing Spider-Man #5

As the cover says, “it had to happen!” And it did. Spider-Man faced off against Doctor Doom, the archnemesis of the Fantastic Four. The self-imposed monarch of the fictional Balkan country of Latveria occasionally did secret work inside the US to try and strike at his archfoes, the FF. In this story, he thought about trying to lure Spidey into a trap in which first, the demonic Doctor would try to entice Spidey into working for him, before turning against him and destroying him. But Spider-Man wasn’t fooled. He flatly refused the offer, and a scuffle took place between them before Web-head bolted to get some R&R before facing off against Doctor Doom again.

Doctor Doom wasn’t done with Spidey yet either – he took to building a device with which to track Spider-based senses, so that he could search for Spider-Man in his civilian identity and trap him. But at that very moment, Flash Thompson was planning to scare Peter Parker with a Spidey costume he’d designed. And this misled Doom into thinking that it was Flash, wearing the Spider-costume, hiding behind a fence while waiting for the real Spider-Man to turn up. Doom, after capturing Flash, then hoped to use him as bait for the Fantastic Four, forcing not only them but also the real Spider-Man, Peter Parker, into action. Spidey locates Doom first, and a marvelous battle ensues between them.

Amazing Spider-Man #6

In a Florida Everglades swamp, the Lizard has been spotted. What nobody knows at that time is that Dr. Curt Connors is the strange reptilian villain, who was trying to regain a lost limb, and tried to duplicate the ability of reptiles to regain parts like tails. He regained his arm, but unfortunately, the side effect is that it turned him into a reptilian creature as well, who was exercising the dark side of his mind in trying to declare the area around his family’s house in the Everglades his own, and frighten away any interlopers. Peter convinces JJJ to take him on a flight to Florida, where he goes to face off against the strange reptilian troublemaker, and eventually succeeds, at the time, in curing him of his predicment, though JJJ turns down any photos he brings back, because he thinks it’s just an actor in disguise!

These were and are some of the best literature you can find in comics history, and while it’s true that there are some things here that are dated, such as the reference to Ed Sullivan, for example, it’s still quite absorbing and well worth the read. And, there’s some very good humorous touches as well that help make this a most delightful experience in reading. And they’re also a lot more engaging than the messes that have been plaguing Spider-Man almost ever since the disastrous “Clone Saga” that arose in late 1994, which Spidey may never have recovered from.

If only today’s writers would pay more attention to the simple storytelling approaches used in old stories like these, even the ones written during the late 60s-early 70s, then I think they could be getting somewhere. And that’s why I strongly recommend reading these first stories of Spider-Man, to get to know an era when adventure writing was written with respect and devotion for the audience.

Copyright 2007 Avi Green. All Rights Reserved.

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