So far, virtually all of the comics that I’ve reviewed on this site are a part of DC Comics, so I decided to read some Marvel for a change, starting with a reprint of The Amazing Spider-Man Marvel Masterworks.
In 1962 in the pages of a comic book slated for cancellation, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko gave birth to one of the most-enduring icons in American popular culture-the one and only Amazing Spider-Man! Turning the concept of a super hero on its head, they imbued the young, guilt-ridden Peter Parker with the fantastic powers of an arachnid and the fantastic pressures of an everyday teenager. The combination was pure magic. So join us in the following pages as we present stories of spectacular web-slinging adventure from Spidey’s early days including battles with the Green Goblin, the Molten Man, Vulture and Scorpion! Featuring appearances by Dr. Strange and the Human Torch!
Collects The Amazing Spider-Man #20-30, Annual #2
I must say, it was both nostalgic and weird to read some of the early works of Amazing Spider-Man; not so much weird in terms of plot per say, but just when thinking about how much has changed from the 1960’s until now.
For example, seeing the dreaded Comics Code Authority approval stamp in the top right corner of the comic cover, which reminds us that – decades ago – comics were seen as violent and anti-social by greater society, whereas now they’ve spawned multi-billion dollar entertainment for the big screen. The narrative captions, courtesy of Stan Lee himself (which endured in comics until the mid-nineties), the melodramatic prose of the characters, the outdated slang terms that can still crack a smile. Yet the old aspects that may seem corny to modern readers is a part of the (ironically) timeless charm of this Master works collection.
Issue 20, which opens this collection, explores the origins of the classic Spider-man villain the Scorpion, who begins as a plot to capture Spider-man, which quickly spirals out of control. In #21, The Human Torch of the Fantastic Four teams up with Spider-Man to battle the Beetle, while Peter Parker gets on Torch’s bad side in a complicated love triangle with the concerning the latter’s girlfriend. Following this is #22; a rather rudimentary story of Spider-man’s latest brush up with the circus themed “Masters of Menace”, followed by #23 (lettered by Artie Simek instead of Sam Rosen): Green Goblin attempts to take over the rackets of the local mob, while Spider-Man begins to suspect his cowoker/reformed crook Frederick Foswell.
Issue #24 was a personal favourite: Spider-Man questions his sanity when he starts “halucinating”, as a mysterious psychiatrist comes to town. The rest of the collection features a two part confrontation with the Crime Master (#26-27), An attack from the Molten Man, followed by Parker’s graduation (#28), a cameo from Doctor Strange (Annual #2), and a run-in with a generic cat burglar/Parker ends his relationship with Betty Brant (#29).
Obviously, such a collection of early comics won’t appeal to everyone. For one, these were written during the Silver Age, when it only required three people to complete an entire issue. That said, the artwork, while bright and vibrant, is somewhat flat; the backgrounds are not very detailed in all panels, or completely absent in others. The slang, as mentioned before, are dated (Spider-Man sing the term “blamed” instead of “damned”, an obvious result of censorship pressure). 7-8 panels litter a page, often stuffed with balloons, which can result in crowded reading. These elements can make the comic seem campy. Not to mention Peter Parker’s office romance with Betty Brant, which would be considered inappropriate today.
Nonetheless, these issues are more of a matter of looking at work from the sixties with a lens from the 2010’s (after all, the artist and writer responsible for these works are currently in their nineties, having lived through all four Ages of Comics). Yet the writing of Stan Lee is still – after all these years – remarkably entertaining. Even when the villains seemed a bit one-dimensional (ie, Molten Man goes from being an angry business man to an evil villain bent on master plans in only a few pages and very little character development), never could I say that these stories were predictable. Aunt May discovering the Spider-Man suit, Peter Parker swings at Flash – whose girlfriend actually likes Parker- as the latter nearly provokes him to compromising his identity, the breakup with Brant in the collection’s final story. The character struggles Parker faces while juggling his alter ego are perfect reminders why Marvel had become so popular in the Silver Age. Rather than creating demigods with very few personal struggles and only physical weaknesses such as Kryptonite or the color yellow (Really, Lantern?), Marvel writers went out of their way to humanize their characters with everyday life struggles.
This volume is the first Marvel-related collection I’ve read in years (I’m also clomping through the “Dark Phoenix Saga”), and this is a perfect reminder for both old and young readers why Spider-Man is an amazing hero, especially after all these years of Marvel abandoning their roots and going to the extremes of political correctness. I enjoyed it, and barely wanted to put it down, and it makes me regret that Stan is no longer the current Spider-Man writer. Such work leaves the reader with the “They don’t make them like they use to” feeling.