It is certainly the case that, during that final year, Steve’s input was at it’s zenith. The credits of issue #25 still attribute the, er, swingin’ script to Stan Lee, and the, er, dazzlin’ drawings to Steve Ditko. But the Stan persona immediately cedes the spotlight to Steve:
“Tantalizing” is a strange word to choose: a cover could be tantalizing, or a splash page, or a clue to the Green Goblin's secret identity — but in what way does this story dangle a treat in front of us without letting us enjoy it? And the story isn’t particularly characterized unexpected twists. (Once Smythe has presented his robot in the Bugle offices, it is obvious how things have to develop.) The word's Lee uses to describe the comics -- "tantalizing", "unexpected", "puzzle" -- gives a big clue to how he felt about his working relationship with Steve Ditko.
Stan Lee doesn't seem to be completely comfortable with this approach. Several times, what Ditko clearly intends to be a specific reference to a previous event becomes a generic reference to an unspecified past. So Peter doesn’t say “This must be Betty’s reply to the letter from Ned I stumbled on two issues ago”, he just says “I didn’t know she was still writing to him.” He doesn’t say “I need a new costume because I couldn’t follow Foswell two issues ago because I had washed it and it was still damp”; he says “I remember that time my Spider-suit got dripping wet and I couldn’t wear it when I wanted to.” It’s almost like Lee sees the story of Spider-Man happening in an eternal present tense (more characteristic of Superman and the Distinguished Competition) and Ditko sees it as an arrow thrusting forward to a definite conclusion. Perhaps he doesn’t want to make the comics too impenetrable to new readers; perhaps he just doesn’t reread old issues and doesn't always remember what happened last month. The final caption of issue #24 feels a lot like Stan Lee apologizing to the reader for Steve Ditko's unwillingness to wind up any sub-plots -- or maybe like an editor throwing his hands up in despair. "Nothing conclusive has been settled between Peter and Betty..or indeed between anyone. And yet, isn't that just the way of life? We never know what surprises are around the corner..."
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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.
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