Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thought for the day

By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat down,
yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song;
and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying,
Sing us one of the songs of Zion.

How shall we sing the LORD’S song in a strange land?

If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning .
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth;
if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.

Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem;
who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.

O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed;
happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stone

Thursday, July 07, 2016


What do I fear? Myself? There's non else by.
Richard loves Richard: that is, I am I.
          Shakespeare, Richard III

Gandalf as ring-lord would have been far worse than Sauron. Sauron multiplied evil, he left "good" clearly distinguishable from it. Gandalf would have made good detestable and seem evil.
             Letter, Tolkien

1997: Blair's authoritarianism

1998: Blair's regressive welfare policy

1998: Blair's statism

11th September 2001

2002: Blair's drive to war

2003: Aftermath of Blair's war

2004: Arrest of Saddam Hussein

2006: Blair's Madness (1) - Leadership

2006: Blair's madness (2): Social Policy

2007: Killing of Saddam Hussein

2010: Blair defends drive to war

It has always been the prerogative of children and half-wits to point out that the emperor has no clothes. But a half-wit remains a half-wit, and the emperor remains an emperor.

I've been doing this for nearly 20 years. Please, put a couple of quid in the tin to show me I've not been wasting my time, okay? 


by backing me on patreon, you agree to pay me 50p or more every time I write an article (up to a maximum you specify). It only takes a minute or so to register. If everyone who reads my stuff chipped in, it would make a real different to my beer consumption standard of living.

Amazing Spider-Man #5

Marked For Destruction By Doctor Doom

Doctor Doom

Guest Stars:
Fantastic Four

Named Characters:
J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Liz Allan

First use of a pre-existing villain.

First time Flash Thompson is said to be a Spider-Man fan

First hint of a Peter Parker / Betty Brant romance

In issue #1 Jameson sincerely hated Spider-Man because he was stealing fame from his son John. But this issue, Jameson admits to being a hypocrite: he hates Spider-Man because hating Spider-Man sells papers. (Parker responds like the most famous teenager in literature, confronted by The Man: “you big, blustering phony”.)

On page 12 of Amazing Spider-Man #5 Stan Lee uses a caption to address the reader directly: 

You’ve struggled through one of the LONGEST INTRODUCTIONS you’ve ever read! But we think you’ll find it well worth it because now the fireworks begin in earnest!

In fact, Spider-Man spends another page and a swinging around the city, searching for Doctor Doom's base, but at the boom of page 13, Lee’s voice chips in again:

And now settle back and prepare to witness the gol-dangest, ding bustedest, rip-snoting’est super characters fight you’ve ever seen!

And there you have it: half way through the fifth issue of Spider-Man — arguably before the character is fully formed — we see the crack that three years from now will bring the first great era of the comic to its end. 

No, I don't know what gol-dangest means, either. (The caption sounds a little like Bound For Glory: "the singingest, square dancingest, drinkingest, yellingest, preachingest, walkingest, talkingest, laughingest, cryingest, shootingest, fist fightingest, bleedingest, gamblingest, gun, club and razor carryingest of our ranch towns...")

Even if you knew nothing about the off-stage disagreements between Lee and Ditko it would be obvious that there were two competing voices in this comic. The narrator-voice, the person who speaks the captions, is somehow outside the story: commenting on it as it unfolds, not creating it. And this narrator-voice is impatient with the back-story and wishes we could fast forward to the fight scene. The story-teller, on the other hand, wants to linger in the set-up and show us why the fight happened.

Put another way: the narrator is only interested in the Spider-Man part of the tale; the story teller is interested in Peter Parker as well.

Put a third way: the narrator thinks it's a fantasy book about super-villains; the story teller thinks it's a realistic book about an ordinary guy coping with his weird powers.

Now, this may be a calculated part of the act. Stan Lee takes the mickey our of Art Simek on nearly every credits page, but no-one seriously thinks there was a rift between the writer and the lettering department. But knowing what we know, I think that Stan Lee is editorializing. I think he really does think that Ditko has spent too long on the sub-plot about Peter Parker and Flash Thompson, and is actively criticizing him, right there, on the pages of the published comic. 

Whatever else he is, Stan Lee is caption-guy. Like him or loathe him (and I know some people think we should just erase the text and look the pictures) his voice is what the Fantastic Four has in common with Spider-Man. It's the unique selling point that makes Marvel a different proposition from D.C. Anyone can parody it; no-one can imitate it. One of the great strengths of that voice is its immediacy; Lee is honestly responding to the pictures he sees in front of him. The captions are sometimes more like commentaries than narratives. If we enjoy the moments when he says (sincerely) “OMG! Best. Cliffhanger. Ever!" we probably have to accept the moments when he says “Oh, for god’s sake Steve, get on with it!” 

But it’s still an odd thing to do. This is Spider-Man, the hero who could be you, the new, realistic hero, the guy we are supposed to care about, confronting Doctor Doom, Reed Richard's evil lab partner, the worst villain in the Marvel Universe. And Doom is actively threatening to murder one of Peter Parker’s classmates. Instead of talking up the melodrama, the narrator treats it as just another wrestling match. “Wohoo! Fight! Fight! Fight!” It’s as if George Lucas came on stage at the end of Empire Strikes Back and said “thank god! No-more rubbish about the Force! A sword fight! Finally!”

And this isn’t even the weirdest caption in the comic…


Stan Lee's complaint about the long build up isn't particularly valid. The comic is extremely well structured: a two page set up; four pages of Spider-Man’s first meeting with Doom; a four page interlude; a second, eight page fight; and a two page wrap up. I think most readers would take the opposite line: the set up is really well done and funny, but it doesn't go anywhere: instead of a payoff, we get an eight page wrestling match. 

The story has two prongs. In Prong A, Doctor Doom becomes interested in Spider-Man. First of all, he decides to ask Spider-Man to help him defeat the Fantastic Four. (After all, if he nearly beat them by himself, he should be able to beat them easily with the help of a teenager who can stick to walls.) Doom makes no attempt to deceive Spider-Man (as he does with the Silver Surfer a couple of years later) but appeals directly to his vanity. As ever, fame is the bait, and being a superhero is a branch of showbiz. “And yet, right under your nose, the Fantastic Four bask in the limelight while you are shunned and hunted.” ("Limelight” is pretty much a synonym for Spotlight: it was the title of of Charlie Chaplin’s last film, about the tragedy of fame.) And astonishingly, Spider-Man is momentarily tempted by the idea: “Me team up with you, huh. Wouldn’t that be a gasser!” Spider-Man is still a morally ambiguous character: he does, in fact, make the right decisions, but maybe one day he won't. He doesn’t say “get thee behind me supervillain, for I have sworneth on my uncle’s grave always to support the forces of good”. He says “Sure, it’s an amusing thought to kick around…” Teaming up with Doctor Doom? Amusing? 

When he has turned down the idea of going into partnership with the world's worst supervillain, Doom decides to capture Spider-Man and hold him hostage — telling the Fantastic Four that Spider-Man will die if they don’t surrender to him. This makes literally no sense whatsoever. If Doom wants a hostage, why pick on someone who is difficult to capture and who the Fantastic Four have no particular commitment to? Why not just capture Will Lumpkin the postman? 

This brings us to Prong B. Flash Thompson decides to play a prank on Peter Parker — dressing up as Spider-Man and jumping out on him to scare him. In a rather brilliantly timed denouement, Peter Parker and Flash Thompson are walking on opposite sides of a fence while Doom is scanning the area with his Spider-Man Detector. So Doom thinks he has captured Spider-Man, but has actually captured Flash Thompson in a Spider-Man suit. This is an almost perfect example of the accommodation that the story-teller will reach with the narrator: in almost every episode from now on, some unlikely co-incidence will bring an incident from Peter Parker's life and a threat to Spider-Man crashing together. But on this occasion, not very much comes of the set up. I wish Doom had continued to believe, or pretend to believe, that Thompson was Spider-Man for much longer; or that there had been a funnier confrontation between the real Spider-Man and the fake one; or Thompson had somehow found the Master Control Switch and really saved the day.

When Peter hears that Doom has captured Thompson by mistake, our Responsibility Hero’s first reaction is…to do nothing: to let Doom kill him, and actually to gloat about it. He appears to have momentarily metamorphosed into Evil Genius Parker (with extra-large glasses) “What a break for me! All I have to do is keep out of it and Flash Thompson will never bother Peter Parker again! Finally, things are going my way!” (Flash certainly does call Peter bad names; but Peter calls Flash bad names in return. Wanting him to be murdered is a fairly extreme over-reaction.) But of course, the other side of Parker, the Spider-Man side, responds “Awww, what am I thinking? Who am I kidding?” Note that Peter Parker's better angels do not say that "just keeping out of it" is precisely what got Uncle Ben killed: they just say that letting Flash die is not the sort of thing Parker would ever do.

This is the third time that the split Parker / Spider-Man face has been used in the context of Parker’s relationship with Thompson. At the end of last issue, Parker momentarily morphed into a super-villain and threatened to punch Flash ("you have insulted me for the last time!”); but his Spider-Man half reminded him that if he had a fight with a non-superpowered person, he could easily kill them. At the beginning of this issue, Flash taunts Peter again ("this is a bowling alley, not a knitting parlour”) and the Spider-Man side of Peter's face thinks that one day, he will lose control and Flash won’t know what hit him. So Spider-Man is both the potential that Peter Parker might do a bad thing — he is so strong, that his strength must be kept in check at all times. But Spider-Man is also Peter Parker’s moral side: the side which tells him that he can’t stand by and let villains kill civilians — even footballers.

The idea that a strong man has to be a saint because he has so much potential to harm people recalls Sir Lancelot in the Once and Future King; it's one of the central moral ideas in Marvel Comics, eventually daubed across the universe in the Dark Phoenix saga. ("I’d have to stay completely in control of myself every second of every day for the rest of my immortal life. Maybe I could do it. But if slipped, even for an instant, if I… failed… if even one more person died at my hands…")I can't think of any occasion when Spider-Man does cause harm by losing control: his sins are invariably sins of omission.

Stan Lee has a reputation as a motor-mouth who can’t stop talking, but in fact, of the 30 or so captions which appear in Amazing Spider-Man #5 fully 1 in 3 are simple stage directions, in the manner of silent movie inter-titles: 

The next day, at the offices of J. Jonah Jameson… 

A short time later, in another part of town…

Not long afterwords…

Minutes later, after Peter has reached home… 

and even simply


A further half-dozen fill out the stage direction with a bit of description, but are still basically functional:

Meanwhile, at home, Peter Parker practices his agility with his web in the privacy of his room…

And at that very moment at the famous skyscraper headquarters of the Fantastic Four…”

These intertitles may seem redundant to the modern reader: if the last panel on page 3 shows Doctor Doom in his lair, and the first panel on page 4 shows Spider-Man in his bedroom, we can infer a shift of location without it being signaled by a "Meanwhile, at home..." But I don’t think that comic book writers could assume that level of visual literacy in 1963. Stan Lee felt the need to point out that Peter Parker didn't really have lines coming out of his head when he used his spider-sense, it was just a way of making the picture look more dramatic. TV shows of the period are very reluctant to cut from, say, the surface of the alien planet to the bridge of the Starship Enterprise without an establishing shot of the ship or the planet to tell the viewers where they are. 

At any rate “meanwhile…” and “suddenly…” were standard operating procedure in 60’s comic books. They are best thought of as beat markers: as if someone were standing just off stage saying "New Scene!" every few minutes. They rarely have any expository baring on the story. Amazing Spider-Man #5 flies past in a haze of action, but if we paid attention to the captions, it would actually unfold over 4 days: 

Pages 1 - 6: Peter Parker and the kids are hanging out at the bowling alley. Spider-Man’s first encounter with Doctor Doom. (Day 1) 

Page 7 “The next day, at the offices of the Daily Bugle…” Peter sells Jameson some pictures of a fire. (Day 2)

Page 8: “A short time later…” Flash plans his prank, and executes it “Not long afterwards…” This leads to Spider-Man’s big fight with Doctor Doom 

Page 21: “The next day, at the office of J. Jonah Jameson…” Peter admits that he didn’t get any pictures of Spider-Man fighting Doctor Doom. (Day 3) And “The next day…” he goes back to school to find that the other kids are treating Flash as a hero. (Day 4)

Now, the final scene pretty much has to happen on a Monday morning, which gives us the time-line:

Friday - Kids at bowling ally, first meeting with Doom

Saturday - Peter goes to Bugle. Flash’s prank, big fight with Doom

Sunday - Peter goes to Bugle

Monday - Peter goes back to school

But does Ditko really intend that Peter dropped into the Bugle on a Sunday to tell them that he doesn’t have anything to sell them; and that he found both the editor in chief and his PA in the building? In fact, panel 5 on page 21 clearly follows directly from panel 4: while he’s at the office, Betty says that Peter is wonderful, and he is still thinking “gosh, I never realised she felt that way about me” when he gets to school. (Note that he is wearing the same clothes in the two panels. Ditko cares about that sort of thing.: Peter is dressed informally in the bowling alley but in his normal yellow tie when he visits the Bugle the next morning.) We could treat this as a simple mistake, and replace “the next day…” with “later that day…” but that means that Peter has to go to school on a Sunday. We could say that the kids were at the bowling alley on a Saturday, but that means that Peter sold J.J.J. the pictures of the fire on a Sunday. It doesn’t help that Doom is surprised to see Spider-Man walking about "in broad daylight", but that “a short time later” Aunt May’s house is plunged into darkness when the fuses blow!

There are seven day a week newspapers, of course, and it is possible that Jameson never gives Betty any time off. It is possible that Peter Parker knows what hours Betty works and happens to drop in when he knows she'll be there. But Stan Lee doesn’t have any chronology in his head: “Next day…” is simply a bit of scene shifting noise. It would be an interesting exercise to change every time-based caption to “Immediately…” and see if it had any effect on the story.

A third category of caption is narrative description. 

And then, as the deadly bolts from the awesome machine flicker around them, the two mighty foes battle for their lives...

These seem to be almost entirely indefensible: why on earth would we need to be told that two mighty foes are battling for their lives over a picture of two mighty foes battling for their lives? It's almost as if Narrator Guy feels the need to pop up from time to time and say "Hello! I'm still here!"

But the strangest use of captions comes on page 18. If you aren't paying attention, you could easily miss what is happening: I did the first few times I read the comic. (I suspect I am not the only person who sometimes allows his eyes to glide over the text.) Narrator Guy goes beyond giving Story Teller Guy a scolding in front of all the readers. The caption actually describes a different story from the one in the pictures. And choice of story is fascinating...

Over three panels, Doom tries to push Spider-Man into the path of the death ray; Spider-Man pushes Doom back ("I did it!") but Doom punches him ("Oof"). It is not a particularly inspired sequence; and it isn’t clear from the pictures what happens to the death-ray device. 

 But the caption says: 

"Exerting every last bit of power...."
Amazing Spider-Man #5

Exerting every last bit of power contained in a super-human body, the Amazing Spider-Man, executing one last maneuver, manages to twist suddenly so that both figures sprawl against the control panel, halting the deadly, disintegrating bolts! 

"But on the verge of exhaustion"
Amazing Spider-Man #5

But on the verge of exhaustion due to his herculean effort, Spider-Man cannot prevent his older, more experienced adversary from regaining his balance first and striking the initial blow!

A lot of this is empty verbiage. Stan is putting words on the page to force you to linger on this particular panel: it’s the writerly equivalent of a full-page art spread. The piece of information which Lee feels (correctly) is not clear in the picture could have been conveyed in a quarter of the words: 

Spider-Man twists suddenly so that he and Doom fall against the control panel. 

Ditko has just given us 12 panels of Doom and Spider-Man hitting each other, with a weird “war of the worlds” floaty-thing firing death rays at Spider-Man. A page later, the fight just peters out: the Fantastic Four arrive and Doctor Doom runs away. This isn't a very satisfactory way for a wrestling match to end. So Lee creates a climax for the fight, using many words to convince us something important has happened. Nothing in the pictures suggest that Spider-Man is making a big effort. Nothing in the pictures suggests that he pushes Doom against the control panel. And nothing in the rest of the story suggests that Spider-Man is particularly exhausted. The words are, if anything, a counter-melody to the pictures. 

Up to now, Spider-Man has beaten villains with Science; because Peter Parker has thought up devices to stop their arms or their wings working. But this time Spider-Man wins because he tries super hard and doesn't give up. (Maybe he's remembering the Human Torch's motivational talk!) He has super-strength; but he is operating at the very limit of that strength. So it doesn’t matter that the F.F turn up and Doom escapes, or even that Flash Thompson will take the credit for scaring Doom away. Spider-Man has won a moral victory by continuing to push when he was practically exhausted.

And it is astonishing to see this happening in the space between the panels. Because there is going to come another day on which Spider-Man will have to exert an herculean effort; and another time when he will cry out “I did it!” And that will also be the day when the crack between the Story Teller and the Narrator brings the whole edifice crashing down.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

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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.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Saturday, July 02, 2016

I don't care to belong to any party that would accept me as a member

I normally avoid politics on social media, but I have been embroiled in some discussions about the implosion of the Labour Party in the wake of the Calamity. Some of my fan-base (Sid and Doris Bonkers) asked that I assemble my comments in a single piece. I hope this makes sense. 

The discussion began when it turned out that my MP, who I had voted for, was one of those who had tabled a vote of no-confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party. I said that I honestly wondered if people like me were welcome in the party. I have been quite open about have been one of the "three pound members" who registered as a supporter in order to support his leadership bid; and who became a full member of the party literally minutes after his election. An old friend, who has been an active member of the Party for many years, asked, not unreasonably: "Did you join a party, or join a person?"

I believe in trade unions, libraries, nationalized utilities, redistribution of wealth from rich to poor. I believe in welfare payments to the unemployed and family allowances to mothers, old age pensions and student grants. I believe that no-one should be denied medical treatment through lack of means. I don’t think criminals should be hanged and I don’t think children should be hit. I believe in maternity and paternity leave and positive discrimination to overcome built-in prejudices. I am against genocide, and am against wasting money on weapons of mass destruction. I am not against all wars, but I am, like President Obama, against dumb wars. I don’t think countries and borders matter all that much, and I don’t think race matters at all. I am in favour of free movement; I live and work in a multi-cultural community. I am in favour of equal marriage, although I admit it took me a while to come round to that. 

I rejoined the Labour Party when it elected a leader who believed what I believe. If the next leader believes what I believe, I will stay in the party. But I fear that if Corbyn is ousted, New Labour wing will denounce anybody who believes in what I believe as a Trot. There will be no place for Socialists in that Labour party, and I will have the same choice that I have had since 1992: the choice between two Tory parties, and not voting at all. 

The Idealist believes in things, gives their support to the political party that believes in those things, and tries to persuade other people that she should believe in those things too. The...what shall we call him? political wonk? party man? activist?...wants his team to win, and thinks that his team should adopt whatever beliefs will deliver that victory.

Sure, there are such things as political tactics and honest compromises: but when Polly Toynbee starts saying (and I paraphrase) "well, it seems the Working Class are quite racist, so Labour needs to be a more racist to win the working class vote" I walk away. 

Very few of us are 100% Idealist or 100% Wonk in real life, of course. 

Tony Blair wore the right rosette and won elections, but he had no point of connection, that I could spot, with any of the things I believe. 

I suspect -- and I am sorry to go all serious here -- that this is actually a religious question. I am a Socialist because Socialism seems to be the best chance we have of applying Jesus's moral principals to the complicated and messy political world. Which is not the same thing as saying that Jesus was a socialist, or that all Christians have to be Labour, or that moral principals are the most important thing about Jesus. Giles Fraser does not have a point. This is why Christians like me can feel drawn to Marxists like Jeremy Corbyn and Billy Bragg: we all start from the position that something is fundamentally broken in the world, that a CEO being paid 100 times more than his cleaner is not so much a sign of a healthy, competitive economy, as a moral outrage. 

"The main requirement for a political party is delivering the things it believes in; not just wanting them"; yes, of course, but if that ever becomes "the main requirement is being elected, which we can only do by not trying to deliver those things" then, against, I walk away. 

I don’t think that “prevent the Tories winning a third term” is Labour’s main objective. I don’t think that “We are not the Tories” is a sufficient selling point to justify Labour's existence. 

I can picture three outcomes for the next election. 

Best outcome: Progressive government; Conservative opposition

Second best outcome: Conservative government; Progressive opposition.

Worst outcome: Conservative government, Conservative opposition.

It makes very little difference whether, in the worst case scenario, the conservative government has the label “Conservative Party” or “New Labour”. Either way, the poor are fucked. But only me and the Queen Mother think like that. and she's dead. 

You don’t get to implement your ideas by jetizoning them. There is no point in becoming the Tories in order to defeat the Tories. Labour is a moral crusade, or it is nothing.

I have a set of political beliefs about how I think a country should be run. Those political beliefs derive from a more deeply held set of moral beliefs (Christian, in my case, but that is incidental to the argument) and lead to me giving my support to a party. I support the party that reflects my political beliefs, and I hold political beliefs because they are a way of implementing my moral beliefs. I sort of assume that people go into politics because they also have political beliefs, based on moral beliefs, and want to persuade other people that their beliefs are the best. I even hope that they have thought there political beliefs through more carefully than I have.  

Why do we want to prevent a third Tory government? 

There are two possible answers: 

a: We don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government because we don't want a Tory government. Those are the rules of the game: if a guy with a Labour badge gets in, our team wins. It’s a bypass. You’ve got to build bypasses. 

b: We don't want a Tory government because we think that the Tory government will do bad things or that a Labour government will do better things. "Good" and "Bad" are here defined by our political beliefs which come from our moral beliefs.

The idea that a political party might shape its agenda (as opposed to its presentation of that agenda, or its propaganda) based on what will win elections implies 

a: that you can pick up and put down political beliefs at will, like picking a new tie 

b: that it's quite all right to SAY that you believe the thing that will win the election, even if you actually believe the other thing

c: that winning elections, rather than doing what is right, is the object of the exercise. 

This seems to be to psychotic, if not actually evil.

Politics is not only about what you think should happen; it's about making detailed plans and policies to ensure that it does happen -- about expertise and competence as well as belief. Candidate A and B might be united in their belief that everyone should get medical care when they need it; but honestly differ about whether socialized medicine or subsidized private insurance is the best way of achieving that. If you think Candidate A is on the wrong side of the argument, it  would be better to say "Candidate A has not done his sums right" rather than "Candidate A obviously wants poor people to die long, agonizing deaths". I think that the point at which someone says "Socialized medicine is better because socialized medicine is better and I don't care about the sums" is the point when you can fairly accuse them of being obsessed with ideological purity.

If I run a dairy farm, I might very well get marketing people in to tell me how to get punters to buy my milk. "You need to sell it in different kinds of cartons; you need to look at selling flavoured milk and skimmed milk; maybe you need to come up with a company mascot the kids can related to" are all good suggestions. "I think you should concrete it over and sell motorcycles", not so much.

If selling milk is your objective. If making money is your objective, then the motorcycles plan might be a very good one.

Is the Labour Party about selling milk or manufacturing motorcycles?

The question about whether the Labour Party is "too far to the left" or "too far to the right" is a moral one. You can show me that my morals are wrong ("you say that killing is always wrong, but have you considered the following circumstances...") or you can show that my political beliefs don't reflect my morals as well as I thought they did ("you think that paying benefit alleviates poverty, but did you consider…”) but you can't ask me chose my morals or my politics based on what will win elections. It's like asking a judge to consider the possibility that murder is a bit less naughty this week than it was last week.

A new Labour Leader who believes in being nasty to criminals, nasty to immigrants, nasty to the unemployed, and wasting money on WMDs that we will never use might (perhaps) be able to win an election. But I come back to my first question: in what way would that be better than a Tory government?


Bring Them Into the Light!

Friday, July 01, 2016

And at last Ar-Pharazôn came even to Aman, the Blessed Realm, and the coasts of Valinor; and still all was silent, and doom hung by a thread. 

For Ar-Pharazôn wavered at the end, and almost he turned back. 

His heart misgave him when he looked upon the soundless shores and saw Taniquetil shining, whiter than snow, colder than death, silent, immutable, terrible as the shadow of the light of Ilúvatar. 

But pride was now his master, and at last he left his ship and strode upon the shore, claiming the land for his own, if none should do battle for it. 

And a host of the Númenóreans encamped in might about Túna, whence all the Eldar had fled.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #4

Nothing Can Stop…the Sandman!



Named Characters: 

Aunt May, Jonah Jameson, “Miss Brant”, Flash Thompson, “Liz”, Principal Davies


J. Jonah Jameson wears blue and green striped boxers at a time when briefs were the norm for older men.

Miss Brant’s first words to Peter are “Would you take these trousers to Mr. Jameson, Peter.”

The Principal of Mid-Town High is Mister Davis. Peter Parker’s science teacher doesn’t have a name.

There is no streaming or specialization at Mid-Town High. Prodigies like Peter Parker go to the same science classes as thickies like Flash Thompson.

In the first panel of Amazing Spider-Man #4, Spider-Man hangs upside down, looking at the face of J Jonah Jameson on a hoarding. He is still attacking Spider-Man. “Some guys just never give up!” he exclaims. In the final panel, he asks the audience what they think his motivation is. “Why do I do it?” he asks “Why don’t I give the whole thing up?” 

I seem to remember that Johnny Storm had a few choice words to say about the subject of giving up last issue. Fate really has to work very hard to get through to Peter Parker.

Spider-Man #3 rebooted Spider-Man as a masked crime fighter plagued by self-doubt. But it is Spider-Man #4 which finally nails what Spider-Man is all about. The Doctor Octopus story had Peter Parker in it, certainly, but Peter Parker was simply Spider-Man without his mask. The story was about how Spider-Man loses his self-confidence and how Spider-Man gets it back again.. This is the first time that Amazing Spider-Man has properly been a soap opera -- the first time Peter Parker’s life and Spider-Man’s life are separate strands which get tangled up into a bigger story. It’s the first of these old issues which I found myself re-reading puewlt for enjoyment. It truly is one of my favourite comics of all time. 

All the main characters are now in place. Flash Thompson and Liz who have, up to now, been placeholders for “the jock” and “the jock’s moll” are now two characters in a school-based situation comedy. Between issues, Peter Parker has asked Liz out (I would like to have been, so to speak, a fly on the wall during that conversation!) ; she has accepted out of pity; but Peter has to break the date so he can go Spider-Manning. Up to now, we have had routine exchanges of insults, but this time we have something approaching wit.  

Peter: I can take you out tonight, after all!
Liz: Really? Perhaps we should declare this a national holiday! I’m sorry Mr Parker, but I have made other plans!
Flash: Meaning yours truly, punk! Now run along and find your umbrella!

Similarly Aunt May, who up to now has been been limited to saying “Peter, dear, what’s wrong?” gets some of her own screen time. Peter uses a dressing gown to his spider suit from his Aunt; and she puts him to bed, thinking he has a fever. This is also the episode in which J. Jonah Jameson -- the embodiment of the mob in issue #1, and a mere plot device in issues #2 and #3 -- emerges as a character. Six months ago, Parker almost knocked a wall down, whining “Jameson…It’s all his fault!” Bur now, the “responsibility hero” is covering the rabble-rouser’s chair with web-glue, leaving him with the choice of sitting down all day or walking around the office in his underwear. It’s an incredibly petty thing for Spider-Man to do: one level up from putting a drawing pin on Teacher’s chair, and it's quite brilliant. And in a way, it's an example of Stan Lee's "realistic" approach -- thinking through what the logical results of webbing someone's chair would be.

Jameson gets his own back, kind of, later on, with a line that made me laugh out loud. After the Big Fight, Parker gives Jameson a reel of film, presumably worth thousands of dollars, apologizing that he didn’t have time to have it developed. “That’s all right! Don’t worry about!” replies J.J.J. “I’ll take the cost of development out of your pay.”

For the three plot threads — Spider-Man vs Jameson; Peter Parker vs Flash and Spider-Man vs Sandman to come together, we have to swallow a certain amount of coincidence. Reading these old issues, it sometimes feels like the only villains who don’t rampage through Peter Parker’s perfectly normal high school are the ones who rampage through the offices of the Daily Bugle. And the bit where the Sandman demands that Principal Davis writes him a diploma, and Davis bravely refuses, is frankly a bit feeble. But the idea that Spider-Man’s fights the Sandman in front of the kids who three minutes ago were poking fun at Parker because Aunt May made him carry an umbrella -- and that Jameson turns up to watch --  is such fun it doesn’t matter. 

The plotting is beautifully tight. Ditko keeps setting up inconsequential chains of foreshadowing which pay off later in the story. Peter breaks his date with Liz because he wants to fight Sandman; this leads to him worrying about whether he should give up his duel identity or not; which leads to the teacher rebuking him for not paying attention, which leads him being made to run an errand after school. (The not paying attention incident happened in a generic classroom, but he is clearly asked to carry bottles from the lab to the boiler room. Regardless of what Ditko draws, Stan assumes that Peter is always studying Science.)  While he’s in the boiler room, Parker notices the janitor trying out a new vacuum cleaner. And, of course, six pages down the line, this very vacuum cleaner is used to defeat the Sandman. But at 21 pages, the story has so much space to breath that this kind of thing doesn’t feel remotely contrived. 

The Vulture was a skillful jewel thief; Doctor Octopus a monomaniacal mad scientist. Sandman is simply a thug. The ability to turn to sand and back again isn’t that interesting, but Steve Ditko allows him to do some fun things with it — stretch his body like Mr Fantastic; turn into quicksand; becomes rock hard and then incorporeal like the Vision. Spider-Man’s battle with him follows the now established formula: Sandman gets the better of the first fight (Spidey runs away with a damaged mask) but Spider-Man uses his brain to win the second encounter. 

Jack Kirby had been in street fights when he was a kid, and seen combat in the army: fights in Captain America often seem like hyper-exaggerated depictions of actual combat. The fight between Spider-Man and Sandman resembles no actual fist-fight or knife-fight that has ever been: it’s more like a series of proposals and objections; an exploration of how the opponents can use their powers. This makes it gleeful and funny, especially on a first reading; we are not thinking “who is going to win” or even “that must have hurt” but “what will they think of next?”
  • Spider-Man punches Sand-Man; Sandman turns his body rock hard. 
  • Spider-Man grabs Sandman while he is still rock-hard and throws him through the door.
  • Sandman recovers, turns his fists into battering rams and starts thumping Spider-Man. 
  • Spider-Man can easily dodge them with his spidery agility.
  • Spider-Man webs Sandman; Sandman turns to sand and pours through the holes in the net.
  • Spider-Man runs away, chased by Sandman's giant hand
  • Spider-man punches Sandman
    Sandman turns his body incorporeal and then hard, trapping his fist in his chest.
  • Spider-Man rams Sandman's head against banister, shattering it into sand.
  • Sandman reforms, smothering Spider-Man with sand.
  • Spider-Man roles up into ball, and roles downstairs
  • Sandman roles into boiler room.
  • Spider-Man attacks Sandman with and electric drill.
  • Sandman turns into sand.
  • Spider-Man sucks the sand into...a high powered vacuum cleaner. 
While the battle carries on, there is a continuous narration and backchat between the characters, as: 

“I’ll just let my grains of sound ooze over there toward you..like having your leg in quicksand, isn't it”

“I’ll bet you'd  be great at a party. Your just a barrel of fun, aren’t you?” 

It was always going to be hard to keep this kind of inventive writing up for very long, and within a few months, “fight scenes” will have degenerated be an endless sequence of A punching B while B makes a wisecrack, and B punching A while A makes a wisecrack. Indeed, by the end, Stan Lee gives up altogether and just runs with sound effects. But this is as good a superhero battle scenes as has ever been done. We don’t feel that the scenes about Peter Parker and Jameson are ballast we have to trudge through to get to the fight; or that the fight has interrupted the romantic comedy about Peter and Liz. The comic is a unified whole.

But in the end, it’s still about fame and infamy; about truth and lies; about the difference between what really happened and what the papers say happened. Parker, unbelievably, not only sells Jameson pictures of him fighting the Sandman (knowing Jameson will claim they were in cahoots) but actually fakes the pictures, convinced he isn't doing anything wrong. 
A classic Ditko "voice of the people" scene.
Amazing Spider-Man #4

The final page is a triple whammy. Panels 1 and 2 quite explicitly recapitulate the first panels of Amazing Fantasy # 15. Liz still isn’t interested in Peter while there are dream-boats like Flash Thompson around, and everyone drives off in Flash’s car leaving Peter by himself. And this time it’s mostly his own fault. 

Panel 3 is Ditko at his most effortlessly brilliant; we’ve moved away from The Crowd looking stunned and incredulous at Spider-Man's TV act: now a group of individuals with individual voices talk about Spider-Man, not knowing that Peter Parker (still holding that damn umbrella!) is listening. Each face is a little character study. The old men, shooting the breeze; the younger women with their grocery bags, including one with terrifyingly trendy glasses; the impassive man reading the paper, and best of all the snooty man indicating that Spider-Man is probably crazy. 

And the final panel is Peter’s soliloquy on the subject of Fame. 

“Am I really some sort of crackpot, wasting my time seeking fame and glory?? Am I more interested in the adventure of being Spider-Man than I am in helping people?” 

A little from column B and a little from column A, I should say. 

“Why do I do it? Why don’t I give the whole thing up?” 

The answer is not "Because Uncle Ben". And it's not even “because the Human Torch taught me a good lesson about perseverance” or “because I can earn, like, $20,000 in one go selling pictures of myself to Mr Jameson”.

This time around, Peter Parker tries to pin the blame on God. 

“I must have been given this great power for a reason! No matter how difficult it is, I must remain as Spider-Man. And I pray that some day the world will understand.”

As motivations go  “because God” isn't that much more help than "because Uncle Ben." Both come down to "just because".

I am Spider-Man because I am Spider-Man because I am Spider-Man. And it is not making me very happy.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

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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.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #3

Spider-Man versus Doctor Octopus, the Strangest Foe of All Time.


Doctor Octopus

Guest appearance

Human Torch

Named Characters

Jameson, Aunt May, 

First appearance of 

Doctor Octopus


First time Spider-Man catches a gang of robbers.


Flash Thompson is back to being a red-head, but is not referenced by name.

Parker tells Jameson to have his cheque ready, even though he was paid in cash last month. 

Ditko and Lee have different idea about why the Human Torch is taking time off from the Fantastic Four. On page 21, the art clearly shows him visiting a doctor and being given the all-clear. But on page 13, the text clearly says that he has over-used his flame power and needs to rest it. 

Four months ago, Spider-Man was about to turn evil. 

Two months ago, Spider-Man was looking for ways to make money.

This month, Spider-Man is a professional hero who has "cases" and "assignments" and "opponents". 

This is the second consecutive issue which has ended with Parker looking relatively happy. It won't last.

Today, we would call Amazing Spider-Man #3 a reboot. Characters are created, status quos established and precedents that haven't even been established yet are daringly broken. This is the first fully fledged issue of the comic we now know as Spider-Man. And it's not actually very good.

The episode begins with Spider-Man defeating a gang of bank robbers; beating up all three of them in a single panel and leaving them hanging on the end of a cobweb. This is the first time we have seen him do this kind of thing, but it clearly isn't the first time he has done it. He introduces himself with the spider-signal; which the crooks are all familiar with. He doesn’t take any photos or claim any reward. Catching thieves (just like flies) is simply what he does. 

And then he complains “It’s almost too easy. I’ve run out of enemies who can give me any real opposition. I am too powerful for any foes. I almost wish for an opponent who’d given me a run for my money.” Enemy; opposition; opponent. Spider-Man was introduced to the world as a wrestler; and Stan Lee's language is still the language of a fight promoter, talking up the challenger, making it sound as though the hero can't win.  “The world’s most dreaded super villain;” “his most powerful foe;” “can anything that lives defeat the mighty Doctor Octopus?” “the only foe ever to defeat Spider-Man;” “the power of Doctor Octopus is far greater than yours!” Each month from now on, Spider-Man will have a fight with an opponent; it will look as if he is going to lose; but he will win. When a challenger is particularly "popular", he will be invited back for a rematch.

“I almost wish for an opponent who’d give me a run for my money”. It’s now almost a year since Peter Parker told the old cop that catching criminals was none of his business. It isn't clear if Parker believes in God (although I will never not believe that Uncle Ben was Jewish) but he certainly believes in Fate, or talks as if he does. And if there's one thing we know about Fate, it's that you shouldn't go around tempting it.

It's been established over the last couple of stories that Spider-Man always loses the first bout with his challenger, goes away, uses his brain, and works out a way of winning the second round. This time, the formula is escalated in a frankly rather corny way. When Doctor Octopus throws Spider-Man through a window Whining Peter immediately decides (for the third time) that he’s going to quit being Spider-Man. He doesn't seem to be very badly injured; he just gives up. But it just so happens that the Human Torch is giving a motivational speech at Peter Parker’s school that very day. 

There is no special reason for it to be the Human Torch; Spider-Man and Johnny Storm’s feud is yet to be established. It could just as well have been a policeman or a vicar. Johnny, often depicted as a spoiled brat, comes over here in rather a good light. The original idea for Spider-Man may have been “what if there were a person in the real world with superpowers”; but that idea has now subtly changed into “what if the superheroes lived in a world like ours?" What if a visit from an older lad who could spontaneously combust and throw fireballs around were a not-very-remarkable part of your school day? Which is, it has to be said, a lot more fun.

The Torch’s message is the same one that, oddly enough, a little spider once gave to a demoralized Scottish king: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." “The important thing is never give up. Remember that. Never give up.” So Spidey goes back and has another fight with Doctor Octopus, but this time, he uses Science to make Doctor Octopus's arms stick together, sprays web over his glasses, and knocks him out.

"Strange that an old fashioned punch to the jaw defeated the most dangerous villain I’ve ever faced" says Spider-Man. It is never clear whether we should regard these remarks as Stan Lee patting himself on the back for being so original, or reprimanding Steve Ditko for being so boring. I am inclined to think the latter.

Doctor Octopus is a visually charismatic figure; a classical mad scientist with four extra arms attached to his torso. They are very strong; and they can be any length Ditko wants them to be; but I never understood quite why they made him quite such a dangerous enemy. There are one or two nice scenes: Doc Ock disguising his arms as water pipes so a guard doesn’t notice him; and the arms reaching through the door of the Atomic Research Centre -- but the two fight scenes are a little nondescript. For a number of panels Ditko stops bothering with backgrounds altogether. 

For once, we have a Spider-Man story which is not about fame: it's about pride. Octopus believes himself to be the most powerful man on earth; even though all he has is physical strength. Parker is defeated because he thinks he is defeated: once he believes he can win, he beats Octopus quite easily. The final frame underlines Peter’s confidence: Flash tells him that he is is a bookworm and the Torch is a real man, but rather than running away crying, Parker effectively responds that it was the “bookworm” side of him — Science — that defeated the bad guy.

Is Peter Parker coming to grips with his dual identity?

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

Pledge £1 for each essay. 

Leave a one-off tip

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.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #2

Duel to Death With the Vulture 


The Vulture

Named Characters

Aunt May, J Jonah Jameson, "Moose" (Flash Thompson), Jameson's secretary

First Appearance of

Utility Belt, Automatic Camera


When Peter is at home doing Science he does not bother to wear his glasses.

We get a very brief look at Jameson's secretary/receptionist (who appears to wear scary librarian glasses at this point.) Next month she will become "Miss Brant", and "Betty Brant" thereafter.

And so, on the first page of the second issue of Amazing Spider-Man, the original Spider-Man concept is abandoned, and the character we are familiar with comes into focus. 

Jameson, the chauvinistic tabloid editor from the previous issue, wants photographs of the Vulture, a flying bank robber with wings powered by Science. Peter Parker realizes that he could provide them. Aunt May, very conveniently, finds an automatic camera that once belonged to Uncle Ben. At a stroke, all Spider-Man’s financial worries are wiped away; the previous episodes relegated to the status of prologue; and the question “what should I do with my powers?” resolved. Peter Parker becomes Clark Kent; Jonah Jameson becomes Perry White; very soon the secretary glimpsed on page 8 will become Lois Lane. 

Close up of Vulture, Amazing Spider-Man #2
This is, I think, an interim issue: intended for an anthology comic (it’s only 14 pages long); somewhat connected to Spider-Man #1 (Peter Parker’s main objective is still financial); but focusing more on heroic action and less on character. The "realistic" setting is dropped; for the first time, Spider-Man has an enemy — a flying bank-robber. The aerial duel with the Vulture isn’t as breath-taking as the rescue of the John Jameson in issue #1, but it’s vastly more exciting than the feeble helicopter sequence in the Chameleon story. The sheer visual charisma of the Vulture carries the day. Ditko’s art is sometimes said to be scratchy and cartoony, but the close up of the Vulture on page 5 is on a level with an art-house woodcut.

Peter Parker does not see it as his duty to capture or defeat the Vulture. In their first encounter Spider-Man is following the villain at distance and setting up his camera, thinking “If these pictures come out, the ought to be worth a small fortune”. The Vulture spots him, knocks him out, and leaves him for dead; and when he recovers, he takes the pictures to Jameson. When Parker witnesses the Vulture’s jewel heist, he thinks “If I can get some new pictures of him now, I’ll be able to name my own price for them.” After the fight (in which Spider-Man deactivates the Vultures wings with some Science that he made in his laboratory earlier) he immediately thinks “this is my chance to get some exclusive pix of the capture of the Vulture”; as the police arrest him, he think “these pictures should be prize winners”. Peter is not an altruist; he is not driven by a sense of duty. He becomes embroiled with the Vulture while trying to make an honest buck taking photos.

First Appearance of Betty Brant,
Amazing Spider-Man #2
I will say that again: while trying to make an honest buck. Jameson wants photos; Parker can get photos; Jameson pays Parker what they are worth; and for the first time, everything ends well. 

Some of Stan Lee’s captions get ahead of themselves. Lee has a habit of “back-filling” stories. Once he thinks up a new plot element, he writes as if it was there from the beginning; which gives a new reader the impression that Spider-Man is a much more established character than he really is. “The most colorful superhero of all” cries the title page of Spider-Man #2 “His very name makes the underworld tremble.” So far as we know, in his entire career, Spider-Man has arrested one armed robber (without much publicity) and run out of a fight with one communist spy (also without anyone knowing). The last we saw of him, he was crying and threatening to quit being Spider-Man because he didn’t have any friends and no-one liked him. So what has the underworld got to tremble about? But Stan Lee has decided — I suspect after Ditko had completed the art — that Spider-Man is going to be a crime-fighting guy from now on, and therefore writes as if a crime-fighting guy is what he has always been. 

On page 7, Spider-Man is shown, at home in his bedroom, constructing a utility belt. I think that this is another example of words and pictures being “out of sync”. The pictures shows Spider-Man picking up his camera; looking at the front page of Now Magazine (with the camera still in his hand); making the belt; slipping it under his suit and then constructing a device out of mechanical components. The picture show that the suit can be used to store metal objects about the size and shape of cigarette lighters. They could be web shooters. They could be film canisters. The next sequence shows him selling his first photographs to J. Jonah Jameson.  But Stan Lee’s think-bubble reads “If I’m really going to be a secret adventurer I’ve got to make some changes”. Nothing in the pictures suggest that he is going to be a secret adventurer. What he is going to be is a freelance photographer. 

The episode is still all about fame. The Vulture is supplanting Spider-Man as the celeb who shifts copies of Jameson's papers. Spider-Man was a TV hit because he seemed to be more spider than human; today, the crowds are looking at the Vulture because he is “more bird of prey than human”. Jameson, who was obsessed with Spider-Man, now wants to fill whole issues of his magazine with pictures of the Vulture. The Vulture actively courts publicity, announcing in advance where his crimes are going to be committed. And so Parker makes a faustian pact to keep himself in the public eye. He is going to sell pictures of himself to Jameson, knowing full well what Jameson is will do with them.

Peter Parker is still a performer; Spider-Man is still a role he plays, but from now on, the Daily Bugle will be his stage, and his shows will consist of the dramatic capture of super villains. Jameson thinks Spider-Man is a publicity hound, but obligingly prints pictures of him on the front page of every newspaper he publishes. Parker is miserable because the Bugle tells a false story about him, but provides the very photos that ensure that story is the one that will be told. Parker can make a living only as long as he continue providing Jameson with material for his hate campaigns. Jameson can sell papers only as long as Peter Parker keeps providing photos of Spider-Man to fill them with. Jameson hates Spider-Man because he is famous; but it is Jameson who makes him famous. Spider-Man hates Jameson for making him look bad, but obliging provides the photos that allow Jameson to make him look bad. 

It’s a merry dance; a dance they both seem at some level to enjoy. They don’t seem to notice how many people — including themselves — the game is harming.

Note wads of cash in
Peter and May's hands
Amazing Fantasy # 15 ended with Parker slinking into the darkness, in shame. Spider-Man #1 ends with him cursing his powers and crying. But this story ends with a grinning Peter Parker telling an equally happy Aunt May that their financial troubles are over. There’s a trivial example of art and text being “out of sync” in this scene: we see Jameson looking at the photos; we see Peter leaving Jameson’s office with a huge pile of green dollar bills and we see a happy Peter and a happy Aunt May at home, each holding smaller piles of cash. We can clearly read what has happened: Peter Parker, like a nice little mummy’s boy, has split his first wage packet with his Auntie. But the text says something slightly different: Peter has kept the money, but is planning to spend it all on things Aunt May needs. “I paid the rent for a full year, and tomorrow I’m buying you the newest kitchen appliances you ever drooled over.”

At today's prices, a years rent on a two bedroom house wouldn’t leave you much change from $15,000, before you’ve counted in whatever a new washing machine and dishwasher costs. Parker has taken home practically a year's salary in one day. Jameson clearly doesn’t deserve his reputation as a skinflint.

In the end, the argument about who “created” Spider-Man is pointless. Ditko and Lee figured out for themselves what the comic was about, and those different idea became the first half-dozen issues of Spider-Man. This issue places a few more components into place; but we are some distance from the finished character.

The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer



Named character

Dr Cobbwell, Flash Thompson

First Appearance of: 

The Parker/Spider-Man mask motif



Spider-Man thinks that the Tinkerer is “one of the greatest menaces I’ve ever faced” —the others, presumably, being the Chameleon and the Vulture.

The Beatles famously intended Sgt Pepper to be the world’s first concept album: a fictitious concert played by a fictitious band. After recording the introduction and the first song, they reportedly said “Oh, soddit. Let’s just do tracks.”

One is tempted to imagine Stan Lee, one issue into his rule-breaking game-changing realistic new super-hero, looking up from his typewriter and saying “Oh, soddit. Let’s just do monster stories.”

In a filler strip entirely without redeeming features, Peter Parker (having just trousered a year's wages for one afternoon’s work) takes a weekend job running errands for an electronics expert and…foils an alien invasion.

The plot has been phoned in from Amazing Adult Fantasy: a shop offers to fix radios for a dime; everyone takes them up on the offer; but the radios are being bugged by extraterrestrials to enable them to spy on the human race. The idea of a radio that listens to you while you listen to it could have been quite spooky, but isn’t.

The story follows the formula that was established in the previous episode: Spider-Man fights the baddies; Spider-Man is defeated by the baddies; Spider-Man uses his brain and beats the baddie on the second attempt. This time he is zapped by a ray-gun and imprisoned in an unbreakable glass container, oddly like the one the Fantastic Four tried to trap him last issue. (Could that be because people who don’t like spiders sometimes trap them in glasses?) I have never thought that “escaping from the water tower by jumping” or “defeating the Vulture by rustling up a special anti-Vulture-wings-zapper” were very interesting ploys, but this one is actually quite clever. There must be air-holes in the container (because he isn’t suffocating) so all Spider-Man has to do to get free is fire a tiny thin strand of webbing through one of the holes and snag the “open unbreakable glass prison” button on the aliens' control panel.

Decades later it was decided that the Tinkerer wasn’t an alien after all, but was pretending to be because of Reasons. This doesn’t retrospectively make the story less awful.

The story does have two points of interest:

On page 8, one of the aliens cries out “Look! It’s impossible! But he’s loose!” and Spider-Man, punching two aliens with one blow, retorts “Who do you think you are — the town crier?” This is, to the best of my reckoning, the first joke Spider-Man ever makes. Up to now, his dialogue has been melodramatic (”there’s no place on earth where you can hide from me”) boastful (”the sky is my element just as much as it is yours”) and arrogant (”ya big ape who do ya think you’re pushing around”) but this is the first actual wisecrack. By issue #7, telling jokes will be specifically mentioned on the cover as one of things Spider-Man is famous for.
First appearance of Peter/Spider-Man
split face.
And on page 4, we get this first occurrence of the Parker/Spider-Man split face motif. Note that on this occasion, the Spider-Man mask is coloured in a lighter shade of red than usual, as if to emphasize that it’s not really there. It has been said that Lee wanted the comic to be primarily about Spider-Man whereas Ditko wanted to give Peter Parker equal space; and the half-mask was a compromise; reminding readers that Spider-Man was present, even in long Peter-centric sequences. Certainly, the half-face mask is going to become part of iconography of the strip, so intuitive that we hardly notice it is there. But this is the first time it's been used, so Lee writes in way too much exposition. Peter Parker is working in Prof. Cowbell’s workshop, but can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong. Suddenly, he thinks “Those electrical impulses. I sensed them in his shop! Now I sense them here! The part of me which is Spider-Man is reacting suspiciously to them! I’ve got to check this out!” This is a rather elaborate way of what would soon be expressed simply as “My spider-sense is tingling like crazy!” But Ditko’s visual motif has suggested to Lee that Peter Parker is not merely a kid who dresses up as Spider-Man for the benefit of the cameras, but at some level a split personality. The idea that there are two sides to Peter Parker — the side of him which is Peter Parker and the side of him which is Spider-Man —is going to be around for several issues to come; and it is by no means clear that Spider-Man is the good half.
Next issue, Lee will claim that the Doctor Octopus story is the first one to end without Parker selling pictures to Jonah Jameson; but in fact (despite a brief look at what might be a camera on panel 5 of page 2) there is no reference to photo-journalism in this episode. Stan Lee is obviously pretending it didn’t happen. I advise everyone to do the same.

A Close Reading of the First Great Graphic Novel in American Literature
Andrew Rilstone

Andrew Rilstone is a writer and critic from Bristol, England. This essay forms part of his critical study of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's original Spider-Man comic book. 

If you have enjoyed this essay, please consider supporting Andrew on Patreon. 

if you do not want to commit to paying on a monthly basis, please consider leaving a tip via Ko-Fi.

Pledge £1 for each essay. 

Leave a one-off tip

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.

 Please do not feed the troll.