Monday, November 28, 2016

Amazing Spider-Man #14

The Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin

The Green Goblin + The Enforcers

Supporting Cast:
J Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen, Betty Brant, B.J Cosmo.

Guest Star:
The Hulk!

B.J Cosmo (or another director with the same initials) has previously appeared in Journey into Mystery #92, when he hires Thor to provide special effects for his Viking movie.

“Creature from the Black Lagoon” came out in 1954 and spawned two sequels “Revenge of the Creature” and “The Creature Walks Among us”. Unlike Cosmo’s “The Nameless Thing From the Black Lagoon in the Murky Swamp”, none of them won any awards.

Cosmo doesn’t seem to be aware that Spider-Man had a previous career as a TV performer.

It takes the three Enforcers and the Goblin to move the boulder over the cave entrance: Spider-Man can’t shift it himself, but tricks the Hulk into smashing it. This suggests that Spider-Man’s strength is a bit less than that of four reasonably fit grown men. (So maybe he can bench press 750lbs/340kg?)

The Hulk’s own comic was canceled in March 1963. After various away-fixtures in the Avengers and the Fantastic Four, he returns as Ant Man’s back up feature in Tales to Astonish #59 (September 64), where it is mentioned in passing that he was “last seen in New Mexico”.

Spins a web, any size: Spider-Man uses his web to catapult himself on the the Goblin’s broomstick. He attaches tumbleweed to the end of his web and “whips up a man made dust-storm.”

Peter Parker’s Financial Situation: It appears that both Cosmo and Jameson pay Parker expenses to fly from New York to L.A (about 5 hours), but he chooses to travel back by coach (more like 4 days) to save money. A one way Greyhound from Hollywood to New York would have cost about $50; a flight something around $70, so he’s probably only saving $20. It isn’t clear how he explains the 4 day absence to Jameson, or Aunt May, or Principal Davies; or indeed whether he actually turns in any pictures to J.J.J. 

$50,000 would have been a fairly small fee if B.J really thinks that Spider-Man is as big a star as Tony Curtis, who could command at last $150,000 per appearance.

“A Hollywood director, B.J Cosmo, offers Spider-Man $50,000 to star in a movie about his battle with the Enforcers. Spider-Man (still motivated by honest self-interest rather than altruism) agrees. Having traveled to New Mexico, he realizes that he has walked into a trap: he is not fighting actors playing the Enforcers, but the Enforcers themselves. During the fight, he tries to catch his breath in a cave, but the Enforcers roll a huge stone in front of the entrance to trap him inside. Just as the battle seems to be over, he disturbs an ancient Mayan sarcophagus, causing the mummified remains to come to life. He manages to escape from the cave, but the resurrected mummy, who has been christened The Green Goblin, also gets away, vowing vengeance on Spider-Man.”

This is not, of course, the plot of the Grotesque Adventure of the Green Goblin; it's my conjecture as to what Stan Lee's original pitch for the story might have looked like. In the published comic, the Green Goblin is involved from the beginning: it's him who persuades B.J. to makes 'The Spider-Man Story' and it's him who persuades Spider-Man to start in it. The Goblin isn't a demon, but a gadget powered criminal; and it's a Hulk, not a Goblin, who is discovered in the cave.

So why do we think that Stan Lee's original version was so different? It so happens we are able to compare and contrast two different accounts of the genesis of the story. First, we have Stan Lee’s version, from the opening page of Spider-Man #14:

“The gang at the bullpen said “Let’s give our fans the the greatest 12c worth we can! Let’s get a really different villain…a bunch of colorful henchmen for him…And even add a great guest star!! So we did!! And here’s the result… Another Marvel masterpiece…”

This is vintage Lee. We dreamed the story up in one go. What you have in front of you is what we always intended to put in front of you. The credits still use the despicable “written by Stan Lee, illustrated by Steve Ditko” formula, but this text comes much close to saying that the comic — the “dreaming up” process, at any rate — was a collaborative effort involving not just Stan, but the whole “gang at the bullpen”. (Who else was in that gang? Martin Goodman? Stan’s brother Larry? Kirby himself?) The dreaming up process can't have been all that onerous for the gang: their big idea is that the issue should involve, er, a new villain (like last issue did and next issue will) and that he should have some henchmen, and that there should be a guest star. I suppose that does pinpoint one unique selling point for the episode: the last three issues have had Spider-Man fighting a single bad guy; but this issue he has to fight five at once. 

Steve Ditko remembers things slightly differently:

“Stan's synopsis for the Green Goblin had a movie crew, on location, finding an Egyptian-like sarcophagus. Inside was an ancient, mythological demon, the Green Goblin. He naturally came to life. On my own, I changed Stan's mythological demon into a human villain… I rejected Stan's idea because a mythological demon made the whole Peter Parker/Spider-Man world a place where nothing is metaphysically impossible." 

I don’t think we should automatically accept that every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of Ditko is true and assume that everything Stan says is a fib. But Ditko’s claim here is very specific, not especially self-aggrandizing, and makes sense of what is frankly a very strange issue. Why does this dangerous new villain drag Spider-Man from New York to the West Coast simply to start a fight which could just as well have happened in New York? Does the story of B.J Cosmo and his Spider-Man film serve any purpose except as a lead in to yet another extended fight scene? And why is Spider-Man’s confrontation with the big, exciting new villain interrupted and upstaged by the unexpected appearance of the Incredible Hulk? If Stan's original version had Spider-Man's confrontation with the Enforcers interrupted and upstaged by the unexpected appearance of the Green Goblin everything starts to fit into place. Ditko left Stan's structure in place, but turned the sudden appearance of a green goblin-like mummy into an equally sudden appearance by the equally green Hulk. It is, I suppose, possible that Stan Lee dreamed up the idea of a science powered bad-guy whose gadgets had a supernatural flavour;  but it is much easier to believe that he pitched “a hobgoblin riding a broomstick” to Ditko, and Ditko reconfigured it as “a criminal dressed as a hobgoblin driving a jet pack in the shape of a broomstick.”

Stan Lee dreamed up the story; Steve Ditko pretty much ignored it and came up with a different story of his own; and the result was the most famous of all Spider-Man’s enemies.

That’s collaboration, folks.

The “broomstick” was a step too far for the Comics Code, which still prohibited “scenes dealing with, or instruments associated with walking dead, torture, vampires and vampirism, ghouls, cannibalism, and were-wolfism”. Presumably they took it for granted that this included allusions to witchcraft; although there is nothing especially witchy about the Goblin. His flying device does have an array of twig like spikes on it, but you could easily fail to realize that they are meant to be the brush of a besom. (The spikes point forward, between the Goblin's legs, which is in line with traditional folklore depictions of witches, but not with popular fairy tale illustrations, or Mr Harry Potter, whose brushes generally point behind them.)

Amazing Spider-Man #14
Spidey remembers a new pow

A Barnum and Bailey circus strongman named Pierre Gasner performed a trick in which he broke break a chain across his own chest, seemingly by expanding his muscles. The back page of Superman #1 famously showed Superman performing the same stunt — an image which became the company trademark of DC comics. Page 10 of this issue contains a clear reference to this iconic image. Montana — the lasso wielding member of the Enforcers — entangles Spider-Man in his ropes, but the hero succeeds in breaking them across his chest. "One thing he didn't count on was my power of CHEST EXPANSION!!" thinks Spider-Man, in a frequently mocked panel. (The “Superdickery” website describes this as “Spider-Man acquiring Superman’s power of making up powers as I need them.”) Now, there is certainly a problem — which will get worse and worse as the years role on — of the heroes and villains feeling the need to provide a running commentary on their every move:

“Surrounding me and beating me are two different things! You can’t throw that lasso fast enough to snare me, Montana!”

“Maybe he can’t. But Fancy Dan can grab you while you’re dodging the rope.”

“And while you turn away to flip Dan over your head, I can follow up with a hay-maker.”

Superman logo: a similar trick. 
But this bit of Stanish silliness shouldn’t obscure just how well choreographed the fight scene is. Montana — the lasso guy — ensnares Spidery-Man in his rope; Spider-Man pauses, and physically breaks the ropes (taking Montana out of the fight); the super-strong Ox follows through and punches Spider-Man (knocking him down, but not out) while the other two fall on him. Spider-Man again pauses, thinking “I’ve got to summon all my spider-strength NOW…while they least expect it .. While they’re all confused!!” and then throws all three men off him fairly easily. He uses his web to whip up a dust-storm and runs away into a cave: he does not think he can defeat three bad guys at once. They follow him into the cave, and along with the Goblin, block the entrance with a boulder. (The idea of rolling a stone in front of the entrance to a cave calls to mind Don Blake finding Thor’s hammer in Journey into Mystery #83. And possibly other, even holier, stories.) He picks off Montana (who’s acquired a new lasso) and Fancy Dan (the judo guy) by trapping them from above with his webs; he takes the Ox by surprise and knocks him out with a single punch. Suddenly the Goblin reappears and starts throwing stun bombs at Spider-Man: just as we are expecting a final fight with the main villain, but instead, out of the smoke appears the Hulk.

So, it is fairly clear that when Spider-Man refers to "my power of chest expansion" he is simply saying that Montana hasn't realized that he is strong enough to break ropes with his chest muscles —  not that he has a specific, never-before mentioned ability to alter the size of his ribs and pecs. The interesting thing is that he seems to need to pause and focus his mind before doing the rope-breaking trick. Similarly, having been knocked down fairly easily by the Ox, he has to consciously “summons all of his Spider-Strength” before throwing the three guys off him. This appears to confirm that Spider-Man’s power is a supernatural or psychic force which he has to channel; not a physical enhancement. The Ox specifically says that he is surprised that "such a skinny runt" can be so strong.

In 1964, the Hulk was still as word as any other Stan Lee baddie, saying “My only defense against mankind is my strength and nothing will stop me from using it” rather than “Hulk smash!” It seems to me that Ditko is already drawing a savage, bestial Hulk, but Stan Lee hasn’t worked out what kind of dialogue he should have. This does lead to one of the best of Spider-Man’s one-liners

"Even deep in my hidden caves, you attack me! But no-one can capture the Hulk!"

"Capture you!? Brother, I don’t even wanna share the same planet with you!"

It is perhaps deliberate that we see two punches from the Ox knock Spider-Man down but fail to knock him out. When Spider-Man finally gets a good punch in against the Ox, he renders him instantly unconscious. (Spider-Man uses the rather dubious expression “love-tap”, implying he isn’t hitting him as hard as he could.) But when Spider-Man punches the Hulk, he hardly notices, and Spider-Man actually injures his fist!

The Green Goblin will eventually supplant Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man’s “arch-enemy”; and his whole persona will be subsumed into the single fact that he knows Spider-Man’s secret identity. And of course, everyone knows that the Goblin’s secret identity will turn out to be Norman “my best friend’s father” Osborne. Sam Rami positioned him as a literally Satanic figure, the opponent of Toby Maguire's Christ-in-spandex. But at this point, the Green Goblin isn’t any of these things. Stan Lee himself is a little unsure about the character, admitting on the cover that he may be too cute and funny looking to be a bad guy. And while the cover promises us that he’s “the most dangerous foe Spider-Man has ever fought” it isn’t exactly clear what makes him so threatening. He has a flying broomstick, shoots sparks from his fingers, and throws what are described as “stun bombs” at Spider-Man. The “stun bombs” still look like grenades. (They wont be re-themed as Jack O’Lanterns until the Goblin’s second appearance.)

This Goblin is simply a wannabee gangster. ("It just proves how hard it is to make a career of crime! You can never think of everything!) His ojbjective (revealed in a soliloquy on the final page) is to “organize a world-wide crime syndicate” with the Big Man’s old henchmen as his lieutenants. Why this involves defeating Spider-Man isn’t quite clear. Are we to suppose that Spider-Man is no so adept at catching thieves that there would be no point in setting yourself up as head of the newer, bigger Thieves Guild without first putting him out of action? Or is the idea that the Enforcers want their revenge on Spider-Man, because he sent the to prison for very nearly three months, and the Goblin has told them that he will deliver Spider-Man up to them if they will work for him thereafter? Either way, the Goblins plan is convoluted even by super-villain standards:

1: Persuade Cosmo to make a film about Spider-Man
2: Persuade Cosmo to hire Spider-Man himself to star in the film
3: Persuade Cosmo to hire him, the Green Goblin, to appear in the film as himself.
4: Persaude  Cosmo that the Enforcers are merely actors dressed up to look like the Enforcers.
5: Act as go-between to arrange a meeting between Spider-Man and Cosmo. (The usual method would be to put an advertisement in the Bugle, informing Spider-Man that an honest $50,000 is on offer.)
6: Travel back to Hollywood with Cosmo, Spider-Man and the Enforcers.
7: Wait until everyone has been driven out to New Mexico for the first days shooting.
8: Reveal that the whole thing has been a trick, and allow the Enforcer's to attack Spider-Man
9: Once Spider-Man has been defeated, become Top Criminal

And it would have worked, too, if not for that pesky Hulk...

But Lee and Ditko are clearly setting up the the Goblin as a villain of some importance. He is going to make four more appearances in the Ditko years, far more than any other super villain. A great deal is made of the fact that the Goblin is still at large at the end of the episode, and a great deal is made of the fact that no-one knows who he really is. The first panel of the comic shows the Goblin mask in the foreground, while a shadowy figure puts the finish touches to the code-baiting broomstick; the final panels show him pulling the mask off and, with his face obscured, announcing that “the world hasn’t heard the last of…the Green Goblin.”

It certainly hasn't.
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. 

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man #13

The Menace of Mysterio


Supporting Cast: 
Flash Thompson, Liz Allan, Aunt May, Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson, A Psychiatrist and a chorus of police, newsmen and movie actors.  

Peter Parker is still wearing the slightly-too-short red PJs from last issue. 

This is the first time Spider-Man has been referred to as "Spidey" ("ol'Spidey") in the body of the comic, although the nickname was used on the letter page to issue #12. 

Spins a Web, Any Size: Spider-Man makes an “airtight web helmet” which enables him to hold his breath underwater. Apparently. 

Failure to Communicate: At the bottom of page #3, Peter Parker is soliloquizing in a school classroom. But at the top of page 4 ("minutes later") he is helping Aunt May with the washing up. Either Lee or Ditko has inadvertently conflated two separate scenes.

Peter Parker’s Financial Position: Aunt May’s savings account is almost used up. Jameson pays Peter “almost half” what the pictures of Mysterio are worth. Back in #9, he stated that the pictures of Spider-Man fighting Electro (which he paid $1,000 for) were really worth $20,000, so Peter must have got as much as $10,000 this time. This is a fortune: almost two years salary for the average working man, and enough to pay the rent for years to come. 

Real Estate: Back in issue #1 Aunt May was going to be turned out of her house by her landlord for not paying the rent: this time she is nagging Peter about the mortgage. While someone might use “rent” as a slang term for “mortgage” I don’t think that American banks send sinister men with cigars round to collect mortgage arrears. So we have to assume that at some point between issue #1 and issue #12 Peter and May moved home. The average price of a house in 1963 was about $10,000 so it is possible that Peter Parker decide against blowing that first paycheque on rent and instead put a 20% deposit on a property. (He could buy a house outright with this months cheque!)  

The Vulture, Doctor Octopus, Sandman, the Lizard, Electro, Mysterio, the Green Goblin, Kraven...the first 14 issues of Spider-Man introduce seven of his canonical villains. Ditko's final year would really only add two more characters — the Scorpion and the Molten Man — to the list. (The entire Romita era really only managed two more: — The Kingpin and the Rhino.)

Why did the flow of villains stop? Did Stan Lee think that eight recurring bad-guys were sufficient; or did his imagination simply run dry? One theory holds that it was actually Jack Kirby who was "dreaming up" the villains and passing them over to Stan and Steve to flesh out. This isn't inherently ridiculous: in later years Jack was paid by animation and toy companies as an ideas man, and the New Gods pantheon seem to have existed as a figures in a portfolio before he had any story to go with them. It would certainly explain why visually charismatic villains like the Green Goblin and Kraven the Hunter had such relatively lackluster debuts. But it's far more likely that Lee was still thinking in terms of providing Spider-Man with a menagerie of wrestling opponents; while Ditko saw antagonists — Brains and Spider-Slayers and Big Men and Crime Masters  — as merely one strand of a story, with little replay value. One can easily imagine Lee saying "Hey! What if Spider-Man's next villain were a great white game hunter...." and leaving Ditko to fill in the details. As Stan progressively handed the reins of the comic over to Steve the villains became less memorable but the actual stories improved.

It is striking that (having introduced Electro in #10 and given us a double helping of Octopus in #11 and #12), #13, #14 and #15 are each pitched to the reader as the “unveiling” of a new enemy. Stan Lee inserts himself onto the cover of all three issues, reminding the reader that the real creative impetus behind each issue was the guy who dreamed up the idea behind the enemy.  "We've created the greatest villain of all for ol'Spidey"; "Only the Merry Marvel Madmen could have dreamed him up.." "So you think there are no new types of villain for Spidey to battle, huh?" All three issues follow the same formula as #12: an eight page narrative set-up which leads into an extended 15 page fight scene. 

If you are inclined to accept my theory that Stan sees Spider-Man as a superhero comic in which the hero wrestles with fabulous villains, and Steve sees Spider-Man as a story about how Peter Parker copes with power and responsibility then these issues belong to Stan Lee. Action, jokes, motive-free villains, fights, fights and more fights. Peter Parker is relegated to a minor sub-plot. Once the rogues gallery is complete, Lee will reward himself with a double-length issues containing not less than six fight scenes. After which, it all goes terribly Ditko.

Despite my massive affection for it, Amazing Spider-Man #13 is one seriously flawed comic book. A fascinating set-up about a villain trying to gaslight Spider-Man into doubting his own sanity is drowned out, after only a few pages, by an extended fight with a gadgeteer in a kerr-azy suit.

The central idea is a fine one. A disgruntled film technician creates special effects which enable him to emulate Spider-Man’s powers, enabling him to frame our hero as a criminal. "I never thought he’d really turn to crime" exclaims a policeman, as "Spider-Man" floats away on a web-parachute after robbing the safe in an office building. 

J. Jonah Jameson is delighted, of course, thinking his hatred of Spider-Man has finally been vindicated. "I want you to find all the old editorials I wrote accusing Spider-Man of being a menace! I want to reprint them so people can see how right I was." It isn’t immediately clear how pictures which appear to show Spider-Man cracking open a safe vindicate Jameson's having printed demonstrable falsehoods about Spider-Man being Electro and the Big Man, but that’s the kind of guy Jameson is. (This is, by the way, the last time J.J.J. is said to be the editor of Now Magazine: from now on, only the Bugle is mentioned.) 

The school kids are shocked, but Flash Thompson continues to believe that Spider-Man is "one of the greatest guys around". This is really the first time Flash has gone from "quite admiring" Spider-Man to having the blind faith of a dedicated fan — a faith which is going to be tested quite severely in the coming months. Betty Brant "can’t believe this of Spider-Man" adding "I still remember how he once saved my life." Actually, he saved her life in two consecutive issues, but Stan Lee’s handling of time means that Turning Point (issue #11) is something which happened a very long time ago. Betty nags Peter about his dangerous job and Peter bites her head off in his usual chauvinistic way. "I don't tell you how to live your life...don't butt into mine."  "You never spoke to me that way before!" exclaims Better, to which the reader can only reply "Oh yes he did!" He seems to have forgotten that her brother was recently murdered; but in fairness, so does she. 

Parker is as sensible and level-headed about Spider-Man's crime-wave as we have come to expect: reading the reports of the robbery, he very naturally thinks "I must be becoming a split personality" as opposed to, say "Some villain must be impersonating me." 

This issue, more than any previous one, establishes Peter Parker as "the guy with a bunch of problems" and "the guy who worries about everything" — witness him dropping Aunt May’s plates and musing "I don’t know what to worry about first! Paying the mortgage or wondering if I’m a sleep walking criminal." 

But the "Spider-Man turns to crime" plot is over-and-done with in about 8 pages. As soon as Mysterio appears on the scene, it is clear to everyone — with the possible exception of Peter Parker and J. Jonah Jameson — that he’s the one criming in a Spider-Man suit. Mysterio challenges Spider-Man to a fight which, true to formula, Spider-Man loses. (Quite a lot is made of this tactical defeat with a morose Parker musing "This will keep me from ever getting too conceited".) But he places a spider-tracer ("small electronically treated Spider-pin") on Mysterio and tracks him down to a "TV movie studio building." There is another fight, which Spider-Man wins. The whole impostor plot is reduced to a set up to lure Spider-Man into a big fight in a movie studio.

It is easy enough to believe that a special effects guy could convince the general public that  he is Spider-Man. And a supervillain who uses misdirection and illusion to make people think that Spider-Man is a baddie (and to make Spider-Man himself think he is going mad) is a rather original idea. But the second half of his comic dispense with the idea of illusion and misdirection and decide that Mysterio has actually given himself the same powers as Spider-Man -- to the extent that he can hold is own against our hero in a fair fight.

Mysterio’s notes about Spider-Man are quite interesting. By a sketch of Spider-Man’s mask he has written "two way mirror — cannot see in, can see out". (In a few months time, the first Spider-Man Annual will reveal that this is indeed how Spider-Man’s mask works.) When Mysterio sticks to the side of the Brooklyn Bridge, Spider-Man guesses that his boots are magnetized: an interesting hypothesis, considering that the bridge is a stone structure. In fact, Mysterio says that he uses "suction cups" to duplicate Spider-Man's wall-crawling power. It isn’t exactly clear what a "magnetic plate spring" is, but they are what enable him to duplicate Spider-Man’s leaps. Similarly, he dissolves Spider-Man’s web using "specially treated acid" whatever special treatment of an acid amounts to. The one thing, interesting, that Mysterio says he "can’t duplicate" and will have to "imitate" is Spider-Man’s webbing -- does he assume that Spider-Man's web-shooting is a natural ability?

Spider-Man has supernatural strength (next issue, he will come a very strong second in a fight with the Incredible Hulk) but we are asked to believe that Mysterio can fight him on equal terms because -- er -- he has been trained as a stunt-man. (He "knows how to role with a punch" and can outwit Spider-Man by "tossing him over my back through a sudden move.") This obviously makes no sense at all. I think that Spider-Man must rely more heavily on his spider-sense than he lets on: so once Mysterio has worked out how to jam it (with "sonar", obviously) his fighting ability is severely curtailed.

But if Mysterio’s impersonation of Spider-Man is sufficiently good that he can rob banks and jewelry stores with complete impunity why on earth would he walk into Jameson's office in his own identity? 

"My plan seemed perfect! I could commit all sorts of crimes, and you would get the blame! But then I got a still greater idea! I would create a separate identity for myself! And then I’d battle you!! When I defeated you, I’d be a national hero — for no-one would know that Mysterio is both the criminal and the conqueror"

Oh dear. I think Stan Lee just kind of assume that if you are a villain, your job is to fight Spider-Man, and no further explanation is really necessary. 

And that, pretty much, is the story. (Spider-Man punches out the eye-piece which contains the anti-spider-sense sonar, and the punches Mysterio and hands him over to the police.) A weird, atmospheric villain and a nice fight but the story doesn’t live up to its premise.

Just one more thing. 

When the fake Spider-Man is out criming, Peter Parker concludes that he must be going mad — and goes to a psychiatrist. Stan Lee is very proud of this, promoting it on the cover as one of the issues main selling points — but nothing comes of it. A psychiatrist might have been able to deal with a sleep-walking problem by prescribing medication but Spider-Man has actually gone to a psychoanalyst who wants Spider-Man to lie on the coach and say anything which comes into his head classic Freudian free-association. Spider-Man sensibly realizes that he’s in danger of blabbing his secret identity, and swings off. The whole incident is over in four panels.

Wouldn’t it have been far more interesting if this subplot had been developed instead of the fight? If the psychiatrist had told Spider-Man that he was indeed turning into a sleep walking criminal; if getting Spider-Man onto the couch and discovering his secret identity was the whole point of the fake Spider-Man robbery spree...

This is precisely the plot of Amazing Spider-Man #24, Spider-Man Goes Mad. A psychiatrist uses a variety of tricks and illusions to convince Spider-Man that he is going mad and very nearly learns his secret identity. The fake psychiatrist is eventually revealed to be none other than....Mysterio. 

Is it possible that Ditko’s idea for the first Mysterio story was that the fake Spider-Man gambit would drive our hero into the arms of a fake psychiatrist — that Stan Lee vetoed that plot and replaced it with a Big Fight — and that Ditko told his own, more interesting, but less iconic version of the story a year later?

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, November 16, 2016

First, we warned you about the Daily Mail, but you didn’t listen, because the Daily Mail is only a silly scandal sheet

Then, we warned you about the Daily Express, but you didn’t listen, because the Daily Express is barely even a newspaper nowadays.

Then we warned you about the Sun, but you didn’t listen, because it’s quite snobbish to moan about a working class paper.

We warned you about the myth of political correctness, but you didn’t listen because ha-ha it’s the sort of thing that people like us have a bee in our bonnet about.

We warned you about Katie Hopkins, but you didn’t listen, because the Apprentice is only a silly reality TV show and she obviously doesn’t believe a word of it.

We warned you about Melanie Phillips, but you didn’t listen, because she was obviously mental.

We warned you that that Anders Breivik used the “writings” of Melanie Phillips to justify murder, but you didn’t listen, because it’s not a journalists fault if a criminal borrows their words.

We warned you about Gamergate, and you didn’t listen because it was only some little boys throwing their toys out of the pram over computer games.

We warned you about the Sad Puppies, and you didn’t listen, because if this stuff bothers us so much we should damn well stay off twitter.

Then a fascist became president of the USA, and you all said "Why didn't anyone warn us?"

Sunday, November 13, 2016

1973: A Spider-Odyssey

Part 1: Week ending March 17, 1973

Part 2: Spider-Man Comics Weekly #5

Part 3: The Amazing Spider-Man #13

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. 

Saturday, November 05, 2016

In December 2015, Rilstone published an essay which was so modern and so brilliant that it made absolutely no sense to anybody.

on monday, I placed two apples...

So controversial was it that it led to a widespread boycott of his work, and demands that the author be exiled to Siberia, or, failing that, Bollington.

Today, a critic who loves and reveres Rilstone and his work revisits the controversy and tries to explain: what was all the fuss about. And what was Rilstone trying to say?

Almost as shocking as the original essay, this pamphlet (48 pages, approx 20 pages of new material) is only available to Andrew's financial backers..

To obtain the pamphlet, please go to Patreon and pledge at least $1 a month to Andrew's writing. This will give you immediate access to a PDF version. More generous donors will receive a physical copy of the work. Please do not leave it lying around for your wife or your servant to read.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man #12

Unmasked by Doctor Octopus

Doctor Octopus, again

Supporting Cast: 
J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Betty Brant, Flash Thompson, Liz Allen + a chorus of policemen, firemen, and circus animals.


Peter has replaced the blue and white striped P.Js from Amazing Fantasy #15 with a red pair (which are slightly too short for him.)

Failure to Communicate: Page 6: The caption says that Octopus is at the top of a roller coaster, but the picture clearly shoes a Ferris wheel

Peter Parker's financial situation: If the comics are taking place in real time, the "One year's rent" which Peter paid in issue #2 ran out last month. He thinks J.J.J. will pay "plenty" for the pictures of Doctor Octopus. However, in issue #12 Peter and Aunt May will be bankrupt again, so I think we have to assume that Peter is being optimistic and J.J.J. doesn't pay up for the photos.

Why does J.J.J hate Spider-Man: Instead of accusing him of being a criminal, or blaming him for being a vigilante, J.J.J. this time blames Spider-Man for being an "overrated crime fighter" who carelessly let Doctor Octopus go!

Spins a web, any-size: Spider-Man escapes from the fire by making a "flame proof umbrella for his head" and (even more cleverly) to create web stepping stones to step on while he runs across the burning floor.

Back filling: Stan Lee says that he has fooled us by giving us an unexpected happy ending. But in fact 5 of the last 6 issues have ended on upbeat notes. Because last issue ended on an absolute downer, Stan Lee repositions Spider-Man as "that comic which always has unhappy endings".

"I'm beginning to sound like a teenaged Billy Graham!" The World Trades Fair which ran from April - October 1964 in Flushing Park, (a 20 minute walk from Peter Parker's high school) included a religious movie narrated by the famous preacher. 

"Boy! That Spider-Man is a poor man's Frank Buck!" Frank Buck, author of Bring 'Em Back Alive, was a legendary "collector" of wild animals for zoos and circuses. 

"Not a dream! Not an imaginary tale!" screams the cover. Well, no. Imaginary Tales were always much more of a DC thing than a Marvel thing. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with a story clearly labelled as being outside of normal continuity — one in which Superman can marry Lois Lane, produce a brood of Superkids, or become President of American without irrevocably changing or destroying the comic. They are only perceived as hoaxes and let-downs if the nature of the story is withheld until the last page. "Captain America dreams that he meets John Henry and Paul Bunyan" is a perfectly legitimate idea for a story. "Captain America marries Sharon Carter, but on the final page, wakes up and realizes it was all a dream", not so much.

Amazing Spider-Man #12 is certainly not a dream and definitely not an imaginary tale. It is, however, arguably a hoax.  

The cover is another masterpiece and for once Ditko and Lee are in agreement about the unique selling point of the issue. It's another of Ditko's iconic "crowds staring at Spider-Man" tableaux, except that this time the crowd is staring at Spider-Man having his mask torn off. So far this year, the Brain has nearly guessed Spider-Man's secret identity; Spider-Man has unmasked Electro (no-one special) and the Big Man (not who we expected). Last month, Peter Parker resolved to reveal his identity to Betty Brant, but changed his mind. So this month, almost to complete the cycle, we have Spider-Man being forcibly unmasked in front of his worst enemy. The title of the story is "Unmasked by Doctor Octopus", but Doctor Octopus is the smallest figure on the cover. It's clear from the picture that what the story is really about is "Unmasked In Front of J. Jonah Jameson!

Doctor Octopus escaped last issue, so it shouldn't come as any great surprise that he's back for a rematch. (It evidently did come as a surprise to Stan Lee, who finished last issue with Spider-Man "little dreaming of the new adventures and surprises that await him" — rather than by trailing Doc Ock's return.). It's a curious set-up: not a two part Doctor Octopus story; not even really a Doctor Octopus story and a sequel. It's more like two quite different Doctor Octopus stories, one after the other. Almost as if one creator — let's call him "Steve" — thought Doc Ock should be one of a number of players in a cops and robbers gangster story, and the other — let's call him "Stan" — thought he should be a Lex Luthor figure, brooding in jail about how he was going to get his revenge on Spider-Man if it was the last thing he did. The "Ditko" version springs gangsters out of jail in return for venture capital with which to become head of the Thieves Guild; the "Lee" version" commits crimes simply in order to attract Spider-Man's attention. "Beating Spider-Man" is now Doctor Octopus's only motivation. One might even say that he suffers from the same arachnophobia which afflicts Betty Brant and J. Jonah Jameson.

And why not? Superman needs his Moriarty, and it might as well be Octavius. 

Last time around, fate — or The Plot, or indeed the writer — had to work very hard to engineer a confrontation between Spider-Man and Doctor Octopus. This time around, Doctor Octopus has himself taken control of The Plot. He wants to fight Spider-Man because he wants to fight Spider-Man. He commits crimes in order to persuade Spider-Man to come and fight him — and he finally kidnaps Betty and tells Jameson to put out a message informing Spider-Man that he'll let her go if he'll come out and fight with him.

If anyone ever asks you what Stan Lee contributed to Spider-Man, point them towards page 5 of this issue. Octopus is holding Betty Brant in one arm, J.J.J. in a second and Peter in a third…and Jameson delivers the immortal line "Don't just dangle there Parker! Tell him who I am!" "Don't just dangle there, do something" would have been a cliché, reducing Jameson to a Dick Dastardly figure — but "tell him who I am" is a perfectly judged piece of characterization. Jameson is so arrogant that he thinks his name will intimidate a super criminal. It reminds one of Citizen Kane responding to a personal attack by shouting "I'M CHARLES FOSTER KANE!"

It's also very funny.

Rather unhelpfully, Peter Parker shouts "Don't be afraid! Spider-Man will save you!" after Betty as Doc Ock carries her away from her office. But Betty hates Spider-Man. She kinda thinks he sorta killed her brother. She's probably more terrified that the Spider will come and rescue her than that the Octopus will harm her. Don't you remember last issue?

This is the first issue in which the, ahem, web of coincidences is constructed like a farce (although there were comedic elements in issue #5.) Nearly all the plot movement comes from the fact that Jameson and Betty, and Doctor Octopus, and indeed Aunt May and Flash Thompson all know Peter Parker and Spider-Man but believe them to be two different people. The first big wrinkle comes on page 5: Doctor Octopus kidnaps Betty, says that she will be set free if Spider-Man comes to Coney Island alone, adding that Jameson may send one photographer. Immediately, in the same panel, Jameson says "I'll send you, Parker!" Just in case we missed the point, Peter thinks "How can I go as Spider-Man and as Peter Parker?" This is, of course, the solution to the conundrum set on the cover: Parker goes to face Doctor Octopus as Spider-Man, and when he pulls his mask off everyone — the villain, Jameson, Betty and the cops take it for granted that Peter Parker and Spider-Man are two different people — that Parker dressed up as Spider-Man to get a photo. Even better, because he is suffering from a viral infection ("the one thing even (my) spider-strength can't resist!") he has temporarily lost his power.

"It isn't Spider-Man! It's that weakling brat, Peter Parker!"

"Peter!! Oh, he did it for me!! Oh he might have been killed!"

"The fool! I ordered him to take pictures of Octopus— not try to be a hero!"

So what we have her is indeed, not a dream, not an imaginary story — but something more like a shaggy dog story. Doctor Octopus does indeed unmask Spider-Man but everyone takes it for granted that Peter can't be Spider-Man and must be an impostor. It is so perfectly set up — and most readers must work out what is going to happen several frames before we get there — that no-one feels cheated or short-changed. It's a great punch line.

The big unmasking scene happens on page 8; the murder of Bennet Brant happened on page 13 last issue. In both cases there is a sense that the story has peaked too early; that the promise and question of the cover has been answered, and the rest of the episode has to be padded out with a fight scene. One wonders whether, in both cases, Lee dreamed up the premise. ("What if Dr Ock ripped Spider-Man's mask off?") leaving Ditko to spin it out to 21 pages? There is a definite sense that Ditko himself was clutching at straws: first showing Doc Ock, er, releasing all the animals from the zoo, leading to scenes of Spider-Man fighting a gorilla on a flagpole and catching a lion between his legs; and then giving us a prolonged fight in, er, a deserted artists studio, full of gigantic stone angels and 12 foot high faces which catch fire for no particular reason. ("We knocked over the sculptor's cleaning fluid! It's starting a fire!") This allows Spider-Man to demonstrate that he's a proper hero — risking his life to save his enemy when he gets trapped under a statue — and for Doctor Octopus to show that he's a sore loser ("Spider-Man didn't beat me! It was the fire!") And it's a good enough fight scene. But it feels anti-climactic after the set up and resolution of the unmasking.

Spider-Man has spent the last couple of issues being brave and noble; but in the final three frames, Peter Parker goes out of his way to remind us that he is still a total jerk. Bravado which is quite attractive from Spider-Man when he is putting his life on the line ("If all that boasting doesn't tire you out, nothing will!") is deeply unattractive and priggish when Peter uses it on Flash in the school playground. Since their fight, Flash Thompson has, in his awkward, locker-room way, been trying to reach out to Peter Parker. Liz, impressed at his bravery, and obviously trying to make amends for being cruel to him in the past, invites him to a party. Peter rudely turns her down, inventing a fictitious date with Betty Brant. He refers to the confident, successful career-woman who has just been through an utterly terrifying experience as "a certain little brunette" and implies he can take her on dates without asking her first. He goes on to call Flash far worse names than Flash ever called him. ("I know how boring it must be to have to use all those one syllable words when you talk to him! You deserve each other!") And finally — unbelievably — after a week which has seen his wonderful friend Betty tragically bereaved and terrifyingly kidnapped he announces that "things are finally looking up for my favourite couple of guys—namely, me!" This is clearly the voice of the Peter Parker who told the policeman that he was going to look out for number one from now on. 

I fear that no irony is intended. Stan Lee is telling us that being priggish and rude to the Flash Thompsons and Liz Allens of this world is an appropriate way for us geeks to behave. Being rude to them when they try to be nice to you counts as a happy ending. Because us nerdy comic book readers are better than football players, and should never forget it.

It wasn't a good lesson for Spider-Man fans to pick up from the comic, but pick it up many of us did.
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. 

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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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Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Amazing Spider-Man #11

Turning Point, Featuring the Return of Dr. Octopus!

Doctor Octopus

Supporting Cast:
Betty Brant, Bennet Brant, Blackie Gaxton, Aunt May,
+ a Prison Governor and a chorus of crooks and cops.

First appearance:
Spider-Man’s Spider-Tracers.


This is only the second issue which J. Jonah Jameson has not appeared in.

Most of the story, which is about Betty trying to help her brother, takes place in Philedelphia, “the city of brotherly love”.

Spins a web, any size: Web is used to block a doorway, blackout a searchlight, and as a bandage for a sprained ankle.

Marvel Time: Doctor Octopus has served 9 months in jail. His original sentence must have been around 310 days.

Failure to communicate: On page 6, Bennet visits his client “in jail”, and Blackie talks about being sprung “from jail”. But on page 9, Spider-Man soliloquizes that “Octopus is sure to try to spring Blackie while he’s still a prisoner in the courthouse. If he waits til they take him to the state pen, it will be a much tougher job.” In fact, the building is clearly shown as a castle-like prison with many barred windows. Lee spots that it Doc Ock gets Blackie out far too easily, but his retro-fit doesn’t match the illustrations.

Medieval moralists said that Fortune was like a huge wheel. As long as you were going up, you were fine: but once you reached the top, there was nowhere to go but down. Aristotle said that tragedy involved one particular moment when everything appeared to be going great for the hero and suddenly everything started to go wrong. This catastrophic change was known as a  perepiteia : a turning point.

Amazing Spider-Man #11 is not so much a turning point as a staying the same forever point.

As usual, The Writer and The Artist can’t quite agree on what the Selling Point of the issue should be. The cover shows us a rather stiff Dr Octopus fighting an equally un-dynamic Spider-Man, with the words "The Return of Doctor Octopus" in big white-on-red letters. But there’s a fifty word caption — I would guess the longest that has ever appeared on a cover — asking "What happens when Spider-Man decides to reveal his identity to someone else?" The interior splash page answers the question — rather daringly — by taking us right to the end of the story, and posing a new question: "How did it happen, and why?"

This is really not a bad compromise, and it is going to stay in place for most of the year. The covers  — the outward facing images — will show Spider-Man confronting a villain, with Stan Lee congratulating himself on dreaming up such a impressive adversary. ("We’ve created the greatest villain of all for ol’Spidey!" "Wow just wait til you see the Green Goblin!" "So you think there are no new types of villain for ol’Spidey to battle, eh?"). The internal splash page — directed at people who have, after all, already bought the comic — will promote the actual storyline, asking a question like "has Spider-Man really turned to crime?" (no) "has Spider-Man really gone mad?" (no) or  "has Spider-Man really lost his powers?" (no).

Or, this time: "Why has Betty decided that, like her boss, she hates Spider-Man. For ever and ever?"

It doesn’t seem likely that either Lee or Ditko ever planned out a plot arc in advance. Background characters are fleshed out and become major supporting players, changes of direction are back-filled by Stan Lee. When Lee introduced nasty Mr Jameson in issue #1, he didn’t know he was going to become more-or-less the co-star of the comic, and certainly didn’t know that Spider-Man was going to fall in love with his secretary. But it was a canny move. Peter might have carried on dreaming about Liz and having fights with Flash over her: but that would have been obvious and boring. The idea that he has a close romantic friendship with a slightly older career gal is much less predictable and far more interesting. 

In Amazing Spider-Man #2, J. Jonah Jameson’s secretary briefly appears, but we don’t find out her name. Issue #4 marks the first appearance of "Miss Brant". In issue #5, Miss Brant tactfully tells her boss that he is too obsessed with Spider-Man and at that precise moment Peter Parker notices how pretty she is. Stan back fills the story, giving the impression that Peter Parker and Betty Brant have know each other for some time ("I never realized how pretty Betty Brant was!" "I never realized how I felt about her!”) In fact, they have barely exchanged twenty words. In issue #6 Peter tries to ask her out but is interrupted by J.J.J. Finally, in issue # 7, the two of them end up flirting behind Jameson’s desk after Spider-Man and the Vulture have trashed the office.

Their relationship isn’t classic romance comic fodder. Betty really gets on with Peter and Peter really gets on with her. We never see them on a date; but we do see them sitting together in the dark while Aunt May is having major surgery. "Maybe I haven't got many friends!" says Peter "But one wonderful one like Betty makes up for all I haven't got!" It’s one of the most believable relationships in comic books.

People married young in those days — so aren’t we running headlong towards a obvious conclusion: fire burning in the hearth and spider-babies on the rug? When Stan Lee thought he was writing a realistic convention-breaking graphic novel, that might have happened. But that idea is long buried. Spider-Man is a super-hero with a secret identity and a utility belt and an arch enemy. His comic now has a clear formula — a brilliant formula, a formula that allows for endless elaborations, but a formula nonetheless. There will always be a new villain, Aunt May will always be at death's door. Peter will always be dropping into the Bugle and Betty will always be waiting for him there. If he unmasks, gets married, leaves home — even, god forbid, gets a proper job or gets drafted into the army — Amazing Spider-Man as we know it comes to an end.

So something has to happen to make it impossible for Spider-Man to unmask: to freeze  Peter and Betty in a permanent impasse. Turning Point is an obligatory piece of plot machinery. At some point in the future, Flash Thompson is going to have to find out who Spider-Man really is: but that moment can be infinitely delayed. But the longer Peter goes without telling Betty the truth, the worse a cad he appears to be. When he thinks (in issue #7) "Betty can’t care for me if she won’t confide in me!" he comes across as a shocking hypocrite.

In issue #9, Betty is upset because Peter goes to photograph the prison riot after she had asked him not to. She speaks calmly to Peter and tries to explain her feelings. "Peter, I never told you why I left high school last year and took a job! I never told you about someone I once knew —  who reminded me of you! But I don’t want to be hurt again!" Peter responds angrily "I get the message! I’m not Mr Perfect!" But a page later he is claiming that it was how Betty who "flared up" at him, and Betty is the one doing the apologizing.

In issue #10, Betty is bullied by the Enforcers. Although she tells Peter that it is a case of mistaken identity, she confides to the reader that she has "foolishly borrowed money to a loan shark!"  It can’t have been very much — she has paid off the principal on her secretarial wage — but the Big Man has doubled the interest. She decides to leave town, because she doesn’t want Peter to know how silly she has been and certainly doesn’t want him to risk his life protecting her from the Thieve's Guild.

Two different secrets have been foreshadowed. A mysterious person in Betty’s past, strongly implied to be dead, who is somewhat like Peter and who worked in some dangerous occupation; and a foolish attempt to borrow money at high interest rates. If Steve knows where he is going with this, he doesn’t tell Stan, who trails issue #11 as "Spider-Man discovers the strange secret of Betty Brant…!"

It's not particularly strange. It seems that Betty's brother, Bennet Brant, is a lawyer who is either working for the mob, or has run up a huge gambling debt, or both. A gangster named Blackie Glaxon has agreed to cancel the debt if he, Bennet, springs him, Blackie, from prison, which Bennet facilitates by, er, arranging for Betty to drive Doctor Octopus from New York to Philadelphia.

Up to now, it has always been fairly plausible chains of events which have caused the two halves of Peter’s world to come crashing together: a science demonstration going wrong at his school; a criminal robbing his place of work. Betty’s involvement with the Enforcers was already a step too far, but this crosses a line. I could suspend my disbelief in a schoolboy who clings to walls and fights giant talking lizards; but when Spider-Man spotted Betty driving Doctor Octopus’s car I found myself thinking "No, I just can’t accept that."

Why is Betty driving the car, anyway? Even granted that crazy scientists with metal arms are the only people who can break through prison bars (and I can't help thinking an acetylene torch would have done the job just as well); why do you need to incriminate your sister to get him there? Doc Ock is a free man. He could have caught the bus.

It is possible to square "I gave Bennet all the money I had so that he could pay his debts to Blackie" with "I borrowed money from a shark". It is quite hard to square "I ran away to Philadelphia because I didn't want Peter to get involved with the Enforcers" with "I ran away to Philadelphia because I didn't want Peter to know I have a dishonest brother". But it's much harder to square "I don’t want you to be a photographer because I once had a friend who enjoyed danger" with "I don’t want you to be a photographer because I am still at this moment trying to help my crooked brother.” And very hard indeed to think that a gal would ever refer to her brother as "someone I once knew".

Very conveniently, Betty drops a map of Philadelphia as she is getting into the car, so Spider-Man knows roughly where she is going. Even more conveniently, he has just invented a wonderful new plot device: a "detailed model of a live spider" which  "sends coded messages" which he can "pick up with a small portable receiver." This is, of course, the prototype spider-tracer. The next time it appears it will be an "electrically treated spider-pin". It’s actually fairly pointless. If Spider-Man had simply followed Betty to Philly, swung around the city for a few panels, and then spotted her, I don’t think anyone would have complained. It’s the sort of coincidence which happens a lot: Spider-Man always swings past the exact person he most needs to find. And the new electronic spider-plot device is still coincidence-powered. The second time Spider-Man needs to track down Betty he remarks "A good job they used the car which had my gizmo on it!" Yes. A good job indeed.

Doc Ock springs Blackie from jail, but Blackie breaks his promise to Bennet and ends up taking him and Betty hostages, and Spider-Man comes along and there’s a big gun fight, and…

Somewhere, buried deeply in Peter Parker — so deeply that he never mentions it or thinks about it — is an overwhelming guilt that he caused the death of his beloved Uncle because he did not act. But today, Betty Brant’s beloved brother dies because Spider-Man did act. (I have often wondered if Bennet's friends called him "Ben" as well.) He dies "like a man" trying to protect his sister, but if Spider-Man had not been there, he might very well have survived. Betty’s initial reaction mirrors Peter’s reaction in Amazing Fantasy #15: "(He) is dead..because of Spider-Man!” (Spider-Man tells Gaxon "There’s no place on earth you can hide from me!" which is exactly what he said to the uncle-slaying burglar.)

Stan Lee piles the irony on as only he can "I hate you Spider-Man .. If only Peter were here!" cries Betty. Oh what a tangled web we weave...! When Betty has calmed down, she modifies her accusation, instead damning Spider-Man with the most terrible kind of faint praise. "It wasn’t his fault! He was trying to help us!". And she replaces her hatred of Spider-Man with something worse: an irrational revulsion. The girl who didn’t want Peter Parker to take photos because it reminded her that her brother had a gambling debt (or something) announces "I still never want to see Spider-Man again! I couldn’t bear being reminded…of Bennet!" Her hatred of Spider-Man is irrational. Like J. Jonah Jameson, she is an arachnophobe.

Guilt is not a helpful emotion. If you act, sometimes, good people may die. If you do not act, sometimes, good people may also die. It’s an unjust world and virtue is victorious only in theatrical performances. But Peter Parker will increasingly come to feel that the deck is stacked and the universe hates him personally.

The final three panels are as good as anything Ditko ever drew and (once again) as good as anything Lee ever wrote. Note the big candle in the foreground: is the scene taking place in a funeral home, or at a wake? Peter can’t now tell Betty who he is, and he is trapped in another lie, albeit a very white one. “Of course I understand! And I’m sure Spider-Man would too, if he knew!”

If he knew. Peter Parker destroys his relationship with Betty Brant there and then and he must know that is what he is doing. Can you imagine, four or five years hence, Spider-Man unmasking to the girl he loves and her saying "You stood there — hours after my brother had been shot — literally over his dead body — and you lied to me?"

One month and three panels later, Betty will be back in New York; working for Mr. Jameson again. She has a new haircut — which covers up her ear-rings — a new style of clothes (rather stylish purple) and a new handbag. She’s lost her whacky eyebrows. But this is the end for Betty Brant as a character. The new Betty is little more than a girl-shaped golden snitch for Doctor Octopus to bait his spider-trap with.

The final frame of the comic has a tiny figure of Peter Parker walking away from us. It’s an image we’ve seen several times before. But instead of the the split face motif, a giant figure of Spider-Man is walking in front of Peter Parker. I am sure this panel must have suggested the iconic Spider-Man #50 cover to John Romita.
It makes me wonder. Did Steve Ditko originally envisage entirely different words in those speech bubbles? Was Peter Parker originally going to say, not "I understand why you hate Spider-Man" but "I understand why you are staying in Philadelphia". So the perepiteia would have been Betty leaving the story altogether, clearing the way for a relationship with Liz Allen (who becomes unexpectedly a Peter Parker fan in the very next episode.)  But Lee overruled him, leaving Betty as a lose cog in the story engine, a relic of a previous story-line, a dangling plot threat which can never be tied up.


Later continuity reveals that Bennet Brant did not die from the gunshot, but survived to become the Crime Master. Later continuity can fuck off.

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.