Friday, September 15, 2017

Appendix: Spider-Man #24 Chronology

Day 1 (Pages 1 – 5)

Spider-Man takes delivery of Aunt May’s hat.

“Five minutes later” he is out looking for criminals.

He swings to Manhattan.

After stopping the burglary, he heads to the Bugle to see Betty.

He swings back to Forest Hills in order to be home “before Aunt May returns.”

Day 2 (Page 6, panels 1 – 2)

“The very next day” Jameson sends reporters out to collect anti-Spider-Man stories.

Day 3 (page 6-7)

Flash confronts the reporter, Liz asks Peter for a date, Flash confronts Peter

“Meanwhile” the first interview hits the streets; Rinehart goes to the Bugle offices and Jameson tells him to come back “tonight at 8”.

Stan’s “meanwhile” is a huge problem.

In panel 1 of page 6, we see a reporter asking a crowd for quotes; on panel 3 we see Flash Thompson berating the same photographer. The natural implication is that panel 3 follows on directly from panel 1. But Stan clearly says that while Liz, Flash and Peter are having their chat, the interview is published, and an interview obviously can’t go from tape to news-stand in a few seconds. So we have to assume that J.J.J. conducts several sets of vox pops over several days, and that Flash’s encounter with the reporter happens a day after the reporters conversation with the lady who “never said she did” hate Spider-Man.

I don’t think either Lee or Ditko have noticed this problem. Narratively Flash’s “I wanna talk to that crumb...” follows on from “...but I never said I do hate Spider-Man”. But realistically hours or days must have passed.

Day 4

Morning/afternoon: p 8-15

Panel 3 “The next day” Peter Parker reads the first interview with Rinehart.

Peter rushes out of the house “to find that Doc”.

Flash Thompson is waiting outside his house.

Peter distracts him and swings all the way to the Madison Avenue because because “I should learn where to find Rinehart at the Daily Bugle.”

Somewhere near the Bugle offices, he encounters the first hallucinations.

Decides the “can’t go to Jameson now” and swings all the way home again!

Realises how sick he is, rushes out of the house and heads to Rineharts house. His address was in the paper all along!

Panel 7 on page 9 is a huge problem. In between Peter Parker distracting Flash and Spider-Man seeing the hallucinations, there is a single picture of Betty speaking on the phone – telling J.J.J that Rinehart wants to arrange another interview. (Why?) Stan takes this to mean that pages 9-12 takes place somewhere near the Bugle offices, which creates the silly situation that Spider-Man swings all the way to Manhattan to find out where Rinehart lives, swings all the way back to Forest Hills because he isn’t feeling well, and then remembers that he knew the address all along. I submit that the whole thing would make much more sense if Betty were simply taking a call from her boyfriend “Yes, Peter, Dr Rinehart is staying at 221b Queen Boulevard, quite near your Aunt’s house”, and the whole of pages 9-24 take place on Peter’s home turf.

It makes more sense for Rinehart to have his spy-cats and his hologram projectors set up near his base than for them to be randomly on a rooftop by the Daily Bugle.

In the first Spider-Man Annual, Stan Lee states that Spider-Man can swing from Forest Hills to Manhattan in 3 minutes – about 200 miles per hour. Over the years, Spider-Man has been shown catching up with moving cars and even trains, so speed of 50 mile per hour seems a lot more believable. This would been that he could commute from home to the Bugle in about 15 minutes – a lot quicker than the subway!

Evening p16-29

?6PM Betty wonders how much overtime she will have to put in “tonight” – so it must already be passed her normal working hours – say 6 pm?

Foswell and Jameson leave, leaving Betty alone in the office.

?6.30 Foswell and Jameson get a taxi to Rinehart’s; Flash Thompson happens to be there. Rinehart’s offices must be in Forest Hills, somewhere near Peter and Flash’s school, which is maybe a 30 minute cab ride from the Bugle.

Again: it seems clear that Peter Parker leaves the house as soon as he reads the morning paper and, realizes Flash is tailing him pretty much as soon as he walks through the door, then Flash must have been aimlessly walking the streets for seven or eight hours. 

?7.30  It's hard to see how Spider-Man can have spent more than an hour in Rinehart's offices. After the big denouement, Peter bumps into Liz and Connie, and agrees to give Liz a jolly good science lesson.  Even though it can’t be earlier than 8pm, Aunt May says she will wait up for him.

The next issue follows on directly, with Peter leaving Liz's after their date. And Aunt May has waited up, watching a Joan Crawford movie on the TV. I am sure this won't create any continuity problems at all next time round...

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.

 Please do not feed the troll. 

Amazing Spider-Man #24

Spider-Man goes Mad


Dr Ludwig Rinehart, aka Mysterio

Supporting Cast: 

J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Betty Brant, Liz Allan, Flash Thompson, Frederick Foswell


P1 “more action, thrills and surprise villains than you can shake a web at”

"More X than you can shake a stick at” is a pretty common expression; possibly derived from shepherds pointing staffs at their sheep. “Shake a web” doesn’t mean very much, but Stan thinks it is real funny to substitute a “Marvel” word for an ordinary one in a well-known expression. (On the letters page, he claims that Amazing Spider-Man #25 has "more subplots than you can shake a Daily Bugle at"). 
In addition to Dr Rinehart, Spider-Man encounters hallucinations of Doctor Octopus, the Vulture and the Sandman, suggesting that the maximum number of villains you can shake a web at is three.

P2: “COD for May Parker…$6.75”

“Cash on delivery” was a system where customers could order items from a mail order catalogue and pay the delivery man when the goods arrived. It was popular with customers because it meant they could keep their money in a cookie jar rather than opening a cheque account; and with vendors, because it tended to encourage impulse purchases. A nice pillbox hat was being advertised in 1965 for $3.98, so $6.95 — about $50 in today's money — is a considerable extravagance.

P2 “I haven’t sold any news photos to Jonah Jameson in weeks”

The last time we saw Peter selling any pictures was two months ago (issue #22), so either Marvel Time is running quite a bit slower than Real Time, or he has been having undocumented “off stage” adventures between issues.

p2 "I'm gonna find some hot news scoop to photograph just like a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man should"

Peter Parker's motivation for being a superhero is still at least partly mercenary. He's spent several weeks or months allowing burglars to kill uncles without let or hindrance, because he’s been revising for his exams. (He’s going to graduate in two issues time.) What gets him off his webbed backside and onto the streets isn’t a sense of responsibility, but the need to pay for Aunt Mays extravagant tastes in millinery. 

P4 “Oh (Jameson’s) bark is worse than his bite” 

This is just what Lois Lane says about Perry White in That Other Comic. Another move re-positioning J.J.J. as a comic foil who shouts a lot but doesn’t really mean it? 

P5 “Hoke it up” 

Make it more hokey; presumably by adding hokum, a mixture of hocus-pocus and bunkum. 

P4 “Let one of the sob sisters rewrite your story and put some schmaltz in it.”

“Sob sisters” - Although still mainly a male profession, newspapers employed female staff to write “will no-one think of the children” human interest stories”.

“Schmaltz” - Excessive sentimentality (a specialized kind of hokum). Originally Yiddish for “goose fat”.

P6 “The only tape you’ll need will be adhesive tape to put on the fat lip I’ll give you”  

A fairly clumsy insult from Flash. It’s hard to see how you would treat a swollen lip with tape of any kind; but if you did need to stop it bleeding, you’d use sticking plaster, not adhesive tape. But “the only tape you’ll need is a band-aid” wouldn’t have worked. (Apparently “sellotape” is not yet a generic term.)

p7: "It is only a matter of time before his id and his ego get so confused that he forgets who he really is ...and then he will suffer a severe nervous breakdown!"

As ever "psychiatrist" is taken to be synonymous with "psychoanalyst". A nervous breakdown is a temporary bout of very severe depression, and probably not the kind of thing a Freudian would treat. "Going mad" is something quite different, implying some kind of violent insanity that would require hospitalization.

Page 9: “Glad I didn’t forget to grab my Spider-beam again” 

The lettering in this text is slightly different from the rest of the panel (note the wider than usual margin). Perhaps Stan only noticed that Spidey had left his Spider-signal behind at the last moment and asked the letterer to hurriedly add an additional balloon? But Ditko was already on top of the problem: Spider-Man doesn't use the beam again this issue, and #25 begins with him retrieving it.

Page 11: “One of my first, my most dangerous super-powered foes”

The Vulture was quite specifically the first super-villain Spider-Man ever met

p13: "Luckily, this newspaper mentioned Rinehart's home address in its article".

Rinehart had told Jameson that he was visiting New York "on vacation from Europe", so it's odd that he has a home address, complete with consulting room, in Queens. Perhaps this is what tips Foswell off that he's a fraud?

P13 “He’s got one of those new automatic door answering devices”

Door entry intercoms were not that much of an innovation in 1964, particularly in apartment blocks, although they might have been a bit pretentious in a private house. 

P13: “I’ve always feared seeing psychiatrists before, lest they discover my true identity”

Spider-Man did in fact visit a psychiatrist in issue #13, but left without treatment for precisely this reason. 

P17 “It won’t do me any good being Spider-Man if I lose my mind in the process”. 

Note that he doesn’t say “It won’t do any good…” or “I won’t do any good…”: he says “It won’t do ME any good.” Under the circumstances I think we can call this a Freudian slip. 

P19: “I’ve wanted revenge on Spider-Man for years…” 

Mysterio first appeared eleven months ago, in Amazing Spider-Man #13. When we last saw him, in the summer of 1964 he was sharing a cell with Doctor Octopus.

And finally... 

In Amazing Spider-Man #196, Peter Parker will receive a telegram from Restwell Nursing Home informing him that Aunt May has died. However, in issue #200, he will discover that she is alive and well. Well, as well as she ever is. The report of her death is a ruse by the guy who ran the old folks' home: one Dr Ludwig Rinehart. I didn't spot it. 

Peter Parker’s financial situation

Parker has made at least two recent sales to Jameson — some “wizard” pictures in #22 and some “sensational” ones in #19, so why is there less than $10 in the cookie jar? 

We know that Spider-Man paid a years rent — around $2000 — in advance in issue #2 (May 63) and assume that he paid a further years mortgage in issue #13 (June 64); so a further years rent must have fallen due about now (May 65). This should still leave him with $2,000 in hand. Maybe web fluid is more expensive than we thought? [Or maybe we overestimated Jameson’s generosity for the pictures sold #19 and #22?]

Six months ago, Stan Lee was getting very excited because he’d published a comic (Amazing Spider-Man #18) in which the hero didn't have a fight with a villain. The present issue is similarly conflict- free: Spider-Man lashes out at hallucinatory projections of Doctor Octopus, Sandman and the Vulture, but it’s otherwise a purely psychological tale. Spider-Man has an oddly passive role: falling hook, line and sinker for the villain’s ploy, and only being saved from disaster by dumb luck and coincidence.

The Bugle publishes an interview with a psychiatrist, one Ludwig Rinehart, who thinks that Spider-Man is about to go mad. Peter Parker reads the interview and immediately starts to doubt his own sanity. He sees hallucinations of his old foes, and imagines that ordinary rooms have turned upside down. So he goes to Rinehart’s surgery, and lets him put him on the couch. But at the very last moment — when Spider-Man is on the point of revealing his secret identity — Rinehart is revealed to be a fraud. He’s none other than Mysterio “the master of mystic effects and startling illusions.” The hallucinations were 3D projections and the upside down rooms were stage sets.

This is not the first time that Spider-Man has visited a psychiatrist. He sought medical help in issue #13 when he believed he was becoming schizophrenic.

  • The un-named shrink in that story felt that “if I can make a patient out of him, I’ll make medical history”; the fake one in this story says “a case like yours will make medical history”.
  • The real psychiatrist set out to “probe into his subconscious”, hoping to establish that he’s “a mysterious super-hero who's also a mental case”; this one is excited because “never before has a trained analyst probed into the sub-conscious of super-powered celebrity like you!”
  • Spider-Man had second thoughts about being treated by the real psychiatrist because he realized that if he spoke freely he would give his identity away; he is on the point of revealing his identity to the fake psychiatrist when the ruse is revealed. 
Of course Spider-Man wasn’t really suffering from schizophrenia in issue #13, any more than he is really having a nervous breakdown this time around. He believed he was committing crimes in his sleep, but they were actually being committed by a fake Spider-Man. The fake Spider-Man was, of course, Mysterio.

Two stories where Spider-Man doubts his sanity; two psychiatrists; two sets of illusions done by Mysterio. Did Lee and Ditko think of Mysterio as “that villain who sends people mad” (in the way that Doctor Octopus was fast becoming “that villain who kidnaps aunts”)? Did they look back on the “psychiatrist” episode in issue #13 and think “we could have done more with that, let’s revisit it”? Or had Ditko always intended the Menace of Mysterio to have been mostly about a villain gaslighting Spider-Man, and been forced by Lee to put in a big fight scene? Is Spider-Man Goes Mad essentially just The Menace of Mysterio rewritten according to Ditko’s original intentions?

This is one of those comics which I have a vivid memory of reading when I was a child. I recall reading out the title to my Mother, and her replying “Well, don’t you go mad!”. I must have read it may times, because my copy (of the British Spider-Man Comics Weekly) is on the point of disintegration. I remember being very proud that I had noticed the cat on page 10 and the bat on page 11, which are of course Clues: they turn out to be robots that Rinehart was using to spy on Spider-Man. I remember being delighted when Rinehart was unmasked. Mysterio was the villain in the first comic that I ever read, and therefore one of my favourites. Even at the age of 8, I think I felt that Mysterio’s appearance in the Sinister Six had been a little underwhelming. This time, we got to Mysterio really being Mysterio, albeit without his silly costume.

I still think the story holds up very well. Page 12 is one of Ditko’s very finest: the fatigued Spider-Man, leaning against a wall, with his head in his hands; Parker looking at himself in the mirror; the splendid horror-comic panel as he realizes that he really is losing his mind. The denouement is also one of the best. Spider-Man is on Dr Rinehart’s couch. Rinehart assures him that the only way to avoid going completely mad is to make his secret identity public and give up being Spider-Man altogether “I…I guess you’re right.” replies our hero, who was feeling perfectly fine when he got up this morning. The sequence calls to mind both The End of Spider-Man and Spider-Man - Public Menace in the very first issue. We’ve watched all hope being stripped away from our hero, and he is at his lowest ebb. It would be nice to say “and, at this low-point, we discover how truly heroic he is” but in fact, he is entirely prepared to throw in the towel. He may have promised in issue #18 to stop whingeing, but there is no shortage of self-doubt for Mysterio to exploit. It's at precisely that moment — just when he’s about to unmask — that J. Jonah Jameson bursts in (with Flash Thompson tagging along behind) — to reveal that Rinehart is an impostor.

Jameson has inadvertently rescued Spider-Man’s career. Gosh! How ironic!

This is all splendid: the key scene in which Thompson tries to rugby tackle Jameson, blocking Spider-Man’s path to Rinehart is embellished by a perfectly judged Stan Lee caption: “Just when it seems that things can’t get any more confusing…” The sudden shift from angsty melodrama to farce has a fairy tale quality to it -- what Mr Tolkien would have called a eucatastrophe. The completely demoralized Jameson sharing a frame with the ecstatic Flash Thompson (”I actually saw my idol in action! He even spoke to me! Even if he did call me a fool! He spoke to me!”) is icing on the cake.

But the more I think about this story, the more problems I find with it.

As is usually the case with Ditko-led episodes, the main “madness of Spider-Man” plot is accompanied by two or three major subplots. The first of these involves J. Jonah Jameson launching a new campaign against Spider-Man. Instead of telling everyone what he thinks about our hero, he is going to print a series of vox-pops asking members of the public what they think. I don’t know whether Stan or Steve had been to see The Front Page that month, but this is one of very few occasions when the Daily Bugle actually feels like a newspaper — Jameson shouting for the copy boy; bringing in subs ("so sisters) to rewrite Foswell’s crime report ("We can say Spider-Man was brutal to those misguided crooks”). It’s a wonderfully cynical couple of panels. The press, the public and the publisher get equally trounced. A nice lady says “But I never said I do hate Spider-Man” and the reporter replies “Do you want your name and picture in the paper or don’t you?"? Stan’s wryly comment that “under the right kind of questioning it isn’t long before the Daily Bugle reporters have the answers that Jameson wants…”. And Jameson is at his hypocritical best “All I’m doing is publishing the results of an absolutely impartial, unbiased newspaper survey.” I truly think it was this comic that first taught me to be skeptical about the press.

But none of this has any particular point of intersection with anything else in the story. Jameson is prepared to talk to Rinehart because he’s in a good mood after the success of the interviews; but when wouldn’t he have talked to someone with a scheme to discredit Spidey? Mysterio has been planning to drive Spider-Man mad for years and says that the interviews tell him that the right moment has come. But how many moments have there been when Jameson wasn’t publishing nasty stories about Spider-Man? Flash Thompson is cross with Jameson because his reporters are collecting anti-Spider-Man quotes near his school; but surely he’s known for years that Jameson hates his idol?

The second sub-plot is about Peter, Flash and Liz. Liz Allan asks Peter to help her with her science homework. Neither of them make the slightest effort to pretend that this is anything other than a date: Liz does her tie-straightening and “Petey, dear” routine and thinks that Peter is “so much more interesting then that empty headed Flash.”  The final frame is literally them walking off into the sunset hand in hand. Peter is more than usually dickish about it. He’s cross with Betty because he found another letter to Ned Leeds under her desk, and sees going out with Liz as a way of punishing her. (“If she’s going to write to Ned Leeds behind my back, I’ll show her!”) Honestly, it’s a complete enigma why Peter and Betty’s relationship never got off the ground! When Flash sees Peter and Liz together, he’s furious, and starts following Peter around. But again: has there been an episode when Flash wasn’t mad at Peter?

The crunch comes on page 16. In panel 2, Foswell rushes in and tells Jameson that he’s discovered that Rinehart isn’t really a doctor at all. This comes from nowhere — it’s a pure deus ex machina. Five panels later, Jameson leaps out of a taxi outside Rinehart’s home….and Flash Thompson just happens to be passing and follows him in. Stan Lee clearly thinks that this is a bit of a stretch, and makes his usual excuse “As so often happens in life, the long arm of coincidence reaches out…” So the Peter/Liz subplot has also taken us precisely nowhere. Flash might have been walking past Rinehart’s home (which seems to be in Forest Hills,) whether he had been mad at Peter or not.

For a comic — or tragic — denouement to work, we have to feel that it is inevitable — a group of characters, all acting logically and in character, come together in a ridiculous or disastrous way. If we feel that The Author has arbitrarily forced them together, the amusement or horror is greatly reduced. I think we can just about buy Foswell finding out that Rinehart is phony – he is a reporter, after all, and Mysterio hasn’t been doing a very good job of covering his tracks. But Flash Thompson just happening to be there at the opportune moment is a step too far.

"Well, then, Andrew. If you basically love this story, but find that it breaks down when you start to think about it, then obviously you are thinking about it too much. Remember the old joke? 'Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do that.' 'Well, don't to that then.'"

There is something to this. The breakneck pace of the story, and the sheer number of incidents squashed into a few pages, means that the reader isn’t paying that much attention to the exact chronology or chain of events. As we race through the comic, we get a general sense that Peter and Flash and Jonah are all running around and all end up in the same place at the same time. Flash is chasing Peter, or possibly Jameson; Jameson is chasing Rinehart; and Spider-Man swings all the way from Forest Hills to Madison Avenue and back again to find out where Rinehart’s lives even though he already has his address.

It’s a mistake to over-think it.

And one of the people who over-thought was none other than Stan Lee. I think there were some genuine issues with the chronology and continuity of the comic which Ditko presented him with. I think he made a valiant effort to make sense of it; but in doing so, I think he created a new set of problems which weren't there before.

On page 7, Ditko drew Flash with clenched fists, watching Peter Parker walk away from him. On page 8, he drew Flash again, still with his fist clenched, ducking behind a tree as Peter Parker purposefully headed off somewhere. The clear meaning is: “Flash has followed Peter home from school.” On page 9, Flash’s head sticks out from behind a corner, before Peter gives him the slip. The message is "Flash is still following Peter." A few pages later, Flash is still pounding the pavement, when Jameson turns up. Again, it is clear that only a few minutes have passed and he is still trying to figure out where Peter went. Flash’s strand in the story takes only a few minutes: however long it takes to walk from the school to Aunt May’s house and from there to Rinehart’s surgery. Lee identifies an obvious problem: clearly, Jameson can’t have commissioned and published a vox-pop, conducted an interview with Rinehart, published it, and discovered he’s been fooled, all in the time it takes Peter Parker to walk home from school. So he adds some captions, making it clear that Liz asking Peter for a date and Flash following Peter home happened on different days; and establishing that Spider-Man’s encounter with the ghost villains took place in Manhattan, near the Bugle offices, rather than in Forest Hills, even though nothing in the artwork requires this.

In one sense, Stan Lee is right: some time has to elapse for the story to make sense. But in another, more important sense, Steve Ditko is right: a comic book story should unfold in comic book time. The amount of time it takes for something to happen is the amount of time it takes for the reader to read it. You can publish a newspaper in one panel; crossing town might take you six. And if the captions are flashy enough and the denouement is funny enough, it really shouldn’t matter.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It’s not only Mysterio who deals in illusion.

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. 

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #24 - 29 (Overview)

The Long 1965

Maybe Spidey Strikes Back had provided such a satisfactory conclusion to the story of Peter Parker, that neither Lee nor Ditko could quite be bothered to think up new adventures for him. The first four stories of 1965 (#19-#23) are by no means dreadful; but they have a "so what?" quality to them. 

But then, without warning, Lee and Ditko get their mojo back. Six terrific issues -- with perhaps a single off-note -- followed by valedictory tetralogy which is generally regarded as the best Spider-Man comic book (and therefore the best comic book) of all time.

What happened?

The glib answer would be “Stan handed the book over to Ditko, so we got an undiluted final year of Spider-Man as Steve had always wanted him to be.” It is, almost inevitably, more complicated than that.

It is certainly the case that, during that final year, Steve’s input was at it’s zenith. The credits of issue #25 still attribute the, er, swingin’ script to Stan Lee, and the, er, dazzlin’ drawings to Steve Ditko. But the Stan persona immediately cedes the spotlight to Steve:

“Sturdy Steve Ditko dreamed up the plot of this tantalizing tale and it’s full of unexpected surprises! So turn the page and see if you can guess what’s coming next…”

“Tantalizing” is a strange word to choose: a cover could be tantalizing, or a splash page, or a clue to the Green Goblin's secret identity — but in what way does this story dangle a treat in front of us without letting us enjoy it? And the story isn’t particularly characterized unexpected twists. (Once Smythe has presented his robot in the Bugle offices, it is obvious how things have to develop.) The word's Lee uses to describe the comics -- "tantalizing", "unexpected", "puzzle" -- gives a big clue to how he felt about his working relationship with Steve Ditko. 

During the final months of their collaboration the two men weren't talking to each other at all. Stan wasn't even providing one line story ideas. Ditko sent penciled pages to Lee by courier; Lee sent lettered pages back for Ditko to ink. Any interaction between them had to go through production editor Sol Brodsky. So Stan was scripting “blind”: writing captions and dialogue for stories into the creation of which he had no input. You only have to look at the letter columns to see that Stan Lee had no idea what Ditko was going to present him with from one month to the next:

“Our next issue is so utterly stupendous that we won’t even attempt to describe it here.”

“And now not a single word about next ish. We want every dizzy surprise you’ll find there to be completely unexpected”

“Instead of giving you a big pitch for our next ish, we’ll merely say that it’s written by Stan, drawn by Steve and produced in the usual Marvel manner”

“Here’s you chance to prove you loyal you are to ol’ Spidey. Without us telling you anything about next ish, let’s see if you’ll all be sure to buy it.”

It was a strange way of working. Stan Lee wasn’t some hack in a studio, being called on to ghost-write for the major talent: he was the face and voice of Marvel Comics, Ditko’s de facto boss. There were obvious communication breakdowns. Some can be written off as trivial continuity glitches – events which happened “yesterday” in one panel took place “weeks ago” in another; Spider-beams remain on rooftops even though Spider-Man has already retrieved them; major characters' names change. This stuff doesn't matter that much, and I probably wouldn't spot it if I wasn't repeatedly re-reading what both writer and artist regarded as ephemera. But some of the misunderstandings are so catastrophic that they amount to Lee sabotaging Ditko's work. Infamously, when some of the Master Planner’s goons turn up in issue #30 (to foreshadow the events of #31 - #33) Stan assumes that they work for the Cat Burglar. which makes. No. Sense. At. All.

So when Stan Lee describes Captured by J. Jonah Jameson! as “tantalizing”, “unexpected” and “surprising” and challenges us to “guess what’s coming up next” I think we are hearing the editor’s reaction to a pile of finished artwork which he didn’t commission, or even discuss. “OMG! What has Steve given me now!” Indeed, the caption might be regarded, not as Stan giving credit where credit is due, but as his desperately distancing himself from the material. “Just Steve’s idea, I promise you. Stan had nothing to do with this one.” 

For Stan Lee, the words “dreaming up” denote the primary creative act. The whole of creation is contained in the original thought: everything else is legwork. So it must have been a hell of a thing for him to admit that Ditko dreamed up the plot of Spider-Man #25. He is not merely saying that Ditko decided that Spider-Man’s escape should take place “off stage” or that the high drama of Spider-Man's pursuit should be interrupted by the social comedy of Aunt May’s impromptu tea-party. He had always done that. That’s what being a Marvel comic book artist meant.  But Lee is going further and acknowledging that the whole idea of robo-Jameson is Ditko’s. He is the onlie begatter of the tale.

Which doesn’t, incidentally, sit particularly well with the theory that Ditko wanted Spider-Man to remain realistic and objected to Stan putting magic, aliens, space-rockets and South American mummies into his saga.

We have argued that there are two kinds of Spider-Man tale: the one where an eight page build up is followed by a ten page battle; and the one where a skein of plot threads come together into a tragic or ironic knot. We’ve speculated that the former is typically a Stan Lee plot and the latter is typically a Steve Ditko plot. And certainly issues #24 - #27 all follow the "Ditko" model. It has also been said that Ditko wanted to maintain the focus on Peter Parker's life, while Lee wanted continuous Spider-action. And indeed, Parker features heavily in the whole sequence from #24 - #33. Remarkably, his high school graduation runs for a full 6 pages without being gate-crashed by a single supervillain!

These issues start to feel much more like a soap opera than a situation comedy: for the first time the comic has an issue to issue continuity. Parker finds a letter from Ned to Betty in issue #23, and one from Betty to Ned in issue #24. Ned returns from Europe in #29 and asks Betty a fairly important question in #30. Spider-Man washes his costume in issue #23, loses it in #25, disastrously wears a shop-bought one in #26 and #27 and tries to get the missing one back in #28. The scientist who designed the Jameson robot in #25 accidentally creates the Molten Man #28.

Stan Lee doesn't seem to be completely comfortable with this approach. Several times, what Ditko clearly intends to be a specific reference to a previous event becomes a generic reference to an unspecified past. So Peter doesn’t say “This must be Betty’s reply to the letter from Ned I stumbled on two issues ago”, he just says “I didn’t know she was still writing to him.” He doesn’t say “I need a new costume because I couldn’t follow Foswell two issues ago because I had washed it and it was still damp”; he says “I remember that time my Spider-suit got dripping wet and I couldn’t wear it when I wanted to.” It’s almost like Lee sees the story of Spider-Man happening in an eternal present tense (more characteristic of Superman and the Distinguished Competition) and Ditko sees it as an arrow thrusting forward to a definite conclusion. Perhaps he doesn’t want to make the comics too impenetrable to new readers; perhaps he just doesn’t reread old issues and doesn't always remember what happened last month. The final caption of issue #24 feels a lot like Stan Lee apologizing to the reader for Steve Ditko's unwillingness to wind up any sub-plots -- or maybe like an editor throwing his hands up in despair. "Nothing conclusive has been settled between Peter and Betty..or indeed between anyone. And yet, isn't that just the way of life? We never know what surprises are around the corner..."  

So. It is tempting to see these classic stories — the bogus psychiatrist, the anti-Spider-Man robot, the two part gangster tale, and of course the Very Famous Master Planner Saga — as being great precisely because Lee as got out of the damn way and ceded the stage to Dikto. But Stan Lee’s voice is as loud and as emphatic — maybe louder — in this final year as it had been in the previous two. The dialogue is bigger, punchier and funnier than ever before. The Scorpion issue, in particular, is sustained almost entirely by the three-way sparring between Spider-Man, Jameson and Ned Leeds. Perhaps J. Jonah Jameson is increasingly reduced to a comic foil: but no comic foil was ever funnier or sharper. Perhaps, having admitted that Ditko dreamed up the stories, Lee feels the need to shout “Me, me, me!” on every page. Or maybe he merely raised his game. And, in fairness, there are a number of panels where he impresses us by knowing when to shut the hell up. When it turns out that Ned Leeds and an unspecified female friend are taking care of the sick Betty, the crestfallen Peter says nothing more than “Tell her I called.”

"The narrator" remains a very distinct voices in all these stories; almost an invisible presence, as much a character as J.J.J or Flash. He keeps reminding us that this is a story which someone made up -- there is not the slightest attempt to present it as pseudo-history. ("Do you think it's easy to think up titles like this?"). But he never engages in meta-fiction. There is no sense of the characters being puppets who's strings "the narrator" can yank. When Flash Thompson fortuitously bumps into J. Jonah Jameson  he assures us that it's the mysterious workings of Fate, not a clever twist by the Writer.  If anything, "the narrator" is the avatar for the reader — the archetypal Marvel fan — in the front row, as breathlessly awaiting the next plot twist as we are. Which makes perfect sense if Ditko really did create all these stories without input from Lee. "The narrator" talks as if he doesn't know what is going to happen next...because he really doesn't. He presents the identity of the Crime Master as an unfathomable mystery...because Steve really hasn't told Lee yet. No other Marvel comic ever achieved quite this level of ironic detachment; because no writer and artist were ever crazy enough to work in this way again.

In the years and decades which followed, Spider-Man the publishing phenomenon would go from strength to strength. Ditko began his celebrated half-century sulk, and Lee settled into being a full time celebrity. Roy Thomas and John Buscema — and John Byrne and Mark Waid — did a pretty good job at producing second and third rate Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pastiches for the Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor. But no-one ever recreated the magic of these issues of Spider-Man. No-one even tried. Lee without Ditko tended towards pure melodrama. And Ditko without Lee... Well, I am afraid we all know what Ditko without Lee tended towards. But somehow in these ten issues the barely disguised antagonism between Ditko the Dreamer-Upper and Stan Lee the Annotator gave us a year’s worth of the finest  comics the industry has ever seen.
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. 

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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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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Everything before the "but" is bollocks...

Yes, the Slave Trade was awful, an I am as much in agreement with that as any of the minority of people living in Bristol, who want the name of Colston Hall changed. However...

P. Collins

Who are these name changers? Are they Bristolians, born and bed here of Bristol families, educated in Bristol Schools, worked hard to buy their own houses, and pay council tax? How dare they come here from other cities and countries and tell us what to do?

also P. Collins

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man #23

The Goblin and the Gangsters

The Green Goblin, “Lucky” Lobo

Supporting Cast: 
Aunt May, Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson, Frederick Foswell + Mr Merriweather, the Business Executive Club and their butler, and a chorus of gangsters and policemen.

Liz and Flash do not appear.

Parker is wearing blue trousers (jeans?), a black open top shirt and white jacket throughout this episode rather than his normal blue suit and yellow waistcoat — possibly because the story takes place on a Saturday?

Failure to Communicate: On page 7, Peter Parker returns to Aunt May's house, retrieves his Spider-Man costume, changes clothes and goes into action. But on page 19, he retrieves those same clothes from an alley near the warehouse where the fight with the Green Goblin took place.

For the third consecutive issue, J. Jonah Jameson is represented as a comedy hypocrite who wants to be thought of as a public spirited citizen, but not particularly as a detractor of Spider-Man. Possibly Lee thought the character had become too one-note, or wanted to undo the damage done to him in the Scorpion story?

Spins a web, and size: Uses liquid webbing to block up gangster's guns; puts liquid webbing on gangster's back and throws him against the wall; puts pool of liquid webbing on floor to trap gangsters; puts web net on ceiling so gangsters are trapped as they come into room. No wonder he's run out of the stuff by the end of the episode!

The Green Goblins Bag of Tricks:  The Goblin’s role as “gadgeteer” is played down this issue: he only uses his pumpkin bombs and his finger blaster. (He throws 4 bombs in the fight with Spider-Man, and then claims to have run out.)

Peter Parker’s financial position: He forgets to take photos of the arrest of the gang — maybe because he still has $8,000 in the cookie jar?

p6 “Before his arrest, Foswell was the kingpin of the rackets” The words “king of crime” and “kingpin of crime” are used interchangeably. A kingpin originally meant part of a wheel pivot in a car; but it was in use to mean a Mafia boss by the 1950s. The big bald guy known as The Kingpin won’t appear until issue #50.

p8 “It’s like a scene from The Untouchables” The Untouchables, a TV series about Eliot Ness and Al Capone, finished its run about the same time Amazing Spider-Man started (May 1963). Stan just can't resist lamp-shading this kind of thing.

p9 “We’ll have to close down all our gambling joints.” Up to now organized crime has mostly been interested in stealing stuff.

p14 “That, you green garbed goon, remains to be seen!”  In America, "goon" primarily means “thug” or “henchmen” (derived from the Popeye cartoons). In Britain it retains its older sense of “idiot” or “fool” because of the popularity of the Goon Show on the radio. (Note also that Spider-Man has caught the alliteration bug off Stan Lee.)

A gangster decides that he is going to fill the still-vacant role of “king of crime” in New York. He tries to muscle in on Lucky Lobo, one of the current bosses (who looks disconcertingly and irrelevantly like Jack Kirby). One of Lobo’s henchmen gives him information about his boss’s criminal businesses, and the gangster leaks them to a newspaper. He intends that the police will arrest Lucky Lobo for tax evasion (as sometimes happens to famous gangsters) leaving the gang ripe for a takeover. But the plan works too well: the police don’t just arrest Lobo himself, but also his entire mob, leaving our friend with nothing to take over. The end.

The gangster who gets hoisted on his own petard is the Green Goblin, and the newspaper which breaks the story is the Daily Bugle. It isn’t quite the “cops and robbers” tale Stan Lee promises on page 1 — no-one does any robbing at all — but it’s quite a decent little gangster yarn; the kind of thing which could well have occupied a few pages of Crime Does Not Pay! or Justice Traps The Guilty! The only thing missing, is, er, anything very much for Spider-Man to do. He has a fight with Lobo's mob and ties them up with webbing before the police arrive; he has a big and inconclusive fight with the Green Goblin; but the story would have been very much the same if our hero hadn’t been in it. Was this an intentionally avant garde bit of plot construction — life carries on and Spider-Man isn’t always at the center of it — or yet another example of Lee and Ditko not being able to work out what the hell to do with the post-triptych Spider-Man?

Not only is Spider-Man incidental to the breaking up of Lobo’s mob; but his fight with the Green Goblin ends in an impasse. This is rather well choreographed: the Goblin finds that his bag of tricks is empty and flies away. Spider-Man tries to go after him, but finds that he has run out of web (not surprising, given the amount he has been wasting sticking gangsters to floors and ceilings). He tries to jump after the glider anyway; misses; and has to do a dramatic maneuver to land safely. This is the kind of thing that Stan Lee means when he points to the  comic's realism: there aren’t a lot of other comics which would have left a big fight between hero and villain unresolved. Stan Lee will later backfill this as the Goblin's unique selling point: post-Ditko the Goblin is very much rebranded as “that foe whose battles with Spider-Man were always inconclusive."

The actual fight takes place in some kind of boiler room: quite where, we aren’t told. Spider-Man and the Goblin just crash through a skylight into a room full of pipes and girders. It will be remembered that Spider-Man fought Doctor Octopus and Mysterio in an artist’s studio and and on a movie set, respectively. When Ditko can see that a fight scene is a little pointless, he often drops the antagonists into an unlikely location.

Back in issue #10, the incumbent King of Crime — the Big Man — was revealed to be a Daily Bugle journalist named Frederick Foswell. Having served his time in prison — a whole year! — J.J.J. decides to give him his old job back. In issue #10 Foswell was very specifically a columnist and leader writer, but now he is equally specifically an investigative reporter and a crime specialist.

Issue #10 involved a fairly clever piece of misdirection: everyone, including Peter Parker, thinks that The Big Man is Jameson, but actually he's Foswell. This issue goes out of its way to imply that Foswell is the Green Goblin. On page 6, the Goblin meets a gangster who gives him Lucky’s tax details. The Goblin says that he wants to make the list public, “and knows just the way to do it…”. On the very next page, Foswell rushes into Jameson’s private club with the papers. The hint that Foswell and the Goblin are one and the same could hardly be more explicit; and no other explanation of where Foswell got the papers is proffered.

On page 5, Parker sees Foswell talking to some hoods, but can’t follow them because he doesn't have a costume with him. This could be another example of Stan Lee's realism: he might just have dropped in the idea that Spider-Man has to wash and dry his costume from time to time because as an amusingly naturalistic touch. But in plot terms, the only repercussion of the wet costume is that Parker can’t tail Foswell when he would like to. Quite a lot of narrative effort is expended to make Foswell appear mysterious.

In issue #27, we will find out what Foswell is really up to. But that is not remotely hinted at or foreshadowed here. You will search in vain for a cameo by Patch the Informer in this issue.

Amazing Spider-Man #23: note figure in purple suit. He will not be named as 
Norman Osborn until issue #37

On page 6, for the first time, we seen J.J.J attending the “Midtown Business Executives Club”, hereafter mainly referred to simply as “my club.” Six or seven figures appear in the scene, only one of whom — bald, elderly called Mr Merriweather — gets any dialogue. But standing in the background, very distinctly, is this guy:

Amazing Spider-Man #23, detail.

Ditko makes a lot of use of background characters and extras, whether it is the generic group of boys who hang around with Flash Thompson; Liz Allan’s girlfriends; or the ever-present chorus of Bugle-reading men-and-women in the street. But this isn’t some random face in the crowd: he will pointedly appear again in issue #25 (when Peter highlights him as “someone important”), and again in a club scene in #27. Indeed, one might suspect that the only point of introducing Jonah’s club is so we can be introduced to him.

If you are a spider-fan, you can, instantly identify him as Norman Osborn, although he will not be  given that name until #37. In issue #39 it will be revealed [SPOILER] that Normal Osborn was the Goblin all the time!

So what is going on here? Did Lee and Ditko know all along that the Green Goblin would eventually turn out to be J.J.J’s friend from the club, while laying a false trail that he's Foswell? Or do they at this point intend Foswell to be the Goblin, only to backtrack in a few issues time?

Fan lore states that it was the identity of the Goblin that Ditko and Lee fell out over. I don’t believe this myself. But I think this issue shows just bad their relationship was getting. Ditko foreshadows the Goblin’s unmasking, and sets up a situation where Spider-Man's worst enemy is Jameson’s comrade, and Lee doesn’t bother to write a speech bubble or caption to ramp up the suspense. I am inclined to believe Ditko’s account. He knew Osborn was the Goblin from the off; and is seeding a plot far in advance. But he didn’t bother to tell Stan. Or if he did tell Stan, Stan didn’t care.

How should we see this issue? Maybe Lee and Ditko wrote a deliberately inconsequential issue in order to remind us that the Green Goblin is still around, reintroduce Foswell, and underline Jameson as a public figure. Or maybe Ditko wanted to do a substantial gangster story and found that it got hijacked, as so often in the past, by a super-villain fight scene. We’re going to get a much chunkier tale about the Goblin, Foswell and the Mob in three issues time. (It will also feature an unwearable spider-costume, interestingly enough.) Should we see that as Ditko’s attempted to redo this episode the way he wanted to? Or is this a deliberately slight tale an intentional curtain raiser for the big one?

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. 

Friday, July 21, 2017

Eyes Down...

...removing any traces of the slave trade from Bristol might require half the city to be pulled down, and not just the plaques of signs with Colston's name on it....
Nigel Currie

Until recently, until a lot of publicity was given by the Bristol Post to a very small but vociferous minority of mainly non-Bristolians, the majority was not even aware of Colston's link to slavery...
C Stephens

All these do-gooders who want to change the name of the Colston Hall should be more concerned what is happening in Bristol an other cities regarding girls that are groomed for prostitution and are usually under 18 years of age.
Wendy Fryer

If the name of Colston Hall has to change, the suggestion to change it to the "Corstan Hall" [after Jean Corstan MP] is a good one...It has absolutely no connection with the slave trade, so should not offend those minority groups who are trying to change it, whilst happily living here in this great city. These people should shut up or move somewhere else
P Collins

What a great suggest naming one of the new trains after Edward Colston. What a great way to remember a truly great Bristolian who, ok, was linked with the slave trade, but...
Mr G Briggs

Amazing Spider-Man #22

Preeeeeeesenting…the Clown, and his Masters of Menace!

The former Circus of Crime

Supporting Cast: 
Liz Allan, Flash Thompson, Betty Brant, J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May (one panel only) + Mrs Van Der Twilliger and a chorus of police, doctors, schoolkids and art-lovers. 

This is the first time Spider-Man fails to appear on the cover of his own comic; it won’t happen again till issue #58. (Issues #63 and #72 have symbolic covers in which only the villain and the spider-signal feature; issue #79 has Peter Parker in peril) 

The splash page is purely symbolic (we never see the Masters of Menace in a circus ring, and Spider-Man certainly doesn’t see the Ringmaster walking out on them.) The cover is more or less an enlargement of the first panel of the first page. 

In Duel With Daredevil the Circus of Crime appeared to consist of Samson, a strong man; two trapeze artists (unnamed) and a human cannonball (also unnamed). There are also figures on stilts, a figure in an “Arabian nights” costume, a bald uni-cyclist, and at least two clowns. (When the Ringmaster first appeared in Hulk #3, he had a clown, a cave-man, a midget human cannonball, and a grotesque with a long neck working for him.) The Clown and Princess Python appear here for the first time: but in a classic piece of Stan Lee "backfilling" everyone takes it for granted that they were in the team which Spider-Man defeated a few issues back.

p2 “In a sleazy hotel room in a shabby hotel, some sneaky sinners are startled by the sight of a sparkling spider-signal.” Lee doesn’t generally go in for this level of alliteration. (The Batman TV show, which loved it, is still a year in the future.)

p2With my little gizmo secretly stuck to his fedora… Obviously, the Ringmaster wears a top hat, not a fedora. It isn’t immediately clear why Parker gets this wrong. It’s an incredibly weak joke.

P4 “Some of these new biochemical discoveries of Dr Henry Pym are awfully interesting.” Dr Pym is, of course Gi/Ant Man. Why Peter Parker is reading his research in a high school science class is unclear. (There doesn't seem to be a teacher in the room, so maybe this is some kind of private study period?) 

p9 “Those crummy rat finks! I got them all together! Taught them all they know!” It is a good thing the Ringmaster literally recites his soliloquies out loud, so people hanging by the window can find out what is going on. 

“One things for sure! I’m not Tuesday Weld” Tuesday Weld was a child actor turned adult Broadway star. Interestingly enough, she had guest starred in two episodes of an entirely forgotten circus-themed TV drama/soap “The Greatest Show on Earth.” 

p9 He’s probably…using my old hideout…the warehouse where we stores all our circus equipment….on west 22nd Street.” West 22nd Street is between Grenwich Village and Times Square, in the Chelsea theater district, a by-no-means unlikely place to be storing circus gear. 

p11Boy! Didn’t any of you ever hear of the Good Neighbor Policy” The Good Neighbor Policy refers primarily to Roosevelt’s foreign policy towards South America in the 1930s. Again, this joke makes much more sense if Stan Lee, rather than Peter Parker, is making it. 

p17 “Before they can take it on the lam…”  i.e before they can run away with the loot. 

Peter Parker’s financial situation: Peter sells pictures to the Bugle for the first time since issue #19. Jameson says the pictures of the Circus of Crime being arrested are “wizard” and “front page stuff” so Peter probably takes $2,000, leaving $4,000 in the cookie jar.

I think Spider-Man fans may want to shout at me this month; because having been quite rude about the generally well-regarded Scorpion story, I am going to give a cautious thumbs up to the frequently overlooked second appearance of the Circus of Crime. 

It's a heist story -- specifically, a thieves-fall-out tale. A number of plot lines lead our hero on a moderately merry dance. The Circus of Crime are out of jail (after 6 months); Spider-Man tracks them down to their hotel room and intimidates them with his Spider-signal. (Unusually for Ditko, the cover is simply an embiggerment of the first frame of the story.) During the confrontation, he cleverly slips a spider-tracer into the band of the Ringmaster’s hypnotic hat. But after he has gone, the circus troupe turn against the Ringmaster, who has after all landed them in prison twice before, and kick him out of the band. The team, now led by the Clown, decide to rob an art gallery as their first solo gig. The Clown distracts everyone with his juggling unicycle act, while the rest of the gang make off with the paintings. But wouldn't you know it! The art exhibition they chose to rob is the one being sponsored by J. Jonah Jameson and the Daily Bugle -- they end up putting J.J.J. in hospital. 

The Clown doesn't do a great deal in the story -- Princess Python is the central baddie -- but he is a splendidly sinister Ditko creation, all painted on sad face and frown, who idly juggles and unicycles while planning daring crimes. 

Of course, when Spider-Man tries to track them down, his spider-tracer leads him to the hide-out of the Ringmaster, who is no longer part of the band. But Spider-Man hypnotizes the Ringmaster with his own hat and finds out where the gang is hiding out. Princess Python offers to turn the other members of the gang over to the police, and share the loot with Spider-Man. The Clown, realizing he’s going to be double-crossed, takes the paintings himself and makes off with them; only to intercepted by the Ringmaster, who decides he's going to have the artwork -- but he in turn has been trailed by the police. 

The story is structured as a sequence of two to three pages scenes, only a minority of which involve fighting: the robbery (page 5-7); Spidey tracks down the Ringmaster (page 7-9); Spidey fights the Clown, Cannonball and the acrobats (pages 11 - 13 and 15); Princess Python tries to seduce Spidey (page 16 - 17) ; Spidey's big fight with the python (page 18).  This makes for a very pacy read. By Stan Lee’s criteria, there is little “action” in the comic — no single extended fight. But more happens on each page, both in terms of plot movement and in terms of physical action than in many a 12 page battle sequence.

No-one would accuse Silver Age Marvel of having been a hotbed of feminism; but Amazing Spider-Man isn't usually the worst culprit. (Early Fantastic Four can be genuinely uncomfortable to read because of its casual sexism.) But the relationship between Spider-Man and Princess Python is downright weird. When the Princess initially tries to seduce him, Spidey remains as acerbic as ever: 

"Why don’t you and I team up? We could make beautiful music together!"
"Sorry ma’am. I happen to be tone deaf."

But when she confronts him physically we get this kind of thing: 

Spidey: "What can I do now? I can’t fight a female. I can’t use force against her…"
Princess: "My only chance is to take advantage of being female…"
Spidey: "I don’t want to have to get rough with a female…"

It's almost like Stan Lee himself feels uncomfortable with the idea of a lady baddie and keeps drawing attention to it. The very word "female" sounds clumsy, coming from someone who normally calls women "gals" or "chicks". (Note that at the beginning of the story, Betty admitted that she was a "foolish, jealous, female"). But the taboo against male on female fight scenes seems to have been taken out of all proportion. As far as it goes, it is sensible to bring up schoolboys  — who, by hypothesis, fight each other all the time to establish status — to think that it is not manly to start a fight with a woman, or with a smaller man, or with anyone wearing glasses. And you wouldn’t stage man vs woman wrestling bouts or prize fights for the same reason you don't have mixed tennis tournaments —  there is too much disparity in strength and stamina for the fight to be fair or interesting. But it seems that this playground honour code has been turned into an unbreakable moral principal. Is it really the case than a male can never hit a female? What does a male police officer do if a female criminal is resisting arrest? Don't male soldiers ever have to confront female warriors on the other side? What does a gentleman do if a lady hits him first? 

It will be a long time before Spider-Man has to confront this dilemma again: he doesn't have another female opponent until Medusa (#62) and the Black Widow (#86). 

There is a strong sense that this issue is trying to create a new, post-triptych format in which characters have comic foibles rather than personalities. When J.J.J threatens to fire Peter Parker (a freelancer) no-one even bother to pretend they think he means it. When he learns that Betty has kept a vigil by his hospital bed he exclaims “Too lazy to go to work, eh!” and Betty smiles ”He’s as nasty as ever — so I know he’s all right now!” The issue before last Jameson was paying masked supervillains to murder Spider-Man: now he is a Perry White style comic foil whose bark is worse than his bite. Similarly, Peter and Betty are repeatedly shown together during the art heist, giving the impression that they are now a couple in the way that Lois and Clark are. The final page, with Peter saying “Oh no! The painting have been recovered! We’ll have to look at them again!” and the three of them marching off together feels very much like the end of situation comedy. 

Which is far from being a criticism. If the Amazing Spider-Man is to continue as a monthly comic, it can't be in a state of permanent crisis: there needs to be a comfortable status quo which can be disrupted and reestablished each month.

This is a perfectly adequate story, with tons of plot movement, some dead ends, and some minor twists. Lee and Ditko could carry on giving us this kind of thing almost indefinitely. But three issues on from The End of Spider-Man, and there is still no real sense of direction for the new, self-confident Peter Parker.
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.