Friday, January 20, 2017


Barbarism is the natural state of mankind. Civilization is unnatural. It is a whim of circumstance. And barbarism must always ultimately triumph.
      Robert E. Howard

So, anyway: people keep falling down holes.

"Okay", I said: "We’d better have some people standing by with ladders and ropes and pulleys, so when anyone falls down a hole they can pull them out. And everyone will pay two and sixpence a year old money to pay their wages and the upkeep on the ropes and the ladders."

"No", you said. "That’s unfair on the people who never fall down holes. And the whole process of collecting two and six from everyone is wasteful. What we’ll do is charge the people who actually fall down holes the actual cost of pulling them out. Although naturally, if someone falls down a hole and really can’t afford the fee, we’ll exempt him from the charge. Or let him pay it installments, or make him do a stint pulling other people out of holes, or something." 

Then my friend joined the conversation. "I have an even better idea", they said. "Instead of spending all this money pulling people out of holes, why don’t we spend it filling in the holes, and putting up fences and lights and warning signs round the holes and preventing people from digging holes in the first place?"

"Oh, no, no, no" you said: "We can’t molly coddle our citizens like nanny goats! People must be free to fall down holes on their own time."  

But then your friend joined in the discussion, and asked if he might play devil’s advocate for a moment. "If someone is weak enough and stupid enough to fall down a hole", he explored, "Then surely he should be left there? Where did this idea that anyone had any responsibility to help anyone else out of a hole come from? That just leads to people walking around, not looking where they are going, falling down holes and expecting the government to pull them out, like in Germany. And anyway, there aren’t any holes, or if there are, no-one falls down them, or if they do, they climb out by themselves…"

"I think you will find… " said I.

"No, I am not going to argue with you", said your friend. "You should help someone out of a hole is an obvious piece of nonsense, on the same level as why is a mouse when it spins? and feminism. People who believe in pulling other people out of holes always lie about everything. Surely we can all accept that as a starting point?"


Chivalry is the idea that a person whose job it is to brutally kill people should, when he isn’t brutally killing people, be exceptionally kind and gentle. 

This is obviously a silly idea. Left to themselves, a person who chooses “killing people” as his career path is likely to want to kill as many people as he possibly can — and rape their women, take their stuff, burn their land, and then swagger into the pub and brag about it, expecting everyone in the pub to defer to him because he’s got a bloody big sword and they haven’t.

The Parfit Gentil Knyght is a made up thing. But for hundreds of years, most of the real-life knights believed in it. They honestly thought that to be truly soldierly and truly macho you had to be incredibly soft and gentle and (if one can put it like that) girly towards civilians and kids and old people and your horse and the fat guy in the squad who isn’t much use as a soldier and (especially) enemies who surrender to you. 

It was a bit like the fine old British idea of being a good sport. Guys put so much of themselves into rugger matches, and care so much about winning, that we had to base our entire education system around the idea that the really good rugger player is the one who doesn’t mind (or at any rate, pretends not to mind) if he loses. Otherwise the whole thing would quickly turn into a bloodbath. 

The catch is that people started to believe that sportsmanship and chivalry were the natural order of things. That if you gave a hormonal young man a rugby ball and told him that the whole honor of his school depended on his scoring a wicket with it, it would automatically follow that he would shake hands with the captain of the other team and say “Well done, old chap, you played much better than us, let me buy you a beer shandy” at the end of the game. And that if you were the sort of person who didn’t mind disemboweling Jerries with bayonets you would automatically also be the sort of person who helped old people across the road and never said "bloody" in front of a lady. That the bigger a psychopath you were on the battlefield, the more of a pussycat you would be in the dining room. 

The other catch is that teachers stopped thinking of sportsmanship as the only thing which made rugby bearable, and started to think of of rugby as the most important part of education because it taught young men about sportsmanship. And perhaps it did. Perhaps the best way to breed judges and politicians and policemen who mostly don’t take bribes or pick on the smaller guy is to bring them up to believe that things like that are "just not cricket". Or perhaps — as that great philosopher Captain Kirk pointed out — sportsmanship is a terrible idea precisely because it does take all the violence and brutality out of rugby. Maybe rugby ought to be violent and brutal: to ensure that civilized people only resort to rugby as a last resort. 

Once we started to believe that soldiers were automatically chivalrous we naturally stopped bothering to drum the idea of chivalry into soldiers, which more or less guaranteed that soldiers would stop trying to be chivalrous. (A similar problem arose when priests stopped thinking of Christianity as “this radical idea that it’s my job to convince people of” and started thinking of it as “what all English people are by default.”) And so you end up in a world where respectable newspapers columnists honestly don’t understand how one of Our Boys could have been court martialled for executing a prisoner of war. (But it was an enemy! A foreigner! Can’t you even execute foreign prisoners of war any more? It’s political correctness gone mad!) A world where a mainstream politician can wonder out loud whether it might be a good idea to torture people even suspected of being enemies.

And their wives.

And their children.

“Because we have to beat the savages.”


When I was born, men were still being sent to prison for going to bed with other men. In fact, men were still being sent to prison for sleeping with other men when I was in college. Homosexuality was only fully legalized in this country in 2001.

When my Mum was born, the British government still employed an official whose role it was to put ropes around people’s necks and push them through trap-doors. He was made redundant less than one year before I was born. The last neck-breaking session took place on 13 Aug 1964. A Thursday. Doctor Who was coming to the end of its first season. That Saturday’s episode was called Guests of Madam Guillotine. Before Google, it wouldn’t have been possible to find that kind of stuff out.

When my Grandmother was born, women were not allowed to vote in elections.

I cannot personally remember signs outside shops saying “No dogs, no blacks, no Irish” but I can remember when the BBC showed black face minstrel shows as part of a normal Sunday afternoon entertainment -- and everyone, even nice people, thought this was perfectly normal. And I can remember when it was perfectly normal for children (including me)to have rag dolls called “Greedy-Yids” with cute hook noses, skull caps, yellow stars and little bags of money and no-one could see what the problem was. (Some people still can’t.) 

I was never personally hit by a teacher, but both my schools (like every school not actually run by hippies) had a special stick for smacking children with, and everyone, even nice people, thought this was perfectly normal and even slightly amusing. (I believe it still happens in America.)

I don’t remember the election where Tories said “If you want an N for a neighbor, vote Liberal or Labour”, but I do remember the one where they said we should run Labour out of office because they thought there should be, er, sex education in schools.

And obviously I remember when the Tories made a law that you could only talk about homosexuality in school if you made it clear that it was a Bad Thing. (That one was abolished in 2003.)

But, on the other hand. 

I grew up in a world where free medicine was taken for granted. I remember literally not understanding when Jarvis betrayed the Avengers to Ultron because he needed money to pay for his mother's operation. 

I grew up in a world where free education was taken absolutely for granted. I could wish that my bog standard comp had pressed me harder to try out for Oxbridge, but there was never any doubt that if I got good enough A levels I could go to university for free, and even get a small stipend to pay for books and food and lodging and Dungeons & Dragons supplements.

I grew up in a world where the trains and the gas company and the water company were run by the government: not always infallibly, but generally affordably. I grew up in a world where unemployment was a misfortune, but not a catastrophe — where you knew that if worst came to worst you could sign on at a Job Center and get a small but adequate giro cheque every couple of weeks and (provided you weren’t living anywhere too posh) a substantial chunk of your rent paid. 

I didn’t even particularly notice any of this. I assumed it was the way things were.


So. That is what I believe happened in 2016.

I believe that the Nice Party took its eye off the ball. [*]

I think that the Nice Party forgot that the essentially Nice society we lived in was an amazing thing; based on counter-intuitive ideas; painstakingly built up over generations; a fragile flower that would die if you forgot to water it or exposed it to a draft. I think that the Nice Party came to believe that the Nice Society was just the way things were.

I think that the Nice Party came to believe that the victories of the second half of the 19th and the first half of the 20th century were part of an inevitable movement upwards and leftwards towards the Light, which would go on more or less forever. Not all the battles had been won, by any means, but the general trajectory was in the correct direction.

And that's a big part of the problem. When the Nice Party wins a victory, it is inclined to regard that victory as won. “Hooray!” we say “We have abolished slavery, done away with capital punishment, given women the right to vote and gay people the right to get married -- so now that’s over and done with. Onwards to the next victory!”

But when the Nasty Party suffers a loss, they are inclined to regard it as merely a temporary setback. They never give up. Every criminal sent to jail is a convict who has grievously escaped the noose; every penny paid in unemployment benefit is a penny stolen by a sturdy beggar who should be in the workhouse, or the stocks, or Australia. "Oh dear", they say: "We appear to have conceded the point that poor people should be allowed to go to the doctor when they are sick. Well; we may have to put up with that for a little while. But don’t for one moment think we have conceded the principal. The day will come again when anyone who can't pay for their own medical care will die. The day will come when no-one will be pulled out of a hole."

Partly, I think, it was down to a naive belief in progress. Yes, my parents and grandparents remembered the days when it was quite legal to pay a lady less than a gentleman and to refuse to employ a black person at all — they remembered July 1916 and September 1940 and October 1962 — but that was back when everything was in black and white and hardly anyone had broadband. All those really terrible things like hangings and concentration camps and grammar schools happened in the olden days, like pirates and highwaymen and the Tulpuddle Martyrs. There are good reasons why none of it could possibly ever happen again. Give me a minute and I’ll tell you what they are.

I think a lot of it was down to a naive trust in institutions; an assumption that even if Mum and Dad and Teacher and P.C Plod were sometimes mean to you, Families and Schools and Policemen were basically looking out for your interests. Prime Ministers could be wrong but they couldn’t be stupid and they certainly couldn’t be corrupt. I know I personally took it for granted that Members of Parliament, even Tories, were always going to be more sensible than the people who elected them; and even if they weren’t the constitution and the courts and the judges would prevent them doing anything completely mad; and even if they didn’t we had the court of Human Rights to fall back on. By all means let the Daily Mail call for criminals to be tortured and pork forced into the mouths of Jewish school children; no MP would ever vote for it; and even if they did, the Lords would overturn it; and even if they didn’t Strasburg would strike it down. It stopped being necessary to persuade people that racism was wrong: it was possible to tell them that racism was actually illegal. And we were right: right up until the Nasty Party seized its moment, and started to invoke Infallible Referenda (which you cannot speak against, because it is The People’s Will) to support it’s cause; and to call into question the whole notion of human rights and even independent judges.

If your whole life is about gardening and writing books about gardening and making TV shows about gardening, then it must be very tempting to think that gardening is the only thing that really matters and that gardening would solve all the worlds problems if you’d let it. (Osama Bin Laden would never have become a terrorist if he’d had a nice rose bush to prune!)

If you have spent your whole life teaching P.E, you probably aren't going to say that rugby is a fine thing in its own way, on a level with collecting stamps and painting 25 mm Space Orks. You are much more likely to say that sport is a corner stone of civilization and the only thing that will save us from the Commies. 

So if you are a politician, of course you are going to say that the only things worth fixing are the kinds of things that politicians can fix — schools and hospitals and welfare and housing — and that once they’re fixed then everything else will be fixed too. If human beings are Nasty, they were made Nasty by poor health and slum housing and rotten schools; fix all that, and all the Nastiness will go away. Now we’ve rehoused the poor in Nice housing estates, they won’t want to steal from each other any more. Now we’ve made prisons humane, there won’t be any more crime. Now we have reproductive rights and no-fault divorces there won’t be any more domestic abuse. Now we have pot luck parties where the Asian mums bring curry and the Jamaican mums bring fried chicken the Christians will stop hating the Muslims and the Muslims will stop hating the Christians…

But what if there were no natural inclination among people to be Nice?

What if Nice values were, like chivalry and sportsmanship, a made up thing? What if people with black skins naturally think that people with white skins are aliens and people with white skins naturally think that people with black skins are aliens? What if straight people naturally think that gay people are weird and yucky? What if it is natural for big boys to beat up little boys and for little boys to form gangs to protect themselves from the big boys, and for the big boys to get knives and the little boys to get guns? What if people had to be persuaded to be Nice? And what if, having won all the victories, the Nice party didn't think they needed to do any more persuasion?

Since the Bad Thing happened the Nice Party has been told, over and over again, even on this page “You made all this happen! If you hadn’t spoken so stridently in favour of Nice things, the Nasty people would not have got so cross and voted for the Bad Thing. In fact, you were so strident that a good number of Nice People voted Nasty just to piss you off!”

There is a tiny, infinitesimally small, smidgen of a truth in this accusation. The great Peter Elbow pointed out that being right is a dangerous tactic since “sometimes being right makes you so insufferable that people are willing to stay wrong just for a chance to disagree with you.” Someone has suggested that the satirical song I linked to last month went a little bit too far in portraying people on the wrong side of the Referendum as yokels and morons. I agree: that kind of thing doesn't help. (It's still a very funny song.)

But let's also keep in mind Screwtape's warning: that preachers and politicians always admonish people about the exact sins which they are least like to commit. If you live at time when everyone goes to Church as a matter of course and doesn’t do much about it, then you can bet that you will hear stern sermons warning you of the dangers of religious fanaticism. But if you live at a time when everyone is gung-ho to go on a crusade and give Johnny Infidel a damn good thrashing, then expect to hear firey sermons warning you about the temptations of lukewarmness and nominal-ism. It was when the Nice Project was about to come tumbling down that Nice Leaders started to say "Well, I think actually the Nasty Party has a point. Maybe we are a bit snowflakey. Maybe we are a bit prone to political correctness. Maybe people sometimes use racist language and don’t mean anything by it, and even if they do, maybe it’s patronizing of us to tell them they shouldn’t?” Which pretty much amounts to surrender. You don't wait until the Knights are slitting the French prisoner's throats and then say "Well, to be honest, maybe some of what's been said about chivalry is a little bit unrealistic." You don't pick the Saturday afternoon when the team captain has kneed the referee in the bollocks to say "I am not at all sure that some of the posher schools haven't gone a bit overboard in preaching about sportsmanship."


It may be possible for the Nice Party to regain some ground. Some of the Nasty Party are still a bit ashamed of being Nasty. If you call them Racists or Fascists, they will still deny it -- because they have some residual sense that Racism and Fascism are bad thing. Like the guy who cheats at games, but will punch you if you say he is Unsportsmanlike, because he was raised to think that Sportsmanship was a good thing. But this won't last forever. Plenty of the Nasty Party's supporters are already openly saluting Swastikas.

But to do this, we are going to have to go right back to first principals and explain, until we are blue in the face, why we ever thought that multiculturalism and women's emancipation and gay equality and the welfare state and human rights were good ideas. Nice people are going to have to challenge Nasty assumptions whenever we hear them.

No, actually, I am pleased to pay my tax, it’s a way of sharing the important things between everyone.

Stop talking about “them” and “us”; so far as I am concerned, we’re all British, even if some of us dress differently and have a different word for God. 

There is no such thing as political correctness; it’s a lie made up to make people hate each other. 

Isn’t the Health Service brilliant. 

Isn’t it fantastic that we can all vote. 

Aren’t human rights a fantastic idea. 

Isn't multiculturalism wonderful? Isn't it depressing to look at one of those old movies and see only white faces (and everyone dressed the same.) Isn’t it brilliant how you only have to walk down the Gloucester Road and find Italian Pizza and Greek Kebabs and Jewish fish and chips and Indian curry and American coffee houses using Brazilian coffee beans selling French croissants and that's before we even get onto Greek tragedy and German opera and Danish thrillers.

Those of us who grew up before the Catastrophe are going to have to tell this story. No-one else will. We will be told that we are speaking against the Will of the People. I don't think that we will be treated as traitors and subversives, fun though that would be. I do think we will increasingly be regarded as weirdos and eccentrics, in much the way that people who thought that it was okay to be gay were regarded as weirdos and eccentrics in the 1970s.

"All we have to decide is what to do with the time that was given us." Our generation was handed Camelot as a gift. We couldn't be bothered to defend it. But we're going to have to keep the memory alive so the next generation can have another shot at rebuilding it. 


It is said that one Sunday morning in 1923 or 1924,  the U.S President returned to the White House having attended a church service.

“What did the pastor preach about?” asked the First Lady.

“Sin” replied the President.

“And what did he say?”

“He was against it.”

[*] Note: 

I am not here to argue that the British Labour Party or the American Democratic Party have the monopoly on goodness. I am not here to claim that Theresa May or David Cameron or George W Bush or Mitt Romney are simply evil. I think that most people on The Left and most people on The Right are mostly in agreement about most things. We all think it would be a good thing if everybody was well-fed, well-educated and could afford to see a doctor when they got ill; we all think it would be a Bad Thing if there were a nuclear war in the next few years. What we disagree about is which Good Things it should be the government’s job to do, and which Good Things should be left up to individuals, and who should pay for it all. And even that doesn’t necessarily split along neat party lines. 

If someone says “I think that we could get rid of the National Health Service and replace it with a German model of subsidized private health insurance, which would provide better hospitals for less money” then I would call him a Conservative. I would disagree with him politically. I think “from each according to his ability to each according to his need” is basically a good principal, but I wouldn’t think that he was stupid or evil.

But if someone said “I don’t think that one penny should be taken from the rich to pay the medical bills of the poor; if the poor can’t afford to pay their own hospital bills, then they should be allowed to die; you have no more right to free health care at the point of need than you do to free chocolate cake or free motor cars, then I would happily say that that person was both stupid and evil. (One such person writes to the Bristol Evening Post at least once a week.) 

I don’t think that all Conservatives are stupid and evil, and I don’t even think that all stupid and evil people are Conservatives. (That is a pleasing paradox, but I don’t set very high store by it as an axiom.) 

Hence, I am reduced to calling the people who believe in sharing the “Nice” party, and the people who believe in keeping all the good stuff for themselves the “Nasty” party. I have to say that the idea that we are all basically human and should be treated the same is a “Nice” idea and the idea that Our Lot are better than Your Lot and definitely better than The Other Lot is a “Nasty” idea. 

Regular readers will be amused, but not surprised, to hear that in an earlier draft of this piece I tried referring to them as “The Light Side” and “The Dark Side.” 

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Why Is Doctor Octopus Spider-Man's Greatest Foe?

The Sinister Six establishes a canonical list of Spider-Man foes. These six baddies will continue to oppose our hero for as long as the series lasts. Only the Lizard (who is sort of kind of not really a villain at all) and the Green Goblin (who has only appeared once at this point, and is too mysterious to be part of a team) are absent. The Execrable Eight would have been a rotten name for a team, in any case.

Although the Vulture declares himself to be Spider-Man’s most dangerous foe, there is never any question that Doctor Octopus is the leader of the gang. The Vulture, Sandman and Electro are bank robbers and thugs. Mysterio is much cleverer, but even he only used his powers of illusion and misdirection in the service of a safe-cracking career. Kraven, the only one who is not a crook; is a crazy man who hunts Spider-Man for the challenge. But Doctor Octopus is a proper super-villain. He is a brilliant scientist. He lives in a gothic castle and has giant fishbowls lying around in case he ever needs to drown anyone. Granted, in issue #12 he was springing gangsters out of jail in order to raise venture capital to become King of Crime, but he is still in a different class to the other five. Clearly, he is being positioned as Spider-Man's worst enemy, or indeed, Arch-foe. (He will eventually be replaced in that role by the Green Goblin, who is at this point still only a gangster with a gimmick.)

What makes him such a dangerous antagonist? He is simply a normal human being with four extra arms. The arms are very strong; strong enough to lift three adult human beings off the ground at once. But he himself is of normal strength:  Spider-Man can easily take him out with a single punch if the arms will let him get close enough.

But he has an effect on Spider-Man out of all proportion to his actual powers. Doctor Octopus won their very first fight, and this defeat demoralized Parker sufficiently that he seriously considered giving up being Spider-Man. Spider-Man tried to prevent Doc Ock being released from prison at the end of his first sentence, which he didn't do (so far as we know) for the Enforcers or Mysterio. The second time they meet, Spider-Man weirdly under-performs due to a sprained ankle, causing the Bugle to mock him as an over-rated hero. The third and fourth times, Spider-Man inexplicably loses his powers -- due to a virus in #13, and "psychosomatically" in the annual.

The “sprained ankle” thing is a little weak. Spider-Man jumps from great heights all the time; would a coil of rope on a ship really put him out of action if he tripped over it? (And if the injury is so bad, why isn’t he still limping when he gets back to New York?) And the virus thing is obviously nonsense. How does a cold stop you sticking to walls? We might say that a virus “left you weak for a few days” but that’s not literally true. If I had to spar with [insert name of famous boxer here] while the latter had ‘flu, it is just barely possible that I would win — because my opponent fainted or threw up during the fight. If he actually punched me, well, it probably be a below par punch for him, but it would easily knock me flat. If I punched him it would be just as ineffectual as if I punched him when we were both perfectly germ free. The ghost of Spider-Man pops up in Pete Parker's dream to warn him that "virus" is to Spider-Man as Kryptonite is to Superman, a plot device which has thankfully never been mentioned again.

The explanation for the power-loss in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 is hardly any better: “it was psychosomatic, brought on by a deep rooted feeling of guilt due to Uncle Ben’s death”. What? It is possible for psychological states to have physical symptoms — a patient with severe stress might find themselves unable to see, even though there is nothing wrong with his eyes. But the idea that you can psychsomatically trip up, psychosomatically dangle from a flag poll, and then psychosomatically get better and dodge a lightening bolt doesn't even make comic book sense. 

So what is really going on?

Doctor Octopus was a Scientist. There was an explosion in his laboratory, during which he absorbed a great deal of Science. This is, of course, a lot like what happened to Peter Parker, although his exposure was indirect: he got bitten by a spider that had previously been exposed to Science. The medic at the hospital says that the Science has permanently damaged Doctor Octopus's mind. He is certainly paranoid and megalomaniacal; his first thought on waking up is "they are jealous of me" and his second is "I am stronger than any of them." Once he realizes that he can now control his mechanical arms directly he thinks “I’m the supreme human being on earth” which doesn't seem to follow. Sure, he can do some cool things with his arms: which of us has not wished he had an extra arm when lighting a cigarette or pouring tea for the old lady we have kidnapped? -- but this hardly puts him in the Galactus league.

Doctor Octopus is not a cyborg: the arms are attached to a metal harness, not welded to his body. He says after his accident that they are almost a part of him; and that “just a suggestion of a thought” causes them to move “as though they have a will of their own.” In the Sinister Six story, he is still able to control the arms after they have been detached from his body; indeed, when he confronts Spider-Man in the castle, he voluntarily removes them so he can attack his enemy from behind. That is: his power over his arms is telepathic or telekinetic. It's the power of Doctor Octopus's mind that makes them so strong.

Some of Spider-Man's other enemies -- the Green Goblin, for example -- are very probably insane. Some of them -- the Lizard, perhaps -- are powered by Magic as much as by Science. But Spider-Man's Arch-Foe is the one who was simultaneously driven mad and given telepathic powers as a result of the same kind of accident that made Spider-Man Spider-Man. 

In Turning Point, Spider-Man’s meeting with Doctor Octopus depends on a fairly improbable chain of events; and Stan Lee specifically speaks as if an external force is drawing them together…

“Our cast of characters come closer to a date with destiny…” 

“…but sometimes fate has other plans” 

“…but once again capricious fate has made the teen-aged crusader minutes too late.”

In The Sinister Six story Sandman and Electro accidentally kidnap Aunt May while intending to kidnap Betty Brant. If it hadn't occurred to Aunt May to go into town to call on Betty at Peter's workplace -- if she had, for the sake of argument, made a telephone call instead -- she wouldn't have ended up as Doctor Octopus's guest. A year from now, the evil Master Planner will suddenly realize that the one bit of Science he needs for his evil Master Plan will be the exact same bit of Science that Curt Connors needs to brew a potion that will save Aunt May's life. (As the years go past, Aunt May and Doctor Octopus will get increasingly closely entwined: the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #131, which we mercifully don't have to consider, depicts them apparently getting married.) It almost starts to looks as if what Doctor Octopus controls is the power of coincidence. Not only do his and Spider-Man's paths keep crossing, but something always causes him to hurt someone Spider-Man loves, whether he consciously intends to or not. 

If you accept my theory that Spider-Man has no physical strength of his own, but is channeling some external power-source — and I think you have to accept my theory for the stories to make any sense at all — than everything falls into place. 

Doctor Octopus has been consumed by the Dark Side of the Spider-Force. He can channel the Spider-Force to give his flimsy metal arms incredible power. It may be that he is consumed with hubris and paranoia due to brain damage; but it may be that at some level he sees that his link to the Force does potentially make him the most powerful human being on earth. And if that is correct -- well, it is at all surprising that the Spider-Force keeps drawing the two of them together? And is it surprising that the Dark Side of the Spider Force draws Octopus to places and circumstances that will hurt Peter Parker? And is it in any way surprising that Doctor Octopus is completely obsessed with Spider-Man, and Spidey is equally obsessed with Doc Ock?

And it seems clear that the mere proximity of Doctor Octopus somehow disrupts or interferes with Parker’s ability to channel the Spider-Force. So that when Spider-Man is about to fight Doc Ock his powers are radically reduced, or go away altogether.

In his seminal 1982 essay “The Well Tempered Plot Device”, Nick Lowe memorably argued that coincidence, destiny and capricious fate are all devices which The Author uses to nudge the Plot in the direction he wants it to go without all that tedious mucking up with logical chains of cause and effect. He points out that Star Wars makes a good deal more sense if every time someone mentions the Force you mentally substitute the Plot. ("The Plot is what gave the Jedi their power." "I sense a great disturbance in the Plot." "You must learn about the Plot if you are to come with me to Alderaan.")

Aye: and that’s true too. 

Later continuity revealed that Doctor Octopus had an alcoholic father who beat him.

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

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

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Amazing Spider-Man was written and drawn by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko and is copyright Marvel Comics. All quotes and illustrations are use for the purpose of criticism under the principle of fair dealing and fair use, and remain the property of the copywriter holder.

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Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 (II)

Please Please Me is an accomplished piece of a work; a carefully crafted collection of pop songs from a band to watch out for — but not, in itself, a game-changing album. If you’d bought it from Woolworths in 1963 you would not necessarily have known you were holding a piece of history in your hands. If you'd have picked up Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band six years later, you'd have known you were holding something special. It looks like nothing that came before; it sounds like nothing that came before; it would influence everything that came after it. Of course it is possible to go overboard in praising it (decisive moment in the history of western civilization, was it?) but it’s actually irrelevant that Revolver and the White Album are better records and indeed better Beatles records. Sgt Pepper is the special one.

The first Spider-Man Annual must have been like that, is what I am saying.

Imagine buying it in a newsstand or a drugstore in the summer of '64. Imagine holding it in your hands. Amazing Fantasy #15 was a new comic. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 is a new kind of comic.

For us in the UK, it was split over two issues (Spider-Man Comics Weekly #9 and #10) and it was still devastating. But if you were fortunate enough to have been an American kid in 1964, you’d have had something that cost twice as much as a normal comic (one quarter, two bits, 25 cents) but which contained not only a double-length story, but also 15, count them, 15 pages of pin-ups, another 15 pages of background features and a (frankly not all that funny) skit about How Stan Lee and Steve Ditko Create Spider-Man.

And no ads.

The Sinister Six is the Spider-Man formula writ large: indeed, it is the Spider-Man formula shouted from the rooftops and written in letters of fire above the Statue of Liberty. It follows the “Stan Lee” pattern rather than the “Steve Ditko” pattern: a 13 page set-up, followed by an extended 24 page fight scene. Indeed, the plot is substantially a retread of Amazing Spider-Man #12. Doctor Octopus kidnaps Betty Brant in order to force Spider-Man to participate in a staged fight scene, and puts an advert in the Daily Bugle to tell him the time and the place of the showdown. ("…I can’t even swear that Spider-Man knows how to read…" blusters Jonah.) But the volume is turned up to the Nth degree. While kidnapping Betty, Doctor Octopus accidentally captures Aunt May as well. (She’s dropped in at the Bugle to see if Betty knows what’s ailing Peter.) And Spider-Man doesn't just have to fight one of his old enemies: he has to fight all of them.

This is Stan Lee is setting out his stall: offering a summa of the Spider-Man myth to date and offering a primer for new readers. It establishes the canonical baddies; it reintroduces the supporting cast; it offers a visual F.A.Q about how Spider-Man’s powers work. In the same month, Marvel published the first Marvel Tales annual, which put the the origins of Spider-Man, Ant-Man/Giant-Man, Thor, the Hulk, Sgt Fury and Iron-Man (twice) between two covers. When Spider-Man has a flashback about his origin, it is this, not the long out of print Amazing Fantasy #15 which readers are directed to. There are no less than 10 cameo appearances by other super-heroes each one of which is hyper-linked to another comic ("Doctor Strange appears each month in Strange Tales magazine”). Did I say there were no adverts? The whole comic is one massive advertisement for itself!

Take a look at page 12 and 13 — just before the big fight starts. The Vulture (flapping outside the window) tells Jameson to print Doctor Octopus’s challenge in the next issue of the Daily Bugle. Jameson telephones the Fantastic Four to see if they know how to contact Spider-man; and Reed Richards calls up the Avengers. (“Sorry” says Captain America “I never even met Spider-Man.”) There’s still a real magic to these scenes. A DC comic of the time might have featured a Superman/Batman crossover; and a Disney comic might well feature Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse — or even Mickey Mouse, Peter Pan and the Seven Dwarfs — in a single story. But there could never be any sense of them sharing a world, living in a real city, having a life that goes on outside the confines of the issue we’re currently reading. Jonah phones Reed, Reed phones Cap and nothing whatsoever comes from it. We could reasonably date the origin of the Marvel Universe from this panel.

Truthfully, the idea of an alliance of Spider-Man’s enemies is fairly lame. There is too much of a sense that the baddies know they are baddies and are forming a baddies’ club. The Vulture actually refers to the group as The Sinister Six, which is only one up from Magneto calling his club The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants. Perhaps they should have gone with GROSS (Get Rid of Slimy Spiders) or else followed the splash page and called themselves the Sinister, Deadly and Undefeatable Six. (I have of course spent some time studying each panel to find out if any of the group are left-handed. Sadly not.)

You might think that a pair of bank robbers like the Vulture and Electro would want to use this unprecedented coalition of criminals to pull off a really massive jewels heist. But they all agree with Doctor Octopus that the best use of their time would be to, er, organize a treasure hunt for Spider-Man.

Doctor Octopus’s scheme is simplicity itself. He will kidnap Betty Brant and imprison her in his castle; and he will give the Vulture a card with the castle’s address on it. So to rescue Betty, Spider-Man will have to fight the Vulture. But the Vulture’s address is printed on another card, and to get hold of that, he will have to fight Sandman. But to find out where Sandman is, he will have to take a card from Mysterio...and so on. Spider-Man lampshades the silliness of this idea at the end — if the villains had simply jumped him all at once, they could have beaten him easily. But the round-robin format means that Lee and Ditko don’t have to attempt a single, 25 page battle scene (which would almost certainly have been unreadable) and can instead do six little mini-fights running to about 3 pages each, with breaks in between, giving this 42 page story a really breathless pace. Some of the individual fights end up feeling a little anti-climactic — the rematch with Kraven in particular seems to be over before it has started — and we have to swallow some extreme silliness in the set-ups. The Vulture makes Spider-Man fight him at the top of a very tall tower without any web-shooters. Doctor Octopus jumps into a giant glass goldfish bowl because he wants to beat him “just as a real octopus would”. But some fabulous full page Ditko spreads lend it gravitas, as well as padding out the page count.

Ditko pin up of the Burglar:
note rat in foreground,
and Amazing Fantasy logo.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
Is it at all possible that Ditko drew the 6 spreads first, intending them for a portfolio or back up feature, and Lee liked them so much that he span a story around them? The comic is rounded out with a 15 page “gallery of Spider-Man’s most famous foes”, giving profiles of every villain to have appeared in the comic, even no-hopers like the Tinkerer and the Living Brain. The pin-ups of the Burglar, the Chameleon and the Lizard (who do not appear in the main story) are beautiful Ditko vignettes. (Look at the Burglar, clearly located in the old warehouse, with a broken bottle and scrap of newspaper on the floor, and a pair of rats in the foreground.) But the pin-ups of Electro, Doc Ock and Kraven are relatively simple character sketches with no background at all. Is it possible that Stan Lee purloined Ditko's detailed, kinetic spread of Kraven leaping at Spider-Man with two cheetahs leaving him to hastily trot out a stiff, one dimensional sketch of the same character for the pin-up section? Unknowable, of course. But I can believe that that Ditko drew an underwater scene as a standalone gallery entry much more easily that I can believe that the idea of the giant fish-bowl occurred to Stan Lee off the top of his head. (The next time we encounter him, Doc Ock will have a secret underwater base, like all cool villains do.)

But the emotional punch of the issue doesn’t depend on the extended fight with the bad-guys, and Stan knows it. Look at the splash page. A small panel tells us that Spider-Man is going to have to rescue his loved ones from the Deadly Sinister Six, and a large one tells us that he is going to have to find a way to defeat the Undefeatable Sinister Six. But the biggest panel asks the biggest question. “What happens now? Just when needs them most, Peter Parker seems to have mysteriously lost his amazing spider-powers.”

If one wished to be very nasty, one could say that the answer to this question is "Nothing very much" or "Spider-Man bunks off school and wanders round down being morose for a bit." Spider-Man’s powers go away, and then Spider-Man’s powers come back again, a bit like a BT Broadband connection. But Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 could easily have been a gladiatorial contest with a pretty lady as first prize. This plot device raises it to the level of a morality play.

Parker (as Spider-Man) spots Aunt May, tearfully reading Uncle Ben’s old letters. “I guess she never really got over Uncle Ben’s death at the hands of that burglar, months ago” he thinks. (What, die two years ago and not forgotten yet? Then there’s hope a sidekick’s memory might outlive his life half a decade!) This brings on an evasive flashback to Amazing Fantasy #15 — the first time we’ve revisited the story since issue Amazing Spider-Man #1. Anyone who had also purchased the Marvel Tales Annual had the original text before them: they know that Spider-Man is being economical with the truth. Back in Amazing Spider-Man #1, Peter claimed that his uncle had died because he, as Spider-Man, was showing off on a TV show when he should have been at home looking after his family. Here, he admits that he refused to help the police officer but claims that it was because he “didn’t want to waste his powers” — whatever that means. “Why should I butt in?” is a considerable softening of “From now on, I look out for number one, and that means, me!” And “I can never forget that I’m partially to blame for Uncle Ben’s death” is quite a lot different from “My fault! All my fault!” Either Stan Lee, or Peter Parker, can’t actually admit to themselves what happened on that fateful night.

This flashback brings Spider-Man out in a full-blown aria.

“No matter
what I do…
No matter
how great my spider-powers are...
I can never
undo that tragic mistake!
I can never
completely forgive myself!
I hate my Spider-Man powers!
I wish I were just like any normal teenager!
If only it had never happened!”

If only it had never happened. We are back to the voice of cry-baby Peter: “My Spider-Man costume! I wish there were no such thing!” “Everything I do as Spider-Man seems to turn out wrong!” “I wish I had never gotten my superpowers.” If only it had never happened. This speech is a negation of “with great power comes great responsibility”. Because of his power, cry-baby Peter feels responsible for the death of Uncle Ben; if he didn’t have those powers, he wouldn’t feel responsible. He wishes his power would go away.

And, at that exact moment, they do.

And, as if to underline the point, Spider-Man’s first reaction is to be relieved. It’s literally his first thought. “I never believed it could happen—but it has. Somehow, without warning…I’ve lost my spider powers!! Perhaps it’s all for the best! Now I can never hurt anyone again! I won’t have a secret I must always protect! I’ll be able to live a normal life!” Only then does it occur to him that he’s hanging on a flagpole with no way of getting down.

The moral hazard of the issue doesn’t depend on Spider-Man spotting that he can tangle up Doctor Octopus if he spurts out all his webbing at once; on him remembering to ground himself before fighting Electro, or on Sandman accidentally suffocating himself. It depends on Peter Parker doing the right thing.

He goes and confronts Electro (the first clue in the treasure hunt) even though he is powerless and can’t possibly win. I think he is banking on Doctor Octopus being a villain but not a psychopath: once Spider-Man is dead or helpless, he would release Aunt May and Betty as being of no further use to him. Peter is literally giving his life to save theirs. Fully expecting to die, his voice is no longer that of boastful Spider-Man or whinging Peter. It’s the voice of an adult hero: “If this is to be my finish, at least I’ll face it like a man.”

Once again, he is being moral, but not altruistic. He is going to lay down his life to save the two people he loves most in the world; not to fight evil in any generalized way. For the last half-dozen issues, he’s been involved in battles he has some personal stake in — walking into the Goblin’s trap because a film director offered him $50,000; fighting Mysterio to clear his own name. True, last month he volunteered his services for a charity gig, but that didn’t turn out too well.

There is a certain amount of waffle on page 21, in which Spider-Man says that he actually never lost his powers “I just imagined he did”. This reminds me a little of the faith healer "who said, although pain is not real/ when I sit on a pin / and it punctures my skin / I dislike what I fancy I feel". It isn’t obvious how “dangling from a flagpole on the side of a skyscraper and being unable to get down” is to be distinguished from “actually losing my powers”. But this is Stan trying to scribble in a rational explanation for something which makes perfect narrative sense. Spider-Man's powers come back because he courageously stands in front of Electro and lets him fire a deadly lightening bolt at him

Spider-Man’s powers go away because he wishes them to do so. He gets to resume the role of Spider-Man because he has proved himself worthy of it.

If Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 is Stan Lee's recapitulation of the Spider-Man myth to date, it is also a kind of valediction.  From now on, Lee is going to more or less hand control of the character over to Ditko; simple gladitorial contests will be replaced by soap opera, farce, character interplay and film noir. And it also points the character down a narrative cul de sac. If Peter Parker has proved himself worth of being Spider-Man, what else of importance can ever happen to him? 

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, January 08, 2017


Theresa May is sitting in the first class carriage of a train. Suddenly, she winds down the window, and throws a ten pound note out of the window. 

"What on earth did you do that for?" says one of the people in the carriage.

"Well" she said "I like to imagine that someone will find that note, and it will make them happy."

"Well on that basis, why not throw two five pound notes out, and make two people happy?"

"In fact" chips in another man "Why not throw yourself out and make everyone bloody happy?"

[NOTE, incidentally, that this is an example of the Dave Allen Rule -- any joke is funnier if you put the word "bloody" in the punchline. ]

What do you call ten Tories in the sea?
A start. 

Theresa May is rushing to an important meeting, and runs across the road into the path of a bus. Fortunately, three little boys, on the other side of the road, see what is happening and scream out to the bus to stop, and no harm is done. 

"I think you may have saved my life" says Mrs May "I would like to give you a reward. What would you like?" 

"May I have an X-Box" says the first little boy. 

"Certainly - see this child gets an X-Box and a couple of good games for it." 

"May I have an I-Pad" says the second little boy. 

"Certainly - get this lad a top of the range I-Pad....And what would you like?"

"I would like a state funeral..."

"You are awfully young to be thinking of that kind of thing!"

"But when my Dad finds out whose bloody life I saved today..."

I think that Cliff Richard should be buried in Poets Corner. Right now. 

The human race just can't get it right, can it? John Lennon -- murdered. J.F.K -- murdered. Martin Luther King -- murdered. Ghandi -- murdered. Jesus Christ -- murdered. Ronald Reagan -- wounded. 

Dear God -- In the last year, you have taken my favourite comedian, Ronnie Corbet; my favourite conjurer, Paul Daniels; my favourite singer, David Bowie; and my favourite actor, Carrie Fisher. Oh God, I want you to know that my favourite politician is Jeremy Corbyn." 

It is not in question that Jim Davison is odious little individual (or at any rate, that he plays one on the stage.) I understand that he sincerely regrets the racist "Chalkie White" material he did during the '70s. However, his "Jeremy Corbyn" remark was clearly a joke, presented as a joke, structured as a joke and indeed following a venerable joke-like formula.  (*)  He was not expressing a wish that someone would die, much less advocating political assassination.

Comedians have always told jokes about the deaths of politicians and other public figures. If you start down the path of saying "Tory comedian Jim Davidson wishes Jeremy Corbyn DEAD in sick gag" you end up saying "Well, I'm glad YOU think that the deaths of fifteen hundred people are funny, but I don't think YOU'D have found it very funny if YOU'D been in the bar of the Titanic with a Vicar and a Rabbi..."



"I've just been reading a fascinating survey of worldwide sexual behaviour. It says that Native Americans have the biggest cocks, but Polish men last longest. By the way, I don't think I caught your name?" 

"Tonto Pilsudski." 

(patrons are not being charged for this post)

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1

The Sinister Six

Doctor Octopus, Electro, Kraven the Hunter, Sandman, Mysterio, The Vulture

Supporting Cast:

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

Thor, Doctor Strange, Mr Fantastic, the Invisible Girl, the Thing, the Human Torch, Giant Man, the Wasp, Captain America, Iron Man, Prof. X, Marvel Girl, Iceman, the Beast, Cyclops…


In England, an “annual” is a hardback album, published at Christmas, with comics, text features, puzzles and games in it. In America, an “annual” is a double or treble sized comic which comes out in the summer: more like what we Brits would call a “holiday special.”

Since Spider-Man last encountered them, Electro has been seen criming in Daredevil #2; Sandman escaped from prison and was recaptured by the Human Torch in Strange Tales #115; and Kraven was knocked out by Iron Man in Tales of Suspense #58.  

The features section of this issue states that Midtown High School is "3 blocks west" of Peter Parker’s house. Our working assumption has been that Midtown High is Forest Hills High School, on 110th Street. Unfortunately, if you went three block east of Midtown High, you would end up in the lake in Flushing Meadows Park. We either have to move the school, or assume that “three blocks west” is a mistake. The best I can manage is to place the Parker residence somewhere around 19 68th Avenue, where the houses don’t seem to be a bad match for Ditko’s illustration. Peter's walk to school would then be three blocks east and two blocks north. Later continuity gave the address as 20 Ingram Street (a real address, currently occupied by a presumably rather bemused family called, er, Parker); but this is a 30 minute walk from the high school.

Page 4: Flash Thompson tells Peter “you asked for it” and Peter replies “Now, there’s an imperishable bit of clever dialogue”… a rare occasion when Peter Parker allows himself to wisecrack in Spider-Man’s voice. 

Page 7: “And so, it takes the once mighty Spider-Man almost an hour to make a journey which a short time earlier he would have completed in less than 3 minutes.” The building which Spider-Man is hanging off when he loses his powers is on Madison Ave (p12), some ten miles from Queens. Spider-Man is doing pretty well to cover that distance in a hour: it would probably take most people a couple of hours to walk. On the other hand, if he can really swing from Queens to Manhattan in three minutes, he must be travelling at something 200 miles per hour. (There is also the question of how he walked along the roof tops from Forest Hills to Manhattan, and indeed, what his web is attached to on the top of page 5!)

Page 9: “Perhaps you should stay home today dear? It may be a touch of virus” Last time Spider-Man fought Doctor Octopus, an unspecified “virus” turned out to be the one thing that could remove his Spider-Powers. 

Page 13: The Human Torch uses firey skywriting to send a message to Spider-Man; a reference back to their first meeting when the message was “Spider-Man: Let’s Work Together”. All we can see of this message is “Spi.. Co.. F4”… perhaps “Spider-Man - Come to F4’s headquarters”?

Page 20: “You can’t leave yet, Gunga Din” In Kipling’s poem, Gunga Din is a punjabi Indian, so it’s an odd name to apply to Kraven, a white African. Gunga Din is a noble figure (”you’re a better man than I am…”) where Spider-Man seems to despise Kraven more than some of his other foes. 

“You never give up, do you?? I’ll bet you’re still wearin’ a Vote for Dewey button”

Thomas Dewey was an unsuccessful Republican presidential candidate, losing to Roosevelt in 1944 and Truman in 1948. He was also Governor of New York until 1954. The Chicago Tribune famously called the 1948 election result incorrectly, resulting in photos of Truman holding a newspaper with a “Dewey Elected” headline: this may be why he’s connected with absurd persistence. If Peter Parker was born in 1949, this wisecrack is roughly equivalent to one of today’s 17 year old crime fighters saying “I bet you’re still wearing a Vote for Bob Dole button”. We have stopped pretending that the voice of Spider-Man is anything other than the voice of Stan Lee. 

Page 22: “Rots of ruck” Facetious, borderline racist, cod-Asian pronunciation of "lots of luck". It may have been used as a shibboleth to identify Japanese combatants during the World War II. It was also the name of a popular tune and a brand of candy.

Page 25: “Nice try, Mysterio. But did you forget that my Spider-sense enables me to find any enemy within reach, even I can’t see him.” Probably not: but he apparently has forgotten that he has a sonar device which blocks out our hero’s Spider-sense. 

Page 26: “What in Sam Hill happened to Spider-Man?”. J.J.J is not above swearing in front of his staff (usually printed as "%*!#&&" or some such). But when he is alone in his room, he is not quite able to bring himself to say "hell".

“I’ve waited a long time for this moment!” Indeed, Sandman has not been seen for more than twelve issues. 

Page 33: "You know your friendly neighborhood Spider-Man is always available for weddings, barmitzvahs, and all sorts of fun things”… Confirmation, if confirmation were needed, of Peter Parker’s heritage: someone with a Christian background would have said "weddings, Christenings..."

Page 35: “Now I’ve got you, you meddlesome juvenile”. Doc Ock knows that Spider-Man is young; he knows that he has some connection with Betty Brant; he knows that Betty is dating Peter Parker and that May is Peter’s Aunt… but he can’t quite manage to put two and two together. (It’s odd to accuse Spider-Man of meddling when you’ve gone to so much trouble to arrange this confrontation.) 

Page 36: “Boy! What a movie serial this would make!! A new cliffhanger every minute!!” Stan Lee can’t resist lamp-shading his sources. Movie serials were long gone when Peter Parker was growing up (the 50s were the first golden age of TV) so once again this is Stan Lee's voice, not Peters.

Page 39: “Spider-Man! Oh thank heavens!!” It’s only five issues since Betty Brant asserted that she couldn’t bear to ever see Spider-Man again. 

Page 40: “All shook up!” Elvis recorded a song of that title in 1957, so this is hardly a new piece of slang — if anything, Peter is being a little bit old-fashioned. 

“Do you realize we missed the Beverly Hillbillies” The Beverley Hillbillies was at this point the highest rated TV show in the US. Season 2 ended in June 1964 and Season 3 began in the September of the same year, so when Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 came out lots of Americans, like Aunt May, would have been eagerly anticipating its return.

Appendix: Spider-Man Comics Weekly

The myriad cameos, and the brace of topical references provided more than usually problematic for the UK reprint:

Page 3: When Thor whooshes past, Spider-Man’s “either he’s on his way to a meeting of the Avengers or he’s late for his barber…” becomes “Either he’s on his way to a Carpenters convention...” — presumably a reference to singer Richard Carpenters long(ish) hair, but possibly simply to Thor’s hammer. 

Page 4: The whole scene with Doctor Strange is redrawn so it is the Thing who walks past the school when Thompson tries to punch Parker. (”That’s the second time he’s almost clobbered me.”) 

Page 10: The whole scene of Giant Man and the Wasp arresting the hoods is redrawn and replaced with one involving Mr Fantastic and the Invisible Girl (meaning that Sue uncharacteristically blames Reed for not paying him back for their phone calls). 
Page 12: Reed Richards calls up Major Talbot (from the Hulk) rather than Captain America.

Page 13: The X-Men panel is removed altogether, panel 2 is moved to the left, and a new frame is added with Spider-Man saying “This is it Parker. No superpowers to back you up. You’ve got to do it all by yourself. I can’t kid myself. This could be my last battle.” Page 17: The Stark Electrical Building becomes the Decker Electrical building; Spider-Man is approached by a night-watchman, not Iron Man. 
Page 20: “Vote for Dewey button” becomes “Beatles Forever button.” (NOTE: We don’t call them buttons in the UK.) Oddly, “Why don’t you see a barber” becomes “Why don’t you see a veterinary surgeon”? This is the last page of SMCW # 9.

Page 21: This is first page of SMCW #10. The “psychosomatic” explanation for loss of powers is replaced with a brief summary of the the previous issue. ("Boy what a workout! First Electro attacks me, then Kraven the Hunter shows up! I'm one tired Spider-Man...")

Page 22/23: Mysterio’s robot X-Men are just robots: “Cyclops is blasting my web” becomes “The guy with the visor is blasting my web”; “the Cyclops robot’s power beam” becomes “that blasted robot’s power beam.” 

Page 40: “Missed the Beverly Hillbillies” becomes “Missed the re-run of Love Story”.


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.