Well, I said I was trying to pick an old series to work my way through. It looks like I am going with The Amazing Spider-Man.
I am sure Jimmy Impossible will approve. Or he won’t.
Issue: The Amazing Spider-Man #1, March 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artists: Steve Ditko and Sol Brodsky
The Plot: Peter Parker tries to find a way to make money for himself and his Aunt May, but people keep making his life worse.
Commentary: There’s a certain charm to these old stories, but I say that about a lot of old Silver Age comics from both DC and Marvel. But for the life of me, I think the best writer/artist pairing for me was Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Yes, Stan’s input is sometimes questioned, and this partnership came to a somewhat abrupt ending, supposedly over a dispute over who the Green Goblin would be, but I generally prefer Ditko’s pencils to Jack Kirby’s, and Stan’s dialogue always had a rough charm to it. And as much as I like a lot of the DC reprints, I don’t know that I can name many writer and artist pairs from over there off the top of my head. The point is that Stan Lee and whichever artist he was working with at the time must have been doing something right, even if it was just Stan’s natural salesmanship managed to make the work he and his artists were doing more noteworthy.
It helps that Spider-Man is a lot more relatable than, say, Superman. DC heroes never worried about much more than keeping their girlfriends in the dark about their superhero identities, often allowing themselves to be angrily berated by said girlfriends for failing to be as manly as their heroic alter egos. Heck, Iris West was often drawn to look outright cruel when she would tell Barry Allen the Flash was a “real man” compared to good-natured Barry, a man who could never arrive anywhere on time. Barry, for his part, would just sit there looking bemused.
Of course, this is the first issue, and Peter Parker doesn’t even have a girlfriend. The one woman in his life is Aunt May, and even she seems to be on the outskirts though she usually looks happy enough. I mean, there’s a short section where Peter sees Aunt May pawn her jewelry, and while his dialogue seems to think it’s a tragic thing, she seems to be smiling as she walks away, so draw your own conclusions. There are still plenty of bugs in the system, so to speak, not excluding the times Stan’s writing referred to the hero as either “Spiderman” without the all-important (according to Jimmy) hyphen or even as “Peter Palmer”. When Spider-Man auditions for the Fantastic Four by means of a break-in to the Baxter Building, the Invisible Girl (later Woman) tries to grab him with a lasso, but the rope is clearly visible, so that was not the best of plans.
I mock this issue mostly out of affection. The issue itself is divided into two stories, the first of which features the first appearance of arguably Spidey’s greatest nemesis: J. Jonah Jameson, a newspaper publisher with a lot of name recognition and influence all things being equal. This one is a longer story compared to the second, and it features Peter having trouble making money because he can’t even cash a check without ID and he refuses to let anyone see his real face. I realize the secret identity is an important component to the superhero story, but at this point in time, Peter hasn’t made any enemies yet, so why not show his promoter his face? Is Jameson going to attack a 15 or 16 year old kid for the crime of trying to make money to support his widowed aunt? If anything, the first story shows how the legendary “Parker Luck” works, as even when Peter saves the life of astronaut John Jameson, Jonah still finds a way to spin the story as an attack on Spider-Man. Peter hasn’t taken the freelancing gig from Jonah yet, but the central irony that Peter can make money by selling images of himself to someone who only uses said images to attack him is coming.
The second, shorter story has Peter try to get hired by the Fantastic Four (they don’t pay) and then take on his first supervillain in the form of the Russian spy and master of disguise the Chameleon. Interesting to note the Chameleon here wears masks and doesn’t have some odd shapeshifter power or whatever he does these days. He’s basically a Scooby-Doo villain who looks less human when he’s not wearing a mask as opposed to the other way around. But one of the things I always dug about Ditko’s artwork was his character design, especially for villains, and having that guy pop out this early may not mean much, but he has a unique look all the same. Plus, hey, it’s the Cold War. Of course he’s stealing stuff for the Reds and trying to blame Spider-Man. Too bad Spidey’s own spider-sense seems to be kicking in.
So, really, fun issue. But I expected it to be anyway.