May 24, 2022

Gabbing Geek

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Noteworthy Issues: The Amazing Spider-Man #9 (February, 1964)

Spider-Man takes on Electro for the first time!

There was a time when I was somewhat new to monthly comics when Electro was almost something of a joke villain, a bad guy whom Spider-Man could routinely take down without too much effort thanks in large part to webbing that acted as electrical insulation.  Heck, I even remember a comic where Spidey, working with the Human Torch against a bad guy who conjured the same pair of villains to take the heroes on after they’d just defeated the pair, actually said he was used to beating Electro two or three times before lunch.

You’d think a guy with power over electricity would be harder to defeat…and he was at least for his first-ever appearance.

Issue:  The Amazing Spider-Man #9, February 1964

Writer:  Stan Lee

Artist:  Steve Ditko

The Plot:  Electro is out for money, and he’s not interested in getting it legally!

Commentary:  There is an essential innocence to the comics of this era.  I say that mostly because Electro may not be interested in hurting anybody.  Yes, he’s out for number one and all that, but at one point, he thinks he’s killed Spider-Man when Spidey grabbed the electrically-charged villain and knocked the hero out.  Electro didn’t know Spidey wasn’t dead, but his dialogue there suggests he wasn’t even trying to hurt Spider-Man that much.  He just wants to steal large sums of money.  Granted, he isn’t all that torn up about possibly killing Spider-Man, but he likewise wasn’t trying to.

How odd is that?

As it is, this issue is like all the problems of Spider-Man writ large.  Aunt May is very sick again, and she needs surgery to fix this mystery ailment.  Peter needs money, and while his classmates continue to mock the guy whose elderly aunt will soon be in the hospital, he mostly ignores them.  That includes Flash Thompson who momentarily was trying to make amends.  Can Peter raise a thousand dollars to pay for Aunt May’s surgery?

Apparently, J. Jonah Jameson will pay for pictures proving Spider-Man and Electro are the same person.  Jameson got that idea when Electro robbed him, and Electro was about the right height and weight, crawled up a wall using electricity to magnetize parts of the wall, and knew who Jameson was.

You know, while the issue does not say exactly how Electro knew J. Jonah Jameson by name, I might point out that Jameson is something of a public figure, and he isn’t above putting his own face into his publications next to all the anti-Spider-Man editorials he keeps penning.  Why wouldn’t people recognize Jameson on the street?

However, while the issue-long fight with Electro shows Spider-Man losing a first round only to get some stuff he needs from a hardware store to stop the villain much more easily the second time when Electro opts to release the prisoners of the local prison to be his personal army, this issue also tends to highlight some of the more…questionable aspects of Peter Parker’s character.  Peter needs the money badly enough to actually fake some photos of Spider-Man turning into Electro, photos he knows are phony, but that he sells to Jameson anyway to pay Aunt May’s medical bills.  By issue’s end, he sells Jameson even more photos of the fight between Electro and Spider-Man at the prison and makes even more money as Jameson doesn’t seem to care that Peter gave him what had to be fakes before.  Jameson better hope his readers react the same way of conveniently forgetting Jameson had only the day before accused Spider-Man of being Electro.

Say, was Jameson routinely paying out a thousand dollars for photos to Peter?  That…seems like a lot of money in 1964.

But then there’s Betty Brant, still an adult possibly romancing an underage student.  She does have a line in this issue where she says she left high school to start working, so does that make her a high school drop-out?  Or at least a recent graduate?  She seems to have a full time job, so she can’t be that much older than Peter, but the series is still playing up this woman as a romantic partner for a teenage boy.  Even here, when she momentarily gets angry with Peter’s “craving danger” when she knows full well he needs to take those photos to pay for Aunt May’s medical expenses, it’s not that long before she is apologizing to Peter like it was maybe a speedbump on the road to whatever it is they have going on.

Still, if this series would just stop it with Peter and Betty, I think I would like it a whole lot more.  That bit just hasn’t aged well.

What has aged well is Electro, actually.  Yes, the idea that an electrical lineman is somehow so much better than the others seems odd, but he uses his powers well, and even in an era with silly costumes, his may be among the silliest with that lightning bolt mask of his.  Credit to Ditko’s pencils in that he does make the mask look like it’s just a floppy piece of cloth in a lot of panels.  So, to review:  more classic supervillains and less disturbing romantic relationships would make me like this series much better.

Speaking of, next time the classic villains are…the Enforcers?  Really?  Oh well.

Grade:  A-

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