Category Archives: Essay

“Why must I be a costumed, super-powered sad sack?”

spidershrink
You will.

Let’s get on with it. We’ll have a look at issues #13 to #30.

Most of these comics aren’t really worth discussing, at least as far as the superheroics are concerned. A villain shows up and does things, Spider-Man has trouble defeating him at first but then manages to anyway. Some of these are more fun than others, oftentimes validated by future history (such as the Scorpion being first featured in a very run-of-the-millstory, but his inclusion somehow elevates the material (however slightly)).
spiderwhoom
Some fine Ditko.
Suffice to say, the costumed antics aren’t the comic’s strong suit, at least thus far. What does work fairly well is Peter Parker’s Archie-esque romantic and interpersonal entanglements. Particularly because they’re not particularly Archie-esque on account of Peter Parker petty and jarringly egotistical reactions to the many mundane trappings of maintaining relationships with other human beings. This isn’t a consistent characteristic; occasionally Parker is pretty prescient regarding other people’s feelings which makes the moment where he reacts like a sociopathic asshole all the more discombobulating.
spiderscared
Brown recluse Spider-tactics.
There is a gender component to this behaviour – all of Peter’s more jilted rage is generally directed at the women in his life, with their womanly wiles and conniving ways. We haven’t arrived in Gwen Stacy/Mary-Jane territory yet (though the latter has been alluded to) – currently Parker is orbiting JJ’s secretary Betty Brant and (now former) classmate Liz Allen, both of whom spend their time calling Peter without result and worrying themselves whether they’re not pretty/young/worthwhile enough. It’s not as if this kind of onedimensional characterisation of female characters is a dated component – many comics (and films and other forms of fiction) still can’t seem to come to grips with a comprehensive characterisation of one half of the planet’s population. There is, as of yet, no woman in this comic that has discussed anything that isn’t Peter Parker.
spiderwomen
Peter Parker: Exceptionally tolerant of jealous, foolish females.
There are characters the comic does justice to, and they are, apart from Peter, J Jonah Jameson and Flash Thompson. Stan Lee gives them sufficient attention and depth to graduate them from one-dimensional to full two-dimensional characters. Jonah as an insecure tyrant with an unhealthy fixation on Spider-Man fuelled by moral misgivings about his own conduct, and Flash as a jealous bully that regularly suffers from pangs of decency.
spidermanic
One of JJ’s many manic episodes
Most of the stories concern a new or returning villain that needs to be beaten up, and usually he (it’s always a he, so far) gets beaten up, although sometimes it takes two issues for the villain to get beaten up. But eventually he does get beaten up. The action component of the strip is often touted by Lee’s sometimes-not-annoying fourth-wall breaking as the not-boring bits, which could say something about a frustrtaed writer realizing his need to pander to boys, but probably not.
spiderdram
Just look at this dramatic shit
Surprisingly, despite this paucity of depth on an individual issue basis, there are frequent and decent stabs at introducing character arcs and long-term mysteries. The Green Goblin has been lurking at the edge of the story for a while now, building the anticipation. The return of former mobster Frederick Fosswell seems destined for a traditional bout of recidivism, but thus far, he seems to be staying on the straight and narrow (surprising both Peter and me). On top of this, the aforementioned soap-opera drama makes the short-term reading of an issue a bot of a chore, but the long-term reading of the series far more rewarding. But again, that may be down to our knowledge of the future.
More, later.
spiderjjbot
Also, in one story, Jameson hires Alistair Smythe to build him a robot he can remote control around town in order to fight Spider-Man, like a demented sixties drone pilot.
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“Go Buy Yourself Some Twist Records!”

spidertwist

Ever since first watching 1994’s Spider-Man: The Animated Series, I have liked Spider-Man. This is not a unique predilection. He is, after all, one of the more enduring comic book characters around, and comprised at his inception a rather unique approach to superhero characters. Not being an all-powerful alien or insane playboy, Spider-Man and his civilian alter ego Peter Parker had to battle teenage angst, mundane inconveniences and adverserial weather alongside crazed superhumans and well-armed bank robbers. He was more pedestrian than most preceding characters – he had actual, relatable problems to deal with.

spiderfight
Some early Steve Ditko art features Spider-Man whalloping thugs, a recurring motif.

Like most popular comic book characters, especially in this age of Mouse-powered superhuman overindulgence, I got to know Spider-Man through tertiary material, just like I did Batman and all the others: Through animated cartoons, toys, and later, films. Spider-Man had permeated the cultural membrane and existed as an Idea rather than solely as a comic book character. I knew about Venom and Shocker and Mysterio as though it was through Biblical canon – these things had been acknowledged before and they would be in the future – they were.

Which is why I decided I should probably read all of the Spider-Men some time. All 80 billion of them. I hope to glean some insight into shifting perspectives, creative choices and the creation of a lasting legendarium – however convoluted and frail – and how much design and how much catastrophe figured into this process.

spiderlizard
If only the Lizard wrote more missives

The Amazing Spider-Man’s original run alone features 700 issues, so I’ll be at this for a while. So for this first instalment, we have a look at Amazing Fantasy #15, and The Amazing Spider-Man numbers 1 through 12.

I won’t be doing this issue by issue, because that means 700 reviews and I hope to do something with my life before getting there. So for now, abide with this more lateral approach.

A lot of this comic is about Fox News, basically. Almost immediately the comic serves up one of the most familiar elements of Spider-Man mythology – the constant character assassination by Daily Bugle editor J. Jonah Jameson, who goes out of his way to convince the reading public that Spider-Man is a crook, usually the same person as the one he happens to be chasing at the time. We spend a fair amount of moments with the reading public, allowing us to wallow in the shallow opinions of a public that largely assumes that whatever a paper prints is probably true. It is bonehead satire, or at least it would have been then. I’m afraid it might actually be more relevant now than it was then. Jameson is a Bill O’Reilly before his time, and almost immediately the more amusing character of the bunch.

spiderjj
The best and most representative image of the first issues.

The comic almost immediately introduces most familiar tropes of the mythos. Peter Parker is a morally conflicted neurotic who is constantly hassled by his classmates. He sticks to walls, swings on webs and has eerie prescience re Bad Things. Evil and/or insane and/or unlucky individuals adopt weird monickers and gimmicks and do crimes and Spider-Man stops them from doing said crimes. He makes money by selling photographs of himself.

Interestingly, loads of staple villains are almost immediately introduced. Chameleon, Vulture, Electro, the Lizard, Sandman and Doctor Octopus turn up one after the other, though most don’t get an explanatory aside about why or how they are actually doing this.

spiderincognito
Reformed Doctor Octopus.

Strangely, I notice these stories do seem contextually grander because I have foreknowledge of hos culturally significant they become. Though occasionally sharp and sometimes even clever, much of this comic is stupidly asinine – but it is difficulty to objectively find it so. It’s as though the comic’s hapless attempts at interpersonal drama are someow validated by the fact that in a few decade’s time, these attempt will work slightly better.

An example: Peter’s first romance here is Jameson’s secretary Betty Brant, who has Something She Can’t Possibly Tell Him. Almost immediately you’re not particularly interested in finding out, mostly due to Betty’s complete lack of distinctive character features, save for being female, not hating Peter Parker and not being his Aunt. It’s not as if any other character is particularly more developed, but Betty is particularly underserved. In the end, Spider-Man is present when her brother gets shot by Doc Ock and somehow this furthers the drama.

spidercock
Even Peter’s not bothering with it in this astounding display of patience, empathy

It is clearly a prototype of his future relationships – most of which won’t be better thought out, but by virtue of history and longevity will feel somehow more rounded. Or at least I assume so.

More of this later as we continue our journey through sequential art history. Until then, some more choice picks from these first 12 issues:

spidersand
Spider-Man forgot to take pictures of his fight with Sand-Man so he commits fraud.
spidershoes
This
spiderjameson
One of sequential art’s most famous vendettas is infodumped away almost immediately.
spidershit
Finally this: I acknowledge his writing is occasionally almost competently done but I loathe this sort of shit Stan Lee is constantly pulling.