Friday, 20 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #58. The Spider-Slayer's back

Amazing Spider-Man #58, J Jonah Jameson and the Spider-Slayer
(Grargh! Jameson smash! Cover from March 1968.)

"To Kill A Spider-Man!"

Written by Stan Lee
Layouts by John Romita
Pencils by Don Heck
Inks by Mickey Demeo
Lettering by Sam Rosen

Argh! We've been lied to. At the end of last issue, we were told in no uncertain terms that Spider-Man was dead. Now, in the first panel of this tale, we're told he's alive, and that only someone with Ka-Zar's jungle-honed senses would be able to detect the spark of life that still resides within him - which would be fine if it hadn't been Ka-Zar and his "jungle-honed" senses that had told us our hero was dead in the first place. Here's a lesson for us all. If you're not feeling well, consult a doctor, not a dinosaur-fighting English lord in a furry loin cloth. Not, of course, that we wanted Spider-Man dead. Let's face it, such news would hardly be good for the comic's future circulation figures. It'd just be nice to know where we stand.

And the fact that Spidey still lives isn't the only good news awaiting us in these pages because, at last, Spider-Man has his memory back. Time for him to return home and start to sort everything out with those who've been wondering where he's been for these last few days.

So, what happens in this one? What happens is that Professor Smythe reappears. For those who arn't familiar with him - or whose memories are as bad as Spider-Man's has been lately - he's the mad scientist who turned up in issue #25 with an infallible robot guaranteed to destroy Spider-Man. It failed of course - as infallible plots to kill super-heroes tend to - but now he's back with a bigger and better robot. And this one can't fail because it can somehow home in on spideryness. Needless to say J Jonah Jameson shows the levels of common sense we all associate with him and happily teams up with Smythe for another round of Spider-bashing.

There's a problem. Smythe's gone completely mad and is out to not just capture Spidey but kill him. Once the Slayer's found our hero, Smythe rests control of the robot from Jameson and sets about trying to zap Spider-Man into a bloody mess.

Spidey has to think fast. He has to find Smythe's lab.

Thanks to the phone book, he finds it and heads there. Smythe, watching the whole thing through the robot's viewer, is delighted because Spidey's heading in completely the wrong direction. He and Jameson are at the Daily Bugle, nowhere near Spider-Man's intended destination. Spidey's doomed.

Or is he?

No he's not because, when he gets there, we soon learn the method to Spidey's madness. He knows the Spider-Slayer's drawn towards Spideryness (how he knows this is anyone's guess as nobody's ever told him it is) and has reasoned that Smythe must therefore have a lab full of spiders for research purposes. Hey presto, the moment the robot gets there, the presence of so many spiders overload its sensors and it blows up. Take that, Spider-Slayer! There's just time for a quick reunion with Ka-Zar at the end and yet another tale of drama and intrigue ends happily.

This is the second consecutive tale that's basically a retelling of an earlier story. Were Lee and Romita starting to run out of ideas? It also doesn't feature Mary Jane, which, in my book is rarely a good thing. Fortunately, the next issue redresses both concerns with what is one of my favourite tales of the era and also sees the return of one of Spidey's greatest foes...

Monday, 16 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #57. Ka-Zar and Zabu

Amazing Spider-man #57, vs Ka-Zar and Zabu
(Let's face it, jackpot; you just hit the tiger. Cover from February 1968.)

"The Coming Of Ka-Zar!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Layouts by John Romita.
Pencilled by Don Heck.
Inked by Mickey Demeo.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

So, after over a year of John Romita, the strip gets a new penciller. It's not a complete break because Romita's still doing the layouts but the actual pencilling's being done by Don Heck. Heck was an odd artist. Some of his work - such as his art on the early Iron Man tales - could be surprisingly pleasing to the eye but other work by him could be actively painful to behold. A lot depended on his inkers and whether they had the sense to ignore his tendency to randomly place dead black areas on his drawings. His work on Spider-Man is somewhere between the two. Not his best but a long way from his worst and is certainly helped by Romita's simple but elegant layouts, especially Romita's tendency to concentrate on the characters' faces wherever possible.

At the tale's launch, we find Spider-Man still without a clue who he really is and feeling hungry. He snatches a sandwich from a rooftop party and heads off to find a place to sleep. He finds it, on a ledge at the nearest railway station.

Meanwhile, as our hero settles down for a good night's sleep, Aunt May finds that sleep eludes her. Concerned for her missing nephew, she drags herself from her bed - you've guessed it - just long enough to have one of her attacks.

In a heated meeting, questions are being asked, Various VIPs are demanding to know why John Jameson let Spider-Man go when he had a chance to capture him. Jameson points out that his orders were to retrieve the nullifier, not to arrest Spider-Man. Captain Stacy defends him but someone not in the mood to defend him is Jameson's own father who's still hell-bent on getting Spidey. Suddenly, things start to become a repeat of issue #15 where JJ recruited Kraven the Hunter to catch Spider-Man. This time, he has the sense to recruit a hero, Ka-Zar who's just arrived in town with his sabre-toothed tiger Zabu. Apparently, the jungle lord has business in the city. Jameson doesn't care about that. He just wants Ka-Zar to bash up Spidey. Ka-Zar, being a man of judgement, doesn't like the cut of Jameson's jib but agrees to listen to him regardless.

Meanwhile, Harry's still fretting about Peter's disappearance. He decides to check in the missing student's room and, on a cupboard floor, finds one of Spider-Man's spider-tracers. It can only mean one thing.

Spider-Man has kidnapped Peter Parker.

Waking from his slumbers, Spidey hears a report on a nearby radio that claims he's kidnapped someone called Peter Parker. It also claims that the only person to have spoken up in Spider-Man's defence is John Jameson. With Jameson as his only defender, Spidey decides that he should go and see the man. He finds him at police HQ, with Captain Stacy. He tells them he's lost his memory.

But, just as he's getting somewhere, Gwen walks in. Sadly, after the highs of recent issues, Gwen's now reduced to standard super-hero girlfriend mode - a mode she'll never really escape from now on - and tearfully demands to know what he's done with Peter, while futilely pummelling Spidey with her fists. Clearly this is getting him nowhere and Spidey takes off, leaving those present to wonder just what he might do in his current state.

Another concerned about what Spider-Man might do is Ka-Zar. Convinced by the tale Jameson Senior's just spun him, the lord of the savage land sets off to find him.

He's not the only one because Spidey's out to find Spidey. He reasons that maybe he can find out more about himself by visiting the offices of a newspaper. So, he drops in on The Daily Bugle, where JJ's delighted to discover he's lost his memory. The jackalesque publisher uses this knowledge to try and trick Spider-Man into removing his mask.

And it's about to work!

That's when Ka-Zar smashes in through the window. Jameson's less than pleased. He was on the verge of discovering Spidey's secret identity. Ka-Zar's not intersted in all that. All he cares about is that Spider-Man's trying to escape. So, Ka-Zar goes after him and the mandatory slug-fest breaks out, culminating in Central Park where Spidey decks Ka-Zar with one punch.

Sadly, he's in no position to enjoy his victory because that's when Zabu arrives and, looking to defend his master, leaps at Spider-Man. Man and sabre-tooth land in the water...

...but only the big cat emerges.

Recovered from the knock-out blow, Ka-Zar leaps into the water to search for the missing. And, emerging from the water with his foe's limp body, the lord of the jungle declares that Spider-Man is dead.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #56. Spidey and Doc Ock team up

Amazing Spider-Man #56, Spider-Man and Dr Octopus team up
(Cover from Jan 1968.)


Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inked by Mike Esposita
Lettered by Sam Rosen

So this is it. Now Spider-Man and Doc Ock are in cahoots and making their getaway. Exactly why Octopus launched his attack on Tony Stark's factory in the previous issue is anybody's guess as he's clearly taken no advantage of the situation whatsoever and has simply climbed into his van at the end of it and driven off.

But the police are in pursuit.

Not for long they're not. Octopus fires his nullifier at their car and brings it to a halt. With the nullifier in his grasp, nothing can stop him. Nothing! It's worth remembering that boast for future reference.

But there's a problem. The nullifier's over-heating. It's not yet ready for full use. Still, the multi-limbed genius can sort that out once he reaches his secret hideout. By this, he means his real secret hideout, not Anna Watson's house which he'd previously been using as a secret hideout in the absence of a secret hideout. Octopus is clearly a confused man.

Back at the hideout, Spider-Man's confused too. He's wearing a mask and hanging out with a criminal and, therefore, logic suggests he too must be a criminal - but every instinct he has tells him to punch Octopus in the face. Never ones to resist the urge to punch someone in the face, Spidey and Octopus come to blows, but the villain defuses the situation by sending him off on a mission. To make the nullifier fully finctional, he needs a rare isotope, of a kind that can be found at a not-too-distant fort. Still confused about what's going on, Spidey sets off to get it.

It's beginning to look like everyone's confused. Gwen Stacy and Harry Osborn certainly are. They're wondering what's happened to Peter. To find out, they go to see Aunt May who still thinks Doc Ock's a good guy. She doesn't have a clue where Peter is and promptly starts whittling over the disappearance of her nephew. Then she too succumbs to the plague of confusion by wondering why Pete risks his life to get those photos of Spider-Man. Fortunately for us all, for once she manages to get through a scene without having one of her atttacks.

At last, a shred of light. A character who's not confused. Her taste in see-through clothing dumped, Mary Jane appears with a copy of The Bugle that leaves no one in any doubt that Spider-Man's teamed up with the vile villain.

It's not alone in talking about the incident because, in a locked room, John Jameson's addressing the relevant individuals about the theft of the nullifier. Among them is a man who we've never seen before but is clearly full of good sense. His name, we discover, is Captain Stacy, retired police officer and father of Gwen Stacy.

But what of his daughter's boyfriend?

He's busy launching his raid on the fort, sneaking in and taking the isotpope from the cell it's being stored in.

All's not well. unknown to him, he's been spotted on CCTV and a bunch of guards set off to stop him. They fail miserably, of course, as non-super people always do against Spider-Man but, as he escapes, he drops something. It's the map that's guided him here from Octopus' secret lair. Did he drop it on purpose, his subconscious making him do it? We're given a strong hint that he has. Upon seeing it, Jameson realises he can use it to trace Spidey's steps back to the secret hideout.

Spidey delivers the isotope to Octopus but that's when Octopus discovers that he's left the map behind. The fool! Now the authorites'll be able to find them. "So what?" you might think. He's spent the last three issues declaring that, with the nullifier in his grasp, nothing can stop him, nothing! Anyway, cue another punch-up, interrupted when the military show up. In the melee, Jameson grabs the nullifier and uses it on Octopus, whose tentacles promptly stop working because of it. So much for, "With the nullifier in my grasp, nothing can stop me, nothing!"

That's one menace dealt with. Now for the other. Will Spidey side with Octopus in the battle, or with the military?

Well, we were never in any doubt were we? Amnesia or not, Spidey knows he's no friend of Octopus and flees the scene.

But what good does it do him? He may have his freedom but, as he gazes into his unmasked face reflected in a skyscraper window, he still has no identity.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #55. Dr Octopus

Amazing Spider-Man #55, Dr Octopus
(Cover from December 1967.)

"Doc Ock Wins!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inked by Mickey Demeo
Lettered by Sam Rosen

Don't mess with Spider-Man when he's angry. Like Bruce Banner, you wouldn't like him when he's angry. And why's he angry? Because, thanks to Dr Octopus, his aunt's had yet another of her near-fatal attacks. Now, Spidey's after the metal-tentacled menace - and heaven help anyone who gets in his way. He kicks off by tearing apart the roof of a building, to reveal the presence, within, of two of Ock's henchmen. He promptly trashes them, and the Dr appears on a screen behind him, to taunt him. But our hero's in no mood to be taunted and wrecks the place.

Meanwhile, across town, the establishment's still fretting over the nullifier. They can't risk Octopus having another go at stealing it and so they've brought in John Jameson to organise its protection. The only problem is, a spy of Octopus has infiltrated the meeting and is merrily making notes.

Back at Anna Watson's house, Aunt May's tucked up in bed, still convinced Dr Octopus is a good guy and that he was only defending himself against that horrid Spider-Man. When it came to the handing out of self-preservation instincts, she was clearly so far at the back of the queue that everyone had gone home when she finally reached the front, leaving her just stood there, on her own, in an empty building, going, "Hello?" Downstairs, Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy turn up for a quick round of verbal sparring - Mary Jane wearing what seems to be a see-through dress, judging by her first panel. Pete, clearly no typical teenager, seems not to have noticed her exposed juggage and, instead, spends the scene worrying about the cost of repairing the hole in the living room wall.

Octopus, meanwhile, is worried about nothing. He's on the video-phone to his spy who's happily telling him about the security arrangements for the nullifier. Apparently, it's going to be taken to Tony Stark's factory, for safe-keeping.

Not if Octopus has his way.

Jameson and his convoy are already on their way to the factory but, suspicious of a parked utility maintenance van, they slow down as they approach it. The guileless fools, they're looking the wrong way as, unbeknownst to them, a tentacle's emerging from a man-hole cover behind them. Clearly, John Jameson's tactical masterplan for the safe delivery of the nullifier didn't include telling anyone to keep a look-out behind them. It's Octopus, of course. With no noticeable difficulty, he takes the entire convoy out, grabs the nullifier and he's off, in the back of the maintenance van.

Showing his usual uncanny knack of blundering into trouble, Spider-Man stumbles across the scene, realises at once what must have happened and, using an intuition that frankly borders on the psychic, decides that, now he's got it, Octopus'll head for the one place no one would expect.

Tony Stark's factory.

There, Octopus uses his newly acquired weapon to render the security guards' guns useless and declares that he can do anything with his nullifier. Anything!

Yeah? Well, not if Spider-Man has anything to do with it. The webbed wonder arrives and starts to fight Octopus. But he's being too tasty with his fists for Ock's liking and so, for no real reason, the evil-doer decides to fire the nullifier at him. The nullifier is, of course, a device designed to render any weapon useless, so there's no reason at all to think it'll have any affect on a man. But this is where Octopus hits pay-dirt because, not only does it have an effect, it has a dramatic effect. Spidey falls to the floor in agony, his radio-active blood affected by the machine.

Now, Spidey rises to his feet. But it's a very different Spidey. It's a Spidey who doesn't know who he is.

Octopus is no fool. Well, yes he is, he's proven it repeatedly in the past. But, for once, he shows some smarts and tells his foe that the reason he's wearing a mask is because he's a criminal and in league with Octopus. Well, he's not going to believe that, is he? Even without a memory, his moral compass will surely tell him that can't be so?

No it won't, and at the end of the tale, arch-fiend Dr Octopus has gained a new - if slightly bewildered - ally in his war on niceness.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #54. Dr Octopus. Aunt May's lodger

Amazing Spider-Man #54, Dr Octopus - Aunt May's lodger
(Can it be true? Can Aunt May be dead? Readers can only hope. From Nov 1967.)

"The Tentacles And The Trap!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inked by Mickey Demeo
Lettered by Sam Rosen

And so we kick off the tale with Aunt May finding the perfect lodger; Dr Octopus. She and Octopus are old friends. She first met him in Spider-Man Annual #1, where Octopus kidnapped her but she was so stupid that she never noticed. Of course, there is the little matter that she's now heard he's a master criminal, wanted by the police, but he easily talks her round, convincing her that he was merely trying to save the nullifier from that villain Spider-Man who was out to steal it. Aunt May, being even stupider now than she was on their first encounter, believes him and, hey presto, she and the absent Anna Watson have themselves a new lodger.

Now upstairs, Ock unpacks his bags and starts to make his plans. His thinking's clear. The police'll be looking for him. His secret hideout - whose location no one knows - isn't a safe place to stay, so, instead, he'll stay in a suburban house, with two women who might tell everyone who their lodger is, with neighbours who can see his every coming and going. Oh, and for that matter, his landladies might have friends and family who'll recognise him straight away and go to the authorities. It has to be said that, as masterplans go, this has to be the most block-headed in history.

Not that Octopus cares. He's already planning his next attempt to steal the nullifier.

Peter, meanwhile, meets The Bugle's City Editor Joe Robertson for the first time. Robertson's curious as to how he keeps getting those shots of Spider-Man. Pete's not saying. The Silver Spoon long forgotten, he heads for the Coffee Bean where Gwen and Mary Jane both drool over him like he's made of purest chocolate. Sadly, he can't spend any time with them. He's heard about Aunt May having a new lodger and heads over to check him out.

When he gets there, his spider-sense is tingling. Concerned, he goes in...

...and, gasp, finds Aunt May and Dr Octopus sat there having tea together. He tries to warn his aunt about Octopus but, showing the stupidity that's become her hallmark, she refuses to listen. Left alone with Peter, the menace makes it clear what'll happen to his aunt if he blabs.

Right now, Peter can't do anything, not with Aunt May about but, once he's left the house, he hangs around till nightfall. Now in his Spider-Man guise, he decides to lure Ock out into the open. He shines his Spider-Signal in through the window of Octopus's room.

But, for once, Octopus plays it smart. He knows Spidey wants him to come out and fight and so, instead, decides to stay inside. He contacts his stooges and tells them to deal with the webbed nuisance. Almost instantly, they're there and attacking our hero. Needless to say, no matter how many of them there are, such minor hoods are no match for Spider-Man and he summarily disposes of them, just in time for the police to arrive and take them away.

But Spidey can't hang around. Octopus is too big a menace. He smashes into Ock's room and is promptly grabbed by the tentacles. Hit in the chin by one, he feigns unconsciousess and then attacks Ock.

And what happens next?

Aunt May happens next.

Hearing the commotion, she re-enters the house (having gone outside to see what all the fuss was about) and blunders in on Spidey battling Octopus. The shock's too much and she collapses in a heap. Octopus smashes out through the wall and leaves Spidey to worry about the old woman. Totally ignoring the existence of ambulances, he calls the always available Dr Bromwell who turns up and adjudges that she'll recover but another attack could kill her. That's it. Pete's going to get Octopus if it's the last thing he does.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #53. Dr Octopus

Amazing Spider-Man #53 Dr Octopus
(Cover from October 1967.)

"Enter: Dr Octopus"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inked by Mickey Demeo
Lettered by Artie Simek

It's the same old same old for Spidey as the latest edition of The Bugle makes him out to be a villain. After a quick dose of verbal sparring with J Jonah Jameson, he heads off to ESU where he's spotted arriving, by Gwen and Flash. Flash is still his biggest fan in the whole wide world. Gwen asks how he can be sure Spidey's not someone he wouldn't dislike in real life. Flash says there's not a chance of that. Is this a hint that Gwendolyne knows who Spider-Man really is? Harry, meanwhile, is not Peter Parker's biggest fan. He's getting fed up of his flatmate's disappearing acts.

Oblivious to all this, Spidey sneaks into the gym and changes back into Peter Parker, almost getting caught in the act by Professor Warren. Given what happens a few years down the line, it makes you wonder how it would've changed things had the Professor entered the gym a few moments earlier and caught him red-handed. That, of course, is something we can never know. While he's there, the prof invites Pete to a science exposition that's going on later that night. Pete, of course, would be delighted to go and the good news is he can take a guest.

No prizes for guessing who that guest might be as he bumps into Gwen Stacy and invites her along. There's time for a quick argument with Flash, who's understandably peeved about Peter stealing his girl. Peter says she was never his girl. Flash says she was. Peter and Flash threatening each other? It's just like the good old days. And then Peter, Gwen and the prof are off to the show. It has to be said these early pages are beautifully drawn by Romita. By this stage in his run, he really has hit his stride and his pencils are complemented perfectly by Mickey Demeo's fluid inking.

The trio arrive at the exposition. It seems the show's centrepiece will be the demonstration of a thing called the "nullifier" which, Gwen explains, works by nullifying the homing signals of enemy missiles. I think this is the first time in the strip that it's been acknowledged that Gwen has an interest in and knowledge of science. She is, after all, meant to be a science student. Their arrival's not good news though because, the moment they get there, Peter's spider-sense starts to tingle.

But why?

Then he gets his answer. As soon as the guest speaker starts to do his spiel, a figure in the audience stands up and starts to lay on the sinister. Peter does what we can't do and recognises that voice.

It's Doc Ock.

And he's after the nullifier!

Mayhem breaks out. Everyone flees. Ock polishes off some security guards, and then Spidey joins the fray. For some reason, the quality of Demeo's inks deteriorates noticeably during this sequence. But then they take the fight outside and it's normal service resumed from Demeo. Gwen, meanwhile, wants to know what's happened to Pete. So much for the earlier hint that she might know Spider-Man's real identity. Spider-Man, meanwhile, is gunking up Ock's glasses with webbing.

But Octopus is no fool. From the roof of the building, he drops the nullifer. If it lands on anyone they'll be killed! Abandoning his scrap with the villain, our hero deals with the machine, catching it with his webbing. But, when he returns to resume his fight with Octopus, the man's gone. Happily, Spidey had time to plant a tracer on him and can catch up with him later.

Back in his Peter Parker guise, our hero reunites himself with Gwendolyne. who's so glad to see him that she doesn't do the usual and demand to know where he disappeared to. He opines, "She's the only girl who's never asked me for explanations." Seemingly, he 's forgotten all about the fact that Mary Jane's never asked him for explanations.

Saying goodbye to Professor Warren, the pair enter the Coffee Bean. It seems that this, and not the Silver spoon, is now the gang's chosen hangout. Aunt May and Anna Watson enter. They've decided to take in a lodger. Pete says it's a great idea. Mary Jane says it's a great idea. That's that sorted then.

Meanwhile, Octopus has discovered the spider-tracer our hero planted on him and is using it to set a trap. In a waterfront shack, he's created a booby-trapped dummy of himself. In the dark, Spidey'll think it's the real thing and come blundering in, only to be blown to pieces by a bomb planted by the multi-armed menace.

Following the signal from his tracer, Spider-man shows up.

But the Dr hadn't counted on one thing. The spider-sense that led him here now warns him of the danger. Playing it safe, Spidey fires a ball of webbing at the figure and, boom, the whole place goes up. Doc Ock's convinced he's killed Spidey and sets out to enact the next part of his heinous plan, finding somewhere to live.

But what's this? In the final panel? Doc Ock and Aunt May?


Could this be the start of a deadly new alliance?

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #52. Kingpin. Fred Foswell dies

Amazing Spider-Man #52 fred foswell dies
(Two enemies united in peril. From Sept 1967.)

"To Die A Hero!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inked by Mickey Demeo
Lettered by Sam Rosen

This issue kicks off with a great splash page, as J Jonah Jameson's bundled down some cellar steps, with the unconscious Spider-Man being carried before him. John Romita's use of angles here is excellent.

It soon becomes clear what the Kingpin's plan is. He's going to manacle his two captives to a couple of iron plates on the floor (see front cover) and then flood the room with water. Why he doesn't just shoot them is a whole other matter but that's master criminals for you. Never kill someone quickly when you can do it in the most convoluted way possible.

Jameson and Spider-Man are left alone as the Kingpin savours his moment of triumph. But, as you always knew he would, Spidey wakes in the nick of time. Quickly assessing the situation, he breaks the manacles that hold his wrists. But what good will that do? demands JJ. They're still trapped in a room that's filling with water. Spidey has a plan. He starts shooting webbing into the air.

Back at The Bugle, Ned Leeds is worried. Leeds is a character who could hardly be said to have pulled his weight since his introduction all those issues back. He's barely had anything to do since then but he's determined to get to the root of this mystery. First Fred Foswell goes missing and now Jonah. There's something up and he's out to discover what.

But who's going to fill in for Jonah in his absence? Cue Joe "Robbie" Robertson, making what I believe is his first ever appearance in the strip. Leeds tells fiancee Betty Brant that he's off. She begs him not to. She can't bear the thought of him dying. Yeah, build his confidence up, love. Frankly, she can be a bit of a pain in situations like this. You can't help but feel Peter had a lucky escape when his relationship with her broke down.

Meanwhile, Spidey's still firing webbing into the air. Maybe he'd be better firing webbing into the nozzles that all that water's coming in through but no, he has more extravagant things in mind. Exactly what isn't clear yet but, by the end of the page it is. He's surrounding himself and Jonah with an air bubble, using his webbing to keep it in.

Certain their captives must be dead by now, the Kingpin's lackeys open the cellar door, to find their "victims" cocooned in a large orb of webbing. Quick as a flash, Spider-Man leaps out of the coccoon and, with one blow, knocks them both out. Another lackey runs in, gun in hand. Spidey takes him out. Now for he and Jameson to depart the scene. Jameson's in a panic over it all but there's no time to worry about that now because more goons are on their way. Spidey gets Jameson to flee while he deals with them. Jameson promptly runs head first into a steel pipe and knocks himself out. Unaware of this, Spider-Man goes in search of the Kingpin.

He finds him, just as the villain's about to beat Fred Foswell to a pulp. Foswell's had a fit of conscience and won't be any part of cold-blooded murder. That makes him useless to the Kingpin and that means it's curtains for the man who only last issue was planning to be criminal overlord of all New York (presumably, one with a, "no hurting people," policy. Clearly, this was going to be a caring, sharing brand of criminal underworld).

But that's enough excitement for now. Time for the strip to cut away to a happier scene as Flash Thompson's back. Down at the Silver Spoon, he shows everyone his new uniform and it seems that Mary Jane's no longer going out with Peter Parker.

Back at the Kingpin's, Spider-Man's tangling with the corpulent crime lord. Our hero clogs his tie pin with webbing, to stop him firing any more gas. Foswell grabs a gun and flees as the pair grapple. Spider-Man's clearly getting the upper hand and the Kingpin unknowingly copies Foswell's example and scarpers. I like the fact that the Kingpin's always boasting about how hard and unbeatable he is but, whenever a fight gets tough, he always does a runner. It makes hm seem all the more unadmirable. Spidey follows him but a gas bomb delays him and the villain gets away. Spider-man goes in search of Jameson. Jameson meanwhile has recovered from his knock out and is running around in a panic. He's spotted by two goons who go after him. He's doomed.

No he's not.

Foswell's found him.

Foswell, who doesn't seem able to decide what side of the law he wants to be on, tells Jameson to get behind him. He'll hold the goons off for as long as he can.

As it turns out, he can only hold them off for one panel. That's how long it takes the former Big Man before he gets shot. Hearing the gunfire, Spider-Man rushes to the scene and takes out the thugs.

But it's too late for Foswell. He's on the floor, dying. By the time, Spider-Man gets there, Foswell's dead, his life sacrificed to save the boss who gave him a second chance. At last we see why Foswell's been getting so much panel room over the last two issues, bearing in mind that his presence seemed so irrelevant to proceedings. The whole story has been set up so the ex-criminal can go down in a blaze of glory and show that even the baddest of men might, somewhere within him, retain a spark of nobility.

The cops arrive. Jameson declares to Leeds - who's still not got round to doing anything much - that Foswell will get a hero's write-up in The Bugle, and Spider-Man departs cursing the fact that Jameson never writes him up as a hero.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #51. The Kingpin

Amazing Spider-Man #51 the Kingpin
(The Kingpin gets his first cover. From August 1967.)

"In The Clutches Of The Kingpin!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inked by Mickey Demeo
Lettered by Sam Rosen

The Kingpin's in a good mood, though you'd never know it to look at him. The scowl simply never leaves his face. Unlike most of Spider-Man's foes, there really is something genuinely sinister about him. Whether it's the scowl or the bald head, the bulk or the big, fat, black eyebrows, or the combination of all those things, you really do see him as someone who could kill.

After smashing a scale model of Manhattan (does he have scale models of Manhattan built specifically so he can smash them?), the Kingpin declares that, with Spider-Man out of the way, he can at last fulfill his ambition to rule the underworld. His first task is to get his new lackeys to rob a service station. Needless to say, they fail miserably, as Spider-Man appears and gives them the battering they're asking for. In the melee, two crooks known as Big Turk and Shorty escape and the police show up just as Spidey's about to extract info on the Kingpin from one of the defeated hoods.

Meanwhile, the Kingpin's decided that Foswell might be of use to him after all.

One man who won't be of use to him is Big Turk. He and Shorty barge into the Kingpin's office. The Kingpin lied to them. Spider-Man's not out of the way. That does it. Big Turk doesn't work for anyone who lies to him and he's going to finish off the Kingpin. No he's not because the Kingpin flings off his jacket, gives Big Turk a good finger crushing, flings him across the room and the humbled crook's back in line. The Kingpin sends him away, telling him to await his next orders. Foswell's impressed. For a man who seems totally irrelevant to this story, Foswell seems to be getting an awful lot of panel time.

If the Kingpin's happy, J Jonah Jameson's not. Back at The Bugle, he wants news, news about the crime wave, news about Foswell.

In what's presumably meant to be the Silver Spoon (although that doesn't seem to be what it says on the sign), Pete's gang see him zoom past on his motor-bike and Mary Jane's noticed that Gwen fancies our hero, even if Pete and Harry haven't. Who says Mary Jane has a head full of candy floss? Then again, who says she's got a head full of anything? Certainly not Stan Lee. Nine issues since her intro and she still hasn't had a single thought bubble yet. This might not sound significant but it increasingly becomes so.

Peter's got thought bubbles though. He's up to his armpits in them because, with the sort of luck only he seems to have, he's come across a group of suspicious looking characters entering a swanky private club, and his spider-sense is going ten to the dozen. A quick peek in through the window tells him what he suspected. Those men are crooks and they're threatening the manager. Crash, Spidey smashes in through the window and proceeds to bash the crooks around.

But they're nothing if not prepared and one throws a stun grenade at him. The crooks flee before Spidey can fully recover - but not before he can throw a spider tracer at one of them. The grenade, however, has damaged the structure of the building - that's one fragile building - and he saves the club from collapse just long enough for its occupants to escape. And now he's on the trail of the Kingpin.

At The Bugle, Jameson's confronted by armed hoods who take him, blindfolded, to meet their boss who orders him to stop printing his stories about the crime-wave. This is one of those moments where Jameson shows his more admirable side - yes, he does have one - and he refuses to back down. Nobody tells J Jonah Jameson what to publish. This has always been one of the plusses to the strip, that it would've been easy to portray Jameson as a two-dimensional fool, just there for laughs and aggravation but, every so often, we're given a glimpse of something nobler in his character. His willingness to give Foswell a job after his release from jail having been one of those moments.

Spider-Man's outside. A quick look through a window tells him all he needs to know. The Kingpin's got Jameson - and Foswell's back in the land of crime. Spidey lures the bad guys out onto the patio, with his spider signal and quickly disposes of the lesser crooks.

Now for the Kingpin.

But the Kingpin's a tougher foe than expected. He's got bulk and strength all right but, somehow, he's also got speed. Still, Spidey's got the upper hand and he prepares to wrap up the fight.

That's when the Kingpin shows that crooks can't be trusted because he shoots gas from his tie-pin, gas that floors our hero. Foswell's amazed. Jameson's in despair. It's what he always wanted, Spider-Man defeated - but not when he was about to rescue Jameson. Is it the end for Spider-Man? Who can know but it doesn't look good.

The tagline reads, "Next: to die a hero!"

And Spider-Man's the only hero in sight.


Amazing Spider-Man #50. Spidey quits

Amazing Spider-Man #50, Spidey quits
(Bright red for a hero feeling blue. From July 1967.)

"Spider-Man No More!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn by John Romita
Inked by Mickey Dimeo
Lettered by Sam Rosen

One of the all-time classic tales starts out like it's going to be just another one off the production line, as Spider-Man foils the attempted robbery of an office. Wasting no time at all, he quickly disposes of a group of minor criminals.

But then his real problems start because one of the office workers he's just saved clearly sees him as being as big a danger as the crooks he's just swatted and, when he gets home, Peter discovers his Aunt May's had another of her turns and has had to take to her sick bed. Because of his heroic derring-doings, he wasn't there at the time.

Feeling guilty, our hero goes back home. He's got an exam tomorrow but can't concentrate on revision because of what's happened with his aunt. The next day, Professor Warren gets his first scene of note as Peter miserably fails his exam, prompting the prof to take him aside and remind him he can't let his grades keep sliding forever. Next, Gwen invites him to a party she's throwing. He'd love to go but, with the need to revise and his concern over his aunt, he can't make it. Back home, he switches the TV on, to try and take his mind off his woes. But his woes just leap out of the TV at him, as J Jonah Jameson's indulging in another of his rants about what a menace Spidey is.

So far so normal.

But this is when things suddenly change, because this is where Peter decides that JJ might be right. Maybe he is nuts. Maybe he is a menace to society. Maybe his presence does nothing but make the lives of those around him worse. Walking alone in the rain, trying to gather his thoughts, Peter comes to only one conclusion.

Spider-Man must die.

In a magnificent full-page panel, Peter walks away from a dustbin, his costume hanging discarded from it. The world will never again hear from Spider-Man.

It'll hear from his costume though because, the next morning, a child rushes into The Daily Bugle offices. He's found something. It's Spider-Man's costume. J Jonah Jameson's delighted. It can only mean one thing - the end of Spider-Man.

The news soon gets out - mostly because Jameson makes sure it gets out, plastering it all over his newspaper and plugging his scoop all over the networks. And he's not the only one delighted because the criminal underclasses are too - none more so than a mysterious figure stood with his back to us, at a window. Who is he? We don't know but he says his name's the Kingpin and, when it comes to crime, he's ready to take over.

Patch, the informer, is interested. A whole bunch of underworld types are headed for a meeting. He wants in. They want him out and make sure he stays that way. At their meeting, the underworld types discuss whether they should let the Kingpin take over. Elsewhere, the thwarted Patch resumes his true identity of Bugle newshound Fred Foswell and discusses with himself whether he should be the one to take over.

While Foswell thinks, the Kingpin acts. All over town, he's staging a string of robberies to see if Spider-Man deals with them. He doesn't. Now the Kingpin's certain he can take over.

And what of our story's central character? In his own way, he's as delighted as the Kingpin. Freed of his responsibility to save the city from every crook who so much as spits on the pavement, he can concentrate on his studies, he can visit his Aunt May, he can be with his friends. As it happens, Aunt May and his friends don't actually need him but what does he care?

Well, this makes him care. This is when the fickle finger of fate, or rather the fickle finger of Stan Lee, steps in. On his way back to his pad, he spots a security guard being attacked. Given no choice, he discards his shoes, clambers up onto the roof and rescues him, departing before the guard can properly see his face.

But there's something about that guard that's rung a bell.

It takes him some time but at last Peter realises what it was. The guard reminded him of his Uncle Ben, which now brings flashbacks to the string of events that led him to become a battler with evil and it makes him realise that, in the end, he can't dodge his responsibilities. He was given his powers for a reason and that reason was to protect those who can't protect themselves.

Fred Foswell's one of those who can't protect himself. The former criminal's decided that, if anyone's going to be in charge of organised crime in this city, it should be him. Showing the self preservation instinct of a lemming, he goes to the Kingpin's office and tells him he's going to be running things from now on but he's a generous man and would be willing to let the Kingpin be one of his lieutenants. The Kingpin, about as impressed by this ludicrous offer as anyone would be, fires his cane to disintegrate Foswell's concealed gun and has one of his goons grab the would-be Napoleon of crime. Exactly why Foswell thought he could take over organised crime in the city just by saying he was is anybody's guess but it's easy to see why his previous attempt to do so, back when he was The Big Man, failed so miserably. Frankly, on the strength of this, he hasn't got two brain cells to rub together.

Across town, Peter Parker scales a wall. It's a wall of The Daily Bugle's offices. He enters the window and retrieves his costume from the glass case JJ's put it in then waits for everybody's favourite publisher to return. When he does, Spider-Man gives him a good taunting, leaps out the window and delares Spidey to be back in action. This really is one of the classic yarns of the era - classic enough to inspire a movie - blessed with a striking cover that demands you buy it, full of memorable imagery and - with Spider-Man only appearing at the very beginning and end of the tale - proof that a super-hero comic doesn't have to just be men with muscles hitting each other, that internal conflict and character can drive such a story as compellingly as a big punch-up. It's a shame more comic book writers didn't learn that lesson.

Friday, 6 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #49. The Vulture vs Kraven

Amazing Spider-Man #49, Kraven and the Vulture, John Romita
(The Summer of Love completely bypasses Kraven and the Vulture. Cover from June 1967.)

"From The Depths Of Defeat!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn and inked by John Romita
Lettered by Sam Rosen

For the second issue running, a man lies dying. For the second issue running, that man's having flashbacks. Clearly, however, Spider-Man's had a slightly more interesting life than the Vulture because, where that feathery fiend had flashbacks only to his battles with Spidey, Spider-Man's flashbacks include his friends, his Aunt May, his boss, the Vulture and Kraven the Hunter. Quite why he'd be having flashbacks to Kraven the Hunter is anyone's guess but Kraven features in this issue and so flashbacks to him, he must have.

But, it seems we've been misled because, suddenly, our hero, still lying on the snow-covered rooftop where the new Vulture left him, starts to move. The freezing weather that should have finished him off has in fact revived him. Cagily, our hero starts to move and, even more cagily, he makes his way down a nearby ladder.

Making his way home, he rips off his mask, just as he hears flatmate Harry Osborn about to enter the room. Quickly, he leaps into bed, pulls up the sheets to cover his spider suit, and poor old Harry's left suspecting nothing.

Meawhile, flashback gate-crasher Kraven's annoyed. When isn't he annoyed? His wonderfully silly TV (framed by bamboo, to let us know it's a jungle TV), is now labelling the Vulture the deadliest menace in town. Kraven hits something and smashes it. It's not fair. He defeated Spider-Man before the Vulture did. He should be considered the biggest menace in town. Frankly, it doesn't reflect well on a man's psychology that he wants to be considered the biggest menace in town. And, just to prove how big a menace he is, he heads down into his cellar and does what we all do when we're a bit fed up. He beats up a tiger.

Having been flung around a bit, the tiger walks off, frankly not looking that bothered about its ordeal. maybe it's a bit on the docile side, or a bit lazy, or maybe it's just got bored with its, presumably, regular flingings around. Kraven doesn't care. He's got a Vulture to pulp. It does pose the question of why we've never seen Kraven go after a fellow super-villain before. After all, if he fights the deadliest prey of all, then you'd have thought super-villains would have been high on his hit-list.

Back at the Parker pad, Aunt May decides to turn up and be annoying, fussing and fretting over Peter, who's still in bed and still in his spider suit. Not convinced our hero isn't doomed, she calls Dr Bromwell, and Peter is stuck in bed until he gets there.

Across town, the Vulture decides he's going to attack a helicopter. He does this by flinging himself at it. Now, if you or I flung ourselves at a moving helicopter, we'd break every bone in our body but, in this case, the impact does our villain no harm at all while sending the chopper spinning out of control. The pilot manages to regain command of the whirlybird but the Vulture makes it clear that, if they don't hand over the bagfull of diamonds that're on board, he'll fling himself against the craft again - and this time bring it crashing down. Again, this raises the question of strength. How can the Vulture, just an ordinary man with wings, possibly have such an impact on a great mass of metal like a helicopter? The only conclusion you can draw is that his Vulture suit must contain some kind of exo-skeleton that boosts his strength and durability but, if it does, no mention's ever made of the fact.

From a lofty perch, Kraven squats watching.

Back at the Parker residence, Pete's still in bed, and Gwen and Mary Jane arrive to cheer him up. Gwen and Mary Jane then leave without ever having seen him. The two women, previously seen as rivals, now seem to be genuine friends, indulging in friendly teasing and banter with each other. It does come across that Gwen seems to be slightly the older of the two. If she's eighteen, like Pete, how old would that make Mary Jane? Sixteen? I'm not sure the issue of Mary Jane's age is ever explored in the strip at this time but, if she's a couple of years younger than the others, it might explain her seemingly less mature mindset.

Is our hero ever going to get out of bed this issue?

Elsewhere, it's time for action as, flying high above the city, talking to himself, the Vulture finds his ankle suddenly snared by a rope. It's Kraven! The attack's begun! Kraven leaps at the man-bird and they go crashing through the skylight of an exhibition hall.

Hearing of this on his dinky little radio, Peter Parker can stand no more. He doesn't care if the doctor's on his way, he's got to risk it. He's got to climb out of bed and deal with the pair.

Fortunately, he's now completely over his virus and, within moments, he's at the exhibition hall, where Kraven and the Vulture are still going at it. He gives them something else to think about by launching himself at the pair. In the next couple of pages, Romita's gift for simple but effective composition really shows through in a series of beautifully conceived panels. Romita was never the flashiest of artists but he knew how to tell a story in pictures.

Spidey tangles with Kraven. Kraven repeats his trick of a couple of issues ago and tries to zap him with his nipple lightning. This time, however, Webhead's ready for it and leaps over the twin blasts. The Vulture's not so alert, gets the blasts full force and hits the ground, taken out of the fight. Spider-Man's on Kraven, knocks him to the foor and tears apart Kraven's wiring, wrecking his nipple-zapping capability. Kraven doesn't care. He knows he has the strength to whup Spider-Man.

No he doesn't, because Spidey lets him have it, whumping him in the solar plexus with a punch that we're reminded once wobbled the Hulk. After a moment's pause, thump, Kraven hits the floor. Spidey ties the two unconscious wrong-doers together with webbing, gets a snap with his trusty camera and heads back home. He gets there just in time for the arrival of Dr Bromwell who declares him to be in perfect physical condition and, for once, a Spider-Man tale ends on a happy note.

It won't stay happy.

Amazing Spider-Man #48. The New Vulture

Amazing Spider-Man #48, the Vulture Number 2, John Romita
(One of Spider-Man's oldest foes returns -- or does he? From May 1967.)

"The Wings Of The Vulture!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn and inked by John Romita
Lettered by Sam Rosen

Spider-Man's swinging around over the city and, in one of those coincidences that happen only in comic-book-land, his search for action takes him to the boundaries of the local prison, where unknown to him, treachery's afoot. It seems the Vulture's had a an accident in the prison workshop, presumably the same workshop where the Shocker found the resources to put together his very first vibro-blaster. The Vulture, however wasn't so lucky. Whatever he was up to, it's all gone wrong.

Exactly what this accident involved, we're never told but it's made clear that he's at death's door. Realising his time is nigh, the feathery felon demands to see his cell mate Blackie Drago and, when the man in question's brought to him, the Vulture tells him where his secret pair of wings are hidden. He wants Drago to assume the guise of the Vulture and finish off Spider-Man on his behalf. At this point, Drago starts laughing. It seems he arranged the Vulture's "accident" in order to get him to reveal this information. Somehow, this moment feels wrong. The Vulture's one of Spider-Man's oldest and deadliest foes. It feels like Lee and Romita should be showing such a character more respect than having him finished off by what's ultimately some no-mark thug. It's a safe bet the Vulture would agree with me and he hurls abuse at his killer as the man leaves the room. But it's too late to do anything now, as death draws near and, left alone, he reminisces about his past failures to thwart the web-slinger.

Blackie, meanwhile, busts out of jail with the greatest of ease, finds the wings - which are hidden nearby - and, as the prison guards fire at him, soars upwards into the air, ready for his new life of crime.

If Drago's happy, all's not well in the world of Peter Parker. He's come down with a king-sized case of the man-flu and is sent home from college. On arriving home, his TV tells him there's a new Vulture on the loose.

We rejoin the wrong-doer as he flies above the buildings of New York, testing out his new-found powers. He smashes a chimey with one kick, implying that his costume must somehow be strengthening his feet as well as enabling him to fly and, having taken mere hours to master the power of flight, he's off to commit a series of audacious crimes, secure in the knowledge that, "There's no one livin' who can stop a man with wings."

But we all know that's not the case. Man-flu or no, our hero has to do something about this new menace to New York and, quick as you like Spidey's found the villain standing atop the George Washington bridge, about to throw some hapless victim from it. Spidey rescues the man and gets ready for a scrap.

But something's wrong. He just can't get his act in gear. The flu's worse than he thought and it's all Spider-Man can do to even retain his consciousness. Frankly, if a miracle doesn't happen, our hero's had it.

Our hero's had it. The longer the fight goes on, the worse his condition gets and, with one mighty kick from his foe, Spider-Man's sent tumbling, to lie, seemingly lifeless, on the roof of a nearby building as his conqueror flies off in triumph.

If the casual discarding of the original Vulture feels wrong and like a mistake, this scene is one that Lee and Romita get right. It was always a question mark how the Vulture, seemingly a frail old man, could give Spider-Man ("strength of ten men") a fight. Even with wings, he'd simply have had his block knocked off. The only explanation you could come up with was that he must've had super-strength, even though it was never actually said that he did. If someone else, clearly non-super-powered, had come along and been able to give Spidey a fight, just like the original had, it wouldn't make any sense whatsoever. By making it clear that our hero's ill and can't fight in the way he normally would, it equalises the fight and leaves us to assume that the defeat he suffers is more down to his own current weakness than any ability the imitation Vulture has.

Overall, this is a slightly atypical story for the period, very linear, with virtually no time devoted to either Peter Parker or his supporting cast. In fact, the one glimpse of them we get in his absence consists of just three panels, all of which could be removed without making any difference to the story or to what happens in subsequent stories. It seems to signal a move on behalf of the strip towards more action and less introversion. Happily, for fans of the soap that is Peter Parker's life, it's a move that will only last a couple of issues before his private turmoil kicks in big time and leads to one of the strip's all time classic tales.

Thursday, 5 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #47. Kraven vs Norman Osborn

Amazing Spider-Man #47, Kraven vs Norman Osborn, John Romita
(Cover from April 1967.)

"In The Hands Of The Hunter!"

Written by Stan Lee
Drawn and inked by John Romita
Lettered by Sam Rosen

Hold on tight because we kick off with one of the most confusing openings in the history of the strip, as the Green Goblin gleefully watches Spider-Man slugging it out with Kraven in a flashback to a story that never happened. Defying everything we were told at the time, it turns out that, on the previous occasions when Kraven fought Spidey, he wasn't doing it for the glory. He was doing it for money - the Green Goblin's money.

Cue yet another flashback, this time to a meeting after that unsuccessful first fight, a meeting between the Hunter and a stooge of the Goblin, at which, Kraven's told he'll only get the money if he actually defeats Spider-Man. His nose out of joint, our villain follows the Goblin's stooge and discovers that he's none other than Norman Osborn. Of course, if he wasn't too mean to hand over 12 cents every month, he'd have known what we know, that Osborn wasn't only the Goblin's stooge, he was the Goblin himself. Regardless, determined to get the Goblin's money, Kraven has another go at Spider-Man, gaining only his customary hiding and a one way ticket to the nearest penitentiary.

Now, his debt to society paid, Kraven's out for revenge on Spider-Man and, more importantly the money he thinks the Goblin owes him. Why he thinks the Goblin owes him, when he's singularly failed to fulfill his agreed mission of defeating Spider-Man is anybody's guess but Kraven clearly doesn't see it that way and, with the Goblin dead, he decides Osborn's the man to stump up the cash.

And where's sometime super-villain Osborn? Why, he's visiting the apartment his son Harry shares with Peter Parker. Oh the irony of it all, that the man letting Pete live rent-free was once Spider-Man's deadliest enemy.

Meanwhile, Kraven turns up at Osborn's office, only to be told he's out of town. Undaunted, he returns to his somewhat camp HQ and, in a fit of talking to himself, unveils his latest weapon, a device that will shoot what seems to be lightning from his nipples and remove Spidey's speed, leaving him vulnerable to Kraven's next attack.

Not that Peter Parker knows about any of this. He's back at ESU, where gorgeous Gwen Stacy's busy doling out invites to Flash's draft party. It seems, from what we're told, that she's now going out with Flash and she tells Pete to bring MJ with him. This instruction to bring MJ strikes Peter as proof that Gwen's not interested in him.

But Kraven's still not given up his hunt for Osborn. He shows up at the zillionaire's mansion and demands the butler tell him where the owner is. The butler tells him the same thing as he was told back at the office, that Osborn's out of town. It has to be said that, for the world's greatest hunter, Kraven seems to be having an awful lot of trouble tracking down a fairly high profile individual.

If Osborn's out of town, Peter, meanwhile, is out on the town - or at least, he's about to be. As he gets ready for Flash's big do, it's revealed - only a few pages after we were reminded that Flash is going out with Gwen - that Harry's going out with Gwen. Frankly, it's getting difficult to work out just who Gwen's going out with. Whoever it is, it's not Peter and frankly this bothers him.

Arriving at the party, it's clear there's been some sort of policy-change on behalf of Lee and Romita because Gwen's acting in a manner she's never been seen behaving before. She's acting like MJ, the life and soul of the party, firing off one-liners left right and centre and stealing the limelight with her somewhat unrestrained dancing. The boys are impressed. MJ isn't. The living embodiment of the swinging 60s is actually been out-partied by another woman.

And then? Fa-Thoom, Kraven smashes his way in through the wall. He still can't find Norman Osborn but he knows how to get him, by kidnapping his son. How he knows where to find Harry is anybody's guess but find him he has. He grabs the hapless boy and, quick as a flash, Flash Thompson rushes forward to help him. Kraven swats him aside like a fly and then, virtually everyone at the party descends on the hunter to give him the hiding he's asking for. Needless to say, such puny youths are no match for a man who boasts he can stop a charging bull elephant in its tracks (How does he know that? How would you first discover you could do such a thing?).

Seconds later, Spider-Man and Kraven are all over a semi-constructed building, trading blows. The truth is, it's clear that Kraven's outclassed by a foe who's better suited to clambering all over buildings than he is but Kraven's nothing if not a cheat and, just as it seems Spidey's going to mop him up like gravy, Kraven lets him have it with his nipple lightning. Zapped, Spidey can't get his body to move fast enough - or, in all honesty, at all and Kraven takes to giving him a good pounding as our hero lies on the floor helpless.

But then, as so often happens when a super-hero's about to get totalled, fate intervenes as, concerned for his son's welfare, Norman Osborn arrives. Kraven spots him, lassoes him and pulls him up onto the building. He demands his money but Osborn professes ignorance of what he's talking about. Kraven, like most super-villains, isn't the sharpest knife in the drawer but his jungle instincts tell him Osborn's telling the truth; that he really does have no knowledge of any deal struck between Kraven and the Goblin. We, of course, know that he has no knowledge because he has no memory of ever having been the Goblin. Kraven, however, still hasn't spent that 12 cents and still knows nothing of this. For no noticeable reason, he declares himself triumphant and departs, leaving Spider-Man to make a full recovery. Our hero's about to go after him him but, in struggling to free himself of Kraven's lasso, Osborn falls from the building.

He's doomed!

Well, of course, he's not doomed at all because Spider-Man's around to swing down and catch him, saving his life. How ironic these few panels are, bearing in mind the circumstances of the much later death of Gwen Stacy.

But that's for the future. The excitement all over, Spidey quick-changes back into Peter Parker and rejoins the ex-party-goers, concocting a lame excuse for his disappearance that seems to fool everyone, including Flash Thompson whose hand he shakes as he wishes him luck in the army.

How the strip has changed. Once Parker and Thompson were deadly enemies. Now Parker's wishing him luck. The strip's not the only thing that's changed because Marvel's changed. As he walks home, Parker speculates on the all too real possibility that Flash may never come back from the army. That he may be going to Vietnam purely to die. In Marvel's early years, Vietnam, when it was mentioned, was used as nothing more than a backdrop for gung-ho adventure and a place for Marvel's heroes to go when it was time to smack up a commie. But this is the late 1960s and the reality of that war has seeped through even into the world of comic books.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Amazing Spider-Man #46. The Shocker makes his debut

Amazing Spider-Man #46, first ever appearance of the Shocker, John Romita
(Steve Ditko's Spider-Man Head logo is replaced by a new version drawn by Romita. Cover from March 1967.)

"The Sinister Shocker!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn and inked by John Romita.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

This tale gets straight down to business, with Spider-Man shaken loose from a wall when it suddenly starts vibrating. Rushing to see what's going on, he comes across a new super-villain engaged in the usual criminality - the Shocker. Time for a fight. Time for Spidey to get the soundest beating he's received from a foe since his first encounter with the Scorpion and it has to be said that John Romita pulls a blinder in this sequence, with a wonderfully dramatic set of panels, fully capturing the dynamism of the action. It hurts just to look at some of the punches the Shocker throws.

Licking his wounds, Peter Parker makes his way home and bumps into Harry Osborn who tells him his millionaire dad Norman has stumped up the cash to pay for him to live in an apartment of his own. The good news is it has two bedrooms and Harry wants Pete to move in with him. The bad news is two words.

Aunt May.

How's she going to take the news that she's about to be abandoned by her only living relative? There's another concern because it also seems Harry's been seeing a lot of Gwen. This is only a few issues after it was hinted that Flash Thompson was seeing a lot of Gwen and only one issue after it seemed Harry was starting to see a lot of MJ. Clearly everyone but Pete is seeing a lot of everyone. But, no doubt about it, although he no longer seems to find MJ "icky" anymore, it's Gwen that PP digs the most.

Little does he know he has better things to worry about because, when he heads off to The Bugle, to sell the snaps he took of the Shocker, he's spotted by Fred Foswell, still at the offices and still obsessing about how Peter gets those photos of his. Time, Foswell decides, to adopt his guise of patch the stool pigeon and to start tailing Mr P. The whole Foswell-as-Patch thing is a little odd. It seems he adopts the disguise so people won't know who he is and he can thus snoop at will but, as everyone seems to know Patch and that he's a stool pigeon, it's sort of hard to believe anyone's going to say anything in front of him that they don't want to be public knowledge anyway. Clearly this has never occurred to the ex-con and he sets off after Parker.

Meanwhile, back at his lair, the Shocker conveniently reveals his origin to us. He was a safe cracker who used to make so much noise cracking safes that he always got caught. Happily, there was just the right equipment in the prison workshop for him to assemble a super-vibro-weapon that he could use to demolish half the prison and allow his escape. You have to hand it to New York, it clearly doesn't believe in skimping when it comes to equipping its prison workshops.

At the station, Pete meets his Aunt May who's back from her vacation of the last few issues. But it seems he's not the only one with news, because Aunt May tells him she's had an offer. Anna Watson's asked her to move in with her but she's worried how Peter might take it. Peter of course takes it like all his Christmases have come at once. This is both their problems solved in one fell swoop. At Mrs Watson's, Pete bumps into MJ and she and he head off to the Silver Spoon together, where Peter's still longing for Gwendolyn. Meanwhile, in case we'd forgotten, Patch is still following him.

And this is where our hero's secret's blown - because Patch sees Pete enter a back alley and, seconds later, sees Spider-Man emerge from it. It doesn't take a brick wall to fall on Patch. He suddenly realises that Peter Parker and Spider-Man must be the same person. Actually, it clearly does take a brick wall to fall on Patch because he's seen Spider-Man with his arm in a sling and he's seen Peter Parker with his arm in a sling and he already knew, from his photographic exploits, that there's an inextricable link between Parker and Spider-Man. You'd have thought it might have occurred to him already that the arm in a sling thing was a mighty big coincidence. But, regardless, the bulb of revelation has now finally lit up above his head.

There's only one problem - Peter's spider-sense. It warns Parker that he's being watched. Peter spots Patch and knows he has to act.

He does.

He ducks back down the alley and starts to talk to himself, to make it sound like there's two people there, then, as he speaks, he whips together a mannequin from webbing, puts it in his spider suit and sets it swinging off up onto a nearby rooftop, to create the impression that he's been in the alley with the strip's titular hero. Amazingly, this works and Patch/Foswell is completely fooled. No wonder his life of crime was so short-lived, with an intelligence level this low.

Within minutes, his arm now free of its sling, Spider-Man's tracked down the Shocker who's doing everything he can to draw attention to himself by robbing the Federal Reserve Bank as dramatically as is humanly possible. He's clearly learned nothing from all those years of being the world's noisiest safe cracker. Hero and villain fight and, deciding Spider-Man's too much of a nuisance, the Shocker concludes there's only one thing for it.

He's going to have to blast Spidey full force.

He takes aim.

Nothing that lives can survive a full force blast from the Shocker.

It's curtains for Spider-Man.

And then?

Spider-Man shoots his webbing at the Shocker's hands, preventing the villain from lowering his thumbs to press the triggers of his vibrating wrist bands. Without those, the Shocker's just a cheap crook and Spidey flattens him with one punch.

Next morning, Peter's full of beans, waking with a lark and hurrying downstairs to pack his bags and set off for his new apartment. Afer a tearful goodbye from Aunt May, he's off and, in the next panel, he's being introduced to his new home for the first time.

But, yet again, this is Spider-Man and the formula demands its hero can never be happy. And so, for no noticeable reason - this time, even he admits he doesn't know why - the tale ends with Peter Parker stood alone at the centre of his dream home, feeling like his best friend just died.

Amazing Spider-Man #45. The Lizard

Amazing Spider-Man #45, the Lizard closes in on an injured Spider-Man who has his arm in a sling against a yellow background of webbing, John Romita cover
(Cover from February 1967.)

"Spidey Smashes Out!"

Written by Stan Lee
Art by John Romita
Lettering by Sam Rosen

This issue quickly establishes one thing - that Spider-Man can defeat common, everyday crooks with one hand tied behind his back. Of course, he doesn't really have his hand tied behind his back when he launches the tale by taking out a couple of small-time thugs who're in the process of hi-jacking a truck but he does have his arm in a sling. However, our hero isn't delusional. He knows full well that stopping a couple of petty crooks doesn't stand any comparison with trying to defeat the Lizard.

Meanwhile, the Lizard is out to make it even harder for Spider-Man to stop him because he breaks into his own apartment and searches for the human-to-reptile formula that will enable him to create a whole army of lizard people. There's only one thing he hasn't thought of - that you have to be a scientist to understand that formula and, in his current guise, the Lizard ain't no scientist. Still, not to worry, he can always kidnap Dr Curt Connors and force him to make the formula for him. Poor old Lizzie. He doesn't know it but his plan is doomed to failure before it's even conceived.

Someone who's determined that his own plans won't fail is Frederick Foswell who's still at The Daily Bugle (does he ever have time off?) and still determined to get to the root of how Peter Parker gets his sensational shots of Spider-Man. It has to be said that, bearing in mind how Parker gets his photos - by randomly hanging the world's cheapest looking camera from a piece of string, and setting the shutter to automatic - it's anyone's guess how he gets any photos of anything but clearly Peter Parker must have some kind of magic camera. Sadly for Foswell, his plans are delayed by J Jonah Jameson sending him off to try and get the goss on the reappearance of the Lizard.

Back at Empire State University, Pete's in his everyday guise and agonising about Gwen. He clearly doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind from issue to issue as to whether he fancies Gwen most or Mary Jane. Not that he's greedy or anything.

Never mind. There's one good way to get all thoughts of girls out of your head and that's to go fist-to-fist with a giant killer reptile. So, now he's back in his Spidey gear and looking for the homicidal herpeton wherever he can think to look. No sign of him in the sewers, so he checks out the zoo. No sign of him there. But what there is at the zoo is a lovely big poster that boasts of the world's biggest collection of reptiles which has apparently just packed its (not crocodile skin) bags to set off for Philadelphia.

Quick as a flash, Spider-Man's at the railway sidings, out to intercept the goods train for Phildelphia. Bingo. He's found it. There's the Lizard, out to release the train's cargo and use them as the first in his army of reptiles. Of course, this does beg the question of what happened to the Lizard's plan of a few pages earlier, the one that involved finding Curt Connors and forcing him to create an army of lizard men but that's clearly all forgotten now. Cue another fight. Cue another beating for our hero.

And does the Lizard finish off his mortal foe?


He decides that, now he's got Spider-Man where he wants him, he can turn his back on him and start droning on about his plans for world conquest. It has to be said that this is a recurring motif in Spider-Man, right from the early days. Villain gives Spider-Man a good hiding, has the chance to finish him off and instead, goes wandering off, talking to himself. If super-villains possessed the focus to actually kill Spider-Man when they had the chance, it's doubftful May Parker's favourite nephew would have made it to the end of issue #3 alive.

Still, the Lizard thinks he knows better. Instead of finishing off Spidey himself, he's going to let his friends do it. He opens up the cargo train and releases its reptiles. Now Spidey's in trouble. How's he going to hold that lot off with only one arm? Simple. He's not going to use his arm. He's going to use a croc. He grabs one by the tail and uses the hapless beast as a whip with which to knock all the other reptiles senseless. He then sets off after his foe who's hopped aboard the now moving train.

So, again they're fighting and, again, Spider-Man's not got a hope of winning.

But then there's hope.

Why? Because he's realised just what this cargo train must possess. Quickly, he finds the car he needs and leaps into it. The Lizard follows him and they start to fight. But there's something wrong, the Lizard's getting sluggish. A swing of his tail, meant to batter Spider-Man, misses its mark. And now, for seemingly no reason, the Lizard goes out like the proverbial light.

At last we get our explanation. This isn't just any train carriage. This is a refrigerated carriage. Being a cold-blooded reptile, the Lizard can't function in the absence of warmth, and Spider-Man has again won the day.

Concerned for the Lizard's well being, he wraps the literally out-cold villain in webbing, to keep him warm. It should be pointed out here that wrapping a cold-blooded being in insulation would, surely, keep him cold but never mind. Clearly, science student Peter Parker really has been falling behind in his studies. Regardless, Spidey takes the Lizard back to Curt Connors' apartment, administers the Dr's formula and, hey presto, the good doctor's back with us, and the Lizard is again nothing more than a bad memory.

So, that's it, a happy ending. Except this is Spider-Man, not Superman and so, once he's back home, Peter Parker's agonising about his life. This final page is actually the weakest part of the story because, while there's usually a good reason for Peter to be agonising about the state of his life, this fit of self-pity seems to appear from nowhere, sparked off by nothing in particular and gives the impression of just having been tacked on by Lee/Romita for the sake of it. It's like the formula demands that each issue ends with Peter Parker feeling fed up and therefore this issue has to end with Peter Parker being fed up.

There's also a slightly odd incident in the scene before this one, where, on the way home from his triumph, Pete bumps into Harry Osborn and Mary Jane. They offer him a lift but he turns the offer down. As Harry and MJ drive off, Peter decides that he really doesn't like Mary Jane at all, opining that she's as, "pretty as a pumpkin seed but just about as shallow." He then labels her, "icky." You get the feeling that, having introduced MJ, Lee and Romita aren't really sure what to do with her. She seemed to have been introduced as a new girlfriend for Peter but, within a couple of issues, she was turned instead into a love rival for Gwen Stacy and now, just one issue later, Peter seems to have gone off her completely. This lack of a clearly defined purpose for such a strong character in fact dragged on for years and it's surprising, knowing what was to come in future decades, just how quickly MJ became a peripheral figure.


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