Sunday, 17 January 2010

Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man's origin

Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man first appearance and origin, cover
(Cover from August 1962.)

"Spider-Man!"

Words by Stan Lee.
Art by Steve Ditko.


With great power comes great responsibility and with great success comes the benefit of hindsight. It's easy to look back on it now and view Spider-Man as a strip that pressed all the right buttons from Day One but, at the time, there was no reason to believe it was going to be anything but a one-shot story in a mag that had already been cancelled.

This is a strange experience for me because I haven't read this tale for a good ten years and I've already reviewed well over a hundred issues of The Amazing Spider-Man before getting round to doing this. There wasn't any good reason for that approach, I just felt like starting with Amazing Spider-Man #42, which, with its introduction of Mary Jane Watson, I feel was in its way as pivotal a story as Amazing Fantasy #15.

Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man first appearance and origin, Spider-Man discovers the identity of the burglar who killed Uncle Ben
Interesting then that so few of the elements that made Spider-Man a success are there at the start. Aunt May's there but totally different from the May Parker we came to know. No heart attacks for this hale and hearty looking lady. Peter Parker's there, and a social outcast, but his problems fitting in are more down to his personality than to the vagaries of life coming between him and others. No J Jonah Jameson. No photography. No Gwen Stacy. No Osborns. No super-villains. Not even a Betty Brant. Apart from Aunt May, the only future regular present is Flash Thompson. Surprisingly, there's not even any sign of high school crush Liz Allan/Allen.

Spider-Man as Public Enemy #1 isn't there either. Shock of all shocks, he's actually popular; lauded and applauded wherever he goes. It's interesting that the more altruistic he became, the less people liked him.

One thing I'd never noticed before is that not only is the killer of Uncle Ben the thief Spider-Man failed to stop, but the cop who tells Peter about the death of his uncle's the same cop who was chasing the thief back at the TV Studio. Clearly New York was a smaller place back then, or the fickle finger of coincidence was working overtime in New York on that day.

I have to admit Steve Ditko's not my favourite Spider-Man artist of all time. Don't get me wrong, I still like his artwork but I do prefer the artists who came after him. In this issue, the art isn't as sophisticated as we later became accustomed to but is arguably more sophisticated than Jack Kirby was producing at the same time and with a more low key appearance than we were used to from a super-hero strip.

I believe Jack Kirby produced around ten pages of artwork for the origin story before the task was given to Ditko. I've always wondered if that artwork survives and is available anywhere. It'd be interesting to see what I think Joe Simon once described as, "Captain America with webbing."

Amazing Fantasy #15, Spider-Man first appearance and origin, Spider-Man walks off into the night, alone, with great power comes great responsibility

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