Friday, 29 January 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #10. The Enforcers

Amazing Spider-Man #10, Our hero squares up to the Enforcers first appearance
(Cover from March 1964.)

"The Enforcers!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

"With this classic tale, the Marvel Age of comics reaches a new plateau of greatness!" You have to hand it to Stan Lee, he's never believed in under-selling things, and he doesn't do so here.

But is he right? Does the Marvel Age of comics reach a new plateau of greatness with this issue?

Well, inevitably not. I've never heard this tale being referred to as the high watermark of Marvel Comics history, or even of that month - although it does set a few things up for the future, in that it introduces the Enforcers who, despite the build-up they're given, prove to be more an annoyance to Spider-Man than a threat. Even with him weakened by having given a blood transfusion, the Ox, Fancy Dan and Montana still can't do anything more than distract him for a short while.

The other thing the tale does is introduce would-be crime lord the Big Man, and also the reporter Frederick Foswell. As it turns out, the Big Man and Fred Foswell are the same person, which I suppose is obvious as we've never seen either of them before this issue.

Exactly why Foswell is the Big Man's a whole other matter. After all, why's a major crime lord working as J Jonah Jameson's doormat at the Daily Bugle? I suppose it could be put down as a cover. But then, I don't see the Kingpin working at McDonalds, or Kraven the Hunter busting his gut in Burger King.

Steve Ditko's art's superb in this issue, although his tendency to show Peter Parker with his face half Spider-Manned is over-used as we see the trick repeated in panel after panel.

But my big let-down of the tale arrives on the final page where we get J Jonah Jameson pontificating to himself as to why he hates Spider-Man. He declares it to be because he's jealous of a man who's clearly so much better than him. While it might be true that that's the reason for the antipathy, it doesn't feel right for him to be acknowledging it. Happily, I don't think this explanation - or its level of self-awareness - was ever displayed again. So, if we choose - and I do - we can brush it under the carpet and put it down as a rare lapse from Lee and Ditko.

My favourite moments of the tale actually come from Flash Thompson. It would've been easy for Lee and Ditko to have always portrayed him as nothing more than the school bully/loudmouth but, twice in this tale, Flash displays his more caring side, as he first visits Aunt May in hospital and then, later in the story, warns Peter Parker about the risk he's taking in telling everyone that he knows the Big Man's true identity. Needless to say, Peter Parker responds with sarcasm, which does start to give you insight into why Flash has a problem with him in the first place.

Can it be? Can it be that, all along, we've been on the wrong side and that, in the end, the attitude problem's been with Peter Parker and not with Flash Thompson?

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