Saturday, 27 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #27. The Green Goblin and the Crime-Master

Amazing Spider-Man #27. The Green Goblin and the Crime-Master, Spicer-Man in chains as he is surrounded by the mob, Steve Ditko(Cover from August 1965.)

"Bring Back My Goblin To Me!"

Scripted by Stan Lee.
Plotted, drawn and inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

And the prize for the worst story title of all time goes to...

Meanwhile, it's another issue gone, the Green Goblin's still being a bit of a no-mark and the Crime-Master's still just a man in a hat.

You can't get away from the fact the strip's repeating itself here, with the Goblin's attempt to take over the city's mobs having been done before, the Crime-Master being a slightly more interesting rehash of the Big Man, and Spider-Man's battle with just about every gangster in town being a rerun of Amazing Spider-Man #10. Oh well, at least the Enforcers didn't show up. They finally (I hope) seem to have been consigned to the dustbin of history.

In fact, the main point of interest in this tale, and its one new development, is the revelation that the Daily Bugle's only known reporter Fred Foswell - who we've all been suspecting of being the Crime-Master and then the Goblin - is in fact Patch the stool pigeon. I never really understood the Patch character, as it seemed like everyone in New York knew he was a stool pigeon, making you wonder why anyone ever told him anything.

I can't think of anything much more to say about this issue, other than that it's nicely drawn but what I've been reading lately isn't really doing anything to dissuade me from the notion that the second half of Ditko's run on the strip wasn't as good as the first and that the title didn't regain its momentum until early in John Romita's run.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #26. The Green Goblin and the Crime-Master

Amazing Spider-Man #26, the Green Goblin and the Crime Master, Steve Ditko cover(Cover from July 1965.)

"The Man In The Crime-Master's Mask!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Plotted, drawn and inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Sam Rosen.

Not that the Green Goblins's stupid but, for some reason known only to himself, he's revealed his secret identity to the Crime-Master, reasoning that if they know each other's identities they'll have to work together to take over the city's gangs.

Why the Goblin wants to work with the Crime-Master - who we've never seen or heard of before and is basically just a man with a gun, and a hat that never falls off - is anyone's guess but the story still suffers from the depiction of the Goblin as a character motivated purely by a desire to take over New York's gangland. This, plus his stupidity and whingeing in his dealings with the Crime-Master, is actually quite irritating here. He comes across more like a whining child than classic villain. The Goblin of the Romita or Kane era would never have tried to work with the Crime-Master, would never have revealed his true identity to him and would have simply let him have it had he tried to get cheeky with him.

Cutting a more impressive figure is Flash Thompson because Peter Parker's feud with Spider-Man's biggest fan finally boils over into violence as, fed up of his taunting, Peter launches an attack on Flash and his gang. Unfortunately for him, the principal sees the incident and calls Peter to the office, at which point, feeling guilty, Flash goes to see the principal to tell him whose fault the fight really was. Showing the normally loud-mouthed Flash has having a moral compass and a code of ethics is a nice twist and this sort of depth of characterisation is one of the reasons the strip stands out from the vast majority of what had gone before in the history of comic books.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #25. The Spider-Slayer makes its debut

Amazing Spider-Man #25, the Spider Slayer makes its debut(Cover from June 1965.)

"Captured by J Jonah Jameson!"

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

Amazing Spider-Man #25; it's a landmark issue in a whole bunch of ways, featuring the debuts of two characters and a robot we'd get to see a zillion times again.

But I don't care about that.

All I care about is the middle panel of page three.


Because it backs up the theory I outlined reviewing Amazing Spider-Man #23.

What was it I said?

I said Norman Osborn seemed to be making a cameo appearance months before he's supposed to have even made his debut in the Amazing Spider-Man. And blow me down with a feather if he doesn't do it again.

I don't care what anyone says, it's definitely Norman Osborn, being spoken to by Daily Bugle publisher J Jonah Jameson about placing an ad in his paper and meeting him later at the club. Bearing in mind the Steve Ditko quote I posted then, about him having planted a character in the strip who'd later be revealed to be the Green Goblin, and him being associated with Jameson, and I'm now convinced Steve Ditko really did intend Norman Osborn to be the Goblin all along.

I don't like to boast but I feel like I've suddenly reinvented comic book history. For my next trick I'll no doubt be proving it was Martin Goodman who actually created all of Marvel's Silver Age heroes while Stan Lee and Jack Kirby simply watched in awe. Well, when you're on a roll...

As for the main story, it's no secret I'm not a fan of the Spider-Slayer - mostly because I keep telling everyone I'm not. Mainly it's because it kept coming back, for no noticeable reason and to no good effect, but, on its first appearance, it really is a bizarre contraption, with its legs that seem able to extend forever and its metal tentacles. So, just for its oddness, right now I can forgive it its future sins against entertainment. It's also interesting to see Professor Smythe being portrayed in a totally different way to his future appearances, with his virtual indifference to the failure of his machine. Compare that to his later maniacal quest to gain vengeance on Spider-Man for nothing much in particular and it's an entirely more refreshing portrayal.

Meanwhile, it's good to see Spider-Man getting hoist by his own petard. Thinking himself incapable of losing to such a silly-looking robot, Peter Parker goads J Jonah Jameson into setting the Spider-Slayer on Spider-Man, only to find that, when it happens, he can't figure out a way to either defeat or escape it.

Clearly Steve Ditko was in a generous mood this issue because, apart from Norman Osborn, we get another cameo, as Mary Jane Watson at last appears in the strip.

Admittedly, thanks to a strategically placed flower, we don't get to see her face, and Ditko's depiction of what we can see looks like something from a whole different era compared to the swinging groover Jazzy John Romita introduces later on but it means there are now three hot chicks in Peter Parker's life to compete for his affections - and we haven't even met Gwen Stacy yet.

I don't know, whatever happened to that kid who couldn't get the girls?

Monday, 22 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #24. Mysterio the psychiatrist

Amazing Spider-Man #24, Spider-Man is haunted by phantoms of his greatest ever foes as he goes mad, Steve Ditko
(Cover from May 1965.)

"Spider-Man Goes Mad!"

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

Madness. It can befall the best of us. For a start, here I am trying to review the whole of the first fourteen years of Spider-Man's existence.

But there are those whose grasp on sanity is even more tenuous than that, and there are those who'll tell you that all super-heroes are, at heart, madmen. Batman certainly is. I mean, what kind of billionaire decides the best way to fight crime in your city is to dress up as a bat?

Happily, a case can be made for Spider-Man being more rational than the caped crusader. After all, he has the powers of a spider and therefore good reason to adopt an arachnid identity, Plus, whatever his neuroses, he doesn't literally dress up as a spider.

However, try telling that to the man himself. One interview in the Daily Bugle, from someone claiming to be a renowned psychiatrist, and Peter Parker becomes convinced the psychiatrist (Dr Rinehart) is indeed right about his lack of marbles. Even before he starts to see things, our hero becomes convinced he must be cracking up.

It's a great idea of course, which must be why Gerry Conway recycled it lock, stock and both barrels in issues #141 and 142 of the Amazing Spider-Man. As with that story, it all turns out to be Mysterio's doing. As for his methods of doing so, it's pretty obvious how the projectors hidden inside mechanical animals are meant to work but I'm still not sure exactly how the rooms in Dr Rinehart's house are rotated to stand on their heads without Spider-Man noticing. I suppose he really must have been feeling messed up not to notice that.

I've been vaguely critical of Ditko's artwork post the Scorpion's debut tale, feeling that it seems to have become simpler, flatter and less stylish but I love his artwork here. It seems to have regained all its previous style and elegance. It's good to see Ditko could still turn it on when he was up for it. After two years on the strip, maybe the unconventionality of the tale got the naturally offbeat Ditko's juices flowing in a way that straightforward super-heroics no longer did.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #23. More from the Green Goblin

Amazing Spider-Man #23, the Green Goblin, Steve Ditko
(Cover from April 1965.)

"The Goblin And The Gangsters"

Written Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

Lucky Lobo has to be the worst-named villain ever. If he's lucky I'd hate to see a villain who isn't. From the moment we see him, everything goes wrong for him, as the Goblin declares he's going to take over his gang, the police mark his cards and then one of his men hands "Lucky's" financial records over to the Goblin. That's not to mention Spider-Man turning up and sorting out his entire gang.

Meanwhile it pains me to say it but, on his third appearance, the Goblin's still an oddly dull villain. We tend to think of him as one of the great Spider-Man villains - possibly the great Spider-Man villain - but how much of that's really down to the Steve Ditko era and how much to the John Romita era and beyond?

I mean, in this tale, he looks good but, in all honesty, as with his previous two appearances, he's more an annoyance to Spidey than a genuine threat. Here, he's just a bizarrely dressed character trying, and failing, to take over a criminal gang, presumably so he can commit some run-of-the mill crimes. There's none of the madness or menace the Goblin would later come to possess.

There's a strong hint being dropped in this tale that the newly returned Fred Fosswell's the Green Goblin, although his recent time in jail would seem to preclude that.

Meanwhile, is that Norman Osborn in the last panel of page 6? It doesn't look entirely like him but that hairstyle looks familiar and he's hanging out in the same executives' club as J Jonah Jameson - as Norman Osborn would do in later issues. Could Ditko have snuck the character in on the sly long before anyone thought he did? And, if so, does that hole the theory that Ditko quite the strip in protest at Stan Lee's supposed plans to have Norman Osborn be revealed as the Goblin?

Officially Norman Osborn made his debut in Amazing Spider-Man #37 but, if Ditko introduced Osborn on the quiet in a story featuring speculation about the true identity of the Goblin, then maybe, despite the rumours, Ditko intended Osborn to be the Goblin all along.

According to Wikipedia, this is what Steve Ditko had to say on the Green Goblin's true identity:
So I had to have some definite ideas: who he was, his profession and how he fit into the Spider-Man story world. I was even going to use an earlier, planted character associated with J. Jonah Jameson: he [was to] be [revealed as] the Green Goblin. It was like a subplot working its way until it was ready to play an active role.
Well, this issue, the character who looks like Norman Osborn is stood there right next to J Jonah Jameson. Could it be....?

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #22. The Circus of Crime are back

Amazing Spider-Man #22, the Circus of Crime return, now led by The Clown
(Cover from March 1965.)

The Clown, And His Masters Of Menace!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.

He's not alone. After being sacked by the Circus of Crime, the Ring-Master knows too. Some people have no gratitude.

Having got rid of their creator, the Circus remodel themselves as the Masters of Menace and decide to rob an art exhibition sponsored by Daily Bugle publisher J Jonah Jameson. But this issue has to be a first. It has to be the first time The Amazing Spider-Man has made us worry about J Jonah Jameson's welfare, as he's rushed to hospital after being headbutted by Cannon-Ball. As such I suppose it's a vital step in humanising our favourite irritant. Needless to say, when he comes out of his coma, he's as cantankerous and self-serving as ever.

J Jonah Jameson's injury aside, it's another of those knockabout tales with Spider-Man yet again up against a set of foes who're blatantly outclassed by him, allowing Steve Ditko to have fun with the action scenes. And, here, the characters of the individual members of the Circus of Evil seem far more individually defined than they've ever been before.

It's definitely a step in the right direction and it's good to see Princess Python get a prominent role, nominating the Clown as new leader of the group, coming up with a new name for them and getting to take Spider-Man on, single-handed, almost managing to unmask him in the process.

Of course, with all this, it's clear the Princess, not the Clown, should be leader of the circus but this was 1965 and maybe the idea of a woman being in charge was too far beyond the pale. I seem to recall a similar situation with the Frightful Four in the Fantastic Four comics where it was obvious Medusa should've been their leader but instead she spent all her time scheming, and manipulating the other members, to get what she wanted. How times have changed.

You have to feel sorry for the Ring-Master. First he gets sacked and then bullied by his colleagues then he gets hypnotised by Spider-Man then he gets arrested for a crime he didn't commit and then he gets re-arrested when he's in the process of handing the stolen paintings in. What else did The Shadow say? Oh yeah; he said that crime doesn't pay. He clearly didn't realise that, in the world of comic books, honesty pays even less.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #21. The Beetle and the Human Torch

Amazing Spider-Man #21, the Beetle and the Human Torch
(Cover from February 1965.)

"Where Flies The Beetle...!"

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

Fate? You've not met fate until you've met Peter Parker because the fickle finger of coincidence is never far away from beckoning whenever Aunt May's favourite nephew's around.

Take this month's issue. He's minding his own bees-wax, walking down the street, when he just happens to bump into the Human Torch's girlfriend Dorrie Evans who drops her purse. Picking it up, he takes it round to her house, the Human Torch sees him depart, gets jealous, just happens to blunder into him later and warns him to stay away from his girl. So, in his Spider-Man guise, our hero heads back to her house to try it on with her to make the Torch jealous.

Well, after the coincidence of Peter bumping into the Torch's girlfriend and her dropping her purse and the Torch seeing him leave and the Torch bumping into him later, comes the next coincidence, as the Beetle, out for revenge on the Torch, decides to grab Dorrie just as Spider-man turns up. Cue a punch-up between hero and villain. Cue the Human Torch arriving just after the Beetle's abducted Dorrie. Cue Human Torch punch-up with Spider-Man, who he thinks must have taken her.

At this point, of course, Spider-Man should tell the Torch that he hasn't taken Dorrie and that the Beetle has. But this is Spider-Man, a man who never seems to do the sensible thing no matter how obvious it is; and so, divulging this kernel of information never seems to occur to him at any point.

Instead, he decides to lead the Torch to where the Beetle is, so the fiery one will guess what's happened. Then, at the end of the tale, Spider-Man bemoans the fact that no one trusts him and he's misunderstood. Well, if he refuses to tell people what's going on even when it's vital they know, it's hardly amazing that he's misunderstood. Someone really needs to have a word with that boy about a little thing called communication.

But I really would love to know what the deal was with the Human Torch and his constant appearances in the early days of the Amazing Spider-Man. I think I've always assumed Spider-Man was a smash hit from Day One but these constant guest appearances do make you wonder if it was some sort of attempt to boost sales. If so that'd suggest maybe it didn't sell as well, early doors, as I'd always assumed.

Then again, maybe Steve Ditko just liked drawing the Torch, or Stan Lee thought a rivalry between the two would be fun. Whatever the reason, it was a concept that became somewhat over used and it's reached the point by this issue where your heart sinks to see him on the cover.

As for the main villain of the piece, I must admit the Beetle isn't one of my favourites. I don't know what it is, there's just something irredeemably irritating about him.

But The Amazing Spider-Man really is oddly schizophrenic at this stage in its history. It seems to swing wildly between being serious and being "fun".

We get a great example here where, after last month's straight, serious and highly dramatic Scorpion origin, this time we get a more juvenile tale but one that suddenly, at its end, jarringly goes serious. It's always been my feeling that, after a great first two years, the strip actually went into decline after last month's Scorpion tale and, re-reading this story for the first time in years, I do feel I detect a dropping-off in the standard of artwork from the last issue. Somehow, it seems slightly cruder, more cartoony and less stylish than before. Dare one suggest Ditko's starting to move towards the flatter, more simplistic style he had in his 1970s' Charlton Comic era? I'll have to keep an eye out to see if my impressions are right and if the quality really does decline from this point on or if I've been unfair on Ditko all these years.

Saturday, 13 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #20. The Scorpion makes his debut

Amazing Spider-Man #20, on his first appearance, the Scorpion holds the helpless Spider-Man aloft, ready to finish him off, origin
(Cover from January 1965.)

"The Coming Of the Scorpion!"

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

A man has to learn from his mistakes and Spider-Man has to do it the hard way in this tale.

I'll say it openly, this is probably my favourite story of the whole Steve Ditko era, mostly because of the sheer nastiness of the Scorpion. He's not just bad, he's positively evil, his mind warped by the potions of Dr Farley Stillwell. It also helps that he was created especially to fight Spider-Man, meaning he has just the right tools in his armoury to give our hero a good hiding.

And he does exactly that. In fact, he knocks out Spidey and leaves him for dead not once but twice in this outing. Never has an issue of Spider-Man been so brutal in its treatment of our hero. And that's the whole point of the tale. Seemingly outclassed by his foe, and lucky to survive his first two encounters with him, still Spider-Man drags himself to his feet for another go and, having learned his lesson not to try and slug it out with a stronger opponent, eventually triumphs by being too clever for a powerful but inexperienced foe.

For me, Steve Ditko's art reaches its peak in this issue. His use of light and shade plus the quality of his figure drawing and panel composition are simply outstanding here.

On the domestic front, Ned Leeds didn't last long After a couple of issues he's already written out, despatched to Europe. All of which makes you wonder why he was introduced in the first place, when he didn't really do anything while he was here. Presumably he was introduced as a love rival for Peter Parker but his disappearance after two issues - one of which saw Peter seemingly not bothered about his presence - means he never had chance to really become that.

Good to see J Jonah Jameson get so much of the action. He really is a dunderhead. As with the earlier Kraven the Hunter tale, he's trying to get someone to beat Spider-Man for him. Again he gets it disastrously wrong. And, like Spider-Man before him, will he learn his lesson?

I think we can assume he doesn't.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #19. The Sandman, Enforcers and Human Torch

Amazing Spider-Man #19, Spider-Man swings out of the cover at us, the Sandman, Enforcers, Human Torch, Steve Ditko(Cover from December 1964.)

"Spidey Strikes Back!"

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

Somehow I suspect they won't be handing out prizes for guessing who the guest star is this month.

That's right, it's the Human Torch. He's spending so much time in this mag it's a miracle he doesn't just quit the Fantastic Four and move in with Spidey.

So, having shown his face, what does the fiery one get up to?

Mostly he hangs around in a big glass case, having been captured by the Sandman and his cronies the Enforcers. Why the Sandman and his cronies capture him isn't entirely clear, nor is any other part of their plan - assuming they have one and aren't just committing random acts of villainy - but, having got him, they decide he's a great hostage to use in their war against Spider-Man. It never seems to occur to them that, if they make it common knowledge they have the Human Torch then the rest of the Fantastic Four'll come down on them like a ton of bricks. Happily for them, it doesn't seem to occur to the Fantastic Four either who make no appearance till the story's all over.

As always, the Enforcers turn out to be as much use as a parasol in a monsoon, which makes you wonder why the Sandman's teamed up with them. It also makes you wonder why Stan Lee and Steve Ditko kept bringing the useless bunch of bums back. My lack of respect for the less than stellar Kangaroo's no secret but I have the feeling that even he'd wipe the floor with the Enforcers and that's saying something. I suspect Ditko was just getting into drawing rambunctious Kirby-style fight scenes by this stage and simply liked to show Spidey knocking them about a bit.

In truth, the main story's a fairly disposable bit of fun that's there more to reintroduce Spider-Man to the world of bad-guy bashing than anything and was probably forgotten by most readers by the time next month came round. The most important development is in fact that we get to meet the new man in Betty Brant's life.

His name's Ned Leeds and the whole caboodle is a little odd as Peter Parker doesn't seem in the slightest bit bothered to see the woman who up until this tale has been his girlfriend suddenly hanging round with another man.

Ah well, given his ubiquitousness lately, perhaps Pete was just relieved the new man in Betty Brant's life didn't turn out to be the Human Torch.

Monday, 8 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #18. The Sandman's back

Amazing Spider-Man #18, the Sandman returns(Cover from November 1964.)

"The End Of Spider-Man!"

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

Rule books are there to be shredded; and no one seemed more aware of that than Stan Lee. He did it most famously with issue #50 of The Amazing Spider-Man, showing Peter Parker giving up his life as a hero.

But it wasn't without precedent. Why? Because he'd already used the idea here in Amazing Spider-Man #18, in which, having to look after his sick Aunt May, Peter Parker manages to go through the whole issue without having a single fight.

That's not to say we don't get to see Spider-Man but when we do, it's in a distinctly un-heroic light; first managing to fail to get a trading card deal then failing to sell his web formula to a glue factory and then running away from the Sandman rather than risk getting hurt.

Needless to say this has the whole of New York wondering just what's going on as J Jonah Jameson crows about it all.

But, of course, whatever Stan Lee and Steve Ditko's willingness to experiment, The Amazing Spider-Man wouldn't have lasted long had its hero never shown his face again and so, by the end of the tale, fired up by a speech from Aunt May about how the Parkers have never been quitters, Spidey has his costume back on and is ready to show the world what Spider-Man's really all about.

There's lots to love in this tale. Early on we get various villains and heroes ruminating on the, "Spider-Man turns yellow," situation. We get J Jonah Jameson gloating. There's also Spider-Man's inability to make any money despite being a genius. We get Flash Thompson trying to restore Spider-Man's reputation, by passing himself off as the webbed crusader but only getting a hiding from a gang of minor crooks for his trouble. But my favourite scene of the issue has to be where the Human Torch (yes, he's guesting again!), refusing to believe his old sparring partner can have turned yellow, sits atop the Statue of Liberty all night, hoping against hope that Spider-Man will answer his fiery summons and prove himself not to be a coward. The respect the Torch has for a man he always makes out to be an enemy is actually quite touching, and nicely handled by Steve Ditko.

And that's the point. It's the reaction and behaviour of the supporting cast that makes this issue. The effect his withdrawal from the fray has on them's the real reason The Amazing Spider-Man was such a success. The story-telling and characterisation had become so strong by this point that the strip's central character didn't even need to be in it for it to work. And, when you get down to it, how many comic books can you say that about?

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #17. The Green Goblin and the Human Torch

Amazing Spider-Man #17, the return of the Green Goblin and the Human Torch
(Cover from October 1964.)

"The Return of the Green Goblin!"

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

If a rose is a rose by any other name, Liz Allan must be a very relieved flower to hear it, as Stan Lee still doesn't seem able to make up his mind whether she's Liz Allan or Liz Allen. To make matters even worse, we're then introduced to her father who gets referred to as, "Mr Brant," implying that Smiling Stan now thinks she's called Liz Brant! I can only assume the Mr Brant reference was a mistake and Stan Lee wasn't implying the two rivals for Peter Parker's heart, Liz Allan and Betty Brant, are in fact secretly sisters.

Meanwhile, the world may view Spider-Man with distrust and suspicion but not Flash Thompson - he merely views Peter Parker with distrust and suspicion - and so he forms the Spider-Man Fan Club, as Liz Allan/Allen/Brant gets her rich father to lend the kids his night club for a venue.

Needless to say, nothing goes any more right for Flash Thompson than it always does for Peter Parker as, first, Spider-Man, and then the Green Goblin, and then the Human Torch, crash the meeting. Stan Lee really was keen to play up the rivalry/grudging friendship between Spider-Man and the Torch in the strip's early days. It's only issue #17 and I've already lost count of the number of time's Johnny Storm's turned up. He's here again and, for once, he doesn't get to fight Spider-Man, instead, spotting that the Green Goblin's the real enemy, he rushes to Spider-Man's aid.

Not that Spider-Man seems to need it because it's an odd little outing for the Goblin. Despite being armed to the teeth with new gadgets - and a new "glider" - he seems so much less dangerous than he did last time out, in a tale mostly played for laughs. Even the Goblin's fight with Spider-Man and then the Torch and then Spider-Man has an oddly frivolous feel to it, like they're all fighting mostly for the fun of it.

But fun can't last forever and, as the fight's about to reach its climax, our hero overhears a phone conversation that tells him his Aunt May's in hospital, prompting Spider-Man to flee the scene to rush off to see her. Now all the world thinks Spider-Man's a coward, and the Green Goblin's still on the loose. Shakespeare might have been right and a name might not matter but, right now, Spider-Man's name is mud and he's not at all happy about it.

Saturday, 6 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #16. Daredevil and the Circus of Crime

Amazing Spider-Man #16, Spidey vs Daredevil and the Circus of Crime, first ever meeting(Cover from September 1964.)

"Duel With Daredevil"

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

As Mary Jane Watson once said, "Well pierce my ears and call me drafty!" because Spider-Man gets to meet another super hero -- and, for the first time ever, it's not a member of the Fantastic Four.

This time it's Daredevil who gets the privilege, which seems an appropriate choice as there are many parallels between the two heroes: Spider-Man's spider-sense/Daredevil's radar sense; both men's heightened athletic ability; both having lost father figures during their teen years, at the hands of a criminal; both having an on-off romance with a secretary; both with home-made gadgets that fire a line they can swing from. And then there's the fact that, when we first met both of them, they were ridiculed by the other kids for being bookworms. In fact, you have to wonder if the similarities are coincidental or if, knowing he had a hit on his hands with Spider-Man, Stan Lee had decided to repeat the formula with another hero.

Whatever, it's still clearly early days for the man without fear when this tale takes place because he's still wearing his original, short-lived costume, the yellow and black one that some of us have always preferred to the all red version.

But heroes are only half a story and the bad guys of the piece are the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime. I assume that, "Circus of Crime," isn't how they're billed on the posters. It might be somewhat of a giveaway.

Needless to say, like the two-bit crook he is, the Ringmaster's planning on using his hypnotic powers to rob the audience at tonight's show but, just to show the sort of luck the Ringmaster has, both Peter Parker and Matt Murdock are in the audience, which means that, before long , both Spider-Man and Daredevil are stepping in to stop him.

It's a good fun tale and oddly reminiscent of Jack Kirby, in the fun Steve Ditko seems to be having with the non-stop action as, first, Daredevil and Spider-Man go head-to-head before Spider-Man takes on the entire Circus of Crime on his own.

Actually, that's the one disappointing thing about this tale, that, after he's snapped Spider-Man out of his trance, Daredevil decides to leave the rest of the scrap to Web Head and sit in the crowd, as Matt Murdock, "watching." It would've been a lot more fun to see the pair of them team up to take on the circus.

Oh well, what can you do? This is Spider-Man's comic and it seems it's therefore been ordained we have to see Spider-Man - and Spider-Man alone - tackle the pernicious performers.

But the Ringmaster really is an idiot. Not content with wasting his powers of mind control on what's essentially nothing more than glorified pick-pocketing, he comes up with a scheme that practically invites Spider-Man to come along to the show. Why risk attracting the attention of a super hero if you're going to commit a crime?

Then again, why use your awesome powers of mind control just to rob a few punters of a few dollars each when you have it within your abilities to take over an entire nation?

I suppose that explains why the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime never amounted to a hill of beans in the overall scheme of things and why, ultimately, they rarely seemed anything more than a comedy outfit.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #15. Kraven makes his debut

Amazing Spider-Man #15, Kraven the Hunter makes his first ever appearance and traps Spider-Man in a steel net
(Cover from August 1964.)

"Kraven The Hunter!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Artie Simek.

As Clint Eastwood could tell you, a man has to know his limitations, and the Chameleon certainly does.

In case we'd forgotten about the menacing master of disguise - Spider-Man's first ever foe - he's back again. But this time, having decided he can't tackle Spider-Man himself, he brings in his best mate in all the world; Kraven the Hunter, who's something of a nutjob and lives only to fight things. He starts off by fighting some snakes and gorillas, down at the dockside, before turning his attention to Spider-Man.

The only problem is he's out of his depth and so he cheats.

The only problem is that doesn't work either.

So, he runs away and, when that doesn't work, he gets captured and deported. As a first outing for our villain it's all a bit of a wash out. Still, he may be a cheat, a braggart, a coward, a bully and a man who talks to himself but Kraven is at least persistent and he'll be back to mildly annoy Spider-Man on repeated occasions.

Someone else who'll be back is Mary Jane Watson whose name makes its first appearance here - although it has to do so without the company of the girl herself who's supposed to be meeting Peter Parker for a kind of blind date - courtesy of Aunt May - but pulls out with a headache.

It's just as well because, by this stage in the strip's history, Peter Parker has two girls, Betty Brant and Liz Allan fighting over him. How could the strip possibly find room for another? And just how did Puny Parker become such a babe magnet?

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #14. The Green Goblin, Enforcers and the Hulk

Amazing Spider-Man #14, the Green Goblin makes his debut, aided and abetted by the Enforcers, with a guest appearance in a cave by the Incredible Hulk, Steve Ditko cover
(Cover from July 1964.)

The Green Goblin"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Art Simek.

Value for money. Sometimes you have to check what's behind it.

Seeing how much is crammed into this issue, I assumed the price must have gone up and Marvel Comics were making an effort to cram as much in as they could to justify it.

But not at all. A quick look at the cover tells us the price is still 12 cents. But, even if it had gone up, we can hardly be accused of being short changed this month. Not only do we get the debut of the Green Goblin. we get the return of the Enforcers and Spider-Man's first meeting with the Incredible Hulk.

It's the debut of the Green Goblin that is of course the main event in this tale - although, at the time, it must have seemed to readers that the Hulk's guest slot was the bigger deal. We, however, have the benefit of hindsight and the readers of 1964 didn't.

It's an odd plan the Goblin concocts, tricking Spider-Man into agreeing to appear in a movie so he and the Enforcers, posing as fellow cast members, can attack him. There's really no need for any of this charade, they could have attacked him easily enough anywhere and at any time and it's a plan that does rely on Spider-Man being unbelievably stupid. He's stood in a room with the Enforcers and doesn't recognise them as the real thing, convinced they're just actors pretending. It's a scenario worthy of the old Adam West Batman series in its unlikelihood.

But you suspect that Steve Ditko's clear love of having battles take place in not previously seen locations, like sculptor's studios and film sets, was coming into play here. It gives him an excuse to stick Spider-Man in a desert and then in cave, neither of which he was likely to encounter in Manhattan. It was also a convenient way to bring the Hulk into the story.

So, how does the Goblin fare on his debut?

He comes out of it pretty well. This being his first appearance, he's not yet developed the out-and-out psychotic nature of later years. Here he's merely an ambitious novice criminal out to get himself some power by defeating Spider-Man. But the fact that Spider-Man fails to defeat him and that, at the end of the tale, the Goblin still has his secret identity intact marks him out, even at this point, as a major villain of the future.

Sadly, not major villains of the future are the Enforcers, as out of their depth against Spider-Man as Spider-Man is against the Hulk. Despite their boast that they take orders from no one, they're never going to be anything more than lackeys for more important criminals. It has to be said that even if you hired the Enforcers for nothing, value for money is one thing you would never claim to be getting.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Amazing Spider-Man #13. Mysterio makes his debut

Amazing Spider-Man #13, unlucky for some, Mysterio makes his first appearance, in a cloud of smoke, and threatens a recoiling Spider-Man
(Cover from June 1964.)

The Menace Of Mysterio!"

Written by Stan Lee.
Drawn by Steve Ditko.
Inked by Steve Ditko.
Lettered by Art Simek.

Thirteen. It's unlucky for some.

Or have I already said that?

It seems to me I have. So, instead I'll merely say that, for Spider-Man's baker's dozen, we get the debut of one of my favourite Spider-villains of them all, as Mysterio makes his first appearance.

I mean, what's not to love? The man wears a goldfish bowl over his head, has eyes on his chest and walks around in a cloud of smoke. He also talks like a prize cornball. After all, how many people have you ever met who say things like, "Bah!" and refer to themselves in the third person? Quite frankly, if there's one Spider-Man villain I'd choose to be, it has to be Mysterio.

Mysterio, oddly enough, is more interested in being Spider-Man, as he starts the tale by committing a string of crimes while disguised as the arachnid adventurer. This being The Amazing Spider-Man, our hero doesn't respond in the time honoured manner by assuming there must be an imposter on the loose. Instead, he assumes he himself must be behind the crimes and doesn't know about it because he's going mad. Cue a trip to the psychiatrist.

Happily his malaise doesn't last long as Mysterio turns up and gives him a good pounding before Spider-Man escapes, hoping to fight another day. Oddly enough, this seems to put our hero in a better mood.

The fight scene in the second half of this story's fantastic. Steve Ditko was never a conventional super-hero artist and proves it here as Spider-Man and Mysterio battle each other on a movie set. The studio's clearly playing host to a science fiction movie when they barge in, meaning the fight takes place against a whole barrage of unworldly backdrops before the menacing master of illusion gets his come-uppance. Steve Ditko's in his element with this story, his background in drawing horror and fantasy comics coming in perfectly for his handling of Mysterio who, in his early panels, really does seem like some kind of supernatural, Dr Strange type, being.

On Peter Parker's domestic front, not only does our hero have Betty Brant swooning all over him but now Liz Allan's got the hots for him too.

And this is the man who claims he's unlucky in love.


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