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.

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