Audio : Golden Records: Amazing Spider-Man #1
Here's one that slipped between the cracks. Back in 1966, Golden Records produced four "Marvel Age Comic Spectaculars." These were 33 1/3 RPM LPs that featured word for word dramatic readings (including captions and sound effects) of four different Marvel Comics. Reprints of the comics were included with the record and used to be bargain bin substitutes for the original comics but now command surprisingly hefty prices of their own.
The four comics reprinted were Fantastic Four #1, November 1961, Avengers #4, March 1964, Journey Into Mystery #83, August 1962 and Amazing Spider-Man #1, March 1963. The album covers all had the same design: an illustration of a long-playing record alongside the cover of the featured comic. The covers themselves were different colors (blue for Spidey, green for FF and JiM, and, I don't know, fuchsia (?) for Avengers) but the wording, front and back, was exactly the same (except for the reproduced comic credits). The front advertised, "Exciting action stories recorded word for word and sound for sound" and that it "tells the story as the child turns the page." The back features "A word to parents and teachers about this comic book and record set" which sells the notion that "our newest comic book and record set is designed to fulfill a specific need in providing children, their parents, and teachers as well, with an interesting method of readership training" and that "we have chosen these exciting adventures of comic book heroes for a dual purpose; not only because of their current popularity, which assures children's interest and involvement; but also, to add enjoyment to the process of learning, making it easier to understand vocabulary, and improve skill in reading." Uh-huh. This angle is pursued on the inside front cover of the comic with another "word to parents and teachers about this comic book and record set." Let's reproduce that one in its entirety: "This comic book and record is designed to fill a specific need in providing youngsters with an enjoyable method of reading training. Every word on both sides of the record is reproduced in the book. (Actually that should be the other way around.) The youngster can follow the illustrations and read along with the words in each panel as they are spoken on the record. The narrator calls off each page and the pace is set for maximum understanding. We at Golden Records have provided a series of Comic Book and Records as well as Little Golden Books and Records to provide educators and parents with the simplest tool necessary to teach or merely to supplement teaching." The back inside cover on the ASM and Avengers issues provides a list of other non-Marvel "book and record sets" for sale. (The FF issue finishes its story on that page and the Journey Into Mystery issue, which reprints stories from #83 and #97 begins #83 on the inside front cover and ends #97 on the inside back cover). The back cover also plugs other sets including "Special Christmas Release – Santa Claus Conquers the Martians". (The record label gives us the voice credits for the set but doesn't say which actor plays which characters. I suspect there was a little bit of doubling up. For the record (heh), the actors are Dan Ocko, Ronn Liss, Ralph Bell, Elaine Rost, Carol Reed, and Hamilton O'Hara with Hamilton also providing the sound effects.) In all other respects, these comics are faithful reproductions of the covers and story pages of the originals.
And since it is so faithful, I'm not going to bother with any detailed description of the stories. You know them, you love them. It's ASM #1 with Spidey's rescue of John Jameson and his first encounter with the Chameleon. But how well does the record mesh with the comic?
Golden Records: Amazing Spider-Man #1
Year 1966 : SM Title
Summary: 33rpm LP Record (reads every word in the comic)
Pretty well, all in all, though there are some jarring sound effects and voices. First of all, Spidey sounds like Stephen Hawking on steroids. Since the web-slinger has a word balloon on the cover, we hear his metallic grating voice right away. (Right after the narrator who seems to be announcing his lines at half speed through a megaphone with reverb. "Two... great... feature-length...Spider-Man...thrillers!") I don't know why Spidey has a voice like this when Peter Parker's voice is perfectly normal but maybe he stuck a synthesizer under his mask and Stan never bothered to tell us. After the cover blurbs, the announcer tells us to "Turn... the...page... and... begin... this... classic... on... page...one."
On page one, the lines "Freak" and "Public Menace" are also read by the announcer in his sepulcher tones even though I think they're supposed to be comments coming from the disembodied fists and accusing fingers led by J. Jonah Jameson. By the time, he drones through the big page one caption and intones "page... two" at the end, I'm ready to strangle that voice. (If a voice can be strangled.) Fortunately, the reader of the story captions is not the blurb announcer. The new voice is calm and assuring, sounding a bit like Morgan Freeman ten years before his Electric Company gig, though I suspect it isn't. Peter's voice is nice and normal enough and his page two summary of his origin is a smooth ride into the story, even though it does sound a bit like he's reading it. (I particularly like the "Ouch!" from page 2 panel 2, interjected into the narration.) There's an effective little gun sound effect to emphasize the Burglar's fatal shot and the shooting of Spidey's web is like a penny whistle combined with a burst of static. Aunt May's voice sounds like a young woman pretending to be an old woman but it's suitable enough. Liz Allan sounds about 40 years old but Pete's blasé "count me out, kids" makes that little scene work. Then just as it's all running smoothly, that reverb voice is back again to announce "page... four!!!!"
On page four, as Spidey performs his act, a smattering of applause provides a nice sound effect. As Spidey thinks to himself, "I couldn't very well be doing this act and sitting in the audience also!" his voice is still gravelly and metallic so it appears that it's not just a voice alteration. When dressed as Spidey, Peter thinks in that voice too!
When we get to J. Jonah Jameson writing his anti-Spidey editorial, we're treated to a sound effect of typewriter keys clacking but Jonah's voice makes him sound as ancient as Arte Johnson's dirty old man on Laugh-In. (Which is, itself, an ancient reference.) He sounds far too tired and slow to be the curmudgeonly Jameson. By the time he gets to his "lectures all over town", I'm ready for a nap. I can't imagine this voice holding anybody's interest much less rallying anyone to his side. Also Jonah doesn't seem to know how to pronounce his own last name: saying "Jame-son" when everyone else is saying "Jame-a-son".
There's a nice sound effect of John Jameson's rocket blast-off at the start of Part Two and John's voice within the capsule is nicely muted as if he is speaking over a com system. I like the way one actor calls the replacement guidance unit "twenty-four three bee" while another calls it "twenty-four dash three bee". The web sound effect is repeated when Spidey webs up the sentry at the airfield and we get a jet engine sound effect as he commandeers a plane. But then we get to the moment when Spidey shoots his web at the capsule. Do we get the web-shooting sound again? No, because page 11 panel 1 has a written sound effect of "Twnnnng!" Apparently the Golden (Record) Rule is that, while real sound effects can be added, the reverb guy must read the written-in sound effects. So, in this instance, the webshot sounds like a reverbed voice saying "twing!" Which is followed by a nice real sound effect of wind blowing to simulate the wind resistance.
In Part Three, Jameson sounds like he's more bored than excited when he announces, "My boy! He's safe!" (Now that I think about it, he really sounds like the old man played by Dick Van Dyke in "Mary Poppins", which is an even more ancient reference.) Then when he goes on his rant accusing Spider-Man of staging the whole thing, his voice drones on so long that zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. And while the narrator again obligingly tells us "the headline reads..." before reading, "This newspaper demands that Spiderman be arrested and prosecuted, etc.", he also says, "the headline reads..." before the page 14 "Wanted... Caution, he is dangerous" panel which is obviously a Wanted poster, not a headline.
The story ends with Reverb-Man bellowing "The... End!" then adding "Turn over the record for the next fantastic adventure from the Marvel Age of Comics. Our fighting action continues on page 15 with Spider-Man vs. the Chameleon." Only to be accurate, I should write that out as "Turn... over... the ... record..." and so on.
Okay, I've flipped the record and Mr. Reverb announces, "Page 15. Spider-Man versus the Chameleon." So, you know the story. Spidey decides to join the Fantastic Four. As he shoots his webbing at the Baxter Building, it again sounds like a penny whistle. There's a hubbub ("rhubarb, rhubarb") of bystander voices that is rather nice. But the alarm ringing in FF headquarters, following the written-in sound effect rule is read by Reverb: "ding!" Mr. Fantastic's voice is awful, sounding like Barry Fitzgerald on helium (but minus the Irish accent). (I think it actually is sped up and not always at the exact same speed, as it tends to wobble a bit.) The Thing's voice, however, is great: low and gravelly and Brooklyn-tinged. (However, it appears to be unevenly slowed down since his voice tends to wobble too.) When Spidey forces his way out of the plexi-glass cage it sounds like he's forcing a stubborn window. The Thing's punch on Spidey's jaw sounds like someone shutting a film clapboard. There's a nice sound effect when Spidey spins the Invisible Girl with her own rope but the Torch's flaming on sounds a little puny.
Ever wonder who is speaking in the panel that only shows Reed's lab and one word balloon reading, "We just keep enough money to pay our expenses. Every other cent goes into developing the most effective super-crime-fighting apparatus we can create!" and the other balloon reading, "Besides, aren't you wanted by the police? This isn't Outlaws Anonymous!" In other words, which of the Four rags on Spidey about being wanted? Well, in this version, Mr. Fantastic reads the first balloon (makes sense) and the second one comes from the Invisible Girl. Somehow I always visualized that ragging coming from the Human Torch. The disembodied "Wait! Come back!" in the next panel is also voiced by Mr. F.
The story now shifts to the Chameleon. He has a silky sinister voice with a slight accent that suits the character well but, like JJJ, sounds much older than he should be. His transmission to Spider-Man has a nice oscillating whistle to it but when he steals the elevator operator's identity, he still pretty much speaks like the Chameleon. Doesn't the Chameleon perfectly duplicate other people's voices too? If not, wouldn't people notice? And when he impersonates Spidey, he gives up all pretense of disguising his voice, sounding exactly like the Chameleon even as he steals the missile defense plans. (But his artificial web sounds just like Spidey's pennywhistle sound.) When Spidey zeroes in on the Chameleon's helicopter, his spider-sense sounds like a radio frequency blip: a nice touch. Our reverb announcer reads the sound effect of Spidey slingshotting himself to intercept the Chameleon: "Twannng!" but there's some nice sounds of the helicopter and Spidey ripping the door off of it. Also, some nice Russian accents on the guys in the sub. After the Chameleon is caught and impersonates a policeman, Spidey uses his spider-sense again but this time it sounds like a turbine. Spidey grabs the Chameleon who "resorts to one last desperate ruse" by calling out that he's been caught by the Chameleon disguised as Spider-Man, except he calls out in the Chameleon's voice! (Which, okay, the cops shouldn't recognize, never having heard him.) So, Spidey runs off, the cops catch the Chameleon and the FF read about it at the end. Now Reed and Ben's voices sound almost the same, making me think they're voiced by the same actor and no one bothered to change the speed on them for this last scene. Oh, and the final panel blurb from ASM #1 ("And the whole world will have to wonder until our next great issue! Don't miss it!!") is omitted.
This reminds me that I wasn't completely truthful when I said "these comics are faithful reproductions of the covers and story pages of the originals." There are a few slight differences. The Comics Code is on the cover but not the price or the issue number. Page one is missing the script, art, and lettering credits as well as the initial caption: "Note: Spider-Man first appeared as a feature in Amazing Fantasy #15 Aug.! So great was your response via letters and postcards, that it was decided to give him his own magazine! A brief summary follows..." Finally, the three moments in the Chameleon story in which our hero was incorrectly called "Peter Palmer" have been corrected.
So, what to make of all this? It's easy enough to make fun of with the awful reverb announcer, some silly sound effects, the wildly inappropriate J. Jonah Jameson voice, and the wobbling Thing and Mr. Fantastic voices but why bother? This is a Silver Age gem that is a blast to listen to. It also is a reminder of how good Spider-Man was right from the start. If you're one of those who think the early stories are dated and Spidey needed time to get good, listen to this record without following along in the comic and see how dramatic and advanced it sounds not only compared to its contemporaries but to many comics coming out today. I gave the stories in the original issue 4.5 webs and 3 webs respectively but this set, for its concept, for its execution, deserves the full five webs.
Before we get back to 1967 and the regular comic issues, I'd like to quickly review one last item from 1966. At that time, Marvel and Donruss got together for a 66-card set of panels from Marvel's comics, featuring joke captions. Cards 1-11 feature Captain America, 12-22 are Iron Man, 23-33 are Daredevil, 34-44 are Spider-Man, 45-55 are the Hulk and 56-66 are Thor. The backs of the cards form a puzzle featuring the six characters that is difficult to put together, especially if you're missing some of the cards. This difficulty is exacerbated by the odd sequence. For some reason, the first puzzle row is composed of the Iron Man cards (#12-22) with the Cap cards (#1-11) second and the DD cards (#23-33) third. The rest follow in the proper order. Spidey is in the lower left corner of the whole puzzle. This portion is on the backs of cards 16-22 (first row), 5-11 (second row), 28-32 (third row). This counts the cards with just his name and the two cards (#19 and 22) that appear to be blank but have a little smidgeon of Spidey on them. The Spidey comic panels are as follows: #34 is from Amazing Spider-Man #19, December 1964 page 19, panel 5, #35 from Amazing Spider-Man #32, January 1966 page 19 panel 4, #36 from Amazing Spider-Man #33, February 1966 page 14 panel 8, #37 from ASM #33 page 11 panel 5, #38 from Amazing Spider-Man #20, January 1965 page 10 panel 7, #39 from ASM #20 page 2 panel 3, #40 from ASM #20 page 3, panel 8, #41 from ASM #32 page 7 panel 5, #42 from ASM #20 page 2 panel 9, #43 from ASM #32 page 18 panel 1, and #44 from ASM #32 page 13 panel 1. And, yeah, the gags are lame or incomprehensible or non-existent (#36 and 44 have captions that say, "Write Your Own") but these are cool little collectibles that deserve five webs. Only let's not run to eBay all at once, okay? I still need a few non-Spidey ones.
Next: Back to 1967 and the comics but not back to ASM just yet. A short stop at Strange Tales comes first.