Comics : Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #50
This story is part of a Lookback Series: From The Beginning
This review was first published on: 2009.
Go ahead and laugh from your forty-years-later perspective but when I first saw this issue on the revolving comic rack back in 1967 I was really worried. First of all, I was ten years old, which is to say I was gullible. And second, I had seen plenty of other comics series come and go, never to be seen again. Who's to say it couldn't happen to Spider-Man? He wasn't the icon that he is today. A run of a shade over four years is respectable enough for a super-hero, after all. There were plenty of others that didn't get that far. It seemed very likely that Stan hit issue 50 and decided to call it quits. In some ways, I was grateful that it lasted as long as it did. But I didn't want it to end because Amazing Spider-Man was my favorite comic book. I opened this issue with great trepidation. So go ahead and laugh at the poor kid from your perspective of three movies, a live-action TV show, bunches of animated series and hundreds and hundreds of comic books. What a sap that kid was! But try to imagine a time when only one monthly Spidey comic existed and the movies and merchandise were a long way off. Now try to picture coming upon this cover for the first time. What do you think you would think?
Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) #50
Jul 1967 : SMURF 050.500 : SM Title
Summary: First Kingpin
Reprinted In: Marvel 75th Anniversary Omnibus #1
Reprinted In: Marvel Masterworks #22
Reprinted In: Marvel Tales #190
Reprinted In: Marvel 70th Anniversary Collection
Reprinted In: Marvel Visionaries, John Romita, Sr.
Reprinted In: Amazing Spider-Man (Vol. 1) Annual #8
Reprinted In: Essential Spider-Man #3
Reprinted In: Amazing Spider-Man #50 (Sony DVD Mini-Comic)
Reprinted In: Spider-Man 2: The Official Movie Adaption (TPB)
Reprinted In: The Very Best Of Spider-Man (TPB)
Reprinted In: Spider-Man: Visionaries - John Romita, Sr. (TPB)
|Articles: Watson, Anna, Aunt May Parker, Betty Brant, The Big Man, The Burglar, Green Goblin II (Harry Osborn), Gwen Stacy, The Jackal, Jameson, J. Jonah, Kingpin, Mary Jane Watson-Parker|
First we have to talk about that great, powerful, now-classic John Romita cover that shook me up so much. So classic that it's composition is probably a very big reason why I bought into the concept so readily. So classic today that it has been imitated often (such as by Mark Bagley on the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #392, August 1994). So classic it is considered by many to be the best Spidey cover of all time. (Some would say the best comic cover of all time.) So, what makes it so great? Let's take a look at it. The whole thing is dominated by the Spider-Man image, but it has its back to us and ends somewhat below the waist. It doesn't even have any hands; the arms fade out before they get that far. So it gives us an impression of a giant ghostly Spidey looming over the scene, but, as I said, his back is to us, which is a very powerful image in and of itself. Notice that the costume is colored entirely in red (as is most of the rest of the cover) with one major exception. That is Spidey's eye, which we can see because, even though his back is to us, his head is turned and looking back. (I don't know who did the coloring here but it is wonderful.) There are also impact lines that seem to emanate out from Spidey but actually steer down to Peter. (Don't worry. We're getting to Peter.) So at first glance, the Spidey image dominates our view as it rises up out of the background but our eye is led to Spidey's eye looking back and down. So our line of vision follows his line of vision, aided by those impact lines that look like they are going out but are actually going in and our eye settles on the only other figure on the cover: Peter Parker in full color, his head down, his arms slack, his very posture exuding defeat and resignation. There are only three words of copy: "Spider-Man No More!" How can anyone look at this cover and think there could ever be an issue #51?
The story begins with a bang. (Well, actually a "Krak!", a "Wap" and a "Zok!") Spidey is fighting four crooks in an office as two bespectacled frightened employees (a man and a woman) hold each other in the background. While one crook flinches, Spidey has just socked another so that he drops a chair that splinters beside him. On the floor is a gun and a satchel overflowing with money. Spidey is swinging through the center of the splash page, kicking a third crook, while the fourth takes a shot at him and misses. It is a jarring transition from the cover. Where the cover is cool and controlled, the splash page is frantic and confused.
The next two pages continue that frantic feeling of being dropped into a melee. Spidey perches on a bulletin board on the wall. The armed crook takes another shot at him but he flips out of the way and only the bulletin board is hit. Deciding, "our only chance is to rush 'im," the four crooks attack at once in a center panel almost blurry with action. One grabs a chair and swings it over his head. The other three strike with their fists. Spidey's head is concealed by the impact. But he strikes back in the very next panel, punching and kicking so that all four are repelled in four different directions. He follows this up by hitting two of the crooks with the palms of his hands. With all four lined up, he slams a door over them. Their heads and torsos burst through the door but they're finished, knocked unconscious. (Just imagine having a door slammed over you. I think that would probably do it.) With the crooks out of the way, the two employees emerge. The woman (named Martha) thinks Spidey for saving the payroll but the man (too cautious to warrant a name) tells Spidey not to come any closer. "How can we be sure he isn't as bad as the others?" he says, "The Daily Bugle says he's a menace!" (You'd think the fact that he beat up the others would be a clue but apparently not.) Spidey doesn't bother to dispute the guy. He swings outside, talking to himself. "Jameson's batty editorials have done me more harm than all the crooks in town!" he says, "No matter what I do half the population is scared stiff of me! And the other half probably thinks I'm some kinda full-time nut!" (I love these little Stan-isms like "full-time nut." "Perish forbid" is another favorite.)
As Spidey finds a spot to change back into his Peter duds, he tries to tell himself that he doesn't care what people think but he does. "Everyone flips over the FF," he says, "They think Daredevil's the coolest. Captain America turns 'em on but just mention Spider-Man and freezeville!" (You don't get dialogue like that anyplace other than the 60s, folks!)
As soon as Pete arrives home, Harry meets him at the door to tell him that Anna Watson called to say Aunt May has fallen ill. Harry offers to drive Peter but he figures his motorcycle is faster. As he drives, Peter fears the worst and he's already beating himself over the head for it. "Aunt May must have had another attack!" he says, "And I was too busy playing super-hero to be there when I should have!" (But since he doesn't live with May anymore, he probably wouldn't have been there even if he wasn't "playing super-hero.") Peter rushes into Anna's house, asking what happened. Anna tells him May is now resting, that Doc Bromwell was passing by and gave her a sedative. But before he did, the cloying old bat "kept calling for [Peter], wondering where you were! She was so worried!" (But worried about what? Does May just sit around stewing for no reason?) This gets to Peter, of course, since May is a genius at pushing his buttons even when she is tucked under the covers up to her chin and sound asleep. "If I had been at home like any other normal guy they could have reached me fast!" he thinks. (But so what? What was he going to do?) "But no," he continues, "I was out flexing my muscles trying to help the very people who fear me!"
Now before we drown in the swirling currents of angst, we've got the "More Marvel Masterpieces..." page so let's stop and look at that. And it's an all reprint special this time. The three advertised issues are, Marvel Tales #9, July 1967, which we'll cover next time), Fantasy Masterpieces #9, June 1967 with the origin of the Original Human Torch, and Marvel Collector's Item Classics #9, June 1967, which... oh, who cares? It's a bunch of reprints! Let's get back to the story!
So, Peter leaves Anna's house looking so down in the mouth, he has to put his hand on the back of his neck to keep his head on. He rides away on his motorcycle and it's a wonder he doesn't crash because he's looking down at the ground rather than watching the road. And he gets into the guilts like you wouldn't believe. "Ever since I moved in with Harry, I've hardly even thought about Aunt May!" he says, "After all, why should I care about her? All she ever did is spend a lifetime looking after me, treating me like her own son!" (Actually, I think if you bothered to look back at the issues since Peter moved in with Harry, which is only the last three before this, you'd find that Peter has thought about May plenty but how do you talk to a guy when he's in a mood like this?) He gets home and realizes that he's too bummed out to study for the "rough exam" he has tomorrow. And, sure enough, next day in Professor Warren's science class, he hardly writes a thing. "If I passed, it'll be a miracle." Warren calls him over and talks to him about his declining grades. He tells him he'd better shape up. Peter promises to start "buckling down." In the ESU hallway, Gwen invites Pete to a "little get-together" at her home tonight but Pete is too worked up over Aunt May to accept. As he walks to his bike, he realizes that Spidey takes so much of his time, he isn't able to do things like go to Gwen's party. "I haven't even had time for dating scatter-brained Mary Jane these days!" he thinks, "Or is she really so scatter-brained? I've never been able to take the time to find out for sure!"
By the time he gets home, he's worked up a real lather. He recalls that Norman Osborn has offered him a job but he can't take it because it could cut into his Spider-Man time. The bitterness sets in. "Spider-Man!" he barks, "I'm beginning to hate the very sound of that name!" He tries to take his mind off things by turning on the TV news but J. Jonah Jameson is on, escalating his campaign against Spider-Man. He begins with the deft move of challenging the public to prove a negative. ("And my newspaper challenges anyone to prove that Spider-Man isn't a public enemy!") Then he goes on to psychoanalyze the wall-crawler. ("Because he's really an egomaniac, a neurotic trouble-maker flaunting his power before the ordinary citizens whom he despises! For all we know he himself provokes the criminals whom he later seems to defeat!") He then advocates finding, unmasking, and destroying the web-slinger, and offers a "one thousand dollars for the capture and conviction of that wall-crawling mockery of a man." Peter is shocked by the reward offer. It makes him realize how much Jameson truly hates him. He further realizes that Jameson means it, that he sincerely believes Spider-Man is a menace. This proves too much for Peter and, as he stares glassily ahead with sweat on his brow and his hand running through his hair, different colored lettering barks out at him. "Menace!" it says, and "Egomaniac!" "Public Enemy!" "Fraud!" "Mentally Disturbed!" With that, Peter starts to believe that Jonah is right. "Only a madman would do what I do," he tells himself, "taking the risks, accepting the dangers, and for what?... I must be a glory-hungry fool or worse!"
"Worse" is right. Peter is so devastated he takes to the streets "like a man in a trance" and doesn't even care enough to get out of the rain. "Being Spider-Man has brought me nothing but unhappiness!" he thinks. He wonders if he is really in the Spidey biz for justice or to satisfy that "heady thrill of battle, the precious taste of triumph, the paranoiac thirst for power which can never be quenched." And he finishes by deciding that Jameson is right and that "for the sake of my own sanity, there's only one thing left to do..." And so he leaves his Spidey suit a little bit in but mostly out of an alley garbage can, as he trudges away in the rain. Now we have the opposite shot from the cover image with Peter walking away, rather than towards us, and the Spidey mask looking right at us, albeit upside-down. It is the second classic image before we're even halfway through the issue, so enduring and memorable it was even brought to life in the movies (in Spider-Man 2). "I was just a young, unthinking teenager when I first became Spider-Man," Pete thinks, "But the years have a way of slipping by, of changing the world about us, and every boy sooner or later must put away his toys and become a man!"
The next morning a blonde bespectacled kid rushes into Jameson's office with a bundle under his arm. He blazes by Betty Brant before she can stop him. Just as JJJ starts blustering about "punk kids...barging into my office," the kid reveals the bundle as Spider-Man's costume. "Look what I found in a trash can!" he says. Jameson grabs a hold of the costume and his eyes light up. "It looks like the real McCoy!" he says. He orders Betty to ring up the City Desk and he tells them to get ready for an extra. "You rate a reward, kid!" says the cheerful Jameson, "Grab a free copy of the Bugle on the way out!" "That's a reward?" says the kid. (And we'll never know if he grabbed his free copy because we never see him again.)
The extra comes out with the headline, "Is Spider-Man Thru?" and everyone is reading it. Jonah couldn't be happier. "Every copy I printed out, sold out!" he says, "This is the scoop of a lifetime. After all these years, I finally got some good out of that masked misanthrope." Jameson appears on the Tonight Show. Ed McMahon holds up Spidey's costume for the audience to see, Jonah tries to sell Bugle subscriptions, and Johnny Carson says, "Perish forbid!" (How about that? A "full-time nut" and a "perish forbid" all in the same issue!) On another channel, David Susskind is discussing the situation with his panel. One thinks the underworld did away with the wall-crawler. Another thinks Spidey suffered a schizophrenic withdrawal from reality. And a third doesn't understand David's overly-wordy question. And elsewhere, a large bald man with his back to us decides that this is the moment he has been waiting for. "I want every mob in the city to know the Kingpin is ready to take over!" he tells one of his men. "We'll have a summit meeting that'll make Appalachin look like a tea party," the henchman says as he leaves. (So what the heck does that mean? Well, it refers to an infamous summit meeting in 1957 in Appalachin, New York, involving a hundred or so Mafia bosses from around the country. It was raided by the cops and proved the existence of the Crime Syndicate that many people still denied at that time. And while I've paused, let's jump back a panel or two. I don't have to explain to anyone who Johnny Carson and Ed McMahon were and are, do I? David Susskind had a more politically-oriented talk show that was on for almost 30 years. I used to watch it faithfully late-night Sunday in the 70s but poor David has been dead since 1987.)
Out in the street, Patch the stool pigeon can sense something in the air amongst the city's criminals but when he tries to enter the meeting, a hood named Blackie tells him to "Go'wan back to pickin' pockets. You're outta yer league here." Within the meeting, one of the Kingpin's men tells the mob bosses that the Kingpin is taking over. One boss, Shorty, doesn't "deal with stooges" but another tells him to "Relax! You know the Kingpin likes to stay in the background." Another, who always has been his own boss says he doesn't like it and is told, "Then start likin' it, Mister! What the Kingpin says around here goes!"
Back at his apartment, Patch removes his mask to reveal Frederick Foswell underneath. He realizes that the mob is assembling with no web-slinger around to keep them in check and decides, if they need a leader, "Why couldn't it be the man called Patch?" since no one around knows that Patch is actually Foswell. (And we all remember, don't we, that Foswell played this game before when he led the mobs as the Big Man back in the best Spider-Man issue ever, Amazing Spider-Man #10, March 1964?)
The next morning at the Bugle, Foswell is still thinking about it. "Now that I've gone straight, everyone trusts me! They'd never suspect!" he thinks as JJJ calls him over to show him the Spidey suit framed under glass. Jonah tells Foswell to get all the leads he can on the Spider-Man story. Just then, Peter walks in and is surprised to see his Spidey costume on display. He asks what it's doing there and Jonah replies in typical fashion, "What does it look like it's doing? It's on display, just like some masterpiece in a museum. I never managed to catch that weak-kneed web-head, but I did the next best thing. I got his costume for a trophy! Well, don't just stand there, I haven't time for every empty-headed juvenile that barges in!" Foswell, however, is much more thoughtful about the situation. He knows that Peter "knows as much about Spider-Man as anyone" and he listens in. Peter proceeds to tell Jonah that he won't be taking any more pictures and JJ is so rattled that his cigar levitates beside his cheek. As he goes into his usual histrionics ("I've been betrayed, stabbed in the back.") Foswell wonders about the coincidence of "Parker quitting at the same time as Spider-Man." Jonah continues with a priceless rant about how nice he's been and how everyone has taken advantage of him, finishing with "Nice guys finish last!" Unmoved, Peter replies, "They do? Then simmer down, skinflint, you'll never have to worry."
Meanwhile, the Kingpin's crime wave inundates New York: truck hijackings in broad daylight, brazen protection racket shakedowns, bank robberies. Later, the Kingpin gets a report from one of his goons who tells him that most of the men got nabbed by the cops but the spree revealed what the Kingpin wanted to know. Spider-Man didn't show up at any of the crime scenes. "It looks like Spider-Man really is out of action," says the goon. The Kingpin decides to begin his master plan. He doesn't say what it is but he does say, "The underworld will now be run like a business and the Chairman of the Board will be the Kingpin!" (Since he, like so many other bad guys, enjoys talking about himself in the third person.)
At ESU the next day, Peter is content to keep Spidey "in mothballs." He offers a ride to Gwen on his motorcycle. She has a letter from Flash who is about to be shipped out to Viet Nam. Gwen gushes a bit about Flash prompting Peter to ask, "He really turns you on, doesn't he, Gwen?" "Face it, classmate," she says (as she now rides on the back of Peter's bike), "How many blushing blondes would find a hip, handsome football hero totally repulsive?" Peter doesn't realize that this doesn't really answer his question. When he asks how Gwen's party was and she answers, "A disaster area without you!" he thinks she's just bantering. "Y'know I kinda wish you meant that!" he says, while Gwen thinks, "Oh you lovable blind goof! Can't you see I do?!" Pete drops her off and, lovable blind goof that he is, wishes he stood a chance with Gwen. "A fella could sure sail through life with a gal like that to come home to!" he thinks. (Well, that's not going to happen either, Pete.)
Peter goes to visit Aunt May, who is sitting up and looking better. Pete asks if May wants anything. "But don't ask for Cary Grant," he says, "He's out of town." MJ is there too and she goes into one of her acts. Putting her hand to her chest, she pines, "Quick! Someone call the beauty parlor! It's an emergency! A living, breathing male walked in and didn't notice me! I'm a washout! A has-been! It's the utter end, friend!" She has to leave for rehearsal. (I don't think it's ever mentioned what she's in rehearsal for.) "Knock 'em dead, lady!" says Pete. "With these new threads Aunt Anna just stitched for me, how can I miss?" she says as she puts on her leopard-skin pillbox hat and leopard-skin jacket that match her leopard-skin boots. Did Anna stitch all this leopard-skin stuff? Or is MJ referring to her green mini-skirt?
Peter refuses MJ's request for a ride to spend some time with Aunt May. Then he heads home to study feeling "like a million bucks." At home, he stretches out on the couch with the radio on as he reads a textbook. Even as Pete studies, the Kingpin's men rob the West Side Welfare Office. When Peter hears about it on his radio, he leaps off the couch and starts to take off his shirt before he remembers that he "took the pledge." He smacks himself in the forehead and tells himself to "simmer down, sweetie!" and forget about it.
The next day, Harry is reading about the robbery in the paper but Pete changes the subject, asking about Harry's dad. Harry asks Pete if he's thought more about Norman's job offer. "As a matter of fact, I have, Harr," says Pete as he lifts the lid off the sugar bowl (at least I think that's what he'd doing here), "I just have to finish some personal business first!" He tells himself he'll take the job as soon as May is better and his studies are up to snuff. At school, Pete asks Gwen out for a "soda, sandwich, and spin after class" but she has a date with Harry. When Pete asks if they're a couple, Gwen tells him that he's always trying to pair her off with other guys. "How come you haven't asked if I've got a maaaaad crush on a bashful, black-haired bike rider?" she asks. "C'mon!" Pete replies, "We both know nice guys finish last!" (He's been listening to J. Jonah Jameson too often.)
Pete drives to May and Anna's and finds them heading out to a movie. As he heads home, he muses, "So I gave up being Spider-Man to have more time for my family and friends only to find they don't need me! I might as well go home and bury myself in a book!" But as he drives home, he hears someone call for help from a warehouse roof. Realizing it's a watchman being manhandled by a couple of thugs, he springs into action, removing his shoes and quickly climbing the wall. Just as the goons prepare to toss the watchman off the roof to shut him up, Peter arrives and, moving fast so he isn't clearly seen, knocks out the two crooks with a left-handed punch and right-handed karate chop. The watchman tries to stop Pete to thank him. He even tells him "there's bound to be a reward" but Peter recedes into the shadows. There is something familiar about the gray-haired watchman and later, as he muses on a dock, his foot up on a piling, over the way he reverted to type "after all my pledges", he realizes that the watchman reminded him of Uncle Ben.
Then it all comes crashing down on him. "Aunt May and Uncle Ben, the only family I ever knew." He remembers when Ben bought him his first microscope. He remembers allowing the burglar to run past him at the TV studio. He remembers blowing off the pursuing guard. He remembers learning of Uncle Ben's murder and going into action as Spider-Man. He remembers defeating Ben's killer at the warehouse and realizing he was the one he could have stopped. (But he gets it a little skewed... or Stan does. Here's how it's laid out in this issue on page 18. Panel 1: "One of the first victories in my crime-busting career came a short time later when I cornered an armed robber," thinks Pete as the panel shows us Spidey on the wall of an empty room that looks like it has no windows or doors as the crook cowers below. Panel 2: "Even with his gun, he was no match for my spider-powers and I dusted him off fat and easy. But a minute later I got the next great surprise of my life" as the panel shows Spidey knocking out the crook with one punch. Panel 3: Spidey holds the unconscious crook by the lapels and thinks, "It's him!! He's the one... who killed... Uncle Ben!!" followed by a caption reading, "And then I was suddenly hit by the shocking realization which has haunted me from that moment on..." Panel 4 shows Spidey without his mask on, holding his head, tears in his eyes as he says, "I had a chance to stop him when he ran past me that day and I didn't. But if only I had done so, Uncle Ben would be alive today!" So, if you follow this scenario, it looks like Spidey stopped a crook because he was an armed robber and, after knocking him out, recognized him as the man who killed Uncle Ben, even though he never saw Uncle Ben's killer, and then further recognized him as the guy who ran past him. Not quite the way it actually happened. Good thing we've all read Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962 so we know.) With that, Pete realizes, "I can never renounce my Spider-Man identity! I can never fail to use the powers which a mysterious destiny has seen fit to give me! No matter how unbearable the burden may be. No matter how great my personal sacrifice. I can never permit one innocent being to come to harm because Spider-Man failed to act. And I swear that I never will!" A nice little speech and quite a relief to that ten year old kid who was afraid that the cover was true.
Meanwhile, Fred Foswell visits and confronts the Kingpin. He reminds him that he used to be the Big Man and he declares that he is going to "run things again." When the Kingpin points out that Foswell has gone straight, Fred replies, "I can't stand by and watch someone else pick up where I left off! If anyone's gonna organize the mobs, it's gotta be me!" A very interesting and revealing speech. Note how pride is involved more than any real interest in turning to crime again. As the last one to organize the mobs, Foswell can't stand to see someone else pick up his pieces. He doesn't say, "I want it to be me" or "I think it should be me." He says, "It's gotta be me!" Then he pushes things too far, offering the Kingpin the job as one of his lieutenants. The Kingpin slams his massive fist on his desk and takes offense at Foswell's temerity. Foswell has a gun hidden in the hat that he holds in his hands but the Kingpin already knows this. An electronic scanner tipped him off as soon as Foswell entered the room. Now he uses the disintegrator beam in his cane to obliterate the hat and the gun... and nearly Foswell as well but he jumps aside in time. Then Kingy orders one of his mugs to "put Mr. Foswell on ice for a while. He may prove useful to us later on!"
As dawn rises, Peter, his shoes tied together by their laces and draped around his neck, scales the outside of the Daily Bugle building. He enters Jameson's office where his costume is still on display. Soon after, Jonah enters his office to find Spidey waiting for him. (But where did Pete put his street clothes and why did he even bother to bring his shoes along with him?) When a shocked Jonah says, "I thought you were dead or at least mortally wounded somewhere," Spidey sticks a finger in his face and says, "I was out recruiting...I'm signing up volunteers! I'm gonna fill the whole city with Spider-Men!" As Spidey heads for the window, Jonah can't stand it. He holds his head with one hand while pounding his fist on his desk and bellows, ""He's back! He's still alive and more rotten than ever! Oh, no! No! Noooo!" Spidey hits him with a parting shot ("By the way, next time I leave my costume, the least you can do is have it dry cleaned! Well, see ya around, fun-friend!") Then he web-slings outside, heading toward us, his left fist thrusting out as if in 3D. "And now, Spidey's back in action!!" he proclaims, "And, as far as the world's concerned, they better believe it!!" Stan finishes it off with "Continued next ish...And How!" "And How" is right! Never have the words "continued next ish" been so welcome as they are right here.
And now let's look at this month's bullpen bulletins. "More Mixed-Up Madness from Marvel's Mighty Masters of Mysticism, Magnificence, and Misinformation!" The lead "Item" is the first announcement of Spidey and FF cartoon shows to be aired on ABC-TV. (Or as Stan puts it, "both shows will be phantasmagorically presented over the ABC network, in full animation and colossal color!") Sounds great, doesn't it? But that's because you haven't gotten to the point yet where, every time you turn it on, it's that episode where Spidey swings around and around and around and around in Subterranea. The other big announcement concerns no-prizes. Stan tells us, "since a no-prize is really just that – a no prize – many of our time-honored winners have asked how they can prove to posterity that they've ever actually won one! Therefore, from now on, every winner of what has become the most coveted non-award in history will receive a little something to prove he's really won! What is it? You'll find out, tiger – soon as you win one!" And what was it? An envelope with the announcement, "Congratulations! This envelope contains a genuine Marvel No-Prize which you have just won!" And what was in the envelope? Why, nothing, of course. It is, after all, as Stan said, "the most coveted non-award in history." (That description never fails to amuse me.)
If you've ever heard that comic writer/television writer/Jack Kirby assistant and biographer Mark Evanier created the "Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom" and wondered if that was true, then wonder no more. Here's this month's "Stan's Soapbox!": "While we're waiting for your letters telling what you'd like us to editorialize about, we thought you'd get a charge out of this note which we just received: Dear Bullpen: Enough! I have sat idle too long! I have watched the MMMS turn into disorganized chaos. (And that's the worst kind!) As a solution, I suggest we have some officers. By buying his first Marvel mag, a fan is automatically entitled to the rank of RFO (Real Frantic One). His first published letter elevates him to QNS (Quite 'Nuff Sayer). A no-prize raises him to TB (True Believer). Each additional no-prize raises one level: From JHC (Junior Howling Commando) to RH (Resident Hulk) to AAT (Associate Assistant Thing) and finally to the penultimate, the utmost status a fan can attain: MM (Marvelite Maximus)! Naturally, the artists all have the rank of DDD (Definitely Dizzy Doodlers), the editorial assistants are IPR (Illiterate Proof Readers), art associates are VOD (Victims of Doodlers), the letterers are IWP (Indefatigable Word Placers) and Stan himself is at the summit – MED (Marvel's Earthbound Odin). Each person would use his title at the start of his name – as I've done. (Signed -) RFO Mark Evanier, 10418 Tennessee Ave., Los Angeles, Cal, 90064." Never mind that Stan didn't use all of these abbreviations. Never mind that Mark misused the word "penultimate" here. There it is in black and white. Mark Evanier invented the Hallowed Ranks of Marveldom. (But would he still offer the rank of "Marvel's Earthbound Odin" to Stan? Or bestow it on Jack?)
At the bottom of the page is a promo for "the newest bombshell surprise from Mighty Marvel, the House of Ideas!" It's "the maddest magazine of all", Not Brand Echh. Don't worry. We'll be taking a look at that soon enough. This promo wipes out the MMMS membership list, meaning I don't have 26 names and places to type this time to which I can only say, "Woo Hoo!"
In the Spider's Web, Ed Payne of Bolton, Mississippi, thinks that "Pete, once the premiere powerhouse of perplexing problems has turned swinger, lover, in-crowder, and winner! You are trying to hide this with petty troubles, but the cold facts remain. Next thing you know he'll be running around with Millie the Model and her crowd!" He goes on to complain that "Kraven burst into Flash's farewell party at night, but his fight outside with Spidey just a few minutes later happens in broad daylight!" in Amazing Spider-Man #47, April 1967. He then proceeds to give a facetious explanation for how the Lizard's tail came through Connors' pants without ripping them to shreds in Amazing Spider-Man #44, January 1967. Hmm. Let's take a look at both of these. Well, it's definitely night when the party starts but I'm not so sure it's day when Spidey battles Kraven. We get a bunch of yellow, white, and blue backgrounds. Does that mean it's daylight or just a way to brighten up the panels a bit? I'd go with the brighten explanation. As for the Lizard's tail, yeah, maybe those pants should have gotten torn up in the back but how do we know they haven't? Curt's lab coat covers up the back for the most part.
Ed isn't the only one with complaints this time. Brad Caslor of Winnipeg, Manitoba thinks, "John Romita does not draw Spider-Man as well as your previous artist... although he is a good artist, his predecessor was better at illustrating Spidey because his art created a mood unlike any other artist, and Spidey has suffered without this mood. Sure, Mr. Romita draws nice pictures, but they lack that aura of mystery, of drama, that they once had...John draws prettier girls and handsomer guys, but that's not the point. He doesn't give Spidey that special artistic flavor which made it one of the most complete comic books ever put out." Now I don't agree with any of Brad's assessment of JR but I do agree that Ditko's "art created a mood unlike any other artist" making Steve peerless in Spidey illustration. But Johnny is a pretty close second. Anyway, Brad also complains that Stan won't mention Ditko by name, which makes you think that Brad mentioned him and Stan changed all the references to this "previous artist" stuff. But then Brad overplays his hand by laying down that "you won't print my letter because you never print negative letters" card that is always intended to get your letter published. And in this case it works because Stan publishes his letter. But Brad clearly wouldn't have added that if he could have read this issue's Spider's Web because there are more negative comments than positive, putting the lie to his "no negative letters" position. In fact, here's a negative comment you don't see every day. Joseph Hastings of Brooklyn, New York says, "As for Mary Jane, she's getting uglier as Gwen gets prettier every time. For instance on page 12, panel 1 (of ASM #47), she probably looks worse than Harry Osborn getting up in the morning!" MJ's part of page 12, panel 1 is included so you can decide for yourself. Then there's this confused letter from Alan Caudle of Corinth, Mississippi who begins by saying, "Spidey has indeed woefully fallen from his once leading throne" and finishes by saying, "He has a crazy, wild two-wheeler, and, in other words, man, he's the coolest! Spider-Man lives! He still triumphs over all!" prompting Stan to say of this letter, "We've read it and re-read it a dozen times, and still can't decide whether he's pro or con – or just testing out a new ball-point pen!"
Two more letters worth mentioning. One from John S. Fawcett, an Art Professor at the University of Connecticut says that he finally broke down and bought "complete collections of most of your titles." And how much did John pay for a complete Marvel collection in 1967? "Close to $200." Sounds good to me! Finally, Cpl Leonard R. St. Clair wrote from Viet Nam, saying, "If you get a chance, send [a Marvel super-hero] over here to give us a hand!" and "We really enjoy your series. They, like letters from home, help take our minds out of Viet Nam for a while." I know it was over forty years ago but I hope Leonard came out of it all right. I find myself worrying about him."
(An Addendum here: I received a wonderful letter from reader Kara Wright. In it, she says, "I'm emailing specifically in reference to issue #50, where you quoted a letter from Cpl Leonard R. St. Clair. I was just as worried about Leonard as you were, so I decided to hit the Net and see what could be found. I found him almost immediately, on the Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall. He was killed February 26, 1967. Which, strangely, means that his letter appeared in a comic printed about 5 months after he died. Here is the link . I'm not sure why but when I found this it really made me sad. I guess a fellow Spider-Man fan automatically becomes a real person, not just a statistic. Sorry the news wasn't better. I was really hoping to find him alive and well telling stories to his grandchildren." So was I, Kara, so was I.
In a subsequent letter, Kara noted, "My Dad ran across this website . (He's into history, so I emailed him regarding Cpl St. Clair, and he did a little follow-up.) Someone else ran across the letter and posted it on the site, along with Stan's reply and the unit's reply to Stan. Not only did he get posthumous medals, but a posthumous Spider-Man comic as well." Thanks for the info and this very touching link, Kara.
The Spider-Oracle also weighed in, informing me that this letter and reply appears in Amazing Spider-Man #53, October 1967,
""Dear Stan, Since all of us in the headquarters section of India Company are Spider-Man fans, we regret to inform you that Corporal St. Clair, whose letter will be printed in SPIDER-MAN #50, was killed in action on 28 February, 1967. He was a squad leader in our 3rd Platoon when his patrol was ambushed southwest of Da Nang. Your comic SPIDER-MAN is the most sought after piece of literature and art work in this company. Keep up the good work; you're a real morale booster.
India Company 3/1 3rd Bn., 1st Mar.
1st Marine Div. (REIN) FMF, FPO
San Francisco, Cal. 96602"
Comments from Stan Lee:
"God rest you, soldier. And God bless you all. As a mark of respect to Corporal St. Clair, and all others who have given the last measure of devotion for their country, we are omitting our usual "coming attractions" paragraph this issue. We prefer, instead, to express the fervent hope that the day will soon come when men in every land will walk together in peace -- and brotherhood."
Thanks, Oracle. I guess I would have known that myself if I would ever GET to ASM #53. I know, folks, I know. I'm trying. I'm really trying.)
The yellow "Next Issue" box tells us to "keep your eye on the king-sized Kingpin – we suspect that he will soon take his place, along with Doc Ock, the Vulture, Kraven, and the late-lamented Green Goblin, as one of Spidey's greatest and most-dangerous archfoes!" What can I say, Stan? When you're right, you're right.
And that just about does it for this... oh, wait, there's some small print at the bottom of the page here. Let me get my reading glasses on. Let's see. "Let's meet 26 more M.M.M.S. members!" Aw hell. All right. Let's suck it up and meet them! "George McNatt of Pasadena, Texas; Mel Gordon of Flourtown, Pennsylvania; Larry Miller of Glenview, Illinois, Walter J. Foltz of Bowie, Maryland; Thomas Gammon of Richmond, Virginia; Bobby Mills of Covington, Virginia; Ronald Leatherman of Louisville, Kentucky; Terry Heusinger of Buffalo, New York; Brain McKay of Plymouth, New Hampshire (um... I suspect that's supposed to be "Brian" McKay. I wonder how "Brain" reacted when he saw his "name" on this list?); Winston Moore of Alexandria, Virginia; Richard Florez of Belen, New Mexico; Michael La Fontaine of Onaping, Ontario; Noel Ford of Houston, Texas; Stanley Laughlin of Granite, Illinois; Fred Liberman of Burbank, California; Steve Carey of Helena, Arkansas; Edward Nelson of Winter Haven, Florida; Samuel Morgan of Freehold, New Jersey; Tom Kyle of Hazelwoods, Missouri; Michael Capozzi of East Boston, Massachusetts; Peter McMahon of Woodbury, New Jersey; William Hedrick of St. Paul, Minnesota; Kenji Fujita of New York, New York; Alvin W. Jackson of Memphis, Tennessee; Christopher Hager of Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and David Fluck of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania who was probably saved for last because a typo of his name was fraught with much more danger than "Brain McKay."
Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)
- First time Spidey quits? No! Second time! First was Amazing Spider-Man #18, November 1964
- Two classic enduring images (the cover and page 8) in one issue.
- Jameson offers free copy of the Bugle as reward to kid who brings him Spidey's costume.
- Stan gives us a "full-time nut" and a "perish forbid."
- Kingpin's first appearance.
- Peter and Jonah both say "Nice guys finish last" referring to themselves.
- A retelling of Spidey not stopping the burglar, Uncle Ben's death, and Spidey catching the burglar... but a little bit skewed this time around.
- Fred Foswell slips off the wagon.
- Perhaps the most satisfying story conclusion yet.
The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story. Warts and all:
"Spider-Man no More" - Introduces the Kinpin. - Peter gives up Super-id then reconsiders. - Fred Fuswell, JJJ's employee revealed as a traitor.
Eek! "Kinpin." "Fuswell." "Revealed as a traitor." And I'm glad to see that Peter gave up his Super-id. Too bad he reconsidered.
I've said a fair amount about John Romita's artwork for this issue but very little about Stan's script and it really should be mentioned because it is one of his best. Yes, it is over the tops at times, a bit heavy-handed but give the man a break. He was writing practically every Marvel comic for a while there, month after month. Stan had every excuse to dial some of these scripts in but he didn't. This one hits every emotion needed to make the story work, from Peter's guilt over May, his concern over his slipping grades, his desire to spend time with Gwen, his horror that Jameson's rant may be true, his fateful decision (the speech about putting away his toys is just right), his pleasure at giving up Spidey, and his realization that he can't forget what happened to Uncle Ben. And it does it in twenty pages of succinct captions and word balloons. Jameson's TV rant is wonderfully harsh and persuasive and his later bluster, self-pity, and concluding primal scream of "Noooo!" are in character through and through. Foswell's turn back to crime rings true. His careful intelligent thoughtfulness and suspicion is dead-on here as is his feeling that he should lead the mobs because, well, it's his right to lead the mobs. His thoughtless confrontation with the Kingpin appears to be inconsistent with his earlier intelligence and thoughtfulness but it's not. It's exactly right. It reveals his character.
Not only are the characters right but the rhythm and flow of the plot is too. Pete's return to the webs may be inevitable (to everyone except certain ten year olds, perhaps) but it doesn't happen in a perfunctory manner. We get to see Pete enjoy his freedom, we see him instinctively leap up to help but then back off. In a nice touch, we see that his friends and family aren't as needy as he thought, calling into question his real reasons for quitting. And the reminder of Uncle Ben may seem obvious in retrospect but still feels like a pleasant surprise. It all leads to one of the most triumphant conclusions in comics.
We see very little of the Kingpin in this issue but from our first glimpse of his huge, bald figure seen from behind, he is exciting. In fact, I've got a comment to make about the Kingpin's appearance that I've never seen mentioned anywhere else (maybe because it's too obvious to mention?) but I think I'll save it for next issue since that's where we really get to know him. This issue is just a tantalizing taste.
By the way, this issue was the very first "Looking Back" in the very first issue of "Peter Parker's Pad" back in May 1995. It was written by our esteemed editor Jonathan Couper who pulled it from the site long ago. But I just happen to have a copy of it right here. Reproduced for you: Jonathan's Lookback. The one that started it all:
"The issue starts badly for Peter. He breaks up a payroll heist, but the victims are as afraid of him as the crooks. Aunt May is ill, and Peter feels that he isn't spending enough time with her. His grades are slipping at school, and he feels too fed up with it all to even go on a date with Gwen. When he sees the Daily Bugle is offering a reward for his capture he tosses his costume in the nearest rubbish bin. Someone finds it and takes it to the Bugle.
"Meanwhile, a portly gang leader by the name of The Kingpin decides that without Spider-Man to interfere, it's a great time to 'take over all of the gangs in New York'. This isn't the first time we've hears [sic] this, and it sure wasn't the last. Foswell (a reporter from the Bugle) is finding out about all this in his disguise as "Patch", a common hood.
"Peter is throwing himself back into his social life, but discovers that maybe he wasn't missing much. Old habits die hard, and he risks his secret identity to foil a robbery without his costume. Yeah, Spider-Man can't kick the habit, and he breaks into The Bugle to retrieve his costume. Welcome back Web-Slinger!"
We didn't give web ratings to "Looking Back" issues back then but I suspect J's rating would be the same as mine. Five webs. It's one of the best Spidey issues of all time.
Next: Don't tell me you forgot what I said in the "More Marvel Masterpieces" section? Marvel Tales #9 is next.