Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1

Background

At this point, everybody in the world knows Spider-Man’s origin story, don’t they? That wasn’t true in 1968. The kids and the regular readers were well familiar with it but not the general public. Since Stan was trying to get an adult magazine audience interested in the character with Spectacular Spider-Man #1, it was only natural that he include a version of the origin for those prospective new readers. It was ten pages, it followed the 52 page “Lo, This Monster” story, it was in black and white like the lead story, it was penciled by Larry Leiber and inked by Bill Everett (an unusual combination), and here it is.

Story 'In the Beginning...'

The title is Biblical, perhaps because it's an easy title for an origin or perhaps because Stan is trying to elevate Spidey to a more significant status. The opening caption seems to want to continue this high-blown conceit. It also doesn't hide anything about Stan's motives for including this story. “For ye who be new to the hallowed ranks of Spiderdom, we do hereby recreate in all its brain-blasting glory…the many splendored Origin of Spidey! (Newly updated, natch!)” Let’s find out just how updated it is.

The story begins in the cemetery where Uncle Ben is being laid to rest. The only attendees are Peter, Aunt May, and a minister. (Surely Uncle Ben had some friends.) It is raining and the minister and Peter both hold umbrellas with Peter holding his over both himself and May. There is a spider-signal image overlaid on the sky as Peter thinks about how he was the one who killed his Uncle.

The threesome heads for the gates of the cemetery as Peter thinks back to “that fateful day in the school science lab.” Ulp! There’s your first change right there. In Amazing Fantasy #15, September 1962, the demonstration is at the “Science Hall.” The machine that creates the radioactive rays looks about the same and, as before, a spider gets stuck in the middle and then bites Peter. “A split-second later, all life has ebbed from the still-glowing arachnid’s body – but, it had lived long enough to affect the countless corpuscles in the bloodstream of Peter Parker.” A bit more dramatic than the original “Accidentally absorbing a fantastic amount of radioactivity, the dying insect, in sudden shock, bites the nearest living thing, at the split second before life ebbs from its radioactive body!” At least, Stan has figured out that the spider is not an “insect” but an “arachnid” in the subsequent 6 years.

In this version, there are no smug scientists smirking at the rattled Peter Parker. But there is a new scene before Peter encounters the speeding car. Peter walks along the sidewalk, so wrapped up in his own thoughts that he doesn’t notice two toughs hanging around a lamppost. (We know they’re toughs because they are looking over the Racing Form.) He bumps into one of them and the tough responds by calling him a “four-eyed foul-up” and punching him in the jaw. But Peter discovers that he “hardly felt it” and he responds by taking a swing at the tough. He misses but strikes the lamppost with a KRAK! And it’s not just any lamppost. It’s a steel lamppost. “I snapped it in two with one punch!”

The toughs run off and now the speeding car comes along. The caption is nearly the same in each version. Here it is, “So wrapped in his own puzzled thoughts is he, that Peter hardly hears the auto which narrowly misses him, as he unthinkingly leaps to safety! But, what a leap it is!” In AF #15, it’s “Wrapped in his thoughts, Peter doesn’t hear the auto which narrowly misses him, until the last instant! And then, unnoticed by the riders, he unthinkingly leaps to safety – but what a leap it is!” There is no conversation from the car as there is in the original. Also no kid who spots him as he scales the wall. This version imitates Ditko’s panels that show Peter crawling down a cable and show him in the background with a spider in its web in the foreground. In this one, since it’s 1968, Peter says, “It’s either a crazy psychedelic dream…” No psychedelics in the original.

In AF #15, Peter stumbles on the challenge to stay in the ring with Crusher Hogan just “a few minutes later.” No Crusher Hogan appears in our current story at all and no TV producer (who later is turned into his agent Maxie) who wants to sign him up. Instead we go right to Peter creating his web-shooters at home. In this version, he claims that it is his spider-power that allows him to “control it like a sharpshooter,” which I rather like. He’s got himself a costume and he decides to call himself Spider-Man. Then he heads out to “the nearest studio.” “I’ve just got to be the answer to Ed Sullivan’s prayers!” he says. (In the original, the TV producer says, “You’d be a smash on Ed Sullivan’s show.” Nice to know Ed was still in there pitching 6 years later.)

Now, Stan realizes that he’s rushing through the story so he gives us this caption: “Actually, the ‘Flowering of Spider-Man’ happened a bit slower than this, but forgive us, Faithful One – we’ve only a few pages left!” In “AF,” he gets a job on a TV show and has actually performed when the Burglar runs past. Here, he swings into the studio for the first time, just in time for the Burglar to run past him. The dialogue between Spidey and the cop is pretty much the same.

It is only after this confrontation that Spidey goes for his audition. We don’t see it. Instead, Stan tells us that “Naturally, Spidey’s TV debut is a smash!” In that debut, he stands on the side of a big globe and shoots webbing at the hands of a woman in a bikini who is up against a backdrop like the target of a knife thrower. She may be holding candles in each upraised hand for Spidey to extinguish but it’s hard to tell.

Instead of the series of newspaper headlines that we get in AF #15 to show that Spidey has been at it for a while, Stan simply tells us that “Spider-Man becomes a meteoric overnight sensation” and we get to the tragedy right away. Peter is walking home “from a public appearance” wondering if he should reveal his identity to Aunt May, when he sees a police car in front of the house. The cop tells Peter that his uncle has been murdered and the dialogue is, again, very similar to the original. Peter’s monologue as he changes into Spidey and swings across town to the Acme Warehouse is much the same too but we get an extra two panels of Spidey arriving and ripping the boards off a sealed-up window. Instead of showing us Spidey on the wall from the Burglar’s perspective as in AF #15, this version puts us up on the wall next to Spidey looking down at the Burglar, who looks very small down there.

In the original, the Burglar sees Spidey (“Huh?? What the - ???”) and tries to run, saying “Gotta get away! Gotta hide! I must be seein’ things!” But here, he says, “Up on the wall – who’s that?” Then after Spidey webs up his gun (and he must use liquid webbing here because the sound effect is SPLAT!), he says as he runs, “A guy who walks on walls – and shoots a web – like a spider! Lemme out of here!” So, apparently the Burglar doesn’t watch TV and he also doesn’t recognize Spidey as the guy he ran past. Last time, when Spidey punched the Burglar into unconsciousness, he said, “And then my fists will do the rest!” This time, he says, “This is for the man you killed!” which is much better.

Spidey’s monologue in the reveal (“It’s the fugitive who ran past me the other day!”) is much the same. This version skips the two panels with the police and the Burglar delivered to them on some webbing and jumps right to Peter saying, “It’s my fault – all my fault!” So ends the flashback. The penultimate panel is Peter in the rain on a dock. Somehow, caught up in his memories, he has ditched Aunt May and wandered back to the waterfront. In the original, it is Stan, in a caption who tells us “with great power there must also come – great responsibility!” (It’s not Uncle Ben who says it…that gets retconned later.) Here, it is Peter who says it. “Yes, Uncle Ben is dead! And, in a sense, it is really I who killed him! Because I didn’t realize in time that with great power there must also always be great responsibility! But, I know it now and so long as I live Spider-Man will never shirk his duty again!” The story finishes with a shot of Spidey swinging on a web as Stan tells us, “Thus, a legend is born – as a new name is added to the roster of those who make the world of fantasy the most exciting realm of all!” and ending with “The End…of the Beginning.”

The magazine ends with a full page “Next Issue” blurb that touts “the Re-Birth of the Green Goblin.” It’s “on sale July 9th – till then, keep thy webs untangled!” If you read the Background for the “Lo, This Monster” review, you know that this issue was out before April 14 of 1968. So, it’s a three month wait for the Goblin’s return. He’s still just flirting with us in the pages of ASM. (Speaking of which, there is a plug at the bottom of this page for those readers who have not followed the comic book. “Follow Spidey’s sensational exploits in full color each month in the Amazing Spider-Man…only 12 cents, wherever comic books are sold!”) Now, the game is up. But…three months! How can we stand the wait?

General Comments

Milestones (Landmark events that take place in this story.)

  1. First appearance of Spidey’s origin since the two page recap on pages 17-18 in ASM #50, July 1967. (Is it only the fourth overall, counting the little bit in ASM #1, March 1963? There’s got to be more than that, right?) Next is, I believe, ASM #94, March 1971. (I’m a little shaky on this. Correct me if I’m wrong!)
  2. First appearance of the two toughs that are reading the Racing Form. They are also back in ASM #94 but without the Racing Form and, in that issue, they know “Puny Parker” by name.
  3. Uncle Ben only gets one panel in this story.
  4. And only one line. “Is Peter studying again, May?”
  5. Ed Sullivan gets mentioned again.
  6. Peter gets to say the “with great power” line.
  7. The cat is let out of the bag about the Green Goblin’s return. How will we ever last the three months until that issue? 1968 seems so long!
  8. Not that there weren’t more important things going on than Spider-Man. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered ten days before I got this issue. I remember that well. And Bobby Kennedy was killed two months later, which broke my 11-year-old heart.

The 1969 Marvelmania International Spider-Man Portfolio checklist entry for this story: (Yes, there is one for this story too.)

Romita-Mooney/Lee/Rosen/10 pages.

“In the Beginning” – Recaps Spidey’s origin.

You expected more? Maybe getting the credits right? If you can believe the story itself, Larry Lieber did the pencils and Bill Everett did the inks.

Overall Rating

So, what can you say? It’s a ten-page redo of Spidey’s origin. Do you need it? Well, maybe you do if the Spectacular magazine is the first Spidey you’ve read but otherwise, no. Is it well done? Sure. Are the changes important? No. Is it an exciting read? I was more excited by the “Next Issue” reveal of the return of the Green Goblin. Does it even need its own review? Probably not but now that it has one, what rating should it get? How about three webs, straight down the middle.

Footnote

So “Lo, This Monster” was revamped in ASM #116-118. This story was a revamp of AF #15. How about some straight up reprints next time? Marvel Tales #15