Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1

Background

The cover date of this issue is July but I can tell you from personal experience that it was out by April 14 because that was the day Easter occurred in 1968. I was just shy of 11 years old. My three sisters and I had an Easter tradition. We would dye eggs the night before and place them in our Easter baskets, settled in amongst the green plastic shreds known as Easter grass. We put our baskets in a row, up against a wall in the living room, and then we went to bed. In the morning, the eggs would be gone, having been hidden around the house by the Easter Bunny who would leave chocolate bunnies and other candies in their stead. But that particular Easter, I had something else in my Easter basket, something that was propped up against the wall, dominating the basket landscape. It was a copy of Spectacular Spider-Man #1. I don’t remember any other details. I don’t remember being sucked in by the relentless hype in other Marvels. I don’t remember asking for it, though I must have or my parents probably wouldn’t have bought it. I don’t even really remember reading it; just a vague recollection of the giant smashing his way through the billboard. But I remember that moment of coming downstairs and seeing it perched in my Easter basket. That is as vivid as if it happened yesterday and it is a treasured memory of how cherished the holidays were when I was a kid.

Story 'Lo, This Monster'

We went through the hype leading up to this issue in our review of ASM #62, July 1968. “Precedent-shattering.” “Represents an entirely new concept in superhero presentation!” “Possibly Marvel’s finest achievement to date!” “Possibly the greatest superhero mag Marvel has ever produced!” “Not only the largest magazine of its type in all the world, but a treasured work of art you’ll be proud to call your own!” And if that isn’t enough… “The Greatest Event in the History of Comic Magazines!” Whew! It certainly looked like a work of art standing up in my Easter basket. The cover is simple yet stands out as something different. It shows Spidey crawling along on what must be a ledge rather than a wall if the angle of the cars below can be believed. There is a spotlight shining down on him. From where? Who cares! It seems to make his whole figure glow. What’s the secret of this cover that makes it look so different from all the covers of the Amazing Spider-Man? Although it’s based on a drawing by John Romita, it is actually a painting by Harry Rosenbaum, who was an artist for the pulps. The logo was clean and simple with no webs as opposed to the ASM logo, and contained in a white box. And the price! 35 cents! (40 in Canada!) That had to make it something special, didn’t it? The cover blurb was small and subdued, nestled into the lower right corner. “Lo, This Monster! A Book-Length Super Spidey Spectacular!” No more need be said.

Still don’t get the feeling that this is something different? Then how about the ad on the inside front cover for “We’re Only In It For the Money,” the latest album from Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention? How about the ad for Kawasaki motorcycles on the inside back cover? Or the ad for Jade East Golden Lime aftershave on the back cover? Plus, no ads on the inside! A greytone credit page with panels selected from the story (for “Lo, This Monster!” page 4 panel 4, page 31 panel 5 and page 51 panel 1; for “The Origin of Spider-Man,” page 62 panel 4), not to mention a black and white thumbnail of the cover with art credits, just like a real magazine. In fact the whole thing is in black and white, except for the cover! None of that feels like a comic book! But the story…well, the story kind of feels like a comic book.

Okay, now here’s the thing. Approximately four and a half years after this “treasured work of art” came out, it was apparently forgotten enough that Gerry Conway had no qualms about retelling it in three parts starting in Amazing Spider-Man #116, January 1973. Many years ago, I put together a full review of the story, comparing the original version with the extended and modified reworking. Yes, I know it’s usual to tell the story in the original and not the redo, but trust us, it works better this way. Just click on through to Amazing Spider-Man #116 to start. And if you only want to read this version of the story, that’s okay. Just read the black type and ignore the red.

General Comments

All finished? Here's the

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

  1. First appearance of motorcycle, aftershave and Mothers of Invention ads in a Marvel comic.
  2. First Spidey appearance (in the USA) in black and white. (The next is probably January 3, 1977, the first daily newspaper strip: Spider-Man Newspaper Strip: 3 Jan 1977 - 27 Feb 1977.)
  3. First 50+ page Spidey story uninterrupted by ads. The next is Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #2, November 1968.
  4. Spidey tells us what his spider-sense does for the benefit of new readers.
  5. First appearances of the giant and Richard Raleigh. They next appear in ASM #116, which becomes their first appearances.
  6. First appearance of Thaxton. He next appears in ASM #117 which becomes his first appearance.
  7. Peter stops wearing the Raleigh campaign button given to him by Mary Jane almost immediately.
  8. Raleigh can't be bothered to come to his own rally.
  9. The schematic of the monster looks like the early versions of the Cybermen in Dr. Who.
  10. First appearance of Professor Warren since ASM #53, October 1967. He's next in ASM #63, coming right up.
  11. Raleigh defeated because his dang billboards are everywhere.
  12. Raleigh, the monster, and Thaxton all die only to rise up again when the story is retold, beginning in ASM #116
  13. The monster and Thaxton do both die, right? It's never really said one way or the other.
  14. Only story in the Stan Lee era that was retconned out of continuity. There have been others since. (I'm looking at you, Spider-Man: Chapter One).

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

The Spectacular Spider-Man B/W Romita-Lieber-Mooney-Everett/Lee/Rosen/52 pages.

"Lo This Monster" - A crooked politician makes use of a chemical "Frankenstein."

There you have it. A 52 page story reduced down to 9 words. Oh, and I believe it is only Romita and Mooney who should get art credit here. Lieber and Everett worked on the second story.

Overall Rating

It's difficult to judge this issue on its own these days, what with ASM #116-118 staring you in the face. Because of Gerry Conway's changes in those issues, it's easy to second guess Stan in this issue. Is it a mistake to make Raleigh so crazed right from the start? Should Stan have held off the reveal that Raleigh is the villain? Should the scene when Peter webs up the light fixture be longer and more suspenseful? Should the monster get more "screen" time, like the scene in ASM #118 where he smashes the Raleigh van?

In the end, these comparisons are unfair. Gerry had Stan's script to improve upon and he had three issues of the regular comic in which to do it. Stan had to hold your interest through 52 pages in black and white while telling a story that, while simplistic, tackled dirty politics and the hidden faces of politicians. A story in which Stan is trying to bring in more adult readers even as he still entertains the younger ones. And he gives us an exciting tale that moves along so easily, the 52 pages seem to go by in an instant.

The Romita-Leiber-Mooney-Everett art is smooth and looks great in black and white, even if it turns Mary Jane into a brunette.

Is it "The Greatest Event in the History of Comic Magazines?" Well, no. But it's pretty darn good and its very existence makes it a milestone in the history of super-hero comic books.

Four webs.

Footnote

There is another story in this issue. A ten page retelling of Spider-Man's origin. It's Spectacular Spider-Man Magazine #1 (Story 2) and it's next.