In the Bullpen Bulletins printed in Amazing Spider-Man #38, July 1966, Stan informed us that "By the time your sparkling little eyes can devour these wondrous words, Lancer Books, one of America's top paperback book publishers, will be featuring two of our Marvel-ous characters - in paperback book form!... One book features the Fantastic Four and the other, Spider-Man! How about THAT!" The Fantastic Four book need not concern us but the Spider-Man book... well, that's what we're here for, isn't it?
Officially called "The Amazing Spider-Man Collector's Album", the book (marked as Lancer Books 72-112 and designated as #2 on the spine... since the FF book is #1) is standard paperback size, which is a terrible thing to do to a comic book story. Across the top of the front cover is a black border containing a quote from the New York Herald Tribune about Spidey: "He's hip!! Greatest of that new, groovy breed of... 'Super Heroes with Super Problems'" Yes, that's right. There was once a time when writers for newspapers actually used words like "groovy". On the bottom left of the cover is a little text that gives you an idea of what to expect inside: "His origin... His exploits... His enemies plus Never-Revealed Secrets." Hmmm. Okay, yes, his origin is in here but it's a sadly truncated version NOT from Amazing Fantasy #15, August 1962. We'll get to that. There are definitely exploits in here and enemies... but not really the enemies you'd expect. As for this "Never-Revealed Secrets" bit? Well, no. Not a thing in this whole book is "Never-Revealed". Know how I know? Because every illustration in this entire book is reprinted from somewhere else including the front cover which is simply the Spidey figure from the cover of ASM #8, January 1964 superimposed over some cheesy yellow- green psychedelic swirl effect. Let's venture inside.
Open the cover to the first page. Recognize this? That's right. It's the drawing of Spidey from the splash page of ASM #1, March 1963 complete with the text right below him. Only instead of the original, "Sure, you've read many stories about many different magazine heroes! But there's never been a story like this one. Because there's never been a hero like Spiderman!", the Lancer folks changed it to "But never stories like this". Apparently someone there thought enough of the project to reflect the fact that there are multiple stories in the book when the original referred only to its initial story. But apparently no one thought enough of the project to keep Spidey's web in his left hand, so there he is suspended in the air, looking like a dork hanging onto nothing. And, oh yeah, he's in black and white. Did I mention that the whole book is in black and white?
Next comes the title page. On the left is the drawing of Spider-Man used on the t-shirt first offered in ASM #27, August 1965 and offered often enough at the time for every reader to have it memorized. (Plus a bunch of them were probably wearing it.) The credits are listed as: "Written by Stan Lee, Master of the Spoken Word. Illustrated by Steve Ditko, Dean of Dramatic Drawings." This is probably also a lift from an earlier credit listing but I'm not curious enough to go looking for it. If anyone wants to track it down and tell me about it, I'll add it here and credit you for it.
Turn the page again and... what the heck? The first story is beginning and there are four things wrong with it. First, it's in black and white. (Did I mention it's all in black and white?) Second, it's "Duel with Daredevil" from ASM #16, September 1964. Thirty-some issues to choose from. Stories with Doc Ock, the Green Goblin, the Sandman, the Enforcers, Kraven the Hunter, the Molten Man and we get the Ringmaster and his Circus of Crime? A story with more Daredevil supporting characters than Spidey supporting characters. What's up with that? Third, the page is nothing more than the title logo clipped out of the splash page. The rest of the splash page is nowhere to be found. Fourth, the entire thing is FREAKING SIDEWAYS!!!! Yeah, that's right. You have to turn the book on its side in order to read the story.
But once you get used to having no more than three panels per page and having to turn the page by lifting it up, it's not so bad. And the whole story is there, uncut, until page 66, which reprints the first two panels of the last page of the story, jumps to page 67, which reprints panels 6-8. What's on panels 3-5? Well, Karen Page, Foggy Nelson, and Matt Murdock are leaving the circus. Karen and Foggy suddenly realize Matt is gone. They are worried about a blind man being lost in the crowd but Matt has gone over to the Ringmaster as he is carted away by the police and offered his card for legal services. "Aw, get lost!" says the Ringmaster. Foggy and Karen find Matt and tell him they were worried. "I'm okay, Karen," says Matt. "I was just, eh, trying to drum up some business!" I'm not sure why these three panels were omitted out of all of the panels in this story except that, perhaps, the Lancer folks decided that they had nothing to do with Spider-Man. But that's what you get when you select the least Spidey-oriented story of Ditko's run.
Now that the first story is out of the way, it's time to ask, "Who is this amazing teen-ager? Here's... the origin of Spider-Man". This text on page 68 is positioned next to a head shot of one of those half-Peter/half-Spidey mask drawings that Ditko often used to do; a drawing originally published in the Secrets of Spider-Man section of Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1, 1964, specifically at the top of page eight of that section, illustrating "Spidey's Spider Senses". (Just as with the webbing on the artwork taken from ASM #1, the spider-sense lines emanating from Peter/Spidey's head have been eliminated.)
So, now it's time to settle in for the origin of Spider-Man except that, here, it's only four pages long and it's definitely not from AF #15. Instead, it is a cobbling together of two sources. The first two pages, briefly describing the irradiating of the spider and the bite that Peter gets from it, are from that Secrets of Spider-Man section of ASM Annual #1 again; specifically page 2, panels 1-4 of that feature. The second two pages, briefly mentioning the Burglar and Uncle Ben's death are a recap from ASM #1; page 2, panels 1-5. It's almost as if Lancer had no use for the origin thing and just wanted to get it out of the way and then thought, "But, just in case we glossed over it too fast, maybe we'd better throw in the Burglar pin-up out of the 'Gallery of Spider-Man's Famous Foes' from page 42 of ASM Annual #1." Whatever the actual thinking, that's just what they did. Gotten used to reading your book sideways? You'll have to turn it back to read the pin-up, which is much as it appeared in that issue except that it's in black and white (did I mention that the whole book is in black and white?) and omits the line "First Appeared in AF #15, Aug" as if Lancer is afraid to remind people that they didn't use the actual pages from that issue.
Turn the page. Turn the book sideways again. And we pick up where the origin part left off. In other words, we go from the recap reprinted from ASM #1, page 2, panels 1-5 to the story itself as we pick up with page 2 panels 6-7, with Aunt May begging the landlord for a little more time to pay the rent and Pete realizing he needs to make some money. We go through the bit about Spidey going back to perform but being unable to cash any check made out to Spider-Man. Then we get up to J. Jonah Jameson labeling the web-slinger as a bad egg which forces the cancellation of all future shows. Two panels from page 5 (3-4) are skipped as superfluous, most likely. They show JJJ on his lecture tour rant against Spider-Man saying, "Children may try to imitate his fantastic feats! Think what would happen if they make a hero out of this lawless, inhuman monster! We must not permit it! I say that Spiderman must be outlawed! There is no place for such a dangerous creature in our fair city!" Back we go to the story with page 5, panel 5 as JJJ touts his astronaut son as a true role model and we're fine for a couple of pages as Pete sees Aunt May pawn her jewelry and takes his frustrations out on a brick wall.
Page 86 of the book is an odd little reprint of page 7 panel 1 of the original. In ASM #1, this is the start of part two of the story but Lancer wipes out the heading "Spider-Man" and the blue circle that says "Part 2". (Not that you'd be able to notice the blue if they did leave it because the book is in black and white.) For some reason all this shortening and re-sizing leaves a panel too small for the page so Lancer leaves a chunk of white space to the left of it. You don't have to have read the original to notice that something funny is going on here.
The story continues right along, uncut, with John Jameson's space capsule going out of control and Spidey hitching a ride on a jet to save it. But then we come up to one of those pesky big panels with "Spider-Man" along the top and "Part Three" (this time) in a yellow circle. The panel shows Spidey hanging onto the front of the capsule, fitting the needed 24-3B Guidance Unit in and saying, "What a lucky break! It fit in place as smooth as silk!". Well, we don't need that, do we? So that whole panel gets cut. But that's the extent of it. The rest of the story with Spidey expecting to be a hero and becoming a wanted man instead is all there. (But sideways and in black and white, of course.)
Now it's time to turn the book upright again as we get eight pages reprinted from the "Secrets of Spider-Man" section of ASM Annual #1. It starts with the page one splash from that feature but then jumps to page 4, panel 2 to show Spidey's leaping ability. Now it's time to turn the book sideways again as we jump backwards to page 3, panel 1 with Spidey lifting a big barbell, showing off his strength to Thor, the Hulk and the Thing. Now it's time to turn the book rightside-up again as we jump ahead to page 4, panel 3 and watch Spidey balance on a wire with one finger. Now it's time to turn the book sideways again as we jump backwards again to page 3, panels 2-3 to see Spidey climbing up a wall "as though [his hands and feet] have thousands of tiny suction cups". (Maybe all this jumping around is intended to make it seem like these familiar reprinted pages have never been seen before.) Now we can relax for three pages as we stay sideways and move up to page 6, panels 1-6 to see Spidey invent and use his amazing webbing.
Next up is a reprint of the Mysterio story from ASM #13, June 1964 and this time the splash page is considered necessary to the story so it isn't obliterated like the ASM #16 one. Still, to fit it all in, it requires turning the book upright once again. And after you read that page, don't forget to turn the book back sideways. You remember this story. Mysterio disguises himself as Spider-Man and commits crimes causing Peter to wonder if he's doing it in his sleep without knowing it. At this point, the Lancer book drops the first six panels from page 4 of the original story in which Peter is so nervous that he drops a dish and Aunt May thinks that Peter is worried about money. Peter lies awake at night worrying that he may be a split-personality but eventually falls asleep only to wake up and hear on the radio that Spider- Man has committed another crime. He puts his Spidey suit on and wonders if he's losing his mind. The book picks up at that point with Spider-Man visiting a psychiatrist. A whole six-panel sequence from page 7 is dropped because it deals with Liz Allan's pursuit of Peter and her disdain for Flash Thompson. The Lancer book has no time for subplots. It heads right into the appearance of Mysterio. From there it moves along from Mysterio appearing to J. Jonah Jameson to the challenge to Spider-Man to the fight atop the Brooklyn Bridge. But after Spidey dives into the East River to escape, the book leaves out page 12, panels 3 and 4, in which a police helicopter tries to dredge Spidey out of the water and the wall-crawler decides, "If I don't move fast, I'll be caught!" Peter manages to get away and the city gives Mysterio a parade but the Lancer book isn't interested in page 13, panels 2 and 3 in which Flash Thompson pooh-poohs Mysterio and then warns Peter to stay away from Liz Allan. "She's my girl friend!" he says. (This requires the fanciest patch-up in the book as panel 1 and 4 are placed together on the same page pretending they were side-by-side all the time. And, honestly, if you didn't know, you'd never notice the difference.)
But that's the grand finale of story cuts. The rest of the tale from Spidey clobbering Mysterio to getting him to confess to impersonating the web-slinger to JJJ in agony over his support of Mysterio to JJJ's joy over Peter Parker's pictures is all here, though sideways and in black and white. And, because this book never gets tired of reprinting little features from ASM Annual #1, it wraps up with the Guest Star Page from page 69 and the Spidey pin-up from page 65 of that annual. (And you have to turn the book rightside-up to appreciate them.).
The penultimate page features an ad for Marvel comics. "Don't Live in a Cultured Wasteland!" it says along the top. (Which should probably be a "Cultural Wasteland.") "Latch on to these super-hero spectaculars today!" it says along the bottom. In between are the logos of the various Marvel books of the time along with a drawing of the Hulk taking a leap and saying, "Make Mine Marvel!"
The last page advertises the Fantastic Four Lancer book. "The campus craze that's sweeping the nation: 'Cool heroes... Cool villains... Cool plots... Cool adventures... Comic book reading is in!' Their greatest adventures plus never revealed secrets." Believe me, there are no "never revealed secrets" in that book either.
Let's finish by quoting the back cover in its entirety: "Here's the teenage super hero Esquire called one of the '28 people who count' on campus! 'The most popular Marvel hero... is the maladjusted adolescent Spider-Man, the only overtly neurotic super hero... Spider-Man has a terrible identity problem, a marked inferiority complex, and a fear of women. He is anti-social, racked with Oedipal guilt, and accident prone. Spider-Man began life as Peter Parker, a brilliant science student at Queens High School... Then he got bitten by a radioactive spider and took on the spider's climbing, jumping, and web-shooting powers... Ill luck has pursued him ever since. His shyness led him to adopt a cocky manner which so alienated the other super heroes that none of them will have anything to do with him... Spider-Man is the super anti-hero of our time.' -The Village Voice. 'If Charlie Brown wore a skin-tight costume and fought crime, he would be Spider-Man' -The Colgate Maroon." I'm not sure I agree with either one of those quotes and the details are a little bit wobbly but they're great copy anyway, aren't they?
So how do you judge something like this? It's black and white, it uses stories that are far from Spidey's best (and it edits them, too!), it makes a hash of the origin story, it's got too many of these special features from ASM Annual #1, it only has a few panels on each page, and you have to turn it sideways to boot! If I was reading it at the time, I couldn't give it more than one web. But looking at it today, it is a wonderful novelty and it's got those great sixties quotes on it using words like "groovy" and phrases like "the only overtly neurotic super hero". I've tried to base my ratings on what it would be like to read the issues at the time but, in this case, we're dealing with such a cool little collectible that I have to raise my rating.
At last! The Green Goblin revealed! It's ASM #39 next!