Jan 2, 2019

Spider-Rama: Amazing Fantasy #15

Welcome to Spider-Rama! Each Wednesday, Ben and Duy will look at a Spider-Man issue from the very beginning, in chronological order, and answer questions for various categories, inspired in large part by one of our favorite podcasts, The Rewatchables by The Ringer. Our goal is to make it to Amazing Spider-Man #200. Will we make it? Grab your Amazing Spider-Man Omnibus or crank up your tablet to Marvel Unlimited, and then tune in every Wednesday to find out!

AMAZING FANTASY #15
by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

We begin at the beginning.  A radioactive spider bite gives bookworm Peter Parker fantastic spider powers. He uses those powers to become a television star, but when a burglar he lets go later murders his uncle, he learns that with great power must come great responsibility.



POINTLESS TRIVIA

BEN: This marks the first appearance of Peter Parker, Uncle Ben, Aunt May, Flash Thompson, and Liz Allen.

DUY: Peter Parker sneaking out the window to chase the burglar will eventually be revealed to have been seen by Mary Jane Watson, who may or may not be the love of his life, who is living next door. Also, May and Ben are the name of another elderly couple Steve Ditko drew in the 50s, who adopted a mermaid, so I like to think Spider-Man has an adopted mermaid cousin.

FAVORITE PANEL

DUY: It has to be the one where he discovers who the burglar is....

Very cool.

DUY: ...unless it's the printing with the eyes, in which case I hate it.

Significantly less cool.

DUY: ...so... probably the last one? "With great power must come great responsibility."



BEN: Ditko still hadn’t perfected his Spider-Man yet, so I’ll go with this.



WHAT'S AGED THE BEST?

BEN: I think him using his powers to gain fame and fortune absolutely makes even more sense in today’s society.

DUY: Someone asked me the other day why they chose a red and blue costume for Spider-Man when spiders aren't red and blue (which is untrue, a bunch of them are). I keep going back to, he's an entertainer, so it makes sense. And another friend of mine said that someone should create a superhero where the first instinct is to use that power for money, and I basically responded with "That's just Spider-Man. You just described Spider-Man." So that definitely has aged well.

BEN: The costume is definitely on the list too.

DUY: I have to wonder, looking at that cover... is the costume actually supposed to be red and black?

BEN: It’s my understanding it always was red and black, with the standard blue highlights comic colorists always used to create definition.

DUY: Comic coloring is fascinating. Erik Larsen posted this a while back. Dark blue with black shade is basically colored the same as black with blue highlights.



DUY: Another thing that's aged the best is that cover. It's the right cover to have gone with.

BEN: Which is amazing (pun intended) since Kirby was so very bad at drawing Spider-Man.

DUY: I like Ditko's alternate cover, which was eventually used for Amazing Spider-Man #700 as a variant, but it's more fitting for a splash page than a cover.



WHAT'S AGED THE WORST?

BEN: Obviously, radioactivity will give you cancer, not superpowers.

DUY: I think what's aged the worst otherwise is Aunt May in general. He's a teenager and it looks like she's close to 90. Is there just a giant age gap between her and Richard and Mary Parker?

BEN: She is the most frail human being that ever lived.

DUY: Racebending is always controversial and there's some backlash against Spider-Man: Homecoming when they racebent so many people, but can you imagine the first page of this comic being set in a New York City public high school in 2018?



BEN: Maybe in a universe where Hitler won.

NITPICKS

BEN: Obviously, it’s a pretty big stretch that the burglar just so happens to perform a home invasion on the Parker household. It’s a flaw that the comics have later tried to justify, along with every adaptation of the character since.

DUY: My big nitpick is that him discovering the burglar has printings, still, where the eyes are shown, and I just think it's dumb-looking. It ruins probably the most powerful panel for me.

BEN: Also, a teenager creating a completely unique polymer in his room is a bit unlikely, but if we’re to assume he’s a genius on the level of Tony Stark, not impossible.

DUY: We were playing the Spider-Man PS4 game and my brother asked, "What's your take on this, the fact that he has a suit and it now does a bunch of the work?" And I still prefer the take where he does a lot of work that's physical and the suit is really just cloth. But given who he is and the fact that he created webbing when he was 15, it's a wonder it took this long.

BEN: I guess we haven’t really considered his webshooters and tracers as tech, but they definitely are. It’s because that aspect hadn’t evolved much until Slott made it a primary focus.

DUY: It was a minor plot point in the Clone Saga. How come Ben Reilly was able to invent impact webs and stingers? I think they explained it as Peter just got caught up in life too much to develop anything new.

BEN: We’ll get to Ben in year 8 of this.

DUY: Year 4, really.


WHO WON THE COMIC?

DUY: If you believe Stan Lee's story that Martin Goodman didn't want to publish a teenage superhero because teenagers are sidekicks, or that no one likes spiders, and that's why this is in the last issue of a low-selling comic, then Stan Lee won the comic. Other than that, it's definitely Marvel in general, because this guy would eventually end up as their flagship.

BEN: I was going to say Stan as well. The argument about how much he deserves the credit aside, it is the hero he’s most associated with, and became Marvel’s flagship character. You could argue there is a universe where Marvel eventually fades away, even with the success of Thor and the Fantastic Four, if Spider-Man was never created.

BEN: Another big winner was teenage angst. Stan and Steve created an entirely different kind of hero, or at minimum popularized it. There is no CW network without Spider-Man.

DUY: It's hard to imagine even just Buffy the Vampire Slayer existing without Spider-Man, and without Buffy, TV and movies are so different.

BEN: Even just a hero that isn’t perfect, or is hated by the public, Spider-Man really was a radical creation on multiple levels. It’s hard to conceptualize now, but every flawed protagonist in fiction since owes a debt to Spider-Man. It’s been said before, but in only 11 pages, Stan and Ditko created one of the most popular fictional characters ever, one of the best (if not the best) comic book origins ever, and a multi-billion dollar franchise that reaches across every multimedia platform we have. 11 pages and we get Peter Parker’s worldview, the importance of his uncle, how he gets powers, how he misuses them, and his motivation for becoming a hero. 11 pages!

DUY: I think also among all the iconic superhero origins, this is at least the best story. It's nice that Superman and Captain America are legitimately good people, and it's tragic that Batman's parents were gunned down in front of him. But Spider-Man's origin story essentially starts off the way a supervillain origin would start — all the way until he catches the killer. Even after Ben dies, the period in between, he's just out for revenge, not about bringing the killer to justice. It could have ended at the random killing of Uncle Ben, and that motivates him, like Batman, but the twist that he could have prevented it is one of the best twists in fiction. Is it in fact the last great superhero origin? It kind of seems like no one has matched it since, in terms of having a character arc and being iconic.

BEN: Even Stan was tired of coming up with new origins by the time of the X-Men.

DUY: It even seems like every superhero origin since whose Earth-based has followed this template.

BEN: By the 90s they had resorted to “teenager finds object that gives them powers.”

DUY: The thing is that if you read a bunch of those Amazing Fantasy issues, which Stan and Steve worked on a lot, the twist ending actually was the standard for that title. It was like The Twilight Zone in that sense. Which makes me wonder, What If this origin had been created for any title other than Amazing Fantasy? I wonder if they'd still have written it with the twist in mind.

BEN: Thematic happenstance.

DUY: In the main series, as we'll see, it even takes them a long while before they even mention that he's indirectly responsible for his uncle dying. Speaking of, the lesson is usually misquoted as "With great power comes great responsibility," but  "With great power must come great responsibility" is the exact phrasing. Does the use of the word "must" change the implication of the sentiment?

BEN: It adds an extra layer of requirement between the two.

STAN LEE AND STEVE DITKO

DUY: 2018 was the year that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko passed away. Let's talk about what they and their greatest creation mean to us personally.

BEN: Spider-Man has been my favorite comic book character since I was eight years old. Everything about him, from his sense of humor to his costume to his indomitable spirit, make him a character that will live on for as long as the human race exists. I’m not going to claim to be inspired by his responsibility or how he never quits, but he’s provided me with escapism and joy, sometimes when I really needed it. I will forever be grateful to Stan and Steve for that.

DUY: I'm not even sure I'm not inspired by his sense of responsibility. He's so ingrained in me that I might get it from him as much as I get it from anyone or anything else.

BEN: As much as I don’t enjoy them now, the first Raimi Spider-Man movie was truly inspiring. It prompted me to return to reading comics, where I discovered Ultimate Spider-Man, a great reinvention of those original Stan and Steve comics. It’s a testament to what they created that it can be adapted and reinterpreted by an untold amount of creative people across every type of media that exists.

DUY: Spider-Man means so much to me just because of his constant presence in my life. Even when I wasn't collecting comics, I started buying the Infinity Gauntlet for Spider-Man. And then I eventually had reprints of Stan and Steve's stuff that seemed so crude for a young reader growing up when I did, but I couldn't stop reading them. They were magnetic, inspirational in their rawness.

BEN: As a kid, my grandmother (who I was very close to) lived near my comic book shop. So I’d stop by to visit on my bike ride there or bike ride back. I’d watch episodes of the 60s cartoon and she’d overpay me for doing chores so I could buy more comics. I remember running back to her apartment so excited because my shop finally had a copy of Amazing Spider-Man #121 and 122. I must have been so frantic that she actually came to the store with me to buy me both comics. Spider-Man indirectly brought me and my grandmother closer together. I may have had selfish motivations as a part of that, but I’m sure she didn’t mind.

DUY: We can't mention both of their history without mentioning Jack Kirby, but I do think I love Ditko just a bit more than Jack. His sense of motion and his overall weirdness was just more appealing to me. And Stan is the greatest hypeman and probably the greatest editor I've ever encountered. Anyone who thinks he did nothing is looking too hard at just the writing, and forgetting everything else that came with that. Stan was the face and the voice of Marvel. I will never read Marvel narration with a voice other than his, the most jovial uncle voice available.

BEN: My relationship to fiction is different than a lot of people, I think. I’m not consciously inspired by characters or live my life based on their heroic example. I don’t really relate to characters usually. It’s purely enjoyment for me. What I do cherish are the memories I have of pursuing my entertainment needs. My memories with my grandmother that I mentioned before. Reading Amazing Spider-Man #700 while deployed to Afghanistan. My wife’s enthusiasm and love for Ant-Man. It’s the connections I’ve made around storytelling, that I remember more than the stories themselves. So for me it’s about the experience of a story, and how I’ve used that to connect with the world around me. That’s no small thing to an omnivert like myself. And I’m thankful for people like Stan and Steve for giving me that connection to make.

DUY: That's it for Spider-Rama this week.

BEN: Thank you, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko—

DUY: —for telling us we aren't the only ones.

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