It’s time once again for All Amazing! The series in which I read and review every issue of Marvel’s flagship comic, The Amazing Spider-Man. Today we reach Issue 4, and the introduction of The Sandman… and Peter Parker’s failed love-life.
The Amazing Spider-Man – Issue 4 – Review
Something that keeps cropping up in these early issues of Amazing Spider-Man is Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s impeccable sense of what the character is all about, and what his weaknesses are. We’re only in the fourth issue and already they’ve been adept at writing characters and scenarios that seem perfectly designed to match this particular hero. You might think that’s what writers are supposed to do, but comics prior to Marvel in the 60s were often about indistinguishable god-like heroes who fought, and surpassed, whatever foe happened to be trendy that week. Spider-Man is so different right from the start in that each foe he faces challenges him and forces him to confront his own limitations. It’s refreshing and gives the series a weird sort of Smallville vibe. I know it’s easy to say this in retrospect, but the series feels written like a good prequel. We find Spider-Man unformed and learning, incomplete. It’s a joy to read. In this issue we meet another new villain, and he works because Spidey’s powers really offer him little advantage in a fight.
Before that however, the book continues to remind us how much of a comedy it is with a really quite funny opening. After stopping a heist before the goons have managed to break the glass, both Spider-Man and the crooks realise he can’t actually apprehend them because they haven’t committed a crime yet. While he’s manhandling them, they start to cry assault until New York’s finest arrive and Spidey has to scarper. After getting all stroppy about it, he decides to blame J. Jonah Jameson for nobody in the city respecting him and, I swear to god, goes to his office to leave a “deposit” on Jameson’s office chair.
Now, the deposit turns out to be webbing, but I don’t believe for a second Stan Lee didn’t know what he was writing here. Just read this.
While still feeling a bit sulky about things, and doubly miserable because he has to sew the holes in his own costume, word gets out that the dangerous bank robber, The Sandman, has arrived in New York. Spidey makes plans to track him down after school, and blows off a girl way out of his league to do it. (Sometimes you wonder if Parker doesn’t bring these problems on himself really.) It’s a waste of time though because while on the run from his latest heist, The Sandman conveniently runs into Peter’s school to hide. Pete ducks away to change, and Spider-Man emerges to save the day.
So far I think this is the first time a fight has taken place on the school ground, in front of his peers. It’s a scene we’d see play out in so many versions of Spider-Man, but it’s a natural fit for the character. The bullies who taunt the nerd, unaware they’re watching the same guy kick-ass and cheering him on. It’s real underdog porn right there, and on behalf of all underdogs, it’s always appreciated. Still, Spider-Man isn’t having the best time. Sandman is pretty brutal, he can be powder when he needs to be, and solid as a rock the next moment. Peter’s webbing is useless, and at one point he resorts to trying to use a woodwork drill on him. Suffice to say it doesn’t really go so well.
The fight is actually really solid. It takes up a big chunk of the book, and more than once Spidey takes a pretty brutal hit. Of all the fights we’ve seen him in so far, this is one of the most tough and you feel it. It’s weird to think that a minor goon like Sandman would be so effective in his first appearance, but it’s honestly my favourite action sequence in the series so far… until the end. The end sucks.
No, he just sucks him up in a little vacuum cleaner.
The ending is also a bittersweet victory for Peter. After washing the crap out of his slacks, Jameson turns up at the school and promises to buy Parker’s photos sight unseen; Parker has the evening free and money in his pocket, but his date now thinks he’s a coward who spent the day hiding under the desk. Not for the last time, Peter Parker ends a fight feeling like he was punished for doing the right thing.
This is a simple but solid issue; all the Spider-cliches are here, but it’s just so well done. The villain is genuinely threatening, Peter’s humiliation is similarly well communicated. There’s a moment after the whole class publicly humiliates him for his assumed cowardice, he turns to Flash, and threatens him. He’s the good guy, of course, so he holds back and reminds himself that Spider-Man can’t just go thrashing teenagers, (even if he’s just a teen himself) but the look on his face as he realises he has to back down and double humiliate himself is pretty sad.
This issue shows why the series deserved to become the hit it did!