All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #4: Review

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. 

J Jonah Jameson no Pants


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.

Enter Sandman.

 

 

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.

Spider-Man pranks jamesonNow, 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.

Spider-Man gets revenge on Jameson

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.

SpiderMan issue 4 panelsSo 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.

Spider-Man Sandman Battle


How does Spider-Man dominate Sandman? Soak him and turn him to mud? Melt him into glass? Disperse the sand in the air?

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!

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #3: Review

This is part 3 of my quest to read and review every issue of The Amazing Spider-Man from start to finish, the first two issues were hit and miss, but this time we’re introduced to a really famous foe.


The Amazing Spider-Man #3

In the first couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man, we’ve really seen Peter Parker take shape from a slightly goofy, classic nerd archetype to more of the wise-cracking, down trodden hero we’ve come to know and love. Issue 3 actually takes a lot of the ideas Stan Lee and Steve Ditko have been working through, and puts them together into the first really great book of the run. It’s probably as good as anything we’ll see for the next few years too, and most of this success is down to Doctor Octopus.

Spider-Man fights crime

As the book opens we find a more confident Spider-Man taking down cheap thugs with ease. In keeping with Parker’s penchant for bringing his biggest problems down on himself, he starts to wish he could actually go up against a villain with a bit more oomph, which kicks off Doc’ Ock’s origin story.

He’s pretty complete here too; a brilliant scientist who conducts research on nuclear power with the aid of four robotic arms, he goes mad after an accident damages his brain and fuses the arms to his body. He becomes fixated on using his new appendages to finish his research, holding a hospital full of staff hostage while he does it.

Otto Octavius is a goofy concept for a character but he’s pure gold here. They enjoy the fun of the character completely, but there’s a sadness to him too; his brilliance is completely destroyed by his madness and power but he still isn’t driven by greed or self interest. He wants to complete his work. Spidey doesn’t fall short in the drama too, and after getting soundly thrashed by Octavius the first time they fight, we see the first of Peter Parker’s many doubting moments. He’s convinced he can’t defeat Doctor Octopus, until Johnny Storm gives a pep talk to the local school and Peter decides to get back on the horse. We also see a little of the classic Parker genius, as he synthesises a new chemical to help him out by fusing Doc’ Ock’s arms together. It doesn’t go quite to plan, but he’s already using that scientific genius to get the job done.

Doc Ock and Spider-Man's first fight

The story is full of tropes we’d revisit in this book for years to come, but it pulls it off so earnestly here it’s hard not to like it. Peter’s on-again, off-again, love affair with his crimefighting career begins here, but we also believe his pain. He really hasn’t fought a villain like this before, and when he loses there’s nobody he can turn to for support. Octavius himself is something new for the book too. Sure, after the accident he gets a little cliche, but there’s never any question of his brilliance, or his capabilities. The Vulture, the Tinkerer, and The Chameleon were all great villains, but they were usually brought down by some failing or underestimating of the hero. Doctor Octopus isn’t like that, he’s a passionate scientist and a strategic thinker. He isn’t beaten until Spider-Man ups his game.

Peter’s personal life takes a back seat here again, although we do see some more of Jameson and Aunt May. The cast of supporting characters is being reinforced bit by bit, but the book is definitely taking a back seat to the villains. It’s rare to see an early run of a book so full of familiar faces, with every major villain faced so far still a player in the current Marvel universe.  This is a good era for the company, and it’s not hard to see why. They really set up a tone and stuck to it. No wonder forty years later, Sam Raimi didn’t see the need to change much.

Peter Parker inspired by Human Torch's speech

Probably my favourite feature of these early books is Spider-Man as the growing hero. This isn’t a perfect, generic, costumed avenger archetype. It’s a character who is new to the job, knows he isn’t one of the big fish yet, and makes mistakes. He beats The Human Torch to the punch in the story, but he makes it clear he’s still a minor player compared to the Fantastic Four, and that’s something that will stick with Spider-Man as the years go by. It’s something DC have got wrong over and over with Batman, insisting that because he’s a major player on store shelves, he needs to be a top-dog in the DCU continuity too, and it’s so much less interesting than a character who’s popular in fiction, but less well liked in his own reality.

These books continue to be fantastic, and hopefully it’s as good next time when we meet The Sandman!

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #2: Review

Welcome to All Amazing, a series in which I review every issue of Marvel’s flagship title, The Amazing Spider-Man. Last time Spidey was all about the cash, today he does some real heroics both in and out of a sewer. 


The Amazing Spider-Man #2

Issue 2 of any book is a difficult task, you need to keep the momentum going from Issue 1 while offering something new to keep the readers hooked. Amazing #2 does a pretty good job of balancing out some of Issue #1’s weaknesses, while contributing two pretty significant villains to the Marvel universe, but the tone is still very episodic and comedic. Today this would be a parody comic, and yet it really feels pretty true to Spider-Man as he’ll go on. I think this is a stronger start than Issue #1, but it’s pretty goofy at times…

The Amazing Spider-Man Issue 2As before, the book is divided into two stories, with the first introducing readers to The Vulture. Here the character is a lot simpler than he’ll become, and he’s mostly played for laughs. A comical, bird themed thief who taunts the police with his intended target before swooping in and stealing the goods from underneath their noses. There’s something genuinely amusing in the sheer joy the old man takes from just being a good thief. At one point he tricks the police by popping up from the sewers instead of down from the sky, and then flies off down a particularly large sewer pipe to make his escape. The entire time he seems just thrilled to be the Vulture. I miss villains like this.Spider-Man Vulture sewers

 

It’s also fun to see Spidey go up against an actual super villain for the first time. This issue kicks Peter Parker off on his photojournalism career, and while trying to get the perfect shot of the crook, he gets roped in to some real heroics. He’s also developing more of the sense of humour and chatterbox nature we’ll come to know. It’s nice to see that Peter is still a new hero here too, who is still learning how to fit his life and crime fighting career together. When his first run-in doesn’t go quite to plan, he takes time to rethink his approach and really nail the complexities of being a photographer and superhero at the same time.

Despite the Vulture, the second story is actually the goofier of the two, and introduces perhaps the weirdest origin story to an established character. While picking up a clock from a very cheap repair store, Peter is introduced to The Tinkerer, a modest little man who just happens to set off his spider-sense. Later he figures out that The Tinkerer has been hiding cameras in the clocks to spy on crucial targets around the city. He goes to confront the inventor, only to find that The Tinkerer is an alien spy who’s planning on taking over the world. He beats the crap out of them and they leave in their spaceship, and for some reason decide never to return.

Amazing spider-Man issue 2 Tinkerer

This is such a goofy plot and even when it’s obviously hamming it up it never quite works. The Tinkerer has become such a mainstay in the Marvel universe, and I’m sure the origin has been retconned today, but his first appearance as a little green man from space was totally absurd. Worse still, Spider-Man spends quite some time in this story trapped in giant snowglobe, masterminding an escape so specific and convenient that those Adam West Batman gags start to seem a whole lot more accurate.

I was also pretty intrigued by how undeveloped the Spider-Sense is here, it responds less to danger and more to general paranoia and ‘whatever-Peter-needs-to-know-right-now’ moments. It’s pretty early for the character so some development is to be expected, but it’s occasionally a little too convenient here.

Special mention goes to the first example I could find of Spider-Man actually making a joke. It was terrible.

Issue 2 escape from aliens

Final Thoughts

All in all, Issue #2 is stronger than the first. We still see a lot of Peter’s personal life, but he gets the chance to really be a hero here. The tone is still pure comedy, but the art is fun and nostalgia carries you through.  The second story looks great, but not once does the Vulture look threatening or exciting. Still, the classic characters are coming fast and thick, and it’s pretty much the Spider-Man we know and love already. Next week, Doctor Octopus!

All Amazing – The Amazing Spider-Man #1: Review

This is a new series where I read and review every issue of Amazing Spider-Man, starting way back with issue 1 in 1963!


I love Spider-Man. Ever since the 90s Animated Series, he’s been one of my favourite characters in jam packed Superhero genre. It was through Spidey that I started to really get into comics when Ultimate Spider-Man hit the shelves, and Spider-Man 2099 was my first experience diving into comics from the archives. Now I’m setting off on a project I’ve wanted to do for a really long time; I’m going to read all of The Amazing Spider-Man, from the very first issue in 1963. This won’t give me the whole story as Marvel launched, The Spectacular Spider-Man, in 1972, but I’m going to focus on just one except when the story requires picking up a few issues elsewhere.

So, let’s get started!

The Amazing Spider-Man #1

Comic buffs will know that this issue is not the first appearance of our beloved Wall Crawler, who launched in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy a few months earlier. While his success hadn’t been enough to save that book, Marvel did have enough faith in the character to give him a series of his own. Amazing #1 begins with a short recap of this origin, before fleshing out who Peter Parker is, and what his story is really about. The cover promises us a hero like no other, and it’s true… while this issue does give us a a classic villain, and a crossover with The Fantastic Four, really this is all about Parker’s money troubles.

Amazing Spider-Man 1It’s split into two stories, the first explores the birth of Spider-Man’s troubles with the press. To help Aunt May pay the bills he agrees to do a live show as Spider-Man, but has a little trouble getting paid. In one great little scene, he insists the promoter write him a cheque made out to “Spider-Man” and is then shocked when the bank won’t cash it. They say Peter Parker is a genius but I suppose everyone has their off days.

He returns the next day to find that Newspaper Editor named J Jonah Jamesonhas been trashing him all over town. Weirdly, Jameson doesn’t seem to think Spider-Man is a criminal at this point, he seems more concerned that kids might copy him and hurt themselves. This is apparently enough to send the city into an Anti-Spidey frenzy and he has to find money elsewhere. Even after he rescues Jameson’s son from certain death in a failed rocket launch, Jameson doesn’t seem interested in cutting Spidey a break. Some things never change.

The other story is the famous crossover from the cover, Spider-Man’s meeting with The Fantastic Four. This is a beat briefer than the cover implies, with the Richards clan basically shipped in to add a bit of credibility to the new character. Spider-Man invades their tower and promptly humiliates them all, insists on joining the Fantastic Four so he can get paid, and when they tell him they’re a non-profit organisation, leaves without even apologising for roughing them up. If you think Spider-Man seems a bit money hungry, later he meets The Chameleon who has deduced that Spider-Man must be hard up for cash, lures him into a really obvious trap by promising him some sweet green, and then frames him for espionage. Early Spider-Man is blinded by the kerching.

Amazing #1 is both refreshing, and bizarre. It’s actually nice to see Spider-Man so completely rendered on the page right from the first issue. Here’s a teenage boy with a life, problems, and all these responsibilities that weigh heavily on him. The kid really can’t catch a break, and he wonders exactly why he’s so different to all those other heroes who just live the easy life. The problem is that his humour isn’t quite there yet. That constant, charming, geeky sense of humour we associate with Spider-Man is nowhere to be seen in this issue, and so Spider-Man just comes off as sort of grumpy. Even the sight of Aunt May pawning in the bling isn’t enough to stop Spidey seeming a bit mercenary at times, and yet it’s so charming. It’s early days yet, but here Spider-Man reads more like a funny book than an action comic, and yet it works. The character and the series will grow from here, but it’s so close already.

The art is a little rough around the edges, it obviously comes from the cheap years, but it’s also pretty impressive how final Spidey’s design is here. The whole look is basically complete, with only the retro armpit webs looking a bit out of place. Parker doesn’t look so much like we’ll come to know him, but everything else is so solid. It’s a great start to a book that’s going to do so well from Marvel in the years to come. It’s hard not to read it with a bit of a cheeky grin about it all.

Miscellaneous Thoughts

Amazing Spider-Man issue 1Uncle Ben’s death doesn’t quite play out as you’d expect. Here, there’s no indication he’s killed by a burglar Peter failed to stop earlier in the day. Peter just seems to blame himself for being too busy at the time. It doesn’t really work as a story, but they’ll really nail it down later.

No love interest. For a comic that was almost like a classic romance book during the late 60s, there’s no Felicia, no Gwen, no MJ. It’s weird to think of Peter Parker without romance, without family. It seems like such a big part of his character these days.

Spider-Man beats the entire Fantastic Four in his first solo issue. There’s lending credibility and then there’s humiliating your flagship characters.

In Conclusion

Amazing #1 is a lot of fun, the character’s almost fully formed right here, and the world Stan Lee is building won’t change much well into the 90s. Still, it’s a little weird to see Peter talking less about Power and Responsibility and more about those delicious, delicious Benjamins.