Amazing Spider-Man #1-5 Overview
Spider-Man is my favorite super hero, and growing up as a child I was fortunate enough to have a father who had collected Marvel Tales reprints of most of the early Amazing Spider-Man issues, as well as the original issues that came out while growing up. Recently I decided to revisit them for the first time in years, and thought it might be nice to do some grouped together overviews.
I don’t want to spend too much time on his origin story in Amazing Fantasy #15, as I’m sure most of you know it. But I’ll quickly recount it just in case. Spider-Man first appeared in the last issue of a failing title which ended up selling well enough to warrant the character his own series. It gave us a character who learned that he needed to use his powers responsibly in the hardest way possible, with his Uncle Ben dying as a result of his own selfishness, in a Twilight Zone-like twist.
The Amazing Spider-Man attempts to pick up where Amazing Fantasy left off. And these first five issues contain an explosion of new ideas from Lee and Ditko that, at the time, redefined what superhero comics could do. It presented a superhero who wasn’t just imperfect, but unlucky. When one thing went right, three other things would go wrong.
The plot of the very first story in the title is a very sympathetic one. It focuses on the fact that since Uncle Ben’s death, Peter and Aunt May have been struggling financially and can’t pay for their house. And Peter needs to find a way to make money to support his Aunt. This leads him to attempt another shot at fame, and he makes an appearance on live television as Spider-Man. But he soon realizes that he can’t cash a check without giving away his identity, and ends up making nothing from it. He even contemplates stealing money at one point, but knows extinguishes the thought very quickly. On top of this, J. Jonah Jameson starts throwing fiery darts of libel at him and not even the rescue of his own Astronaut son can convince him that Spider-Man isn’t a menace.
One thing I found really interesting about the scene where JJJ first starts to criticize Spider-Man, the accusations mirror almost exactly the accusations being made at the Senate hearings that resulted in the Comics Code Authority. I’ve been wondering ever since if this was intentional, and I’d be surprised if it wasn’t. J. Jonah Jameson is essentially the face of anyone who’s ever said that video games and heavy metal are corrupting our children.
The cover story within that first issue involving the Fantastic Four and Chameleon goes through pretty much the same beats, just with a more superhero-esque story with a villain. Spider-Man’s motivations for wanting to join the Fantastic Four are purely financial, but it comes to naught when they inform him that the FF is a non-profit organization.
The second issue sees the first time Peter Parker takes and sells pictures to the Daily Bugle. The fun thing about this is that the first time he sells them to JJJ, Peter is actually extremely confident and gets the high price for the photos that he wants, whereas later JJJ would get more accustomed to the quality of his pictures and Peter would have to settle for whatever JJJ was willing to shell out.
In fact I think something about being Spider-Man in the beginning helped Peter stand a little more firmly in general. He’s not brooding and meek as much as he’s just reserved. And he often even comes off as confrontational. He’s routinely teased, but usually considers himself superior to his peers, and reminds himself that he is probably as a way with just coping day to day.
One of the great things about this period in Spider-Man’s history is that he’s a teenager who, while being a scientific prodigy, definitely has the mind of teenager. He thinks about teenager-y things and is still only at a teenager level of maturity. He’s gained his superpower and his sense of responsibility just at a time where he’s still discovering who he is and where he fits in the world. He tends to be quick to action which causes him to make mistakes, he gets caught up in what he’s doing and forgets to refill his web cartridges. There’s a scene where he tries to stop criminals before they’d begun to start a crime, which ends up in the thugs trying to call on a nearby cop to charge Spidey with unaggravated assault. Lee and Ditko were always trying to throw out new ideas and do whatever they could to ground him into the real world.
Nowhere is this more true than in issue four which introduces the Sandman, where little things continually get in Spider-Man’s way. In his first confrontation, his mask gets torn off and he has to run away to keep his identity concealed. Realizing he can’t take it to someone else to repair it, he starts sewing the mask up himself, pricking his fingers and realizing he’ll probably have to do this more often. On top of this, Aunt May nearly walks on in on me and he rushes on his robe, and since he’s clutching it so tightly May assumes he must have a fever and puts him in bed for the night. Then Sandman ends up arriving at his school the following day!
This is the best thing about the 5 first issues, the constant barrage of ideas that were used to try and make the character more and more interesting at the time. The dialog in action itself is very typical Silver Age style, so that may or may not hinder your enjoyment of the stories depending on what you prefer. I personally think it moves a bit like a small story book, the action/dialog is very simple and to the point while at the same time being very verbose. It can be stiltiing at times, but for the most part it’s easy to get used to.
Issue #5 with Doctor Doom was a pleasant surprise for me, I wasn’t expecting very much out of it but ended up having a lot of fun with it. The action gets wonderfully ridiculous towards the end, and it throws in the twist of having Peter’s bully, Flash Thompson, dress up in a Spider-Man suit and captured by Doom for ransom. Peter briefly contemplates letting Doom do away with him, but quickly comes to grips with the fact that no, that’s not the right thing to do, he has responsibility to save him.
Which is a major theme through out. The internal battle of Selfishness versus Selflessness, and as a teenager Peter can indeed be quite selfish. But being Spider-Man meant having to put others first, to take others over his shoulder, and to take the first steps into becoming the best, most nobly human example of a Superhero in comics.
Of the five, I’d definitely most recommend issues 1 and 4 equally, though the rest do have quite a lot to offer and feature the first appearances of the Vulture, The Tinkerer and Dr. Octopus.