Launching a new column swinging through Spider-Man’s history…
Welcome to The Spider’s Web — a new ongoing feature by Alex Segura that looks at Spider-Man’s development since his start in 1962’s Amazing Fantasy #15.
Why are we launching this now? Because Spider-Man: Far From Home is out this week and we’ve got webbing on the brain!
Anyway, you can click here for an overview of this new series of columns because we want to get right to it below.
Take it away, Alex! — Dan
By ALEX SEGURA
Hey, folks! Alex Segura here. By day, I’m Co-President of Archie Comics. I’m also the writer of the acclaimed Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery novel series and a ton of Archie comic books. But I’m also a fan! And one of my earliest comic book obsessions was Spider-Man.
One of the weird things that happened when my son was born three years ago is that I ended up reading a ton of Stephen King novels — which I’d never really done before. I did this mostly to keep my sanity and pass the time. Well, I thought I’d dive in again with the birth of our daughter a few months back, but I’ve instead been rerouted to… Spider-Man, of all things?
Anyway, I’ve been (re-)reading Spidey chronologically since Amazing Fantasy #15. Here and there, I’ve been posting my thoughts on Facebook. My pal Dan Greenfield, who runs the site you are now visiting, reached out to see about hosting these musings on 13th Dimension. It seemed like a perfect fit and I was kicking myself for not thinking about it sooner!
So, the plan is for me to pop in and share my random thoughts on the issues I’ve revisited until I stop. As of this writing, I’m at Issue #130 or so, and we’ll be posting the initial installments weekly until we’re caught up to my real-time reading. So, hop into your Spider-Mobile for the first edition of THE SPIDER’S WEB:
So, I’m at about Issue #70 of Amazing Spider-Man, which covers all of the initial Stan Lee/Steve Ditko run and a big portion of the Lee/John Romita era, too. Currently, we’re well into the Stone Tablet Saga. I’m reading the Marvel Masterworks, so this particular edition includes the annuals and the two issues of the Spectacular Spider-Man magazine. I’m not sure what I’ll do if I get to the point where the ongoing Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man series is added, but that’s a worry for down the line. Marvel Team-Up will appear eventually, and we’ll have to figure that out. If we get to the launch of Web of Spider-Man, we can throw a party.
Some back story: Spider-Man was my first superhero. My grandparents got me a copy of a digest (I swear it was a digest reprint, which historian Brian Cronin confirmed after I originally posted this on Facebook) copy of Spectacular Spider-Man #2, the classic Lee/Romita Green Goblin battle. I was intrigued and instantly hooked. But it wasn’t until years later, when my dad bought me Amazing Spider-Man #348 by David Michelinie, Erik Larsen and co., at a newsstand in Miami, that I became a regular Spidey reader.
My comic book reading had been pretty sporadic before then, aside from a regular diet of Archie comics and a Greatest Flash Stories Ever Told collection. Anyway, Spider-Man was my jam. I still keep up with the current series, but it’s different, being in the industry, “when hobbies become jobs” and all that jazz.
Lately, our son’s been getting into superheroes (::thinking emoji::) and I was talking to him about the characters in a Spider-Man coloring book he has and it reminded me how much I loved them. I was trying to read Dune during these early, hazy, newborn days and it… just wasn’t working. So I put it down and started the Spidey re-read. And it’s been a lot of fun! I won’t bore you with an issue-by-issue recap/commentary, but here are some thoughts on the first 70 or so issues, off the top of my head:
Lee/Ditko have an AMAZING (see what I did there?) batting average when it comes to villains. In the first 20 or so issues of AMS, we meet Kraven, Doc Ock, Green Goblin, the Sandman, Electro, Mysterio, Chameleon… it’s jaw-dropping. Sure, they stumble a few times — the Crime-Master, the Looter, the Tinkerer — but even the failures are charming.
Ditko’s art is still fresh, weird, and memorable. He draws a really creepy, alien looking Spider-Man. He draws an awkward, nervous and relatable Peter Parker.
The evolution of Parker from angry, bullied kid looking to make money to superhero isn’t fast. While his uncle’s death spurs him to do right, he’s still not the Spidey we all know and love right out of the gate. It’s interesting. Lee is a master of the slow burn, even as he wows you with his huckster-y dialogue. Case in point: the 40-plus issues it took to see Mary Jane, the topsy-turvy Betty Brant/Pete romance, and the gradual reveal of the original Green Goblin’s identity.
There is a lot of pathos here. Pete has not had an easy life, and the cloud of his Aunt May dying via another mysterious “attack” feels very real. Also, he struggles in ways no hero at the time (aside from some of his Marvel contemporaries) ever had. He wasn’t a billionaire, he wasn’t a reporter at a daily newspaper, he wasn’t an inventor or super-soldier. He was a kid from Queens who happened to get these freakish powers that did little for his bank account and social standing. Heady stuff.
The transition from Ditko to Romita, who basically made everyone he drew beautiful, is jarring and wonderful — we basically see Pete and co. go from weird, indie film to prime-time soap, and it’s remarkable. It’s funny to think back on it, because from what I’ve read, Romita was trying to ape Ditko, but his art is just another flavor completely.
A vet of superheroics and romance comics, Romita turned the bookish Peter Parker into a dreamboat, and every woman in the cast became a supermodel. That, plus Romita’s handle on action and character beats really adds a polish to the series that I think it was ready for. Though I do miss the Ditko weirdness sometimes.
Do yourself a favor and re-read (or, enjoy for the first time) that issue of Spectacular Spider-Man #2 — it’s terrifying. I read it tonight after the kids were asleep and I was taken back to that grocery store, clutching that digest and being completely frightened by the Green Goblin, and the idea that Norman Osborn could tap into that psychotic persona and finally remember that Pete and Spider-Man are one and the same. It’s Stan and Romita at the top of their game. (NOTE from Dan: The two-issue mag series is getting a special reprint collection soon. Click here for details.)
Revisiting these also reminded me what a big influence the early Spidey books were on my own stuff, specifically Pete Fernandez. So, that was neat and surreal.
The Kingpin shows up a lot in those early Romita issues, and it’s funny how different he is from the version we see when Frank Miller absorbs him into Daredevil’s universe. He’s short-tempered, isn’t afraid to commit crimes himself (see how he waltzes into ESU for the stone tablet), and doesn’t seem to have a real name (his assistant, however, is named “Wilson”!).
Some quick thoughts:
— The Gwen/Pete relationship is super-rocky but feels really organic and well-paced, which is probably a byproduct of longer runways in terms of stories back then, but still. It works. It’s like Lee wanted to improve on how he handled the Betty Brant/Pete dynamic.
— Whatever happened to Blackie Drago?! That Vulture helmet looked pretty cool. Yes, I realize I can just Google this.
— It’s kind of funny that Liz Allan disappears for 100-plus issues.
— I read the early Ditko stuff while listening to Screw It We’re Just Gonna Talk About Spidey (since rebranded as Screw It, We’re Just Gonna Talk About Comics), a podcast hosted by brothers Will and Kevin Hines. I’d suggest it to anyone looking to revisit these books. The hosts are funny, love Spidey and are super-entertaining.
— Don Heck, who comes in to do “finishes” off Romita’s layouts and before Mickey Demeo’s inks, doesn’t miss a beat. (Demeo was an alias for Mike Esposito, by the way.) Those issues look great. The entire Lee/Romita run should be in a museum. (Another NOTE from Dan: It practically was! Click here.)
— The series feels warmer with the additions of George Stacy and Robbie Robertson — two great characters.
— Now, come back next time for my thoughts on the next chunk of the Lee/Romita run. In the meantime, give us your thoughts and memories in the comments below or in whichever social-media thread you found this!
— For the Complete THE SPIDER’S WEB Index of Features. Click here.
— MARVEL to Release Massive KING-SIZE DITKO Collection. Click here.