Monday 27 December 2010

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1969. The Sinister Six and the Fantastic Four

Amazing Spider-Man Annual 1969, the Sinister Six
It's a matter of some vague blurriness as to what was the first American comic I ever read. To some degree it depends on what qualifies as an American comic. I know at one point we had a pile of Alan Class books my dad brought home with him from somewhere or other. They were of course British but featured nothing but American stories.

As for the real deal, I'm pretty certain I've mentioned before that I acquired a coverless Superman comic from a community centre jumble sale one Saturday. All I recall of it was that it featured Lois Lane hiding in a piano.

And then there was that Sunday morning when my dad bought home a copy of Vampirella for my sister, presumably working on the principle that it starred a woman and so must've been aimed at girls. Despite having read it at the time, I have no memory of the contents of that comic and haven't read an issue of Vampirella since but, judging by the covers, I suspect that girls may not have been its primary target demographic.

But, all these considerations taken into consideration, if I had to stake money on what was the first American comic I ever read, it'd be this one - the Amazing Spider-Man Annual #6. It's a sign of how American comics in those days  tended to hang around in some strange and waterlogged limbo before finally making themselves available for purchase in the UK that, even though it was the 1969 annual, I got it as as a new comic in 1972 and remember seeing it for sale in a newsagents at least a couple of years after that.

Clearly it was fate. If you're going to start with any American comic it might as well be this one because it seemed as thought the entire Marvel universe was present in its pages. First of all we had Spider-Man up against  not one but a multitude of his deadliest foes; Sandman, Dr Octopus, Mysterio, Electro, the Vulture and Kraven the Hunter. That's right, it was the Sinister Six and their debut tale.

As though that weren't enough, the story contrived to feature a cameo from just about every hero Marvel had had at that time. Dr Strange even showed up, interrupting a fight between Peter Parker and Flash Thompson before striding off back to his Sanctum Sanctorum.

But the guest-starring do-gooders who made the most impact on me were the X-Men, even though they weren't technically in it. Their cameo turned out to have been made by a group of Mysterio's robots. But there was something about the yellow and blue of their costumes and the way they just seemed to be hanging around in a building when Spidey showed up that grabbed me.

That story alone would've kept some of us satisfied for life but there was more because next we had the web-slinger up against the Fantastic Four. It's the meeting he had with them in Amazing Spider-Man #1, where he decides to try and join the group to earn some money. But here's the twist. It's not the Steve Ditko version. It's the Jack Kirby retelling of that tale, from Fantastic Four Annual #1.

The mag finishes off with Spider-Man gatecrashing the Human Torch's party in a tale reprinted from Amazing Spider-Man #8. Again it's by Jack Kirby and and leads to a scrap between Spider-Man and the Torch that involves Spidey whipping up a whole range of unlikely items with his webbing before the Invisible Girl talks some sense into him.

I can't put into words just how much of a mind-expanding experience this book was for me when I was a kid. After years of  British comics, to suddenly be exposed to so much colour, so much escapism and so much glossiness in one comic was a life-changing event for me.

And it wasn't only my mind that was expanded by it. So was my vocabulary. Never before had I come across the phrases, "Cold feet," and, "Burying the hatchet," till I read the tales within.

So there you have it. Spider-Man wasn't just entertaining, it was educational - and I dread to think what a mundane life my childhood would've been had I never come across it. Would I have been doomed to endure a youth of reading nothing but the likes of Victor and Commando as they endlessly re-staged a Second World War that even in the 1970s seemed like ancient history to me? Worse, would I have grown up thinking Roy of the Rovers was as good as comics could get?

So hats-off to the greatest annual a child could ever want. It might've been just a load of old stories repackaged to squeeze a bit of extra money out of readers without the expense of producing new material for them but I don't care. Because of what it led to, to me it's the most important comic Marvel ever produced and, because of that, there'll always be a special place in my heart for it.


Kid said...

Essentially it was a reprint of SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 with a different cover if I remember correctly. They did the same thing with FF ANNUAL #8, which was essentially FFA #1. Great stuff 'though.

Dougie said...

I can "see" it being bought for me by my dad in Hamilton one Saturday morning, when I was about six years old. As you say, a spectacular primer for the early Marvel Universe. Bought it recently on ebay again- along with Avengers and Hulk King-Size Specials.