Saturday 15 January 2011

Amazing Fantasy #15. Spider-Man's origin.

Marvel Comics Amazing Fantasy #15 Spider-Man origin Stan Lee Steve Ditko Peter Parker
How was I ever not going to love Amazing Fantasy #15? I first read it on Christmas Day, I first read it in Stan Lee's Origins of Marvel Comics and I first read it while eating a genuine imitation-bacon sandwich.

This was the mid-1970s when imitation food was all the rage, and populist science show Tomorrow's World never tired of telling us that by the year 2,000 we'd all be eating nothing but soya beans masquerading as every kind of food imaginable.

Happily they were were wrong and happily there was nothing ersatz about the first-ever appearance of the Amazing Spider-Man. If any debut was the real deal this was it.

The first thing that strikes you reading the tale is that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko seem to have been bitten by a radioactive mongoose before creating it, such is the sheer speed the thing moves at. To give some idea, only just introduced to us, Peter Parker's already got his spider-powers by the end of the second page and has his costume and web-shooters in place by the end of the fifth. It's not surprising therefore that by the end of the tenth page he's had time to use his powers unwisely, made a bucketful of cash, made a huge blunder, and been forced by tragic circumstance to learn the error of his ways.

It's a cleverly constructed thing, tying its strands together beautifully to give us a morality play Aesop himself would've been proud of as, alienated by his treatment by society and therefore thinking only of himself, Spider-Man refuses to prevent a petty crook's escape and then pays the price as that self-same crook goes on to kill his Uncle Ben, one of only two people in the world who ever actually cared about Peter Parker. It's also a nice touch that the cop who breaks the news to Peter that his uncle's dead is clearly the same officer who Spider-Man refused to help apprehend the crook in the first place.

Interestingly, the roles of Spider-Man and Peter Parker are the opposite of what we grew used to in the John Romita years, with Spider-Man hugely popular with a public that can't get enough of his showbiz antics, while Peter Parker - the man who'd one day be fighting off the likes of Gwen Stacy and Mary Jane Watson with a stick - can't even get a girl to look at him. Aunt May, in contrast to later tales, manages to get through the whole issue with not a heart attack in sight. Interesting too to see Flash Thompson at his most brainless.

Given its willingness to delve deeper into human torment and duty than super-hero comics had traditionally done, it's not a surprise that the strip went on to be such a success. The tactic of robbing its central character of a parental figure must also have chimed strongly with the deep-rooted psychological impulses of a readership that was young and therefore at its most dependent on such figures. It was hardly a new thing for a super-hero to lose a guardian - Superman and Batman had both lost their parents in childhood - but had the turmoil of such an event ever been flung in the reader's face in such a stark and cruel manner?

So of course it's an instant classic - though you do have to ask serious questions of those scientists who were ultimately behind all this; the ones who were conducting radiation experiments in front of a totally unprotected public. Maybe those scientists too needed their own reminder that with great power comes great responsibility.


bliss_infinte said...

The one thing I do miss about modern superhero comics is that it's impossible for them to tell a story like this, this emotionally deep and groundbreaking in just a handful of pages.

Thank those scientists for giving us Spider-man!

Kid said...

Gasp! You read Origins of Marvel Comics with greasy butter and bacon-stained fingers? Philistine!

Steve W. said...

I'm proud to say there was no butter involved. That would've been far too authentic for me.