Thursday, 7 April 2011

Amazing Spider-Man #2. A cellar-full of aliens.

Amazing Spider-Man #2, the Terrible Tinkerer, Steve Ditko
As I roam the streets of Sheffield, people say to me, "Steve, why're you roaming the streets of Sheffield? Why aren't you at home, listening to The Organist Entertains on Radio 2?"

I tell them, "I can't. My radio's knackered."

"Then why don't you take it to a repair shop?" they say. "I hear the prices can be highly reasonable."

"Because," I point out, "I live in fear that aliens might put listening devices in it that they'd then use to learn secrets vital to the security of the Earth."

"But, Steve," they say, "you're poor and ignorant. What could you possibly know that could help aliens?"

I just tap the side of my nose, knowingly, and walk off into the night, as the gasometers beyond the Wicker Arches loom ever closer.

If only Doctor Cobbwell had had my sense but, in Amazing Spider-Man #2, devoid of my innate understanding of the dangers of cheap repair shops, he's taken his mighty wireless to the Tinkerer to be mended. It's only when he sends his part-time science-lackey Peter Parker to collect it for him that the truth of the Tinkerer's scheme is unearthed.

Tipped off by his Spider-Sense that all's not well with the radio, Spidey soon discovers an alien plot of exactly the kind I described above.

Happily, despite almost being vacuumed to death, our hero makes short work of the aliens, and the world is free once more to listen to Janice Long in peace.

Amazing Spider-Man #2, the Terrible Tinkerer, aliens, I must warn Steve!
As we all know, it was compulsory for all Marvel heroes to face aliens as soon as possible after their creation, and Amazing Spider-Man #2 is where Spidey gets his turn. Compared to Thor's battle with the Stone Men from Saturn, it's low-key stuff. In truth it's even low-key compared to the Hulk's less than pulse-pounding early scrap with the Toad Men. But that doesn't rob it of its essential charm. Mostly thanks to Steve Ditko's artwork, this has always been one of my favourite early Spider-Man tales.

I'm fully aware there're people out there who think the Terrible Tinkerer story is very silly and, being about aliens, has no place in a strip supposedly rooted in the real world, like Spider-Man is. And those people are probably right but, as far as I'm concerned, if Spider-Man can have adventures with Killraven and Red Sonja, there's no reason he can't fight aliens.

Sadly, years later it was retconned that the aliens weren't really aliens at all. They were just a bunch of petty crooks, including a young Mysterio, who were in the habit of dressing as and talking like aliens just in case anyone snuck into their underground lair and overheard their plans.

On top of that, we were told the Tinkerer, who, here, at the climax, is revealed to be an alien too, was merely wearing a mask of his own face to disguise the fact that he was really who he seemed to be all along.

I would say this is the worst retcon you could possibly imagine - attempting to explain away a silly story by coming up with an explanation that's actually sillier than the story you're trying to explain away. But I should never forget the average comic book company's infinite capacity for generating terrible retcons, and so I wouldn't risk so bold a statement.

What I am happy to risk saying is that I don't care what any later tales said. As far as I'm concerned, in May 1963, the amazing Spider-Man came up against a bunch of aliens and sent them packing, even if one of them did think he was really Mysterio. I like to feel space travel can have that sort of effect on an alien. And you know what? I'm sure Janice Long does too.


Kid said...

I always loved this little story as well - very atmospheric. There's a couple of spots in Hamilton and Rutherglen (Scotland) that have shops just like the exterior of the Tinkerer's. I can't pass them without thinking of this story.

Boston Bill said...

Sorry Steve, I never liked this one.
I first saw it in a reprint book of the Early Spider-man tales, long after I read the original Gwen Stacy Clone Saga. It was interesting to see the book develop. Lee and Ditko didn't seem to get that a one-to-one villain punch up was what suited Spidey best. Still, this tinkerer guy intrigued me - right up until the aliens showed up. Like radiation, early Marvel was littered with aliens trying to conquer our pathetic race. It felt like a cop out.
I for one preferred his later incarnation as a supplier of weapons to various hoodlums. But the retconning was ridiculous! (Hey guys, let's form a criminal gang and disguise ourselves as Aliens to confuse anyone who stumbles across our headquarters? Guys, are you with me? Guys?)

Anonymous said...

Kid - Had to laugh at your comments on Hamilton and Rutherglen currently living in the former and been brought up/schooled in the latter I know exactly what you mean and I remember buying the comic I first saw this strip in (actually to be honest I may have seen it first in POW but probably never read it as I was too young for Spidey then) when it appeared in an early issue (issue2/3?) of Mighty World Of Marvel from R S McColls (or Johnny's) in Rutherglen Main st

Kid said...

I remember Johnny's well. My Gran and Grandpa used to live in Hamilton road in Rutherglen back in the early '60s. Just along the road was a school (might have been a girls' school - Hamilton Road Academy seems to ring a bell with me, but I might be wrong) - just on the corner of the school next to the main road was a little Tinkerer-type building. (I'm not sure it's there anymore.)

Regarding Johnny's - I think they moved a couple of shops along to bigger premises at some stage, but the original shop was a florists the last time I looked a few years ago. I took a photo of the sign above the shop because, at just the right angle with the sun hitting off it, you could still see the name Johnny's under the new signwriting. Let me know if you ever want to see it.

Small world, eh?

Kid said...

Correction - Rutherglen Academy was the name of the school - which was for boys AND girls, although I believe they had separate playgrounds. Regarding Johnny's, that was where, in 1962 or '63, I first saw the Aurora Phantom of the Opera model kit - in all its built-up and painted gruesome glory - on display in the shop window. If I'm right about their move to larger premises a few doors along, it was there, in 1969 or '70, I acquired my second Quercetti Fireball XL5 parachute toy for a mere 2/6d. My first had cost 10/6d back in 1962 or '63, so obviously Johnny's was clearing out old stock at vastly reduced prices when I bought my second one 7 or 8 years later.

Anonymous said...

Kid, wow would love to see the "Johnny's" sign aain - a great shop for kids in the late 60's - mid 70s and a place I used to get a load of US comics (DC, Marvel, Warrens and even Seaboard "Nightmare etc)and as you state cool models , toys - even and off course the legendary 1 woodbine and a match for 3d (not me never smoked)- Yep I know Rutherglen Academy well (now luxury flats) went to it when it became Stonelaw High & the tinker shop I remember as well (had wood panelling at one point) Johnnys def moved up a few shops or at least took over a shop or two - thanks for sharing the memories Kid

Anonymous said...

Ooops just remembered it was Gallowflat Secondary that was in Hamilton Rd (Rutherglen Academy was in Stonelaw Rd) Gallowflat became the Annex to Stonelaw High whed the Academy became a comprehensive school) there was lots of shops (including the legendary Impulse record shop along from Gallowflat that were "tinker "like & Johnnys was closer to that School/Annex.

Kid said...

Hope Steve doesn't mind too much us taking over his page. I'll dig out those photos and post them on my blog, which you can access by clicking on my avatar. Might take me a wee while 'though. If Steve doesn't mind, I'll let you know here when I've posted them. As for Impulse, I used to do posters and signwriting for their East Kilbride and Hamilton (I think) shops.

Thanks for your kind indulgence Steve.

Steve said...

Don't worry. I don't have a clue what either of you have been talking about for the last few days but I'm perfectly happy for you to talk about it.

Kid said...

Okay, I kept my promise - the photos are now over on my own blog.

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