Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1965

Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1965

By Stan Lee & Steve Ditko (Marvel/Panini UK)
ISBN: 978-1-905239-80-1

This third volume of the chronological Spider-Man sees the World’s Most Misunderstood Hero begin to challenge the dominance of the Fantastic Four as Marvel’s top comic book both in sales and quality. Steve Ditko’s off-beat plots and superlative art had gradually adapted to the slick and potent superhero house-style that Jack Kirby was developing (at least as much as such a unique talent ever could), with less line-feathering and more bombastic villains, and although still very much his baby, Spider-Man had attained a sleek pictorial gloss. Stan Lee’s scripts were perfectly in tune with the times, and although his assessment of the audience was probably the correct one, the disagreements with the artist over the strip’s editorial direction were still confined to the office and not the pages themselves.

Thematically, there’s still a large percentage of old-fashioned crime and gangsterism here. The dependence on costumed super-foes as antagonists was still nicely balanced with thugs, hoods and mob-bosses, but those days were coming to an end too…

The collection (reprinting Amazing Spider-Man #20-31 and Amazing Spider-Man Annual #2) kicks off with ‘The Coming of the Scorpion!’ wherein J. Jonah Jameson lets his obsessive hatred for the arachnid hero get the better of him, hiring scientist Farley Stillwell to give a private detective Scorpion-based superpowers. Unfortunately the process drives the subject mad before he can capture Spidey, leaving the wall-crawler with yet another super-nutcase to deal with.

Issue #21 guest-starred the Human Torch. ‘Where Flies The Beetle’ features a hilarious love triangle as the Torch’s girlfriend uses Peter Parker to make the flaming hero jealous. Unfortunately the Beetle, a villain with a high-tech suit of insect armour (no sniggering) is planning to use her as bait for a trap. As usual Spider-Man is in the wrong place at the right time, resulting in a spectacular fight-fest.

‘The Clown, and his Masters of Menace’ is a return engagement for the Circus of Crime (see Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1964 ISBN: 978-1-905239-58-0 for their first appearance) and #23 was a superb thriller blending the ordinary criminals that Ditko loved to feature with the arcane threat of a super-villain attempting to take over the Mob. ‘The Goblin and the Gangsters’ is both moody and explosive, a perfect contrast to ‘Spider-Man Goes Mad!’ This psychological thriller finds a delusional hero seeking psychiatric help, but there’s more to the matter than simple insanity, as an old foe makes an unexpected return…

Issue #25 once again saw the obsessed Daily Bugle publisher taking matters into his own hands: ‘Captured by J. Jonah Jameson!’ introduces Professor Smythe, whose robotic Spider-Slayers would come to bedevil the Web-Spinner for years to come, hired by the newsman to remove Spider-Man for good.

Issues #27 and 28 form a captivating two-part mystery saga featuring a hot duel between The Green Goblin and an enigmatic new criminal. ‘The Man in the Crime-Master’s Mask!’ and ‘Bring Back my Goblin to Me!’ comprise a perfect Spider-Man tale, with soap-opera melodrama and brilliant comedy leavening tense thrills and all-out action. ‘The Menace of the Molten Man!’ (#28) is a tale of science gone bad and is remarkable not only for the action sequences and possibly the most striking Spider-Man cover ever produced but also as the story where Peter Parker graduated from High School.

‘Never Step on a Scorpion!’ sees the return of that lab-made villain, hungry for vengeance against not just the Wall-Crawler but also Jameson for turning him into a monster. Issue #30 is another quirky crime-thriller which lays the seeds for future masterpieces. ‘The Claws of the Cat!’ features the hunt for an extremely capable cat-burglar, (way more exciting than it sounds, trust me!) and sees the introduction of an organised mob of thieves working for the mysterious Master Planner. The sharp-eyed will note that scripter Lee mistakenly calls their boss “The Cat” in one sequence, but really, let it go. That’s the kind of nit-picking that gives us comic fans a bad name and so little chance of meeting girls…

‘If This Be My Destiny…!’ ends the year as the as the Master Planner’s high-tech robberies lead to a confrontation with Spider-Man. The next volume will feature the concluding episodes – in my opinion Lee and Ditko’s best work ever, anywhere, but that’s then not now, so be content (if you can) with Peter at College, the introduction of Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, and Aunt May on the edge of death…

However the volume doesn’t end here due to the odd trick of placing the summer Annual’s contents after the December issue. In 1965 Steve Ditko was blowing away audiences with another oddly tangential superhero. ‘The Wondrous World of Dr. Strange!’ introduced the Web-Slinger to a whole other reality when he teamed up with the Master of the Mystic Arts to battle a power-crazed wizard named Xandu in a phantasmagorical, dimension-hopping gem. After this story it was clear that the Spider-Man concept could work in any milieu.

This cheap and cheerful compendium is a wonderful way to introduce or reacquaint readers with the early Spider-Man. The brilliant adventures and glorious pin-ups are superb value and this series of books should be the first choice of any adult with a present to buy for an impressionable child. Or for themselves…

© 1965, 2008 Marvel Characters, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

2 Replies to “Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man 1965”

  1. Hi DGBGuy,

    Thanks for the very kind words.

    I thought your website was terrific. Covers are are an art form all on their own. I wish there were more books of covers to review…

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