By Stan Lee, John Romita, Larry Lieber, Don Heck, Marie Severin & various (Marvel)
ISBN: 978-1-3029-1023-5 (TPB)
Outcast, geeky high school kid Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider and, after attempting to cash-in on the astonishing abilities he’d developed, suffered an irreconcilable personal tragedy. Due to the teenager’s arrogant neglect, his beloved guardian Uncle Ben was murdered and the traumatised boy determined henceforward to always use his powers to help those in dire need.
For years the brilliant young hero suffered privation and travail in his domestic situation, whilst his heroic alter ego endured public condemnation and mistrust as he valiantly battled all manner of threat and foe…
Spanning August 1966 to September 1967, this fulsome, titanic, full-colour Epic Collection (available as massive paperback or ephemeral eBook) gathers the gems from Amazing Spider-Man #39-52 plus Annuals #3-4 and a deliciously daft snippet from spoof mag Not Brand Echh #2, heralding the start of a brand new era for the Astonishing Arachnid with Peter and his ever-expanding cast of cohorts well on the way to being household names as well as the darlings of college campuses and the media intelligentsia.
By 1966 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko could no longer work together on their greatest creation. After increasingly fraught months the artist simply resigned, leaving Spider-Man without an illustrator.
In the coincidental meantime John Romita had been lured away from DC’s romance line and given odd assignments before assuming the artistic reins of Daredevil, the Man Without Fear. Before long, he was co-piloting the company’s biggest property and expected to run with it.
After a period where old-fashioned crime and gangsterism predominated, science fiction themes and costumed crazies began to predominate as the world went gaga for superheroes and creators experimented with longer storylines and protracted subplots…
When Ditko abruptly left, the company feared a drastic loss in quality and sales but it didn’t happen. John Romita (senior) considered himself a mere “safe pair of hands” keeping the momentum going until a better artist could be found but instead blossomed into a major talent in his own right. The wallcrawler continued his unstoppable rise at an accelerated pace…
When Amazing Spider-Man #39 appeared with the first of a 2-part adventure declaiming the ultimate victory of the hero’s greatest foe, no reader knew what had happened – and no one told them…
‘How Green Was My Goblin!’ and ‘Spidey Saves the Day! (“Featuring the End of the Green Goblin!”)’ calamitously changed everything whilst describing how the arch-foes learned each other’s true identities before the Goblin “perished” in a climactic showdown. It would have been memorable even if the tale didn’t feature the debut of a new artist & a whole new manner of story-telling…
The issues were a turning point in many ways, and – inked by old DC colleague Mike Esposito (under the pseudonym Mickey Demeo) – they still stand as one of the greatest Spider-Man yarns of all time, heralding a run of classic tales from the Lee/Romita team that saw sales rise and rise, even without the seemingly irreplaceable Ditko.
With #41 and ‘The Horns of the Rhino!’, Romita began inking his own pencils and although the debuting super-strong criminal spy proved a mere diversion, his intended target, J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, was a far harder proposition in the next issue.
Amazing Spider-Man #42 heralded ‘The Birth of a Super-Hero!’, wherein John Jameson is mutated by space-spores and goes on a Manhattan rampage: a solid, entertaining yarn that is only really remembered for the last panel of the final page.
Mary Jane Watson had been a running gag in the series for years: a prospective blind-date arranged by Aunt May who Peter had avoided – and Ditko skilfully not depicted – for the duration of time that our hero had been involved with Betty Brant, Liz Allen, and latterly Gwen Stacy.
Now, in that last frame the gobsmacked young man finally realises that for two years he’s been ducking the hottest chick in New York!
‘Rhino on the Rampage!’ gave the villain one more crack at Jameson and Spidey, but the emphasis was solidly on foreshadowing future foes and building Pete and MJ’s relationship. Next comes Amazing Spider-Man Annual # 3 and ‘…To Become an Avenger!’ as the World’s Mightiest Heroes offer the webspinner membership if he can capture the Hulk. As usual, all is not as it seems but the action-drenched epic, courtesy of Lee, Romita (on layouts), Don Heck, & Esposito is the kind of guest-heavy power-punching package that made these summer specials a child’s delight.
The monthly Marvel merriment resumes with the return of a tragedy-drenched old foe as Lee & Romita reintroduce biologist Curt Conners in #44’s ‘Where Crawls the Lizard!’ The deadly reptilian marauder threatens Humanity itself and it takes all of the wallcrawler’s resourcefulness to stop him in the concluding ‘Spidey Smashes Out!’
Issue #46 introduced an all-new menace in the form of seismic super-thief ‘The Sinister Shocker!’ whilst ‘In the Hands of the Hunter!’ brought back a fighting-mad Kraven the Hunter to menace the family of Parker’s pal Harry Osborn. Apparently, the obsessive big-game hunter had entered into a contract with Harry’s father (Green Goblin, until a psychotic break turned him into a traumatised amnesiac). Now, though, the hunter wants paying off…
Luckily, Spider-Man is on hand to dissuade him, but it’s interesting to note that at this time the student life and soap-opera sub-plots became increasingly important to the mix, with glamour girls Mary Jane and Gwen Stacy (both superbly delineated by the masterful Romita) as well as former bully Flash Thompson and the Osborns getting as much – or more – “page-time” as Aunt May or the Daily Bugle staff, who had previously monopolised the non-costumed portions of the ongoing saga.
Amazing Spider-Man #48 launched Blackie Drago; a ruthless thug who shared a prison cell with one of the wall-crawler’s oldest foes. At death’s door, the ailing and elderly super-villain reveals his technological secrets, enabling Drago to escape and master ‘The Wings of the Vulture!’
Younger, faster, tougher, the new Vulture defeats Spider-Man and in #49’s ‘From the Depths of Defeat!’ battles Kraven until a reinvigorated arachnid can step in to thrash them both.
Issue #50 featured the debut of one of Marvel’s greatest villains in the first of a 3-part yarn that saw the beginnings of romance between Parker and Gwen. It also contained the death of a cast regular, re-established Spidey’s war on cheap thugs and common criminals (a key component of the hero’s appeal was that no criminal was too small for him to bother with) and saw a crisis of conscience force him to quit in ‘Spider-Man No More!’.
Life being what it is, Peter’s sense of responsibility forces his return before he is trapped ‘In the Clutches of… the Kingpin!’ until he ultimately and tragically triumphs in ‘To Die a Hero!’ This gang-busting triptych saw Romita relinquish the inking of his art to Esposito.
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4 follows as Lee – with his brother Larry Lieber & Esposito handling the art chores – crafts an epic battle-saga wherein Spidey and the Human Torch are tricked into appearing in a movie.
Sadly ‘The Web and the Flame!’ is just a deviously diabolical scheme to kill them, devilishly orchestrated by old enemies The Wizard and Mysterio, but the titanic teens are up to the task of trashing their attackers…
From the same issue – and all courtesy of Lieber – come pictorial fact-features ‘The Coffee Bean Barn!’ – face-checking the then-current Spider-Man regulars – while sartorial secrets exposed in ‘What the Well-Dressed Spider-Man Will Wear’ and superpowers are scrutinised in ‘Spidey’s Greatest Talent’.
Also included are big pin-ups of our hero testing his strength against Marvel’s mightiest good guys, a double-page spread ‘Say Hello to Spidey’s Favorite Foes!’ plus another 2-page treat as we enjoy ‘A Visit to Peter’s Pad!’
With the action over there’s still time for a hearty ha ha as Not Brand Echh #2 shares an outrageous comedy caper from Lee, Marie Severin & Frank Giacoia starring the Aging Spidey-Man! Here ‘Peter Pooper vs. Gnatman and Rotten’ reveals how rival comics icons duke it out for the hearts and minds of fandom in a wry jab at the madness of the era’s Batmania craze.
Also on view are gems of original art – including unused pages – and Romita’s first sketch of Mary Jane, plus a painted cover repro from Romita & Dean White.
After a shaky start The Amazing Spider-Man quickly became a popular sensation with kids of all ages. Before long the quirky, charming, thrillingly action-packed comics soap-opera was the model for an entire generation of younger heroes impatiently elbowing aside the staid, (relatively) old thirty-something mystery-men of previous publications and hallowed tradition.
This book is Marvel and Spider-Man at their peak. You really should read it.
© 1966, 1967, 2018 Marvel Characters, Inc. All rights reserved.