Guest columnist Wayne Rée shares his discovery of comic books, from his start as a super-hero fan to his evolution into a believer of the power of the art form of comics.
It’s pretty safe to say by now that everyone, their grandmothers, and their grandmothers’ cats (all of whom, I assure you, are named Mr. Muffins) have watched and love The Avengers. Personally, I find that so cool. As a lifelong Marvel guy, it’s nice that more people are starting to see why I adore this universe of characters so much.
And, really, if we’re going to go through my journey as a comic fan, there’s no better place to start than with my love for this pantheon of colorfully garbed heroes. Well, two of these colorfully garbed heroes in particular actually, for two pretty distinct reasons.
Get by with a little help from my webs
I was introduced to Marvel — and as I mentioned before, to the comic medium itself — through one Peter Benjamin Parker, better known as The Amazing Spider-Man. Since picking up that aforementioned hardcover, I’ve followed the webhead’s adventures—sporadically at first, but with increasing regularity—for the past 24 years. (First one of you to make a crack about my age gets decked, I swear.)
A lot of people say that the appeal of Spider-Man is that, under that mask, he’s a regular guy with regular problems. I agree—but I’d take it a step further. Pete loves the Beastie Boys (respect to Adam Yauch). Dollars to doughnuts, he’s also a sci-fi, Monty Python, and Looney Tunes nerd. And, yeah, sometimes he’d rather be alone, but at the end of the day, he’s still someone you can count on.
I’m a Spidey fan, not because he faces the same crap as me, but because, when all that crap’s done, there’s no one I’d love to hang out with more than ol’ Peter Parker. I can’t tell you how often I’ve felt utterly miserable after a terrible day’s work, only to be cheered up by the latest issue of The Amazing Spider-Man.
Pete’s been through a lot over those 24 years, but the one thing that’s never changed is that he’s not just a fictional character to me; as corny as this sounds, he’s a friend. (First one of you to crack wise gets decked too.)
The real men without fear
The other guy who reaffirmed me as a Marvel fan was a blind lawyer named Matt Murdock, who spends his night jumping around Hell’s Kitchen’s rooftops as the costumed crusader Daredevil.
Well, OK… that’s not entirely accurate. It was more than just the character of Daredevil, you see. Unlike Spider-Man, I wasn’t initially drawn into the charming Mr. Murdock’s world because he felt like a friend. I actually started picking up the series when writer-director Kevin Smith took over the creative reigns with artists Joe Quesada and Jimmy Palmiotti.
Now, this was pretty new to me at the time. I’d been reading comics for about ten years and I’d never thought of this as a medium driven not just by these iconic heroes, but by the people behind them as well.
Since then, almost all of the different creative teams who’ve worked on Daredevil — from Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev to Mark Waid and his rotating roster of artistic cohorts — have reinforced and nurtured that subtle shift in my thinking: that the creators are just as powerful as these creations.
Face front, true believer!
A lot of snooty types tend to scoff at Marvel and mainstream superhero fare in general. They say that the genre doesn’t stack up against other, supposed literary comic works. I, however, respectfully disagree. (Actually, I’d be slightly less respectful, but Corey asked me not to be such a potty mouth. Count yourselves lucky, snooty types.)
Marvel Comics have given me characters that continue to remain very dear to my heart and have also inadvertently imparted upon me a more enlightened mentality about creators that’s led me to an even greater world beyond the capes-and-tights set.
Wayne Rée’s been writing professionally for about ten years. He’s worked in everything from advertising to publishing, and was even part of the team that created Singapore’s very first tattoo magazine. He dabbles in screenwriting and photography, and travels way too much. And, yes, that is a Steve Ditko-illustrated Spider-Man cover tattooed on his right forearm.
I closely re-read Amazing Fantasy #15 recently, as reprinted in Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 1 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. This is the very first appearance of the amazing Spider-Man, as he appeared in the final issue of a weird little anthology previously titled Amazing Adult Fantasy.
Cover dated August 1962, the issue was plotted by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, scripted by Stan Lee, illustrated by Steve Ditko, probably colored by Stan Goldberg, and lettered by Art Simek. The cover was illustrated by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, and colored by Stan Goldberg. In this reprint edition, art and color reconstruction was done by Michael Kelleher and Kellustration.
A lot has been written about this issue but I’d like to just post some of the random thoughts that popped into my head as I was reading this. A lot of it silly and trivial but not all of it and I don’t see many people specifically pointing this stuff out too often. If you’ve got a copy of the issue, follow along at home. It’s a fun issue and a great origin story told in a compact 11 pages. They really don’t make ‘em like this anymore. You can buy the Marvel Masterworks reprint on Amazon or read the issue online at Marvel.com.
- How did I ever not notice those big thick white motion lines on the cover?
- I always thought it was funny that one of the cover blurbs was announcing a special message from the editor. As though this is an exciting sales pitch to people browsing the comic book section of the newsstands. Never mind the stories, this comic has a letter!
- Page 1: Spider Man, Spider-Man, Spiderman – which is it?! (YES, IT MATTERS!!!) It would actually take a couple of issues of Amazing Spider-Man before they settled on the middle one.
- Page 2: “Wheatcakes”? That sounds kinda gross. Or maybe just really bland.
- Page 3: Scientists are just as obnoxious as the high school cool kids crowd, it turns out.
- Page 3: The radioactive spider-bite caused Peter’s fingertips to turn yellow for a while?
- Page 3: His tingling spider-sense does not go off here or in this issue at all.
- Page 4-5: Crusher Hogan enjoys his work. That is the happiest wrestler I’ve ever seen.
- Page 5: What is Peter using for his first mask? Fishnets maybe?
- Page 5-6: Nameless TV producer has an awesome hat.
- Page 6: Did they really have majors in high school in the early ’60s?
- Page 6: I’m going to pretend that a prototype for his web fluid was being made in the earlier scene of Peter with a teacher in the school science lab. Because him just whipping it up on his own in an afternoon is too much for me. (And yet I’m totally fine accepting that a spider bite causes someone to stick to walls. I’m not saying these observations make any sense.)
- Page 6: Maybe Peter also minored in home ec so he could make his costume.
- Page 7: Quiet on the set, Mr. Camera Man! Geez. And get back behind the camera.
- Page 7: I’m not real clear what Spider-Man’s stunt is here. Webbing a candle that’s sitting on a pendulum?
- Page 7: Now the TV producer from the previous scene is yelling cut as though he’s the director?! I assume this isn’t the set of The Ed Sullivan Show, as mentioned on the previous page, because this production is a mess. Is there even an actual director on set?
- Page 8: Yes that’s right. A high-speed express elevator for a TV studio in the 1960s. Totally standard.
- Page 8: After being rejected by the kids at high school and his scientist “friends,” Peter declares his sole loyalty to his Uncle Ben and Aunt May, the only people he feels has ever cared about him. “I’ll see to it that they’re always happy, but the rest of the world can go hang for all I care!” This after they give him a new microscope he’s wanted, so maybe a tad materialistic of him but they are very loving elsewhere. He’ll soon discover that this kind of petty isolationism comes with a price.
- Page 8-9: I wonder if the police officer in the TV studio is related to the police officer outside his house days later. Brother maybe?
- Page 9: Speaking of that cop, nice tact there. “Bad news, son – your uncle has been shot – murdered!” And then proceeds to tell Peter precisely where to go to exact revenge from the burglar. So fired. (No actually, it looks like he whisks himself off to the warehouse for the story’s climax, where he is revealed to be the captain and commanding officer on the scene. Or the brothers are triplets.)
- This is really an overall note for the whole issue, but Steve Ditko draws the most awesome and unique faces. Every character, no matter how minor, has their own personality. Even the older police officer and security guard, while similar looking, have different eye brows and profiles.
- Page 10: Spider-Man’s first night time web-slinging! Whee!
- Page 11: In times of great stress, Peter Parker’s pupils become so pronounced, they can be seen through his mask. Like the glowing fingers, another side effect of the irradiated spider bite that faded away. Naturally.
- Page 11: Captain Fired is about to order his men to rush the warehouse, where the burglar would have surely gone down in a blaze of glory, taking as many police officers as he could shoot with him. Interesting that Spider-Man probably saved the lives of several police officers, but with the emotional state he’s in he’s probably never realized that.
- Page 11: “… with great power there must also come — great responsibility!” This phrase eventually becomes the guiding principle of Peter’s life. It’s later credited to Uncle Ben, but he never actually says it in this story. It’s also worth noting the dash, and the “must also”, both usually left out when quoted today.
Announcement from the Editor:
- Page 12: The story has always been that Spider-Man appeared in this issue because they knew it was the final issue of Amazing Fantasy, so there wasn’t much risk to try out a new character. But this editorial letter to the readers makes it clear that when this issue went to press, they thought there would be more issues of the series. The new editorial policy, which includes a change of format and a slight title change from Amazing Adult Fantasy, is laid out. And “Spiderman” will appear every month. Stan Lee has told the story that he tells in his introduction to Marvel Masterworks: The Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 1 tons of times. He’s also admitted to having a terrible memory and re-telling stories that sound good but may not even be true. Turns out this is one of them.
- Page 12: It’s also neat that they would have a scorecard of which stories in each issue of Amazing (Adult) Fantasy were most liked. (The comic was an anthology, so multiple stories appeared in each issue.) It’s amazing that they had 300 votes for the favorite story from the previous issue. 300+ fans were involved enough to mail letters and this was a comic on the verge of cancellation. It’s not specified, but the stories are from Amazing Adult Fantasy #12 due to the lag time from mailing and printing.
- Page 12: If you want to read the scorecard winner, the 3-page story “Something Fantastic” from Amazing Adult Fantasy #12 was included in the 2005 collection Marvel Visionaries: Steve Ditko. [Amazon link]
Have any observations, random or otherwise? Questions about the issue? Post them below!
I’m busy pitching woo with the one I love, so to tide you over here are a bunch of comics or semi-comics pictures celebrating love and the Holiday That Hallmark Built. Enjoy!
Some geek scouring of Amazon revealed a listing for a hardcover collection of the 2003 Marvel Comics mini-series Trouble by Mark Millar and Terry Dodson scheduled for release on June 8, 2011. Yup, that’s the cover of the first issue from 2003. Classy, no?
Mark Millar has made a significant name for himself, most notably to the public at large for being the creative mind behind the Hollywood movies Kick-Ass and Wanted, both based on comic book mini-series he wrote (the former with artist John Romita, Jr., and the latter with J. G. Jones). (Terry Dodson is also a pretty popular comics artist, having worked on characters like Spider-Man, Wonder Woman and the X-Men.) So it makes sense for Marvel to mine its back catalog for material with Millar’s name on it. But I have to admit I never thought this comic would ever see the light of day again.
The concept is that Spider-Man’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben, while teenagers and not yet married, go on a double date with Spider-Man’s future parents to a resort in the Hamptons for summer vacation. It’s never explicitly stated that’s who they are (no last names are ever given), but the intent is pretty obvious. The story soon turns into a very special episode dealing with teen pregnancy.
As if that wasn’t blasphemous enough for longtime Spider-Man fans, Marvel inexplicably decided that instead of comics art on the covers, each of the five issues should use uncomfortable pictures of young girls in bathing suits, like the one creeping you out right now. The idea was to have French photographer Phillipe Biabolos mimic the covers of romance novels in an effort to draw in female readers. Idea and execution don’t always stay on the same path.
You see, this comic was supposed to help resurrect the long stagnant romance genre in comics, which was huge in the late 1940s and early 1950s, bringing in tons of female readers. But in 1954 the comics industry felt pressured to create a self-censorship board following some heated Senate hearings on the dangers of comics to America’s youth. So romance comics became boring and people stopped reading. By the 1970s the genre was dead. Flash forward to 2003, and Marvel Comics realizes that drawing from a demographic consisting of just over half the population could be a pretty good strategy. So they decided to give romance comics a go again. And then proceeded to royally botch it up with creepy covers of possibly under-age girls and an unnecessary connection to Marvel’s superhero mascot.
The series, conceived and written entirely by men who work almost exclusively in the superhero genre, failed to find an audience in comics shops. Many of those stores had very likely never tried to sell a romance comic before. And let’s be honest, they had an uphill battle. I have a hard time imagining someone who would be interested in romance comics feeling comfortable buying something with that cover. It’s got Pedobear written all over it.
As you might expect, it was lambasted by readers and drew a lot of critical ire at the time. In fact, it faired so poorly that the softcover collection of the individual issues, which would have been distributed to bookstores so female readers might actually discover it, was cancelled. Who knows? Maybe book stores took one look at it and refused to carry it. Regardless, the aborted graphic novel seemed to be an unspoken message of “Forget it. It never happened.”
And yet, here it comes again. Has it aged well? I guess we’ll find out. I’d love to hear Mark Millar or Terry Dodson’s thoughts on the comic now with some time passed. Marvel Comics Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and former Marvel publisher Bill Jemas were also heavily involved in the concept and design of the comic, so I’m curious about their thoughts as well. Any regrets? Any realizations that maybe this could’ve been pulled off better? Or did everyone just overreact and misread everything?
(It should be noted that sometimes these super-advanced Amazon listings end up being completely wrong. So it’s entirely possible this never comes out. But it’s a good excuse to revisit this failed attempt at reaching female readers. Quite a few major comics publishers have plenty of examples. And sometimes they even get it right.)