Saturday, August 20, 2022

Action Is His Reward: Spidey at 60

Peter Parker may have long since left his teen years behind in the comics but as he turns 60 this month, he's still far from showing his actual age. The details of Spider-Man's origin, as first told by writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko in the pages of the anthology comic Amazing Fantasy in its fifteenth and final issue, cover dated August 1962, can be recited chapter and verse by generations of fans. Through its many retellings in animation and film, millions who have never read that initial eleven page story in Amazing Fantasy can still accurately recount Peter Parker's transformation from shy teen to costumed hero, including the bitter lesson that has guided him forever after, the most famous words that Stan Lee ever penned: 

"With Great Power, there must also come Great Responsibility." 

The fact that this was conceived as a stand-alone segment of an anthology rather than an intended kick off for an on-going series is what helps it stand out as the single greatest superhero origin. It isn't just a device to get Peter in costume and on his way to colorful adventures, it's a morality tale with a tragic sting in its tail. It would still work today as a complete, self-contained story even if it had been Spider-Man's one and only outing.  

Of course, it was far from the last anyone saw of Spider-Man. The reader reaction to that story might not have been able to save Amazing Fantasy from cancellation but it did lead to Spidey landing his own title, The Amazing Spider-Man, and the rest is pop culture history. In honor of Amazing Fantasy #15, I'm saluting Spidey's debut with a selection of fifteen covers from Amazing Spider-Man's run that celebrate the spirit of the wondrous wall-crawler. 

In the interest of staying away from the over-familiar, I excluded a lot of key issues. No Amazing Spider-Man #50. No death of Gwen Stacy issues (ASM #121 and #122) and no Kraven's Last Hunt (ASM #293 and #294) either. My picks will show my age but that's ok. Unlike Peter, I have to contend with the very real passage of time. 

15. Amazing Spider-Man #151 (1975)

Artist: John Romita Sr. 

Even though Spidey is commonly referred to as "Your Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man," occasionally we are reminded that he can turn on the intensity when the occasion warrants it. While Spidey isn't a Batman figure that seeks to strike fear in the hearts of criminals, if pushed hard enough, he can quickly drop the jokey banter and go to a darker place. This dramatic cover is one of the best representations of that. 

14. Amazing Spider-Man #160 (1976)

Art by Gil Kane & John Romita Sr.

One of the more gloriously goofy artifacts of Spidey lore is the infamous Spider-Mobile, which made its debut in 1974 (ASM #130). Created with the help of the FF's Johnny Storm, the vehicular monstrosity quickly ended up at the bottom of a river after a battle with Mysterio but OG Spidey foe The Tinkerer recovered it and turned it to deadly use. For me, this cover embodies the (no pun intended) free wheeling fun of Spidey in the '70s.

13. Amazing Spider-Man #75 (1969)

Artist: John Romita Sr.

Tragedy has always been at the heart of Spider-Man and this cover is one of the most dramatic depictions of that. The conclusion to the Stone Tablet Saga that ran from ASM #68 to #75, this issue sees Spidey reckon with the consequences that the use of the ancient tablet have wrought. The actual events don't weight quite as heavily on the Wall Crawler as the cover suggests but John Romita Sr.'s image perfectly encapsulates the side of Spidey that has had to regularly contend with the limits of his powers to avert tragic outcomes.

12. Amazing Spider-Man #124 (1973)

Artist: John Romita Sr.

Beyond my own purely personal affection for this cover (as a kid I owned the Power Records release that adapted the two-part story that this issue began), I would say it merits inclusion here for spotlighting that perennial thorn in Peter's side, crusading newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson. I always consider any adventure that allows for a larger involvement for the irascible JJJ, arguably the most important member of Spidey's stellar supporting cast (friend, mentor, boss, adversary - he fulfills so many different functions!), to be a special occasion. Also, there's a werewolf. 

11. Amazing Spider-Man #112 (1972)

Artist: John Romita Sr.

This cover is one of the great "Spidey's had it" images. As much as he might use his humor as a buffer, we occasionally are reminded that Peter does have a breaking point. His frustrations can boil over and his patience with his fellow man can run out. I like the idea that Peter's devotion to saving others can sometimes be tested, that he can become as fed up as anyone and this cover is a classic depiction of that.

10. Amazing Spider-Man #18 (1964)

Artist: Steve Ditko

As the man who defined Spidey, Steve Ditko's run on Amazing Spider-Man features one classic cover after another but I have a special love of this one because it illustrates how dramatically Spider-Man changed the perception of superheroes and how ground-breaking those early issues were. You would never have seen a cover of another superhero book at the time showing its title character cowering in fear behind some debris in an alley as his adversary runs wild in the streets. While there is a reason given within for Spidey's apparent cowardice, it is still remarkable that this cover image is selling Spidey at his least heroic. 

9. Amazing Spider-Man #100 (1971)

Artist: John Romita Sr. 

John Romita Sr. had faced the daunting task of taking over the art chores on Amazing when Steve Ditko abruptly left after issue #38 but he quickly established himself as one of the greatest to ever depict Spidey. Thanks to the sleek look he brought to the character, Spidey's popularity only soared higher. When it came time to celebrate Amazing's landmark 100th issue, "Jazzy" Johnny created a cover that was worthy of the moment, one of the most striking to ever grace the title's run. 

8. Amazing Spider-Man #178 (1977)

Artist: Ross Andru

This is one of those covers that encapsulates Spidey in a nutshell. Aunt May is in the hospital on the brink of death and MJ is wondering where Peter could be, while outside the window, Spidey is in the grip of battle with the Green Goblin. It's a perfect Spidey snapshot, all the better for being illustrated by Ross Andru, the artist who was the primary artist on Amazing through the '70s. Andru never got anywhere near the same acclaim as other Spidey greats like Ditko and Romita Sr. or even later Spidey artists like Todd McFarlane and Mark Bagley but if you grew up reading Spidey in the '70s, Andru's version of Spider-Man and of his cast of friends and foes embodies that era. 

7. Amazing Spider-Man Vol. 5 #55 (2020)

Artist: Patrick Gleason

This cover from artist Patrick Gleason is an eerily beautiful black and white image that serves as a reminder that, after all these years, and hundreds upon hundreds of covers later, that artists are still able to conjure new images that can instantly weave their way into Spidey's iconography. 

6. Amazing Spider-Man #196 (1979)

Artist: Keith Pollard

Peter's doting Aunt May has died (or seemed to) a few times over the years but this was the first such occasion (don't worry, True Believers, it was all part of a hoax engineered by that wily illusionist Mysterio) and Keith Pollard's wordless cover more than rises to the occasion. It's a dramatic image that immediately seized my attention when I first saw it on the spinner racks.  

5. Amazing Spider-Man #181 (1978)

Artist: Gil Kane

This is yet another cover that embraces the tragic side of Spidey. The story within was a nice recap of Spidey's origin and if you happened to be a new reader looking to get into Spidey's world, this was an ideal jumping on point. Back when comics were only an occasional treat for me, based on the cover I knew this was one issue I had to add to my then-meager collection. Thumbs up, too, to Doctor Doom for muscling his way onto this short selection of Spidey foes. For some reason, there was a weird move back then to link him and Spidey. Sure, they had tangled a time or two but he wasn't a member of his rogue gallery in any way. But yet in the Spider-Man animated series of the early '80s, Doom was featured prominently, right in the opening credits. Why that was, I don't know. But here he is, one of the figures that is tormenting ol' Spidey. Somewhere an outraged Green Goblin is throwing his purple man purse down in disbelief. 

4. Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15 (1981)

Artists: Frank Miller & Klaus Janson

A classic Spidey cover that barely has Spidey on it. Frank Miller didn't do a lot with Spidey back in the day but every time he did, it was notable. This cover just nails the vibe of Spider-Man but in a completely unexpected, unconventional way. 

3. Amazing Spider-Man #600 (2009)

Artist: Alex Ross

Anything that artist Alex Ross does in his realistic, painterly style has the look of an instant classic but this cover that he did for ASM #600 is especially nice. Having it in red and black is such an effective, dramatic touch. Over the years, we've seen hundreds, if not thousands, of illustrations of Spidey tangled in Doc Ock's tentacles but this image still manages to feel singular. 

2. Amazing Spider-Man #655 (2011)

Artist: Marcos Martin

Marcos Martin is one of the greatest modern artists to have worked on Spider-Man and his cover for this gem of an issue illustrated by Martin himself and penned by writer Dan Slott is one of the all-time great Spidey covers, just a strikingly simple instant classic. A model of economy, there's not a single wasted (web) line on it. 

1. Amazing Spider-Man #131 (1974) 

Artist: Gil Kane

While I would say to not take the rankings here seriously at all, and in fact don't even think of them as rankings because they could go in just about any order as far as I'm concerned, I will say that this cover could handily fend off most comers if it had to. It just nails the essence of Spidey so well. You've got action, you've got the trademark Spidey soap opera-style melodrama (Aunt May marrying Doc Ock?!?), you've got Spidey confronting one of his greatest rogues (The Green Goblin gets all the hype but for me, Ock is forever #1), bold cover copy in the Mighty Marvel manner, and it's capped off with a web-related pun. This is upper tier comic greatness to my mind. Since I first saw it on the spinner racks, it looked like a classic to me. 

But no matter which were the covers that first reeled you in or which era you think feels the most like classic Spidey, for sixty years now Spider-Man has remained the gold standard of superheroes. By any measure, that's pretty damn Amazing.  

No comments:

Post a Comment