Monday, January 4, 2010

Classics #4 - Amazing Fantasy #15

It wouldn't be right to do a list like this without including the first issue to feature the ol' web-head, so taking the fourth spot on my personal list of the "Top 10 Spider-Man stories by Stan and Steve" is Amazing Fantasy #15, with the story simply titled "Spider-Man."

This issue is a miracle of creativity and economy. Covering a slim 11 pages, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko manage to create a character that's unlike any other hero.

The story centers around Peter Parker, a skinny bookworm of a teen who's not popular with anyone except his beloved Aunt May and Uncle Ben. When he attends a science experiment he's bitten by a spider that had been exposed to radioactivity.

In the grand Marvel fashion, radiation translates into super-powers. Peter finds he has great strength, speed and agility, and he can cling to walls. This is the point where most heroes would vow to use their powers to aid mankind, as the Fantastic Four did in their first issue.

Not Peter. He decides to go into show business, and enjoys great success on TV. But when a crook runs past him in the hall one day, Spider-Man does nothing to stop him, and when a guard chastises him, Spidey says, "I'm thru being pushed around -- by anyone!"

He arrives home later to a grim scene - his Uncle Ben has been killed by a burglar! He puts on his Spider-Man costume and tracks down the killer, who is revealed to be the same criminal Spidey had made no effort to stop.

Haunted by guilt, Peter realizes an important lesson, and Stan writes the phrase that has become a quote so famous that non-comics fans know it: "With great power there must also come -- great responsibility!"

Elements of that same origin had been used before - revenge is always a great dramatic device - but no comic book story had ever used it more effectively.

Unlike Batman, who fights crime to avenge his parents death, Spider-Man fights crime to atone for his terrible mistake.

The story is rough in every way - Ditko's art shows many of the creative elements that he'll continue to refine over the years ahead, and Lee tells a powerful tale that balances the narrative without overpowering the artwork - but the story is still a bit cramped for space.

You have to wonder, did they have any idea that they were starting something special? That they were creating a character that would be known around the world almost 50 years later, starring in films, books and merchandising of every kind?

Presumably they were just having fun, telling a story that was out of the ordinary and allowed them to stretch their creative muscles. According to the legend, Stan decided to toss this story into the last issue of Amazing Fantasy because the comic was being cancelled anyway.

Lucky for us, it didn't end there, and the sales warranted giving the character his own title seven months later. It was a near miss for the ol' web-slinger - and for fans as well!

Imagine a world without the Amazing Spider-Man. Scary, isn't it?

Grade: A+

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