Journey Into Marvel – Part 83
When I reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man #4, I compared the recent Spidey story lines to wrestling matches, in that they are essentially pair ups of outrageous characters going up against a no-holds-barred vigilante. Up until now, this thematic has worked to create great comic yarns. This time, it did not, however, and this failure is surprising. It is surprising because the antagonist chosen is the well established, fan favourite, Dr. Doom. This issue proves that action for the sake of action, while superficially entertaining, ends up being empty when the reader wises up to the scheme.
In September 1963, Marvel was crossover mad. They had just risked it all by teaming up mediocre solo performing lines like Thor, Ant-Man and Iron-Man into the Marvel answer to the Justice League: The Avengers. Spider-Man, however, was not invited to that party as his line was the top selling title. This popularity was astounding considering lines like Fantastic Four and Journey Into Mystery had triple the amount of stories. Spider-Man seemed to strike a chord with readers. To capitalize on that popularity, Stan Lee thought it a good idea to combine the most popular villain (at the time) with the most popular superhero. The stunt makes sense on paper but when reading through the issue it doesn’t pan out. Probably, because the exploitation is so transparent.
The story begins so well!
Peter Parker is dealing with jibes and barbs from Flash Thompson while we are privy to the knowledge of Pete’s alter-ego. This knowledge touches the part of every nerd’s heart that yearns to be secretly powerful in the face of bullying. Suddenly, an armoured figure appears over a screen, depicting the schoolyard theatre, suggesting that there is something larger then this teenage drama. Dr. Doom is far worse then any bullying red headed, sweater clad, ‘cool guy.’ Alas, that’s the end of the plausibility and excitement for this issue because absurd Lee style ‘science’ begins from this point on. Doom, wanting to reach out to Spider-Man. because he still smarts from the last encounter with the Fantastic Four and needs a friend, uses the energy waves that are supposedly emanated from spiders to contact Spidey. The idea that any character can just tap into an energy to communicate with any creature is absurd! If anybody can do it, then Ant-Man is negated to being just a really small guy. The whole idea smacks of laziness and convention.
Lee’s laziness continues when he has Doom offer friendship to Peter then turn around and attack him. Doom is many things but unhinged is not one of them. Historically, it is Doom’s logical calculations that have made him a formidable foe. This irrationality is out of character and serves to leave the resulting conflict empty and without tension. These two characters are going through the motions, albeit very entertaining and well drawn motions. Steve Ditko’s artwork far outreaches the work of Jack Kirby and ably constructs a rich, colourful environment.
Flash’s accidental capture is the most interesting part of this issue.
Thompson gets his hands on an identical Spider-Man costume and attempts to ambush the unsuspecting Parker. Flash believes that Pete is the worst type of coward; afraid of literally everything. The ambush fails and he ends up the prisoner of a very inexplicably angry Dr. Doom. Another irrational moment brought to you by a bastardized Dr. Doom. How can an armour clad Dr. Doom capture a neon red spandex wearing superhero in the middle of a New York road without being seen by anybody? Certainly not a great plan. The only thing missing from the plan is a baby sans lollipop.
This mistaken identity could have been a great twist but is never capitalized on. What a wasted opportunity. Imagine the story possibilities with New York thinking that Spider-Man was the jerky red head jock Flash Thompson. The anger that would have overtaken Pete would be legendary.
There is much criticism against comics as a medium. Many believe they are examples of empty, sensationally written, pulp literature. We as comic nerds know otherwise, but when hastily written story lines like this come about, it is very difficult to make the case for the literary significance of Superhero comics. Action, while entertaining, means nothing when character is sacrificed for explosions and ‘what if’ scenarios. What a shame that the two most legendary and 3 dimensional characters of the Marvel Silver Age were sacrificed to sell a large amount of issues.
Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: The Art, Spider-Man’s sardonic quips to a rarely tested Dr. Doom and canonicity.
Cons: Improbable and poorly thought out motivation. Questionable logic. Dr. Doom’s out of character irrationality without explanation. The coincidental nature of the whole issue.
<— Preceding Review: “The Coming of the Avengers” (The Avengers #1 Sept, 1963)
—>Upcoming Review: “The Living Bomb” (Strange Tales #112 Sept 1963)
- Spider-Man Joins The Marvel Universe LIVE! Line-Up (musingsofamildmanneredman.com)
- COMICS: Spider-Man villain Mysterio is a Riverside native (pe.com)
- Dr.Doom (dragonborn456.wordpress.com)
- Our favourite superheroes pitted in battle against, er, lamps (lostateminor.com)
- ‘I thee web’: Spider-Man and Mary Jane get married at Shea Stadium, 1987 (dangerousminds.net)
- Editorial: Spider-Man Is One Of Us (capelesscrusader.org)
- Where did Marvel come from? Well here is a little history about the company. (fandemonium365.wordpress.com)
Story I Read: “Nothing Can Stop The Sandman” (The Amazing Spider-Man #4 Sept 1963)
It says a lot that back in Amazing Fantasy, when Peter Parker made his debut, the first thing he decided to use his new found powers for was as a professional wrestler. Since then, every one of his later issues have been match-ups: Spider-Man. Vs. The Vulture, Spider-Man Vs. Doctor Octopus, Spider-Man Vs. Invaders from outer space. Spider-Man’s villains, up to this point, concoct no complex or unintelligible plot to bring down the young superhero, they merely challenge him and a great match ensues.
Ding Ding! Round 4! Spider-Man Vs. Sandman.
Flint Marko makes his first sandy appearance in this one and he catches Pete in the middle of a teenage quandary. As we have learned up to this point in Spidey’s very short career, Pete’s success at defeating his nemeses is directly proportional to how much turmoil is going on in his teenage life. At this point, Pete is up to webbing in teenage turmoil. He has a date with calmly Liz who heads the cheerleading squad. In classic Flash Thompson cruel fashion, she’s doing it out of charity. Pete doesn’t notice, for he’s obsessed by how he can defeat the vastly more powerful Sandman and forgets his once in a lifetime chance with the ‘Queen Bee.’ This is what I, and no doubt the countless fans in this period, love about The Amazing Spiderman. He is the one character that truly embodies the Silver Age Marvel mandate to bring reality to the Superhero comic. Whether its Pete’s inability to resew his costume after Sandman rips his mask or his preemptively hasty and therefore illegal take down of some suspicious characters outside of a jewelry store, everything about this issue feels authentic and realistic.
Honourable mention to the Dr. Kildare reference.
This issue isn’t all roses. The failures all generally lie in the two antagonists. Sandman’s origin story of escaping a prison and then getting exposed to a radioactive test is a tad wild and out of step with the rest of the mythology being created. The two other villains presented up to this point in the comics, came from a place of heightened reality, Vulture was a skilled robber who used gliding technology to enhance his abilities and Dr. Octopus was born out of science gone too far. Spidey’s origin story is similar. Sandman’s on the other hand results from happenstance and the evils of weaponization. It makes much more sense in the mythology of Hulk. It also is essentially the same origin story of the Hulk of this period. Something about the conception of Flint Marko seems lazy, but this laziness does not hamper the progression of the story, and this issue remains a wildly entertaining ride.
The other antagonist, J. Jonah Jameson, continues his absurd vendetta against Spider-Man. He even believes that Sandman and Spider-Man maybe the same man.
Why doesn’t New York realize that J. Jonah Jameson is bat shit crazy?
Looking at this issue as a whole it is very much in a different league then the other work of this period. It is human, fresh and wildly entertaining. Not even the much more established Fantastic Four can compete with Spider-Man. No wonder these issues flew off the shelf.
Looking at this issue in competition with only Spider-Man, it is somewhere in the middle. It has great moments of charm but it is rather simplistic in plot and characterization. The art is also as detailed as Silver Age comics get. 3 1/2 out of 5. Had the character of Sandman been more explored, the issue would have received a higher score.
<— Previous Review: “The Mad Pharoah” (Tales of Suspense#44 Aug 1963)
—> Upcoming Review: “Defying the Magic of Mad Merlin” (Journey Into Mystery #96 Sept 1963)
- 10 Things I Love About Spider-Man (evilgeeks.com)
- Theater claims it licensed Spider-Man from Stan Lee Media (robot6.comicbookresources.com)
- COMICS: Spider-Man villain Mysterio is a Riverside native (pe.com)
- Spider-Man’s TV History (ign.com)