Journey Into Marvel – Part 83
Journey Into Marvel – Part 43
Extremites, I am sure you were like me: when you suffered the endless torture that was adolescence: you secretly wanted to be a superhero. You wanted to stretch out those gangly mismatched arms and smack those bullies into their own stupefaction. You wanted to clobber their asses. You wanted to uh…. Iron their uh… man.
Well, maybe not the last one but you get my point.
Teenagehood was hard. Especially for those who found themselves on the wrong side of high school. You know, the side that never gets a romantic partner or seems to become victimized for the clothes they wear or their affinity for reading or, in my case, my love affair with the theatre.
Probably, like me, you found your solace in realms of fantasy. Naturally, this need for fantasy led to comics. I assume it led to comics because you are here.
However, I don’t think comics were originally intended as ‘escapes for the disenfranchised teen.’ Take a look at Batman: he’s a rich playboy who gets all the girls and then goes on murderous rampages at night. That’s a character that is hard to sympathize with and one that doesn’t necessarily reflect those who read him. Sure, his parents are dead, and that’s sad, but his house is gorgeous and women love him.
What about Superman, his alter ego is a nerd, right?
Clark Kent is a character Kal-El puts on. He’s not really a marginalized person. Clark is just a person who looks nerdy because of some glasses. He’s just an alien pretending to be nerdy.
You’ll find these problems throughout the comic book medium. Unless, of course you have already encountered Spider-Man.
When Spider-Man debuted, in 1962, he was a wholly original super character. There was no direct DC counterpoint to Pete Parker as there had been, up to this point, with most of the new creations at Marvel. Pete was incredibly unique.
If you have followed this series on the regular you will have noticed that I often claim that the Human Torch is a forerunner to Spider-Man. This is accurate in regard to the fact they are both teenagers, and young sarcastic men, but it is inaccurate in regards to their social standing. Johnny is a popular daredevil type that functions as a kind of class clown, whereas Pete is a “bookworm.” He’s a young man who, rather then socializing, prefers to study his quiet pursuits. Naturally, this makes him the butt of anti-intellectual bullies like Flash Thompson.
Reading Spidey’s debut I am surprised to see the similarities of Johnny Storm to Flash. He’s brash, thinks he is the most interesting guy in the room and also smarmy as hell. Flash is introduced in the first panel accosting Peter because a girl invited him out to dance. This is uncalled for abuse, not unlike the relentless abuse Torch hurls at Ben Grim in every issue. Torch is a bully. Flash is a bully. This is important.
What sets Peter Parker apart from the rest of Marveldom is that he understands what it’s like to be the little guy in the room. The guy that everyone picks on just because he dares to both think differently and be different. This explains why, after Pete gets bitten by a radioactive spider, he doesn’t immediately go on either a rampage or a justice fuelled quest. Rather, he becomes a wrestler to make some cash. Peter seeks out both applause and recognition for being ‘amazing.’ This is the ultimate goal of one who is marginalized in the teenage world, at least it was for me. Peter just wants to be loved, I just wanted to be loved.
In other articles, I have also suggested that the Human Torch’s solo adventures served as a kind of experiment to the youth oriented Amazing Spider-Man. That is not entirely correct, either. This debut predates the solo Strange Tales features, but it is not an official solo debut. Though Stan Lee and Steve Ditko intended for Spidey to be a bimonthly feature, they never thought that he would get his own focused title. He was meant to head the Amazing Fantasy title. Because of this story Spider-Man inspired a major fan response that led Marvel to pick him up on to a bimonthly solo title.
His sudden popularity stems from two aspects of the debut: first, the inherent relatability of the character and, second, his originality.
Out of the already presented heroes: Hulk and Fantastic Four — Ant-Man doesn’t count because his debut was not intended to be an origin story— Peter Parker is most like the readers.
Sure, I am generalizing some here, as there were plenty of readers who were both adult and female, but the nerdy male was a huge buying crowd, especially for the still niche Marvel comics. Peter Parker is a reflection of those readers. He is not always defined by idealism, like Superman or Batman, and he has a penchant to be petty. Notice the selfishness when Peter uses his newfound abilities to make cash before using it for good. It is not until he suffers his own variation on the Batman origin story that he realizes the great power he possesses.
The Uncle Ben vendetta motivation that fills the bulk of this story; but, unlike the later retellings, Ben’s death is given one passing panel where a police officer describes how a criminal killed him. The vagary of the narrative is the result of an ethics code of the period that meant the story could not show death unless it be of an alien or some other clearly nonhuman character.
The Uncle Ben story is what makes Spider-Man so very original. Peter Parker causes Uncle Ben’s death. It’s an indirect causation, but it is causation none-the-less. This is what separates Peter from Bruce Wayne. Little Bruce did not make Joe Chill kill his parents. Spider-Man allowed a criminal to pass him by who later went on to kill his beloved Uncle. This is unique among the superhero world, thus far, and that, wrapped up with Spidey’s relatability, turned Spider-Man’s rather unassuming debut into a massive fan explosion.
There we have it.
Spider-Man is now on the scene and I can finally talk about the early days of the Marvel Universe, accurately.
Extremites, rather then continue to do what I have been doing in this series, jumping ahead to issues further in the Silver Age and off setting that by returning to the issues I missed early on because of my inability to find them, I am just going to continue ahead with these missed issues and finish them before going into 1964
Don’t be annoyed if I cover some familiar territory. I promise I’ll get to Daredevil, eventually, but it’s wrong of me to ignore the work of 1962/ Winter 1963 for more popular characters like X-Men and Daredevil.
With that I leave today’s journey here.
Until next time, Extremites, I remain: Julian Munds.
Story I Read: “Spider-Man” (Amazing Fantasy #15, Aug. 1962)
Rating: 4 1/2 out of 5.
Pros: The excellent realness of Peter Parker, the coherent simple storyline, the unexpected originality.
Cons: Flash Thompson feels two dimensional because he is. This remains a problem for the next many Spider-Mans.
Previous Review: “The Terror of the Toad Men” (The Incredible Hulk #2, July 1962)
Upcoming Review: “The Stone Men From Saturn” (Journey Into Mystery #83, Aug 1962)