Easily Marvel Comic’s most recognisable and popular superhero, unsuspecting teenage nerd Peter Parker was first bitten by a radioactive spider and learned the true meaning of power and responsibility in Amazing Fantasy #15, which was first published in August 1962. Since then, the Amazing Spider-Man has featured in numerous cartoons, live-action movies, videogames, action figures, and countless comic book titles and, in celebration of his debut and his very own day of celebration, I’ll be dedicating every Friday of August to talk about everyone’s favourite web-head!
Story Title: “Spider-Man” and “Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon!”
Published: 1 March 1963
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
By 1962, Marvel Comics had achieved incredible success with the Fantastic Four and, eager to follow up on this, Marvel editor and head writer Stan Lee sought to create a teenaged superhero for his younger readers to identify with. Inspired by a fly climbing up his office wall, Lee created Spider-Man (with the emphasis on the hyphen) and turned to artist Steve Ditko to finalise the character’s costume and accessories. Spider-Man’s debut almost didn’t happen, however, as Marvel publisher Martin Goodman disliked the concept and relegated the story to the final issue of Amazing Fantasy. However, Amazing Fantasy #15 proved to be one of Marvel’s best selling titles at the time; Spider-Man’s subsequent popularity led to him getting his own solo title barely a year later and The Amazing Spider-Man has been in publication ever since.
The issue begins with what has, in my experience, become a tried and true staple of all Spider-Man comics and that is the recap of Spider-Man’s origin. Some time after the death of Uncle Ben and bringing his murderer to justice as Spider-Man, Peter Parker recounts to himself (and the reader) the story of how he was bitten by a radioactive spider, took on a costumed persona to try and earn some money, and inadvertently caused his uncle’s death by not using his powers responsibly.
Now, he and his beloved Aunt May are in a bit of a bind; they have no money to pay their bills and the landlord is literally on their doorstep demanding the rent! Although Peter offers to quit school to get a job, May insists that he continue his studies to become the scientist his uncle always dreamed he would be and, very briefly, Peter considers using his superhuman abilities to commit crimes to pay the bills. Quickly, though, he realises that his Aunt May would be devastated if he was ever caught and imprisoned and, instead, decides to fall back on show business. His duel commitments as Spider-Man and bookish nature continue to make Peter a laughing stock at school since all the hip kids of the sixties want to do is have fun and “jive” rather than study. Still, they would be amazed if they knew that Peter was really Spider-Man, who puts on a dazzling show at the town hall but, while he gets paid, he’s unable to actually get a hold of the money since he not only foolishly asks for a cheque but he asks that it’s made out to “Spider-Man”! I mean, come on, Pete; at least take cash in hand! At the same time, Spidey finds public opinion of him is immediately swayed thanks to the efforts of J. Jonah Jameson, writer and editor of the Daily Bugle, who not only writes a scathing editorial branding Spidey a “menace” but also goes all over New York City delivering lectures that paint Spidey as a bad influence and an outlaw compared to “real heroes” like his son, astronaut John Jameson, because he hides behind a mask.
Although many aren’t taken in by Jameson’s words, his efforts are enough to put an end to Spidey’s media appearances. Peter is similarly driven to frustration at his inability to get a part-time job and the fact that Aunt May has resorted to pawning her jewellery to make ends meet. The next day, Peter is on hand to witness John Jameson lose control of a space capsule shortly after launch after the guidance device malfunctions. While the guys in charge of the launch fail to think of a way to save the astronaut, Peter suits up as Spider-Man and, despite Jameson’s protests, hitches a ride on a plane to intervene. After webbing himself to the capsule, Spidey is able to manually engage the emergency chute and the capsule glides safely to the ground. However, despite his good deed, Peter is shocked and angered to find that Jameson has called for Spider-Man’s arrest following the incident and has even publicly blamed the wall-crawler for the entire thing as a means to fool the public into thinking him a hero. This time, public opinion is swayed massively in Jameson’s favour and a wanted notice is posted for Spidey’s capture; even worse, Aunt May also believes Spider-Man to be a dangerous criminal. Thankfully, in the next story, Peter hits upon the genius idea of trying to repair his reputation (and make some cash) by joining the much-loved Fantastic Four, thinking the team would jump at the chance to work with a super-powered teenager (why, especially when they have Johnny Storm/The Human Torch on the team already, is anybody’s guess). Since you apparently can’t just walk into the Baxter Building, Peter does the only natural thing and breaks in as Spider-Man; unsure of his intentions, Doctor Reed Richards/Mister Fantastic activates the building’s self-defence measures and tries to hold him captive in a plexi-glass cage.
Contrary to the now-iconic front cover image, Spidey immediately breaks free of this trap and, as a result, gets into a tussle with the Fantastic Four. He tosses Benjamin Grimm/The Thing aside with ease, webs up Mr. Fantastic’s elastic arms, easily outmanoeuvres Susan Storm/The Invisible Girl’s pathetic efforts to ensnare him in a rope thanks to his spider-sense, and uses his fantastic agility to run rings around the Human Torch. Eventually, cooler heads prevail and the five are able to talk it out. However, when Spidey learns that the Fantastic Four are a non-profit organisation, and that they are in doubt about his reputation thanks to Jameson, he promptly leaves, disgruntled. Meanwhile, at a military installation across the city, Dmitri Smerdyakov/The Chameleon uses his incredibly life-like masks and disguises to steal documents from a restricted area to sell to Soviet Russia. After hearing of Spidey’s failed attempt to join the Fantastic Four, and his status as a public menace, the Chameleon not only deduces that Spidey must be desperate but also that he would make for a perfect fall guy for his plot to steal more missile defence plans. To that end, he uses his fancy technology to broadcast a message that only Spider-Man, with his heightened senses, would be able to hear (the Chameleon apparently being smart enough to work that out as well, conveniently) and, unable to pass up the chance to make some money, Peter (oddly referred to as “Peter Palmer” in one panel) heads to respond to the call.
At the same time, the Chameleon masquerades as Spidey and steals the plans using a specially-created web gun and fleeing in a helicopter right as the real Spidey arrives to be accosted by the cops. Realised he’s been played for a fool, and having spotted the helicopter’s escape, Spidey dramatically slingshots and parachutes his way across the city using his webs and then steals a motorboat to track the Chameleon to a Soviet submarine. Despite the Chameleon’s best efforts, Spider-Man is able to force him to the ground and convince the cops of his innocence. However, the Chameleon escapes custody using a smoke pellet and slipping into another face mask, that slippery devil! Despite being out of web fluid, Spider-Man is easily able to track the Chameleon down in the local vicinity using his spider-sense but, just as he nabs the crook, the cops accost Spidey, believing him to be the fake! Enraged and despondent, Spider-Man escapes into the night completely unaware that the cops did catch the Chameleon in the very next panel and thus proving that he was innocent all along.
The Amazing Spider-Man #1 is a pretty decent comic, overall. Like all comic books published in the sixties, it suffers a little bit from the narrative style of the time but, unlike others I’ve reviewed from around this time, these are nowhere near as bad; characters aren’t constantly yabbering on in “hip” slang, for instance, and while Spidey and the Chameleon do constantly narrate their actions as they go, it’s not as intrusive as in other comics. As a result, I found this an enjoyable enough read but it’s not as good as it could be simply because it wastes quite a bit of time reminding readers of Spider-Man’s origin. Still, The Amazing Spider-Man #1 quickly establishes many of the character traits and recurring themes that would plague Peter throughout his career; mainly, money troubles, public opinion, Jameson’s endless crusade, and the frail nature of his Aunt May.
Peter Parker is a youth constantly on the short end of life; nothing ever seems to work out for him in either of his guises and he is constantly beaten down by society no matter what he does, and yet he perseveres. This aspiring quality is emphasised here; though Peter does get angry and dejected at his lot in life, he never gives in to the temptation towards crime and is steadfast in his decision to use his powers for good. One good thing that comes from this issue is the answer to the question of who Spidey’s first super-villain was and the answer, disappointingly, was the Chameleon. It might just be me but I’ve never been a fan of this character, or of stories of mistaken identity and fraud in my superhero comics, but thankfully that latter aspect is only a small part of The Amazing Spider-Man #1. If anything, more time could have been spent on the Chameleon framing Spidey for crimes; this would have made Jameson’s tirade against the web-slinger make a little bit more sense (he just comes across as an asshole and a blowhard here), to say nothing to turning the public (and the Fantastic Four) against him and adding to Peter’s woes.
Also, I feel like the front cover is deliberately misleading; clearly designed to attract readers of the Fantastic Four, who were Marvel’s first big superhero success story, it kind of implies a greater conflict with the group that, in reality, is confined to just a few panels. This is good, on the one hand, as Spidey never needed their help in getting out of danger or anything but it does kind of set the foundation for a bad practice in Marvel (and all of comics for that matter) to use popular or established characters to sell their new releases (ironically, Spider-Man would come to be one of the most infamous examples of this). Still, the comic is full of relatable teenage woes and angst, colourful and larger-than-life characters, and set the standard for Spidey’s status quo going forward. There could maybe have been a little more action and web-slinging amidst all the angst but it’s still an enjoyable read and a must-have for any die-hard Spider-Man fan.
What are your thoughts on Spider-Man’s iconic debut solo outing? Were you a fan of the character at the time or were you introduced to him through some other means and, if so, what were they? How relatable did (or do you) find Spider-Man as a character? What is your favourite Spider-Man storyline, costume, or character and why? What did you think to the Chameleon being his first villain? Do you like the angle that the public is so easily turned against Spidey or do you think it doesn’t make much sense given how many superheroes run around New York? How are you celebrating Spider-Man Day today? Whatever your thoughts on Spider-Man, leave a comment below and be sure to stick around for Spider-Man Month starting this Friday!