Friday, February 04, 2011
Amazing Spiderman #1
George M. Cohan once observed that plotting a three-act play was relatively simple. In Act 1, you get the hero up in a tree. In Act 2, you throw stones at him. In Act 3, you get the hero down from the tree.
Many comic stories follow this simple formula. Where Spiderman was different, was that Stan and Steve never got him down from the tree; they just kept throwing the stones at him.
This issue offers a classic example. After a quick summary of the events in Amazing Fantasy #15, we see that Uncle Ben's death has put Peter and Aunt May in a rough situation:
Peter considers taking up crime to pay the bills, but he knows it would break his aunt's heart if he were ever arrested. So he gets the bright idea of going into show business. Problem solved? Nope, because there's another stone waiting:
Spidey indeed finds it impossible to cash his check. And things get even tougher with the first appearance of his longest-running nemesis:
The inspiration for J. Jonah Jameson is probably found in the works of Ayn Rand. In the book The Fountainhead, Howard Roark runs afoul of a character named Ellsworth Toohey, who sees it as his duty (as a socialist) to tear down heroic individuals in favor of the ordinary working man. Ditko was famously a Rand fan, and echoes of her philosophy often appeared in Spiderman and in the Question series, as I discussed here.
Jameson's son is an astronaut (note: astronauts were huge celebrities in 1963), and is being launched into space shortly after Spiderman is basically drubbed out of the entertainment biz. But his space capsule develops a problem and he appears to be doomed until Spiderman steps in:
He commandeers a plane and a pilot from a nearby base and:
He rescues Jameson's son and emerges a hero to all, right? Well, yes to the former, but Stan and Steve haven't finished off their pile of stones:
Jameson has trumped up a patently ridiculous charge that Spidey had caused the problems with the capsule in the first place, so that he could look like the savior. So our friendly neighborhood Spiderman remains treed:
In the backup story, Spiderman tries to join the Fantastic Four, figuring that he ought to command a good salary with them. But:
The remainder of the story features Spiderman's first battle with the Chameleon, a quick-change artist. At one point, the Chameleon impersonates Spiderman himself. Peter captures him but the Chameleon gets away and does another makeover. We see the first appearance of Spider-Sense here:
The Spider-Sense is an ingenious gimmick that would become an important weapon in Spiderman's arsenal. But when he catches the phony cop, the Chameleon claims loudly that Spiderman is really the Chameleon in disguise again. This results in Peter fleeing, angry and hurt:
Like I said, the stones never stopped coming.