Wednesday, December 09, 2009

World's Finest Silver Age Comics: Amazing Spiderman #18

Out of the thousands of comics published in the Silver Age (my guess is about 20,000 in total), there are not a handful that are finer than this one. I've talked about it before briefly, but I thought it was time for a longer look.

To set the stage, in ASM #17, Flash Thompson had held the inaugural meeting of the Spiderman Fan Club. Liz Allen's father provided the hall, and a strong turnout was rewarded by a genuine appearance of the friendly neighborhood webslinger. But he gets a nasty surprise when the Green Goblin also shows up and begins fighting him. At a crucial moment in the battle, Peter overhears that his aunt has had another heart attack and is in the hospital. He runs out on the Goblin, turning most of his fans against him, convinced that he'd turned coward.

We get a look at the reactions from some of Spidey's foes and several of the other heroes in the Marvel Universe:

Meanwhile, JJJ is in a celebratory mood:

Peter is having trouble paying the bills, and he's too worried about Aunt May to go into action. If something happens to him, there'll be nobody left to take care of her. To add to his woes, Betty Brant is mad at him for not taking her to the Spiderman Fan Club meeting the previous issue.

Spidey tries selling a local merchandising firm on Spiderman trading cards, but they're not interested in a has-been hero. And improbably, a chemical firm is not willing to purchase his web-fluid because of a designed-in weakness:

Steve shows a bunch of scenes from the first Amazing Spiderman Annual, featuring Spidey in action against six of his greatest foes. As it happens, Peter runs into one of those old foes, the Sandman as he's leaving the chemical company. And the result is further embarrassment:

The news gives JJJ further exposure on TV as the man who revealed Spiderman as a phony long before anyone else. The Human Torch appears to remind us that he had an adventure with Spidey in Strange Tales Annual #2 (discussed here). Meanwhile Flash Thompson gets the brilliant idea of dressing up as Spidey himself and trying to stop a couple of crooks:

Fortunately, the cops come along and save him from a worse beating. To cap off Peter's bad week, he comes across Betty Brant and a new young man (Ned Leeds) exiting a movie theater, obviously in the middle of a date. Fed up with the problems that being Spiderman have added to his life, Peter decides to chuck his costume (literally):

But the next morning he's startled to find Aunt May's wheelchair empty. She's up and about, testing her legs, despite his protests. She gives him a bit of spine-stiffening here:

Peter takes it to heart and so:


As noted, this is one of the rare superhero issues that featured not a single fight (well, other than the one between Flash and the car thieves). And yet, the psychological battle that Peter undergoes is deep and dramatic. As I have discussed in the past, the real charm in the Spiderman series was this inner tension that Peter felt. On the one hand, his obligation to his dead uncle, and on the other, his need to take care of his live aunt. How does he balance those demands? Well, in the end Aunt May tips the scales, but in the opposite direction from what we are expecting. Terrific storytelling and even better characterization. Those are why I dub Amazing Spiderman #18 one of the Silver Age's