Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #2

Two stories in this issue, but Stan drops the format in the next issue and just goes straight to book-length features.

"Duel to the Death with the Vulture!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(May 1963)

I've always considered desperation to be one of Spider-Man's best motivators. It's why I don't mind it in movies when he has more than one villain; because when he's overwhelmed and it leads to desperation and anger, I guess I've always related to that. The frustration he must feel, the way he screws up sometimes and has lapses in moral judgment as a result... these are things I find it very easy to relate to. Spider-Man's never perfect, and he never should be. He's always pushed past his limits, and oftentimes he only survives because his powers make it possible to keep fighting blindly. This all plays a large part in what I love about the character, because I see myself in it. As a teenager, Spidey was my favorite superhero. This is a big part of why.

This story really results from desperation: the desperate need Peter Parker feels to make money so he can help take care of Aunt May. The villainous Vulture is terrorizing New York City, swooping out of the sky on big wings to steal gems, jewels, and bonds. J. Jonah Jameson wants pictures for NOW Magazine, and Peter thinks this will be a big payday: pictures of the Vulture that only Spider-Man, with his special abilities, can get. The look on Peter's face when he figures this out, anticipating the money, is almost one of crazed excitement. He's not motivated by stopping a thief that only he and his unique powers can take down; he's in it for the cash.

The Vulture is the first menace Spider-Man has faced with powers. They're still science powers--Vulture's ability to fly turns out to be magnet technology--but so far Spider-Man's only fought robbers, an out of control space capsule, and a master of disguise. The Vulture is a genuine superhero, and one of Spidey's best villains.

In typical superhero story style, the first round goes to the Vulture. He hears the snap of Spider-Man's camera, flies at him (he's quite fast), picks him up by the ankle and drops him in a rooftop water tower. It's one of those desperate scenes; it takes Spider-Man an entire page to figure out how to get out--the walls are too wet and slimy for him to stick to, he's run out of web fluid and has no more, and he's growing tired. He finally manages to climb out by swimming all the way to the bottom and using his super strength to leap out. As defeats go, it's a little embarrassing. (Peter even cops to it: "Well, I've only myself to blame for being so careless!") Peter immediately modifies a utility belt so it not only holds a small camera, but also extra cartridges of web fluid.

The second round, however, goes to Spider-Man, who catches up with the Vulture after his latest heist. The Vulture tries to finish Spidey off with the same move, but this time Spider-Man's ready. Having suspected that the Vulture had figured out how to use magnets to fly (the clue was the lack of any sound in the wing mechanisms, allowing the Vulture to fly silently and swiftly), Peter had gone home and created an anti-magnetic inverter and put it on his belt; simply pressing it caused the Vulture's magnets to cease working, and the Vulture spins to the ground and is arrested.

Very Doctor Who.

I dig the creativity that comes out of Spider-Man when he's desperate, but I also love how he's always got to go and re-think his approach. A break, some real thinking, and the rational answer usually comes. Fantastic stuff.

Stray observations:

:: J. Jonah Jameson loves the pictures, and tells Peter there's a big payoff if he gets him some pictures of "that menace Spider-Man." Interestingly, Peter tells Jonah that he doesn't want to be credited; he asks specifically that the pictures be attributed to a NOW staff photographer. Why give it away? Why not take the credit? Do you know how many other news outlets are probably going to want to reprint that picture? I thought you wanted money, son!

It reminds me of Stanley Lieber shortening his name to Stan Lee because he didn't want his name on comic books and was saving it for when he wrote the Great American Novel. (And he did; it was just the first 50 issues of Fantastic Four and it was written by a couple of guys called Jack Kirby and Stan Lee.)

:: Jonah's best line this issue: "Take a bonus and go out and buy yourself some twist records!"

:: The Vulture publicizes the big diamond heist he's planning, so the city brings in helicopters and extra police to move the briefcase full of diamonds. The Vulture is a thief who just has this need for everyone to be impressed with how clever he is, and his plan is a good one. While everyone's scanning the skies and waiting for the big fight, Vulture simply pops up from a manhole cover, grabs the briefcase right out of a banker's hands, and flies off through the open sewers, and into the subway system!

This is a great Spider-Man story. Spidey demonstrates his powers as well as his intelligence, he has his first great villain, and it really sets the tone for stories to come. Better than anything in the first issue, for sure.

"The Uncanny Threat of the Terrible Tinkerer!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko

This one's a bit of a letdown, especially after that great first story. In this one, Peter Parker is excited to assist Professor Cobwell, a prominent electronics expert, by picking up a radio from the Tinkerer, who turns out to be part of a group of alien spies. They're putting electronic spy devices in radios to assess Earth's strengths and weaknesses, just like all the aliens in the Marvel Universe are always doing at all times. Not only have we seen this plot time and again (hasn't every Marvel hero dealt with this one already?), but you could pick almost any random earlier issue of Amazing Adult Fantasy, Tales to Astonish, Strange Tales, Tales of Suspense or Journey Into Mystery and see pretty much the same story without a superhero in it. (And 8 times out of 10, it'll even be drawn by Steve Ditko!)

The only nod to this being about a superhero is that Peter susses out the spy device because it keeps setting off his spider-sense, and when the aliens put him in a glass enclosure, he uses his webs to free himself. And the specific Spider-Man bit of the Tinkerer's shop catching on fire, and the cops seeing Spidey emerge from the flames and assuming he set the fire for some reason. Guy can't catch a break. (Maybe that's another thing that was so nice about "Duel to the Death with the Vulture"--in that one, Peter at least got to make some money. It's nice seeing him win every so often.)

Really, it could have anyone in it. It's not a uniquely Spider-Man story, and it's not that good on its own.

Stray observations:

:: Flash Thompson can talk all he wants, he's always gonna look 40 years old to me.

Why haven't you graduated yet? Does Liz Allen's mother know what a man of your age is trying to do to her little girl?

:: I will always love this effect.

I want a big poster of just that image.

:: Nice touch here.

It's been a while since we've had need of a Marvel diagram.

Overall, the second issue of Amazing Spider-Man is a mixed bag. The first great Spidey story in the regular series, and a forgettable tale that seems uncharacteristic of Spider-Man. I don't think we'll see aliens again for a long time; Spidey's milieu is science villains, not aliens. And his next issue is going to introduce his true arch-enemy.

But for our next Marvels: the Sub-Mariner returns for the 50th Marvels post on this blog!

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