Thursday, July 03, 2014

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #7

"The Return of the Vulture" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(December 1963)

One of the things that has consistently delighted me in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man is that Stan & Steve have been able to raise the stakes. Anything that can be done to make Spidey desperate and his enemies powerful enough to get *thisclose* to beating him only pulls in the reader harder and makes the suspense more taut.

For example, in this issue, the Vulture becomes Spider-Man's first returning villain. Back in issue #2, Spidey defeated the Vulture by inventing an anti-magnetic inverter which shut down Vulture's magnet-powered wings. Since then, Vulture's been biding his time in prison, being such a model prisoner that he's been made a trustee and given access to the machine shop... where he makes himself another flying gizmo (as one of the bewildered guards puts it) and simply flies away. Soon enough, he's back on the street robbing jewelers with a new Vulture costume.

Here's where Stan & Steve subvert our expectations: Peter immediately puts on his Spider-Man costume and heads out to face the Vulture the same way he did before... and it doesn't work! The Vulture has prepared for it, corrected the flaw that Spidey's device exploited before, and even lulls Spider-Man into a false sense of triumph before seizing the upper hand and literally dropping Spidey out of the sky. Peter winds up with a sprained arm for his trouble and walks home, licking his wounds. His reaction? "Zowee!"

So now we have an injured Spider-Man facing a Vulture who can't be easily defeated. It's just a great touch, because I have read comic books in the past where a villain returns and causes havoc and the hero just suddenly remembers, oh yeah, this is how I defeated that guy the last time!

This all comes to a head in the offices of the Daily Bugle, where Peter is trying to sell a picture to J. Jonah Jameson. The Vulture comes bursting in to rob the payroll, and while he and JJ are yelling at each other, Peter slips out and gets into his costume, webbing his arm closer to his side. Their fight is epic and hilarious, because they end up fighting all through the building while Jameson chases after them, urging Spidey to stop fighting before they wreck the whole place. ("My ledgers! My files! Look what you're doing!") There's even the seemingly-requisite guy who thinks the building is haunted! Even with Stan & Steve throwing Spider-Man into seriously deadly situations (at one point, Vulture almost drops Spider-Man right into the crushing rollers of the printing press itself), hero and villain are throwing insults and wisecracks at each other. It's marvelously enjoyable!

Although Spidey claims to have it all planned, he ends the fight with what really feels like a last ditch gambit: the Vulture pulls Spider-Man out of the building and high, high above the city, preparing to drop him again from an even greater height. Spider-Man responds by webbing up Vulture's wings, pinning them to his body, so they end up dropping together. Spider-Man hastily constructs one of his web parachutes and they glide to the ground, bickering the whole way down.

Peter's confidence at an all-time high, he ends the day by webbing J. Jonah Jameson's mouth shut and then getting cozy with Betty Brant.

And so we end an excellent issue with the promise of more to come, setting the stage for what will be Peter's first romance. (The one that most fans seem to forget about!)

I have to admit, I've never thought of the Vulture as one of Spider-Man's best nemeses, but both stories we've seen with him so far have been pretty tops. I like the familiarity and comfort of the returning villain, and the adversarial-yet-hilarious relationship they have with each other. This issue was fun as hell, and I kind of can't wait for ol' baldy to come back. It just makes me sorry that we never got Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 4 featuring the Vulture... That series of movies needed some real closure.

Stray observations:

:: Equipment check!

I love little explanatory panels like this. This is as good as a Kirby diagram.

:: One of my favorite bits in this issue is when Vulture is simply testing his wings and is spotted by a news helicopter. In order to evade it, he does some fancy maneuvering and then ducks into a window, winding up, quite by accident, in a jewelry showroom. Never one to waste an opportunity, Vulture simply pulls out a .45 and robs the place. Serendipity.

:: One of many homages Sam Raimi made to the original Lee & Ditko comics:

Peter's arm probably doesn't hurt as much as your words, Aunt May!

Peter tells her he broke his arm playing volleyball, which all the other kids find a pretty laughable excuse. Aunt May--finger angrily wagging--exacts a promise from Peter that he won't play anymore. Poor guy! Betty Brant, for her part, doesn't believe anyone could sprain their arm playing volleyball.

:: Spidey to Jameson: "Aw, go slide down a barbed-wire fence!"

:: "The worst thing about being Spider-Man is changing clothes a zillion times a day! Oh, well... it keeps me out of the pool room!"

:: The letters page features another complimentary letter from Paul Gambaccini, who once had hated what Marvel was putting out. He (very lightly) disparages the books of "your competition," and Stan asks that readers don't do that in their letters. Sidney Wright of Worcester, MA, wants Spidey to get a girlfriend, and Larry Rothenberger of Wausau, Washington, thinks Spider-Man should be able to talk to spiders the way Ant-Man talks to ants. (Quips Stan: "And we suppose you'd like to see Iron Man talking with pieces of iron?") Fans also want Dr. Octopus to return, for Spidey to never have a sidekick, for another run-in with the Human Torch, and still have wildly varying opinions on Steve Ditko's artwork.

Interestingly, citing the work of putting it all together, Stan asks the readers what they think about discontinuing the letter column and just letting Fantastic Four be the central location of all Marvel fan letters.

:: I'm kind of tickled that this--my 99th Marvels post--features the Vulture, because the last issue that featured the Vulture, Amazing Spider-Man #2, was my 49th Marvels post! The 50th was an issue of Fantastic Four. Which brings us to...

Next time: Nick Fury guest stars in Fantastic Four #21 in my 100th Marvels post!

1 comment:

Nik said...

I always liked Betty Brant MUCH more than Gwen Stacy, as I was first exposed to her in the Marvel Tales reprint of this run in the 1980s. Gwen in the comics always seemed too colourless and empty, whereas Betty Brant was an interesting, complex character. I'll always think of her as Spidey's "first" love myself.