Saturday, September 13, 2014

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #10

"The Enforcers!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(March 1964)

It's not a step backward, but this is the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man that I don't quite think works. It's got a lot of good stuff in it, but I think the story is so stuffed full of characters and events that it doesn't have the impact it should. On the splash page, Stan promises that "with this classic tale, the Marvel Age of Comics reaches a new plateau of greatness!" And it sure tries. But I don't think it really comes off.

Part of the problem is the villains. Big Man and the Enforcers aren't exactly A-list members of Spidey's rogues gallery, especially coming after real greats like Electro, Sandman, Vulture, Lizard, and Doctor Octopus. The Big Man is a mask-wearing crime boss who unites all of the lower-tier gangsters in New York City under his command--something of a go-to for a number of crime bosses we've seen in the Marvel Universe, although the mask is new; still, remember when the Mad Thinker tried to do the same thing? I wasn't a fan of his, either, but he had the whole science villain thing going, plus the Awesome Android.

The Enforcers are Fancy Dan (a judo expert), Montana (a lasso expert) and Ox (who is, um, really big and strong). They don't really have personalities, which is fine, because there really isn't room for them. So Big Man is able to force the criminal underworld of New York City to unite under his leadership with a judo guy, a lasso guy, and a tall guy who punches really good.

I just... I guess after so many science-powered and super-powered villains, going to gangsters is a bit of a letdown. I know there are some people who love Spider-Man in crime stories, but I just don't think he's got the disposition for that. Give me the science fiction.

Well, a crime wave follows, and J, Jonah Jameson immediately suspects that this shadowy criminal overlord is actually Spider-Man in disguise.

He orders one of his writers, Frederick Foswell, to write a story accusing Spidey of being the Big Man, although Foswell at least warns Jameson that being wrong this time--right after being wrong about Spidey and Electro being the same person--could cause people to lose confidence in the Daily Bugle. (Great face on Foswell.)

Spider-Man gets involved with the whole mess when the Enforcers show up outside the Bugle office and threaten Betty Brant after work; apparently she owes the Big Man money and they want her to make good on it. Peter walks in on this, and the Enforcers slap him around and make threats, something which his teenage ego just can't take. He finds the Enforcers and confronts them as Spider-Man... only to get handily defeated. You know how this goes by now.

But the Big Man ducks out in the middle of the fight, and after a quick escape, Spider-Man sees J. Jonah Jameson walking down the street, and now he thinks that Jameson is really the Big Man! Hey, they both wear green suits, so there's that.

Meanwhile, Betty's made the decision to leave town for a while, much to the dismay of both Peter and JJ. She's trying to protect Peter from getting mixed up in this Enforcers business.

Peter decides he has to draw Big Man out, and begins telling everyone that he's figured out who the Big Man really is. The news reaches Big Man through a network of informants, and the Enforcers nab him, taking him down to their warehouse, where Peter changes into Spider-Man and fights the mob once again, this time in a scene that really reminds me of the warehouse fight in the early stages of the Spider-Man video game I used to have on PS2 (the one based on the first Sam Raimi movie). But during the melee, Big Man ducks out once again.

Spider-Man makes his way back to the Bugle office, ready to spring in and confront Jameson, when the police arrive and arrest the Big Man: Frederick Foswell! And with that revelation, JJ grasps at straws, begging Foswell to admit that Spider-Man was in on it, preparing to be a laughingstock yet again... which brings us to this issue's big revelation...

There you have it.

Meanwhile, Peter pines over Betty, who has left town and is now holed up in a hotel in small town Pennsylvania, having sacrificed her relationship with Peter to keep him safe from the Enforcers. What is Betty's tragic secret? Find out... next issue.

Stray observations:

:: Steve Ditko's art in this issue is a lot of small, uniform panels, more reminiscent of his Doctor Strange stories. It's a space-saving move, and the issue still looks great because, come on, it's Steve Ditko. But there's not a lot of room for flourishes of character. It's mainly functional.

:: This issue is so jam-packed that Stan barely has room for the regular supporting cast, other than Jameson. Liz Allan and Flash Thompson are seen briefly visiting Aunt May in the hospital, where she's still convalescing after her surgery last issue. After some uncertainty whether Peter can give her a needed blood transfusion (he does have radioactive blood, after all), May gets her transfusion and is then sent off with neighbors for a recovery trip to Florida.

There's also a nice scene where Flash actually takes Peter aside and warns him not to get on the bad side of the Enforcers. I guess that boxing match they had actually earned Peter some respect from his bully. Not a lot, but some. Hard to believe there was a time when your bullies actually didn't want to see you get too badly hurt...

:: When Betty won't level with Peter about why the Enforcers were intimidating her, he rather childishly assumes that she can't really care for him that much if she won't confide in him. Well, son... have you told her you're Spider-Man yet? No? Then shut up.

:: Spidey uses a bit of theatricality to get a low-level burglar to tell him the location of Big Man's hideout.

I love this thing. I want this to be the outside of my building on Halloween.

:: There's a letter this issue from John Favareau of Yonkers, New York. So close. Of course, Jon Favreau wasn't born until 1966, but still, fun coincidence. (Not really. It really doesn't add up to anything.)

Judging by the letters page this month, the readers really didn't care for "Marked for Destruction by Dr. Doom!" (the consensus seems to be it was Steve Ditko's "worst art yet"), but they loved "Face-to-Face with... the Lizard!" Some of the letters about Ditko's art are a little nitpicky, something Stan gets at in this reply:

Gawd, Kenny!

:: In the Special Announcements section, Stan says the reader's poll overwhelmingly favored keeping the letters pages in Amazing Spider-Man and Fantastic Four. There's also the first instance I've noticed of Stan referring to Marvel as "the House of Ideas." Some news coming up: Fantastic Four #25 will see another round between the Hulk and the Thing (but we've got to get through #24 first); the next issue of Amazing Spider-Man will finally see the return of Doctor Octopus; and the best news of all, which I'll just go ahead and share here as the tease for...

Next Marvels: Avengers #4, and the return of Captain America for real!

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