Saturday, October 11, 2014

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #11

"Turning Point" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(April 1964)

The Amazing Spider-Man has really turned into an engrossing soap opera, and I think this might be the point where it overtakes Fantastic Four as my favorite Marvel comic. This issue is just as packed full of plot and story as the previous issue, but where I felt "The Enforcers!" stumbled, "Turning Point" soars by paring down the number of characters we have to check in on. No high school stuff, no J. Jonah Jameson, and a mere cameo from Aunt May: we have Doctor Octopus and Betty Brant to worry about. Peter Parker is still concerned about Betty's sudden departure, and in true Spider-Man style, the events of Peter's personal life and Spidey's career are set to collide.

Right away, Peter hears on the radio that Doctor Octopus is going to be released from prison today. As Spider-Man, he heads over to the prison to plead with the warden not to release Ock, but the warden won't hear of it. The doc has served his time. The warden's right, he can't circumvent the law, but once again, I just have to protest the bizarre idea of punishment in the Marvel Universe. It's still in real time, so, honestly, 9 months? 9 months in jail for trying to steal atomic weapons?

Look at this cool customer.

This is the single best panel of Doctor Octopus ever. Casually lighting a cigarette. He's faster and more dexterous now, and he's going to be even more dangerous--something that makes him, as I said before, Spider-Man's actual archenemy.

Peter goes home and invents the Spider-Tracer, a small, spider-shaped electronic device filled with transistorized circuits, which he can use to pick up coded messages on a receiver. This is the first time we see these, but certainly not the last. I don't know how it goes from here, but I seem to remember him throwing these all over the place in the eighties.

When he arrives back at the prison, he sees, of all people, Betty Brant pulling up and then driving away with the now-free Doctor Octopus in the car. Spidey just manages to attach the Spider-Tracer to the car's roof before she speeds off, leaving behind a map of Philadelphia which was, I guess, accidentally dropped out of the car? (A hackneyed device, but I'll let it go because the rest of this story's so good.)

And what's in Philadelphia? Well, besides the Philadelphia Museum of Art (sadly not making an appearance here), we meet gangster Blackie Gaxton and his lawyer, Bennett Brant, Betty's brother. Apparently Bennett's got some major gambling debts, and that's what Betty was trying to pay off to the Big Man last issue. Blackie and Bennett have made a deal: Betty drives Doctor Octopus to Philadelphia so that Doc can break Blackie out of prison, and the debt is canceled.

But, of course, it's never that simple, is it?

Heading to Philadelphia for what he tells Aunt May is a weekend trip to see historical sites, Peter swings into action as Spider-Man, finding the tracer signal and then reuniting with Betty as Peter. Now, last issue I complained that Peter was being young and brash and a little precious about his feelings when he decided Betty must not love him that much if she won't confide her secrets to him, even though he hadn't even thought about telling her he's Spider-Man, because to a teenager, there are different kinds of honesty. So I'm glad to see that Peter doesn't confront Betty, but instead tells her that he couldn't let her go because she means too much to him. Betty then tells him everything, and Peter resolves to tell her, after he's stopped Doctor Octopus and Blackie Gaxton, that he's really Spider-Man. How can this not be Peter's first real love?

Meanwhile, Doctor Octopus breaks Blackie out of jail before Spidey can get there. And while he's gone, Blackie's men take Bennett and Betty to a tramp steamer in the harbor at gunpoint. Blackie and Ock show up, and then Spider-Man lands on the deck--and sprains his ankle when he does! He's immediately captured by Blackie's goons, and now the stage is set: all of our main players in a tramp steamer, guns everywhere, and Spider-Man with an ankle he can't put any weight on.

Doctor Octopus is the one who makes the first move; he knows his payoff money is aboard the ship, so he turns on Blackie. Spider-Man hangs from the ceiling, keeping weight off his ankle, but starts fighting Blackie's men. Tragedy strikes; Spider-Man wrestles to get Blackie's gun away from him, the gun goes off, and Bennett Brant is killed right in front of Betty. A tearful Betty blames Spider-Man for her brother's death.

Spider-Man, angrier than we may ever have seen him, stalks after Blackie, and the progression here... Steve Ditko's art is so good that you can feel Spidey's rage:

Honestly, I'm surprised Blackie's not dead. That's a lot harder than Peter punched Flash Thompson in their boxing match.

But now Doctor Octopus wants some payback, and this is where the real struggle is. The last time they fought, Spider-Man nearly bit the dust. Ock is a formidable foe, and he's faster now, and out for revenge. He really has it in him to kill Spider-Man. This is another one of those fights where Spidey may be bantering the whole time, but it's to calm himself down and annoy his enemy; he's running on desperation and adrenaline. All Spidey can do is hold the man off while he thinks of some way, any way, to end this.

What really sets him off is when Octopus tries to escape with the money and with Betty as a hostage. Spider-Man won't have that at all, and in his anger, lets Ock lure him onto a smaller boat where Spidey will have less room to dodge Ock's arms. The only thing that saves Spider-Man is that, while they're battling, they don't notice that the boat's pilot has jumped ship; the boat crashes into the harbor, and both men are able to elude the police. Spider-Man escapes, but so does Doctor Octopus...

In the end, the police haul Blackie Gaxton back to jail, and Betty mourns her brother. She explains to Peter that she feels bad about blaming Spider-Man--she knows it wasn't his fault--but she still never wants to see him again. Now Peter can never share his secret with her...

Of course, the story doesn't end here... the next issue of Amazing Spider-Man picks up where we left off, with Doctor Octopus out for revenge on Spider-Man. The adventure continues.

Stray observations:

:: Peter's always heading out of his bedroom window in full costume. Does no one live across the way? Liz Allan once mentioned that Spider-Man had been seen a lot in the Forest Hills, Queens, area. I'm kind of amazed no one's put it together yet. Be careful, young man.

:: "Now all I've got to do is find Betty, see what her connection with Doc Ock is, make sure that he isn't causing any trouble... and be back in New York in time for class Monday morning! That's all!" Peter Parker knows there's a lot of plot in this one, true believer.

:: Doctor Octopus is collecting $100,000 for breaking Blackie out. Adjusted for inflation, that's over $760,000 today.

:: "Sufferin' spider-webs!!"

:: The letter writers printed this month seem split on whether or not Amazing Spider-Man #8 was any good, and as always, much of the criticism is about Ditko's art. Stan even throws a letter in at the end complimenting nothing but Steve's art, probably just to balance it out. Joseph Shea of Buffalo, NY, particularly hates this new trend of two-part stories (just wait, dude), and can't understand the Tales of Asgard stories in Journey Into Mystery at all (along with a number of other complaints). Readers did enjoy the return of the Vulture in Amazing #7. One reader calls for a young sidekick, which I can imagine Stan recoiling at the thought of.

Lots of stuff gets teased in the announcements, too: the FF will be fighting the Hulk, the Human Torch will meet Iceman, and the next Journey Into Mystery will introduce two of my favorite Thor villains (finally!), but first...

Next time: The Man Without Fear!

No comments: