Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Marvels: Amazing Spider-Man #12

"Unmasked by Doctor Octopus!" by Stan Lee & Steve Ditko
(May 1964)

This issue is probably the best issue of Amazing Spider-Man so far. And it nicely bookends the previous issue, which ended sadly, with Betty Brant losing her brother and Peter unable to share his secret with her. Still, now that the two are back in New York, they seem to be picking up where they left off. Betty has her old job back and the two are in love. Except that Peter's coming down with the flu, everything seems great.

But there's also the question of Doctor Octopus. Having escaped the police last issue, Doc Ock is on a bit of a crime spree, trying to stay in the public eye so that Spider-Man will show up to do battle, so Ock can have his revenge. Frustrated at the lack of response, Doctor Octopus tracks Betty down at the Daily Bugle and storms through J. Jonah Jameson's office window, taking her prisoner and demanding that Jameson put a notice in the paper telling Spider-Man to come rescue the girl at Coney Island.

Jameson orders Peter to go to Coney Island and hide so he can get some pictures but, second-guessing him, also secretly goes himself. This would be a momentous enough battle even if Peter weren't ailing, but he's so sick that his powers are coming and going. He can't stick to walls and his super-strength fails. When he shows up at the amusement park to save Betty, Ock is actually frustrated: "Don't water down my revenge by making it too easy!"

And then, it happens. As promised by the issue's cover: not a dream, not an imaginary tale. Spider-Man is unmasked!

This is one of my favorite moments in the history of this character. Spider-Man is unmasked in front of Betty, Jameson, and the police, but because his powers are being suppressed by illness, no one--not even Doctor Octopus--believes Peter Parker could ever be Spider-Man. They all think he was just pretending to be Spidey to save Betty. Ock is so upset by this that he races off into the night. This comic is pure soapy greatness sometimes; Archie with superpowers. (That's a compliment, son.)

After a fitful night of sleep, Peter wakes up feeling like his old spider-self, "the ol' zingaroo" back in his jump. And after reading about what Peter did in the papers, Liz Allan suddenly thinks Peter's the most romantic teenager alive and keeps ditching Flash to try to hang out with him.

And then Doctor Octopus releases all the animals from the Central Park Zoo.

There are a couple of fun pages of Spidey gathering up zoo animals (including a lively little fight with a gorilla) before Ock and Spider-Man face off once more. There's an epic fight across the rooftops of New York City--Spider-Man, all too aware of how powerful Octopus' arms are, tries to go in for direct attacks instead of merely outmaneuvering him this time--before the two crash into a deserted sculptor's studio, giving Steve Ditko the opportunity to draw gigantic stone faces for Spidey and Ock to grapple around.

What ends the fight is fire. Somehow--let's not get too into it, because it's really just plot contrivance, but it makes for an exciting ending--their fight starts a fire, and Stan & Steve are more interested in how Peter survives.

Doctor Octopus is captured by police, no one is hurt, Peter's belt-camera was taking pictures, and he even gets the satisfaction of turning Liz down for a date so he can go meet Betty.

After last issue's sad walk-away, Peter Parker sure needed a happy ending. You've earned it, pal.

Stray observations:

:: There are always empty flagpoles around whenever a Marvel superhero needs them. Spider-Man uses flagpoles for momentum a few times in this issue, leading to the remark "If I'm ever elected President, I'm gonna declare a National Be Kind to Flagpoles Week!!"

:: Reading this issue again just makes me want to watch Spider-Man 2, since some of that film's story comes from it. Definitely my favorite issue of this comic so far.

:: Fans in the letters page (including future pro Dave Cockrum!) have lots of praise for Amazing Spider-Man #9--"The Man Called Electro!"--but are more split on Amazing Spider-Man #8, particularly the Human Torch story. Consensus seems to be that Spidey came off like a jerk in that one.

Next issue, another of Spider-Man's classic villains is introduced, but this issue set a high bar for the future. But first, we're going to do the next two issues in reverse order. Going alphabetically, Avengers #5 is next, but it actually takes place after the one after that, which also features an appearance by the Avengers, so... this explanation is sounding complicated, so...

Next time: the Hulk is still rampaging! The Thing is still trying to stop him! And the Avengers get involved! It's almost everybody versus the jade giant in Fantastic Four #26!

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