Time to sit back and read a classic today. Amazing Fantasy #15 gives birth to the most well known character not only in Marvel Comics history but in the history of comics period. Spider-Man. No matter the complaints I have about the story, and there are some, this comic helped changed the landscape for how comic stories were told.
To start with I absolutely loved that the story was pretty dark, especially for a story told in the early 1960’s. Apart from Uncle Ben and Aunt May, he really has no one that cares for him. Now as most older folks know, that is pretty much life right there. Don’t want to be too depressing here but it’s true. The people that really, truly care about you are a small group of people at best. The high school mentality that you need to be popular with everyone in order to be happy is about as much of a fictional tale as my love life when I was single.
Peter’s reactions when he gets his power is realistic as well. When you’re pushed around and treated like nothing, the moment you get your first taste of power it is quite easy to let it overtake you to the point of arrogance. Peter decides that he’s going to use his new power to benefit himself. That’s also a different take on the genre when most origin stories involve the hero making a vow from the start to use their powers for good. Peter Parker is all about the Benjamin’s and the bitches! It’s only when confronted with the results of his arrogance, the murderer of his Uncle Ben being a man who Peter had a chance to stop from robbing a television studio but didn’t, does he realize the error of his ways and use his powers for good in honor of his Uncle Ben.
People may say that Batman starts out just as dark. While it is pretty damn dark, Batman doesn’t become Batman through his own actions. He was not responsible for the death of his parents. He was a bystander who ended up vowing vengeance. If Peter Parker had stopped that thief, Uncle Ben would still be alive. That makes Peter’s decision at the end to fight crime all the more poignant.
When you look at origin stories for major characters I would have to say Spider-Man’s origin would have to be my favorite. Some origin stories are simply unreadable. I tried reading Captain America’s origin and had to put it down. Same for Superman and Batman. Granted they were written for a different time and an audience that asked for something different from their comic stories but man are they a horrible read. I compare it to the first single from major rock bands. If you took the first hits for The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, you’d wonder how they ever got famous. The only group that had a decent first single was The Who. Batman and Superman were like the original singles from The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Spider-Man would be like The Who’s first single, more well formed and strangely consistent with their current output of music.
Now the downside. Being that the story was written in the 1960’s, we have the annoying little trait of having characters when they’re alone speaking their thoughts out loud. Peter spends almost a full page talking to himself about his new powers when you just want to scream at him to actually shut the hell up and do something. Don’t get me wrong, I like that comics allow writers to visually show what characters are thinking. When said thoughts are expressed on a comic in a traditional word bubble, the way spoken speech is expressed in comics, it makes you wonder about the sanity of the characters.
I also wished the comic spent a little more time exploring his relationship with his Aunt and Uncle. Especially Uncle Ben. We know he loves them but don’t know why they are so important. Now obviously future issues more than establish why Aunt May and Uncle Ben were important. This issue made the mistake of telling the audience why they were important and not show the audience why they were important. Comics are a visual AND verbal medium. You can get away with telling some parts of the story. Others, you have to show.
Any judgement I have on this comic will be meaningless. Sure, it has flaws. ANY story has them if you look for them. But the freedom Stan Lee and Steve Ditko opened up for writers and artists alike should never be forgotten. Heroes in other stories chose to be come heroes. Some by choice, some in honor of loved ones, but it was still their choice. Peter Parker is different. If he had stopped that thief, he would not see the importance of one of the greatest lines in comic history. With great power there must also come great responsibility. This is how you create a character that lasts the test of time.
It also made me think of the recent failure of The Amazing Spider-Man movie. I read this comic and see that Peter Parker had a wonderful relationship with his Aunt and Uncle. In that movie, he is constantly arguing with Uncle Ben. Now I was able to see in that movie that they loved each other but there was still a disconnect to the source material that should not have been ignored. Do I need the sappiness this issue presented? No. I think Sam Raimi’s first Spider-Man movie had the perfect balance of honoring the source material while also accepting the fact that people who love each other can argue at times.
Movies are their own unique beasts. Alan Moore had gone on record for his Watchmen comic as stating that it never should have been made into a movie. He wrote it specifically to be a comic. Too often you see movies that are based on comics that do nothing more than take on the spirit of the comic. Sometimes they get away with that such as Tim Burton’s Batman. Sometimes there are massive failures like every time the Fantastic Four was put on film. Ignoring the basics of the source material can spell disaster if you don’t have love for the material to begin with. While Andrew Garfield was pretty good as Peter Parker, I don’t think he was given the best material to work with. Too much of the story had changed. They wanted to make a Spider-Man film without the basic elements that made Spider-Man great. Well, at least Marvel Studios has Spidey back where he belongs.