Boy was I a fool. If you had told me before today that Steve Ditko was alive and well I would have called you a damn liar. But it turns out he is quite alive and today, November 2nd, is his birthday. So with that in mind, I figured it was time to talk about the comic that cemented his legacy among comic book artists.
The Amazing Spider-Man #1 is the stuff of comic legends. After the resounding success of Amazing Fantasy issue 15, Marvel had to come out with a stand alone Spider-Man comic and for good reason. When it comes to origin stories, this sets the benchmark for how to do it right. Most have tried to simply copy the formula that Stan and Steve presented in that issue but forgot one thing. Without characters you care for with motivations that any one of us could relate to, then while we may still have a story we will like, there will be a disconnect there. We won’t get fully invested in the life of the characters because they’re somehow distant. Marvel Comics, compared to DC Comics, had characters that you could actually see yourself being, not characters you wanted to become like Superman and Batman.
The Amazing Spider-Man issue 1 picks up where his debut left off. Uncle Ben in dead. Peter has to sit back and watch as Aunt May is forced to pawn their personal items in order to pay the rent. When he tries to make money again as Spider-Man, he’s paid with a check. Since he doesn’t want to reveal his identity he is left with worthless paper.
We’re introduced to J. Jonah Jameson in this issue. We see that from the very start he has hated Spider-Man. Why? Well, his son John was an astronaut and he felt that Spider-Man was a phoney, someone that the public should not have admiration for when his clean cut son, the astronaut, was a hero the country should get behind.
While it’s easy to think of JJJ as simply a one dimensional douche bag, you can see that the seeds were there right from the beginning to show that there was more to him than met the eye. JJJ was a hardass who 95% of the time was a heartless guy hell bent on getting the scoop to advance his paper and whatever mission he wanted to reach the public. But when it comes to his son, what parent wouldn’t think that? I can think about how I would react if one of my children became an astronaut while some punk kid in a spider outfit was causing a scene around town. My kid was heading to the freaking moon while some idiot could swing around a television studio. Hell yeah I would do everything in my power to show why that idiot was not as good as my son. To top it off, when that same idiot actually saves my son, I would again do everything I could to make sure that I distorted the truth to show what a hero my kid was.
I really appreciated how, despite the fact that this issue was self contained, it did continue the overall arch of Peter Parker worry about his Aunt after Uncle Ben was murdered. It allows you as the reader to get into each issue without having to have a masters degree in the history of the story while also rewarding readers of Amazing Fantasy #15 with little nods to the previous story. Yeah, you may argue, this is only the second damn issue. Why congratulate them so quickly? Again, it’s issues like this that set the template for what works in comics. DC at this time had great adventure yarns that could excite you. Marvel had the emotional hook that comics were missing thanks to the Comics Code which kept readers emotionally invested in the continuing adventures of these characters.
The art work, while crude by today’s standards, is still amazing for its time. The layout of Spider-Man alone is great. I really wished this design could have stayed with him consistently over the ages. I really dig the web wings he has on the outfit because it makes sense that when he is swinging through the air, he would want some help in flying longer. He could use them as makeshift gliders. The wings make sense for what powers Peter Parker possesses.
I also love how Mr. Ditko had drawn the character to still be very much a teenager. There’s a panel where Spider-Man is hopping out of a window after telling JJJ and a military general that he would save Jameson’s son. You can really get a sense of both his physical strength as well as his physical immaturity due to his age. He’s all of 16 at this point. So Peter may physically be a man, he’ll still be a little awkward and spindly compared to someone ten years older than him. It’s little attentions to detail like this that make this story so enjoyable.
It’s sometimes not fair to judge comics from older generations to comics from today. Thanks to the further appreciation of comics as a true American art form, comics have expanded to do so much more than what the founding fathers ever contemplated. Comics in the past were told for teenage boys. That’s it. The folks at Marvel were probably the first to see that comics could so so much more and added some ingredients to an already rich soup that made it taste so much better. Then as time passed on, yet others added more till we have now a nice, thick winter stew that will please everyone. (If it doesn’t please you, you have no soul.) While Stan Lee laid the foundation with his words, artists like Steve Ditko did their part by laying down the visual foundations of what makes comics what they are today. Every comic book artist, no matter the genre they draw for, owes so much to men like him. He planted the seeds that bared fruit we’re still feasting on today. To hear a legend like this is alive and well brings a smile to my face because it is great to know that he sees what an impact his part in comic history has given the world. Happy Birthday Steve Ditko!