Amazing Fantasy #15 (August 1962)

EVERYONE has seen this cover and EVERYONE knows this story.

Before I get into the issue, I need to ramble about the cover a little bit, as well as the art. Each comic I’ve talked about in my blog thus far has been penciled by legendary artist Jack Kirby. If you look at those release dates and really think about it, you’ll realize his output at this time was STAGGERING. Jack Kirby Collector Magazine once said that from 1963-1967 he was pushing out as many as seven pages a day in some cases. The even crazier part of that is the “Marvel Method” of making comics only gave artists very loose descriptions of what to draw. It was the artist’s job to bring it to life. Stan Lee would come back in later, look at the art, and then figure out what to write based on what the penciler drew.

This issue is the first issue I’m covering which does not feature art by Jack Kirby. Well…except for the cover. Spider Man’s first appearance in this issue is drawn by Steve Ditko, who has a completely different style than Kirby. His art looks more realistic and less exaggerated, fitting right in alongside the romance/noir genres. In fact, Ditko originally drew the cover for this issue, but it never made it to print.

Kirby was known for beefcakes and muscles, which is the exact opposite of how Ditko depicts his characters. For whatever reason, Stan Lee saw this, didn’t like it, and had Kirby draw up a replacement cover.

Another fact about this issue is that it is really the first issue of “Amazing Fantasy”. Up until this point it was previously known as “Amazing ADULT Fantasy.”

The majority of the readers, which weren’t adults, started a letter writing campaign to change the name, as it made them feel awkward buying it. No joke.

Back to Ditko, though. This is really where he gets his big break, despite having already been in the business for a few years. He’ll later move on to Doctor Strange, before concluding his Marvel-years with a falling out between him and Stan Lee. Ditko was really the first person to call the industry out, making it known that artists were responsible for much of the plotting due to the lack of specifics coming from writers like Lee. There’s an argument to this day regarding who is primarily responsible, and how much input creates character ownership. I would recommend a documentary called “In Search of Steve Ditko” if you want to know more about this enigmatic artist’s relationship with his art.

“I crushed this steel pipe as though it were paper!” Of course.

Again, we allll know this story. Nerdy kid gets bitten by a radioactive spider, gets superpowers, becomes a hero “with great responsibility.” There’s a reason this story is timeless though. The brilliant part about it is that Amazing Fantasy is an anthology series, with several stories taking place within a single issue. This Spider Man origin is only 11 pages of a 24 page issue. It moves at such a fast pace, but I never get the sense that it feels rushed. A disclaimer in this issue states that the focus going forward is to dedicate space to longer stories though, and future issues change this format considerably.

Originally, Stan Lee wanted to give Spider-Man his own comic, but his publisher Martin Goodman didn’t allow it. Lee’s idea was to have a teenage superhero who dealt with personal problems. Goodman felt it was a bad idea because superheroes shouldn’t have problems, and they definitely shouldn’t be teenagers. This was the main reason Lee was reduced to featuring Spidey in the pages of an anthology comic for his debut.

Many Silver Age comics simply haven’t aged very well. This one, however, is different. You really do feel the sense of awe and wonder when Peter discovers his new powers. I love the way Ditko draws Spider Man. He looks mysterious and terrifying. The fact that he isn’t all muscled out adds to his spider-like quality. And while Ditko doesn’t draw action the way Kirby does, Ditko creates some of the strangest poses and hand gestures ever put into comics. He really had a great eye for weirdly fantastic things.

This specific panel taps into Ditko’s horror side, which is his strength, and reason why he was a perfect fit to later draw Doctor Strange. The mood is super eerie, despite the fact that Peter is meant to be the hero. Ditko makes no attempt to turn spiders into something we need to like, and he plays up the fear that many people have of spiders.

Just think how different this entire comic would look if Kirby had been chosen to draw it.

Peter is super awkward, even in the suit. It isn’t until John Romita takes over art that Peter becomes a “full time hero”. The moment where Peter (in his Spider Man suit) refrains from stopping the thief is a sad moment. None of the movies really quite pulled off the same sense of spite that Peter has for other people here. This is a kid who has been picked on and couldn’t care less about anyone outside of his aunt and uncle. They’re really the only people in his life that have acted as a positive force on him.

This panel is chilling at how callous Peter comes off…with a shit eating grin too. A proud Aunt May and Uncle Ben look on without even realizing what’s running through his head.

Spider Man is known for the “with great power” line. If you want to dig a little deeper into his character, you begin to realize that Uncle Ben HAS to die for Peter to seek redemption. This is an age-old “Hero’s Journey”, and its timeless bitter truth taps into who we are as humans. This isn’t JUST a superhero origin story, which is why it is still relevant mythology even now in the 21st Century.

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