The three-issue story arc that culminated in The Amazing Spider-Man #33 was, to my way of thinking, the first modern comic book story. Everything that came before this book was child's play.
For months, once Steve Ditko had begun to exert a growing influence over the direction of this title, the stories had become more and more adult in the angle of the trajectory of the fiction. He had begun, subtly at first, to insert a philosophical slant to the fiction. There was, of course, the general soap-opera of the comic, which made it no different from most of the other Marvel titles, but with Spider-Man there was something deeper going on.
The book had become almost a template in its use of pure, unadulterated angst. Ditko had become a master at the utilization of emotion.
Before issue #31 of the Amazing Spider-Man, Ditko had toyed with the plot device of slowly unraveling mysteries. He'd utilised various mysteries that the hero had to uncover that would run over the course of an issue or two. And he'd already established the Green Goblin as a character whose secret identity was unknown to everyone--even to the book's readers. This was a mystery that had continued for almost two years previous to issue #33 and would continue for another issue after Ditko having taken his leave of the title that he'd created.
But #31 began a truly complicated storyline that was entirely adult in execution. This was definitely a comic book of which it could be said: "not just for children". At the same time, it was also perfectly acceptable for any kid with imagination and intelligence. It was something new. No writer-artist before Steve Ditko came along had attempted or executed anything like the three-issue "Master Planner" story arc.
To encapsulate, the story involved the sudden illness of Peter (Spider-Man) Parker's Aunt May. It is revealed to a horrified Parker that his aunt is sick because of a radioactive particle lodged in her system. A particle that she contracted when Peter had volunteered to offer her blood for a needed transfusion. Therefore, the hero discovers that he is responsible for the health and (apparently) imminent death of his beloved guardian.
Parker/Spider-Man instead of throwing his hands up in despair calls in a favor from Dr. Curt Connors (cured alter-ego of a former foe) who helps Parker come up with a cure for May Parker's malady. This they do, but a certain rare isotope is needed to effect the cure. Connors is having it delivered but a gang of masked thieves intercepts the guarded container at the airport and it's left to Spider-Man to retrieve it.
Thus begins a very long and complicated storyline wherein Spider-Man discovers a new gangster in town calling himself "The Master Planner". Spider-Man literally tears the underworld apart to find the lair and identity of the Master Planner so that he can retrieve the needed isotope to save his Aunt May.
The tale was packed with emotion. And it was filled with Ditko's by now familiar philosophy concerning right and wrong and of stark decisions that one makes in the course of a life. Here was one man struggling for a thing for altruistic reasons; and another seeking after the same for reasons of personal power. Both of them selfish in a way, but one obviously right and the other completely wrong.
And the art--in my opinion the artwork unleashed in this classic comic book format by Steve Ditko was the best ever produced for a superhero tale. To my way of thinking, it has not only never been topped, it has never been equaled. Not by any comic book artist who has followed in his wake.
Before the Master Planner story arc of the Amazing Spider-Man #31 through #33, the superhero motif was one that was created completely and totally for kids. When Steve Ditko plotted, wrote, and illustrated these books, he invented the very first modern and fully adult superhero comic book. It could be argued that this was the first adult comic book story that had ever been attempted.
And this is why those three books, and especially issue #33, were the greatest superhero comic books of all time.
In the midst of issue #33 Spider-Man finds himself trapped beneath tons of machinery in the rapidly disintegrating lair of the Master Planner.
Hopelessly trapped, he knows that not even the proportional strength of a spider can extricate him from this situation. And that if he dies, his aunt dies with him.
But he convinces himself that he can do it. He forces himself to become a creature of pure logic and will power.
The moment of his freedom (physically, mentally, morally, and philosophically). Probably the single greatest panel of superhero artwork ever illustrated.