Saturday, April 06, 2013

The Amazing Spider-Man #31-#35.

We're approaching the home stretch for Ditko's final months on the comic book character he created for Marvel Comics and which was stolen from him by the publisher and the editor. From all accounts, Ditko was getting fed up with the way he was being treated. The personal philosophy that he followed to the letter precluded him from putting up much of a fight for his creator rights, but he was coming close to the only option allowed him by the dogma that controlled his outlook: walking away.

But until that point, he was creating some of the finest superhero comics of his day and actually did concoct what--to me--is the single finest superhero story ever to grace the pages of a periodical. I've already written one essay on the Master Planner story arc, but it's such a fine work that I may be forced to revisit it with a critical eye and do yet another essay.

Continued from #26-30.

This is yet another brilliant cover from Ditko. When the folk in the office allowed him, he could come up with stuff that was just purely brilliant--like nothing else in comics in those days. Here he was incorporating some themes and ideas that must have been percolating through the culture via spy movies (such as the Bond films). With this issue, he began the Master Planner story. Once more Spider-Man is faced with a criminal force that is being directed by a foe he cannot name or recognize and which is also a mystery to the otherwise omniscient reader. It didn't get any better than this in superhero comics, and it still hasn't been matched.

This was Spider-Man! Because he often battled villains who were not much more than regular guys with guns or hyped up weaponry, the fans sometimes forgot just how physically powerful and overwhelming Spider-Man could be. In this issue, with Aunt May's life on the line, Spider-Man has had all he can stand from the criminal element and by Jove he's not going to take it anymore. Here he roams around the city hitting at the criminal underbelly, terrorizing the thugs to get the information that he needs to save his aunt.

The best single superhero comic book ever done. Created by Ditko. Written by Ditko. Penciled AND inked by Steve Ditko. Possibly spurred by Wally Wood's inability to be bullied and taken advantage of by Stan Lee and Martin Goodman, Ditko had finally demanded that he--at the very least--receive plotting credits for the book. Since Lee was altering the dialog and acting as editor, Ditko obviously relented and allowed Lee to keep stealing the "writer" credits. But at the very least he was letting fandom know who was really concocting the stories: STEVE DITKO!

Ditko brings back Kraven the Hunter for the last time during his tenure. After the emotionally exhausting work of #31-33, Ditko returns to a typical superhero slug-fest with this one. The story is fun, but nothing like the intellectual yarn he had told in the previous three issues.

And another return engagement from Ditko's the Molten Man. In many ways, this story is similar to the previous issue. Not much going on here other than a big superhero/supervilain fight. However, Ditko was beginning to plant more seeds that hinted at another great story arc that would feature a final confrontation with the Green Goblin. Alas, we never got to see that, since Ditko would leave the company before he could complete that tale. This issue is also interesting because it's another example of Lee interfering with the cover art because he didn't like seeing Spider-Man's butt cheeks. He had someone in the bullpen alter the Spider-Man figure to erase the offending anatomy.

Here is the cover generally conceded to be the version that Lee killed.


MarkGelbart said...

Did you notice The Amazing Spiderman #32 is reminicent of Action Comics #1?

I remember there was 1 marvel comic book that had a feature where the editors ranked the strength of various superheroes. The editors estimated that spiderman had the strength of 40 men, well below the hulk and the thing but above many others.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

ASM #31 -- Incredibly, THIS was my first view of Steve Ditko's SPIDER-MAN. What a place to come in!! It was the late-60's MARVEL TALES reprint, which also had THOR fighting The Cobra & Mr. Hyde in that house of death-traps to save Jane Foster (Kirby & Stone!!!), and a Human Torch story (I forget which one-- oh well).

They swapped the cover & splash pages. No kidding. Also, the line reproduction was so bad (though I didn't know it at the time), it made it very difficult for me to appreciate what Ditko was doing.

Marvel's reprints ALWAYS sucked back then. I only found out 10 years ago, EVEN their initial printings weren't nearly as good as they should have been. They had this "infamous" stat machine that was often referred to as a "blunt instrument", you see...

ASM #32-33 -- I finally read these when MARVEL TALES reprinted them again in the 80's. That was when I finally came to realize just how good Ditkjo had been on that book, being able to read his entire run (almost) in sequence.

When Peter FINALLY stands up to Jameson at the end, it should have been a life-changing, life-affirming moment. But it all went out the window the moment John Romita took over.

ASM #34-35 -- So many fans dismiss Ditko's end-run, perhaps oblivious to the fact that following an 'epic" one needs to catch one's breath, and also, that he was (as you say) building up to the NEXT epic-- the one we never got to see.

That reprint's wild-- they had Spider-Man AND Ant-Man in the same book, plus, Dr. Strange (two DITKO characters under one cover!) Could it be Lee was homophobic and Ditko knew it?

James Robert Smith said...

Mark: Yes, that cover is similar to Action #1. Never noticed that!

When Marvel was in its early days, Spider-Man was one of the strongest characters in the Marvel Universe.

Over the years they slowly downplayed his super-strength, finally making him one of the less powerful characters in the house. And they became very inconsistent in how he exhibited his strength, to the point where he was often getting knocked unconscious by regular thugs.

James Robert Smith said...

Who knows that it was about Lee and his hatred of superhero butt shots? What is funny is that Ditko picked up on it and went out of his way to deliver just such images.

Goodman and Lee realized very early on that they could make a lot of money reissuing stories that they'd already paid for without having to give the artist/writers another penny. Thus was born Marvel Tales and Marvel Collectors Item Classics, etc.

Kirk G said...

That "original" cover for #35 features a Spider-Man figure that looks more like Paul Smith than Ditko.

I was lucky enough to find all three parts of the Master Planner arc and Thrill of the Hunt at a school white elephant sale when I started reading comics. Such power and drama in a story! WOW! It moves me everytime I read it.

James Robert Smith said...

Yeah, that's why I qualified the ID a bit. Part of the figure looks like Ditko did it, but some aspects look as if it was re-drawn somewhere along the way. I'd like to ask Ditko about it, but I've heard that he's pretty touchy about Spider-Man questions.

Henry R. Kujawa said...

The redrawn Molten Man cover is off-balance. Spidey is senselessly diving from right to left, yet the baddie is in the middle. Makes no sense.

Hey, I just noticed, the redrawn Spidey has TWO LEFT FEET!!! Who the hell drew that thing, anyway?

Do you suppose Ditko overheard Lee say something that suggested he was homophobic? "IN YOUR FACE, LEE!"

James Robert Smith said...

I have heard from various sources that Lee did not want artists showing superhero butts on covers or in full-page house ads. And if this is true, I'm thinking Ditko would go out of his way to deliver these images in a way that made it hard for Lee to reject the art. Such as by delivering it just before deadline, or making it just too good otherwise to reject.

Every time I look at that alternate Spidey 35 cover, it just doesn't look like Ditko completely did the image. The upper body looks like Ditko's work, as do the figuer's thighs. But even the Spider-Man head looks wrong--Ditko NEVER showed Parker's nose poking through the mask like that.