60’s Spider-Man: A Deep Dive – Part 1 by Brandon Gray

I’ve started reading original sixties Amazing Spider-Man, and a few things have stood out. 

These may not be remarkable to the more deep-lore nerds, but as someone who’s Spider-Man reading has previously been almost entirely post-2000, this was interesting: 

Frequent “Stan Lee is a controlling egomaniac” “jokes”.  I mean, perhaps not super-frequent, but examples include:

There’s a whole story in ASM Annual #1 about how an issue of Spider-Man happens that consists of Stan Lee waking up with an idea for the comic, calling Steve Ditko at like 3AM, then bullying him into getting to work on the art, calling him almost immediately to tell him he’s weeks behind schedule, and then pestering him regularly until he’s near nervous collapse by the end…then starting over that night.

One of the title pages has a text box that says Steve Ditko complains that Stan always gets top billing, so they’re letting Steve have it to make him feel better.  But Stan Lee’s name in the credits is twice as large and in red.

For “sad sack nerd”, Pete has at least two women pining over him pretty much from jump, with an actual relationship with Betty Brant (JJJ’s secretary) and his classmate Liz Allen coming around to dumping Flash and mooning over Pete pretty quickly. It’s all very romance comics, with constant misunderstandings, petty jealousy, and stupid fights. 

But even the rare woman villain (Python Princess, from the Circus of Crime), decides he’s cute under the costume. When people talk about Peter Parker as nerd wish-fulfillment, know that it extends to the ladies all the way back to the beginning. 

Which is why I wrinkle my nose at the complaints regarding Andrew Garfield and his skateboard. He was very much an outcast. But Peter Parker as a person has always been good looking. It’s his personality that held him back. Not the fact that he was ugly, or weak. Far from it. 

Pete’s classmates, outside of Flash Thompson and Liz Allen, are the most impressionable, easily-swayed bunch of nonentities known to humankind. Whatever Flash or Liz says, a Greek chorus of classmates will echo, “Yeah, that’s right!  I think so, too!”  

Even if there’s a disagreement.  First Flash will talk about Peter being a wuss, and they’ll all agree he’s a wuss, then Liz will say she thinks he’s cute and Flash is an idiot, and they’ll chime in that yeah, Liz has a point. It’s kind of hilarious. 

They’re also idiots.  “Pete’s a scrawny nerd!”  Someone grabs Pete by the arm.  “Hey, Pete’s fucking ripped!” “But he’s a wuss.”  “Yeah!”  

Pete has a boxing match with Flash, everyone sees Pete’s ripped as fuck, Pete literally punches Flash out of the ring when trying to pull his punch. “That Peter Parker sure is a scrawny nerd!” Like, I realize we’re maintaining a certain narrative conceit, but the fact that everyone immediately forgets that Pete’s jacked as hell and that he utterly destroyed Flash the one time they actually had a fight is pretty goofy.

MJ first appears as a sort of running goof , or so says issue #15 – wherein Aunt May is trying to set Pete up on a blind date with the neighbor’s niece (or whatever), and he wants none of it.  

It recurs over and over as a thing that threatens to screw up his Spider-Man/dating plans, only to have Mary Jane cancel at the last minute every time due to illness or the like. She shows up in #25, but her face is obscured in every panel, and Pete’s not home – though Betty and Liz have both come to see him, and instead leave furious at the (apparently) ridiculously beautiful woman who had come to see Pete, that two(three?)-timing scoundrel.

“Spider-senses” back then were more than danger warnings, and did just about anything they wanted, including acting as a unique wavelength that can not only be used for communication, but which can be detected and tracked, blindsight, detective work such as tracking, and more. It’s insane.  

Stan Lee’s ( I still love him ) 60s teenager dialogue” is every bit as terrible as you’d imagine, and will make you pine for the delicate, subtle prose of Chris Claremont.

There’s a massive misconception regarding Peter’s relationship with Flash. One thing I noticed was that he was somewhat of a hothead after spending the first six months as Spider-Man. It became apparent when he regularly would talk back to Flash, or even attack him outright, as seen in issue #26. Of course Liz was there to break up the fight and drag Peter away before he fully exposed himself. The natural assumption was that he allowed himself to be battered by Flash, but realistically this only lasted for the first 10-12 issues of the run. 

But at the SAME TIME, when Peter gets hauled away into the office of the principal, Flash waits for him to leave, realizing that Parker had taken blame for the entire scuffle when he could have most likely thrown the rest of the group under the bus. Flash in a pang of guilt owns up, clearing Peter’s name.

My suspicion was that Flash was always a good guy, and we find out this is true later on. Of course you have to wait another 60 years for this revelation, but better late than never, right? Coincidentally Peter’s off being captured by Green Goblin while this entire conversation is going on. 

Not much to summarize here, but this is the end of the lighthearted, head in the clouds era of Spider-Man. Things start changing, and Peter will eventually be faced with the fact that this vigilante gig isn’t a side job anymore. It’s a part of his life. 

Until next time. 

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