Amazing Fantasy #15
Issue(s): Amazing Fantasy #15
The issue starts out with a caption that says "Like costume heroes? Confidentially, we in the comic mag business refer to them as "long underwear characters"! And, as you know, they're a dime a dozen! But, we think you may find our Spider-Man just a bit... different!" That's as much a mission statement as you're going to get to describe the major innovations that were going on at Marvel at this time. It's hard for a modern reader to grasp since the writing is corny and the art is somewhat simple, but it was definitely something very different at the time.
Peter Parker is a real nerdy kid. He's got a a great relationship with his Aunt and Uncle, but the other kids won't bring him along to the dance (He doesn't know a cha-cha from a waltz.). Instead he goes to a science fair where they are performing radioactive experiments (!), something no one seems too concerned about.
In the experiment, a spider gets blasted with radioactivity, and before it dies, Parker gets bitten. He feels strange, and walks in front of a moving car, but suddenly manages to jump out of the way... and half way up a building.
He finds he can climb walls and has super-strength. On the way home he passes a contest where anyone who can stay in the ring for three minutes with Crusher Hogan receives $100. He runs home, takes off his glasses and puts on a netted mask, and then returns to defeat Hogan.
His feats earn him the attention of a TV Producer, who gets him a gig on the Ed Sullivan show. Peter goes home and makes himself the classic red and blue Spider-Man costume, and designs his web shooters.
They stick to the ceiling because there is "strong liquid cement at the end". Spidey is a smash on the Ed Sullivan show, but he lets a thief being chased by a cop pass him without making an effort to stop him because he's "thru being pushed around -- by anyone! From now on I just look out for number-one -- that means -- me!"
At home, Peter receives a microscope he's always wanted from Aunt May and Uncle Ben. He amends his new philosophy to include his Aunt and Uncle in the people he will look out for. Some time later, after receiving some press, he comes home to find his Uncle has been shot dead by a burglar. He rushes to the warehouse where the burglar is hiding out and defeats him, only to find that the burglar is the thief he refused to stop.
Distraught, he wanders the streets while the narrator intones the famous "with great power there must also come -- great responsibility!" line.
It's definitely dated but it's still draws you in. I've read it so many times it is hard to comment on.
Because this is such a seminal issue, many of the unnamed background characters here have been retconned into some importance by later stories, especially in Untold Tales of Spider-Man.
Quality Rating: B-
Chronological Placement Considerations: Based on a newspaper seen in Inner Demons, Spider-Man is getting press in the Daily Bugle at the same time that the FF is fighting Miracle Man in FF #3. Therefore, this issue needs to take place concurrently with early FF issues. The burglar that kills Uncle Ben will have a few more appearances, but he's never named. We eventually meet his daughter, whose last name is Carradine, which doesn't necessarily mean that the father's name was Carradine but it's all i have to go on so i'm tagging him as Burglar (Carradine).
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Marvel Tales #137
Inbound References (58): show
he manages to dodge the oncoming car and leap halfway up a building without the driver of that car noticing.
the driver says, "That was one egghead who won't daydream any more when he crosses a street!" with absolutely no concern that he almost hit a person. shouldn't they at least wonder what happened to the body?
Posted by: min | October 3, 2007 3:34 AM
if this occurs concurrently with early FF, what is the age difference bet peter parker and the members of the FF? seems like reed and sue were fairly young at the time they first got their powers. but in more recent marvel stories, there definitely seems to be at least 10+ years between peter and reed. i suppose this might work. peter parker's about 15 when he gets bit. reed richards is about 25-30 when they get hit by the cosmic rays?
Posted by: min | October 3, 2007 3:36 AM
Peter is the same age as Johnny. Sue is a few years older. At this point (pre-sliding time scale), Reed and Ben are World War II veterans, which i estimate puts them in their late 30s (~20 in 1944 makes them ~38 in 1962). At the time that their ages are 'frozen' i would estimate that Peter and Johnny are in their mid-20s, Sue is early 30s, and Reed and Ben are mid-40s.
Posted by: fnord12 | October 3, 2007 2:55 PM
Fred Hembeck pointed out on his website that Liz Allan's head on the first page appeared to be redrawn by somebody else.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 31, 2011 12:47 AM
The Marvel Masterworks reprint of this issue attributes the redrawing to Al Hartley, long-time romance artist.
Posted by: Haydn | November 29, 2011 11:56 PM
Spidey suffers an early case of Northstar/Aurora syndrome: his costume is meant to be red and black, but the use of blue highlights ultimately makes his costume a less spider-lke red and blue. (Something similar would happen to Nightcrawler, of course.)
Posted by: Walter Lawson | December 30, 2012 1:50 AM
Ditko's original rejected cover was first published on the back of Marvelmania #2.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | December 30, 2012 7:26 PM
There's a line early on where Peter is begging his classmates to go to the science exhibit with him. One of the guys replies "YOU stick to science, son. WE'LL take the chicks!" This unnamed individual is quite possibly the coolest character in comics history.
Posted by: Robert | May 17, 2014 10:34 AM
"He manages to dodge the oncoming car and leap halfway up a building without the driver of that car noticing. The driver says, "That was one egghead who won't daydream any more when he crosses a street!" with absolutely no concern that he almost hit a person. Shouldn't they at least wonder what happened to the body?"
That was totally the first thing that occurred to me as well. Not the more realistic "HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE HOW HIGH THAT KID JUMPED?!" or even the more humane "HOLY CRAP I'M ALMOST KILLED THAT KID!"
Common citizens in the Marvel universe really ARE jaded.
Posted by: ParanoidObsessive | July 22, 2014 2:58 PM
The security guard is apparently named "Baxter Bigelow."
Posted by: Thanos6 | September 2, 2014 12:04 AM
Expanding on min's comment, Johnny and Peter are meant to be the same age, about 16/17, as are Cyclops, Marvel Girl and Angel ... Iceman, the youngest X-Man, was 16, while Beast was 18 (Xavier recruited him during his first year of college) ...
Of the other youngish characters, Wasp is meant to be about 21, and Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch are approximately 20/21 as well (they are older than the X-Men but still young adults).
Sue I believe is meant to be somewhere in her twenties, because a later flashback I believe establishes she was a young adolescent when Reed, Ben and Doom were in college.
Posted by: Jeff | September 10, 2014 2:24 PM
I look at the way that Ditko draws the females and I wonder to myself "Did Gwen and Mary Jane seem so hot later on because they weren't drawn so oddly the first time we see them?"
Posted by: Erik Beck | December 4, 2014 1:21 PM
I didn't think Ditko's Gwen Stacey was that bad. It was very preppy and different compared to Betty Brant and such. Honestly I sort of wished she stayed that way as opposed to be "blonde Mary Jane with a hairband" I admit.
As for Mary Jane...she had a flower for a head under Ditko so no real point of reference.
Posted by: Ataru320 | December 4, 2014 3:17 PM
I suppose I'm really comparing later Gwen and MJ to how Ditko drew females here in Amazing Fantasy #15.
Posted by: Erik Beck | December 4, 2014 7:46 PM
Out of curiosity, why would you place this particular comic this far into the reading guide knowing that it takes place around FF #3? I just find it a little odd that we'd read FF#1-10 and then have to go back in time to read this story that you mention takes place around FF #3.
Posted by: fuzzyfoot | March 25, 2015 2:55 PM
Very valid question. This is a case where my personal comics collection has defeated me. I have FF #1-10 in a trade paperback that i haven't wanted to break up. So it should be understood that those 10 issues are happening concurrently with other events especially in the 1962 period. I really ought to cut up that trade or something.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 25, 2015 3:21 PM
Of course, the good folks here at Supermegamonkey, would surely understand if you wanted to edit your website and NOT tear up your property... :)
Posted by: gfsdf gfbd | March 25, 2015 3:24 PM
Well, this site is sort of my index for my actual collection, and letting things get out of sync will result in me never being able to find anything. So it's either tearing it up or letting things stand the way they are! Or Marvel could release Fantastic Four Classics #1-10 with back-up stories that fit perfectly after the original issues, and i'd snatch those up.
Posted by: fnord12 | March 25, 2015 6:15 PM
Fnord - you could also just buy the first 10 issues of FF. At the moment you can get them on ebay for a low combined amount of $4380 (over half of which is for #1).
Posted by: Erik Beck | March 25, 2015 7:48 PM
Yes, the art is of its time, but you know...I haven't looked at this in ages, and I still remember the panels so vividly, even ones you didn't scan in. Looking at what is above, I know what comes next. I'll never forget that last panel. Just the simplest means, the moon, the night sky, some buildings, the silhouette of Peter in the distance, I think a suggestion of a hanging head. What is it, a few inches on the page, and it stays with you. Ditko was a genius, and I think we remember Lee's somewhat clunky words because the illustrations evoke them so well (something like "a lean figure fades into the darkness").
I'm just giving a round up for the old guard. The art got more sophisticated in the later eras, but those artists stood on the shoulders of giants.
Posted by: Todd | March 25, 2015 8:27 PM
At the risk of uttering blasphemy ...
Y'know, in some ways, I've always found Spider-Man to be one of the corniest and most derivative highly successful superheroes.
I mean, a radioactive spider and homemade web-shooters: really?
And having him work as a photographer for a newspaper is obviously a variation on a theme of Clark Kent, while having him become a crime-fighter because his relative was shot by a hood is just as obviously a variation on a theme of Bruce Wayne.
Also, Marvel had already gotten a fair bit of mileage recently out of the powers-from-radiation concept, what with the FF and the Hulk.
But! This origin story remains a real winner and probably goes a long way toward explaining why the character was a hit.
First, I definitely agree with Todd's comments about Ditko's art. These panels really linger. They have an authority that transcends conventional notions about technique. Looking at this issue again recently, I was really struck by how so many of the images have dug their way into my psyche. And I gather that I'm not alone in that.
Lee's script has real power and economy as well. And the archetypal theme of tragic self-centered folly leading to transformation: That's really something.
The famous quote "with great power there must also come -- great responsibility!" has a lot of antecedents, which you could explore here (includes a scan from this issue):
Posted by: Instantiation | August 28, 2015 7:52 PM
John Romita Sr.'s Gwen and Mary Jane drawings were slightly more realistic than Betty and Veronica, but not much. Romita was schooled by drawing romance magazines whereas to the best of my knowledge Ditko was not. Romita drew Gwen and Mary Jane much like Curt Swan drew Lois and Lana, i.e., give these 4 characters each others' wig colors and hair styles, and they could all pass for each other.
Ditko's "young pretty" female characters were always more stylized, standardized, and similar-looking than his "young handsome" male characters were, but they still looked more like real people, and less like pinup models, than most of the young female characters that glamor artists drew. Ditko's young women and girls all seemed to wear cross-your-heart bras and one-piece Playtex living girdles, based on the way they were drawn, but they nevertheless had more realistic and individualized faces, and they moved more like real people, and less like the glamor girl models in their standard catalog poses.
During his later Charlton Blue Beetle phase, Ditko developed a standard ideal-hero male character which was proportioned like and modeled after an ancient Greek hero statue. Dan Garrett and Vic Sage were examples of this character model. Thankfully his younger characters like Peter Parker were always less idealized and more down-to-earth. I always thought that the Ted Kord Blue Beetle character (which was originally created by Ditko for Charlton) looked a lot like a slightly older Peter Parker, but he was developed before Charlton's 1967 Blue Beetle #5, in which Ditko's "black-and-white" approach to art seemed to crystallize IMO, or at least it was the first time I can recall in which Ditko started to clearly state his still-developing feelings about art, using a hero character as his mouthpiece. His non-idealized or non-heroic characters however never seemed to lose their individuality, believability, or essential humanity, or at least not nearly so much.
Posted by: James Holt | July 30, 2016 12:16 AM
This story really played with the comic book conventions of the day. Peter was a wuss whereas Clark Kent, Bruce Wayne, Don Diego de la Vega and any number of other secret identities only pretended to be a wuss. Clark's parents were blown up with Krypton and Bruce's were gunned down by Joe Chill but as of this telling there was no dramatic back story about Peter's parents. He set out to earn money which prior to this no other superhero except Johnny Thunder tried to use their powers to earn money. Peter really needed his glasses but Clark never really did and so on.
Posted by: Bobby Sisemore | October 22, 2016 7:05 PM
Superman = love/gratitude. Batman = anger/revenge. Spider-Man = guilt/remorse.
Posted by: Andrew | October 22, 2016 8:55 PM
I still think this is one of the greatest super-hero origin stories of all time. And I'm not even a big Spider-Man fan, though I like the character okay.
Posted by: intp | September 21, 2017 3:59 PM
With Steve Ditko there must also come greater Steve Ditko. RIP Mr. Ditko.
Posted by: ChrisW | July 7, 2018 12:56 AM
Let's hope that we won't see any of the less rational Kirby fans chiming in with "Jack Kirby created Spider-Man" here or elsewhere...
Posted by: Mark Drummond | July 7, 2018 2:14 PM
Steve created Peter Parker...and that is to whom we all identified with in the books.
This is what later creators have all missed.
There will never again be the like.
Posted by: VtCG | July 9, 2018 11:26 AM
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