Amazing Spider-Man annual #5
Issue(s): Amazing Spider-Man annual #5
Peter Parker was raised by his aunt and uncle, and to this point we've never heard much about his parents. Their story should have been something mundane (like, died in a car accident) since the story of Peter Parker is how an ordinary boy learns the responsibility of power. But this annual makes an event out of revealing who they were and how they died, and turns them into spies that dealt with the Red Skull and died in infamy, with the world thinking they were traitors. This revelation makes Peter Parker almost a legacy crimefighter and had the potential to be really damaging. Luckily this aspect of Peter's parents is rarely referenced.
Peter learns about his parents when helping Aunt May move some stuff in the attic...
...and is unable to accept the newspaper reports. So he travels to Algeria where he terrifies the local restaurant owner who identified the bodies into providing more information. His investigation leads him to a mansion that turns out to be occupied by the Red Skull.
...who says that Spider-Man looks like a spindly scarecrow compared to Captain America.
After fighting the Skull's goons (especially a guy called the Finisher) and the Skull himself...
...he finally gets the proof he needed to show that his father was a government secret agent, not a traitor.
Since Spider-Man doesn't have any money, he gets a ride to Algeria from the Fantastic Four.
The story doesn't say how he gets home.
Briefest of cameos by Flash, Gwen, and Harry in a scene where Peter is distracted by the fact that his parents were thought traitors.
As Mark notes in the comments below, Marvel (per the Indexes and Handbooks) later decided this was the Communist era Red Skull. This was pretty much required, since the original Skull was in suspended animation from the end of World War II to his reawakening in the Silver Age; any Skull that Peter's parents encountered would have to have been a different one. This story therefore establishes that the Communist Red Skull was still active in the modern era.
However, Spider-Man says that his father was fighting Nazis and fascists, although he might not have mean exclusively (or we could argue the definition of "fascist").
Another thing we learn in this annual is that Aunt May may be old, but she never actually ages. She looks pretty much the same in all the flashback pictures.
This issue is drawn by Larry Lieber. It isn't terrible but some of the poses and faces are quite awkward and overall the quality is not what we're used to from Romita. The Marvel Index also mentions the fact that this story was drawn during a transition from when original art was drawn on 12" x 18" boards to smaller 10" x 15" ones. This annual was drawn half the old way and half on the smaller boards. I couldn't tell you that i'm able to notice a difference.
I've said it before but i really don't like the idea that Peter's parents were anything special. This story also introduces a potential timescale problem for Peter. You have to ignore the fact that while interrogate the restaurant owner, Peter says that his parents were active in "the early days after World War II".
Here's a page from the back-up of the annual that Mark mentions in the comments.
Quality Rating: D
Chronological Placement Considerations: The Marvel Chronology Project, per the Index, has this issue in between Amazing Spider-Man #62 and #63, which is a bit earlier than its published date. The issue is pretty context free and could go just about anywhere.
Continuity Insert? N
My Reprint: Marvel Tales #264, Marvel Tales #265
Inbound References (3): showAunt May, Gwen Stacy, Harry Osborn, Human Torch, Mr. Fantastic, Red Skull (Communist), Spider-Man, Thing
This Red Skull isn't the WW2 one, he's the Algerian Communist 1950s one, though Marvel didn't decide that until years later.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 6, 2011 9:05 PM
This annual has some very weird backups, including a rather unfunny 3-page comedy about how this story was put together, and a 2-pager showing how some comic STRIP artists might draw Spider-Man. Charlie Brown as Spider-Man is quite amusing.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | August 6, 2011 9:08 PM
Ah, thanks for the Red Skull info.
I also threw up a scan with Charlie Brown Spidey.
Posted by: fnord12 | August 7, 2011 1:04 PM
The simplest explanation for the "Nazis and fascists" line is that Peter (and possibly his parents) thought they were dealing with the real Red Skull leading a neo-Nazi organization and not a Communist impostor. (This is supported by the fact that Amazing Spider-Man 366 implies that Peter initially thought the Red Skull in Algeria was the original.)
Posted by: Michael | January 5, 2013 4:16 PM
That's a good point, Michael.
Posted by: fnord12 | January 5, 2013 4:38 PM
I'm so glad they don't reference his parents being spies anymore -- it doesn't add anything to the story and no makes PP less of the average man we think of him.
Posted by: JSfan | August 10, 2014 3:33 PM
I do like that when they bring "this" skull back in Solo Avengers #6 he's still sporting that chest blaster. Anybody know when it got established that this wasn't the original skull? that sounds like a handbook type revelation to me.
I do think this is the first issue where spider-man straight up kills a guy. Leading a heat-seeking missile into him, he knew the guy would die from that.
Posted by: kveto | March 8, 2015 5:23 PM
Englehart established that there *WAS* a Communist Red Skull in Captain America 155. It's weird because Englehart probably intended the Red Skull in this story to be the Communist Red Skull but there's no footnote or anything in Captain America 155. It was the Handbook that confirmed that the Red Skull in this story was the Communist one in Cap 155.
Posted by: Michael | March 8, 2015 5:57 PM
kveto: Spider-Man does not "straight up kills a guy". The missiles came from a car; Spider-man led the second missile back to the car to stop it. It was self defense- he didn't know if anyone was in the car (and the driver was completely unharmed).
Still, this issue was published a few years before Spidey's "no killing mantra" was fully formed (it didn't start until after ASM 122), and you can argue he's responsible for the Finisher's death; but it was completely justified self-defense, not deliberate murder.
Posted by: mikrolik | February 15, 2016 5:45 PM
milkrolik: Ty vole. http://www.spiderfan.org/faq/killed.html
Posted by: kveto | February 15, 2016 11:18 PM
Don't care what that page says, Finisher's death wasn't deliberate on Spidey's part. Stopping the car before it could fire more missiles was.
Posted by: mikrolik | February 16, 2016 4:37 PM
Just want to reiterate- I'm not saying Spidey's actions didn't cause the Finisher's death- I'm just saying Spidey didn't deliberately set out to kill him.
But again, it was the Finisher's own missile involved. To me, it's like saying Spidey killed Green Goblin in ASM 122 because he dodged the glider.
Posted by: mikrolik | February 16, 2016 4:41 PM
milkrolik, take it up with Omar who wrote the page.
sorry, I really don't care anymore. It was an offhand comment from a year ago and it's FICTION. I'm not looking to prosecute spidey or anything.
Posted by: kveto | February 17, 2016 4:58 PM
kveto: Well, EVERYTHING on this website is FICTION!
Posted by: mikrolik | April 5, 2016 2:16 PM
Which is why I'm wondering why you argued Spidey's case so vehemently.
Posted by: kveto | April 5, 2016 5:02 PM
This annual is one of the things I've referenced in refuting the argument that Marissa Tomei is too young to have played Aunt May in the Captain America: Civil War movie. It never made much sense to me that when Peter Parker was first introduced as a teenager that his aunt & uncle were in their 70s, especially as it Aunt May was written as a frail, senile old woman who literally had one foot in the grave, facing a succession of life-threatening illnesses.
When we did finally get to see Peter's parents Richard & Mary in the flashback in this story, they appear to be in their mid to late 30s. So there must have been something like a 20 year difference between Richard and his brother Ben. Admittedly that isn't impossible, but it is still highly unusual for someone to have a child, wait two decades, and then have another one. I'm almost 40 years old nowadays, and my aunt *still* looks much younger than Aunt May.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 22, 2016 2:17 PM
Ben, THANK YOU! Personally, I've never understood why Uncle Ben and Aunt May were so darn old. They should be contemporaries of Peter's parents, not old enough to be their parents. I wonder why Ben and May just weren't introduced as Grandpa Ben and Grandma May?
May's "deaging" in the movies and cartoons is something I don't really mind since it seems like a much needed course correction.
Posted by: Bill | May 22, 2016 2:48 PM
Bill, I have heard a few people theorize that when Steve Ditko drew Spider-Man's origin in Amazing Fantasy #15 he intended Ben & May to be Peter's grandparents, but when Stan Lee scripted the story for some reason he made them Peter's aunt & uncle. Of course Lee has the absolute worst memory in the world and Ditko refuses to give interviews, so there is absolutely no way to verify this. But it does seem plausible.
Posted by: Ben Herman | May 22, 2016 3:46 PM
It was not unusual to have large age gaps between siblings in the era before birth control. A twenty year or more gap between eldest and youngest siblings was not that rare although usually there were many siblings inbetween (the stereotypical large farm or Catholic family). It's just that Richard was probably an "oops baby". My dad was the youngest child in his family. His elder brother (my uncle) has a grandchild that is exactly my age. Nowadays this situation is rare in the US and developed world, but it wouldn't be at the time Stan was writing nor about people who would have been adults during WWII (Pete's parents). In fact, it is entirely possible that Peter could have had other uncles, but they died during the war before they could have children.
So nowadays this may seem strange, but I don't think it was at the time.
Posted by: Chris | May 22, 2016 4:42 PM
Plots like this is what I call "fake drama". It's hackneyed plots to make things much more complicated for characters than they should be, and a sure sign the writer is unable to think of more realistic drama arising from the true premises of the character and setting. As FNORD12 and others have said, this is very jarring and not what one expects from a Spider-Man comic. This is a clear misstep.
Chris Claremont would also introduce these kinds of unnecessary, melodramatic, and overcomplicated backstories to the characters he wrote, and that always annoyed me too. If you are dealing with a brand new character, or a complete cipher, it can sometimes work. Most often, it's just putting the water skis on Fonzi before he gets into the Pacific Ocean.
Posted by: Chris | May 22, 2016 4:50 PM
In all fairness to Stan and company, nothing about Peter's parents being spies ever really comes up again until well into the 90s.
It's pretty clearly Stan and Larry needing a gripping yarn to fill out an Annual, come across as a "bigger" adventure than Spidey's monthly stories, and seeking an excuse to let Spidey face off against one of Marvel's big-name baddies.
As to the "People Spider-Man Has Killed" list, that began life as a post over at Comicboards in response to someone who wanted every case where Spider-Man maybe was responsible for a death, including edge cases. The idea was to be exhaustive, and the FAQ link at Spiderfan itself breaks all of those deaths down into subcategories. It's not really supposed to be a claim that Spider-Man cold-bloodedly murdered a bunch of people.
Posted by: Omar Karindu | May 22, 2016 9:11 PM
It's possible that Aunt May could have prematurely aged. Certain illnesses, especially heart problems, can cause people to look older than they are. William Hartnell, for example, was 58 when he left Doctor Who, but he looked at least 20 years older.
Posted by: Mark Drummond | May 23, 2016 10:34 AM
Backing up what Mark said, in Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 4, written by Bill Mantlo, we saw flashbacks to May's youth and she seems to be a teenager in the late 1930s. Spectacular Spider-Man Annual 4 came out in 1984. So Mantlo apparently saw May as about 65. Peter had just dropped out of graduate school, so he was about 23. So Mantlo apparently thought that the age difference between May and Peter was about 42 years and May had just aged prematurely due to her heart problems.
Posted by: Michael | May 23, 2016 5:43 PM
Good think you're not trying to factor in Trouble throughout all of this.
Posted by: Jon Dubya | May 23, 2016 11:18 PM
kveto: I've slept on it for a while, and, well, maybe I did get a little zealous with some of my comments.
I think when it all comes down to it, I wished Stan Lee really gave more thought to that scene, and maybe rewrote it so that Spidey wasn't as culpable in the Finisher's death as he was. I think he may have realized this by having Finisher say "Explosion… backfired… on me…!", as if at that point he realized the reader probably would realize that Spidey's actions resulted in a fatality, and he wanted to shift the reader's thinking. While I still think it can be explained as justifiable self defense, it still doesn't feel right, especially when in later Spidey issues, his stance against killing becomes more defined and clarified.
I guess I'm just uncomfortable with the notion that Spidey would deliberately kill a person. But as I look at Amazing Annual 5, it really could have been written better in this regard.
Posted by: mikrolik | August 11, 2016 12:06 PM
I enjoyed the story but FNORD12 has a point about Peter’s parents. Spidey should work for the CIA since he got the spy location so quickly. Also, Spidey clearly does intentionally kill people in car (i.e. the Finisher). No, I don’t like it, either
Posted by: Dave B | September 13, 2017 9:53 AM
Subtle (& inessential) continuity cues & clues: When he helps Aunt May move, Peter's wearing the same fuzzy yellow sweater in the flashback that he wore in ASM #53. In that issue, school was in session as he, Gwen, & Prof. Warren went to the science show together. In the following issues, he switches to his yellow sport coat. In this annual, his actual adventure commences an unspecified number of "days" later, when it's summer vacation and not likely to be sweater weather in New York.
Further, ASM Annual #4, on its final page, announces the plot and artist for this annual "one year in advance." So I speculate that Lieber & Esposito worked on this around the same time as Romita & Esposito drew #53. (I assume Esposito is repsonsible for shirt patterns and textures, that neither penciler woild have bothered with that detail.)
Perhaps Peter was moving May's trunk to make room for the boarder who turns out to be Doc Ock. His immediate need to protect May from Ock trumps his obsession over his parents. Losing his memory, fighting Ka-Zar, the Spider-Slayer, and the Kingpin all seem to come one after the other but there's a clean break after #61 for the immediate concern over Aunt May's health to settle, his obsession to return, and the remaining flashback and main adventure here to precede #62 and Spectacular SM #1. Note also Flash's cameo in the panel above, albeit out of uniform, fits with his furlough appearance in #53, in this reading. (He's gone again by #58's party.)
Posted by: Michael Grabowski | March 15, 2018 12:49 AM
None of that interferes with the story's placement here, allowing for the gap between beginning of flashback and the end, unless one really wants to get picky about Pete's mental state during the lighter #62 story. Just some thoughts inspired by the unusually long advance notice about this story in ASM Ann. 4.
One more comment: Lieber's art here (and in Ann. 4) really reminds me of Spidey Super Stories style simplicity. Something about the layouts, big figures, & limited backgrounds. It doesn't feel like Spidey's world, and not just 'cause he's in Algeria.
Posted by: Michael Grabowski | March 15, 2018 12:55 AM
Also, the Thing's "How do I know ya ain't Dr. Doom--in disguise?" comment in the panel above is a nice little call-back to FF #73 (I think the most recent previous Spidey-FF encounter) and the associated Daredevil story. That it's not actually footnoted makes it both a better gag and fun little wink w/o needing a complicated caption to explain the reference. That's the sort of thing that really feeds this continuity buff--that these characters have history and memories that create reactions in them on the minor level without needing to be plot points or three-panel distractions.
Posted by: Michael Grabowski | March 15, 2018 12:06 PM
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