I went ahead and read this first volume of reprints from THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, which includes the origin story from AMAZING FANTASY #15 and the first ten issues of Spider-Man’s own title.
The first issue of ASM I ever saw was #11, and once I read it, I was hooked. My favorite Marvel title has always been FANTASTIC FOUR, but SPIDER-MAN was a strong second, and looking back on it now, I’m not sure but what these stories are even better than what was being published in FANTASTIC FOUR at the same time. The eleven-page origin story is an iconic classic, maybe the best origin story ever in comics, packing in a staggering amount of pathos, drama, and even a little humor. (I think I’ve been reading Stan Lee too much. I’m starting to sound like him.) But there’s no denying that this short yarn set the stage for all the decades of stories that came after, including a caption that has entered the public consciousness, albeit in truncated and slightly misquoted form: “And a lean, silent figure slowly fades into the gathering darkness, aware at last that in this world, with great power there must also come – great responsibility!”
It takes a few issues for the scripts to really hit their stride, but by the third issue, which introduces the villain Dr. Octopus, all the elements are pretty much in place: the nerdy secret identity, the wisecracking during the heat of battle, the skirmishes with crusty publisher J. Jonah Jameson (who Stan based on himself, or so the legend has it), the perpetually feeble aunt, the terrible luck that hangs over Peter Parker’s head like a cloud, and the angst-ridden final panels that show up nearly every issue. The fourth issue introduces the Sandman, the Lizard shows up in #6, Electro in #9, and the tenth and final issue reprinted in this collection showcases Spidey’s battle against The Big Man and his henchmen The Enforcers, the first real example of Spider-Man fighting against organized crime, which would continue over the years and give the book a noirish feel that was similar to, though not as pronounced as, the one to be found in the Batman titles over at DC.
Stan Lee always seemed to be having a wonderful time writing Spider-Man. While his scripts in the Avengers collection I just read were good, they have a certain workman-like feel to them. But Stan definitely had a fondness for certain characters: Spider-Man, Ben Grimm, Nick Fury, Thor, and the Silver Surfer come to mind. As for Steve Ditko’s art, well, I had forgotten just how good Ditko was. His layouts flow seamlessly, and his style is utterly distinctive, unlike the work of any other artist in comics before or since. He’s one of those rare artists whose work is instantly identifiable, and he was particularly well-suited for the dark, ominous backgrounds in many of these stories.
I realize I may sound like a gushing fanboy here. Modern comics readers might look at these stories and find them crude and silly. But I loved them when I first read them more than forty years ago, and rereading them now, I think they hold up remarkably well. I had a great time reading them, but it may be a while before I get around to the other two volumes I have on hand. Or it may not.