([syndicated profile] andrew_rilstone_feed Sep. 22nd, 2017 12:48 am)

Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Captured by J. Jonah Jameson




Villains
Dr Smythe and his robot

Supporting Cast: 
J. Jonah Jameson, Betty Brant, Liz Allan, Flash Thompson, Aunt May


Spins a web, any size: 
Spider-Man somehow uses his web to turn an empty Spider-costume into a puppet. He sprays liquid webbing over the robot for no very clear reason. 

Peter Parker's Financial Situation
Peter Parker sells some pictures of Spider-Man stopping a burglary at the beginning of the episode, the first successful sale he has made since #22. It doesn’t seem that J.J.J was very excited — maybe he paid as little as $500?

Chronology 
The story starts a few hours after last issue finished; with Peter Parker leaving Liz Allan’s home and returning to Aunt May, who has, as she promised, waited up for him.  It appears to be a school day; which suggests that the events of issue #24 took place over a weekend; which further suggests that Betty works on Sundays.  

Observations

P2 "I’d better retrieve the Spider-beam which I left on a roof ledge yesterday!”
Peter Parker left the beam on the rooftop at about 10AM according to our chronology, and went off for his date with Liz at about 8PM. So he must have stayed out "studying" until well past midnight -- in which case Aunt May has waited up very late indeed!


P3 “There was the loveliest Joan Crawford movie on the late show”.
If Aunt May is over 70, she would remember Joan Crawford as the “quintessential flapper” from the 1920s and 30s, rather than the rather psychotic figure in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane (1962). Which channel had a late-night silent movie slot in 1965?

p 3: “Must be someone important”. 
This is the first time Spider-Man has clapped eyes on Norman Osborn. Did Ditko intend us to overhear something more important than that Norman was taking out an advert in the Bugle?


P4 “My name is Smythe”.
He won’t be identified as “Spencer Smythe” until issue #28

P6 “And Betty is mad at me now…”
Peter has forgotten that yesterday morning, he was the one who was mad at her for writing to Ned Leeds.

P5 The robot is set up to home in on spiders using a “Geiger-counter like" system; it homes in on Peter’s “greater Spider-Power”, on his “spider-impulses” and on his “aura”. This strongly confirms our theory that Spider-Man is attuned to something that I have called “the Spider-Force”. 

P6  “Did I tell you chicks how I helped ol Spidey get the last laugh on that phony psychiatrist a few weeks ago?”

It has taken Smythe at least 21 days to work out why the robot grabbed Peter Parker rather than the spider, and for J.J.J's legal team to draw up a contract. During that time, Peter's dates with Liz have become a regular thing. (Connie tells Flash that Peter dated Liz "last night.) Or maybe Stan Lee just isn't paying attention.

P7 “ A fight?? Oh, Perish forbid! I just what to talk to my old buddy, that’s all!”
“Perish Forbid” — facetious combination of “Heaven forbid1” and “Perish the thought!”. It probably originated on a radio show called Easy Aces — which was mostly driven by Jane Ace’s malapropisms. (”I’m your awful wedded wife”; “He doesn’t drink, he’s a totalitarian”.) Easy Aces had been off air for 20 years by this point; it isn’t clear if Flash is trying to be funny, or mangling his cliches accidentally. 


P10 “How did he get here so fast! I didn’t even have time to put my shoes and gloves on!”
Ditko has shown that Spider-Man is in a hurry, by illustrating him running across a roof while putting his socks on. Stan Lee tells us that Spider-Man is in such a hurry that he hasn't put his socks on. This is an example of a redundant caption -- one that adds nothing whatsoever to the picture.

P13 “I’ve never liked Spider-Man — or any silly costumed adventurers.”
Betty has calmed down a lot since issue #11 when she couldn’t bear to be near Spider-Man because of his connection with her brother's death.  

Page 16 “Don’t you want to see you bookworm boyfriend eat crow…” 
Eat crow = climb down, be humiliated. I assume that crow is one of the ingredients in "humble pie". Note that Flash has accepted that Liz has dumped him and is officially dating Peter. 

“Well, hel-lo dere”

Catchphrase of comedian Marty Allan

p19  “We received a call about suspicious looking character hanging around” 
The other kind of Stan Lee caption. It is clear what is happening in the picture: a cop sees Flash loitering and moves him on. But Stan invents an unnecessary detail: someone has actually seen Flash hanging around and called the police on him. 





Douglas Adams said that P.G Wodehouse is not regarded as a great writer because, while his prose is about as perfect as English prose can be, his subject-matter is relentlessly trivial. J. Evans Pritchard famously argued said that the greatness of a work of art was the product of two criteria: how artfully its objective has been rendered, and how important that objective was. Perfection multiplied by importance equals greatness. This is in fact a more prescriptive statement of Goethe’s famous critical criteria: “What is this work of art trying to do? How well does it succeed? And was it worth doing in the first place?” Pritchard assumes that there is some Platonic idea of a “great work” against which you can judge, say, one of Byron’s sonnets and find it wanting. Goethe asks you to attempt to be objective: to take the text on its own terms before making value judgments. Adams clearly felt that Wodehouse’s perfect prose was quite sufficient to make him unconditionally great, regardless of what he was writing about. For him, form trumps content every time. 

It may be that Amazing Spider-Man #24 is a silly story. It may be that the very famous Master Planner trilogy outranks it on the importance axis. It may be that heavy, angsty tales – ones where Peter Parker quits being Spider-Man, or some member of the Stacey family bites the dust — are what Spider-Man is all about. (Sam Raimi evidently thought so, which is why Spider-Man II is so relentlessly depression.)  But for my money, Captured by J. Jonah Jameson is the most perfect story Lee and Ditko ever produced. It’s full of joy and fun and thrills and exhilaration and giving the bully a bloody good kick up the arse. It’s a meticulously orchestrated farce in which every move sets up the punch line. It's ludicrous; but we never doubt that our hero is in serious danger. It is executed just about as well as a comic book can be. 

Someone called Smythe turns up at the Daily Bugle with a robot which he says can defeat Spider-Man. For once Mr. Jameson isn’t crazy about the idea. 

“I’m not getting mixed up with any more nutty mad scientists! Every time I listen to one of you nitwits I end up being a laughing stock!” 

In point of fact, Jameson has only ever hooked up with one scientist, mad or otherwise — Dr Farley is issue #20, which resulted in the creation of the Scorpion. But it is literally only 12 hours since he facilitated a plot by known criminal Mysterio to discredit Spider-Man. It would make much more sense for him to say “I fell for Dr Rinehart; I’m not falling for you too.” Ditko’s artwork could in fact carry that meaning. But Lee prefers to refer back to a generic past: one in which Jameson is “that guy who’s always being fooled by mad scientists.” 

The second panel on page 4 encapsulates the whole story: Smythe persuades Jameson; Jameson resists Smythe; Peter looks quizzically at the robot; Betty stands back and watches. It’s as if Ditko is squeezing as much information into one panel as he possibly can. Perhaps we should call it hyper-compression: the very opposite of the cinematic decompression so fashionable today. 

Once Smythe has been introduced, we pause for about a page. (When you are telling a story over 20 pages, you can afford to pause for a page.) Ditko adds an additional layer to the story before it has even got off the ground. Spider-Man being chased by a silly robot would doubtless have been fun. The Terrible Threat of the Living Brain (#8) was great fun. (I always assumed that Smythe’s robot was green because the Brain was green and because it was coloured green on the cover of the UK reprint. It is actually gunmetal grey. There is a precedent for gun metal gray things turning out to be green. I like green better.) We can see that the robot is ridiculous; Jameson can see that the robot is ridiculous; Parker can see that the robot is ridiculous. So it is Peter Parker who persuades James to hire the obviously useless piece of hardware. So when the robot really does come after Spider-Man; and when it turns out to be very dangerous indeed, he has only himself to blame. Much has changed since Amazing Fantasy #15, but one thing remains constant: Peter Parker is a dick. 

It may be, as Betty says, that Jameson has a reason to hate Spider-Man. But we have long forgotten what that reason was, and so has he. Jameson wants to capture or beat or defeat Spider-Man to get his revenge on him for making a fool of him the last time he tried to capture or beat or defeat him. And Peter, at some level, is getting off on this. He wants Jameson to hire the useless robot “to get even with him for all the trouble he’s caused me in the past."

Not power. Not responsibility. Just a rather petty personal vendetta. Peter wants Jameson to cause him trouble, so that he can make a fool of Jameson, to punish him for causing him trouble. Jameson wants to cause Spider-Man trouble because he’s made a fool of him whenever he’s caused him trouble in the past. I don’t want to come over all Fifty Shades of Grey, but sometimes the victim really is asking for it. And it isn’t always clear who the victim is.

Peter Parker believes he is the most important person in the world. He acts as if he’s the star of the comic and everyone else merely the supporting cast. In issue #4 he was blaming God when he had a bad day, although he now prefers to blame someone called Fate. In the last few hours, he has experienced some good things (stopping a crime and making a sale) and some bad things (facilitating a new super-villain, and upsetting his girlfriend). When the good stuff happens, he puts it down to a “lucky break” and generalizes that the whole universe is on his side. ("Everything is going my way for a change!”) When the bad stuff happens, he thinks he has been singled out for “bad luck” and decides that everyone is against him. ("My luck runs the gamut from bad to hopeless!”) He may have a lot of power: but he is really not very good at taking responsibility. 

There is a sub-plot. It is also about bullying. Flash knows that Peter has been dating Liz, and is furious. He wants to call Peter out; fight with him; settle the matter like gentlemen after school. Peter is not interested. He's more worried about the killer robot he has stupidly unleashed. By page 9, Peter Parker’s two worst enemies will be chasing him down the same street. 

Has Peter Parker transgressed the Schoolboy Code by having a study date with Liz? It isn’t clear if Liz was ever officially going steady with Flash, or whether she ever officially dumped him, or whether that makes any difference. Liz certainly initiated last issue’s date, and as far back as issue #4 Flash accepted, although he didn’t like, that Liz had the right to go out with Peter if she really wanted to. Flash doesn’t behave very well — he makes himself look ridiculous, chasing Peter down the street with a mob of kids shouting, “yipee”, and hanging around outside Peter’s front door until he is actually moved on by the police. But he issues a challenge, more or less, telling Peter than he will wait for him after school. And when Peter avoids the fight — literally runs away — Flash is primarily interested, not in catching Peter and hurting him, but in getting him to admit that he is “chicken” or “yellow.” Flash’s dominance have been challenged. He needs either a duel or a submission. Peter gives him neither.

We complained last time that the plots and sub-plots were weakly pulled together: but this time it all runs like clockwork. Peter is jumpy because he knows Jonah’s robot is going to come after him; he leaves school in a hurry to change into Spider-Man. Flash and the other kids assume that he is running from the fight. This leads to one of the all time great farcical situations: a mob of boys are chasing Peter; the robot is also chasing Peter; and (just to make things more confusing) three bystanders are chasing the robot. 

This isn't just a great gag: it's essential to the architecture of the story. The robot homes in on on the spider-force. So whenever Peter Parker is near the robot, his secret identity is compromised. Ditko needs a reason why the robot doesn’t simply home in on Parker and reveal his identity to the world. The solution — so brilliant we probably don’t even notice there is a problem — is that there is a gang of boys between the robot and Peter Parker.

The robot itself is a well-tempered plot device. It functions have been precisely defined in order to get us to the denouement that Ditko wants. If it were just a piece of hardware, then Spider-Man would fight with it and eventually beat it. But it has four unique characteristics. 

1: It infallibly homes in on Spider-Man

2: It shoots out metal cables which are too strong for Spider-Man to break. Never mind that we have seen him bending steel and breaking chains: it is established from the get-go that the robot has special cables that Spider-Man can’t break. 

3: It moves fairly slowly. Spider-Man can outrun it fairly easily. But that’s all he can do. If he stops, the robot will immobilize him. 

4: It’s a robot. Spider-Man gets tired. The robot doesn’t. 

So the issue turns into a chase. Spider-Man runs from the robot; the robot chases Spider-Man. (In a way, this is yet another issue without a proper fight.) 

And while this is happening, a few blocks away, a separate plot  -- one which has been building up for no less than ten issues -- finally comes to the point. Again, we can easily overlook how intricately this has been constructed. The Flash mob, along with Liz Allan, having lost Peter Parker, decide to go and wait for him outside Aunt May’s house. Meanwhile, Betty Brant tries to help Spider-Man (by pulling the plug on the robot's remote control panel) with the result that J.J.J sends her home from work — freeing her up to go round to Peter’s house and seek his aid. Naturally, she arrives just as Liz is about to knock on Peter’s door. 

This is the first time Liz and Betty have been in one place without Peter present, and they don’t even pretend to be polite. ("Sometimes it's hard to get rid of all my admirers! Although I'm sure you don't have that problem!") And just as things are about as awkward as they could possibly be, Ditko makes matters worse. It turns out that Aunt May has another guest…


Ditko’s timing is quite brilliant here. We see Liz and Betty walk up the garden path. We see them in Aunt May’s doorway. We see them, back to back, the eyebrows positively vampiric with bitchiness. (Is it just me, or have their breasts got larger and more pointed in this scene?) We flip round and see Aunt May, all smiles. And then, face obscured by a strategically placed pot-plant is…the long expected Mary Jane Watson. Stan Lee’s annotations are perfectly judged. “Girls, I’d like you to meet Mary Jane Watson" says Aunt May. Pause. “She just dropped in to visit my nephew.” And then, the final frame: Liz and Betty, eyebrows flaccid, looking stunned. Betty thinks Peter is dating Liz; Liz wishes she could be dating Peter; and both of them now think that Peter is dating M.J. Peter has refused to meet M.J. because (chauvinistically) he assumes that anyone Aunt May approves of will be old-fashioned and plain. In fact, she’s a looker. It’s a situation worthy of Wodehouse, if not Oscar Wilde. 

Note that Mary Jane has traveled some distance to see Aunt May. She may be the niece of Aunt May’s neighbour, Anna Watson, but she evidently lives in another part of town. Any suggestion that she was literally the girl next door while Peter Parker was growing up is a later accretion. 

In this episode, J. Jonah Jameson is either reduced to a cartoon character, or else revealed to be actually insane. His dialogue gets madder and madder as the issue goes on, “Today I feel like a man of destiny…” “I’ll probably be asked to join the Avengers…” “This is a day the poets will write ballads about…” Spider-Man, on the other hand, is uncharacteristically silent. A typical Spider-Man fight scene involves our hero trading wise-cracks with the villain: but this time we stay almost entirely inside Peter Parker’s head: 

How do you like being on the run, you costumed freak? How does it feel to be up against your superior?


I've got to get some rest soon! But how?? He won’t let up for a second!

There are several reasons for this. Spider-Man is losing. He doesn’t have time to think up jokes because he’s running from the robot. Jameson is not only Spider-Man’s nemesis: he’s also Peter Parker’s boss. The thought bubbles keep Peter Parker present throughout the fight, just as the janus-face keeps Spider-Man present in Midtown High or Aunt May’s kitchen. It isn't Spider-Man the iconic superhero who is on the run: it is Peter Parker, the school kid with the crazy powers, wearing the silly costume. And the more maniacal Jonah sounds, the funnier it will be when Spider-Man finally beats him. If Parker were responding with both barrels of Spider-snark, we might even feel a little bit sorry for J.J.J. 

“Did I sound that corny when the boot was on the other foot” thinks Peter Parker, as J.J.J childishly chants “he flies though the air with the greatest of ease”, the old circus standard. Yes, Peter: yes, you did. (It was back in issue #8 when you invited yourself to Johnny Storm’s party.) 

It sometimes seems that when he puts on the mask, Peter Parker disappears and a comedic spider-persona takes over. And this spider-personality sounds a lot like Stan Lee. It makes remarks which make no sense coming from a high school senior, but perfect sense coming from a forty five year old comics hack. (In issue #35, it will go so far as to refer to Irving Forbush, an un-funny in-joke that Stan Lee has been milking since 1955.) Lee was well aware of this, and happily had photos and drawings commissioned in which he, Stan Lee, was the one in the Spider suit. But J. Jonah Jameson, with his cigar and is ‘tache and his typewriter....and his Madison Avenue office and his habit of underpaying his freelancers and hogging the credit for himself, is unquestionably an affectionate parody of Stan Lee. (Betty Brant has more than a passing resemblance to his secretary Flo Steinberg. It’s been said that the unctuous editor of the Daily Globe in issue #27 is meant to be D.C. boss Carmine Infantino). Perhaps Lee was consciously sending himself up; perhaps Ditko was slyly cocking a snook at his boss. But what’s clear is that the Jameson voice and the Spider-Man voice are both exaggerated versions of Stan Lee’s own voice. They are far too similar to be able to trade one lines with each other. 

And anyway: it’s funny for Spider-Man, who normally dishes out a barrage of not very funny sarcasm, to be on the receiving end for once. For this issue at least J. Jonah Jameson has become Spider-Man’s evil mirror image. 

Once again, this story takes Spider-Man to the point of apparent defeat, and flips things round at the very last moment. Everything has been perfectly set up. The very first scene established that Jonah would be operating the robot by remote control. So, once the robot has caught Spider-Man, Smythe and Jameson have to rush from Madison Avenue to Forest Hills in a taxi, giving our hero maybe half an hour to turn the situation round. 

Mr Jameson! What have you done to his head??! 



I didn’t do anything. He hasn’t got a head!!

I have never been exactly sure what Spidey is supposed to have done. He’s uses his wall crawling powers to remove and access panel from the robot, and then uses Science to reprogram it. He travels half way across town to retrieve his clothes, and somehow uses his webbing to stiffen his costume, so that he can operate it like a marionette with thin strands of web. (“By using my web, anyone can make life like, instant puppets" he explains. Er..okay.) But this doesn’t matter. The joke is the absolute deflation of J. Jonah Jameson. It isn’t just that Spider-Man gets away. Jonah is allowed think he is caught him right up until the last second, when he tries to unmask him. 

Of course, to pull this off, Peter Parker has to sacrifice a costume. But Ditko has that covered as well. In the opening scene, remembering that time he couldn’t follow Frederick Foswell because his costume was in the wash, Peter Parker sews up a spare. 

But in the final scene, oh no — Aunt May finds the new costume! (Bad Aunt May, snooping around behind her grown up nephew's bookshelf! But equally, bad Peter, leaving his room in a mess for his old Aunt to tidy!) Next issue will start out with Peter Parker not having any costumes at all.

Back in issue #22, we found that Peter Parker applied the same school-boy code that governs his relationship with Flash Thompson to fighting crime as Spider-Man: he couldn’t hit a woman under any circumstances whatsoever. This issue, we find that a similarly childish morality governs his relationship with Aunt May. He can mislead her and deceive her and keep things from her provided he doesn’t tell her a direct lie. “I can’t believe that you suspect me of being Spider-Man” doesn’t count as “an actual untruth” whereas presumably “I am not Spider-Man” would do. He’s a terribly bad witness: Aunt May assumes that he’s going to wear the costume to a fancy dress party, but he immediately starts burbling about his secret identity (”look under my coat sleeves….no costume! Now would he ever go out without it?”) If May didn’t think her nephew was Spider-Man before this conversation, she almost certainly does afterwards. 

This issue is how I will always remember Spider-Man. Exhilarating. Clever. Smart. Funny. Shooting off into subplots you weren’t expecting. And that makes this, in a way, a sad comic to read. Is there any real reason why these capers and shenanigans couldn’t have continued for another 50 or 100 issues? But the clock is ticking. The Final Chapter is only eight issues away.



Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Having read so much about changing the names of the Colston Hall, Colston Street and Colston Avenue, as an 85 year old Bristolian I grew up with these names. If those people who want these changes let them look into the slavery. Colston and Wills did these so called slaves a good deed.... [continues]
     V Howthing

Factions for rewriting history have no validity. History is data recording and concerning the past. It cannot be changed at the whim of one person or faction. It is permanent -- that is -- forever.
      Daved E Horkin

The people of Bristol should have a say in the matter and not just a few people who don't like Edward Colston. If you don't like Bristol and our history then leave and find somewhere else that might accept your views because Bristolians don't.
   Andy Gards

It's about time we British stood up to these people [gypsies]. And it's about time they were told to take their rubbish with them. It's about time to get the Army in to sort out these travelers and get them to pay for parking and clean up the mess they leave.
      R King


Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Day 1 (Pages 1 – 5)

Spider-Man takes delivery of Aunt May’s hat.

“Five minutes later” he is out looking for criminals.

He swings to Manhattan.

After stopping the burglary, he heads to the Bugle to see Betty.

He swings back to Forest Hills in order to be home “before Aunt May returns.”


Day 2 (Page 6, panels 1 – 2)

“The very next day” Jameson sends reporters out to collect anti-Spider-Man stories.


Day 3 (page 6-7)

Flash confronts the reporter, Liz asks Peter for a date, Flash confronts Peter

“Meanwhile” the first interview hits the streets; Rinehart goes to the Bugle offices and Jameson tells him to come back “tonight at 8”.

Stan’s “meanwhile” is a huge problem.

In panel 1 of page 6, we see a reporter asking a crowd for quotes; on panel 3 we see Flash Thompson berating the same photographer. The natural implication is that panel 3 follows on directly from panel 1. But Stan clearly says that while Liz, Flash and Peter are having their chat, the interview is published, and an interview obviously can’t go from tape to news-stand in a few seconds. So we have to assume that J.J.J. conducts several sets of vox pops over several days, and that Flash’s encounter with the reporter happens a day after the reporters conversation with the lady who “never said she did” hate Spider-Man.

I don’t think either Lee or Ditko have noticed this problem. Narratively Flash’s “I wanna talk to that crumb...” follows on from “...but I never said I do hate Spider-Man”. But realistically hours or days must have passed.

Day 4

Morning/afternoon: p 8-15

Panel 3 “The next day” Peter Parker reads the first interview with Rinehart.

Peter rushes out of the house “to find that Doc”.

Flash Thompson is waiting outside his house.

Peter distracts him and swings all the way to the Madison Avenue because because “I should learn where to find Rinehart at the Daily Bugle.”

Somewhere near the Bugle offices, he encounters the first hallucinations.

Decides the “can’t go to Jameson now” and swings all the way home again!

Realises how sick he is, rushes out of the house and heads to Rineharts house. His address was in the paper all along!

Panel 7 on page 9 is a huge problem. In between Peter Parker distracting Flash and Spider-Man seeing the hallucinations, there is a single picture of Betty speaking on the phone – telling J.J.J that Rinehart wants to arrange another interview. (Why?) Stan takes this to mean that pages 9-12 takes place somewhere near the Bugle offices, which creates the silly situation that Spider-Man swings all the way to Manhattan to find out where Rinehart lives, swings all the way back to Forest Hills because he isn’t feeling well, and then remembers that he knew the address all along. I submit that the whole thing would make much more sense if Betty were simply taking a call from her boyfriend “Yes, Peter, Dr Rinehart is staying at 221b Queen Boulevard, quite near your Aunt’s house”, and the whole of pages 9-24 take place on Peter’s home turf.

It makes more sense for Rinehart to have his spy-cats and his hologram projectors set up near his base than for them to be randomly on a rooftop by the Daily Bugle.

In the first Spider-Man Annual, Stan Lee states that Spider-Man can swing from Forest Hills to Manhattan in 3 minutes – about 200 miles per hour. Over the years, Spider-Man has been shown catching up with moving cars and even trains, so speed of 50 mile per hour seems a lot more believable. This would been that he could commute from home to the Bugle in about 15 minutes – a lot quicker than the subway!

Evening p16-29

?6PM Betty wonders how much overtime she will have to put in “tonight” – so it must already be passed her normal working hours – say 6 pm?

Foswell and Jameson leave, leaving Betty alone in the office.

?6.30 Foswell and Jameson get a taxi to Rinehart’s; Flash Thompson happens to be there. Rinehart’s offices must be in Forest Hills, somewhere near Peter and Flash’s school, which is maybe a 30 minute cab ride from the Bugle.

Again: it seems clear that Peter Parker leaves the house as soon as he reads the morning paper and, realizes Flash is tailing him pretty much as soon as he walks through the door, then Flash must have been aimlessly walking the streets for seven or eight hours. 

?7.30  It's hard to see how Spider-Man can have spent more than an hour in Rinehart's offices. After the big denouement, Peter bumps into Liz and Connie, and agrees to give Liz a jolly good science lesson.  Even though it can’t be earlier than 8pm, Aunt May says she will wait up for him.

The next issue follows on directly, with Peter leaving Liz's after their date. And Aunt May has waited up, watching a Joan Crawford movie on the TV. I am sure this won't create any continuity problems at all next time round...
([syndicated profile] andrew_rilstone_feed Sep. 15th, 2017 11:39 am)

Posted by Andrew Rilstone

Spider-Man goes Mad

Villains: 

Dr Ludwig Rinehart, aka Mysterio

Supporting Cast: 

J. Jonah Jameson, Aunt May, Betty Brant, Liz Allan, Flash Thompson, Frederick Foswell

Observations: 

P1 “more action, thrills and surprise villains than you can shake a web at”

"More X than you can shake a stick at” is a pretty common expression; possibly derived from shepherds pointing staffs at their sheep. “Shake a web” doesn’t mean very much, but Stan thinks it is real funny to substitute a “Marvel” word for an ordinary one in a well-known expression. (On the letters page, he claims that Amazing Spider-Man #25 has "more subplots than you can shake a Daily Bugle at"). 
In addition to Dr Rinehart, Spider-Man encounters hallucinations of Doctor Octopus, the Vulture and the Sandman, suggesting that the maximum number of villains you can shake a web at is three.

P2: “COD for May Parker…$6.75”

“Cash on delivery” was a system where customers could order items from a mail order catalogue and pay the delivery man when the goods arrived. It was popular with customers because it meant they could keep their money in a cookie jar rather than opening a cheque account; and with vendors, because it tended to encourage impulse purchases. A nice pillbox hat was being advertised in 1965 for $3.98, so $6.95 — about $50 in today's money — is a considerable extravagance.

P2 “I haven’t sold any news photos to Jonah Jameson in weeks”

The last time we saw Peter selling any pictures was two months ago (issue #22), so either Marvel Time is running quite a bit slower than Real Time, or he has been having undocumented “off stage” adventures between issues.

p2 "I'm gonna find some hot news scoop to photograph just like a friendly neighborhood Spider-Man should"

Peter Parker's motivation for being a superhero is still at least partly mercenary. He's spent several weeks or months allowing burglars to kill uncles without let or hindrance, because he’s been revising for his exams. (He’s going to graduate in two issues time.) What gets him off his webbed backside and onto the streets isn’t a sense of responsibility, but the need to pay for Aunt Mays extravagant tastes in millinery. 

P4 “Oh (Jameson’s) bark is worse than his bite” 

This is just what Lois Lane says about Perry White in That Other Comic. Another move re-positioning J.J.J. as a comic foil who shouts a lot but doesn’t really mean it? 

P5 “Hoke it up” 

Make it more hokey; presumably by adding hokum, a mixture of hocus-pocus and bunkum. 

P4 “Let one of the sob sisters rewrite your story and put some schmaltz in it.”

“Sob sisters” - Although still mainly a male profession, newspapers employed female staff to write “will no-one think of the children” human interest stories”.

“Schmaltz” - Excessive sentimentality (a specialized kind of hokum). Originally Yiddish for “goose fat”.

P6 “The only tape you’ll need will be adhesive tape to put on the fat lip I’ll give you”  

A fairly clumsy insult from Flash. It’s hard to see how you would treat a swollen lip with tape of any kind; but if you did need to stop it bleeding, you’d use sticking plaster, not adhesive tape. But “the only tape you’ll need is a band-aid” wouldn’t have worked. (Apparently “sellotape” is not yet a generic term.)

p7: "It is only a matter of time before his id and his ego get so confused that he forgets who he really is ...and then he will suffer a severe nervous breakdown!"

As ever "psychiatrist" is taken to be synonymous with "psychoanalyst". A nervous breakdown is a temporary bout of very severe depression, and probably not the kind of thing a Freudian would treat. "Going mad" is something quite different, implying some kind of violent insanity that would require hospitalization.

Page 9: “Glad I didn’t forget to grab my Spider-beam again” 

The lettering in this text is slightly different from the rest of the panel (note the wider than usual margin). Perhaps Stan only noticed that Spidey had left his Spider-signal behind at the last moment and asked the letterer to hurriedly add an additional balloon? But Ditko was already on top of the problem: Spider-Man doesn't use the beam again this issue, and #25 begins with him retrieving it.

Page 11: “One of my first, my most dangerous super-powered foes”

The Vulture was quite specifically the first super-villain Spider-Man ever met

p13: "Luckily, this newspaper mentioned Rinehart's home address in its article".

Rinehart had told Jameson that he was visiting New York "on vacation from Europe", so it's odd that he has a home address, complete with consulting room, in Queens. Perhaps this is what tips Foswell off that he's a fraud?

P13 “He’s got one of those new automatic door answering devices”

Door entry intercoms were not that much of an innovation in 1964, particularly in apartment blocks, although they might have been a bit pretentious in a private house. 

P13: “I’ve always feared seeing psychiatrists before, lest they discover my true identity”

Spider-Man did in fact visit a psychiatrist in issue #13, but left without treatment for precisely this reason. 

P17 “It won’t do me any good being Spider-Man if I lose my mind in the process”. 

Note that he doesn’t say “It won’t do any good…” or “I won’t do any good…”: he says “It won’t do ME any good.” Under the circumstances I think we can call this a Freudian slip. 

P19: “I’ve wanted revenge on Spider-Man for years…” 

Mysterio first appeared eleven months ago, in Amazing Spider-Man #13. When we last saw him, in the summer of 1964 he was sharing a cell with Doctor Octopus.

And finally... 


In Amazing Spider-Man #196, Peter Parker will receive a telegram from Restwell Nursing Home informing him that Aunt May has died. However, in issue #200, he will discover that she is alive and well. Well, as well as she ever is. The report of her death is a ruse by the guy who ran the old folks' home: one Dr Ludwig Rinehart. I didn't spot it. 

Peter Parker’s financial situation

Parker has made at least two recent sales to Jameson — some “wizard” pictures in #22 and some “sensational” ones in #19, so why is there less than $10 in the cookie jar? 

We know that Spider-Man paid a years rent — around $2000 — in advance in issue #2 (May 63) and assume that he paid a further years mortgage in issue #13 (June 64); so a further years rent must have fallen due about now (May 65). This should still leave him with $2,000 in hand. Maybe web fluid is more expensive than we thought? [Or maybe we overestimated Jameson’s generosity for the pictures sold #19 and #22?]





Six months ago, Stan Lee was getting very excited because he’d published a comic (Amazing Spider-Man #18) in which the hero didn't have a fight with a villain. The present issue is similarly conflict- free: Spider-Man lashes out at hallucinatory projections of Doctor Octopus, Sandman and the Vulture, but it’s otherwise a purely psychological tale. Spider-Man has an oddly passive role: falling hook, line and sinker for the villain’s ploy, and only being saved from disaster by dumb luck and coincidence.

The Bugle publishes an interview with a psychiatrist, one Ludwig Rinehart, who thinks that Spider-Man is about to go mad. Peter Parker reads the interview and immediately starts to doubt his own sanity. He sees hallucinations of his old foes, and imagines that ordinary rooms have turned upside down. So he goes to Rinehart’s surgery, and lets him put him on the couch. But at the very last moment — when Spider-Man is on the point of revealing his secret identity — Rinehart is revealed to be a fraud. He’s none other than Mysterio “the master of mystic effects and startling illusions.” The hallucinations were 3D projections and the upside down rooms were stage sets.

This is not the first time that Spider-Man has visited a psychiatrist. He sought medical help in issue #13 when he believed he was becoming schizophrenic.

  • The un-named shrink in that story felt that “if I can make a patient out of him, I’ll make medical history”; the fake one in this story says “a case like yours will make medical history”.
     
  • The real psychiatrist set out to “probe into his subconscious”, hoping to establish that he’s “a mysterious super-hero who's also a mental case”; this one is excited because “never before has a trained analyst probed into the sub-conscious of super-powered celebrity like you!”
  • Spider-Man had second thoughts about being treated by the real psychiatrist because he realized that if he spoke freely he would give his identity away; he is on the point of revealing his identity to the fake psychiatrist when the ruse is revealed. 
Of course Spider-Man wasn’t really suffering from schizophrenia in issue #13, any more than he is really having a nervous breakdown this time around. He believed he was committing crimes in his sleep, but they were actually being committed by a fake Spider-Man. The fake Spider-Man was, of course, Mysterio.

Two stories where Spider-Man doubts his sanity; two psychiatrists; two sets of illusions done by Mysterio. Did Lee and Ditko think of Mysterio as “that villain who sends people mad” (in the way that Doctor Octopus was fast becoming “that villain who kidnaps aunts”)? Did they look back on the “psychiatrist” episode in issue #13 and think “we could have done more with that, let’s revisit it”? Or had Ditko always intended the Menace of Mysterio to have been mostly about a villain gaslighting Spider-Man, and been forced by Lee to put in a big fight scene? Is Spider-Man Goes Mad essentially just The Menace of Mysterio rewritten according to Ditko’s original intentions?

This is one of those comics which I have a vivid memory of reading when I was a child. I recall reading out the title to my Mother, and her replying “Well, don’t you go mad!”. I must have read it may times, because my copy (of the British Spider-Man Comics Weekly) is on the point of disintegration. I remember being very proud that I had noticed the cat on page 10 and the bat on page 11, which are of course Clues: they turn out to be robots that Rinehart was using to spy on Spider-Man. I remember being delighted when Rinehart was unmasked. Mysterio was the villain in the first comic that I ever read, and therefore one of my favourites. Even at the age of 8, I think I felt that Mysterio’s appearance in the Sinister Six had been a little underwhelming. This time, we got to Mysterio really being Mysterio, albeit without his silly costume.

I still think the story holds up very well. Page 12 is one of Ditko’s very finest: the fatigued Spider-Man, leaning against a wall, with his head in his hands; Parker looking at himself in the mirror; the splendid horror-comic panel as he realizes that he really is losing his mind. The denouement is also one of the best. Spider-Man is on Dr Rinehart’s couch. Rinehart assures him that the only way to avoid going completely mad is to make his secret identity public and give up being Spider-Man altogether “I…I guess you’re right.” replies our hero, who was feeling perfectly fine when he got up this morning. The sequence calls to mind both The End of Spider-Man and Spider-Man - Public Menace in the very first issue. We’ve watched all hope being stripped away from our hero, and he is at his lowest ebb. It would be nice to say “and, at this low-point, we discover how truly heroic he is” but in fact, he is entirely prepared to throw in the towel. He may have promised in issue #18 to stop whingeing, but there is no shortage of self-doubt for Mysterio to exploit. It's at precisely that moment — just when he’s about to unmask — that J. Jonah Jameson bursts in (with Flash Thompson tagging along behind) — to reveal that Rinehart is an impostor.

Jameson has inadvertently rescued Spider-Man’s career. Gosh! How ironic!

This is all splendid: the key scene in which Thompson tries to rugby tackle Jameson, blocking Spider-Man’s path to Rinehart is embellished by a perfectly judged Stan Lee caption: “Just when it seems that things can’t get any more confusing…” The sudden shift from angsty melodrama to farce has a fairy tale quality to it -- what Mr Tolkien would have called a eucatastrophe. The completely demoralized Jameson sharing a frame with the ecstatic Flash Thompson (”I actually saw my idol in action! He even spoke to me! Even if he did call me a fool! He spoke to me!”) is icing on the cake.

But the more I think about this story, the more problems I find with it.

As is usually the case with Ditko-led episodes, the main “madness of Spider-Man” plot is accompanied by two or three major subplots. The first of these involves J. Jonah Jameson launching a new campaign against Spider-Man. Instead of telling everyone what he thinks about our hero, he is going to print a series of vox-pops asking members of the public what they think. I don’t know whether Stan or Steve had been to see The Front Page that month, but this is one of very few occasions when the Daily Bugle actually feels like a newspaper — Jameson shouting for the copy boy; bringing in subs ("so sisters) to rewrite Foswell’s crime report ("We can say Spider-Man was brutal to those misguided crooks”). It’s a wonderfully cynical couple of panels. The press, the public and the publisher get equally trounced. A nice lady says “But I never said I do hate Spider-Man” and the reporter replies “Do you want your name and picture in the paper or don’t you?"? Stan’s wryly comment that “under the right kind of questioning it isn’t long before the Daily Bugle reporters have the answers that Jameson wants…”. And Jameson is at his hypocritical best “All I’m doing is publishing the results of an absolutely impartial, unbiased newspaper survey.” I truly think it was this comic that first taught me to be skeptical about the press.

But none of this has any particular point of intersection with anything else in the story. Jameson is prepared to talk to Rinehart because he’s in a good mood after the success of the interviews; but when wouldn’t he have talked to someone with a scheme to discredit Spidey? Mysterio has been planning to drive Spider-Man mad for years and says that the interviews tell him that the right moment has come. But how many moments have there been when Jameson wasn’t publishing nasty stories about Spider-Man? Flash Thompson is cross with Jameson because his reporters are collecting anti-Spider-Man quotes near his school; but surely he’s known for years that Jameson hates his idol?

The second sub-plot is about Peter, Flash and Liz. Liz Allan asks Peter to help her with her science homework. Neither of them make the slightest effort to pretend that this is anything other than a date: Liz does her tie-straightening and “Petey, dear” routine and thinks that Peter is “so much more interesting then that empty headed Flash.”  The final frame is literally them walking off into the sunset hand in hand. Peter is more than usually dickish about it. He’s cross with Betty because he found another letter to Ned Leeds under her desk, and sees going out with Liz as a way of punishing her. (“If she’s going to write to Ned Leeds behind my back, I’ll show her!”) Honestly, it’s a complete enigma why Peter and Betty’s relationship never got off the ground! When Flash sees Peter and Liz together, he’s furious, and starts following Peter around. But again: has there been an episode when Flash wasn’t mad at Peter?

The crunch comes on page 16. In panel 2, Foswell rushes in and tells Jameson that he’s discovered that Rinehart isn’t really a doctor at all. This comes from nowhere — it’s a pure deus ex machina. Five panels later, Jameson leaps out of a taxi outside Rinehart’s home….and Flash Thompson just happens to be passing and follows him in. Stan Lee clearly thinks that this is a bit of a stretch, and makes his usual excuse “As so often happens in life, the long arm of coincidence reaches out…” So the Peter/Liz subplot has also taken us precisely nowhere. Flash might have been walking past Rinehart’s home (which seems to be in Forest Hills,) whether he had been mad at Peter or not.

For a comic — or tragic — denouement to work, we have to feel that it is inevitable — a group of characters, all acting logically and in character, come together in a ridiculous or disastrous way. If we feel that The Author has arbitrarily forced them together, the amusement or horror is greatly reduced. I think we can just about buy Foswell finding out that Rinehart is phony – he is a reporter, after all, and Mysterio hasn’t been doing a very good job of covering his tracks. But Flash Thompson just happening to be there at the opportune moment is a step too far.

"Well, then, Andrew. If you basically love this story, but find that it breaks down when you start to think about it, then obviously you are thinking about it too much. Remember the old joke? 'Doctor, doctor, it hurts when I do that.' 'Well, don't to that then.'"

There is something to this. The breakneck pace of the story, and the sheer number of incidents squashed into a few pages, means that the reader isn’t paying that much attention to the exact chronology or chain of events. As we race through the comic, we get a general sense that Peter and Flash and Jonah are all running around and all end up in the same place at the same time. Flash is chasing Peter, or possibly Jameson; Jameson is chasing Rinehart; and Spider-Man swings all the way from Forest Hills to Madison Avenue and back again to find out where Rinehart’s lives even though he already has his address.

It’s a mistake to over-think it.

And one of the people who over-thought was none other than Stan Lee. I think there were some genuine issues with the chronology and continuity of the comic which Ditko presented him with. I think he made a valiant effort to make sense of it; but in doing so, I think he created a new set of problems which weren't there before.

On page 7, Ditko drew Flash with clenched fists, watching Peter Parker walk away from him. On page 8, he drew Flash again, still with his fist clenched, ducking behind a tree as Peter Parker purposefully headed off somewhere. The clear meaning is: “Flash has followed Peter home from school.” On page 9, Flash’s head sticks out from behind a corner, before Peter gives him the slip. The message is "Flash is still following Peter." A few pages later, Flash is still pounding the pavement, when Jameson turns up. Again, it is clear that only a few minutes have passed and he is still trying to figure out where Peter went. Flash’s strand in the story takes only a few minutes: however long it takes to walk from the school to Aunt May’s house and from there to Rinehart’s surgery. Lee identifies an obvious problem: clearly, Jameson can’t have commissioned and published a vox-pop, conducted an interview with Rinehart, published it, and discovered he’s been fooled, all in the time it takes Peter Parker to walk home from school. So he adds some captions, making it clear that Liz asking Peter for a date and Flash following Peter home happened on different days; and establishing that Spider-Man’s encounter with the ghost villains took place in Manhattan, near the Bugle offices, rather than in Forest Hills, even though nothing in the artwork requires this.

In one sense, Stan Lee is right: some time has to elapse for the story to make sense. But in another, more important sense, Steve Ditko is right: a comic book story should unfold in comic book time. The amount of time it takes for something to happen is the amount of time it takes for the reader to read it. You can publish a newspaper in one panel; crossing town might take you six. And if the captions are flashy enough and the denouement is funny enough, it really shouldn’t matter.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. It’s not only Mysterio who deals in illusion.





Posted by Andrew Rilstone

The Long 1965

Maybe Spidey Strikes Back had provided such a satisfactory conclusion to the story of Peter Parker, that neither Lee nor Ditko could quite be bothered to think up new adventures for him. The first four stories of 1965 (#19-#23) are by no means dreadful; but they have a "so what?" quality to them. 

But then, without warning, Lee and Ditko get their mojo back. Six terrific issues -- with perhaps a single off-note -- followed by valedictory tetralogy which is generally regarded as the best Spider-Man comic book (and therefore the best comic book) of all time.

What happened?

The glib answer would be “Stan handed the book over to Ditko, so we got an undiluted final year of Spider-Man as Steve had always wanted him to be.” It is, almost inevitably, more complicated than that.

It is certainly the case that, during that final year, Steve’s input was at it’s zenith. The credits of issue #25 still attribute the, er, swingin’ script to Stan Lee, and the, er, dazzlin’ drawings to Steve Ditko. But the Stan persona immediately cedes the spotlight to Steve:


“Sturdy Steve Ditko dreamed up the plot of this tantalizing tale and it’s full of unexpected surprises! So turn the page and see if you can guess what’s coming next…”

“Tantalizing” is a strange word to choose: a cover could be tantalizing, or a splash page, or a clue to the Green Goblin's secret identity — but in what way does this story dangle a treat in front of us without letting us enjoy it? And the story isn’t particularly characterized unexpected twists. (Once Smythe has presented his robot in the Bugle offices, it is obvious how things have to develop.) The word's Lee uses to describe the comics -- "tantalizing", "unexpected", "puzzle" -- gives a big clue to how he felt about his working relationship with Steve Ditko. 

During the final months of their collaboration the two men weren't talking to each other at all. Stan wasn't even providing one line story ideas. Ditko sent penciled pages to Lee by courier; Lee sent lettered pages back for Ditko to ink. Any interaction between them had to go through production editor Sol Brodsky. So Stan was scripting “blind”: writing captions and dialogue for stories into the creation of which he had no input. You only have to look at the letter columns to see that Stan Lee had no idea what Ditko was going to present him with from one month to the next:

“Our next issue is so utterly stupendous that we won’t even attempt to describe it here.”

“And now not a single word about next ish. We want every dizzy surprise you’ll find there to be completely unexpected”

“Instead of giving you a big pitch for our next ish, we’ll merely say that it’s written by Stan, drawn by Steve and produced in the usual Marvel manner”

“Here’s you chance to prove you loyal you are to ol’ Spidey. Without us telling you anything about next ish, let’s see if you’ll all be sure to buy it.”

It was a strange way of working. Stan Lee wasn’t some hack in a studio, being called on to ghost-write for the major talent: he was the face and voice of Marvel Comics, Ditko’s de facto boss. There were obvious communication breakdowns. Some can be written off as trivial continuity glitches – events which happened “yesterday” in one panel took place “weeks ago” in another; Spider-beams remain on rooftops even though Spider-Man has already retrieved them; major characters' names change. This stuff doesn't matter that much, and I probably wouldn't spot it if I wasn't repeatedly re-reading what both writer and artist regarded as ephemera. But some of the misunderstandings are so catastrophic that they amount to Lee sabotaging Ditko's work. Infamously, when some of the Master Planner’s goons turn up in issue #30 (to foreshadow the events of #31 - #33) Stan assumes that they work for the Cat Burglar. which makes. No. Sense. At. All.

So when Stan Lee describes Captured by J. Jonah Jameson! as “tantalizing”, “unexpected” and “surprising” and challenges us to “guess what’s coming up next” I think we are hearing the editor’s reaction to a pile of finished artwork which he didn’t commission, or even discuss. “OMG! What has Steve given me now!” Indeed, the caption might be regarded, not as Stan giving credit where credit is due, but as his desperately distancing himself from the material. “Just Steve’s idea, I promise you. Stan had nothing to do with this one.” 

For Stan Lee, the words “dreaming up” denote the primary creative act. The whole of creation is contained in the original thought: everything else is legwork. So it must have been a hell of a thing for him to admit that Ditko dreamed up the plot of Spider-Man #25. He is not merely saying that Ditko decided that Spider-Man’s escape should take place “off stage” or that the high drama of Spider-Man's pursuit should be interrupted by the social comedy of Aunt May’s impromptu tea-party. He had always done that. That’s what being a Marvel comic book artist meant.  But Lee is going further and acknowledging that the whole idea of robo-Jameson is Ditko’s. He is the onlie begatter of the tale.

Which doesn’t, incidentally, sit particularly well with the theory that Ditko wanted Spider-Man to remain realistic and objected to Stan putting magic, aliens, space-rockets and South American mummies into his saga.

We have argued that there are two kinds of Spider-Man tale: the one where an eight page build up is followed by a ten page battle; and the one where a skein of plot threads come together into a tragic or ironic knot. We’ve speculated that the former is typically a Stan Lee plot and the latter is typically a Steve Ditko plot. And certainly issues #24 - #27 all follow the "Ditko" model. It has also been said that Ditko wanted to maintain the focus on Peter Parker's life, while Lee wanted continuous Spider-action. And indeed, Parker features heavily in the whole sequence from #24 - #33. Remarkably, his high school graduation runs for a full 6 pages without being gate-crashed by a single supervillain!

These issues start to feel much more like a soap opera than a situation comedy: for the first time the comic has an issue to issue continuity. Parker finds a letter from Ned to Betty in issue #23, and one from Betty to Ned in issue #24. Ned returns from Europe in #29 and asks Betty a fairly important question in #30. Spider-Man washes his costume in issue #23, loses it in #25, disastrously wears a shop-bought one in #26 and #27 and tries to get the missing one back in #28. The scientist who designed the Jameson robot in #25 accidentally creates the Molten Man #28.

Stan Lee doesn't seem to be completely comfortable with this approach. Several times, what Ditko clearly intends to be a specific reference to a previous event becomes a generic reference to an unspecified past. So Peter doesn’t say “This must be Betty’s reply to the letter from Ned I stumbled on two issues ago”, he just says “I didn’t know she was still writing to him.” He doesn’t say “I need a new costume because I couldn’t follow Foswell two issues ago because I had washed it and it was still damp”; he says “I remember that time my Spider-suit got dripping wet and I couldn’t wear it when I wanted to.” It’s almost like Lee sees the story of Spider-Man happening in an eternal present tense (more characteristic of Superman and the Distinguished Competition) and Ditko sees it as an arrow thrusting forward to a definite conclusion. Perhaps he doesn’t want to make the comics too impenetrable to new readers; perhaps he just doesn’t reread old issues and doesn't always remember what happened last month. The final caption of issue #24 feels a lot like Stan Lee apologizing to the reader for Steve Ditko's unwillingness to wind up any sub-plots -- or maybe like an editor throwing his hands up in despair. "Nothing conclusive has been settled between Peter and Betty..or indeed between anyone. And yet, isn't that just the way of life? We never know what surprises are around the corner..."  

So. It is tempting to see these classic stories — the bogus psychiatrist, the anti-Spider-Man robot, the two part gangster tale, and of course the Very Famous Master Planner Saga — as being great precisely because Lee as got out of the damn way and ceded the stage to Dikto. But Stan Lee’s voice is as loud and as emphatic — maybe louder — in this final year as it had been in the previous two. The dialogue is bigger, punchier and funnier than ever before. The Scorpion issue, in particular, is sustained almost entirely by the three-way sparring between Spider-Man, Jameson and Ned Leeds. Perhaps J. Jonah Jameson is increasingly reduced to a comic foil: but no comic foil was ever funnier or sharper. Perhaps, having admitted that Ditko dreamed up the stories, Lee feels the need to shout “Me, me, me!” on every page. Or maybe he merely raised his game. And, in fairness, there are a number of panels where he impresses us by knowing when to shut the hell up. When it turns out that Ned Leeds and an unspecified female friend are taking care of the sick Betty, the crestfallen Peter says nothing more than “Tell her I called.”

"The narrator" remains a very distinct voices in all these stories; almost an invisible presence, as much a character as J.J.J or Flash. He keeps reminding us that this is a story which someone made up -- there is not the slightest attempt to present it as pseudo-history. ("Do you think it's easy to think up titles like this?"). But he never engages in meta-fiction. There is no sense of the characters being puppets who's strings "the narrator" can yank. When Flash Thompson fortuitously bumps into J. Jonah Jameson  he assures us that it's the mysterious workings of Fate, not a clever twist by the Writer.  If anything, "the narrator" is the avatar for the reader — the archetypal Marvel fan — in the front row, as breathlessly awaiting the next plot twist as we are. Which makes perfect sense if Ditko really did create all these stories without input from Lee. "The narrator" talks as if he doesn't know what is going to happen next...because he really doesn't. He presents the identity of the Crime Master as an unfathomable mystery...because Steve really hasn't told Lee yet. No other Marvel comic ever achieved quite this level of ironic detachment; because no writer and artist were ever crazy enough to work in this way again.

In the years and decades which followed, Spider-Man the publishing phenomenon would go from strength to strength. Ditko began his celebrated half-century sulk, and Lee settled into being a full time celebrity. Roy Thomas and John Buscema — and John Byrne and Mark Waid — did a pretty good job at producing second and third rate Stan Lee and Jack Kirby pastiches for the Fantastic Four and The Mighty Thor. But no-one ever recreated the magic of these issues of Spider-Man. No-one even tried. Lee without Ditko tended towards pure melodrama. And Ditko without Lee... Well, I am afraid we all know what Ditko without Lee tended towards. But somehow in these ten issues the barely disguised antagonism between Ditko the Dreamer-Upper and Stan Lee the Annotator gave us a year’s worth of the finest  comics the industry has ever seen.



.

Profile

sir_guinglain: (Default)
sir_guinglain

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags