In case you didn’t hear, “The Amazing Spider-Man” #700 came out this week, and… well, some people are upset.* This supposed End of an Era (TM) promises to take Spider-Man in a Bold New Direction (C) with a take on Spider-Man we’ve never seen before (Patent Pending), and Spidey fans the world over are being super mature about this mess, some going so far as to issue death threats to writer Dan Slott — many even before reading the comic in question. Way to help fix the public image of the comic reader, guys. Look, I get it — I read “Amazing Spider-Man” #700, too, and thought it was, quite frankly, really bad. But who cares? These are superhero comics, where nothing lasts forever. Even if Dan Slott — you know, the guy who wrote one of the best modern “Amazing Spider-Man” issues, #655 — “ruined Spider-Man,” wouldn’t it make more sense to go back and reread the early issues, the Stan Lee, Steve Ditko, and later John Romita years, in order to be reminded of everything that makes the character great, rather than complain about something temporary on the internet?
It does to me, at least.
*At the same time, some people gave it a 10/10, so, you know, comics.
When Stan Lee and Jack Kirby co-created the Fantastic Four, they did something novel with the superhero genre: the heroes of Marvel’s First Family were not infallible, immaculate saviors like the superheroes DC was publishing, but fallible beings more in line with the gods of the ancient Greeks. A year later, Lee worked with Steve Ditko to advance the concept even further by creating something unique: a solo teenager superhero. His name? The Amazing Spider-Man. Young Peter Parker was something the superhero comic had not seen before, one of the first comic heroes to even begin resembling someone a teenage reader could identify with. Sure, as Spider-Man he had to deal with a rotating cast of costumed rabble, but as Peter Parker, his concerns were much more pressing: a shrewd boss, an overbearing aunt, a less unrequited love than he believed, and common bullies. Even recurring, iconic villains such as the Green Goblin and Doctor Octopus were merely the attraction of the month; when it came to any kind of long-term arc, the early issues of the series were more interested in Peter’s personal life. Considering the sudden boom in the character’s international fame, it was this personal touch that comic readers had been waiting for.
When talking about the early years of Spider-Man in general, one must at least separate the vastly different Lee/Ditko years from the Lee/Romita issues (and fans will often side with one artist over the other). This isn’t merely a matter of taste in visual styles; the drastic effect the “Marvel Method” has on a comic’s overall tone, regardless of writer, shows no better than in the shift from Ditko to Romita. Personally, I’m a Romita fan through and through, but there is something fascinating about the first three years of Spider-Man, wherein two men who couldn’t stand each other somehow managed to hammer out our nation’s greatest superhero. Ditko and Lee were men with opposing idealogical views, the former an avid reader of Ayn Rand and the latter a firm believer that “With great power, there must also come… great responsibility!” This can be seen in these early issues, wherein Peter is much more of an internally conflicted character than newer readers might be used to — after all, two creators were trying to pull him in different directions! And yet, there is never a moment where either Lee or Ditko is firmly steering the ship (well, internally, at least); the character of Peter Parker reads more like your normal, moody teenager than a piece of paper being passed back and forth. While the Marvel Method of making comics has certainly caused a fair deal of controversy, comics such as the early years of “The Amazing Spider-Man” prove why it should never be phased out, as they probably never would have had the same, complex appeal had they not been created in this way.
Ditko’s Spider-Man was a loner, though, only a shade of the Peter Parker we know today (no matter how many quips Lee added to his fight scenes). When Ditko left the title, he was replaced by romance comics artist John Romita, and suddenly Peter was making friends for the first time. No longer was he either ostracized by his classmates or sent into self-imposed exile — even if he was an avid young scientist, Peter was just as social as one would expect a college-aged man to be (though high school bully Flash Thompson still stuck around to give him a headache). While the Lee/Romita years still kept Peter’s personal life front and center, it also took the first steps in tying both Peter Parker and Spider-Man’s lives together — doing so, in fact, within the first two issues, where the Green Goblin was revealed to be none other than Norman Osborn, father to one of Peter’s classmates. No longer was the superhero entirely separate from his secret identity, aside from a few knowing winks; Peter Parker’s life and Spider-Man’s life were, for better or for worse, one in the same, and this approach would soon become the industry standard (though some may argue that this was more a return to form in regards to proto-superheroes such as Zorro).
The Lee/Ditko and Lee/Romita runs aren’t flawless gems. Things that were new and groundbreaking at the time are often cursed to eventually, and ironically, appear cliche and old hat — and some things are just flat-out cheesy, regardless of context. Still, there’s something magical about seeing the birth of the “new” superhero unfold firsthand, of watching these men develop and refine the character who would eventually become, arguably, the best superhero of all time. I hate the “true fan” mentality — that is, the belief that you can only claim to be a Batman fan if you read the comics as well as watch the movies — but at the same time, I feel like anyone who feels like recording a ten minute rant about how they, the world’s biggest Peter Parker fan, think that Dan Slott has ruined Spider-Man forever should calm down and give these a read before they do so. Perhaps then they’d realize that a character as great as Spider-Man can’t be ruined — Ditko and Lee’s concept of the everyman hero is eternal.
Oh who am I kidding?