Reviews out of Time 3:

Amazing Spider-Man #1

Greetings, True Believers! Welcome to the third installment of my continuing attempt to enlighten you about the weird comics I’m discovering down at Clark’s Drugs! And man, have I got a weird one for you this time!

It’s been a while since you last heard from me. Why? Well, first we were all snowed in. Then I got drunk. And by drunk I mean six months drunk. There’s not a lot else to do in Clark’s Ridge, Wisconsin, even though I’m not complaining. All you have to do to recognize that there is a God and that he loves us is to look out at those unadorned plains, barren with ice-covered grass and dead trees, where the wind rips through and cuts you like a million daggers. God’s country.

I even made a trip to Harper’s Point, although its comics really surprised me. All of them are totally different from the ones at Clark’s Drugs, my preferred comics hook-up in Clark’s Ridge. There in the big city, the comics are slick, glossy productions. They sit in magazine racks at various stores rather than piled twenty deep in the spinner racks at Clark’s Drugs, and the comics in Clark’s Ridge are a lot less dusty. The art’s sloppy but covered in tons of colors — you have to see it to believe it. But they’re soulless, soulless. They have half-naked women on the cover of every other issue! Lest the more indulgent among you rush out to Harper’s Point, I warn you: there’s also a lot of violence in some of them. I’m thinking that these comics are local productions, reflecting different values of city life. I’ll stick to Clark’s Drugs, thank you.

I was mailed a bunch of letters from you readers, and I’ve got say that, once again, some of it was a little confusing. Someone named John complains that my reviews aren’t timely enough. You can tell how unreasonable he is by the way he exaggerates, saying these comics are “about forty years old.” Well, John, I invite you down to the world-class sandwich counter at Clark’s Drugs, where you’ll find in the corner those dusty, forgotten spinner racks that only I seem to browse. Then, mister, if you’ve got a dime, you can get a comic for yourself. Your sarcasm doesn’t help any: I know they’re not new, but I’m getting these reviews out to you as fast as I can. Take, for example, Amazing Spider-Man #1 (reviewed below). It’s dated March, and I’m reviewing it in now in November. That’s eight months, mister, not years.

Also, some dame named Nancy writes to say that I’m racist. Well, I don’t know how you’d get that from my reviews, but I’ll have you know that Clark’s Ridge has its own family of negros, and we treat them just fine. All you have to do to know how dumb racism is is to see how nicely Mr. Washington sits by himself at the end of the lunch counter, never bothering anyone and speaking only to order politely. And he’s a hard worker too, breaking his back all the time shoveling dirt and snow for the city. No, we’ve got no problem with blacks.

Well, now that we’ve settled that…

Amazing Spider-Man #1

Amazing Spider-Man #1

Amazing Spider-Man #1

That nerd Peter Parker is at it again. Whining, I mean. And contemplating crime.

This time, when his Aunt May needs money to pay the rent, Parker contemplates a life of crime as Spider-Man — only to decide instead upon performing for money. Then, as watch Spider-man perform — as if we don’t get it — both a caption and a thought balloon explains how Peter Parker can’t be in the audience watching Spider-Man perform. Anyway, the promoter cuts Spider-Man a check in the name of Spider-Man — so he can’t cash it!

Somehow, this kid who was contemplating a life of crime a moment ago just accepts this and doesn’t threaten, let alone beat up, either the promoter or the bank teller who won’t cash the check.

I don’t know why Spider-Man bothers to show up for the second performance, since he can’t get paid, but he does — only to find out that it’s been cancelled in the wake of J. Jonah Jameson, some newspaper publisher, denouncing Spider-Man’s illegality as a bad influence on kids. Jameson seems motivated by his own kid, one John Jameson, a test pilot. Peter Parker, the ultimate self-indulgent super-hero, whines about how other super-heroes don’t get complained about. And when he pathetically spots Aunt May pawning her jewelry, he commits himself to making money, even if it means a life of crime.

This “hero” seems constantly pulled between doing good and being a criminal. The lessons of his Uncle Ben dying seem all but forgotten. So much for me worrying, after Amazing Fantasy #15, that Spider-Man would stay mopping for long. This temptation towards crime and money seems like it will be a major feature of the series, at least until Peter Parker gives in. And, make no mistake, it’s a matter of time.

Anyway, Peter Parker next attends the take-off of John Jameson on a flight to orbit the Earth. The control crew nicely allow father J. Jonah into the control room to listen as the flight goes awry. Man, our government is advanced: they have the telemetry to set up a giant steel net, lifted by a hot air balloon, to catch the space pod as it speeds through our atmosphere! Wow, that must take some calculations. It’s good to know that if there’s a problem with a space mission in our atmosphere, our government has a rescue plan so that no one dies!

They must have some kind of super-helium to get that balloon up there so quickly, but I do have a couple complaints. First, how would a floating steel net little bigger than the capsule stop that capsule? I mean, there’s nothing holding the net in place but a hot air balloon: wouldn’t the capsule just cruise on through it at high velocity? Second, even if the net worked, how exactly do they expect John not to be killed when his pod slams at shocking speed into a steel net? They even admit that this plan might destroy the capsule, so how would the pilot possibly survive? Third, this whole scheme is just shown in a single panel in which the capsule speeds past the net. Doesn’t this seem a bit rushed? Oh well, that’s the Marvel way, I guess.

Cue Spider-Man, who grandstands a bit in the control room like the jerky, praise-crazed teenager that he is before bothering to actually help the capsule. Spider-Man steals a military plane and coerces its pilot, though we’re conveniently not shown much of this act of mayhem as it might undermine our sympathy for our pseudo-hero. It’s all done with a caption and a single panel in which the plane is already taking off.

Spider-Man’s ridiculous plan is to stand on the plane as it flies — how he’s not blown off, we’ll never know — and shoot a web at the capsule as it speeds by. Anyone who’s seen a dog shake a rat to snap its neck will wonder how Spider-Man isn’t instantly killed as the capsule suddenly snaps him away at, say, 20,000 miles per hour. But, you know, the guys who make this are in New York City, so they’ve probably never seen a dog or a rat.

Somehow, fighting “wind resistance,” Spider-Man pulls himself up the line and makes it to the capsule. Uh… right. Wind resistance like enough to skin an elephant. Anyway, Spider-Man helps fix the chute mechanism from the outside and pilot John activates it, letting the capsule land peacefully by parachute. Though he clearly likes grandstanding, Spider-Man runs off to avoid being “embarrassed” when people congratulate him.

Only, J. Jonah Jameson denounces Spider-Man instead of praising him! He ridiculously blames Spider-Man for sabotaging the flight, even though the government can’t be happy about this implicit attack upon its security measures. But Jameson rightly points out how Spider-Man broke into a military base, attacked a soldier, and stole a plane. Whatever you think of his mostly ridiculous charges, the F.B.I. soon issues a wanted poster for Spider-Man (based solely on Jameson’s word!), and even Aunt May gets caught up in anti-Spiderism.

In response, what does Spider-Man do? Again contemplate a life of crime.

Let’s hope he gets to it quickly enough. The attacks by Jameson are interesting, though I doubt they’ll continue in the feature; the idea that anyone would listen to this raving lunatic is just too strained. Jameson’s attacks only enhance Peter Parker the victim, the whiny teenager who’s so stupid that he doesn’t just go back to his lucrative TV appearances in Amazing Fantasy #15. And this gets old quickly. Not to mention that it’s offensive while our boys are suffering in Vietnam. If you want something to whine about, Petey, try crouching in the Vietnamese jungle for eight hours during a firefight.

But don’t worry. You’ll learn. Hit 18 and you’re drafted. Then whiny Spider-Man grows up and starts webbing up those gooks.

Anyway, that story’s just the first 14 pages. Next comes a 10-page story starring the Fantastic Four — who also appear on the cover!

Only it’s also a bit of a disappointment. Spider-Man gets it into his head to join the Fantastic Four. And why? To make money. I can see where this is going. Another failure to rake in cash, Spider-Man’s sole motivation as he watches his Aunt May all but starving. A few more failures and he’ll turn to crime at last.

For a nerd, this Parker kid sure is stupid. I mean, to join the Fantastic Four he breaks into the Baxter Building. Cue gratuitous fight, in what may well become a Marvel trademark: unable to come up with interesting villains (Remember Mole Man? Well, Spider-Man doesn’t even have a fucking Mole Man yet.), the heroes have a misunderstanding that lets them fight each other.

Anyway, our noble Spider-Man finally explains his desires, quickly adding: “So now, let’s get down to business… how much does the job pay? I figure I’m worth your top salary!”

After pointing out they don’t make money, the Fantastic Four — just after pointing out that their job is to stop crime — remember that Spider-Man is acriminal. Cue Spider-Man’s hasty exit.

Which raises the question: why doesn’t the Fantastic Four hunt Spider-Man down? I mean, Spider-Man might not be guilty, but just about any criminal might not be guilty. Isn’t Spider-Man the super-powered criminal exactly the kind of guy the Fantastic Four go after?

Anyway, the story awkwardly moves to the Chameleon, whose undistinguished face looks suspiciously like an artist’s uncolored sketchy outline of a head. Using his power to disguise himself, he steals plans from a defense installation in order to sell them to the Reds! Then, mysteriously and unnecessarily eager to frame Spider-Man, the Chameleon somehow knows how to broadcast on frequencies that only Spider-Man with his powers can hear — all the more puzzling because this Superman-esque power has never been seen before.

Chameleon’s broadcast promises money, as the Chameleon has reasoned that, as a wanted criminal, Spider-Man isn’t able to work and must be starving for money — a bit of rushed, strained reasoning. It apparently doesn’t occur to the Chameleon that Spider-Man might just have a secret identity. Hearing the broadcast promising cash if he arrives at a particular location at a particular time, Spider-Man immediately complies, thinking “I can’t afford to pass up a chance for profit!”

“Uh, Spider-Man. This is on a closed frequency. Come to Clark’s Ridge and beat Mike Garriga within an inch of his life. There’s money in it for you, Petey… Just think of Aunt May. The old lady’ll be pawning her own body parts next. Come to Clark’s Ridge. Beat up my old high school bullies. Profit, Peter, profit!

Of course, by the time Spider-Man has arrived, the Chameleon has just stolen plans in the guise of Spider-Man and escaped from just the place Spider-Man has been told to arrive. It’s a good thing Spider-Man didn’t arrive a minute early, as the whole plot would have gone awry. So, yet again, Spider-Man plays the victim. Figuring the plane he just saw leaving contained the real burglar, Spider-Man chases the Chameleon to the sea, where Spider-Man steals a motorboat to follow. Breaking up a rendezvous between the Chameleon and a Russkie submarine, Spider-Man quickly captures the villain in his helicopter.

Forcing the Chameleon to fly back between panels, Spider-Man returns the plans and turns over their thief — who promptly escapes, having apparently waited the whole helicopter ride to do so. When the Chameleon disguises himself as a cop, Spider-Man’s attack on that cop leads the other cops to attack the criminal Spider-Man. Though Spider-Man escapes, the Chameleon — his suit ripped in the scuffle with Spider-Man — is still caught after the web-slinger leaves.

This only leaves us to watch a whiny Spider-Man crying in the streets, pitying himself for ever acquiring his powers, and to watch the Fantastic four contemplating what will happen if — or when — Spider-Man turns against the law. We can only imagine the slew of complaints Marvel will receive when readers figure out that their favorite characters, the Fantastic Four, who appear so prominently on the cover, only appear for about three pages in the whole issue. And we can only imagine Spider-Man’s reaction, if he cries at this, when he starts hauling equipment through Vietnamese tall grass that’s sharp enough to cut you.

But there’s still more. As if unaware of the insult delivered to readers with the Fantastic Four on the cover, the last page has Spider-Man delivering a personal message to the reader, asking for letters! We can only imagine the deluge of insults the title will receive. But the page offers a bit of phony nostalgia, because Spider-Man tells readers to pick up the second issue, “on sale the beginning of February, 1963.” This false dating only adds to the irony of the message itself: the money-obsessed criminal Spider-Man calls upon readers to buy his comics.

We can only imagine that Spider-Man must get a cut.

I give this title six issues at the absolute most before Spider-Man turns to the life of crime we’ve been so consistently promised. That ought to be good for a while, at least until our whiny hero gets drafted and gets something to really be self-indulgent about.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

In 1996, while still an undergraduate, Dr. Julian Darius founded what would become Sequart Organization. After graduating magna cum laude from Lawrence University (Appleton, Wisconsin), he obtained his M.A. in English, authoring a thesis on John Milton and utopianism. In 2002, he moved to Waikiki, teaching college while obtaining an M.A. in French (high honors) and a Ph.D. in English. In 2011, he founded Martian Lit, which publishes creative work, including his comic book Martian Comics. He currently lives in Illinois.

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