AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #12 May 1964
Steve Ditko original artist
|By the time Editor-In-Chief Stan Lee prepared the 12th issue of his surprise smash hit, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN, for publication late in 1963, he must've been feeling just a wee bit cocky. After all, the taunting cover copy was nothing if not a slap in the face aimed obviously at the man behind what were then the bestselling line of comics in the entire field, Mort Weisinger's Superman Family of books. And, approaching expert status at the wise old age of 11, I for one couldn't have been happier!!...|
|I've told the story countless times: 1961
was when Mort's books hooked me in, but starting
in late 1962, it was Stan's line that sustained
and, yes, intensified my interest in the
comics medium. And rarely is the contrast
between their two diametric approaches so
blatantly on display as they were with this
particular episode of the Webspinner's earliest
DC Comics of the era, particularly Weisinger's, had an overriding obsession with the dodgy job of protecting a hero's secret identity from being exposed. Story after story was built around (ultimately failed) attempts to discover these closely guarded secrets. Again, this tiresome theme showed up repeatedly in the Superman books, wherein either Lois Lane or Lana Lang--and sometimes both--would expend vast amounts of energy doing their very best to irrevocably jeopardize the selfless career of heroism embarked on by the man they purported to love merely for a little selfish satisfaction afforded them by finally being able to whip off Clark Kent's bogus glasses and shout a triumphant "Gotcha!" at the now-hampered Man of Steel for all the world to hear! (Imagine what this pair would've done with Joe Millionaire?...)
It never quite played out like that, however, and any number of far-fetched "cheats" were at the ready to save Mort and his staff from printing the Big Reveal for true--robots, disguised colleagues (Hi, Batman!), magic, red kryptonite, dreams, and that singularly comical DC Comics concept, the Imaginary Story! While these non-canonical tales could be a great deal of fun, at a certain point, an over-dependence slowly but surely developed for this once-novel format that quickly overwhelmed the entirety of the Weisinger output, eventually causing the jaded reader to merely yawn upon the sight of the Big Red S in the throes of some pathetically preposterous situation or another whilst perusing the newest releases down at the corner newsstand. Now, this new upstart Marvel Comics Group and the books THEY were issuing, on the other hand...
They had very little time for secret identities. Oh sure, in their earliest incarnations, Thor, Iron Man, and especially the Hulk, spent a fair amount of time preoccupied with safely guarding theirs, but they were the exceptions, not the rule. No one much cared who Steve Rogers was, for instance, and though the X-Men all had suitable civilian guises, they spent so much of their time in each other's company, whether in matching uniforms or not, that no one outside of their exclusive little circle had much of a chance to peek behind their dark blue cowls. And the Fantastic Four? Like DC's Elongated Man, they didn't even bother to hide the names on their driver's licenses from their adoring public!! But unlike the Stretchable Sleuth, they also didn't merely take up space as a back-up feature supporting one of their line's marquee characters, they WERE the line's marquee characters! Second only, in fact, to a young fella who went by the name of Spider-Man...
Yup, good ol' Stan must've really been feeling his oats when he decided to tweak his competitors by gleefully emblazoning the claim, "Not a Dream!! Not an Imaginary Tale!" boldly onto the cover of ASM #12 (which, as my memory best serves, was the ONLY time that latter phrase ever made it onto the cover of a Marvel Comic, at least in the early going...) It's quite the dramatic tableau--a helpless Spider-Man's cowl being yanked off his head by a gloating Dr. Octopus, revealing the unmistakable face of Peter Parker to a group of startled onlookers, not the least of whom are his lady-love, Betty Brant, and his combination nemesis/pest/employer, J. Jonah Jameson!! Best of all, the cover proudly assured each of us eager readers that, yes, it was REALLY happening, honest to gosh! Wow! Was it any wonder that the antics of a Bizarro version of Perry White and similar stories of their icky ilk were rapidly beginning to pale in comparison?...
Of course, it was a cheat. But unlike the many I'd already endured following the Kryptonian Kid's career for what was a mere handful of years up to that point, it was both a fully logical and emotionally a satisfactory one. Y'see, Doc Ock, based on evidence discovered in the previous issue's episode, knows there's SOME connection between Spidey and JJJ's secretary, so he brazenly kidnaps her from the Daily Bugle offices, issuing a public challenge--a dare, really--for the Wallcrawler to attempt her rescue. When the police and Jameson arrive on the scene shortly thereafter, they're surprised to find that the multi-armed baddie has made alarmingly quick work of his arch-foe. Given this unparalleled advantage, the renegade scientist pulls off his adversaries mask in full view of one and all.
Spider-Man's greatest secret--revealed? Well, no. Allow me to explain...
Parker, along with Jameson, y'see, was in the Bugle office when Octavious swooped in and made off with the helpless young woman. Everyone, aware of Peter's feelings for Betty, assumes (correctly) that he ran off to meet the Doc's demands to square off with Spidey so as to save his gal pal. But because the not-so-amazing one was defeated so handily, they all (incorrectly) assume that there's no way he could possibly be Spider-Man, but simply a love-sick teen-ager trying to help out in the worst way! The key to all this confusion? No one--save the reader, who'd been properly fed this pertinent information in the tale's initial pages--is aware that Parker is suffering from a 24-hour virus, an illness just severe enough to practically neutralize his spider-like abilities entirely! After this seemingly misguided but valiant effort, Peter is sent home, where his Aunt May summons a doctor to visit. The prescription is a good night's sleep, and wouldn't you know it? Voila! By the last panel on page nine, our hero's totally back up to his spidery snuff and eager to take on all comers! Which, of course, he does...
Like I said, a cheat. But a glorious one, done for all the right reasons. And that's something Lois and Lana would be hard put to say, believe me...
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