Steve Ditko original artist
It took me quite awhile to work up enough courage to attempt a Hembeckization of this glorious Ditko cover. Just look at it--it may appear deceptively simple inasmuch as there's no background details, merely a solid field of yellow serving as a backdrop for our two protagonists (and, hey, all kudos to Lynn and Julie for another exemplary job wielding the PhotoShop color controls)--but getting those entangled metal coils precisely right is no easy task! And folks, I sure didn't want to screw it up, because not only do I love this cover, I'm of the opinion that this may well be the best single, regular size issue Marvel ever produced! (And we all know what my opinions are worth, don't we?...)
Y'see, I sat down the other day, my sole intention being to flip through my copy of this dear old beloved funnybook so as to write a few short comments, and instead, I was sucked right back into the fully realized fantasy world Stan Lee and Steve Ditko conjured up four decades back. For the first time in at least half those mounting years, I suddenly felt the urgent need to sit down and carefully reread this fabulous story. I instinctively knew a quick skim would never do. And y'know how sometimes things don't quite live up to your rose-colored recollection of them? Not here buddy--if anything, "Captured By J. Jonah Jameson" was BETTER than I remembered it to be!! That's right, you heard me--better!!

Why? Because, while it's a perfectly realized farce, it nonetheless maintains the high level of tension appropriate for an adventure yarn throughout. Up to this point in the overall Spider-Man mythos, Daily Bugle publisher J. Jonah Jameson had been a comedic thorn in the side of our heroic webspinner. Plus, he also serves double duty as the boss from Hades for Spidey's alter ego, Peter Parker, a high school student who additionally--wouldn't you know it--moonlights as a photographer for the tabloid. On one of his periodic visits to the Bugle's offices in his never ending quest to siphon some cash out of the tightfisted Jameson, Parker notices a Professor Smythe lurking about. Intent on demonstrating a device he invented allegedly capable of capturing Spider-Man, JJJ dismisses the scientist rather abruptly. Thinking what fun it would be to mess with his cigar-chomping adversary's head, Peter encourages ol' Jonah to take a gander at the crackpot inventor's crackpot invention. Peter's private little joke first backfires by earning him unpleasant glares for his uncharacteristic behavior from Jameson's secretary--and Parker's love interest--the peeved Betty Brant. And then? Well, you can probably guess what happens next, folks--yup, Smythe's cockamamie machine actually WORKS!!!

Our worried webhead quickly excuses himself and returns to Midtown High where he encounters that OTHER thorn in his side, Flash Thompson. Seems Flash is upset by all the attention his erstwhile gal pal, Liz Allan, has been lavishing on Petey as of late, and challenges his newfound rival to a bare-fisted battle after classes let out. Just when that time finally arrives, Peter coincidentally spots the robot--with Jameson now at the controls, his ghastly grinning mug broadcast over its' two way video hook-up--careening down the sidewalks of the city, destination Spider-Man! Flash's cronies spy his potential opponent making a hasty retreat out the side exit and naturally assume he's ducking his obligation to engage the Flashy one in a robust round of fisticuffs!! The entire gang, Liz included, take up pursuit, producing a very amusing overhead shot of the entire congregation plowing down a busy sidewalk--a rapidly disrobing Parker in the forefront (as it certainly wouldn't do for this nifty little device, attuned as it is to the essence of spiders, to capture our hero whilst out of his colorful crime-bashing garb), followed by Flash and his flunkies mere steps behind, with a frustrated robotic JJJ taking up the rear position, barking out orders for the pesky teens to clear the way, so as better to give him a shot at the accursed Spider-Man, WHEREVER he happens to be!!

Meanwhile, back at the Bugle, Betty Brant is trying to figure some way to undo her knuckleheaded boyfriend's handiwork. When she comes THIS close--literally--to pulling the plug on this sordid little enterprise, her blustery employer catches her and quickly gives her the rest of the day off--without pay, of course!?! Seems the old goat's having WAY too much fun, as his pursuit of the Amazing One has gotten fetchingly close on several occasions. The very real prospect of achieving his ultimate goal emboldens the usually dour newspaperman to crack corny jokes, gloat gleefully, and in one memorable instance, cheerily greet his prey with a big old uncharacteristic "Hel-lo dere!" Clearly, this man is enjoying himself FAR more than he should!!

But our two leading ladies certainly aren't enjoying themselves. Separately deciding to seek out the object of their affections--and, in Betty's case, annoyance as well--Liz and Ms. Brant just happen to bump into each other at the doorstep of the Parker household at the very same time. They're informed by Aunt May that, while her nephew may not be home currently, they're both welcome to come in and wait alongside a THIRD visitor--the neighbor's niece, a curvaceous young woman by the name of Mary Jane Watson!! Though often previously spoken about, this was the readers first glimpse of the mysterious Ms. Watson--though thanks to some strategically placed potted plants, it amounted to little more than that. Didn't matter--the stunned looks on the faces of the suddenly crestfallen romantic rivals was enough to clue us into the fact that some tiger--or spider--had just hit the jackpot!! Demoralized, the girls skulk away just as, elsewhere, the remote controlled Jameson finally captures his foe in a massive mess of coiled steel tendrils. Y'know--like on the cover?...

The inventor informs his panting patron that bringing their captured prey across town in that trussed up configuration is far too risky, as Spider-Man may very likely escape due to the movement involved. So, JJJ and Smythe turn the two-way monitor off and head out to claim their prize. Naturally, this allows our hero time to use his wits, mess with the control panel, and, yup, escape! But not before he rigs up a hollow costume and places it in the robots clutches, thereby allowing him the rare pleasure of witnessing--and photographing from the shadows--Jameson's stunned expression when he triumphantly yanks the mask off "Spider-Man", only to find no head!! THAT'S one for the photo album, lemme tell ya! Irate, the no-longer happy-go-lucky JJJ fires Smythe on the spot, as Parker chortles to himself hidden off on the sidelines! This gag may've cost him a costume, but it was well worth it. Anyway, he figures, there's a spare one at home. Well, there WAS, until his Aunt May discovered it!! Some fast talking gets Pete out of THAT pickle, but as we end our tale, it's yet time again for our boy to break out the old sewing kit, as he's now the hero without a uniform!!

Generally, I shy away from these heavily detailed plot regurgitations--unless I'm using it as a forum to make fun of said plot, of course--but in this one rare instance, I felt the need to relive my pure joy of rereading this classic tale with all of you. Because, y'know, it's perfect, just out and out perfect! Not a panel is wasted, not a line of dialog rings hollow, not a single plot twist lacks believable motivation. And perhaps most surprisingly, this issue is the first to give sole credit for the story's plot to artist Steve Ditko (though it may well not have been the first such instance of this division of labor between Lee and his penciller, just the first to be branded as such). Face it, one doesn't think of Steve Ditko as the master of the French farce (pardon me--is that "freedom farce" now?), but all the classic ingredients are there--the wacky mix-ups, the hero who cooks his own goose, the divergent storylines that dovetail perfectly come the finale, and that one last gag to punch things home! Solid! Matching exquisite line-work with superior storytelling, "Captured By J. Jonah Jameson!" would've been a minor classic even before Stan Lee lent his considerable talents to it, but after he did--YOW!!

Every word coming out of the mouths of every character hits just the right note. Even JJJ's seemingly inappropriate "Hel-lo dere!" works because of how it's led up to. A lesser writer might have had the bombastic boss man spout such inanities from the get go, but Lee slowly builds up to it, saving it until almost the end, where it effectively demonstrates the mounting (over) confidence of the crusading publisher--and where, after forty years, it still never fails to get a laugh out of me!! The whole episode amuses me so thoroughly because everything occurs organically. The Jameson/Spider-Man rivalry had been the back-burner storyline for the feature's entire previous existence, and when it finally came center stage, it was developed in a natural and satisfying manner. After all, let's face it--why exactly is our arachnid powered pal fighting folks like the Vulture, Electro, the Green Goblin and their ilk? Because, oh, I don't know-- they're bad guys and they want to steal stuff? Okay, I suppose that's motivation enough for a comic book, even a rarefied gem like the Lee/Ditko Spider-Man one, but in opposing Jameson, for once a truly believable grudge match was being played out! And for all the inherent humor successfully mined from the situation, Ditko's expert staging of the relentless chase across the city's rooftops excels in excitement!! Bravo, gentlemen, bravo!!

I've long considered AMAZING SPIDER-MAN ANNUAL #1 to be my all-time favorite comic, and, with it's double-length lead story, jam packed with villains and guest stars alike, topped off with pages and pages of pin-ups, special features, behind-the-scenes info--all new, all Lee, all Ditko--maybe it still is. But if I had to pick one standard length story from the entire early Marvel canon, one that I felt clearly demonstrated how they were brilliantly transporting comics into fresh, new realms, it'd have to be this issue, hands down. If you haven't ever read it, dig out a copy somewhere if you can, because believe me, once you do, it'll wrap its steel tendrils around you and capture your heart too!!...