Without question, Spider-man is one of the most influential comic book characters of all time. He is able to give the reader a sense of real world problems while still displaying incredible powers and heroics. When Peter Parker is down on his luck, we all can relate to it, and at the same time, that’s when his best stories come about. This is not some alien from a distant planet. This isn’t someone bestowed with a power ring. This hero is not anything other than a regular person trying to make ends meet and live his life. And did I mention, he’s just a teenager?
He got his debut in the pages of Amazing Fantasy #15. This was a short story in an anthology that turned massively popular. And while it’s likely Stan Lee has exaggerated the initial reaction to the character somewhat, it’s clear Spider-man has had an enduring legacy and continues to be wildly popular.
Apparently having the word amazing attached to Spider-man was inevitable because his own title becomes The Amazing Spider-man. This is not the debut of Peter Parker or Spider-man but it does lay some groundwork for the series for years to come.
The issue is divided into two stories which while connected, can be read as stand alone stories. Each one has some major events and significance to stories for years to come. I’ll be reviewing both stories here but they could have been listed as their own for the purposes of reading through Marvel 616 continuity.
The first story is titled, Spider-man. While one might assume the bulk of the story would be taken up with revisiting how Spider-man came to be or with Peter pulling off tons of heroics, there’s actually not that much of it going on.
At the start we do get a bit of a reminder of the previous story. Peter was bit and got his powers at a lab experiment. He went into show business to try to make some money. There was a robber Peter could have stopped but didn’t. Because of Peter’s inaction, his beloved uncle Ben was killed.
When we get caught up to the present, it’s the money woes that is the real enemy for Peter. His Aunt May can’t pay the rent. Peter briefly thinks about turning to crime for some quick cash but realizes that’s not something he is willing to do and something that would break Aunt May’s heart.
Peter again tries to cash in on his powers by putting on a public performance. As amazing as he is, when it’s time to get paid, Peter can’t cash in because he won’t give his real name. He tries to cash a check made out to Spider-man at the bank but has no luck.
Meanwhile, a certain newspaper editor has caught wind of this so called Spider-man. It’s in this issue we get the first of many headlines written by J. Jonah Jameson. This one just says, “Spiderman Menace.” As if that’s not bad enough for Peter, Jameson goes out on the lecture circuit to badmouth the hero. Jameson wants America’s youth to be like his own son, a test pilot, and a real hero, who is about to orbit the Earth.
Peter tries to get a part time job but is turned down because he is too young. And what’s worse is he sees Aunt May pawn her jewelry so she can pay rent. Peter starts to blame J. Jonah Jameson for his troubles because it’s now nearly impossible to cash in on being Spider-man.
Meanwhile John Jameson goes up in his rocket but there’s a problem. A navigation system of some sort falls off and the ship starts to fall back to Earth. NASA tries a few different things but they’re not successful. Spider-man shows up and tells them he can help. He gets a replacement part and commandeers a plane and a pilot to take him close to the rocket. Peter attaches it and saves the day.
Figuring he’ll be embarrassed by the compliments he’ll get for what he did, Peter leaves quickly. He also figures he’s repaired his reputation with J. Jonah because Peter just saved his son. But, J.J. seems to think the whole thing was a setup and conspiracy to make his son look bad. The press is even worse for Peter than it was before.
There are a few interesting things in this story. First, is the emphasis on money woes. This is a huge theme in Spider-man books and it’s smart to have it as a central point because almost all of us can relate to it in some way. Second, it’s not clear why a rocket would launch out of New York but we can let that slide for the moment. Finally, the public reaction to Spider-man is intriguing. It’s clear there are some people who like Spider-man. The pilot who takes him up to save Jameson thinks he is alright and there are a few other people in the background of panels who say positive things about him. But, it’s also clear Jameson is able to have a huge influence on how the public perceives him. The majority of people who read the newspaper do seem to think Spider-man is a menace, including Aunt May. I think it’s a really unique position at the time to have a hero who does heroic things but is generally not liked by about two thirds of the public. This is not like The Fantastic Four who are generally liked. They’ve had the occasional misunderstanding with the public but they are not outright hated. Thor and Ant-man really don’t have anything negative said about them. At this time, Iron-man has only barely come on the scene so the public is still mostly unaware of him. The only other hero who might be able to relate to Peter would be Bruce Banner but the Hulk is almost universally hated so he probably wouldn’t take the time to consider what Peter thinks at all.
The story ends with a warning by the F.B.I. saying there is a reward for the capture of Spider-man. Peter wonders if crime is his only option left. We all know that will not be the route he would take but I imagine for the first group of people reading this they may have had the idea Peter could have turned corrupt here.
The second story is title Spider-Man vs. The Chameleon.
This story is really interesting because there are a ton of things going on here. We’ll get to the heart of the story in a minute but can you notice something unusual in this panel early in the story?
Yeah, we almost had a hero names Peter Palmer. This misspelling of Peter’s last name happens at least three more times in this issue. It’s not particularly significant but it’s interesting to see how easy it was for a continuity error to happen in these early comics.
Also, as you can see above, the story starts with Peter having the idea of joining up with the Fantastic Four. It kind of makes sense. They live in a big skyscraper building in the middle of the city and they’re always flying around in the newest fantasticar so it sure looks like they pay well.
The most fun part of this story is seeing how Peter gets around the security measures in the Baxter building so he can talk to Reed and company. Of course, the Fantastic Four assume he’s there to cause some kind of trouble. There’s a bit of a scuffle and we see everyone use their powers. It’s a fairly even match all things considered. Finally Reed asks what Spidey is doing there and the fight ends.
Peter gives his pitch to the super team only to find out they are a non-profit organization and don’t pay salaries. With no other reason to stay, Peter promptly leaves. But as he goes Reed Richards says, “Somehow, I have a feeling we’ll be hearing more from that young man in the future!” Spoiler alert, Reed is one hundred percent correct about that. Just not in this issue.
After Peter leaves the scene shifts and we get our first ever glimpse at a real Spider-man villain. This is The Chameleon. He’s a spy who is able to change his appearance through extremely realistic disguises. We never see his real face in the story as it is always covered by a mask. The Chameleon easily breaks into a defense center and steals some secret plans. He walks right out with no one being the wiser.
On his way out, The Chameleon sees a report about Spider-man going to see The Fantastic Four on the news. With the F.B.I. warning out there, Chameleon sees a perfect fall guy for his crimes in Spider-man.
The Chameleon seems to know things about Spider-mans powers which are never explained here. He somehow knows Spidey has a type of spider-sense and sends a message to Peter only those powers could pick up. The message is just a setup to trap Spider-man into being at the wrong place at the wrong time, thus giving Chameleon someone else for the police to catch for his crimes.
Despite knowing about Peter’s spider-sense, Chameleon didn’t totally think it through because Peter is able to tell who the Chameleon is even when disguised. There’s a chase and a tussle. Spider-man actually makes himself look worse by webbing up a bunch of police officers. After a lot of acrobatics and inventive use of webbing, including the first appearance of a web parachute Spider-man catches up to the Chameleon.
Turns out Chameleon was going to sell the plans to communists on a sub-marine. For those of you keeping count, this incident adds up to every single 616 hero we have seen so far fighting communists at least once. Spider-man is able to capture Chameleon and takes him back to the police.
But Chameleon is able to change his appearance into a police officer. He almost gets away but Peter figures it out thanks to his spider-sense. There’s another chase but the cops do catch the right guy eventually.
We end the issue with Peter wishing he had never gotten his powers and the FF wondering what would happen if Spider-man turned to crime.
In this story there are tons of things going on that I find really interesting. First, there is the crossover appeal. I don’t know if Stan Lee thought Spider-man wouldn’t sell well enough on his own but the interaction with The Fantastic Four is great here. And it feels like the universe is really building with this story.
Also, everyone seems to know Peter is a teenager even while he is wearing his costume. I think this leaves us all to assume Peter just sounds like a teenager. He’s about the size of any other hero and he hasn’t shown his face so that’s the only way people must know about his age.
Another interesting thing here is Peter’s money issues are not resolved at all and if anything, he’s made his own reputation worse. It makes the audience wonder why Peter would try to be a hero at all. Except, if you remember Peter’s inaction leads to the death of his uncle. He’ll be a hero not because it is profitable but because as bad as things might be, if he does nothing, they will be worse.
While this isn’t the debut of Spider-man it is a great debut of his title which will go on to a whopping 441 issue streak in the first volume. The stories get better but the foundations really do start here. And while not all 441 issues are great, there will be some amazing stories (pun intended) to come with this character.
Next up on the reading list we’ll be checking back in on the family of super heroes once again with Fantastic Four #13!