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Greatest Spider-Man/Fantastic Four Stories: #8

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Dating back to the very first issue of Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four have been intrinsically linked as allies, adversaries and frenemies. With the Fantastic Four starring in their own movie this summer, superiorspidertalk.com is taking a look at the 10 very best Spider-Man/F4 stories.

Here’s #8:

ASM 1 02“Spider-Man vs. the Chameleon” – Amazing Spider-Man #1 (published March 1963): script by Stan Lee; art by Steve Ditko

If Amazing Fantasy #15 is the greatest superhero origin/first appearance story ever told (I would say it is), then Amazing Spider-Man #1 should be in the conversation as the best superhero second appearance story ever.

Stan Lee and Steve Ditko would continually outdo themselves during their storied run on the first 38 issues of ASM (and two annuals — I’ll count them this time), but the very first issue of Spider-Man’s own solo series is a masterclass in world-building and character development. Peter Parker (referred to as “Palmer” in the very first panel of “Spider-Man vs. the Chameleon” — d’oh) was already a well crafted character after the final page of Amazing Fantasy #15  hence why most people consider it one of the greatest stories to ever grace our medium. But it’s Amazing Spider-Man #1 that we start to learn the quirks and intricacies of Spider-Man’s world.

Oddly enough, despite the iconic cover of this comic selling the idea of “Spider-Man Meets the Fantastic Four” (which, for historic purposes, is considered the first Marvel crossover to feature the F4), the story is actually relegated to back-up status in favor of “Spider-Man,” which introduces J. Jonah Jameson and his editorial page of the Daily Bugle newspaper as the primary antagonists for young Spidey.

ASM 1 01Despite being its own separate story, it’s hard to talk about “Spider-Man vs the Chameleon” without taking into account the narrative of the comic’s “A” feature. Spider-Man vs. Jameson would go on to be one of the most unique and memorable rivalries in all of comics — who else could be the ultimate foil for an unlikely teenage superhero than someone he couldn’t just web up and leave for the cops? To call this opening storyline significant is a gross understatement. The decision to have Jameson revile the “masked menace” Spider-Man to the point that he would turn public opinion against him via the Bugle is probably THE defining characteristic of the hero beyond “with great power, must also come great responsibility.”

Not to drone on about history and legacy (though, isn’t that why we have lists like these?), but for Marvel to have its newest superhero reviled and feared in his very own book was absolutely astonishing and unheard of for the industry at the time. Marvel was already taking a huge risk building an entire series around a teenager (who were really only used as sidekicks to that point). It’s steely moves like these that helped Marvel earn the “House of Ideas” moniker during the Silver Age.

ASM 1 03As for how the Fantastic Four figure into all of this … because Jameson’s editorials have made Spider-Man so distrusted, he can no longer earn money in show business (and for added drama, we see his elderly Aunt May can’t afford to pay rent — real life problems for a superhero!!). So, he concocts a plan that seems half-baked even on first blush, to break into the F4’s Baxter Building headquarters and request that he join the team as a fifth member.

On the surface, the sequence is just a cheap and easy way for Lee and Ditko to work some flashy superhero action into the issue. Even with Spider-Man saving a space capsule in the comic’s opening story, ASM #1 was still missing a showcase of spectacular, unique powers and the Spidey/Fantastic Four exchange delivers in spades. Spider-Man swings, crawls and darts around, while Human Torch flames on, Sue turns invisible (and gets spun around for her trouble), the Thing clobbers and Reed stretches while attempting to be the voice of reason. All in the span of a few pages, everything that was mesmerizingly great about Marvel Comics during the Silver Age got its due.

But beyond functioning as a showcase, the comic also demonstrates a long-running subplot in Spider-Man comics: even other superheroes don’t trust this lanky masked man. In other comics, a hero would join up to help the Justice League or whoever and it was instantaneous camaraderie – “you’re a good guy, I’m a good guy, so let’s go fight the bad guys together.” However, Lee (and in this instance, Ditko) wanted something very different for their shared universe of heroes. Not only would Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four interact, but they would have a complex and complicated relationship built on a foundation of distrust and cynicism.

ASM 1 04And Lee/Ditko nail the unpredictable teenage hormone-fueld pathos of the character during this altercation. Spidey’s request to suit up (and get paid) as a Fantastic Four member is unquestionably driven by naiveté, and to a lesser extent, greed, but his reaction to the F4’s rejection is what sells this moment as something so original and wonderful. The creators deliver such a sense of betrayal and hurt from Peter/Spider-Man when the Fantastic Four send him on his way (with some playful mocking from Johnny Storm to boot, which inevitably feeds their feud in the future). Even after saving the day from the Chameleon, Peter bemoans at the end of this comic that he wishes he never got superpowers. What hero, in their right mind, openly admits that? Obviously one as unwilling and ego-driven as Peter.

For icing on the crazy characterization cake, the story ends with Sue Storm pondering what might happen if someone with Spider-Man’s youth and powers ever went on the path to the villainy. Again, for Lee/Ditko to raise questions about Spidey’s virtue and heroism in the very first issue of his own series was a very daring decision. It also works to further demonstrate the disconnect between the public’s perception of Spider-Man and Peter’s very own drive to honor his responsibility and obligations. Sue might have uncanny powers, but she’s speaking as if she’s every other Dick or Jane in New York in this moment, setting the stage for the wild and unpredictable ride known as The Amazing Spider-Man.

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