We all have our favorite Spider-Man villain, but what about our favorite stories involving villains associated with another superhero or team? Why should Captain American or the X-Men get all the fun fighting the likes of the Red Skull or Magneto? This list celebrates the very best stories involving Spider-Man taking on a villain best associated with another hero.
At #7 is Amazing Spider-Man #5 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko:
After four straight issues of introducing some fantastical original villains (and the Chameleon) in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, in ASM #5 Stan Lee and Steve Ditko decided to have their brand new phenom face off against arguably Marvel’s greatest supervillain in Doctor Doom.
Doom, of course, was first introduced a few years earlier in the pages of the Marvel Age’s flagship superhero book, Fantastic Four, as the evil antithesis to Reed Richards. So naturally, the bulk of the drama of this ASM issue is built on the premise, if Doctor Doom could fight a team of super-powered heroes to a standstill, what chance in the world does Spider-Man have in a one-on-one fight with him?
It’s a worthwhile premise — although one that wasn’t really visualized as wonderfully as it could have been given its potential. But like a lot of those early Lee superhero stories, the excitement was more in the spectacle than in the actual execution. It’s Spider-Man versus Victor Von Doom. Just take my 12 cents (or the bajillion percent increase on cover price I paid for a copy years later) and be done with it. Add in some of the quirky elements of that early Lee/Ditko ASM run, and you still have a classic story on your hands, even if it could have been an all-time great with some fine-tuning and a little less of that Lee schmaltz.
And it’s ultimately the quirky world of early Spider-Man that ignites this story’s engine. Despite the fact that ASM was still in its infancy here, Lee and Ditko demonstrate their mastery of how they integrate this world’s supporting cast and everyone’s appropriate impact on Peter. For example, when Spider-Man gets challenged to a fight by Doctor Doom over broadcast television, Aunt May panics when Peter tries to find an excuse to leave the house (and suit up as Spidey). So in order to fulfill his responsibilities as a superhero, Peter fakes a power outage in their house so that May has to relent and let him go out and get new replacement fuse (which are then used as Chekov-ian guns when Peter returns from his fight with Doom with no fuse in hand).
Additionally, we get another great showcase of Peter’s rivalry with Midtown High School bully Flash Thompson that actually ends up providing the impetus for Spidey’s big showdown with Doom. In trying to prove that Peter is just a big coward, Flash dresses up as Spider-Man to jump out and scare him. Doom unknowingly abducts Flash/Spider-Man and uses him as bait to convince the Fantastic Four to give up being a super-team (or else Spider-Man gets snuffed out).
While someone picking up a copy of ASM #5, or really any of these original Lee/Ditko issues, may find some of these subplots to be hokey and dated, I think these are the elements that really set Spider-Man apart from most other superhero comics during the early 1960s. Did Superman ever have to fool Ma Kent into letting him go outside in order to fulfill his duties as a superhero? Did Barry Allen’s high school bully ever try and dress up as the Flash and then get kidnapped by Gorilla Grodd by mistake?
I frequently speak about Peter’s relateability, which is absolutely apparent in these situations, but part of what made Peter/Spider-Man so identifiable was because it was so easy for readers of ASM to fantasize about themselves being in these situations. Even now, of course I recognize that I don’t have superpowers, but if I did and I chose to be a masked hero, how would I be able to slip out of my apartment without my wife or kid knowing? Or how awesome would it be if I ended up rescuing one of my high school tormentors and he never even realized that the person he swears he hates more than anyone else is the reason he’s still alive? Almost all superheroes from this era are based on power fantasies, but Spider-Man did it in such small, subtle and ordinary ways that the reader is tempted to forget that he’s actually a superhero.
Regarding the actual superhero stuff this issue contains, Spider-Man’s fight with Doom is a bit of a letdown in how rudimentary it ends up being. Granted, Doom still wasn’t the fully fledged master of the dark arts that he would later be known as in numerous classic Marvel stories. However, outside of the awesome Jack Kirby character-design, Ditko’s renderings of the battle fall short of emphasizing what an awesome force of nature Doom was. He mainly utilizes cheap parlor tricks to keep Spider-Man off-balance. Lee’s script and dialogue keeps reminding readers that Spider-Man is in over his head, but his struggles against previous villains like Doctor Octopus (ASM #3) and Sandman (ASM #4) read as being far more compelling and filled with drama.
The fight ends with Spider-Man more or less holding Doom to a standstill, though it is implied that if not for a sudden appearance of the Fantastic Four, Doom would have emerged victorious. But again, this is all being told to the reader with very little of that doubt and danger being shown. It makes you wonder what could have been if the entire sequence was paced a little more differently or perhaps Kirby illustrated the fight instead of the more cartoonish Ditko.
Even with that disappointment, this is still an early Lee/Ditko story I hold dear. In addition to it contributing to the theme of this countdown, it’s another great example of how Marvel established the closeness and interconnectivity of its comic book universe in the 1960s. As part of Doom’s ongoing efforts to take down the Fantastic Four, he decided to torment Spider-Man and as a result, it was totally fair game for Spidey to show up in an issue of F4. Maybe Flash or Aunt May would be there too. It was all possible during the Marvel Age.