Sunday, December 7, 2014

Spider-Man Meets Dr. Doom!

When Marvel was just starting its line of new characters in the Silver Age, you saw a good deal of showmanship in the way it presented them--not only on the covers of the comics, but also in the narrative within the pages. And in Amazing Spider-Man, that push to sell the reader on the character was in full operation--prodding you to become interested in Peter Parker, the hard-luck high school kid who lived with his widowed aunt and was virtually ostracized by his classmates. Since Spider-Man took up only a portion of the issue, it looked like a good deal of time and effort was being spent on giving Peter a broad range of supporting characters, as well as factoring in Peter's many insecurities as well as his constant efforts to improve on his humdrum life. Reading twenty pages of Spider-Man was almost like reading an abridged novel, as jam-packed as each issue was with not only the excitement of Spider-Man battling a dangerous foe, but also the world of Peter Parker and its growing facets.

The title's fifth issue, where Spidey meets and battles Dr. Doom for the first time, is an excellent example of all of this being on display. You'd think that a battle featuring Doom would be enough to keep any story too busy to focus on anything or anyone else; but this is Doom before he was fully developed, at a time when stories made villains interesting to look at but not necessarily compelling. In this story, he's a menace to Spider-Man, but not so much an implacable foe or a deadly enemy--and that being the case, the story has plenty of opportunity to shift away from Spider-Man to Peter and eventually back again.

Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, since, in this early stage of Amazing Spider-Man, the development of Peter and his world is as important as that of Spider-Man and his growing ability to mix it up with foes like Doom. Marvel is discovering the value of continuity as a way of heightening interest in a comic and bringing readers back to the store--quite a different approach from Golden Age comics, where the adventure took precedence and other characters were mostly window dressing for the hero(es). Once Spider-Man and Doom clash and the battle is over, what then? Obviously a new foe would likely be presented in the next issue--but Peter Parker, the person who becomes Spider-Man, would be continued in development from the prior story you'd read, giving you something new to read about this character aside from the next fight you already knew was on the way.

Of course, if Spidey doesn't watch his step, this particular antagonist might render any problems or concerns Peter Parker has about his future moot. Because it looks like Spider-Man is:

This story is such a fun read, right from page one--a beautifully rendered introduction which peppers you with all the things you have to look forward to in the story, in a way which makes you want to linger and not miss a word:

Eventually, Spider-Man stories would shift away from heading the splash page with the distinctive mask icon next to a blazing story title. They were one of the things I most enjoyed with these early issues--it was almost like a welcome mat put out for the reader, and a promise of excitement to be found with the Spider-Man character. As Peter's life began to become more involved, and his writing took on a more serious tone, perhaps the title format was no longer in line with the growing evolution of the character, as well as looking a little awkward in stories that lasted longer than one issue.

But otherwise, look at the salesmanship going on in this page. I don't know if Johnny Storm's pals would get billing on page one of a Fantastic Four story--but they're seen as a vital part of a Spidey story, at least for the time being. Jonah Jameson is also featured--as well as, of all people, his secretary. What's up with that? And who is the "other" Spider-Man? And all of it capped off with a footer that reeks of the old sales term, "customer reinforcement"--assuring the reader (in a roundabout way that almost defeats its purpose) that this story is going to be worth the purchase for them. To tell you the truth, in 1963 I probably would have agreed with that; even now, over 50 years later, this issue seems quite the bargain.

So how does Doom enter the picture? Spider-Man would turn out to be useful to him in two ways, both involving the Fantastic Four. At first, he sees Spider-Man as an ally, as he earlier did the Sub-Mariner:

However, when Spider-Man meets with him, Doom's offer is flatly rejected:

You'll notice artist Steve Ditko's style for Doom is to give him an oddly elevated faceplate, which unfortunately leaves the impression that Doom's forehead is similarly raised. It's the first thing I noticed on the issue's cover, and it's a little distracting when reading his scenes. By 1963, Jack Kirby had already managed to bring to Doom a more refined look in features if not in posture, which could have served here; but Ditko's choice is his prerogative, and with the character only a year old there isn't yet a standard set in stone for his appearance.

This initial encounter between Spider-Man and Doom would only be a skirmish, given that we're only five pages into the issue and, as we've seen from the splash page, we still have a lot of ground to cover. And so Doom puts Spider-Man on hold for now, though he quickly shifts his plans for him to something less cooperative:

As Doom pivots, let's check in on Jameson, who hasn't yet been flushed out in the book's writing as a spotlight character in his own right but is already making a mark as an irascible newspaper publisher who has hounded Spider-Man in the press since day one. Many reasons have since come to light as to why that is--for instance, Jameson's feeling that Spider-Man is a publicity hound who eclipses the deeds of "real" heroes who risk their lives (notably, his astronaut son, John). But in this story, we're introduced for the first time to Jameson's "true" motivation:

It's a reason which makes Jameson simply a greedy man, rather than the complicated (and slightly unhinged) character we would come to know--and unfortunately, it all but puts a halt to Jameson being the kind of character for this book that makes him stand out for us, not only as a seasoned newspaper man but as a person who comes after Spider-Man with seemingly unreasoning hatred. Comics are full of characters who are motivated by simple greed--but as for the Jonah Jameson who would eventually be developed into the character we know, that's a character who doesn't come along every day, and he's a far cry from this gentleman.

Meanwhile, Flash Thompson is up to his old tricks of making Peter's life as a high school student miserable. And with his shallow friends helping him, we learn the origin of the "other" Spider-Man and his plans in that regard:

With Doom's words in that last panel, I'm sure I don't have to draw you a road map for you to see where this is going. Basically, Flash is going to find himself in the wrong place at the wrong time:

Yes, you guessed it: apparently "deep thoughts" are enough to nullify Peter's spider-sense, which fails to detect one of most deadly villains in the world on the other side of a fence. FAIL.

With his hostage now in place, Doom makes a general broadcast to lure the FF into his trap. (You'd think a genius like Doom who can contact Spider-Man by constructing a communications device using an imprisoned spider would be able to reach the FF directly, if only by telephone.) And when Peter finds out from a call that it's really Flash on the hook, there's a delightful scene which probably any bullied kid would relate to:

The only problem now is how to locate Doom, which Peter uses a little logic to implement. He also makes use of his spider-sense, which is having much better luck locating Doom within a city full of buildings as opposed to being three feet away from him and separated by a fence:

And so this time, as the narrative is quick to inform us in slang only a 1963 kid would grasp, the battle is on!

While we've surely seen Doom employ his armor's array of deadly weapons to great effect, in these early stories we would often see him opt to use nearby equipment and/or traps to accomplish his ends. Where Spider-Man is concerned, that would restrict him to dealing with the devices and not the man, or otherwise tackling Doom from a distance; but when Doom launches his disintegrator weapon, the two begin to grapple in earnest, and Spider-Man finds that, in close quarters with this foe, he has a fight on his hands:

Waiting in the wings of this story, however, are the FF--and Doom, disliking the odds, takes off before this battle is decided either way:

And yes, in case you're wondering: with Doom's devices deactivated, Flash was able to free himself. The bad news is that the insufferable braggart gave a slightly doctored version of events to his posse:

We also see that the story ends with one last sale pitch to come back for more, another indication of the story of Spider-Man being a continuing one and a promise of this character's potential. A stride in that direction is our first look at Peter's interest in Betty Brant, a move which takes baby steps toward Peter becoming more self-confident as opposed to the times when he's in costume. This story covers all the bases for both the hero and his secret identity, as well as his current supporting cast. Things may not have ended well for Doom, but, despite Peter's closing words, things are shaping up nicely for the amazing Spider-Man.

Amazing Spider-Man #5

Script: Stan Lee
Pencils and Inks: Steve Ditko
Letterer: Sam Rosen

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