Amazing Spider-Man (1963–1998) : The Massive Re-Read, Part One — The Ditko/Lee Era
One of the things I love about those original forty or so Amazing Spider-Man issues is the tightly paced, beautifully crafted simplicity.
That soap operatic drama that the series (and the character) would become known for wasn’t in full swing yet, despite frankly over-the-top love triangles, or Flash Thompson being… well, Flash Thompson.
Fitting Ditko’s idiosyncratically awkward and claustrophobic style, these early issues were more neurotic than dramatic, looking inward at Peter’s self-doubt rather than at his interactions with his supporting cast.
The Ditko/Lee version of Peter isn’t the Peter that I — and probably a lot of other people — know and love, at least in terms of the nuances of his personality (he’s actually kind of a full-on douche a lot of the time), but the general groundwork was laid down. His emotional frailties, his psychological wariness — those personal shortcomings that would make his victories much sweeter.
It’s those shortcomings, together with Ditko’s style, that inform the general tone of this era. Despite that trademark humour, there’s an underlying bleakness to a lot of it. Okay, fine — “bleakness” is a strong word, but I meant it in the same way that the best Charlie Brown strips are bleak.
Nevertheless, it’s a bleakness that’s used very well, especially as a counterpoint.
It goes without saying that Ditko’s phenomenal storytelling sensibilities are what make the opening few pages of issue thirty-three the shining example of the medium that they are — but it adds another layer when you think about how Peter isn’t just dealing with a literal weight on his shoulders, but also combating his own uncertainty.
It’s also why I’ve found a greater appreciation for issue eighteen on this re-read. It’s, as the cover copy bills it, off-beat — but it adds so much to the character’s relatability. It’s almost the psychological complement to issue thirty-three’s focus on Peter’s emotional drive, as channeled through his physical strength.
It’s not my favourite era of Spider-Man (even though it’s very, very high on that list), but those forty or so issues certainly are wonderfully odd superhero comics, showing how perfectly an artist and writer can work together to create something that truly stood out from everything else in the genre at the time.
(Originally published on 5 July 2016.)