The Spider-Man Challenge: Monday through Friday, I read a Stan Lee-written issue of Amazing Spider-Man and write crap about it.
Writer: Stan Lee
Artist: Steve Ditko
Synopsis: A mysterious masked figure and his henchman, a man in a cowboy hat, spring a trap for Spider-Man. They lure our hero by having a jewel thief crawl out onto a flagpole away from the police. When Spider-Man goes in to nab him, the thief is wisked away via a line attached to a helicopter. Spider-Man builds momentum by “swinging” around a flagpole until he can reach the copter.
Unfortunately for our hero, he gets a faceful of “blinding chemical foam” and the bad guys get away. Later, at a gathering of the New York’s crime bosses, our masked figure arrives. Calling himself “The Big Man”, he tells the group that he’s in charge of the crime syndicate and his “Enforcers” will make sure his orders are carried out. The bosses aren’t having any of it and The Big Man has The Enforcers demonstrate their unique abilities: the diminutive Fancy Dan is a black belt judo master, Montanna (guy with the cowboy hat) is an expert with the lasso, and Ox is…big.
The Enforcers just ruin these guys and the Big Man tells him how it’s going to be. Meanwhile, Peter’s at the hospital visiting Aunt May and he’s surprised to see Liz and Flash, who came to visit her. The doctor tells Peter that May is doing well, but needs a blood transfusion from him. Peter worries that his altered blood might hurt Aunt May, but his blood checks out and he gives her the transfusion. The doctor tells Peter to take it easy for a few days, which suggests to me that either he took ALOT of blood or he just assumes, naturally, that Peter’s just a big weenie. Peter sends Aunt May on a trip to Florida with some of their neighbors, but, of course, CRIME DOESN’T TAKE A VACATION:
The Big Man’s criminal cartel strikes all over the city and the police and Spider-Man are equally frustrated. J. Jonah Jameson witnesses one of the many small time arrests and explains to a disbelieving cop that Spider-Man must be The Big Man. Back at The Bugle, Jameson browbeats mild-mannered reporter Frederick Foswell into writing more negative Spider-Man coverage. Betty Brant commiserates with Foswell over their gruff boss, but as she leaves, she’s cornered by The Enforcers. It turns out she owes money to a loan shark and now Betty’s debt belongs to The Big Man. Peter shows up but can’t fight them for fear of revealing himself. The Enforcers leave and Betty refuses to tell Peter why she’s mixed up with them. Fed up, Spider-Man decides to confront The Big Man and shakes down a small-timer for their location.
Spidey finds their hideout but is lassoed by Montana and pulled in. The Enforcers take on Spider-Man and he fights them one on one while The Big Man escapes. Peter manages to turn out the lights and tries to follow, but only finds J. Jonah Jameson walking past. Peter wonders if Jameson’s The Big Man and calls Betty to answer. Betty , not wanting to involve Peter in her problems, makes an excuse to hang up and vows to leave New York. The next day, Peter worries about the heat Jameson’s putting on Spider-Man, Betty’s disappearance and the identity of The Big Man. Peter decides to get himself captured by The Enforcers so he can find and capture them. The next morning at school, Peter brags that he’s figured out The Big Man’s identity. Flash Thompson tries to warn him to pipe down, but Peter is grabbed by The Enforcers and thrown into a locked room at their hideout. Peter dons his Spider-Man suit and discovers a meeting of the top mobsters in the city. He’s discovered and, in my head, Sweet’s “Ballroom Blitz” starts:
Spider-Man holds off the thugs and The Enforcers until he uses his Spider-signal to alert the police. He goes after a fleeing Big Man, who manages to stop Spider-Man with a steel door. Spider-Man, thinking Jameson’s The Big Man, heads to the Bugle, only for the police to arrest the real culprit: Frederick Foswell (you know, the Bugle reporter whose sole appearance has been in this issue).
Afterward, in the privacy of his office, J. Jonah Jameson reveals why he has such a mad-on for Spider-Man: He’s jealous. If Spider-Man’s self-less heroics make him a hero, what does that make him?
Back in Forest Hills, Peter worries that he hasn’t heard from Betty and wonders what kind of troubles he’s in. The issue ends on Betty Brant, sitting in a hotel room in Pennsylvania, crying to herself as she realizes only Spider-Man can help her now.
- Man, The Enforcers are so great. It’s such a silly concept but they’re just so…cool. Aside from their appearances in this, Brubaker’s Daredevil and The Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, they just seem to be treated like joke characters, which is a shame.
- Lee’s explanation for why Jonah hates Spider-Man so much always struck me as the best possible explanation. Jealousy’s the simplest and, frankly, most realistic justification.
- The Betty Brant plotline really picks up here and Lee’s doing a good job of pacing it.
- Ditko uses shadows really well in this issue. Ditko’s Doctor Stange work may be his showiest and best regarded, but his Spider-Man stuff really shines when he does subtle stuff like this:
- For an issue with no super-powered villains, the fight sequences (as detailed earlier) just rule. The fight at the end is definitely one of the best we’ve seen so far.
Final Thoughts: Lee/Ditko have really hit their stride with this issue, you can tell they feel comfortable with experimenting and challenging themselves creatively with stuff like technique and ongoing plot lines. Tomorrow: Doc Ock returns for the first ever two part Spider-Man story. Rock and roll, kids.