Page 45 Review by Stephen
"Face it, tiger
"You just hit the jackpot!"
Oh yes, that immortal line is first uttered here by the beaming ray of beatnik sunshine that is Mary Jane Watson. For several issues Peter's been swooning over Gwen Stacy whilst sweating it over Aunt May's constantly proposed but perpetually postponed introduction to MJ whom he's convinced will turn out to be a dud.
Err, no. She's drop-dead gorgeous, up for some action and in marked contrast to the rest of the cast here she doesn't worry about how she's perceived, nor does she second-guess other people's motives.
Speaking of which, one forgets how accurately Stan Lee used to nail neuroses. I don't mean the melodrama of "What's wrong with me? I've defeated some of the most powerful supervillains of all time - without batting an eye! But why do I have such trouble - just managing my own life
?", I mean the little things like conversations that become unusually and unexpectedly awkward, stilted, and difficult to engage in as Peter's does with former flame Betty Brant. They haven't seen each other in ages and the connection is gone, Peter groaning his way through a casual cup of coffee, fully aware that neither of them is comfortable.
This is the point where I first came on board through the Marvel UK black and white prints, spoiled on John Romita Sr.'s contemporarily hip art and MJ's ludicrously hip dialogue:
"I never thought a tiger who wore his hair so short could be so dreamy! And you've got a bouncin' bike too! Dad - you're the end!"
Plus, this era boasted some of the most exquisite cover compositions in Marvel's history. #50 in particular is that classic portrait of Peter walking towards us, face-down in dejection as above him looms the back-turned spectre of the Spider-Man identity he's given up for good.
You might have seen this paid tribute to, expertly, by Sean Phillips on his cover of KILL OR BE KILLED #20.
Issues #42, #43, #45 and #46 boast perfectly arranged and thrillingly dynamic one-on-one confrontations between Spider-Man and J. Jonah Jameson's son, then the Rhino, the Lizard and the Shocker, respectively. And although the adult in me is no longer that interested in superhero fist-fights - I'm more about the relationships - John Romita Sr. manages to find a surprising variety of ways to choreograph them, even if throughout these early years a bizarre proportion end in the death of a brick chimney.
Famously, of course, one will later end with the death of a central character buried beneath a brick chimney... and an avalanche of deeply unnecessary explosion.
It's also refreshing to see how smoothly some single stories flow through into each other over the course of several issues, one event catalysing another: J. Jonah Jameson's son is exposed to space spores bringing about his first but not last transformation (roughly 150 or so issues later he becomes a moonstone-metamorphosed werewolf!); the Rhino kidnaps him so that the spores can be analysed by foreign military scientists; then Peter seeks help from scientist Dr. Curt Connors to dissolve the Rhino's hide and Curt Connors once more transforms into the Lizard.
There's a lot of J.J.J. Junior on offer, whilst his dad struts about furiously, impotently, puffing on his cigar and glowering around like a manically mardy Groucho Marx:
"That blasted wall-crawler sabotaged your capsule himself, in order to make everyone think he's a hero by later saving you!"
"Dad! Who told you such a ridiculous story?"
"Nobody! I made it up!"
Spoken like a true tabloid journalist! And I didn't make it up. If the Daily Bugle ever stops parping, Jonah would fit like a glove onto a poisonous appendage or the Daily Fail.
Anyway, as we kick off, Romita takes the artistic helm from Ditko just in time for the so-far substantial Green Goblin sub-plot to burst wide-open, and covers don't come much more iconic than #39's in which plain-clothes Peter, his Spider-Man top and tights exposed for the whole world to sea underneath his torn shirt and trousers, is dragged through the air against an azure sky, arms bound to his side, the very essence of helplessness in spite of his virile frame.
As a superhero artist you couldn't make a more immediate first impression, and in that single issue alone Peter finally bonds for life with Harry Osborn when his father Norman pushes him away, Peter's secret is exposed right outside the house where Aunt May is convalescing, and we finally find out after months of wondering who the Green Goblin himself is. It might have come as a shock to Ditko purists, Romita's faces and frames being far sturdier affairs, but to my mind it's precisely what the title needed at the time, fleshing out Ditko's seemingly limitless imagination with the weight of Romita's forms.
Finally, also included is Spider-Man's famous audition for membership in the Avengers wherein Captain America sends him out to capture the Hulk, and the Wasp brings all her customary wits to bear on assessing his potential as a team-mate objectively, scientifically and with good grace:
"I vote no! I hate anything to do with spiders!"
For more nostalgic nonsense from silly old me, please see my more satirical (yet ever so fond) reviews of AVENGERS EPIC and FANTASTIC FOUR EPIC and SPIDER-MAN EPIC collections.
This one was relatively serious!