I was eight or nine years old when someone—I don’t recall who—showed me an early issue of Amazing Spider-Man by the now-legendary team of Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. I was a massive comic book fan—I became addicted to comics as soon as I could read—but my focus was primarily on the pristine, shiny heroes of DC Comics. One look at Ditko’s art and I knew that this book wasn’t for me: To my young eyes the style was weird, dark, disturbing—and the alleged hero of the book, with his eerie mask and bizarre, insectoid postures, seemed more like a monster than a man. In the name of my own mental health, I avoided Spider-Man, and Marvel Comics, for a few more years.
(Contemporary comic book readers can’t possibly understand how different the Marvel books were in the 1960’s. DC’s comics—for all their imagination and artistic flair—were squeaky clean: no rough edges, no raw emotions, nothing messy at all. If you looked at the early Marvels—spearheaded by Lee, Ditko and the brilliant Jack Kirby—it was all mess: lurid colors. Captions screaming for your attention. Artwork so powerful and primitive it was frightening. Marvel Comics were dangerous.)
In Junior High School, as Marvel exploded across the newsstands—and as my friends began to rave about this new company that was changing the face of comics—I took my first tentative steps into the Marvel Universe. I remember standing in the local Brooklyn candy store where I bought all my comics and seeing the cover of Amazing Spider-Man #39, which featured the Green Goblin dragging a bound Peter Parker through the skies above New York: not the costumed hero but his alter ego, his Spider-Man costume exposed beneath his torn street clothes. I’d never seen anything like it.
I resisted picking it up then—perhaps some residual fear from my first encounter with Spidey stayed my hand—but jumped in the following month for the story’s conclusion: I was floored. Stan Lee’s story was so exciting, so nakedly emotional. And John Romita, Sr’s art—with his dynamic layouts and impeccable storytelling—was irresistible.
Peter Parker entered my life then and, I’m happy to say, he’s never left.
As much as I loved Spider-Man as a reader—those Lee-Romita days
especially—it was as a writer that I really fell in love with the character. Peter Parker, as I’ve said many times before, is perhaps the most emotionally and psychologically authentic protagonist in any superhero universe. Underneath that mask, he’s as confused, as flawed, as touchingly human, as the people who read, and write, about him. The book may be called Spider-Man, but, mask on or off, it’s all about Peter Parker. Most of us who have written the character for any length of time completely identify with Peter: He’s just a regular guy who happens to have these extraordinary powers. He’s always struggling to do the right thing—and sometimes failing spectacularly. Take away the wall-crawling and you have a pretty good description of what it is to be human.
In my experience, the vast majority of people are decent and compassionate at heart: we want to be kind, to do what’s right, to treat others fairly and be treated fairly in return. And, like Spider-Man, we do our share of failing, of not living up to our own ideals. What’s wonderful about Peter Parker is that, no matter how discouraged he may be, he always picks himself up and tries again; and every time Peter triumphs, it’s a triumph for the human spirit, because he’s such a wonderful example of that spirit at its best. Spider-Man both mirrors our human weaknesses and inspires us to reach for our highest ideals—and that makes for a truly timeless character.
If I could travel back to the 1960s and tell the kid standing in that Brooklyn candy store that one day he’d be writing Spider-Man in both comic books and animation, building on the classic stories created by Lee, Ditko and Romita, Sr., I’m pretty sure that twelve year old boy would faint dead away from sheer delight.
It’s a delight I think you’ll share as you read this book and take a journey through the web-head’s amazing history.
©copyright 2019 J.M. DeMatteis
What a great introduction!ReplyDelete
My dad got ASM #39, but it was only in flashback that he found out how the story ended. Distribution at his convenient store was sporadic and he never knew from month to month which comics would be available. To this day, he hates the transition in comics from done-in-one stories to longer arcs!
That two-parter will always remain my favorite Spidey story. Part of it is surely nostalgia, but it's also Spidey at his best: drama, high emotion, big action, big stakes. A classic!Delete
You need to buy your dad a few collected editions, so he can read all those epics in one sitting.
That's a great idea...and a nice way to pay him back for making all those trips to the comic store for me! (Some of which were to snag the latest chapter in KLH.)Delete
I remember being very young and going with my father after dinner so he could buy the evening paper. (Something that doesn't exist anymore.) He'd always buy me a comic book. My mother, too, never (well...rarely) balked at buying me comics. (Even if neither of them shared my enthusiasm for the form.)Delete
We're both lucky to have parents that supported our addiction!
Oh, absolutely! I'm eternally grateful. I'm pretty sure both of them felt I was way too invested in comics, but they always supported my passion for the stories whether they shared it or not.Delete
I remember the evening paper (and what a big deal it was when they discontinued them). I miss the old model. Having a few set times a day for news seems like a much saner way to go about one's schedule than the constant influx these days....
I was thinking about that the other day. Is it better to have a constant flow of information or to have it digested once or twice a day, from sources generally more dispassionate than much of what we get today? We can't go back, but sometimes I'd like to.Delete
There is actually a larger problem than you think.Delete
Studies have shown that the stronger a local news base is for an area, the less corruption. Makes sense, it is a good story.
However, a national new group is less likely to focus on the nitty-gritty of most of the country... there are bigger fish.
Even many large cities are struggling to keep their local news intact.
This of course is in concert with the 24 hour news stations, which did the damage to local news, chase stories differently because of a need to compete more heavily with entertainment for ratings.
Not to mention that the opinion shows usually start at 5:00 on the East Coast... just about the time people are getting off of work.
People have access to more news than ever, but the system has made them less informed.
It is sort of like a media version of the Wal Mart effect.
This of course made worse because studies show that Newspapers and similar publications still report better and more accurately than television news as a whole. This has much to do with different techniques, but that is another conversation.
The real problem there is people's ignorance. There is no real reason for papers to be doing so poorly. People say it is a casualty of technology, specifically the internet. However, they all have websites.
Really it is problems with people at large, and that is the crux of it all.
If people wanted a better, or even different news delivery system than the one taking shape for the past twenty years, they would have it.
OUr society has made its choice, and here we are.
Dear sir, what a great introduction. It's always a pleasure reading anything from you. Huge fan here, since the Moonshadow days! Spidey got to complicated for me (forty one year old fan from Brazil here), so I continue to reread old stories. The 80's run is the gold standard for me (I dare to say that it's better than Lee's and Conway's - with much respect to them). Thank you very much for your contributions to my most beloved comics character! Best regards, Antonio.ReplyDelete
You are VERY welcome, Antonio!Delete
As far as ASM 39-40 goes, it's one of the most fundamental Spidey stories ever told, the perfect distillation of the way Spider-Man and Peter Parker's problems tend to bleed into each other. He could never compartmentalize to the degree other heroes did at the time.ReplyDelete
Can you imagine how radically different Spidey's history would be if this story hadn't been told? It's no wonder this was the story Sam Raimi wanted to tell first when he presented Spider-Man to mainstream cinematic audiences. And what a strong story coming out of the gate for Romita, Sr.!
Not to mention it's pretty cool that you got to complete the story that essentially began here with the Harry Osborn Saga.
It is cool indeed!Delete
I have a collection of the very best of marvel comics and you wrote an introduction for Amazing Spider-Man 29 and 30 and that introduction and the following story has always stuck with me to this day. Later on in life I was guided to check out your run on Spectacular Spider-Man and I found the deeply personal and beautiful stories so moving. Great stuff!!ReplyDelete
Thank you, Jack! It's been a long, wonderful ride with Spider-Man.Delete
Actually, your paper buying story is similar to my mother's experience.ReplyDelete
When her parents got a television in the late 50s, one of the the two shows she watched was the George Reeves Superman.
She wanted more of the Man of Steel.
Since my grandparents were from Chicago, and moved to Michigan to help my great grandparents when they retired, they wanted to get the paper from the Windy city once a month.
Every Sunday they would go down to the local news shop that had papers from all the major cities (my mother did nit grow up in a city).
Anyway, her parents would always get her a comic book. From 1958-1964 (age 8-14) she had just about every issue of Superman, Action Comics, Lois Lane, Most of whatever Superboy was in, and even the odd Justice League.
Of course, when she was 17, my grandmother gave them all away along with hr Beatles cards (were those really a thing).
Thanks for sharing that, Jack. The newsstands were magical places back in the day.Delete
It wasn't really a stand. More of a store... but kind of a small one.Delete
As for me and the friendly neighborhood Wall-craler...
My intro to the arachknight (that nickname that lasted all of five minutes) was probably as good as you could get from a symbolic state.Delete
I was born in the 80s, so Spider-man had become a name by the time I was old enough to know anything, but this was before the movie. He wasn't exactly Superman and Batman, where everyone and there mother knew the basic deal.
I had seen images, this and that, but I was convinced he was a burglar. Swear to God.
Any way, at that point I had experience with Superheroes.. sort of reruns of that 50s Superman show, and a tape of the Adam West Batman movie.
And of course Batman 89.
However, I had a nightmare, which actually had nothing to do with superheroes, but there was at least something vaguely similar that I swore them off (As a child who had barely entered school)
Then along came the Spider-man. I don't remember what exactly, but my older brother had developed a passing fancy in something Spider-man... but not comics.
Well, this was during the summer, and we were latch key kids (and this was just before first grade for me, one year before he would enter Middle school and I would be the sole latchkey kid at home. SO, he would blather on to anyone who would listen about his most recent interest. I was the only candidate.
Now, before you judge my parents to harshly, we did spend summer days with my aunt, uncle and cousins until my brother was 13. However, my cousins on that side were girls, so they were pretty disinterested in Spiders... and the men who had their powers.
Eventually, my brother was at a drug store with my mother, and picked up a spider-man comic, and since his interest had rubbed off on me, she picked up the same one for me.
You see, drugstores are where comics were purchased in the 80s and 90s. Specifically Perry Drugs, a chain sold off to Rite Aid in the mid 90s. It was next to Farmer Jack, a grocery store chain that went belly up in 2007-08.
Perry Drugs, Farmer Jack, and comics... three dead things. That is depressing.
Any way, my brother came and went for awhile, eventually giving up interest within a year and a half. He eventually had a semi-renewed interest as the movies came out, but that is another story.
I however, was hooked. On comics, and especially on Spider-man.
Now that I am familiar with Peter Parker's lore, that origin seems just a bit too perfect to get into his tales.
P.S. Spider-man was the first, and maybe only, superhero to get another book specifically to focus more on the alter ego. That book of course was Peter Parker the Spectacular Spider-man.
That shows how powerful the character is. You don't see "Bruce Wayne the Brooding Batman" focusing on the life of a philanthropist billionaire, with a theme of villains connected to Wayne Industries.
And I would go as far as to say that Spec. vol. 1 on average was the best of the Spider-books (minus the Lee stuff of course). Yeah I said it. There was more freedom and character work.
I love these "come to comics" stories, Jack. Thanks for sharing yours.Delete
"Bruce Wayne, the Brooding Batman"? I'm in!
Doesn't Bruce have enough books?Delete
I don't think he had this may coming out in the 90s.
How about "Bruce Wayne, the Cash Cow Batman." That one I would bye.
Hopefully my stop reading comics will be just as compelling, so you can you can have the whole thing book-ended.Delete
Don't kid yourself, Jack. Comics are the Hotel California of literature. You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.Delete
And I'd totally buy "Bruce Wayne, the Brooding Batman"!
Given the drop in sales of physical comics, comic shops closing, comic shops pivoting to stat in business, and reports that digital sales have plateaued... I would say you can not only leave, but if you sleep past check out they call the cops.ReplyDelete
Comics are more like cigarettes, ans I say this as a smoker.
Yoi get involved when you are young. It takes the stress off when you need it. A little escape in the middle of the day.
Then the years build up, you realize it is just a habit, and you don't get what you used to.
Everyone looks at you weird when they find out you do it, like you didn't get some memo. Like there is something wrong with you.
You have all this brand loyalty, you realize isn't reciprocated, that you are just livestock to them, except you aren't giving your flesh but rather money.giving money.
And that money is gone in a flash, even for the casual reader, with diminishing returns.
Then when you break the cycle you wonder how you could have been on that ride for so long.
Sorry you feel that way about an art form you clearly love, Jack. But, even if you are off the merry-go-round of current comics, there's eight years of material out there you can still read and enjoy.ReplyDelete
A LOT better than cigarettes!
Well, human beings are not perfect creatures. Often we love that which hurts us most.ReplyDelete
But I am too stupid to be off this addiction just yet, but its getting closer and closer. I'm at least on beard until Lois Lane #12 comes out in June.
I am confused as to why you picked eight years.
"A LOT better than cigarettes!"
Do you remember when that fad-chasing Limey said his band was bigger than Jesus?
You shouldn't make claims that are hard to back up.
I;m just saying, I have known a lot of people who have quit smoking more than once, and far, far fewer that come back to comics.
I meant EIGHTY years. Typo. Sorry!ReplyDelete
Comics still have a lot of life in them, I think. I mean, just tossing out a random throwaway concept, Jack, you tapped into something I'd buy for years.ReplyDelete
C'mon, JMD, pick your artist, call DC and let's make "Bruce Wayne, the Brooding Batman" happen! (I know that's not how it works, but still...)
Making the call now...! : )Delete
Just make sure I get a cut of the book, Dematteis.Delete
But, it doesn't matter if there is potential, as Mr., Burns said, "Even the beast on beast combat... THAT had potential."
I know you have to stretch to make the connection, but I really like that quote.
The point is that the potential doesn't matter, what matters is how that potential in mined, and how many people are able to see it.
With the pulling from most non-comic shop stores in the 90s, and comics having fewer words and a higher cost, fewer people pick them up.
That is of course, is compounded by the fact that most people don;t want to read comics.
The dirty secret we are all running from is that Bill Maher's comments earlier this year are shared by far more people than they want to admit. Most folk just don't see any harm in indulging it as a guilty pleasure.
The truth is Comics, along with sci-fi, fantasy, and other genre fiction only appeals heavily to nerds.
SO what about the next generation of nerds? Well, if we a re all honest, when we started getting into this stuff we liked it was off the beaten path.
Now, with the movies to big, it isn't a place for outcasts (or at least those who feel as such) to congregate around. So, they look elsewhere.
It isn't even unique to comics, it happened in the 90s with Sci-Fi and the 00s with Fantasy.
Mainstream audiences got a taste, with new fans emerging in the beginning, but then falling off.
I don't know if you pick up any sci-fi or fantasy magazines (the kind with new short stories) but it is quite often that they run stories that are barely in the genres. Because they are STILL chasing the common person's dollar.
A friend of mine whi is a huge Fantasty fan once explained to me that Twilight is what signaled the end of Fantasy's reign, shown especially hard through Game of Thrones.
Thrones was fantasy, but started just before the collapse got going, but they even advertised it as fantasy for people who hate fantasy in the beginning. News I am sure Mr. Martin (interesting fact, his first published work was a comic story with art by Jim Starlin)
There were almost no Sci-Fi movies in the 00s, and only recently started to come around again. Yet... even they at times have strange structures, or are near apologetic at times.
It is just comics turn.
So like those larger genres before them, they are chasing an audience that are not necessarily there, while alienating the old readership.
Of course, that is just a giant hurdle to exist if they are to survive.
As for why I am actively searching for an off ramp from this highway of addiction (As if you cared), of far simpler.
1. There is an increasing lack of books I want to buy.
3. Dropping books I am so-so on because I don't think they are worth the cover price.
3. A cold war between fans and the industry leaves me cold to the latter, and ashamed to be in the previous. It is something I have seen in this world, and can't be unseen.
It started to feel less like a hobby than an obligation. While there are still a few books I am enjoying, and can justify the price, it is quickly eroding.
Simple as that, a cost/benefit analysis that factors in non tangible price.
The fact is eventually, due to lack of habit, if something does not pop to catch my eye in a certain period of time after I walk away I'll just stop looking.
However, it is possible something will catch my eye before June.
However, I have never been one to tell others what to spend their money on, or with their time (one reason it is good I am not a parent). I'm not trying to persuade anyone.
Some of the problems we're discussing are, I think, inevitable, when a genre has a lengthy history to compare every new story with. There is the competing desire to embrace traditions and push forward into bold new territory.ReplyDelete
I find that I sometimes have to re-train myself to avoid over-reflection and immerse myself in whatever story I'm currently engaged with.
It took me a while to stop looking backwards and forge ahead into new territory, while still honoring the comic book past. It's a tough balancing act.Delete
Yeah, KLH probably would have gone over a lot better if there hadn't already been so many comic authors who had built their stories around a reconfigured version of William Blake's "Tyger, Tyger" and buried their primary protagonist alive for a third of the story.Delete
But hey, you were new to the biz!
How was I to know there were dozens of stories like that? : )Delete
On a somewhat related note, I've always loved Roger Stern's recollection that when he wrote "The Kid Who Collects Spider-Man" he checked with his editors to make sure the story had never been told before, because he was convinced it was probably a Superman story he'd read when he was younger...Delete
I can see why he thought that. His story has the sweetness of a classic Superman tale.Delete
That isn't really what I was talking about.
Just finished Philip K. Dick's A SCANNER DARKLY and I think there's some thematic overlap in KLH. Like "Fred," Kraven becomes immersed in his adversary's mindset, so much so that eventually the distinctions between them blur until he's split down the middle. He is no longer Sergei Kravinoff but "Kraven the Hunter" and "The Spider," just as "Fred" is also "Robert Arctor." And Kraven's split also comes about through the use of drugs, no less.
One of the most poignant lines in A SCANNER DARKLY comes about when "Fred" is talking with a fellow drug enforcement agent. Burdened by all the terrible things he's seen, he makes an offhand comment that he wishes he knew how to go insane.
I think Kraven does, too--hence his repetition of the line, "They said my mother was crazy." In VALIS, there's a suicidal woman whom the narrator says essentially talked herself out of existence. She gives herself over to paranoid delusions to justify her nihilism.
Kraven's efforts throughout KLH follow a similar track, what VALIS' narrator refers to as "rationality in the service of unbeing." On some level, he yearns for and embraces the insanity that paradoxically destroyed his mother and yet (in his mind) also saved her from the (perceived) greater suffering he and his father endured. On a deeper level, he knows he's wrong, so he talks himself into self-destruction. He convinces himself that civilization is irredeemably corrupt, and that personal choices have no impact on the larger picture. His relativism--Lenin, Gorbachev & Reagan are all the same as far as he's concerned--is a longing for 'sameness' over Unity.
Peter Parker, on the other hand, is perhaps the champion of 'irrationality in the service of being.' He fights for life in every form it takes, whether doing so appears rational on the surface or not. As disgusted as he is by Kraven and Vermin, he believes they have redemptive, human qualities, and are every bit as worthy of life as he is. He believes that even when he doesn't 'know' it in a rational sense--or knows it to be true even when he doesn't believe it. I'm not sure which applies best.
And this gets to the heart of Peter's heroism. He doesn't just fight death, he resists unbeing in any form it takes. He would rather face his guilt and suffering over Uncle Ben's death head on and adjust his decisions accordingly than to deaden himself to the world and his responsibility to it.
Peter's faith in humanity, in being, ultimately proves redemptive for both Vermin and Kraven (with respect to the latter, I'm mostly thinking SOUL OF THE HUNTER, but also the recent HUNTED arc).
I guess I'd say the secret of Peter's sanity in KLH is he'll fight and strive to continue being Peter Parker, even when it hurts, and that's why he's not tempted by "the Spider" or consumed by it as Kraven is. The mask Peter wears is useful for his purposes, it amplifies certain characteristics that were always there in the service of being and of others, but it never consumes him.
And it's this revelation of Peter's humanity that lays the groundwork for Kraven's salvation in SOUL OF THE HUNTER.
Or at least, that's how I see it.
Wow. Quite an analysis! If anyone could write a book about KLH, David, it's you. And I mean that seriously and sincerely!Delete
By the way, have you read UBIK, my all-time favorite PKD book?
Thanks, JMD. I think you're probably right about that KLH book. I'm sometimes surprised myself by how much I have to say about it. Just when I think I've exhausted the possibilities, something else comes to mind. I don't suppose I'll ever tire of talking or writing about it!Delete
I've read UBIK, but it's been nearly a decade, so I can only recall the broad strokes. I'll probably revisit it soon as I've been on a PKD kick lately. This week I read DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP?, A SCANNER DARKLY, & the short "We Can Remember It For You Wholesale" (I think that's the original title, it's now sold as "Total Recall"). I'm currently working on the VALIS trilogy.
So I'll probably be re-reading UBIK very soon!
I've also been watching the anthology series PHILIP K DICK'S ELECTRIC DREAMS, and so far, it's pretty good. Very loose adaptations of his work but most of them are!
Another one I'd highly recommend is THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRITCH.Delete
Believe it or not I only read VALIS for the first time recently—although I read the other two books in the trilogy years ago.
UBIK remains my favorite, though.
Thanks for the recommendation. I'll put THREE STIGMATA next on the list.Delete