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Reading “The Amazing Spider-Man”

Storyworld: None | Series Name:
Reading Order: | Stand Alone? Yes
Genres: Non-Fiction, Writing Aid | Editions: E-Book

In this non-fiction work, you get a fun critical tour of the first twelve issues of The Amazing Spider-Man, the comicbook that launched one of the most enduring characters in modern mythology… and you’ll learn something about storytelling and storyworlds while you’re at it!


The first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man hit newsstands in December of 1962. A half-century later, Spider-Man is a cultural icon and a central figure in the pantheon of modern mythological figures.

Spider-Man, in all his incarnations, is also one of the most enduring—and valuable—fictional characters ever created. What’s… well, amazing… is that nearly every persistent element in the storyworld of The Amazing Spider-Man was established in the first twelve issues of the original comicbook!

In Reading The Amazing Spider-Man Volume One, I examine the roots of the franchise with a critical (but light-hearted) review of each story in the first twelve issues. As I do, I keep an eye on the many lessons to be found there for writers and storytellers of all kinds interested in developing an enduring storyworld and creative franchise.

More than anything, though, Reading The Amazing Spider-Man Volume One, just like reading superhero comicbooks themselves, is about having fun!

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An Excerpt from
Reading “The Amazing Spider-Man”

Issue Number One, Part One: “Spider-Man”

Written by Stan Lee, drawn by Steve Ditko, this issue first appeared on December 10, 1962.

Splash Page

The Amazing Spider-Man number one begins with a wonderful splash page depicting our hero clinging to a wall while an angry mob, all pointing fingers and clenched fists and led by J. Jonah Jameson, declare him a “Freak! Public Menace!” We’re promised “there’s never been a hero like… Spider-Man!”


The first actual page of story is a neat seven-panel recap of Amazing Fantasy number 15, the book where the amazing Spider-Man’s story truly began. We learn:

  • “Uncle Ben is dead! All because I was too late to stop him! My Spider-Man costume! I wish there was no such thing!”
  • Peter Parker, teen-age student assumed to be a shy bookworm, was bitten by a radioactive spider, found he had the powers of a spider, and tried to use his new talents to get into show business and cash in.
  • While Peter was off grandstanding as Spider-Man, a burglar he earlier couldn’t be bothered to stop shoots his Uncle dead right in front of his Aunt. These two people raised Peter, and thanks to him, one of them is dead and the other is a widow.
  • With Uncle Ben gone, the bills are piling up. To emphasize this, we see Aunt May promising a dour landlord that they’ll pay the rent next week.

Everything you need to know about the amazing Spider-Man is right here on this page:

  • He’s a bookworm who, when given the miraculous lucky break of falling into super-powers, lets his ego get the best of him. His obsession with stardom blinds him to his civic duty to stop a criminal when he has the chance, and he sometimes shifts the blame for that lapse of character over to the Spider-Man persona.
  • Peter is punished for this self-centered attitude—which will return again and again to get in the way of Peter Parker’s development as a person—when it directly results in the violent death of the man who raised him. Peter learns a valuable lesson, the punchline of Amazing Fantasy number 15. Say it with me:
  • With great power comes great responsibility.

The amazing Spider-Man really is a hero like no other. He’s driven to fight crime and do good not out of a desire for vengeance, or a sense of justice. Peter Parker is the amazing Spider-Man to soothe a massive, traumatizing sense…. of guilt.

We’ll see him subsume this driving anguish now and then, but over and over again something happens that brings it back. Guilt, obligation and imposed responsibility are his burden.

Now that we’re caught up…

With the rent due and no money coming in, Peter is tempted to use his Spider-powers to become a criminal. The biggest thing that stops him? A fear that if he were caught it would break Aunt May’s heart. Instead, he books another performance as the amazing Spider-Man.

The gang at Peter’s high school is excited to see Spider-Man, but when Peter necessarily tells them to count him out, it gives us an opportunity to see that the kids didn’t really want him there in the first place. It’s going to take a while for any of the kids to warm to our boy. For now, he’s a pariah. “Aw, who needs that walkin’ bookworm anyway!”

Spider-Man wows the crowd that night, but when it comes time to get paid, the manager of the auditorium or club or whatever insists on giving him a check “So there’s a record for taxes!” The check is made out to Spider-Man, but when he goes to the bank the next day wearing his Spider-Man costume in broad daylight, the bank teller refuses to cash the check without identification. Poor teen-aged Peter Parker insists his costume is identification enough, but that doesn’t fly.

Let’s pause a moment to consider the scene for its audaciousness. It’s 1963. New York has been exposed to some wild stuff lately: a giant underground creature attacked the city not long before, only to be driven off by a guy who could stretch like a rubber band, the Human Torch (but not the one who fought alongside poor lost Captain America twenty years before), a lumpy orange monster, and a woman who could make herself invisible. All the same, the bank teller—all spectacles and neat red bow tie—is absolutely dismissive of our hero, who, so far, is no hero at all. It’s hilarious, really… for everyone except young master Parker.

And his troubles are just beginning. The next night, he finds “there’ll be no show tonight—or any night!”

It seems J. Jonah Jameson, publisher of Now Magazine, has taken it upon himself to smear the amazing Spider-Man in editorials and lectures. Perhaps taking a cue from Fredric Wertham’s Seduction of the Innocent, the anti-comic book volume that might still have been on writer Stan Lee’s mind nine years later, Jonah fears that Spider-Man is a bad influence on the kids, and should be outlawed. He insists that “the youth of the nation must learn to respect real heroes—men such as my son, John Jameson, the test pilot!”

John Jameson’s going to have a rough time of it over the next fifty years, by the way. What happens in this issue will be the least of it.

Peter’s chances of making money as the amazing Spider-Man are shot. He can’t find a part-time job. He covertly sees his Aunt pawning her jewelry with a sad little smile, and then hears a newsboy mention that J. Jonah Jameson’s son, “the test pilot” is about to orbit the earth.

Mention of the elder Jameson sends Peter into a little temper tantrum, but he’s focused in his frustration. “I can’t let Aunt May down! Even it means the Spider-Man will again stalk the city by night!”

Have you noticed teen-aged Peter Parker talks like middle-aged Stan Lee trying to sound like a dime novel writer? I mean, c’mon. “…will again stalk the city by night??” Who talks like that?

Despite what should have been a nice cue to, well, see the amazing Spider-Man again stalking the city by night, we turn the page and it’s the next day. Peter Parker, “having nothing better to do,” (what happened to all that stalking??) is in the crowd gathered to watch John Jameson’s rocket take off.

It’s a flawless takeoff, but the guidance package goes pear-shaped and the capsule careens out of control. It’s going to crash into the earth, and the best efforts (including trying to stop the capsule by dropping a steel net attached to a parachute!?) of the “space technicians” fail.

Fortunately, Peter Parker is ready to jump into action. In fact, he’s wildly confident that he can save John Jameson. He gets to mission control (which looks a lot like an office in a midtown skyscraper) and, despite J. Jonah Jameson’s protestation, convinces the military to give him a replacement part to take to the capsule… somehow.

The amazing Spider-Man—a teen-aged boy who up until now has distinguished himself by doing stunts for money and deliberately not putting himself in harm’s way—commandeers a plane and a pilot, gets the pilot to fly close to the passing capsule, and, using his web line, hitches a ride. What inspires him to save the life of the son of the man causing him so much trouble?

Guilt, of course. The last time he stood idly by while bad things happened, the man who raised him was shot to death in his own living room. He has to act, or he’ll probably lose his mind.

That’s not mentioned at all in the book, but we can assume that’s his motivation. Up until this moment of opportunity, he’s almost exclusively used his power for his own benefit. Now he has a chance to do something purely good… and as we’ll see, even now, his motivations are not entirely without ulterior motive.

It’s a bit of a wild ride across a page or so, but Spider-Man reaches the capsule, slides the unit into place, and saves the day. He makes himself scarce when the capsule lands, since “I’d just be embarrassed if everyone wants to congratulate me…”

That’s right. The amazing Spider-Man’s main concern is not the safety of the astronaut. His mind is on the positive effect his derring-do will have on public opinion. Peter, a teen-ager to the core, is selfish despite himself.

Of course, it doesn’t go his way. J. Jonah Jameson has a new editorial on the front page of his paper the very next day, demanding Spider-Man’s arrest for the very real crimes of breaking into a military base, kidnapping a pilot, and commandeering a plane.

It works. There’s a reward for Spider-Man’s capture… and the shadow of the law is something that will dog our hero across 185 issues of the comic, and then some.

When the story ends, even Aunt May hopes they catch “that horrible Spider-Man.” Peter is at a loss, wondering again if he must turn to crime to help his Aunt. We’re left to believe that this is a real threat:

And so, a lonely boy sits and broods, with the fate of society at stake! What will his decision be? What will Spider-Man do next? Only time will tell!

Not that much time, really. The Amazing Spider-Man number one is a double issue! The next story is on the next page.

Impressions and Lessons Of Issue Number One, Part One

The thing that strikes me about this first issue is that just about every thing that shapes the stories in The Amazing Spider-Man for decades to come is laid out in thirteen pages of comics. Of course, Stan Lee and Steve Ditko almost certainly didn’t have anything like that degree of foresight in mind… and that makes it even more remarkable.

The material presented here is a recipe for all kinds of drama and pathos. There’s enough, in fact, to carry a character across a half-century of storytelling. This is a foundation on which to build a mythology: the temptation of power versus the chains of psychological trauma… societal pressure… a powerful, popular enemy… family conflict… we’re all set to go!

For writers, this first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man is a textbook on how to devise entire storyworlds that will support long-lived franchises based on our content. No matter what happens in the comic book issues, books, cartoons, television shows, movies and video games to come, we know all or most of the ingredients presented here will be tossed in the pot.

When you’re designing your characters and your storyworlds, are you giving some thought to the elements that you’ll depend on to sustain your stories and drive your potential franchise forward? Are those elements elemental enough to be evergreen?

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