Saturday, 17 January 2009

The Coming Of The Scorpion!

Amazing Spider-Man #20, January 1965.
(By Lee, Ditko, and Sam Rosen)

Thanks to the wonders of Marvel Tales reprints, this was one of the earliest Spider-Man books that I read, back when I was a nipper. And what a book it is! This book represents Stan and Steve at the height of their combined power, and is as close to perfection as you'll read in a Marvel comic. But don't take my word for it. See for yourself.

Our tale picks up with Peter Parker being stalked by a mysterious stranger, who hasn't reckoned on Pete's Spider-Sense...

I can't get enough of Kirby's "spooky" art. Look at those bags under Peter's eyes; too many late nights?

Meanwhile, whilst Peter Parker's being followed all over town, let's see what's happening at the Daily Bugle, shall we?

Say, that gives JJJ an idea, and before you can say "I have a bad feeling about this", he's got another wacky scheme to bring down Spider-Man.

Our mystery man goes to see his equally mysterious employer, and, hey, whaddaya know?

Yeah, it's a bit of a con, but hey, as reasons for having Peter Parker go, at least it makes sense, reminds us that JJ is a piece of work, and shows us that Mac Gargan is a man who doesn't ask questions. Or an idiot. Possibly both.

Doc Stillwell has some interesting ideas about scientific progress. I'm sure what farmers and botanists are crying out for is fish that can climb trees. Fortunately for Stillwell's bank balance, Jameson has money to burn, and a burning urge to create animal-themed super-powered vigilantes.

I'm not sure what's more odd, that the test subject has to have his head shaved before he can get super-powers, or that neither he nor the mad doctor give any thought at all to the "powers affecting your brain" thing. Actually, the thought that I'm not sure what's more odd, is itself more odd than either of these two things.

Yes, folks, you read that correctly. J. Jonah Jameson, the man who thinks that a brillo-pad haircut and the Hitler moustache is a sensible look, is going into costume design. Stand by...

Well, let's face it, we've seen worse. Although since JJJ intends the Scorpion to be a hero, it's a bit worrying that he's chosen to use a secondary, rather than a primary, colour.

Meantime, what's our hero up to?

He's busy bird-dogging a potential rival for Betty Brant's affections. Ned Leeds, eh? Something tells me we'll be hearing more about that young man later.

Anyway, finally getting into his Spider-suit, our hero goes to confront Jameson, and the Scorpion takes his chance. Soon, our protagonists are beating seven bells out of each other, whilst JJJ watches and gloats.

Meanwhile, in the land of mad science...

I'm oddly reminded of an episode of The simpsons where Dr Hibbert makes reference to being able to detect an "evil gene". Presumably, Dr Stillwell has access to the same evil detection device? Or all scorpions are evil? Or Stillwell's lost the plot? Or all of the above?

Anyway, while Stillwell sets off to undo his mad plan, the Scorpion has made short work of our hero. Time for the old evil gene to kick in.

The Scorpion sets off on a one-man crime spree, whilst Jameson gnashes his teeth in impotent fury. But wait, here comes Doc Stillwell, to save the day.

RIP Dr Farley Stillwell: a surprisingly good climber, but a disappointingly bad aim.

Meantime, Spidey has picked himself up off the floor, and is back for a second go at getting himself killed by the newest supervillain in town. And speaking of the Scorpion, Lee and Ditko give us a neat insight into his mind.

As if these three panels weren't enough to make this the best comic we've looked at so far, we follow up with the very next three panels, which take us into the mind of J. Jonah Jameson.

I mean, this isn't like 90% of the comics of the time. Lee and Ditko aren't just going through the motions here, they are really going for it. Comic creators of today should be made to study this issue, and at least some of them should be beaten to death with a rolled-up copy of it.

Enough of my gushing. After taking another beating from the Scorpion, Spider-Man is pretty much down and out, but his attempt to get his breath back is interrupted, as the Scorpion, realising that JJJ can tell the cops his secret identity, decides to go confront his former sponsor.

That's a boy, Jonah, do the right thing for all the wrong reasons. So, things are looking bad for JJJ - until Spider-Man shows up to save the day.

Spidey takes down the Scorpion, and leaves him for the cops, leaving Jameson to ponder on the irony of the situation. I bet JJ'll be changing his mind about Spider-Man from now on.

Oh well, maybe not. Anyway, the book ends, as all Spider-Man books should end, with our hero getting no credit for the situation, and his Aunt May fussing over his unexplained (to her anyway) bruising. Folks, if this isn't the perfect Spider-Man issue, then I'd like to know what is.

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