Amazing Fantasy #15: man before hero

I found myself scribbling notes, prepping for this week’s Chemical Box recording, when I finally thought “why not just post this? I should post something.” Granted, this is more an exercise than a finished product, and while I’m sure some proper critic may shake his or her head, I figure this is the blog of a twenty year old asshole. I can post whatever. So what follows are words – poorly written words – concerning Amazing Fantasy #15 and the Spider-Man origin story.

– I mean, this is the stuff. The fucking blocks that build it all. How can these comics not be held up as something worthwhile? They birth the character but also the language, voice, grammar and gears. They birth the standard. Boom, like a thunderous thud on the table right when the baby pops out. The nurse unaware of what just happened.

– And the world comes together before you can flip the page, and all subsequent issues establish new notes within the greater measure: the villains, the cast, the usual Parker conflicts. The cliches of the character, though …

… they weren’t yet cliches.

– This was new. That’s what you have to imagine. You have to dawn the position of the reader in 1962/63 and only know Spider-Man, or Steve Ditko for that matter, from what was given to you in those first few issues of Amazing. Everything feels simpler in that mindset. The mess of later years had yet arrived. It was just Lee and Ditko and a kid in an awkward suit.

– Amazing Fantasy #15 – the origin story – still remains the character’s greatest. Nothing could have come after, and the story would mean just as much. All because of that final panel. Parker doesn’t do a damn heroic thing even when it’s sold as this new super hero yarn. There’s nothing fantastic. No impressive feat occurs. There’s only a dude, and he’s simply getting by, looking at himself, judging, like any other would do on a day-to-day basis. Parker’s just this dude, and when he puts on the suit, he’s still just that dude. Maybe just a little more awkward because he doesn’t transform or strike a stone pose. The tights don’t life him up like a Clark Kent removal of the glasses. They just wrap him and embody the human shape underneath.

– If anything, Ditko picks up on this and draws those awkward stances and quirky expressions of body language to further characterize.  Ditko embraces that “otherness” inherent in the character, going somewhere lesser artists seem to fear or miss. That’s a point Todd McFarlane would later continue, only maybe go a little too far with his uncomfortable, almost macabre, drawings. But, hey, it beats the soap opera, pretty boy Romita liked to draw.

– While Ditko establishes the pacing and language of the story, Lee still matters here. No matter his place in history or the wrongs he may be guilty of, Lee adds a significant element to this individual tale past the line about responsibility. His prose possesses a presence. It’s a narrator who clearly knows the outcome long before you do, yet neither is he/she over powering. Instead, the narrator keeps a pace away but certainly oversees this great escapade from somewhere beyond.

– The narration, and the tone of it, benefits this tale in a major way because it helps nail that responsibility point. The reader trusts the ethos of the narrator; therefore, he reigns triumphant, making his point.

– And while quaint, with narration decorated in the comics speak of the comics past, it still hits and performs like no other super hero yarn. Every ounce of quaint builds up the storybook tone, but while a storybook or childhood parable, is dark, mean and honest. Spider-Man’s origin is about being a man: leaving teenage-dom behind for the truth of adulthood. Ditko and Lee show the consequences, in a pretty bold fashion, of when you do not grasp the concept of responsibility  and ignore adulthood to instead act like a child. Uncle Ben dies to make that point. Over the top, but it worked. What matters.

– They bleed all of this through the super hero origin. From AF 15 up until Ditko’s final issue, they keep to the mission statement while slowly adding other elements to provide further example: job, girls, enemies/struggle. All of which leads to a high school graduation and the age of eighteen as well as a battle with Norman Osborn – the arch nemesis and the “adult” lost to selfish desires.

– AF 15 still stands as my favorite super hero origin story, even while it doesn’t birth a hero. It’s a story about a kid, but that kid has to overcome and become someone he’s not, yet, can be. When Parker walks away into the darkness in that final panel, he’s learned a lesson, and the reader knows he must live with it. The walk into the gloomy horizon commences the journey. The hero’s journey. That’s the point. That’s why it’s my favorite. The man before the hero … a vital aspect.

–  Too bad fifty years have occurred, and Parker’s still working toward the heroic finish. He hasn’t left the origin he’s so famous for but has rather occupied countless variations of it. The trap of the core. Or at least, the trap of a regressive publisher. But, sleep tight, Dan Slott still has a job.

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