Thursday, March 9, 2017

Doomed! When Spidey First Faced the FF's Foe

As superhero comic book readers in the 1960s, we did a lot of conscious and unconscious weight-classification, just like prizefighting fans.
We assumed, for example, that a super villain who could give Thor a real run for his Danegeld would be too much for Ant-Man. So stories that challenged those expectations could be particularly exciting.
That’s one reason why Daredevil’s battle with Sub-Mariner in April 1965 was so satisfying. We knew the blind costumed acrobat could not possibly defeat the superman of the seas, and he did not.
Similarly, I was eager to read The Amazing Spider-Man 5 (Oct. 1963). I’d loved the first three issues of the title, with Spidey facing the Chameleon, the Vulture and his multi-limbed opposite number Dr. Octopus. But I’d skipped the fourth issue because the Sandman appeared goofy — dressed like a longshoreman, looking about as sinister as a sandpile.
But the fifth issue brought me back. Spidey was squaring off against Dr. Doom! Oh no! How could Spider-Man survive against an enemy who’d already nearly destroyed the entire Fantastic Four five times?
I couldn’t imagine a more exciting battle — until the Thing went solo against the Incredible Hulk six months later.
Comics historian Don Alsafi remarked, “Over the last year, Stan Lee had been tentatively drawing the connections between all these new superhero creations, and selling the fiction that they all lived in the same world. The first step in that direction had occurred when the Hulk appeared in the pages of the Fantastic Four not just in passing but as the issue’s monster menace du jour, and culminating this same month in the superteam-of-disparate-parts known as the Avengers. So even if Victor Von Doom weren’t the most natural of enemies to face off against a high-school kid, you can understand the intention towards a tighter continuity that Stan Lee was going for. In fact, this is most visible when Doom recounts how he last escaped the Fantastic Four.”
“In addition to inching forward the nascent attraction between Peter Parker and Jameson's secretary, Betty Brant, we get a humorous case of ‘mistaken identity’ shenanigans due to Peter’s main high school tormentor, Flash Thompson,” Alsafi noted. “See, one of the most inspired ideas in these early days is the fact that even though Flash looks down upon the bookish Parker ... he idolizes Spider-Man! So at one point he decides to have a Spider-costume made up, throws it on and lies in wait to jump Parker and give him the scare of his life. Of course, this is exactly when Doctor Doom is scouring the city for Spider-Man, and ends up nabbing this fake Spidey in his stead...”
In this issue, Spidey tried wielding his web like the Human Torch used his flame, making web pillars, throwing web balls and so forth. He was effective enough to prompt Dr. Doom to give us a lesson in how to beat a hasty retreat without losing face or, er, mask.
“I have found your juvenile antics mildly amusing until now,” Doom remarks, on the run. “But now I begin to grow bored, so…”
And with this issue, the title became monthly, on its way to establishing Spider-Man alongside Superman and Batman as one of most famous superheroes in history.

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