My Misspent Youth — Amazing Spider-Man Annual #18 by Tom DeFalco, Stan Lee, Ron Frenz, Bob Layton, and Jackson Guice

I read a lot of comic books as a kid. This series of posts is about the comics I read, and, occasionally, the comics that I should have read.

Stan Lee was no longer writing superhero sagas when I started snatching up Marvel Comics offerings with eagerness, but his name was in every issue I bought. “Stan Lee Presents” appeared at the front of every story, an overt acknowledgement that the co-creator of every foundational component of the mighty Marvel universe was as recognizable a figure, and contributor to the overall strength of the brand, as any green-skinned goliath or merry mutant. So I knew it was a very big deal when he was announced as the scripter for Amazing Spider-Man Annual #18, a double-sized spectacular released in the summer of 1984. As the splash page excitedly announced, it was Lee’s first time writing the publisher’s most popular character in twelve years.

Lee had a lot of support on the issue. The plot was provided by Tom DeFalco, then handling writing duties on the main Spider-Man title. Ron Frenz also carried over from his monthly duties as the well-crawler’s penciler, though trying to squeeze in another thirty-nine pages around his main gig meant he officially provided breakdowns that were ably finished by Bob Layton and Jackson Guice. As special as it was that Lee was on board to provide the dialogue, this was the Marvel of the nineteen-eighties, when continuity was the prime driver. The annual wasn’t really meant to feel like a standalone event. This was part of the big, ongoing story, with the regular storytellers on board to prove it. Shrewdly, this particular part of the big ongoing story gave Lee the opportunity to offer up snappy banter in one of the great antagonistic relationship in all of comics, that between Spider-Man and flat-topped newspaperman J. Jonah Jameson.

In the grand tradition of Marvel annuals, the issue centers on a wedding, as Jameson prepares to tie the knot with Marla Madison. In addition to the smooching harassment of the threatening — or maybe menacing — Spider-Man, the pending nuptials rouse the interest of another colorfully adorned fellow. The sinister stinger known as the Scorpion busts out of prison with the intent of exacting revenge on Jameson for funding experiments on him years earlier, resulting in his superpowers and fragile grasp on his sanity.

The story features first-person narration from our hero. A common practice now, it was still a rarity at the time, and it was practically unheard of from Lee, whose specialty was captions packed with posh, purplish phraseology. Writing in the voice of the character, Lee’s prose is leaner, even as DeFalco’s creates a few set pieces that require extra explanatory language, such as a sequence where Spider-Man dukes it out with the Scorpion in a darkened space.

A chief appeal of drafting Lee to write Spider-Man again is that allows for him to tap another strength, writing comedic dialogue that is all the more appealing for its corniness. As if trying to prove he could still write for the kids, even as he had moved into his sixties, Lee also peppers the web-slinger’s lines with modern references. For example, a pummeling delivered to the Scorpion’s noggin is accompanied by a wisecrack that invokes the cable network then wowing all the teens.

Reflecting Lee’s previous revolutionary flourishes brought to superhero comics, the annual, likely by design, hits every note of nineteen-sixties Marvel comics. There’s comedy, melodrama, moments of grave tension, zingy action, and romance. It’s essentially a victory lap for the man — or, more accurately, The Man — who was instrumental to launching these characters and this sprawling, sensational universe.

Previous entries in this series (and there are a LOT of them) can be found by clicking on the “My Misspent Youth” tag.

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