My Misspent Youth — Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko

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.

In the summer of 1964, any kid with a quarter and good timing in visiting the handiest spinner rack was in for a humdinger of an adventure. Just two years after his debut, in the final issue of Amazing Fantasy, and some sixteen issues into the run of the magnificent monthly mag that bore his name, the amazing Spider-Man was given a big batch of extra pages in one of the very first Marvel annuals, the double-sized issues that endeavored to provide a big, booming spectacle that couldn’t be contained in the regular run of the series. The tradition was established one year earlier, with Fantastic Four Annual #1, a massive story that pitted Marvel’s first family against Sub-Mariner, leading his undersea army in an invasion of New York City. In crafting an inaugural annual for Spider-Man, writer Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko must have felt compelled to come up with a comic that would leave no doubt that the extra investment required to procure it — more than twice the price of a regular issue — was worth it, maybe even more that worth it.

Although Amazing Spider-Man was still in its earlier days, barely into the double-digits in total issues published, the wall-crawler had already developed quite a rogues’ gallery. In a masterstroke, Lee and Kirby figured out the best route to a story worthy of Spidey’s first annual was having several of those fearsome foes team up. Thus, the Sinister Six was established.

Sure, it might not be the soundest strategy to battle Spider-Man in succession rather than rushing him all at once, but it was already well-established in the Marvel Universe that those on the wrong side of the law were prone to faulty decision-making. True to their plan, the sextet take turns tilting at the web-slinger, each dispatched after a titanic tussle. A handy side effect of the narrative is that Spider-Man’s constant swinging across town to vanquish the next villain resulted in him constantly stumbling upon the other costumed do-gooders who used their great powers to fulfill great responsibilities. Each encounter came with a handy caption directing curious readers to other periodicals in the Marvel line, natch.

In the foundational years of Marvel Comics, Lee was a dandy writer. He was a better huckster. Every opportunity to celebrate the wild wonders of the company’s interconnected, colorful tales was decisively taken. What could have been crass was instead joyful, resonating with good cheer. Lee and his cohorts were throwing the best party in four colors, and they were eager to have everyone else join the fun. And when someone plunked down their coins, the necessary entry fee to these copious chronicles of courageous champions, the creators did their level-best to deliver the goods. In an example of scintillating showmanship, Lee and Ditko structured the Spider-Man Annual so that every member of the Sinister Six had part of their fisticuffs with our hero depicted in a fabulous splash page.

Already packed to the margins with action, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1 also made room for generous use of the title’s rich supporting cast and took time to delve into the fretfulness that bedeviled young Peter Parker, in this case a psychosomatic loss of his powers for a spell. Lee and Ditko made a dazzling yarn that took all the building blocks they’d already developed and stacked them to a dizzying height. True believers, I mean it sincerely when I say this comic has it all.

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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